The Retreat & The Siege
Wheeler’s Surprise, and the ensuing Siege of Brookfield, was a battle between Nipmuc Indians under Muttawmp and the English of the Massachusetts Bay Colony under the command of Capt. Thomas Wheeler and Capt. Edward Hutchinson in August of 1675, during King Phillip’s War. The battle consisted of an initial ambush by the Nipmuc on Wheeler’s unsuspecting party, followed by the siege on Brookfield. All accounts agree that the Indian who planned and executed the ambush and directed the siege of the town was Muttawmp.
Sunday, August 1, 1675
In order to impress the restless Indians, the Government of the Colony ordered Capt. Edward Hutchinson to proceed to the Nipmuc country and demand compliance of the natives with the dictates of the Governor. Capt. Hutchinson was assigned an escort consisting of Capt. Thomas Wheeler and his mounted troop of about twenty men, Ephraim Curtis the noted scout, and three friendly Indians to serve as interpreters. And so it was, that this military party arrived at Quaboag Plantation on Sunday, August 1, 1675.
The fact of the Sabbath does not seem to have deterred the military leaders from their purpose, since they immediately dispatched Ephraim Curtis and several other men to meet with the Indians to arrange a parley. The presence of the armed force at Brookfield must have put a damper on the rejoicing which had prevailed in the village since the birth that morning of a son to Judah and Mary (Prichard) Trumble.
Monday, August 2, 1675
Capt. Wheeler’s retreat tells of their retreat back to the town, “as fast as the badness of the way and the weakness of our wounded would permit, we being then about ten miles from it.” There is little doubt that in the retreat the surviving members of the company were saved by the sagacity and fidelity of the two Indian guides, Sampson and Joseph Robin, sons of “Old Robin” Petuhanit, a faithful Christian Indian. These two led them around by a way they knew, but unknown to any of the English, for all the Brookfield men had been killed.
It must have been a forlorn and panic-stricken group that made its way back to Brookfield, guided by the Indian scouts. The safe return of the party to Brookfield was also partly due to the lack of horses of the Quaboag. The return to Brookfield of the survivors of that proud troop of cavalry which had left just a few hours before to attempt a peaceful mission, must have startled the inhabitants into the realization that their onetime Indian friends and neighbors must now be considered dangerous and determined enemies. It took little convincing to herd the inhabitants into the only house in the village thought sufficiently strong to resist the expected attack. Ayres Tavern was nearest the Center and was the strongest house in the town. The alarm spread through the town, the inhabitants immediately left their own houses and fled to the house held by the troopers. In their fear, the inhabitants did not have time to bring provisions and extra clothing with them into the fortified house and so were poorly prepared for a prolonged siege. Within the tavern, preparations were hastily made for increasing the fortifications by setting up logs and planks against the outside and hanging feather beds before the windows on the inside.
Apparently, James Hovey either delayed too long or received the warning too late, for indications are that he was killed in or near his house before the attack began on Ayres Tavern. His house was the furthest removed from the center of the village, and he may not have had sufficient time to reach the sanctuary of the garrison house.
Capt. Wheeler, finding himself by reason of his wound unable to conduct the defense of the garrison, appointed to that office Lt. Simon Davis of Concord, James Richardson and John Fiske of Chelmsford. Simon Davis encouraged the soldiers within the house to fire upon the Indians and to those who adventured out, to put out the fire which began to rage and kindle upon the side of the house.
Within two hours after they returned to the town, the Captains sent out Ephraim Curtis and Henry Young of Concord to carry news of the disaster to the Council at Boston. In this short time, the Indians had crept warily about the town and were found by the messengers pillaging the outlying houses. Finding the way encompassed and the whole force of the enemy closing in upon them, the messengers returned to warn the garrison. One man, Henry Young, above mentioned, was wounded in the evening while looking out from the garret window and died two days later. Samuel Prichard, the son of William Prichard (slain at the fight in the morning), had ventured out of the garrison to fetch some things from his father’s house across the street and was killed just as he was leaving the house to return. The Indians decapitated him, “kicked his head about like a football” and then set it on a pole in front of the Prichard homestead. These events alone must have been enough to warn the inmates of the besieged house on the consequences of surrender or defeat.
Tuesday, August 3, 1675
The Indian attack continued throughout the day and night. Several attempts were made to ignite the house by fire arrows, combustible material on the roof and sides and by a fireball thrown into the garret. All failed because of quick action on the part of the besieged. Thomas Wilson, while attempting to obtain water from the well in the tavern yard, was shot in the jaw and neck, but his wounds were not severe, and he recovered. Judah Trumble returning from a trip to Springfield, immediately on seeing the condition of his village, returned to Springfield and reported to Major Pynchon, who was receiving the first news of the Indian ambush and the siege of the village by friendly Indians.
Wednesday, August 4, 1675
Wednesday dawned at Brookfield with the Indians still in command of the situation. They had fortified themselves in the Ayres’ barn, and were continuing their attempts to drive out the inhabitants by firing the house. They had devised a novel contrivance consisting of a carriage loaded with combustible material mounted on the end of a long series of poles, spliced together and supported by truckle wheels made from barrels. The plan was to ignite the combustible mixture and push it toward the house from the corner of the barn. The plan was foiled by a sudden shower (it is said), which prevented the igniting of the combustibles. Before the Indians were able to replace the material, another matter occupied their attention.
The plain story, as told by Capt. Wheeler, narrating the events of those three sultry August days and nights conveys perhaps the best impression possible to be gained of the anxiety, sufferings and horrible forebodings of the crowded people of that beleaguered house. Outside the smoking ruins of their homes could be seen, as well as the horde of Indians bent on their destruction and the cunning devise the Indians had readied. Within, a scanty supply of food – sleepless watching – hostile bullets constantly penetrating the wall – 6 severely wounded men and one of them dying, to be cared for – the stifling fumes of their own shots at the Indians – and in the confusion and straitened space, two wives giving birth each to twin infants – all combined for the grouping of a picture, startling in its reality, and exceeded in darkness by few events in the annals of our Indian warfare. But relief came when they most needed it and had no reason to look for it. About one hour after nightfall on August 4th, Major Willard and Capt. Parker arrived and headed directly for the fortified house. The sound of the trumpet identifying the approaching company as English must have been the signal for rejoicing of the beleaguered.
Their relief came in the form of an aged cavalry officer, Simon Willard, who was to march that day from Lancaster to Groton. Upon receipt of the distress message from Brookfield, he promptly turned his force of 46 soldiers and 5 Indians under Capt. James Parker of Groton, towards Brookfield.
Thursday, August 5, 1675
Major Willard and Captain Parker and their forces had arrived, and so intent were the Indians about the machines they were trying to build that the company coming, about an hour after dark, gained the yard of the garrisoned house before the enemy perceived them. There was a large body of Indians posted about two miles away on the road by which the Major’s company had come and another party of over 100 in a house nearer the garrison. The outpost had let the company pass unharmed depending upon those nearer to strike the blow. These latter depending upon the others for an alarm which was not given, or else in the excitement of building the machines they did not hear, and both missed the opportunity of attack. As soon as they saw their mistake they attacked the Major’s party with fury, but without much avail, and all were soon safely within the house. The Indians seeing their devices defeated and the garrison reinforced, withdrew in the early morning of August 5th. They set fire to the barn, meeting-house, and the remaining unoccupied buildings as they left town. Presumably, they also burned the mill which was at some distance from the Village. It must have been a relief to the inhabitants to be able to leave that now much battered building which had been their salvation.
The immediate treatment of the wounded during the siege was done by the people present in the beleaguered house, probably the women, and after the arrival of the relief forces by Philip Reed, listed as “surgeon” on the roster of Major Willard’s troop.
August 7, 1675 – till the desertion
On August 7th fresh forces arrived from Boston, two companies were sent to Brookfield by the Council at Boston under Captains Thomas Lathrop of Beverly and Richard Beers of Watertown. All remained at the garrison till the 10th day, when Capts. Hutchinson and Wheeler, with all of their company that were able to travel, came away and arrived at Marlborough on August 14th. Capt. Hutchinson died there of his wounds on the 19th and was buried the next day. Capt. Wheeler and the remnants of his company remained at Marlborough until the 21st, when they returned home to Concord.
Capt. Wheeler relates that soon after his own return from Brookfield, “the inhabitants of the town, men, women, and children removed safely with what they had left to several places, either where they had lived before their planting or settling down there, or where they had relations to receive and help them. Major Willard stayed several weeks after our coming away.” A small garrison was maintained at the fortified house some time after the withdrawal of the inhabitants, probably up to the 12th of October, and it is likely that widow Susannah Ayres remained during that time, as is indicated by her petition and account presented the Court in October, 1677, which charges supplies to soldiers under Ephraim Curtis and Major Willard.
Sources: Quaboag Plantation Alias Brookefeild, by Dr. Louis B. Roy & History of North Brookfield by Josiah H. Temple & Soldiers in King Philip’s War. George Madison Bodge p.119-122
The town was doubtless wholly vacated before the middle of October, and remained so, except for the frequent passage of the troops to and from the west. The charred remains of the once proud English settlement at Quaboag were to serve only as an assembly point for military expeditions and as a garrison outpost.
1675 – 1685 The town was abandoned for about 10 years.
1686 Resettlement of the town.