The Siege of Brookfield

The Siege of Brookfield

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The Siege of Brookfield

King Philip’s War

A state marker on Route 9, at the boundary of Brookfield and West Brookfield tells the grim story of Brookfield’s early years in these few short lines:

Brookfield settled In 1660 By Men From Ipswich On Indian Lands Called Quabaug. Attacked By Indians In 1675. One Garrison House Defended to the Last. Reoccupied Twelve Years Later.

Excerpt – “Siege of Brookfield”

The following is a excellent excerpt of West Brookfield during “King Philip’s War”

A special thanks to Eric Schultz for all his help

The book is both an in-depth History of a brutal war and a guide to the sites where the battles and ambushes took place.

“Excerpted from King Philip’s War: The History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten Conflict,” c 1999 by Eric B. Schultz and Michael J. Tougias. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, The Countryman Press./W.W. Norton and Co., Inc. To order, call 800-245-4151.”

Siege of Brookfield, West Brookfield, Massachusetts

When Captain Thomas Wheeler and his remaining men fled the ambush at New Braintree, they sought safety at the English settlement of Quabaug, now the Foster Hill area of West Brookfield. Quabaug had been settled in 1660 by men from Ipswich, Massachusetts At the time of King Philip’s War, it was an isolated farming settlement of barely twenty homes. Its closest neighbor was Springfield, a day’s journey to the west. Douglas Leach suggest that “indeed, scarcely a town in all of Massachusetts could claim the dubious distinction of being more isolated than Brookfield.” The surprise return of Wheeler and his exhausted troopers from their disastrous meeting with the Nipmuc alerted the settlers at Quabaug to danger. The frightened inhabitants abandoned their homes and fled to the house of Sergeant John Ayres. (Ayres had accompanied Wheeler and Hutchinson on their mission to parley with the Nipmuc, and for his efforts was lying dead at the New Braintree ambush site.) In all, eighty people gathered in this one home and prepared to defend themselves against the Nipmuc assault. Henry Young and Ephraim Curtis immediately set out on horseback for Marlboro but soon met hostile Nipmuc. They fled back to the garrison and shortly thereafter the assault began.

The August 1675 siege of Brookfield would last almost three days and become one of the most dramatic military engagements of the war. Upon their arrival at Quabaug, the Nipmuc warriors under Muttawmp immediately set fire to all of the structures except the fortified garrison. For forty-eight hours they surrounded the building and, in William Hubbard’s account, assaulted the poor handful of helpless people, both night and day pouring in shot upon them incessantly with guns and also thrusting poles with fire-brands upon them, and rags dipped in brimstone tied to the ends of them to fire the house; at last they used this devilish stratagem to fill a cart with hemp, flax and other combustible matter, and so thrust it back with poles together sliced a great length, after they had kindled it. But as soon as it had begun to take fire, a storm of rain unexpectedly falling, put out the fire, or else all the poor people, about seventy souls, would either have been consumed by merciless flames, or else have fallen into the hands of their cruel enemies, like wolves continually yelling and gaping for their prey.

The English in the Ayres garrison responded as best they could, but the scene must have been chaotic and terrifying. Henry Young ventured too close to a window and was mortally wounded. A son of Sergeant William Pritchard attempted to secure desperately needed supplies from a nearby building, perhaps his own residence on the first lot east of Ayers’ garrison, but was captured and killed. For intimidation, the Nipmuc mounted Pritchard’s head on a pole. (Sergeant Pritchard himself had been killed at Wheeler’s Surprise). Thomas Wilson, one of the earliest English settlers at Quabaug, was shot through the jaw while attempting to secure water from a well not far from the garrison. Amidst this death and destruction there was also life, however, as two sets of twins were reported born during the siege.

The English were surrounded but not completely helpless. They returned fire and continually thwarted Nipmuc attempts to set the garrison aflame. Reports of eighty Nipmuc killed were undoubtedly inflated, but Muttawmp and his warriors did not go without loss. Indeed, Ephraim Curtis was able to find enough weakness in the siege line to crawl past the Nipmuc on August 3 and make his way by foot the thirty miles to Marlboro.

Major Simon Willard and his forty-eight troopers were conducting operations west of Lancaster and arrived first at Quabaug. Willard, who at seventy years of age was the chief military officer of Middlesex County, had heard reports of the Nipmuc attack from people traveling along the Bay Path. He and his men rode the thirty-five or forty miles to Brookfield and arrived after nightfall on August 3, where they charged past the Nipmuc sentries, whose warning shots went unnoticed. Increase Mather wrote:

the Indians were so busy and made such a noise about the house that they heard not the report of those guns; which if they had heard, in all probability not only the people then living at Quaboag, but those also that came to succor them had been cut off.

Willard’s party rode almost to the door of the Ayers garrison before they were spotted. With their arrival, the Nipmuc fired the remaining buildings and broke off the siege. Soon after, colonial reinforcements arrived, swelling the ranks of men under Willard to 350 English plus the Mohegan that had pursued Philip so successfully at Nipsachuck. Willard would stay for several weeks to direct military activity in the area, but the residents had little reason and little hope of real security, so the settlement at Quabaug was abandoned.

The landmarks related to the original Quabaug Plantation settlement are well marked along the north side of Foster Hill Road in present-day West Brookfield. Much of the site today is a large, open field. Traveling west, the first marker (set in a stone wall near a more modern home) designates the Ayres garrison, followed by a more elaborate memorial to John Ayres and a small stone marking the well at which Major Wilson was shot. Further west, still on the north side of Foster Hill Road, is a stone indicating the location of the first meetinghouse, burned in 1675, and a second built in 1717. The plantation’s burial ground, dated 1660-1780, is designated to the northeast of the meetinghouse location.

The precise site of the Ayres garrison was apparently in some dispute in the early nineteenth century. In 1843 Joseph Foot noted:

There has been of late years no small disagreement respecting the place, where the fortified house stood. Some have attempted to maintain that it was northeast of Foster’s Hill. But as no satisfactory evidence in support of this opinion has been found, it is to be regarded as unworthy of credence. There are several weighty reasons for believing, that it stood on a hill. 1. The principal English settlement was there. 2. The meeting-house which was burned by the Indians was there. 3. In the account of the attack on the fortification a well in the yard is mentioned, and a well has been discovered near the northwest corner of Mr. Marsh’s door yard, of which the oldest inhabitants can give no account except as they have been told, it belongs to the fortified house. 4. At a distance of a few feet north of the well the ground when cultivated as a garden was unproductive. As the soil appeared to be good, it was difficult to see any reason for the barrenness. On examination loads of stone, which had formed a cellar and chimney were removed, amongst which various instruments of iron and steel were found. 5. There is a hill directly west of this place, which corresponds sufficiently well with the descriptions of that, down which the Indians rolled the cart of kindled combustibles. There is then good reason to conclude that it stood between Mr. Marsh’s house and barn.

Any typographical errors are the fault of the typist.

Source: King Philip’s War: The History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten Conflict,” by Eric B. Schultz and Michael J. Tougias.

Copyright 2001 West Brookfield Historical Commission Last modified: February 11, 2008