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Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.

Vol. II. The Beginnings of Americanism: 1650–1710

Thomas Wheeler

THOMAS WHEELER, a New England soldier and annalist, was born in England about 1620, and died at Concord, Massachusetts, in 1686, having settled there soon after his emigration in 1642. He took part in King Philip’s War, and was appointed, shortly after the outbreak of hostilities in July, 1675, military escort to Captain Edward Hutchinson of Boston, who had been commissioned by the Colonial Council to treat with the Indian Sachems in the Nipnuck country. King Philip, jealous of the encroachments of English settlers upon his hunting grounds, had begun his aggressions in the preceding month. He succeeded in combining nearly all the Indians of New England against the invaders, and the expedition of Hutchinson failed, the latter with twenty men being waylaid and slain at Brookfield on the 2nd of August. Wheeler’s narrative of this expedition exhibits him as a faithful soldier of the Colony and of the God of the Puritans, but as a writer endowed with no gifts of literary expression. Yet his tract, as the half of it we give shows, is not without a certain savory interest from the very quaintness of its phraseology. It was first published in 1676. In 1827 it appeared in the second volume of the Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society.

A True Narrative.
Of the Lord’s Providences in Various Dispensations towards Captain Edward Hutchinson of Boston and Myself, and those that went with us into the Nipmuck Country, and also to Quabaug, alias Brookfield: The said Captain Hutchinson having a Commission from the Honored Council of this Colony to treat with several Sachems in those Parts in Order to the Public Peace, and Myself being ordered by the said Council to Accompany Him with part of my Troop for Security from any Danger that might be from the Indians: and to assist Him in the Transaction of Matters committed to Him.

THE SAID Captain Hutchinson and myself with about twenty men or more marched from Cambridge to Sudbury, July 28th, ’75, and from thence into the Nipmuck country, and finding that the Indians had deserted their towns, and we having gone until we came within twenty miles of New Norwich, on July 31st (only we saw two Indians having an horse with them, whom we would have spoke with, but they fled from us and left their horse, which we took). We then thought it not expedient to march any further that way, but set our march for Brookfield, whither we came on the Lord’s day about noon. From thence the same day (being August 1st), we understanding that the Indians were about ten miles north-west from us, we sent out four men to acquaint the Indians that we were not come to harm them, but our business was only to deliver a message from our honored Governor and Council to them, and to receive their answer, we desiring to come to a treaty of peace with them (though they had for several days fled from us), they having before professed friendship and promised fidelity to the English.

When the messengers came to them, they made an alarm and gathered together about an hundred and fifty fighting men, as near as they could judge. The young men amongst them were stout in their speeches and surly in their carriage. But at length three of the chief sachems promised to meet us on the next morning about eight of the clock, upon a plain within three miles of Brookfield, with which answer the messengers returned to us. Whereupon, though their speeches and carriage did much discourage divers of our company, yet we conceived that we had a clear call to go to meet them at the place whither they had promised to come. Accordingly we with our men accompanied with three of the principal inhabitants of that town marched to the plain appointed; but the treacherous heathen intending mischief (if they could have opportunity) came not to the said place, and so failed our hopes of speaking with them there. Whereupon the said Captain Hutchinson and myself with the rest of our company considered what was best to be done, whether we should go any further towards them, or return, divers of us apprehending much danger in case we did proceed, because the Indians kept not promise therewith us. But the three men who belonged to Brookfield were so strongly persuaded of their freedom from any ill intentions towards us (as upon other grounds, so especially because the greatest part of those Indians belonged to David, one of their chief sachems, who was taken to be a great friend to the English), that the said Captain Hutchinson, who was principally instructed with the matter of treaty with them, was thereby encouraged to proceed and march forward towards a swamp where the Indians then were.

When we came near the said swamp, the way was so very bad that we could march only in single file, there being a very rocky hill on the right hand and a thick swamp on the left, in which there were many of those cruel bloodthirsty heathen, who there waylaid us, waiting an opportunity to cut us off; there being also much brush on the side of the said hill, where they lay in ambush to surprise us. When we had marched there about sixty or seventy rods, the said perfidious Indians sent out their shot upon us as a shower of hail, they being, as was supposed, about two hundred men or more. We seeing ourselves so beset, and not having room to fight, endeavored to fly for the safety of our lives. In which flight we were in no small danger to be all cut off, there being a very miry swamp before us, into which we could not enter with our horses to go forwards; and there being no safety in retreating the way we came, because many of our enemies who lay behind the bushes and had let us pass by them quietly, when others had shot, they came out and stopt our way back;—so that we were forced as we could to get up the steep and rocky hill. But the greater our danger was, the greater was God’s mercy in the preservation of so many from sudden destruction. Myself being gone up part of the hill without any hurt, and perceiving some of my men to be fallen by the enemies’ shot, I wheeled about upon the Indians, not calling on my men who were left to accompany me, which they in all probability would have done had they known of my return upon the enemy. They firing violently out of the swamp, and from behind the bushes on the hillside, wounded me sorely and shot my horse under me, so that he faltering and falling, I was forced to leave him, divers of the Indians being then but a few rods distant from me. My son Thomas Wheeler flying with the rest of the company missed me amongst them, and fearing that I was either slain or much endangered, returned towards the swamp again, though he had then received a dangerous wound in the reins; where he saw me in the danger aforesaid. Whereupon he endeavored to rescue me, showing himself therein a loving and dutiful son, he adventuring himself into great peril of his life to help me in that distress; there being many of the enemies about him. My son set me on his own horse, and so escaped awhile on foot himself, until he caught an horse whose rider was slain, on which he mounted, and so through God’s great mercy we both escaped. But in this attempt for my deliverance he received another dangerous wound by their shot in his left arm.

There were then slain to our grief eight men…. There were also then five persons wounded, viz., Captain Hutchinson, myself and my son Thomas as aforesaid, Corporal French of Billericay, who having killed an Indian was (as he was taking up his gun) shot, and part of one of his thumbs taken off, and also dangerously wounded through the body near the shoulder. The fifth was John Waldoe of Chelmsford who was not so dangerously wounded as the rest. They also then killed five of our horses and wounded some more, which soon died after they came to Brookfield. Upon this sudden and unexpected blow given us (wherein we desire to look higher than man, the instrument) we return to the town as fast as the badness of the way and the weakness of our wounded men would permit, we being then ten miles from it. All the while we were going we durst not stay to staunch the bleeding of our wounded men for fear the enemy should have surprised us again, which they attempted to do, and had in probability done, but that we perceiving which way they went, wheeled off to the other hand, and so by God’s good Providence towards us, they missed us; and we all came readily upon, and safely to the town, though none of us knew the way to it, those of the place being slain as aforesaid, and we avoiding any thick woods and riding in open places to prevent danger by them. Being got to the town we speedily betook ourselves to one of the largest and strongest houses therein, where we fortified ourselves in the best manner we could in such straits of time, and there resolved to keep garrison, though we were but few, and meanly fitted to make resistance against so many enemies. The news of the Indians’ treacherous dealing with us, and the loss of so many of our company thereby, did so amaze the inhabitants of the town, that they being informed thereof by us presently left their houses, divers of them carrying very little away with them, they being afraid of the Indians’ sudden coming upon them: and so came to the house we were entered into, very meanly provided of clothing or furnished with provisions.

I perceiving myself to be disenabled for the discharge of the duties of my place by reason of the wound I had received, and apprehending that the enemy would soon come to spoil the town and assault us in the house, I appointed Simon Davis of Concord, James Richardson and John Fiske of Chelmsford to manage affairs for our safety with those few men whom God hath left us, and were fit for any service, and the inhabitants of the said town,—who did well and commendably perform the duties of the trust committed to them, with much courage and resolution, through the assistance of our gracious God, who did not leave us in our low and distressed state, but did mercifully appear for us in our greatest need as in the sequel will clearly be manifested.

Within two hours after our coming to the said house, or less, the said Captain Hutchinson and myself posted away Ephraim Curtis of Sudbury and Henry Young of Concord to go to the honored Council at Boston to give them an account of the Lord’s dealings with us and our present condition. When they came to the further end of the town they saw the enemy rifling of houses which the inhabitants had forsaken. The post fired upon them and immediately returned to us again, they discerning no safety in going forward, and being desirous to inform us of the enemies’ actings, that we might the more prepare for a sudden assault by them. Which indeed presently followed, for as soon as the said post was come back to us, the barbarous heathen pressed upon us in the house with great violence, sending in their shot amongst us like hail through the walls, and shouting as if they would have swallowed us up alive; but our good God wrought wonderfully for us, so that there was but one man wounded within the house, viz., the said Henry Young who, looking out at a garret window that evening, was mortally wounded by a shot, of which wound he died within two days after. There was the same day another man slain, but not in the house. A son of Sergeant Prichard’s, adventuring out of the house wherein we were to his father’s house not far from it, to fetch more goods out of it, was caught by those cruel enemies as they were coming towards us, who cut off his head, kicking it about like a foot-ball, and then putting it upon a pole, they set it up before the door of his father’s house, in our sight.

The night following the said blow, they did roar against us like so many wild bulls, sending in their shot amongst us till towards the moon-rising, which was about three of the clock; at which time they attempted to fire our house by hay and other combustible matter which they brought to one corner of the house and set it on fire. Whereupon some of our company were necessitated to expose themselves to very great danger to put it out. Simon Davis, one of the three appointed by myself as Captain, to supply my place by reason of my wounds as aforesaid, he, being of a lively spirit, encouraged the soldiers within the house to fire upon the Indians; and also those that adventured to put out the fire (which began to rage and kindle upon the house side) with these and the like words, that “God is with us and fights for us, and will deliver us out of the hands of these heathen,”—which expressions of his the Indians hearing, they shouted and scoffed, saying: “Now see how your God delivers you,” or “will deliver you,” sending in many shots whilst our men were putting out the fire. But the Lord of Hosts wrought very graciously for us, in preserving our bodies both within and without the house from their shot, and our house from being consumed by fire. We had but two men wounded in that attempt of theirs, but we apprehended that we killed divers of our enemies….

The next day being August 3d they continued shooting and shouting, and proceeded in their former wickedness, blaspheming the name of the Lord and reproaching us, his afflicted servants, scoffing at our prayers as they were sending in their shot upon all quarters of the house. And many of them went to the town’s meeting-house, which was within twenty rods of the house in which we were, who mocked, saying: “Come and pray and sing psalms,” and in contempt made an hideous noise somewhat resembling singing. But we to our power did endeavor our own defence, sending our shot amongst them, the Lord giving us courage to resist them, and preserving us from the destruction they sought to bring upon us. On the evening following we saw our enemies carrying several of their dead or wounded men on their backs, who proceeded that night to send in their shot as they had done the night before, and also still shouted as if the day had been certainly theirs, and they should without fail have pervailed against us; which they might have the more hopes of in regard that we discerned the coming of new companies to them to assist and strengthen them, and the unlikelihood of any coming to our help.

They also used several stratagems to fire us, namely, by “wild fire” in cotton and linen rags with brimstone in them, which rags they tied to the piles of their arrows, sharp for the purpose, and shot them to the roof of our house, after they had set them on fire; which would have much endangered the burning thereof had we not used means, by cutting holes through the roof and otherwise, to beat the said arrows down, and God being pleased to prosper our endeavors therein. They carried more combustible matter, as flax and hay, to the sides of the house and set it on fire, and then flocked apace towards the door of the house, either to prevent our going forth to quench the fire as we had done before, or to kill our men in their attempt to go forth; or else to break into the house by the door. Whereupon we were forced to break down the wall of the house against the fire to put it out. They also shot a ball of “wild fire” into the garret of the house, which fell amongst a great heap of flax or tow therein; which one of our soldiers through God’s good Providence soon espied, and having water ready, presently quenched it. And so we were preserved by the Keeper of Israel, both our bodies from their shot, which they sent thick against us, and the house from being consumed to ashes, although we were but weak to defend ourselves; we being not above twenty and six men with those of that small town who were able for any service, and our enemies, as I judged them, about (if not above) three hundred….

On Wednesday, August the fourth, the Indians fortified themselves at the meeting-house, and the barn belonging to our house, which they fortified both at the great doors at both ends with posts, rails, boards, and hay to save themselves from our shot. They also devised other stratagems to fire our house on the night following, namely, they took a cart, and filled it with flax, hay and candlewood, and other combustible matter, and set up planks fastened to the cart to save themselves from the danger of our shot. Another invention they had, to make the more sure work in burning the house: They got many poles of a considerable length and bigness and spliced them together at the ends one of another, and made a carriage of them about fourteen rods long, setting the poles in two rows with piles laid cross over them at the front end, and dividing them, said poles, about three foot asunder, and in the said front of this their carriage they set a barrel, having made an hole through both heads, and put an axle-tree through them, to which they fastened the said poles, and under every joint of the poles where they were spliced, they set up a pair of truckle wheels to bear up the said carriages; and they loaded the front or fore-end thereof with matter fit for firing, as hay, and flax, and chips, etc. Two of these instruments they prepared, that they might convey fire to the house with the more safety to themselves, they standing at such a distance from our shot whilst they wheeled them to the house. Great store of arrows they had also prepared to shoot fire upon the house that night; which we found after they were gone, they having left them there. But the Lord who is a present help in times of trouble, and is pleased to make his people’s extremity his opportunity, did graciously prevent them of effecting what they hoped they should have done by the aforesaid devices; partly by sending a shower of rain in season, whereby the matter prepared being wet would not so easily take fire as it otherwise would have done, and partly by aid coming to our help. For our danger would have been very great that night, had not the only wise God (blessed forever) been pleased to send to us about an hour within night the worshipful Major Willard, with Captain Parker of Groton and forty-six men more with five Indians, to relieve us in the low estate into which we were brought.

Our eyes were unto Him the Holy One of Israel; in Him we desired to place our trust…. And God who comforteth the afflicted, as He comforted the holy Apostle Paul by the coming of Titus to him, so He greatly comforted us, his distressed servants, both soldiers and town inhabitants, by the coming of the said honored Major and those with him. In whose so soon coming to us the good Providence of God did marvellously appear. For the help that came to us by the honored Council’s order, after the tidings they received by our post sent to them, came not to us till Saturday, August 7th, in the afternoon, nor sooner could it well come in regard of their distance from us, i.e., if we had not had help before that time, we see not how we could have held out, the number of the Indians so increasing, and they making so many assaults upon us, that our ammunition before that time would have been spent and ourselves disenabled for any resistance, we being but few, and always fain to stand upon our defence, that we had little time for refreshment of ourselves either by food or sleep.