Evan Haefeli, Kevin Sweeney. Captors and Captives: The 1704 French and Indian Raid on Deerfield. Native Americans of the Northeast: Culture, History, and the Contemporary Series. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003. Illustrations, maps. xv + 376 pp. $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-55849-503-6; $37.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-55849-419-0.
Reviewed by Geoffrey Plank (Department of History, University of Cincinnati)
Published on H-Canada (April, 2005)
Go Get It, Poor Man
On February 28, 1704, Deerfield, Massachusetts had a population of approximately 275, augmented by a garrison of 20 soldiers. On the morning of the 29th, a party of approximately 300 Native warriors and French soldiers arrived and, in a brief assault, killed 50 and took 112 of the residents captive. The raid embroiled Massachusetts politics for much of the next decade. Efforts to gain the captives' release complicated diplomacy and military operations between the French and the British for the duration of the War of the Spanish Succession. By the time peace was restored in 1713, most of the captives had made it back to New England, but a few had been absorbed permanently into Native or French-Canadian communities. The event would be remembered for generations. After the publication in 1707 of The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion--the Reverend John Williams's account of his experience in captivity--the attack and the experience of the captives became part of New England's mythic past.
Captors and Captives: The 1704 French and Indian Raid on Deerfield is by far the most comprehensive analysis of the attack ever published. The authors, Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney, draw on French-colonial sources and Native oral traditions along with the conventional evidence for research on New England. The breadth and specificity of their findings--they are able to identify the home villages of most of the native attackers, for example, and trace the careers of many of the captives--is startling. Their work stands in contrast to the evocative and speculative work of John Demos, who, in The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (1994), drew on his own imagination to recount the Deerfield story and its aftermath. Demos, perhaps, was more creative, but Haefeli and Sweeney are more precise and much more careful to ground their conclusions on evidence. In a typical display of erudition, Haefeli and Sweeney give English translations for the names some of the captives acquired in native communities. A woman called Abigail Williams assumed the name "Elizabeth who goes and gets water." A man known to his fellow English colonists as James Smith was assigned a name in Mohawk that the authors translate as "Go get it" (p. 153). These names are suggestive of the roles the captives played in their new societies, though the authors do not press the point hard.
Haefeli and Sweeney have sought to present a single, coherent narrative rather than providing disaggregated, multiple stories from French, British, Abenaki and Iroquoian perspectives. Though they trace the experience of individual captives and a few of the attackers, personal stories do not give their book narrative drive, because there are too many men and women crossing paths across the pages of this book. The authors credit Daniel K. Richter for admonishing them to look at events "through the correct end of the telescope," and they mean by that, surely, that Richter reminded them to consider the raid from the raiders' point of view (p. xiv). Nonetheless, the reader also gets a sense that Haefeli and Sweeney could see events only from a distance. The interior lives of the attackers and the captives are not their primary concern.
Captors and Captives makes a significant contribution to regional history, correctly identifying the native-controlled territory in what is now northern New England as a wedge between the French and British empires. In their early chapters the authors make a compelling case for the ubiquity of captive-taking and bound labor in the New England colonies as well as in the territory to the north. The 1704 raid, in some respects, was an outgrowth of an array of well-established regional customs and practices. Nonetheless, in its planning, execution, and aftermath, the 1704 raid was unusual, particularly because of the extent of French involvement. Concentrating on the raid, and making generalizations about regional politics based on this incident, could lead to an overestimation of French influence on the native peoples. Emerson W. Baker and John G. Reid have argued that the Abenaki, in particular, maintained an independent power base well into the eighteenth century. But it would be a misreading of the episode, and of Captors and Captives, to suggest that the Deerfield raid was typical of its era.
On the contrary, it was the extraordinary character of the operation--its size and its origins in the strategic calculations of New France--that gave the raid its impact on the politics of the early eighteenth century. These factors also gave the incident significance as it passed deeper into New England's collective memory. The "Deerfield massacre," as the event eventually came to be known, became a defining moment in the history of Massachusetts, even if it may not have been for the lands lying between Deerfield and Quebec. Anyone hoping to understand the raid should begin by reading this book.
. "Amerindian Power in the Early Modern Northeast: A Reappraisal," William and Mary Quarterly, 61 (2004): pp. 77-106.
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Geoffrey Plank. Review of Haefeli, Evan; Sweeney, Kevin, Captors and Captives: The 1704 French and Indian Raid on Deerfield.
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