History Of North Adams, Massachusetts
Reminiscences Of Early Settlers.
-Extracts From Old Town Records.-
Its Public Institutions, Industries And Prominent Citizens,
Together With A Roster Of Commissioned Officers In The War Of The Rebellion.
By W. P. Spear.
North Adams, Mass.: Hoosac Valley News Printing House. 1885.
CHAPTER II. FORT MASSACHUSETTS.
[Transcribed by Dave Swerdfeger]
THE site of this memorable fortress is so near our village, and literally at the extreme north end of the town of Adams; that a brief recapitulation of its history will be most appropriate.
About 1741 Fort Massachusetts was built in a narrrow part of the valley leading toward Williamstown. It was a part of the line of defense erected to protect the northern and western settlements of New England against French and Indian hostilities.
The enemy directed their principal movements toward Connecticut river, but some came down the Hudson,-and, proceeding eastward up the Hoosac, assailed this fortification in smaller or larger parties, and several bloody skirmishes took place.
The fort was located in a then very exposed position, pushed far out into the wilderness, twenty or thirty miles from any abode of civilized man. Williams and his hardy companions erected their fort of logs, surrounded with pickets of squared timbers driven into the ground so as to form a continuous fence, mounted with a few iron guns on swivels, and defensible against musketry alone.
The garrison at this time numbered about fifty men. After being rebuilt, in 1747, the fort was garrisoned by one hundred men. Feebly can the present generation conceive of the hardshsps endured by these brave men nearly a century and a half ago. Besides the regular garrison duty, small scouting parties were continually ranging the woods from one fort on the line of defense to another, penetrating far into the northern wilderness, to discover the Indian trail, intercept and defeat their war parties. Armed with his gun, hatchet and scalping-knife, with provisions and blanket on his back, the hardy soldier scoured the woods in quest of the savage, to meet him with his own weapons and on his own ground. Every tangled thicket was the place of ambush, and the tomahawk and scalping-knife ever gleamed before his eyes. The garrison of Fort Massachusetts had its full share of this adventurous service.
June 11th, 1745, the enemy appeared, attacking a number of men who were at a distance from the fort, wounded two, Elisha Nims and Gershom Hawks, and took Benj. Tenter captive. One of the enemy was killed, and the others fled after a short skirmish.
May 66, 1746, as Sargeant John Hawks and John Niles were riding out from the fort they were fired upon and wounded by the Indians. Miles escaped to the fort. Hawks, having the spirit of an eagle, fought for some time, and might have made both the Indians prisoners had he understood their language, for they asked for quarter before he took leave of them.
August 20th, 1746, an army of about 900 French and Indians, under General De Vaudreuil, made an attack upon the fort. Colonel Hawks, who was in command at that time, had only twenty-two effective men, and thirty-three persons, including men, women and children.
He was also short of ammunition. Yet, under such discouraging circumstances, this Massachusetts colonel defended the fort twenty-eight hours against the Canadian general with more than forty times his number of men, and would probably never have surrendered had his powder and balls held out. He finally capitulated, upon terms which were violated by the French commander.
It was agreed that none of the prisoners should be delivered to the Indians: but De Vandreuil gave up half his captives to the savages, on the plea that he could not otherwise pacify them. The Indians immediately killed one of the prisoners, who was sick and unable to travel. In the Beige Colonel Hawks lost but one man, while the enemy, as near as could be ascertained, lost forty-five, killed or mortally wounded.
The fort was demolished by De Vandrenil. The prisoners were marched to Canada, where twelve of them sickened and died. The residue, with other prisoners, were sent in a vessel with a flag of truce to Boston, where they arrived August 16, 1747. Rev. John Norton, chaplain of the fort at the time it was taken, wrote an account of his captivity, which was published. Another of the prisoners was Benjamin Simons, who afterward became a distinguished inhabitant of Williamstown and a colonel of militia.
May 25, 1747, while the fort was being rebuilt by the government of Massachusetts, who sent a large force thither, an army of the enemy came to hinder the undertaking: but they fled on a sally from the fort and being also frightened by the return of about men from Albany with military stores and provisions.
There were charges of cowardice in connection with this affair, and "bush fighting" has a tendency to beget extreme caution, if not timidity, in many men. In this skirmish three persons were wounded, and a friendly Indian from Stockbridge was killed.
October 1st, 1747, Peter Burvee was taken prisoner near the fort, and went into his second captivity from the same spot, having been one of De Vaudreuil's prisoners two years before.
August 2nd, 1748, the fort was commanded by Captain Ephriam Williams, the founder of Williams College. whose grant of two hundred acres of land in East Hoosac has been already mentioned. Four men were fired upon while outside the fort. Captain Williams sallied out with thirty men. and after driving the enemy about a furlong a party of fifty Indians in ambuscade suddenly fired and endeavored to cut off his retreat. By a quick movement he regained the fort, having one man, a Mr. Abbott, killed, and two, Lieutenant Hawley and Ezekiel Wells, wounded.
At once a large body of three hundred Indians and thirty French advanced and opened their fire on the fort. After sustaining a sharp fire from the garrison for two hours, the enemy despair'd from effecting anything, and drew off with their killed and wounded.
On the cessation of hostilities, in the fall of 1748, the forces on the frontier were reduced, and a small garrison left at Fort Massachusetts.
When the last French and Indian war broke out, in 1754, immediate measures of defense were adopted by the General Court of this state. Fort Massachusetts was strengthened and the garrison increased, making it the foster mother of the infant settlements in the town, now known as North Adams, Adams and Williamstown.
The command was continued to Ephraim Williams, with a colonel's commission in the provincial army of 3009 men, which undertook the expedition to Crown Point.
At Fort Massachusetts he met his old companions in arms, and gave them his last words of council and encouragement. Tradition informs us that at the parting interview some slight expressions fell from his lips of the purpose to leave to them, in the event of his death, more substantial tokens of his regard. This generous purpose was carried out by his bequest of property to open a free school in the west township—now Williamstown a handfull of good seed which sprung up in the noble harvest of Williams College.
After the lamented death of Colonel Williams, in battle with the French and Indians under Dieskau, near the southern extremity of Lake George, September 8, 1755, the oversight of Fort Massachusetts was committed, it is believed, to Captain Wyman. He is known to have lived in the house within the pickets, and to have occupied the land reserved for the use of the fort.
June 7, 1756, a body of the enemy came again to this fort. Benjamin King and a man named Meacham were killed.
The garrison was probably withdrawn and the fortification began to decay immediately after the conquest of Canada, in 1759. In the time of the revolution it was a ruin, many of the solid old timbers having been taken to erect less patriotic structures. Tradition states that three-quarters of an acre of land was inclosed within the stockade, and that there were five or six blockhouses, with families residing therein.
The site of the fort—as everybody knows—is on a slight rise of land in the beautiful meadow now owned by Mrs. Bradford Harrison. A thrifty elm tree marks the spot. It was planted in the spring of 1858 by Prof. A. L. Perry and some of the students of Williams college.
Captain Clement Harrison, who purchased in 1830 of the administrators of Isreal Jones, Esq., the farm on which his grandson now resides, discovered in his work of renovating the soil many relics of the fort, and munitions of the old, bloody times of deep significance. Hundreds of bullets, coroded and turned white, Indian arrow-heads curiously carved of flint, a metal tomahawk, the muzzle of a small cannon, several bombshells, pieces of pots and kettles, broken bottles in which the pretended "good liquor" of former days was perhaps contained, a silver spoon with a very large and nearly round bowl, strongly-made but badly rusted jackknives and cartloads of brickbats are among these curious and suggestive mementoes. Captain Harrison presented many of them to chance visitors, and a considerable variety to the cabinet at Williams College, where they attract the reverent, gaze of all who have any sentiment of the hero-worship in their nature.
Captain Harrison, from the indications discovered in clearing up that part of his farm where the fort stood, was of the opinion that there were six different houses, or log cabins, within the inclosure, scattered three or four rods apart and that the inclosure may have been double the size mentioned above, or one and a half to two acres. Solid, large beams of pine timber were found in one place, and masses of brick and brickbats where the six chimneys had stood.
Southwest of the fort was the burial ground. Though the graves were long since leveled, in the summer of 1852 a headstone was found and carried to Williams College, by Captain Harrison's permission. The stone is shaped like a letter V with the bottom cut off it is about two feet nine inches in height, four inches thick, and sloping in width from sixteen inches at the top to six inches at the bottom. It is a common dark stone, and is apparently just as it was found, never having been wrought at all except to cut the letters and figures upon it.
Prof. Perry was fortunate in being the means of saving so interesting a relic. Had it remained on the meadow the letters, already dim, would before now have become quite illegible. One such inscription as the following is worth more, as authority, than any amount of tradition:
JUNE 12, 1745, E. N I M, At 26y.
This is undoubtedly the Elisha Nims mentioned above as having been wounded June 11, 1745, and his death took place the following day. In the grave beneath this stone the partially decayed skeleton of a man was found, and lodged in one of the joints or vertebra of his backbone was the fatal bullet which caused his death. This bone, with the bullet in it, may be seen at Williams College, a sad memento of the marksmanship of those perilous days. The thigh bones are very sound and perfect, and of large size, indicating that their owner was over six feet tall. The skull was perfect, and the jaw had every tooth sound, excepting one gone. Tradition states that this young man was shot outside the fort, while obtaining water from the excellent spring on the north bank. There was a well inside the fort, but the preference for spring water is not strange in any one, and especially not in those who toiled as the soldiers of that day did.
Tradition also states that an Indian was shot on the north bank by a soldier named Howland, with a "long gun," after he had repeatedly and grossly insulted the men in the fort. Instances occurred in which the enemy were thus killed at the extraordinary distance of sixty rods, and they often fell when they supposed themselves in perfect security.
Habituated to sharp-shooting, the garrison signaled out the assailants whenever they exposed themselves, and brought them down at a long shot. The bank west of the Harrison residence, on which this saucy redskin is supposed to have stood when he received his punishment, is still called the "Indian ledge."
In the burial ground were four other small headstones, but they bore no inscriptions. The names of the men whose honored dust they marked are unknown. They have faded into obscurity, together with a thousand incidents that would interest and astonish the present generation, accustomed as it is to plenty, security and ease.
Some of the first settlers of the town were soldiers located at Fort Massachusetts. One of them, a John Perry, had settled here, built for himself a home and cleared a small farm at the time the prisoners were taken, August 20, 1746, he being one of them. His house and effects it seems were destroyed, and a short time after his release from captivity he petitioned the General Court for compensation for his losses. This quaint petition, which is given bellow, was disregarded by the Court.
It is dated November 5, 1747, less than three months after his return from captivity:
"Whereas, your Honors' humble Petitioner enlisted in the service of the country, under the command of Captain Ephriam Williams, in the year 1745, and was posted at Fort Massachusetts, in Hoosuck, and upon ye encouragement we had from ye late Colonel John Stoddard, which was that if we went, with our families, he did not doubt but that ye court would grant us land to settle on, whereupon I, your Honors' humble petitioner, carried up my family, with my household goods and other effects, and continued there till we were taken, when we were obliged to surrender to the French and Indian enemy, August 20th, 1746.
This date places John Perry as the first settler in the Hoosac Valley, though he never returned here after his captivity. The estimates he made of the property, it must be remembered, were in "lawful money," that is, Colonial bills made legal tender, and these, during that very year, were being redeemed by Massachusetts at the rate of eleven for one silver dollar.
I would humbly lay before your Honors the losses I sustained then, which are as followeth: A house which I built there for my family, £80: two feather beds with their furniture, £100; two suits of apparel: apiece for me and my wife, £150; two brass kettles, a pot of pewter, with tramel tonge and fire slice, and knives and forks to ye balance of £20; one crosscut saw, £20; and one new broadax, £6; three new narrow axes, £8; two steele traps, £14: two guns, £32, one pistol, £5; one hundred weight of sugar, £20: total, £457, with a great many other things not named. The losses your humble petitioner hath met with, together with my captivity, hath reduced me to low circumstances, and now humbly prayeth your Honors of your goodness to grant him a grant of land to settle upon near ye forts, where I fenced, which was about a mile west of the fort, or elsewhere, where your Honors pleaseth, and that your Honors may have a full reward hereafter for all your pious and charitable deeds, your Honors' humble petitioner shall always pray." JOHN PERRY.