Bringing History to Life: The People in The Many Stories of 1704 - by Freda Brackley
As its name suggests, a major goal of this Many Stories of 1704 web site is to present multiple historical perspectives in a way that is engaging and compelling. People are drawn to stories, especially stories of actual historical characters. And so we have tried to bring to life the history surrounding the 1704 raid on Deerfield by telling the stories of the many people involved.
A difficulty in doing so is that the lives of prominent people of European descent—English and French—were, in general, better recorded than those of European common folk as well as Native American and African people. The Native groups that participated in the raid had active oral traditions that recorded individual and group exploits, but such information was rarely written down by Europeans. The Africans who were killed or captured were enslaved people whose lives were chronicled only as property of their masters. People today usually learn about history through the viewpoint recorded in their history books, which for citizens of the United States is that of the most prominent English colonists, who did not understand or record the perspectives of the French, Native, and African participants in the events.
To evoke these multiple perspectives, we have dramatized the life stories of many individuals. Some of these are people who wrote about their experience—most famously, the Reverend John Williams, who published a classic captivity narrative—enabling us to tell their stories in their own words. For other people, we have a historical outline of their lives: their dates of birth and death, who their parents were, how many children they had, etc. For others, we know only a name and the fact that they were present during a particular event. For some Native people, we can construct motivations and activities based on the way in which their lives surface in the historical record. But for many others, we don't even know their names.
Because of this, some of the people on the web site are "composite characters," created to represent specific groups and points of view that might otherwise be overlooked. For these people, we have used a combination of historical, archaeological, traditional, and linguistic evidence to create plausible life stories. We have imagined details of daily life and emotions, but have based these details on traditional activities, cultural practices, and known historical events. These characters have been created and imaginatively fleshed out for the sake of balance, so that the best-known European people in this history will not be the only ones with human qualities and experiences to which our audience can relate.
In addition to the composite characters, there are people for whom the historical record is scant, such as Frank and Parthena, John Williams's African slaves. We know only that they lived with the Williams family, were married by the Reverend Williams, and died in the raid or its aftermath. For them, we have used studies of the slave trade and slavery in New England in the 18th century to create representative histories of individuals in their situation.
Finally, there are people whose major life events are well documented in the historical record, such as female members of the Williams family—but such facts may do little to convey the flavor of their daily life. For these people, we have included in their stories contextual information about, for example, Puritan child-rearing practices or historical happenings that would have affected their lives.
For all of the people on this site—except John and Stephen Williams, who speak to us in their own words—we have to some extent, imagined their feelings during the central events in which they took part. Footnote #1 in the first paragraph of each character's Prologue provides information about how much of their story is historical fact and how much is context or imaginative recreation.
The history of the 1704 raid on Deerfield is one of the clash of empires, cultures, and peoples. In fleshing out the many people of 1704 and their stories—including those that have previously been excluded—we have aimed to "do history" in a way that brings it to life for site visitors while maintaining accuracy and scholarly integrity.