Benoni Stebbins
English, 1655 - 1704

Note: All narratives about people are, to the extent possible, based on primary and secondary historical sources. Some narratives necessarily contain invented, yet plausible, scenarios and personal attributes. Please see About This Narrative to learn more about how this person's narrative was created.

Benoni Stebbins - Prologue | Assault on Peskeompskut | Strife and Survival in the Connecticut River Valley | Attack on Deerfield | Epilogue | About This Narrative |


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Benoni Stebbins, like many Deerfield inhabitants, moved to the village from Northampton. He was an adventurous youth who grew up to become a respected member of the Deerfield community.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Benoni Stebbins led a risk-filled adventurous life, although he lived only 49 years and spent all of it within the narrow confines of the Connecticut River valley of Massachusetts. He left quite a mark in records from this period.

Born on June 23, 1655, in Springfield, Massachusetts, Benoni Stebbins was one of two surviving children of John Stebbins and his first wife Mary (Munson) Munden. Shortly after the birth of Benoni and the death of his wife, John Stebbins moved his family to Northampton, Massachusetts. John remarried in November of 1657, to Abigail Bartlett who then became stepmother to 10-year-old John and two-year-old Benoni. John and Abigail would become parents to 11 more children, one born every two years from 1659 to 1678. It must have been a crowded and often chaotic house by 1678, the year Benoni left home to be married.

When he was 12 years old, Benoni got in trouble with the law. In 1667 his name appeared in the Hampshire County Court Records when three "lads"—Benoni Stebbins, his older brother John, and Godfrey Nims—were found guilty of stealing twelve shillings of silver and seven of wampum while "townsmen were in church." (1) The boys took the money to pay a local Indian, Quanquelatt, who had promised to help them run away to Canada.

Who was Quanquelatt? He must have lived in Northampton and knew enough English to communicate with the boys. As a Native of the valley, he may have had kinsmen who had moved north to Native villages, along the Saint Lawrence River, and so could entice the boys with thoughts of a walk to a foreign land. In any event, the court instructed them to return the money and suffer a punishment of lashes on their naked backs—perhaps in full view of the townspeople—15 to the ring leader, John, and 11 each to the two accomplices. Quanquelatt received 20 lashes. Dreams of adventure in Canada were soon only a memory.

In 1676, at age 21, Benoni was again in court—this time for "wearing his hair too long." In 1677, he married a woman named Mary Bennet who had similar spirit and disregard for the law and who, one year later, was admonished for violating the sumptuary laws and fined 10 shillings. Benoni refused to pay Mary's fine, and drew his own fine for "openly affronting the Court." (2)

Benoni Stebbins - Prologue | Assault on Peskeompskut | Strife and Survival in the Connecticut River Valley | Attack on Deerfield | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

Assault on Peskeompskut
May, 1676

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Illustration copyright Francis Back.

The Falls Fight

Belligerence and indignation may not be desirable human qualities in town or social affairs, but they may be seen as attributes in times of war—and in 1675 war came to the English settlements in the mid-Connecticut Valley for the first time. Metacom, a Wampanoag, (called King Philip by the English) had begun raiding English towns in the eastern part of New England early in the summer of 1675, and by late summer fighting had spread to western Massachusetts. Native peoples burned houses and killed livestock in an effort to reclaim land taken from them by the English. In the spring of 1676, Benoni Stebbins and Godfrey Nims, two of the "lads" from the 1667 court case, were among the approximately 150 men who answered Captain William Turner's plea for volunteers to attack an Indian camp at a place called Peskeompskut on the Connecticut River.

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Metacom, called King Philip by English colonists, was a Wampanoag sachem who lead an allied force of Native people from present-day New England in a war to stymie English expansion in Native homelands.
Copyright Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association. All Rights Reserved.

Benoni was still living at home with his parents when Northampton was attacked on March 14,1676, and the new palisade breached. Had he and Godfrey Nims, as energetic, eager residents, helped to build the palisade? And were they now eager for revenge? Captain Turner's daring plan may have provided the opportunity they had been waiting for.

The "army" of Captain Turner would attack the Indian camp at Peskeompskut, one of the most popular fishing spots along the Connecticut River, where people from different Native nations traditionally gathered in the spring to fish the shad and salmon and hunt the surrounding woods for game. The fighting force under Captain Turner contained both militia men from eastern Massachusetts and volunteers—more than half of whom, like Stebbins and Nims—came from towns in the Connecticut River Valley. They gathered at Hatfield, each one with his own horse and as armed as he could manage. The 20-mile march began on the evening of May 18, to the site of the falls of the Connecticut where the large party of Native peoples were camped.

The route took the men past the site of the Bloody Brook ambush of September 18, 1675, and Benoni must have told his fellow soldiers as they crossed the stream, about the military exploits of his older brother John. John Stebbins was the only Englishman known to have survived that attack and he was still a soldier, now serving with Captain Moseley, fighting to subdue Philip.

Northward they rode to the main street of the ruined English village at Pocumtuck (Deerfield), where they saw the houses scorched by Native raiders in the late summer of 1675. Both Benoni and Godfrey had land claims in the burned-out village. Benoni's grandfather Rowland—an original Deerfield proprietor—drew Lot 13 in 1671, and Godfrey Nims, himself, had bought land there in 1674. Perhaps the two young men wondered, as they passed the gaping cellar holes and stark chimney shadows, if houses—their houses —would ever line that street again.

At dawn on May 19, 1676, Captain Turner and his band of raiders reached the river and commenced a surprise attack on the sleeping Native camp. The assault resulted in the death of over 300 Indians, most of them children, women and the elderly. Arriving Native warriors pursued the English and killed 38 of them, including Captain Turner. Both Benoni and Godfrey escaped unharmed.

Benoni Stebbins - Prologue | Assault on Peskeompskut | Strife and Survival in the Connecticut River Valley | Attack on Deerfield | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

Strife and Survival in the Connecticut River Valley

Ashpelon's Raid

By the time Metacom's War was winding down in the late summer of 1676, the English could find few obvious signs of Indians in the Connecticut River Valley. Many had moved westward to Schaghticoke, or northward to settle in Native villages along the Saint Lawrence River. Others had retreated into isolated areas of their homelands in southern New England.

By the summer of 1677, a handful of displaced Englishmen, living in Northampton or Hatfield, were making tentative efforts to resettle the English village at Pocumtuck, or Deerfield as they had begun to call it. In an attempt to rebuild, a small party of young men—22-year-old Benoni Stebbins among them—was led by 57-year-old Sergeant John Plympton.

What brought Benoni to such a dangerous place at such a perilous time? He was a risk taker, there in spite of certain danger, with the intent of claiming the homelot his grandfather had been granted when the town was originally laid out in 1671. Benoni was probably making plans for a house on land that he was sure to inherit from his father.

Not long after they arrived at Pocumtuck on the evening of September 19, 1677, a band of 26 Indians, under the leadership of Ashpelon, struck. All the attackers are believed to have been Natives originally from the middle Connecticut River Valley, survivors of Metacom's War, who had—according to Benoni Stebbins—fled north and lived with the French after the war. Stebbins identified them as "Norowottuck, all except one, a Narragansett,"and described the marauders as composed of "eighteen fighting men and the rest two squaws, old men and boys." (3) Some of the captors must have been English-speaking, since Stebbins reported that they revealed that the French had "Incouraged them" to take captives, paying eight pounds apiece, and further that the "french Indians did intend to come with them the next time in spring or winter if they had success this time." (4)

Of the would-be Deerfield settlers, four were captured: Sergeant Plympton, Quinton Stockwell, eight-year-old Samuel Russell, and Benoni Stebbins. The four were taken to East Mountain where they joined 17 captives—some of whom they knew — taken captive earlier that day in Hatfield. Because there were nearly as many captives as captors, the English were fastened securely at night by "staking down" their limbs. This involved stretching out arms and legs and fastening them to the ground with stakes, and tying cord around the neck so they could not stir. Quinton Stockwell remembered "being much tired, I slept as comfortable as ever." (5)

The long journey to Canada began the next day. When the group reached a point two days above Squaheag (Northfield), they paused. The leader decided that part of their company should travel to the "Wotchuset" hills to "fetch away two small company of Indians that had lived there." (6) Benoni was, at this time, sent off with two squaws and a mare "to fetch some hucleberies (huckleberries) a little way from the company." Stebbins contemplated the risk and seized the opportunity to take the horse and escape. The fact that he "got upon the mare and rid til he tired the mare and then run on foot, and so escaped to Hadley, being 2 days without victuals," (7) demonstrated again his dogged determination to survive.

For the next five years, Benoni Stebbins was probably living in Northampton. He and his wife Mary's first child, Ebenezer, was born August 4, 1678, followed by Thankful on March 10, 1680.

Life in Deerfield

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This map shows the placement of Lot 13, Benoni Stebbins's houselot and fields. Click here to take a closer look.
Copyright Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association. All Rights Reserved.

Resettlement of the town of Pocumtuck, soon renamed Deerfield, began in 1682. As expected, Benoni did inherit Lot 13 when his father died in 1679, and in 1682 or 1683 he built a house. The lot was conveniently located in the center of the village on Meeting House hill, just north of the ministry lot where the town would build a house and barn for their new pastor, the Reverend John Williams, when he arrived in June of 1686. Benoni's older brother, John, settled further north on the Deerfield street, on Lot 35.

At the December town meeting, Benoni Stebbins, age 31, began his service to the new town by agreeing to serve as selectman, one of the most esteemed offices, and probably one that involved the most work. His fellow selectmen ranged in age from 27 to 51 and were five in number. Election to town offices, particularly the positions of moderator, selectman, and clerk, suggested that the individual was highly regarded by his fellow townsmen. Stebbins apparently served well for he was elected again in 1689, 1692, and 1701. Before he was 40, Benoni was one of the wealthiest land owners in Deerfield. He not only owned the well-situated homelot, but also 26 cow commons (8) second only to the 30 owned by Lt. Thomas Wells. The majority of Deerfield men held between 10 and 20 cow commons. Only seven men had fewer than five.

Benoni Stebbins, like so many of his neighbors, was a farmer, and his days were governed by the seasons. Each day, except Sunday, the yeomen farmers walked to their barns or to the north or south meadows to plant and tend crops, mend fences, and care for their livestock. Men owned their cropland individually, the farmland laid out in long strips and apportioned to each homelot. At times, both labor and equipment were shared. The town meeting regulated grazing seasons, planting times, and the raising and lowering of fences. Deerfield farmers produced wheat, malt, hops, peas, barley, rye, hay and corn and there were cattle and some pigs; many men, including Benoni Stebbins, owned a horse. While a farmer's work was largely seasonal, women's work was constant and included repeated daily chores such as cooking and child care; and chores dictated by the change of season, such as soap and candle making, planting of the kitchen garden, and all the household concerns having to do with preparation for winter. Women's days revolved around these household tasks and the raising of the children.

Mary Stebbins had given birth to twins, Joseph and Esther, on February 6, 1689, but she died two months after their birth, leaving Benoni with two newborns and four other children under age 11. Many widowers, unskilled in the care of young children, married again within months. Benoni, however, waited two years before he married again — this time to another widow, Hannah Edwards; she bore him two more children in 1692 and 1695. His oldest daughter, Thankful, was only nine-years-old when her mother died. At that age, was she already trained enough in household routines to help to hold the family together?

The February 1690 town meeting had as its main order of business "that yr shall be a good sufficient fortification made upon the meeting hous hill." Benoni Stebbins, age 34, was one of a committee of seven appointed by the town to see to the building of a wooden palisade that would enclose an area large enough to shelter the whole population of Deerfield, 202 rods (one rod = 16 feet) around. The fort was ordered to be "don & finished by 8 March," only two weeks away. Benoni and his committee must have called upon every able-bodied man in the village of some 240 to 250 people to fell the trees, hew the logs, dig the trenches, and position the finished pickets. This, in the dead of winter. The people of Deerfield were impelled to make this utmost effort by news of a French and Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) attack on the town of Schenectady, New York, on February 18, and the fear that they would be the next target.

In addition to the building of the fortification, the town meeting determined that if there were families in houses outside the fort that could not be "conveniently received" by those in houses inside the fort, that they should have "habitations" provided for, inside the fort at the town's expense. Again Benoni stepped up to help, and he and two others were appointed to determine where the said houses or cellars would be located and how large they would be. A large attack did not come during the 1690s, though seven small raids killed a total of 12, wounded 5 and captured 5.

With the palisade in place, the town relaxed a little and looked toward more peaceful building projects as they began to make plans for a new meeting house. The new building was to take the place of the one raised soon after 1682 at the resettlement, and was to be of "ye bigness of Hatfield meeting house only ye height to be left to ye judgement and determination of ye committee..." (9) Although we believe the meeting house was not completed until 1695, the town voted on March 11, 1693, "that the new meeting hous shall now be seated."

Seating the meeting house was a delicate issue and a cause of frequent social agitation. Age, rank, and dignity —the qualities that determined the seating plan — were not necessarily easy to determine, fairly and precisely. Only the bold would agree to be appointed to undertake this difficult charge, and they were David Hoyt, Deacon John Sheldon, and Benoni Stebbins.

Education of Children

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A primary reason to teach children to read in seventeenth-century New England was so the populous could study the Bible.
Copyright Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, All Rights Reserved.

The education of children in a Protestant community was a standard commitment in New England. Residents were expected to be able to read the Bible and, as a result, the literacy rate was high, even in the little towns along the knife-edge of the frontier. Benoni's name appears in the records of 1698, along with that of John Catlin and William Armes, as members of the committee to build a school house and hire a school master. Four of Benoni's children were of school age.

In that same year, Benoni and his family—which now included a wife and seven children—felt the need to replace their house, a part of which Benoni had sold to John Catlin, who then moved it to his Lot 26, down the street to the south. (10) In December Benoni petitioned the town for an exchange of land; he proposed to trade a piece of his property for a piece of town land at the front of his homelot; this would allow him to build his new dwelling within the protection of the fort. The petition was granted on June 12, 1699, and the building of the house probably commenced in the summer months. We may safely date his house, which figured so largely in the attack of February 1704, to the year 1699.

Benoni Stebbins - Prologue | Assault on Peskeompskut | Strife and Survival in the Connecticut River Valley | Attack on Deerfield | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

Attack on Deerfield
February 29, 1704

The new Stebbins house was framed with wooden timbers, as were all the houses in town, and although not fortified in the classic sense of having heavy doors and slots for shooting, its walls were filled with brick nogging, giving it added protection from musket fire. Four years after the house was finished, that musket fire began. It was on February 29, 1704, about an hour before daylight, when a large party of French and Indians breached the palisade and swarmed through the "protected" portion of the town of Deerfield. Neighbors had taken refuge in the house of Benoni and Hannah Stebbins, and their family of five children. Known to have been in the house that night were: David Hoyt, Jr. and his wife Mary with their nine-month-old baby Mary; Joseph Catlin and his wife Hannah, six months pregnant and with a boy under two years; and Benjamin Church, a soldier. Also in the house were three other men and an unknown number of women and children.

The men in the Stebbins house drove back the assailants repeatedly, but later, nearly the whole force of the enemy surrounded the house, pouring bullets from every quarter. Again, Benoni and his now desperate allies returned the fire as the raiders attempted, unsuccessfully, to set fire to the house. The attackers, in a desperate move, tried to bargain with the defenders, offering mercy if they laid down their arms. They refused. Benoni had suffered the humiliation of captivity once and he did not want to be taken prisoner again. The fury of the English increased, and the assailants were forced to take cover in both the meeting house and Sheldon house next door on the north. From these buildings they continued to shower the Stebbins house with heavy musket fire. The fight lasted nearly three hours and, only as the enemy withdrew, chased by arriving militiamen from the neighboring towns, did the Stebbins house finally catch fire, probably lit by embers blowing from other houses that were burning.

Benoni Stebbins - Prologue | Assault on Peskeompskut | Strife and Survival in the Connecticut River Valley | Attack on Deerfield | Epilogue | About This Narrative |


Of his family, only Benoni was killed; his wife and five children were spared. According to the Table of Losses, compiled by Colonel Samuel Partridge for Governor Fitz John Winthrop of Connecticut, Stebbins lost real estate amounting to three hundred pounds — houses and "all goods Barn & Cattl burnt." (11) The only property of similar high value lost that February night belonged to the Reverend Williams. The Stebbins estate was settled on March 8, 1704, with Hannah Stebbins, "Widow and Relict," as inheritor. Hannah later married Deacon Thomas French, town clerk of Deerfield, whose wife was killed on the march to Canada. French's house, located across the common from Benoni's, was still standing after the attack.

Of the other Deerfielders in the house that night, David Hoyt, Jr. was killed in the Meadows fight chasing the attackers; his wife Mary had been wounded in the assault, but survived to marry again, in 1706, to Samuel Field who survived that same Meadows fight. Joseph Catlin was another of the nine men who fell in the Meadows fight; his wife Hannah had been wounded and carried to Northampton where she gave birth to a son John, in June 1704.

Across the common, on Lots 27 and 28, Benoni Stebbins's old comrade Godfrey Nims endured a night of hell: four children killed; three captured; his wife captured and killed on the march to Canada; his house, barn, and all possessions and livestock, burned. Godfrey, himself, survived the attack, but died soon after, possibly of injuries suffered during the attack, but perhaps from a broken heart.

The two renegades, Godfrey Nims and Benoni Stebbins, challenged life all the years they lived—from their scheme to run off to Canada when they were boys, to the defense of their homes against attack 37 years later; both died violently in a violent time.

Benoni's brother John, older by eight years, lost his house and all his possessions. He and his wife and six children survived and were carried off to Canada, but only John, his wife, and John, Jr., returned to rebuild. When John wrote his will in 1723, he noted the names of his children who were still in Canada: Abigail, born 1687; Samuel, born 1688; Thankful, born 1691; Ebenezer, born 1694; and Joseph, born 1699. Of these, only Samuel appears to have returned, in the late 1720s.

Benoni Stebbins - Prologue | Assault on Peskeompskut | Strife and Survival in the Connecticut River Valley | Attack on Deerfield | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

About This Narrative

Benoni Stebbins was a real person who left evidence of his life – in court, in war, and in family and land records. He was a member of the third generation of Stebbines in this country: grandfather, Rowland (1594-1671) came to Ispwich from England in 1634; father, John (1626-1679), settled in Springfield and in Northampton. Benoni and his older brother John were early settlers in Deerfield. This narrative was written by Susan McGowan Titus.

See Further Reading for a list of sources used in creating this narrative. For a discussion of issues related to telling people's stories on the site, see: Bringing History to Life: The People in The Many Stories of 1704.

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