Eunice Mather Williams
English, 1664 - 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.

Eunice Mather Williams - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | March to Canada | Epilogue | About This Narrative |


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Eunice Mather Williams, 1664 - 1704
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Eunice Mather, who became the wife of the Reverend John Williams of Deerfield, was born on August 2, 1664, in Northampton, Massachusetts. She grew up as the minister's daughter in a town that was evolving from a frontier outpost on the Connecticut River—it was founded only 10 years before Eunice's birth—to the county seat of newly established Hampshire County.

Daughter of Two Ministers

Eunice's father, the Reverend Eleazer Mather, was called to be the first minister of Northampton in 1658. Eleazer was one of four brothers who were all distinguished New England ministers, including Increase Mather, the noted leader of the Second Congregational Church in Boston. Eunice's mother, Esther Warham Mather, was also a minister's daughter; her father, the Reverend John Warham, was a prominent cleric in colonial Connecticut. In Puritan New England, ministers were at the top of the social scale, so Eunice was born into one of Northampton's foremost families.

Eunice's father died at 32, when she was five years old. Four years later, the Reverend Solomon Stoddard became Northampton's second minister—and Esther Warham Mather's second husband. Eunice's father and stepfather were on opposite sides in a bitter debate over church membership that divided congregations of the time. The strict interpretation, which Eleazer Mather held, was that adults must publicly testify to an "experience of saving grace" in order to become full church members. Solomon Stoddard took an extremely liberal position, arguing that full church membership should be available to all who professed their faith. (1) In time, most of the churches in the Connecticut Valley followed "Mr. Stoddard's Way," including the church at Deerfield that Eunice's future husband would lead. We don't know how Eunice's mother Esther felt about the matter, and whether it was difficult for her to marry two men on opposite sides of the doctrinal spectrum. However, it was natural for her to marry another minister after her first husband's death; minister's wives had a particular role in the community, and Esther knew that role.

As the minister's daughter—and to prepare her in turn to be a minister's wife— Eunice was taught to read and write. Although Puritan beliefs emphasized the importance of individual Bible reading, literacy was not universal, especially among women. Some were taught to read, but not to write; many of Eunice's female contemporaries were unable to sign their own names. Growing up in Northampton, Eunice may have studied with schoolmaster Joseph Hawley, who taught both boys and girls and was paid in part by the town and in part by students' parents. Eunice's mother would have taught her to sew, spin, knit, and embroider at a very young age—as well as the less dainty work required to run a household, so that she could help with these chores.

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A hornbook was the first "textbook" of many 17th-century children.
Reproduction courtesy of Elizabeth Ball collection of children's books, Lilly Library, Indiana University at Bloomington.

Paradise Lost

During most of Eunice's childhood, relations between the English setters and the local Nonotuck people were apparently friendly. Nonotuck villages and cornfields under cultivation were nearby, and there was some trade between the two populations. When Eunice was 11 years old, things changed: Metacom's (King Philip's) War brought fear and insecurity to Northampton as it spread westward, and the local Native population joined forces with their brethren from the east. The Nonotucks disappeared from the community—except to attack people caught outside of the town center, cutting wood or harvesting crops in the meadows. A palisade was erected around a large part of the town, but Native attackers broke through it on March 14, 1676, killing four men and a young girl and wounding others. The threat of such attacks continued throughout Eunice's teenage years.

Mrs. Williams

In June of 1686, 21-year-old John Williams of Roxbury, a recent graduate of Harvard College, was hired as minister for the town of Deerfield, 20 miles north of Northampton. He may have met Eunice Mather at her home, given the strong connections between Northampton and Deerfield. When Deerfield was resettled, many new residents came from Northampton, and Eunice's stepfather Solomon Stoddard was a minister with broad influence throughout the Connecticut Valley. It is likely that the Reverend Williams traveled to Northampton to pay his respects to the Reverend Stoddard, and there met Eunice.

Eunice and John were the same age, and she was well suited to be a minister's wife, both in her background and in her exceptional piety. As John Williams would later write, Eunice read the Holy Scriptures every day "to delight her soul in reading, praying, meditating on, by herself, in her closet, over and above what she heard out of them in our family worship." (2) Eunice and John were married in July of 1687. Eunice became Mrs. Williams, a title that signaled her status as the minister's wife. (Only men of status were addressed with the title "Mister"; in 17th-century Deerfield, John Williams and John Catlin alone had that distinction.)

Like most women of her day, Mrs. Williams's life was dominated by pregnancy, childbirth, and the nursing of infants. She bore children almost every other year between her wedding at 22 and her death at 39: Eliezer in 1688, Samuel in 1690, Esther in 1691, Stephen in 1693, Eliakim in 1695 (died the next year), Eunice in 1696, John in 1698, Warham in 1699, twins Jemima and Jerusha in 1701 (both died within two weeks), and another Jerusha in 1704. Labor and childbirth were considered "travail"—God's curse on Eve's daughters for her sin—and indeed women suffered and many died in giving birth. Births were typically attended by midwives and numerous other neighbor women. The husband was excluded and had to rely on progress reports communicated by the women.

Despite a state of almost constant pregnancy or breastfeeding, Eunice was responsible for much of the hard work required to run her household. The house built for the minister by the townspeople was "42 feet long and 20 feet wide, with a lean-to on the back side of the house." (3) The lean-to may have been Eunice's kitchen pantry, where she stored pots and kettles, barrels of flour, and kegs of molasses or beer; and where she may have butchered meat and salted or pickled it. There was a four-acre home lot that included a kitchen garden to plant, tend, and harvest. Even women of status had to plant vegetables, milk cows, build and tend the cook-fires, cook meals in the great fireplace, preserve food, make beer, spin yarn, make clothes, wash clothes, and so on.

The Williams household was one of the few in Deerfield that had African slaves at the time: Robert Tigo, who died in 1695; and Parthena and Frank, whom John Williams married in 1703. Parthena helped Eunice with the household chores and the children, while the male slaves worked in the outlying fields along with their master. In New England, slaves typically lived with the family they served, so Eunice had to feed, house, and clothe them as well as her husband and children. Although the Williams family was better off than some, Deerfield was a very poor town, and the Reverend did not always receive his salary, which each family paid as a direct tax. Often, Eunice probably had to make do with what the family farm could grow and what she could obtain through barter with her neighbors. Times were especially hard during the Nine Years' War, when people feared working in the fields because Indians ambushed and killed them or carried them off. But Eunice strove to remain strong and cheerful, as her mother had taught her the minister's wife should be.


It was a hard winter. There had been rumors of a planned attack by Indians in consort with the French since the previous spring. In October, Indians captured Zebediah Williams and John Nims as they worked in the fields outside of town and carried them to New France. Eunice prayed for strength and courage, remembering what it was like when Indian attackers breached the palisade in Northampton when she was a young girl.

The weather was bitter cold and very snowy, and it was difficult to communicate even with nearby towns. Eunice was anxious as the time of her travail approached. She had lost her twins, Jemima and Jerusha, shortly after their birth two years before, and she was now almost 40. Eunice prayed and put her faith in the will of God, and it pleased Him to deliver her of a healthy daughter on January 15, whom she named Jerusha in honor of the child who had died.

Tired and weak as she was from her ordeal, Eunice had to accommodate two more people in her already crowded house. There were her seven children—her oldest son Eliezer was away at school—and six adults: Eunice and her husband, the two slaves, and two garrisoned soldiers, Lieutenant John Stoddard of Northampton (Eunice's half-brother) and Joseph Eastman of Hadley. Eunice was grateful to have the 20 soldiers stationed in town to help protect them from attack, but it was a burden to have to feed two more people. There was hardly room to work without bumping into someone, and at night the two soldiers snored loudly. Eunice offered up her weariness to God, and thanked Him for the help of her dear husband John, her companion in many mercies and afflictions.

Eunice Mather Williams - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | March to Canada | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

Attack on Deerfield
February 29, 1704

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After dressing her children for winter travel, Eunice Williams was driven from the house along with her family.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Before dawn, Eunice Williams was awakened by a noise. She reached for six-week-old Jerusha, in her cradle next to the bed. The noise grew louder, and she realized it was not her baby's cries that had awakened her. It was the sound of doors and windows smashing and the war-cries of Indians. Her husband John leaped from the bed and ran toward the door, then immediately retreated, calling to rouse the soldiers sleeping upstairs.

No sooner did John shout "Indians!" than a hoard of frighteningly painted Indians and "Macquas" burst through the door. Five, ten, twenty yelling men jostled each other into the room, and some as quickly turned and left, running to the stairs and the kitchen. Eunice heard screams and shouts from elsewhere in the house. Her children! God preserve her children. Eunice held Jerusha tightly to her bosom and prayed the words of Isaiah 38—"in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave"—while John reached up over the bed where his pistol was hidden in the bed-tester. He fired as the first Indian reached him, but the warrior just laughed and wrenched the misfired gun away. He and two others tied John up with leather cords. John joined Eunice in her prayer as he stood there, bound and helpless, in his shirt.

Then: an Indian loomed over Eunice as she cowered in the bed. He yanked the wailing Jerusha from her arms and left the room. "The will of the Lord be done, the will of the Lord be done," Eunice repeated desperately. She felt faint and closed her eyes. Hearing some English words, she opened her eyes to see Indians holding hatchets over John's head, threatening to kill him and burn the house and barn. Eunice summoned up her faith, asking God for the grace to accept his will and committing them all to His care.

An Indian pulled Eunice to her feet and told her to dress herself and her children for a journey. As she numbly moved toward the chest, she saw Samuel, Esther, and Stephen being led into the room. Esther carried Warham. A "Macqua" followed, carrying seven-year-old Eunice, her daughter. She thanked the Lord for preserving them so far. The raiders were allowing her husband to dress as well. But where was young John, the six-year-old? Perhaps he was with Parthena; she would take care of him. Eunice pulled extra petticoats, stockings and shirts out of the chest, and they all struggled to put on layers of clothing. Eunice made sure to tie on the pocket in which she kept her psalm book. She saw an Indian go by with her best big pot, and she almost called out in protest. Then she heard Parthena scream in the dooryard.

About an hour after sunrise, their captors marched them out of the house, carrying off as many of Eunice's best goods as they could. Eunice was shaken yet again when she saw that most of her neighbors' houses were burning. Then her husband told her that Parthena and young John had been killed; she already knew that baby Jerusha was dead. Her husband said she should be comforted that John and Jerusha were now in the care of God. Eunice turned back to see flames rise up from her house and barn, and her milk cow lying dead in the yard.

Eunice Mather Williams - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | March to Canada | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

March to Canada
February 29 - March 1, 1704

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Eunice Williams was weak from recent childbirth and burdened with the weight of extra petticoats.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Eunice Williams didn't know how she had managed to cross the river and climb the mountain. She was still weak from birthing Jerusha. She was in shock with the loss of John and Jerusha, and prayed to God that he would care for them in heaven. She searched her heart for her sins and the sins of the congregation that had caused God to visit these trials upon them. But then she reminded herself that "the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord," and she was somewhat comforted.

Eunice was glad that she was able to see her children from time to time as they walked, and relieved that their captors carried young Eunice and Warham quite tenderly on their shoulders or in their arms. Her feet were wet, and by that night she was chilled through. Although the Indians made her a place in a wigwam they dug out of the snow and laid with spruce branches, she was too cold to sleep.

The next day, their captors drove them to start marching early and fast, faster than Eunice could walk through the deep snow and underbrush, up hills and over fallen logs. The raiders seemed worried about being pursued. Eunice felt even weaker than yesterday, and stumbled often, her petticoats wet and heavy with snow. She knew that she would not be able to keep pace and would probably meet her end at the hands of the savages. She lifted up her heart to God, imploring his grace and mercy in her time of need.

God answered Eunice with an unexpected gift. Her husband came to walk with her, and took her arm and helped her. His Indian master allowed them to speak together. Eunice took deep comfort in this chance—this last chance?—to be with her husband and lean on his wisdom and piety as much as on his arm. She summoned up her courage and told John that her strength was failing and that he must expect to part with her. "I dearly hope," she said, "that God will preserve your life, and the life of our remaining children, whom I commend to your care, under God." They spoke together of the happiness of those who have a right to a house not made with hands, but eternal in the heavens, with God for a father and friend.

John's master came to part them, and they said farewell, wishing for each other the grace sufficient for what God should call them to. Eunice said, "The will of the Lord be done," and John turned to follow his master toward the front of the line of march. Eunice was grateful for a few more minutes of rest and the chance to read the Scriptures before resuming her struggle through the snow.

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Crossing the Green River at this spot, Eunice fell.
Photo copyright Allison Bell.

Ahead, Eunice could see people wading across a fast-running river. She clutched her petticoats and stepped into the water. The water was deep, up to her thighs, and she tried to move carefully, feeling for a solid place to put her next step. But the current was strong; she slipped on a rock and fell into the water, which swept over her head. Eunice was tumbled against a boulder with painful force. She managed to heave herself up onto the boulder, catch her breath, and crawl to the riverbank. Soaked and shivering, her clothing weighing her down, Eunice tried to get up and keep walking. Grim-faced, her captor watched her. She would die from the cold, he knew, or from his one swift blow. He grabbed her arm and raised his hatchet.

Eunice Mather Williams - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | March to Canada | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

March 1, 1704 - 1837

After crossing the Green River and climbing a steep hill, John Williams waited, asking all who passed if they had seen his wife. On hearing of her fate, he was devastated. "I begged of God to overrule, in his providence, that the corpse of one so dear to me, and of one whose spirit he had taken to dwell with his in his glory, might meet with a Christian burial, and not be left for meat to the fowls of the air and beasts of the earth." (4)

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Eunice Williams's gravestone, placed by her children in 1729. Click here to view the stone's artifact page for more information.
Copyright Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association. All rights reserved.

His request was granted. A search party from Deerfield found Eunice's body the following day, and brought it back to Deerfield to be buried. The stone marking her grave reads, "Here lyeth the body of Mrs. Eunice Williams, the virtuous and desirable consort of the Rev. John Williams and daughter of Rev. Eleazer and Mrs. Esther Mather of Northampton. She was born Aug. 2, 1664, and fell by the rage of the barbarous enemy March 1st, 1703-4. Her children rise up and call her blessed."

More than a century later, a small party of Wôbanakiak traveling through their ancestral homelands stopped in Deerfield and paid their respects at the grave of Eunice Williams. The eldest woman in the group honored Eunice as her great-grandmother. This woman's grandmother was Mrs. Williams's daughter Eunice, who was taken captive in the raid, married a Kanienkehaka man and bore three children. Like her mother before her, Eunice Kanenstenhawi was remembered by her descendents and community as an exceptionally pious woman.

Eunice Mather Williams - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | March to Canada | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

About This Narrative

Eunice Mather Williams came from a prominent family in colonial Massachusetts, so we know something about the circumstances and events of her youth. From the Deerfield town records and other sources, we know that she gave birth almost every other year of her married life, and had an African slave to help with the household work. And from her husband's narrative of the attack on Deerfield and the captives' march to Canada, we have detailed information—at least from his point of view—of what she went through during those events.

We do not know what her daily life and experience were like, except as we can extrapolate from the historical record and John Williams's descriptions. This narrative uses information about women's lives in colonial times, such as that culled from inventories, diaries, court records, and letters by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in her book Good Wives, to imagine what Eunice's life was like before the dramatic events of 1704. For her experience during those events, we have based our imaginative reconstruction on John Williams's narrative. Feelings and words attributed to Eunice have been adapted from John Williams's own thoughts and feelings. For example, Williams writes that while he is tied up and his house is being ransacked, he "begged of God . . . that we might have grace to glorify his name, whether in life or death; and, as I was able, committed our state to God." These sentiments are echoed in this narrative when Eunice desperately repeats "The will of the Lord be done" as her baby is taken from her. This narrative was written by Freda Brackley.

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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