John Hawks
English, 1643 - circa 1722

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.

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


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John Hawks was one of the half-dozen men who escaped the raid on Deerfield.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

John Hawks, son of John and Elizabeth, was baptized in Windsor, Connecticut, on August 13, 1643. He lived with his family in Windsor where he apprenticed as a carpenter, until age 17 when the family moved up the Connecticut River to Hadley, Massachusetts.

John's father died in 1662 when John, Jr. was 19, and the son probably continued to live at home to help support the family of nine—five younger sisters and two younger brothers. His mother lived until 1685 and married twice again, in 1669 and 1683. Tasks in the seventeenth century were very gender-specific. Caring for the children and the household was female work; providing income to support the family was the role of the males. John undoubtedly supplied the support that ended when his father died, until he, himself, married in 1667, at age 24, and he may have continued that support until his mother married again two years later. He and his wife did not have their first child until 1671.

Early Life

Hawks and his new wife, Martha Baldwin of Hadley, moved to a four-acre homelot of their own after their marriage. John took an interest in the affairs of his town, as witnessed by the appearance of his name on a 1669 list of Hadley residents who petitioned against a tax on imports into the colony of Massachusetts. Hawks and his fellow townsmen reasoned that if the tax were imposed, the Connecticut Colony would retaliate and tax the goods that Hadley sent down the Connecticut River. (1)

The portion of Hadley on the west side of the Connecticut River where the young Hawks family lived, grew large enough by October 1669 for the residents to petition the mother town of Hadley to become a separate town. They named the new town Hatfield, and by May 31, 1670, it was incorporated and counted among its residents "John Hawks his whole accommodations." (2)

The Hawks family remained in Hatfield for five years, but adventure beckoned. The new town of Deerfield with rich meadowland on the northern edge of the frontier, two hours ride up the river from Hatfield, tempted John; he moved there with his wife and two surviving children, two-year-old John and baby Hannah, in the summer of 1675. Towns like Deerfield offered an opportunity to acquire land for young men and women in their twenties and thirties.

Within months of the Hawkses arrival, Deerfield had been abandoned and destroyed. The town's dwellings were in ashes, the result of an attack by Native warriors not long after the outbreak of King Philip's War in the summer of 1675. The survivors, who included John Hawks and his wife and children moved back to the towns to the south. The Hawks family returned to Hadley, probably moving in with John's mother. His wife, Martha Hawks died the next winter, on January 7, 1676, and we assume that John's mother and his two unmarried sisters, aged 22 and 19, helped care for John's children while he found work as a carpenter.

John Hawks - 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.

King Philip's War continued into 1676. In May of 1676, Capt. William Turner called for volunteers, and John Hawks and his brother Eliezer, signed up. John was 33 and Eliezer, 21. William Turner, lately of Dorchester, had been commissioned by Governor Leverett to raise troops in the Connecticut Valley, and he was laying plans for an offensive against several hundred Indians encamped at Peskeompskut, a fishing spot on the Connecticut River northeast of Deerfield. Turner's surprise attack in May, 1676, was a success, but the English soldiers remained too long at the scene and the retreat was disastrous. Crossing the river near the present site of Greenfield, a severely weakened Captain Turner was shot and died on the spot. Capt. Samuel Holyoke assumed command and led the men back to Hatfield. Both Hawks brothers escaped without injury.

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This fowler is typical of the kind Massachusetts Bay militia carried in 1676.
Courtesy Centre de conservation du Québec, Jean Blanchet photographer.

John Hawks - 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

Fight in the Hatfield Meadows

Only 11 days after the fight at Peskeompskut, and in retaliation for the slaughter there, Indians attacked Hatfield in the daytime with the purpose of stampeding cattle that were feeding in the meadows. The Indians had an animosity towards English livestock, especially cattle. Dispersing or killing them was a calculated assault on the English way of life—a violent statement to protest the taking of their homelands for English agriculture and the introduction of livestock, two developments that undermined traditional Indian subsistence practices.

The Indian attackers were spied by Hadley people across the river, who dropped their plows and hoes and picked up their guns, always nearby. The Hadley men ran to the river where 25 of them boarded a boat secured there for use as a ferry between the two towns. The unexpectedly swift current quickly carried them downstream beyond the site of the attack, and they landed in the tall rushes a distance south of the village. Rushing up the river bank, each man took shelter behind a tree and watched for some advantage over his enemy, or an opportunity to run to another tree for cover. So began a game of hide-and-seek between John Hawks and a Pocumtuck whom John recognized. Both were armed, and each dared the other to come out from behind his cover and fight. The two men dodged back and forth until they were in sight of the Hatfield stockade. John, whose gun had misfired once when his flint snapped without discharging because of dampness, carefully loaded his gun, primed it, and set his flint, knowing this chance might be his last. Carefully watching his adversary, he calculated the distance between them and stepped quickly from his cover, pretending to aim in another direction. The Pocumtuck, fooled by the trick, sprang from behind the tree with his gun at rest, and Hawks turned, leveled his gun, and fired. The Indian threw up his arms and fell backward, his gun discharging into the air.

Later, in the same fight, Hawks was seriously wounded and was probably taken to his mother's house in Hadley to recover. The valiant efforts of John Hawks and his companions helped to save Hatfield from destruction. A number of buildings on the outskirts were already in flames when soldiers from the Northampton and Hadley garrisons arrived on the scene, but the main part of the town was saved.

John Hawks's injury from the Hatfield meadows required 12 weeks of recuperation. His brave conduct was reported to the General Court of Massachusetts Bay, and on May 30, 1679, he was voted compensation for his valor.

Return to Deerfield

By 1680, family history tells us that Hawks was in Branford, Connecticut, but we do not know what took him there nor with whom he stayed. Three years later, at age 40, he was back in Deerfield at the second, and permanent, settlement, having made a bargain with Colonel John Pynchon of Springfield to buy Lot 12 on the west side of the common. He must have built a house on the lot — he was a carpenter, after all—and he and his two children lived there until 1687. For some reason, in that year he defaulted on his bargain with Pynchon, and the colonel sold the property, with the house that Hawks had built, to John Sheldon. Where did he and his children, ages 14 and 12, live after that? His younger brother, Eliezer, also lived in town, but it is not clear whether he owned a lot or lived with another family. Perhaps John moved in with another family. Privacy was less available in domestic spaces in the seventeenth century; whether it was less desirable than it is today is not clear.

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This document is written in John Hawks hand, and records a debt that he owes to John Pynchon.
Copyright Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association. All Rights Reserved.

Hawks's training as a carpenter, which necessitated the ability to read, write, and figure, probably was instrumental in his appointment by the town in 1685 to measure Deerfield's land allotments. His task was to make sure the portions were accurate as originated by the Dedham proprietors, who had hired a surveyor to lay out the town in 1671. One year later, in 1686, his carpentry skills were again called into use when he and fellow woodworker, John Stebbins, led a group up the steep hillside of the East Mountain to cut timber and then build a house for John Williams, Deerfield's newly-chosen minister. The house, which did not survive the attack on Deerfield of 1704, was to be "42 feet long 20 feet wide with a lentoo on the back side."

When the common fence was laid out around the town in February 1687, each property owner was assigned his portion to keep in good repair; the length of the portion based on the amount of land each one owned. John Hawks's share lay somewhere in the middle in terms of value—23 owned more than he and 24 owned less. We know he had not bought Lot 12 from Colonel Pynchon. What land, then, did he own to qualify him for a portion of the common fence? Although no deed has been found, Deerfield historian George Sheldon believed that John Hawks owned Lot 18, six acres at the south end of the street. His brother Eliezer acquired it from him in 1704, according to Sheldon (3) and, at the end of his life, Hawks granted his son-in-law, Jonathan Scott of Waterbury, Connecticut, the power to recover and sell land in Deerfield. Hawks at this time was living with his daughter Hannah and her husband, Scott. On January 9, 1721, that same Jonathan Scott, as attorney for John Hawks, sold one-half of Lot 18 to Eliezer. Perhaps Eliezer had purchased the first half from him in 1704 and now John was relinquishing the other half. Although land transactions were to be recorded at the court house in Springfield, some were not.

Whether John Hawks built a house on Lot 18 is not known; it is unclear where he lived between 1687 when he left Colonel Pynchon's lot and 1702, when the town granted him a small piece of land inside the fort. On this parcel, owned by the town, he was permitted to build "for himself and his son John a fort for his lifetime." The plot was located in the middle of the highway in the southeast corner of John Williams's lot. This is where the Hawks family was living on February 29, 1704.

Hawks served his town as a moderator of town meetings and as selectman—both positions of responsibility and trust—and as master carpenter, when he was hired "to carry out and complete" the building of the new meeting house in 1694. His charge included not only "falling, hewing (the trees), framing, shingling, clapboarding" (the buildings), but also fashioning the seating, interior paneling, pulpit, and other necessary interior features. Many carpenters are capable of framing and roofing a building, but those who were hired to do the interior finish work were among the most skilled. Hawks was one of these. It has been suggested, but never proved, that he made furniture—chests especially—in addition to his work as carpenter.

Because of the impoverished condition of the town, especially after the attack of 1704, John Hawks did not receive payment for his work on the meeting house until 1714. At that time, he was 71 years old and was paid, not in cash, but with 20 acres of town land on the Mill River (south of the village of Deerfield).

Widowed in January of 1676, Hawks remained single for 20 years until his two children married—Hannah in 1694, and John in 1695. His second wife, Alice Allis, was from his former town, Hatfield, and was the widow of a fellow soldier, Samuel Allis, who fought with Hawks at Peskeompskut. Hawks and Mrs. Allis married in November of 1696. Samuel Allis died in 1691 leaving Alice with six children, the oldest, 19, and the youngest, 9. A daughter Elizabeth was born to the Hawkses in 1696; she was their only child.

Hawks continued to participate in town business, maintaining the Gate at Eagle Brook for the the meadows, and planning one roadway from the south end of town to the head of Muddy (Bloody) Brook swamp, and another from Wapping to Hatfield. And he undoubtedly worked as carpenter and joiner, in addition to his continuing work on the fourth meeting house.

John Hawks - 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 people of Deerfield had long been living in fearful anticipation of an attack by French and Indians in Canada. Their stockade was built hurriedly in 1690 when they believed they were the next target of the French and Kanienkehaka (Mohawks) who attacked Schenectady that winter. Those residents whose homes lay outside the palisade, were encouraged by the town to build refuges within the protected area and to come there at night, for protection against an attack. Although fear was constantly with them, the wooden stockade—the standard method of protection from medieval times—must have given them hope that they could withstand an onslaught and would be safe from harm.

The fact that the houses at the north end of the street were empty on the night of February 29, 1704, because the residents of those buildings were "safely" ensconced in shelters within the palisade, gave the French and Indian raiders an advantage. They were able to creep noiselessly down the street and send an advance force to silently climb the snowbank that surrounded the palisade. This group then opened the north gate to admit the others, and the assault began. The attackers divided into three groups as they passed through the gate. Some turned left and headed toward the houses on the east side of the common; others moved south and attacked the small houses that had been erected on the common itself. The third group turned to the houses on the west side of the common. (4) Those residents who were not already wakened were roused by the screams of those under attack and by gunshots from both sides. All was chaos and confusion in the darkness and the winter cold.

In the southwest corner of the stockade, residents had the most time to react, since they were farthest from the entry point. Some of them fled out the south or west gates. Some tried to hide. John Hawks, Sr., along with John Field, Robert Price, and Samuel Smead, managed to escape—out of their houses and beyond the stockade. All their names are among those of the survivors. Were they running for help? Were they looking to join with their fellow militia men to create a unified and, therefore, stronger resistance? Or, were they just running to save themselves? We cannot know. What we do know is that all the remaining members of the families of these four men were either captured, killed, or smothered and burned to death.

The family of John Hawks, Sr.—his son John and his wife, their three children, and Martin Smith, who lived with them—either suffocated in their cellar hiding place or burned to death when the small house was set on fire. John Hawks's wife Alice, was killed, as was her son Samuel Allis (b.1679). Their seven-year-old daughter Elizabeth, was captured and killed on the march to Canada. Hawks's only surviving immediate family member was daughter Hannah, who was married and living in Waterbury, Connecticut.

It is difficult to view John Hawks's escape that night as an act of cowardice. His life had been one of courage in the face of sustained conflict and adversity, much like the lives of others who braved the wildness of western Massachusetts looking for a better life for themselves or for their children. His history was not that of the faint-hearted. He had been the support of his mother and seven siblings after the death of his father in 1662; he fought bravely at the battle of Peskeompskut; he was severely wounded after leading a charge in the Hatfield meadows. As a young father, he moved his small family to the raw town of Deerfield in 1675, only to see it burned to the ground within months of his arrival. With the death of his wife in 1676, John raised his two children, again moving to Deerfield at the time of the permanent settlement in 1683. His record was filled with participation and with courage, not with cowardice.

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


An example of John Hawks's bravery occurred four months after the February attack, in July of 1704. Riding on horseback from Deerfield to Hatfield, he came to a ravine where the roadway descended a sharp hill, crossed a stream, and continued up the bank on the other side. When his horse became skittish, Hawks suspected ambush and urged his animal across the stream at top speed, attempting to sound like a whole troop and not just one horseman. The rush startled the enemy concealed in the brush, and their aim was poor, resulting in only a slight wound to Hawks's hand. He realized that retreat was impossible and that probably an attempt to escape by outriding them would mean certain death. Instead, he turned his horse's head into the bushes beside the path and urged the animal to leap while he shouted behind him to make the enemy believe a whole company was at his heels, all the while shouting encouraging words to the make-believe troops. Thrashing the brush right and left, he managed to outwit the Indians who panicked, believing they, themselves, had fallen into a trap. They fled and Hawks made his way safely on to Hatfield. Riding alone outside the safety of the stockaded towns was a risky undertaking.

Hawks left Deerfield in 1705, one among the half-dozen men who had left their families the night of February 29. The families and dwellings of these men were gone and the guilt and the shame were, perhaps, too much to endure. John Hawks went to live with his daughter Hannah in Waterbury, Connecticut. He remained there for the rest of his life. The recording of a property sale to his brother Eliezer of Deerfield, in January, 1721, is the last we know of him.

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

About This Narrative

John Hawks was a real person. His name appears in Deerfield town records and genealogies, and his exploits can be read in the town histories of Hadley and Deerfield. His acts of bravery in young manhood and beyond belie his actions at the time of the February 29, 1704 attack, making clearer for us, perhaps, the terror and total confusion of that night. 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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