Stephen Williams
English, 1693 - 1782

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.

Stephen Williams - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

1693 - 1704

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Stephen Williams (1693-1782), son of John and Eunice Williams. Taken captive as a boy of 10, he returned to follow his father's path into the ministry.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Stephen Williams, son of the Reverend John Williams and Eunice Mather Williams, was born on May 14, 1693, in Deerfield, Massachusetts. He was the Williams's fourth child. His older siblings were Eliezer, who was four years older than Stephen; Samuel, three years older; and Esther, two years older. In February 1704, his younger siblings were Eunice, John, Warham, and baby Jerusha, just born in January and given the name of another sister who had died in infancy. Stephen had seen three of his siblings die: his brother Eliakim, who died two weeks before his first birthday, and the twins Jemima and Jerusha, who died within a week of their birth.

The Minister's Family

The Williams family was one of the most prestigious in Deerfield. Stephen's father was a graduate of Harvard College and the town's minister, a position of high status in Puritan New England. His mother was a Mather and thus related to the most prominent ministers in the colony, Increase and Cotton Mather. However, late 17th/early 18th-century Deerfield was a community of debt-ridden farmers, poor compared both to other local towns and New England as a whole. The Reverend Williams's salary was paid by a tax on each household, and as a result he did not always receive it.

Even the best-off Deerfield families had relatively few possessions—farm implements, pots and pans, clothing and bedding, a few chairs, one or two tables, beds, and chests. However, the Williams family had one of the largest houses in town, "42 feet long and 20 feet wide" (1) with two stories. They also had African slaves to help with the household and farm work. Stephen might have remembered the slave Robert Tigo, who died when he was two; Frank and Parthena, married by the Reverend Williams in June of 1703, had been working for the family for years. The Williamses could afford to do without the labor of Stephen's oldest brother, Eliezer, who was away at Harvard College.

Like all babies and toddlers, including his four-year-old brother Warham, Stephen wore a gown and petticoats until he was about six years old. Then he was "breeched"—allowed to wear knee-length breeches like his father's. It was a proud moment in a little boy's life when he graduated to men's clothes, which also included a knee-length shirt, a waistcoat (vest), and a coat. Stephen's clothes had silver buttons and buckles, a sign of his family's wealth; other boys and men in town had buttons of bone, leather, wood or pewter.

Chores and Learning

Stephen probably helped his parents with work in the fields, caring for animals, and household chores such as hauling water and firewood. At Stephen's age (10-11), many boys and their parents were beginning to think about what calling they should pursue; training in a craft or trade required a long apprenticeship that began in the early teens. However, like his father and older brother Eliezer, Stephen probably planned to go to Harvard College, so a choice of career could be put off. "Anyone with a 'liberal' education would adopt a 'liberal' calling, that is, a calling which required no manual labor and no long period of apprenticeship." (2) About half of the Harvard graduates in the 17th century became ministers, so college itself implied a choice of calling.

In the Reverend John Williams's household, religious education and literacy were highly valued. For Puritans, the ability to read was critical because of the emphasis they placed on reading God's word in the Bible. They believed that children were born sinful—due to original sin and their ignorance of the Scriptures—and that literacy was thus necessary to (though not sufficient for) salvation. Stephen was probably educated at home from his earliest years, lessons that included catechism drills. Massachusetts Bay Colony law mandated that every father must instruct his children from a catechism at least once a week. A catechism presented Christian beliefs in the form of questions, which the father would pose to his children, and answers, which they would memorize. The Williams household also prayed and read the Bible together every day.

Stephen learned to write as well as read, and may also have attended school outside his home. When Stephen was five years old, Deerfield townspeople voted to build a school, for which families with school-age children paid an additional tax—whether or not they attended. The year before, Stephen's father began preaching in a newly built meetinghouse. All of the townspeople, including young children, spent four hours at worship on the Sabbath—two hours in the morning and two more hours after a break for mid-day dinner, which was the main meal of the day.

Danger and Confinement

In the early fall of 1703, Stephen may have worked with his older brothers and Frank to harvest the corn and barley from their father's outlying fields. There had been rumors of a possible attack by the French and Indians since the previous spring, so perhaps Stephen and his brothers took turns keeping watch, perched high on a wagon or in a nearby tree. But then, in early October, John Nims and Zebediah Williams, tending the sheep and cows in the town pasture, were ambushed by Indians and taken away.

After that, Stephen's parents forbade him to go outside the palisade that enclosed the center of town. There was still a lot of work to do in the fields, but Stephen and the rest of the children were made to stay home. As winter came on, the town became more and more crowded. The palisade enclosed the meetinghouse and 10 homes, but families whose homes were a mile or two away built another 10 or 11 temporary dwellings inside the walls. In addition, there were 20 soldiers garrisoned in the town. Two of the soldiers were staying in Stephen's house, which had already been crowded with his six siblings, his parents, and the two slaves.

It is easy to imagine that Stephen was restless and anxious, shut up in a crowded house in a dark, snow-bound winter. His mother's time of travail came in January, and she was delivered of baby Jerusha. The family thanked the Lord that both mother and baby survived the ordeal, but they could see that Mrs. Williams was weak and tired, hardly able to manage the expanded household. Although some in town thought that the French and Indians wouldn't attack now that it was full winter and the snow was so deep, Stephen could see that his father was worried. The Reverend Williams set aside a special day of prayer and fasting. He preached from Genesis 32, verses 10 and 11: "Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children."

Stephen Williams - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

Attack on Deerfield
February 29, 1704

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Stephen's captor marched him out of the house toward the north gate of the town.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Ten-year-old Stephen Williams was sleeping, sharing a bed with his brother John, when he was awakened by violent sounds—windows smashing and doors splintering. Before he could remember where he was, Stephen saw Lieutenant Stoddard jump up, run to the stairs, then turn and run to a window. To Stephen's astonishment, Lieutenant Stoddard threw open the window and leaped out.

The other soldier garrisoned in the Williams's house, Joseph Eastman of Hadley, grabbed his gun and began to load it. Before he could get in firing position, red-painted Indians one after the other emerged from the stairwell and ran into the chamber. One of them made straight for Joseph Eastman and swung his war-club, knocking the gun out of his hands. The Indian snatched up the gun and motioned to another to help him tie up the soldier. Stephen's brother John screamed, and their African woman Parthena came running from her pallet under the eaves and picked him up.

Everything happened so quickly that Stephen hadn't moved from his bed. He wanted to hide but didn't know where to go. Now he saw one of the Indians looking straight at him; he seemed to cross the room with one stride and was suddenly at Stephen's bedside. Stephen could see that the Indian was an older man and perhaps an Eastern Indian. The Indian told him in English that Stephen was now his captive, and that he must dress and come downstairs with him.

Stephen pulled on his breeches and a coat over his shirt. Other Indians were rifling the second-floor chambers, taking blankets and guns and some of the provisions stored there. One of them carried his four-year-old brother Warham downstairs, motioning for 14-year-old Samuel to follow. Stephen was worried about his sisters in the next room; he had heard a scream, but couldn't make out any other sounds in the general din that might indicate what was happening. His captor took his shoulder and moved him toward the stairs. He was relieved to see Esther and Eunice coming out of their chamber, Esther uncharacteristically disheveled and Eunice in the arms of a Macqua.

In his parents' room, Stephen was shocked to see his honored father, the minister revered by all in Deerfield, standing in his shirt, with his arms bound behind him. He was praying. Stephen's mother was fetching warm clothes out of a chest. Stephen didn't see baby Jerusha, nor his six-year-old brother John. His mother held out a warm coat to him. They put on all the clothes they had while some Indians stood guard and others plundered their house. While Stephen's father was dressing, two Indians roughly pushed Frank into the room. He was bound and bleeding from a head wound. A few minutes later, they heard a scream in the dooryard. Frank cried out, "Parthena!" and an Indian threatened him with a club. A few minutes later, the Indians told them all to get up and move toward the door; it was time to leave.

In his account, Stephen wrote: "after they had broken into our house and took us prisoners, they barbarously murdered a brother and sister of mine… they rifled our house and then marched away with us that were captives, and set our house and barn afire, as they did the greatest part of the town." (3) The family was herded through the north gate of the palisade into the snowy Meadows, weighed down with the knowledge that Parthena, infant Jerusha, and young John had been slain.

Stephen Williams - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

The March
February 29 - March 1, 1704

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Stephen put on the moccasins his captor gave him to make walking through the snow easier.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Ten-year-old Stephen Williams and his family joined the rest of the Deerfield captives, around 100 people, at the raiders' campsite on the other side of the Deerfield River, a mile north of the town. "There my master took away my English shoes and gave me Indian ones in the room of them which I think were better to travel in." (4) Like the other Native fighters who hoped to take captives, Stephen's captor had brought along extra winter moccasins.

While the raiders and their captives were assembling at the campsite, militiamen from neighboring towns arrived in Deerfield. Joined by the remaining Deerfield men and soldiers, they chased the French and Native raiders who were still in town across the Meadows. Stephen and the other captives were likely able to hear and possibly see the fight from their vantage point, and perhaps his hopes for rescue were temporarily raised. However, Stephen wrote, the English pursuers "were quickly driven back again by the rest of the army; nine of them were slain as they retreated."

The raiders were carrying their own wounded as well as captive children and plunder, and were anxious about further pursuit. Stephen wrote that they had "stopped, for they had several wounded men that hindered them. There they told us that if the English pursued them they would kill us, but if otherwise they would not; but they quickly proved themselves liars for before they departed from that place they barbarously murdered a child of about two years old." Stephen was frightened and angry. He had been yanked from his bed, his home violated; his brother and baby sister had been killed; and he had seen his town torched. Now he was in the hands of an unpredictable enemy, who might kill him without warning, as they did the two-year-old, or treat him gently, as he saw his sister Eunice's captor do for her.

That night and the next morning, there were more killings and more threats. During the night, "one English man ran back to Deerfield, which provoked them much: they told us that if any more ran away they would burn the rest." Some Indians got drunk on liquor looted from Deerfield, and "they slew our Negro man," Frank.

Stephen Williams - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

Parting Ways
March 1 - 8, 1704

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Sad and fearful, Stephen parted from his family to journey northeast with the Pennacooks.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

For 10-year-old Stephen Williams and the other captives, the eight-day, 140-mile trek to the junction of the Connecticut and White Rivers had been grueling. It was demanding physically: "When they came to the West River where they had sleighs and dogs with which they drew wounded men, they traveled (we thought) as if they designed to kill us all, for they traveled 35 or 40 miles a day." (5) (That's how it felt to Stephen; actually, their longest day's march was about 24 miles.) It continued to be emotionally shocking: more people, especially women or children who could not keep up, were killed: "They murdered my ever-honored mother who having gone over a small river which water running very swift flung her down; she being wet was not able to travel any further." While traveling on the frozen Connecticut River, "they killed near a dozen of women and children, for their manner was if any loitered to kill them. My feet were very sore so that I was afraid they would kill me also." The day before they reached the junction, Stephen's feet became frostbitten.

On the third day of the journey, the sachems of the Native groups had called all the captives before them. "There some of us were distributed, for some had five or six captives and others none... but I remained with my former master"—the English-speaking Pennacook leader who had captured him, Wattanummon. The Native captors also "redistributed" the captives' valuables: "Here they searched me and took away my silver buttons and buckles which I had on my shirt."

On the Sabbath, the sixth day of the journey, the captives were allowed to rest and pray. The captors "gave my father liberty to preach." Stephen's father preached from Lamentations, chapter 1, verse 18: "The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled against his commandment . . . my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity." The next day, however, the raiders apparently wanted to make up for lost time; as Stephen wrote, "The next day we traveled a great way farther than we had at any time before." Their urgent progress was stopped at mid-day when they heard gunshots—someone in the rear of the company had fired at geese flying overhead—and the raiders bound their prisoners so they could be free to fight the presumed English pursuers. During this pause, Stephen had a chance to speak to his father, but the conversation made him more afraid and uneasy than ever. "I coming to my honored father, he told me that he was taken lame in his ankle which he sprained in the fall of the year; he said likewise he thought he should be killed, and if I should live to get to Canada to tell them who I was, etc., which then did terrify me much."

At the end of the next day, the party reached the junction of the Connecticut and White Rivers. After camping near the junction that night, "my master bid me go down to the river with him very early in the morning, which startled me for he did not use to be so early. There the river parted and I went up one branch, my father with my brothers and sisters the other." Stephen was desolate and afraid. Not only was he being torn from the surviving remnants of his family, but from almost all English company; there were perhaps only two other English captives traveling with the Pennacooks, and he would soon leave them as well. He was hungry and had had no breakfast, but had to walk all day "without one morsel of victual." What would become of him? Would he ever see his father again, and his brothers and sisters?

Stephen Williams - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

February 1704 - October 1705

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Stephen Williams, captured at the age of 10 from his home in Deerfield, spent 14 months with his Pennacook captors, then another six months being held by the French.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

We have Stephen Williams's own words about his experience as a 10-year-old captive in the short narrative he later wrote, "What Befell Stephen Williams in his Captivity."

After parting from his father, his brothers and sisters, and most of the other English captives at the junction of the Connecticut and White rivers, Stephen and his Pennacook master Wattanummon continued north up the frozen Connecticut. The other English captives were taken northwest, along the White River and through the Green Mountains to Lake Champlain. Food was scarce, and Stephen was hungry. "I did not eat anything in the morning yet must travail all day, yea I travailed till about nine o'clock at night without one morsel of victuals. I travailed about 50 miles that day and night. For my supper I had one spoonful of Indian corn; in the morning five or six kernels, but must travail." (6)

As the Pennacooks and their few captives traveled north along the river, the number of their group diminished. Every so often, one or two of the Pennacooks struck off into the hills of what is now northeastern Vermont. Stephen wondered where they were going; he saw no signs of a road or settlement in what seemed to him a wilderness. The Pennacooks were seeking to rejoin their extended kin in their winter hunting camps. Some of the party stopped at Cowass, a village on the Connecticut near the mouth of the Wells River. Stephen, Wattanummon, and a young Pennacook boy traveled on alone.

Learning Pennacook Ways

"Then we left the river and traveled till about noon on the west side of the river, and then we came to two wigwams, where were signs of Indians but no Indians." Given their extreme hunger, Wattanummon's first act was to leave the packs in the wigwams and look for a cache of food his kinfolk may have stored in the vicinity: they "went a-hunting if perhaps they might find some moose buried in the snow by the hunting Indians, but could not find any." While Wattanummon was looking for this hoped-for cache, Stephen "wandered about and lost myself and hollowed," calling out to his captor on whom he was now totally dependent for survival. "My master came to me and was very angry with me. He threatened to kill me, and he lifted up the breach of his gun in order thereto, but God kept back his hand, for which I desire his name might be praised." Recovering from his fright, Stephen learned a lesson about proper Pennacook behavior: "The Indians will never allow anybody to hollow [holler, hello] in the woods. Their manner is to make a noise like wolves or any other wild creature, when they would call to one another" (7) — presumably to avoid attracting unwanted enemy attention.

Failing to find any cached food, Wattanummon "sent the Indian lad and I to those wigwams but he himself took his gun and went out a-hunting. . . . We made a fire, but had no victuals to dress, only a moose's paunch which the hunting Indians had left. We took the paunch and boiled . . . it for what was in it served for thickening the broth. There we tarried that night and the next day till about noon; then there came an Indian girl and brought us some moose's meat dried, which I thought was the best victuals ever I ate. We traveled with that Indian girl about 10 miles, where were two wigwams. My master that left us the day before was there. While we tarried here, the French that were in the army passed by." (8) When the raiding party split up at the White River, the French contingent of troupes de la marine and militiamen had followed the Pennacooks north along the Connecticut, but were traveling more slowly, perhaps because they had a number of wounded men in their party.

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The temporary wigwams Wattanummon's family made near their moose-kill may have looked like this reproduction. According to John Eliot, the 17th-century Puritan minister who studied Algonkian languages, the word "wigwam" was an English derivation based on the Native word "weekuwout," meaning "in his house."
Photo courtesy of Allison Bell.

Soon Stephen and Wattanummon moved on again: "Within a day or two we traveled seven or eight miles northward to a place where they had killed some moose, where they made wigwams (for their manner was when they killed any moose to move to them and lie by them till they had eaten them up)." They joined (or were joined by) others who had traveled with them; Stephen mentions "two Englishmen of our town . . . who came up from the army." These captives were Deacon David Hoyt and Jacob Hickson, a soldier who had been garrisoned at Deerfield. As adult men who had fought against the Native raiders before their capture, they were treated differently from Stephen, whose youth made him a potential adoptee into Wattanummon's family. The adult men were worked as slaves and had to scavenge for their own food. When Stephen was fetched away from the group by a messenger from Wattanummon, who had left once again to seek his family, Stephen felt fearful and lonely: "I thought this was hard to go away alone" from any other English people, to live "without any society but these inhuman pagans." (9)

On the Winter Hunt

Stephen had to admit, however, that the "inhuman pagans" were "extraordinary kind" to him when he first arrived at the family's hunting camp north of the Wells River, to the west of present-day St. Johnsbury, Vermont. They "took care of my toe that was frozen, would not suffer me to do any work, gave me a deer skin to lie on and a bear's skin to cover me withall." Once he recovered, Stephen was expected to pull his weight along with the rest of the family. Wattanummon gave Stephen to "his brother, with whom I continued two or three months thereabouts hunting moose, bears, and beavers. . . . I was forced to carry such a pack when I traveled that I could not rise up without some help; was forced to cut wood and carry it sometimes a considerable way on my back." (10) Stephen was being treated like a member of the family; his mettle was being tested as he was trained in winter survival.

Trouble at Planting Time

In the spring, the family intended to go to Cowass, to the south of the winter hunting grounds. There they would join other Pennacooks and people from other Native nations who were living there—in a place they hoped was safely distant from both the French and the English—and plant corn for the summer harvest. On their way to Cowass, they met some people traveling away from the village. "They told us that. . . . there came one English man with six of our Indians and destroyed a family of Indians about 20 miles below Cowass." (11) The man was Caleb Lyman of Northampton, and "our Indians" were Mohegans allied with the English. There had been another raid on the Connecticut Valley on May 11, 1704, at Northampton Farms (called Pascommuck by the Natives, today's Easthampton). Many of the captives had been killed when the English pursued the raiding party, but some were taken. Lyman's raid may have been in retribution and an attempt to rescue the captives.

Wattanummon's family and the refugees from Cowass stayed in the hills north of Cowass for a month or so. They may have been trying to decide what to do. At around the same time, some Pennacooks, possibly including Wattanummon himself, were meeting in Montreal with Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, the governor-general of New France. The governor and the Pennacooks thanked each other for the successful raid on Deerfield, for which the Pennacooks had requested New France's help. Vaudreuil urged the Pennacooks to settle in one of the villages along the St. Lawrence, an offer they declined—until Cowass became too dangerous.

Among the people who had fled Cowass was Jacob Hickson. He had been at Cowass planting corn with the women, as befitted his slave status. "Deacon Hoyt was already dead for want of provision," writes Stephen. "This Hix [Hickson] looked like a ghost, was nothing but skin and bones, could scarce go, yet had no victuals but what he got himself." Other captives included some from the May 11th raid on Pascommuck/Easthampton and other raids to the east: "There was in company now one Mrs. Bradley of Haverhill, and one Hannah Eastman, one Daniel Ardery of Haverhill, and one Mrs. Jones and Margeret Hugens, her maid, who were taken at Northampton farms." They were all in danger of starving: "Suffered much for want of provision, for there was not much to be got a-hunting then, and if there was anything it was as nothing amongst so many. The chief of our provision was roots of several sorts, and bark of trees." (12) With few other options, the group set off for New France.

Trek to New France

The journey to New France was difficult. Jacob Hickson, weak from starvation, died at the first portage on the Winooski River (Stephen knew it as the French River). They were carrying so much that they were "forced to carry a pack a mile or two and go back and fetch another, which was very tedious." When they could use canoes for their burdens, Stephen writes, "I was forced to travel afoot on the bank without any shoes. My feet were much galled and one or two of my toes almost cut off with the stones." Food was still scarce until they reached Lake Champlain. "I had little or nothing to eat; my master killed a duck one day in the river and for my part I had the guts which I laid on the coals without cleaning them, which seemed a sweet morsel to me. . . . When we arrived at the lake we were supplied with fish and fowl. . . . The Indian boys do kill the geese with their bows and arrows, they are so bold. Fish can be easily taken with hooks, and one day as we sailed on the lake two young Indians shot a fish with a bullet and took it into the canoe; it was as large as I am." (13)

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19th-century photograph of the fort at Chambly, taken by Emma Lewis Coleman, who researched and wrote about the fate of the Deerfield captives.
Courtesy of Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield, MA.

Tensions in New France

When Stephen arrived in New France, new tensions arose between him and his captors. As they had with his father, sympathetic French people offered him European comforts, such as bread to eat and a couch to lie on. Stephen's eagerness to accept these comforts and the company of his fellow Europeans offended his Pennacook family, who had been nurturing and teaching him as an adopted family member. "I arrived at Chambly in August, which was about half a year from the time I was taken. The French were kind to me, gave bread which I had not eaten in a great while. They told me my father and brothers and sisters were got to Canada which I was glad to hear of, for I was afraid my youngest brother was killed. While I tarried here a Frenchman came and desired the Indians to let me go with him, which they did. I went with the Frenchman who gave me some victuals, and made me lie down in his couch, which my master's son perceiving, told his father, who thought he did it to hide me and did design to steal me; upon which he came and fetched me away and would not let me go to the fort anymore, for which I suffered. (While I was here the French dressed my feet that were wounded, at which the Indians seemed to be vexed.)" (14)

At Odanak/St. Francis

After more traveling and stopovers at other French settlements, the Pennacook band arrived at Odanak/St. Francis, where Governor Vaudreuil had invited them to settle. Odanak was a place to which people from various Wôbanaki nations had moved, sometimes staying while wars with the English made their homelands unsafe, then returning to their own domains. Some of Wattanummon's people had previously spent time in the village. But things had changed there since 1701, when the Jesuits moved their mission of St.Francis to Odanak. Wattanummon, a leader who struggled to safeguard his people's traditional ways, was not comfortable with the strongly Catholic atmosphere of the place. "My master could not comply with their rites and customs. Whereupon he went to Albany [probably the nearby Native village of Schaghticoke], and gave me to his kinsman Sagamore George." (15)

George took Stephen with him when he went hunting between Chambly and Sorel, where they "caught about 30 beaver in the brooks which run into the river betwixt Chambly and Sorel; after we had done hunting we went again to St. Francis fort, where I continued till towards spring. I then removed because the small pox was among the Indians and my master's children had not had it. . . ." Joseph-François de Hertel, seigneur of Chambly and father of the man who had led the attack on Deerfield, "heard that I was with Sagamore George, and came to buy me. I seemed to be willing to go with him, at which the Indians were much disturbed and would not let me go because I showed a forwardness to go, and did likewise threaten to kill me. [They] did complain to the Jesuit, who came and said to me, 'What, no love Indians? They have saved your life.'" (16)

Thus insulting his master once again, Stephen showed that he was not a very good candidate for adoption into his Pennacook family. His status was downgraded to that of a servant or slave, fit to help a woman perform mundane tasks around the village. Even in this role he proved insolent and incompetent. One day, his mistress traveled to a French homestead "to get victuals, and ordered me to spend this day in getting wood," writes Stephen. "But it proved a tempestuous day and we had half a cart load of wood at the door (which is a great deal for Indians to have) so that I did not get any. When she came home . . . [she] asked what I had been doing; they replied 'nothing,' at which she was very angry." Native parents typically did not use corporal punishment on their children, so the fact that his mistress ordered Stephen beaten for this shows the extent to which he was no longer considered an adopted son. "I will not beat you myself (says she) for my husband ordered me to the contrary, but will tell the Jesuit. . . . within a day or two, the Jesuit comes. . . . he takes me out and whips me with a whip with six cords and several knots in each cord." (17)

Once Stephen was in New France, where captives were being sold to the French or English emissaries, perhaps he developed a strategy of making himself disagreeable in order to be sold. In his account, he seems to relish telling of his resistance and mistakes: "Whilst I lived here I made about fourscore weight of sugar with the sap of maple trees for the Indians. My mistress . . . had a barrel of sap to boil [so] she sent me to the sugar place over night to boil it. . . . I went and kept a good fire under the kettle, little thinking of its coming to sugar, till it was spoiled for want of stirring. For the manner is to stir it when it comes almost to sugar. For which they were very angry and would not give me any victuals." (18)


Stephen's father, the Reverend John Williams, had been in French custody for some months by the time Stephen arrived in New France. John Williams was the most high-profile captive from the Deerfield raid, and was in close contact with Governor-General Vaudreuil. Stephen became aware that Vaudreuil was offering to buy him from the Pennacooks for 30 crowns; in fact, he reports that the Pennacooks "were quite wearied out because of the many messages he sent." The Pennacooks knew that Stephen's father was prominent and believed him to be wealthy, so they held out for 40 crowns. They made Stephen write a letter to his father telling him "that if he did not buy me before spring they would not sell me afterwards and that he must give 40 crowns for me." After one occasion on which Stephen was hidden in the woods to ensure that he would not be taken without recompense, the Pennacooks met with Vaudreuil himself at St. Francis and got the price they wanted for Stephen "after a long parley." (19) It was the spring of 1705, 14 months after Stephen was captured at the raid on Deerfield.

Stephen hoped to return to New England with Captain John Livingston, who had guided Deerfield residents John Sheldon and John Wells to New France in search of captives. Instead, Vaudreuil sent Stephen to Quebec. There a fellow captive prepared him to visit his father looking more like an English boy than a Native: "Mrs. Hill took care of me, cut my hair for me (now my hair was like an Indian, one side long and the other short). She got me a shirt and a pair of breeches and a jacket and stockings." (20)

Stephen was sent to live with his father at Chateau Richer, near Quebec, where they both stayed until the fall. When a new group of emissaries arrived from Boston, the Williamses were allowed to go to Quebec and meet with William Dudley, son of the Massachusetts governor, and William Vetch, captain of the ship that brought Dudley from Boston. Finally, Stephen writes, "the governor gave me liberty to come home and accordingly I came away on the 12th of October 1705 (but I left my honored father and brothers and sisters behind) and after a tedious voyage I arrived safe at Boston in New England. . . . And I desire that the name of God may be praised and adored for his wonderful goodness to me in sparing my life when I was as it were at the brink of eternity and that he stayed the hands of those that took up weapons to slay me with. Finis." As an afterthought, Stephen writes: "N.B. That while with Indians I was in great danger of being drowned several times." (21)

Stephen Williams - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

1705 - 1782

image name: whatbefellSW.jpg

Stephen Williams survived to write his account of his experiences, "What Befell Stephen Williams in his Captivity." Click here to link to the artifact page for the manuscript for a closer view and more information.
Copyright Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association. All rights reserved.

After Stephen returned to New England, he stayed with relatives on his father's side in Roxbury (near Boston) and prepared to enter Harvard College. During this period, he wrote his narrative, "What Befell Stephen Williams in his Captivity." He studied for the ministry at Harvard from 1709 to 1713, and was ordained in 1716. (Brothers Eliezer and Warham also followed their father into the ministry; Samuel, the fourth son of John and Eunice Mather Williams to survive the raid, died at 24.)

Stephen served as the minister of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, for 65 years, from his ordination in 1716 to his death at the age of 89 on June 10th, 1782. In 1718, he married Abigail Davenport of New Haven, Connecticut, and together they had eight children.

Throughout his life, Stephen pursued contact with his sister Eunice, who had stayed with her adoptive Kanienkehaka family and husband Arosen in Kahnawake. Less than two months after their father died in 1729, Stephen received word that Eunice had been in Albany and, for the first time, had expressed an interest in seeing her relatives. Over the following 10 years, he received more letters and heard rumors that Eunice might be coming to New England, but they did not actually meet until 1740. Among the rumors were a few imposter "Eunices" who approached the Williams family, possibly with an interest in the inheritance due Eunice from her father.

In August of 1740, Stephen received a letter from Albany that his sister was expected there, and that he should come. He traveled to Albany with his brother Eliezer and brother-in-law Joseph Meacham. After waiting in Albany for two weeks, Stephen wrote in his diary that "we had the joyful, sorrowful meeting of our poor sister that we had been separated from for above 36 years." (22) Eunice and her husband Arosen agreed to travel back to Longmeadow with her brothers for a short visit. They stayed for about a week, visiting with relatives, sleeping in their wigwam rather than in Stephen's house, and apparently gawked at by the curious. They attended church services, where Stephen preached sermons in a language they could not understand. They promised to come again, and returned three times, each visit a bittersweet occasion for Stephen, who never stopped wishing that Eunice would return to the religion and customs of her birth and remain in Massachusetts with her extended birth family.

image name: Stephen_portrait.jpg

The Reverend Stephen Williams. He was minister of Longmeadow, Massachusetts for 65 years. Oil painting, circa 1755. Click here to link to the portrait's artifact page for more information.
Copyright Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield, MA. All rights reserved.

Stephen's duties as minister of Longmeadow, a householder, and a farmer kept him busy, but he was connected to the larger world as well. Stephen served as chaplain on three military expeditions during the French and Indian War, in 1745, 1755, and 1756. He was also involved in the establishment of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, as a mission town for Mahicans and other Natives. In addition to writing his captivity narrative, Stephen Williams contributed to our knowledge of his time by compiling others' recollections of events in Deerfield history, and by keeping a lifelong diary that totals 4,000 manuscript pages.

Stephen Williams - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

About This Narrative

Stephen Williams wrote an account of the raid on Deerfield and his subsequent experiences as a captive of the Wôbanakiak in "What Befell Stephen Williams in his Captivity." Our narrative uses Stephen's own words (identified by quotation marks) to convey his experience in the Attack, March, and Parting Ways segments, and augments them with some imagined descriptions and historical facts to fill in parts of the action Stephen left out. Material in the Prologue is based on historical records such as the Deerfield Town Book and studies of Puritan family life; specific daily life events and emotions are imagined. 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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