The March to Canada


The journey begins: While a group of French and Native fighters beat back pursuing English militiamen from Deerfield and nearby towns, others herded their 112 men, women, and children captives across the Deerfield River and readied them for the 300-mile march through Wôbanaki territory to New France. At their rendezvous point, the Natives replaced many captives' shoes with heavy wrap-around winter moccasins to make walking in snow easier. From a low bluff just north of Deerfield, they could see the burning town behind them.

Retreat: Militiamen from nearby towns rode to Deerfield's aid upon seeing smoke in the morning sky, but retreated to the palisade after a well-coordinated assault by the allies' rear guard killed nine more Englishmen. These deaths brought the total number of English killed to 50; five allies died in this fight, bringing their total dead to 11.

Urgent flight: The Native and French allies hastened to keep their dazed captives moving as quickly as possible. Weary from the 3 1/2 hour battle and carrying their wounded comrades, they pushed to stay ahead of their pursuers and survive the trek through winter forests with limited food supplies. The raiding party warned their captives that all would be killed if the party were pursued, but otherwise they would not be harmed. The captives moved slowly, struggling to walk without snowshoes through deep, wet snow, covering only 20 miles in the first three days. Captors began killing the grievously injured and those who could not keep up the grueling pace.

Why did the allies take so many captives, and was the killing of some captives merciful or expedient?


A wealth of captives: As the raiders readied their captives for the march, two Wôbanakiak guarded Deerfield's minister, the Reverend John Williams, knowing that he was a leader who could be expected to fetch a good ransom. Wattanummon, a Pennacook sachem, took charge of John's son Stephen. As a child, Stephen was a potential candidate for adoption into Wattanummon's family, some of whom had recently been killed by the English. The Wôbanakiak made up a large part of the raiding party and had claimed many captives. Once they reached Wôbanaki villages, captives might be chosen for adoption, put to work as slaves, sold to the French or sold back to the English for ransom. The greatest challenge lay in keeping these captives alive during the difficult winter march.

Successful alliances: The success of the attack on Deerfield was a direct result of the recent alliance the Wôbanakiak enjoyed with the French and Native signatories of the Great Peace of 1701. The Pennacook's request to Governor Vaudreuil of New France for help in a raid against the English had been honored.

Destinations: As the allies headed north, the Wôbanakiak planned to rejoin their kin at Cowass, Missisquoi, St. Francis, and other villages located throughout their homelands. The Pennacook party headed toward their usual winter hunting territory, traveling familiar trails. The journey that seemed such an ordeal to the English was not—except for the burden of the captives—an unusual hardship for the Wôbanakiak, who were well-used to foot travel in all seasons.


Shock: The Deerfield captives, taken from their homes that they saw set afire, now faced a grueling journey through unknown terrain with enemies they feared as savages. Driven by their captors up wooded hills north of the town, they saw below them "the smoke of the fires in the town, and beheld the awful desolations of Deerfield." (1)

Pursuit? In the village, more militiamen from towns to the south arrived. After some debate, they decided not to pursue the raiding party, out of fear that the allies would respond by killing the captives—especially the Williams family. Their lack of snowshoes, too, would hinder their travel, and they feared another ambush at the hands of the French and Native fighters.

Fear, dread, and faith: The captives were horrified by the killings of women and children who could not keep pace, which they saw as cruel and bloodthirsty. Struggling to walk without snowshoes through the deep, wet snow, they feared the same fate for themselves and family members who were weakening. As 10-year-old Stephen Williams later wrote, "my feet were very sore so that I was afraid they would kill me also." (2) The captives' only comfort was their strong Protestant faith. Facing death, Mrs. Eunice Williams and others declared themselves ready to accept God's will. They were grateful that their Native masters let them read Scripture and allowed the Reverend John Williams to preach on the Sabbath. They feared that the French would tempt them to convert to Catholicism, which they loathed as superstitious "popery." Although the English themselves allied with Native peoples whenever possible, they loudly condemned the French—traditional rivals, though fellow Europeans—for recruiting Indian "savages" to attack English colonists.


Costly success: Marching north, the French militiamen and regular officers were somber. The raid had been a success: the town was devastated, and New France had shown the Wôbanakiak and other Native nations that it was a reliable ally. But French casualties were high. Nearly half of the 48 French raiders had been wounded in the attack, including their leader, Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville. Three had been killed.

Flight: Anticipating English pursuit, De Rouville pushed the group at a swift and difficult pace and put guards at the front and rear of the column. They needed to reach New France before they ran out of food—or get far enough north to find their food caches and hunt. De Rouville may also have thought that a rapid pace would keep the disparate expedition members focused on a common goal. The large number of captives slowed them down more than expected.

French captives: In joint expeditions with Native allies, the French usually left control of captives to Native warriors, for whom they were the spoils of war. In Deerfield, though, the raiders found three French fur traders, including Jacques de Noyon who had married into Deerfield's Stebbins family. De Rouville took the renegades and probably the Stebbins family to New France in his custody. De Rouville and his men were veterans of similar raids, and knew that some captives would be adopted by Native communities and others would be ransomed by French officials or individuals. Some, they hoped, would settle in New France, increasing the colony's population. Others would be returned to New England after negotiations with the English authorities, sometimes in exchange for French prisoners held by the English.


Mourning war: As the march back to New France began, Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) warriors carried some young children, including four-year-old Abigail Nims and seven-year-old Eunice Williams. The Kanienkehaka were eager to bring as many captives as possible back to their communities, Kahnawake, Sault-au-Récollet and La Montagne. Kanienkehaka warriors helped captive children survive the trek by carrying them on their back—but also knew that those who slowed the group's progress would have to be sacrificed. Captives were needed to bolster the Kanienkehaka population and keep their communities strong against their enemies. And children were especially prized as potential adoptees into families. According to a Kanienkehaka family history, a grieving mother who remained inconsolable after her daughter's death was one of the women who sent a number of Kahnawake warriors on a "mourning war" to Deerfield. Through this traditional Kanienkehaka consolation ritual, she hoped to assuage her grief by adopting a captive to replace her daughter.

Battle strategy: Kanienkehaka raiding patterns and battle tactics centered around the taking of captives. They avoided taking fortified positions and other battles that were unlikely to result in many captives—a policy that often frustrated their French allies. A warrior's success was measured not only by his bravery, but also by his ability to seize captives and bring them home alive. Capturing enemies earned a warrior greater glory than killing them in battle.

Causalities: Despite the success of the raid and the abundance of captives, the Kanienkehaka marched without much joy. They had sustained casualties; several Kanienkehaka had been killed or wounded, and replenishing the population was often the motivation for war in the first place.


Meadow fight: While the captives were being gathered across the Deerfield River, about thirty Wendat (Huron), Wôbanaki, and French fighters ambushed English militiamen from Deerfield and nearby towns. They hid in a line of trees along the river as the English, floundering without snowshoes in the deep snow, pursued the raiders across the north meadows. When the English neared, the allies leapt up and fired, routing them back to the palisade.

Alliances: Wendat warriors fought bravely to aid the escape of the allies with their captives. As a Jesuit missionary said, "in the fray they will never . . . yield before the enemy's attack." (3) Supporting the alliance was of the utmost importance to the Wendats because they were a small community. They established an alliance of Native villages along the St. Lawrence River that later became known as the Seven Fires Council. The Wendats joined the raid to support the alliance and for the opportunity to prove their valor in battle.

Loss and retribution: Despite the raid's success, the small group of Wendat warriors had reason to be dispirited as the march began. Tsawenhohi, their "great chief," had been badly wounded attacking the Stebbins house and seemed to be dying. His death would require retribution, which traditionally took the form of torture and death by burning of a captive. As the smallest Native contingent on the march, the Wendats had the fewest number of captives. The Wendats prized captives as emblems of a warrior's prowess and as a way to take revenge on their enemies. Captives were often adopted into families.

Captions for rollovers in the interactive scene illustrations.

Unlike their ill-prepared pursuers, the raiding party is well equipped with snow shoes that will speed their withdrawal from Deerfield.

The many extra moccasins the Native warriors carry demonstrates the necessary level of planning involved in taking so many captives.

Uninsulated, low cut leather shoes like these offer little protection in deep snow; captors provide replacement calf-high, fur-lined moccasins.

The raiding party has replenished their depleted supplies of ammunition as well as seizing additional firearms.

Atiwans herds the Williams family to the prearranged meeting place.

Having met their main objective, Thaonwentsawakon and several other Kanienkehaka took their captives out of the village before the fighting was through.

Tsohahisen was among the group of raiders fending off English militia attempting to rescue the captives.

Wattanummon sizes up his captive boy, watching to see if he might successfully become an adopted kinsman.

Frank experienced a violent abduction in Africa when he was enslaved. Once again his race and his fate intertwine.

The Reverend John Williams views the "awful desolation" of the town as he grieves for his baby Jerusha and his six-year-old son, John.

Weakened by her recent pregnancy, Mrs. Eunice Williams clutches her Bible under her cloak, a solace in this catastrophe. Will she survive?

From her vantage point on her captor's shoulders, little Eunice is intent on keeping her parents in view.

His fingers stiff from cold and fear, Stephen puts on the "Indian shoes" his captor has given to him to wear "in room of" his English footwear.

His age (twelve) and gender automatically increase Joseph Kellogg's chances of surviving the journey to New France.

Wounded, Hertel de Rouville struggles to retain his command and worries about the fate of his injured brother.

The temporary shelter the Hoyt family built within what they believed to be the safety of the palisade in fact offered 15-year-old Jonathan little protection.

Caching the many necessary supplies at the rendezvous point enabled the raiding party to enter Deerfield unencumbered.

Their warmth, durability and versatility made heavy woolen hooded capots popular among French fur traders and Native people.

By the end of the raid, 17 of Deerfield's 41 houses have been destroyed.

This Wôbanaki, Wallena, distributes moccasins knowing the march through his homeland will be difficult for the English.

Newly arriving militia pursue the raiding party, raising some captives' hopes of rescue, until the English are repulsed in the meadows north of Deerfield.

War clubs are a traditional weapon whose usefulness extended far into the colonial period.

Wattanummon can use his French-made weapon as a dagger or wedge it into a musket barrel for a bayonet.

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