Assault on Peskeompskut


Assault: In the pre-dawn stillness of May 19, 1676, 150 English men led by Captain William Turner entered the Native fishing camp at Peskeompskut, beside the falls on the Connecticut River, north of Deerfield. Pocumtuck, Sokoki, and Nipmuc women, children and elders had taken refuge here, along with Wampanoag and Narragansett people who were escaping the fighting in the south. At Turner's signal, the English silently surrounded the wigwams and the peaceful dawn exploded into violence. Gunshots, screams, and flames rent the air as the English shot into wigwams and set them afire. Terrified Native people fled through the smoke to the river where many were shot down or drowned. Over 300 Native people and one English soldier died before Native men hunting nearby rushed to the scene and routed the assailants, killing Turner and 36 others in a disorganized retreat.

Metacom's War: The assault on Peskeompskut was the first English offensive action against Native peoples in the Connecticut River Valley during Metacom's War. This war was, by proportion, the bloodiest in American history, killing 40% of southern New England's Native population (5,000) and 5% of the English (2,500). Native people throughout the region had endured widespread losses from European-based diseases and English encroachments on their homelands. Metacom, a Wampanoag leader, rallied an inter-tribal force against English expansion. In 1675, Native attacks in the Connecticut River Valley forced the English to abandon both Northfield and Deerfield. But by May of 1676, having successfully repelled Native attacks in Hatfield and Northampton, the English went on the offensive, attacking Peskeompskut and eventually killing Metacom and winning the war.

What was the legacy of Peskeompskut?


Golden opportunity: Thomas Reed, an English captive held at St. Francis and taken to the Native encampment of Peskeompskut, escaped and reported to the English large numbers of "old men and women" in the camp, with only 60—70 fighting men and a state of unpreparedness. Captain William Turner, responding to colonist demands for an offensive, sensed a golden opportunity for a morale-boosting, easy victory. Assembling more than 150 local volunteers, he determined to strike a blow against the Indians. In addition to killing many Natives, the English destroyed precious food supplies, ammunition and firearms. Despite a chaotic and costly retreat resulting in the death of Captain Turner, the English celebrated the "Falls Fight" as a major triumph over "King Philip's" warriors.

Bloody Brook: Earlier that year, English in the Connecticut River Valley had grown increasingly fearful and restless. The previous September, a group of warriors led by the Pocumtuck leader, Mettawampe, ambushed a convoy of English militia and teamsters crossing a muddy brook as they transported grain from the abandoned village of Deerfield to Hadley. Grief-stricken colonists buried over 60 bodies in a mass grave and renamed the site Bloody Brook. The constant threat of Native attacks made planting impossible in exposed towns like Hatfield, where warriors had recently stampeded 70 head of cattle.

English victory: Though not the final battle of Metacom's War, the assault on Peskeompskut was a major setback to Native resistance in the Connecticut Valley. Early in the war, the English enlisted individual Mohegan, Pequot and other Native warriors to take up arms against Metacom's forces, while the Iroquois and Mohican pushed Metacom east toward English strongholds. Widespread starvation and social disruption caused by losses in Native communities ultimately assured an English victory.


Peskeompskut: For generations, Peskeompskut had been a gathering place where Native people fished during annual salmon runs. The safety and food it offered families was even more important during this time of war. Here, far from English forces, they felt secure; they posted no scouts. But on this tragic spring dawn, they awoke to screams and gunfire as safety gave way to massacre. English militia overran the camp, pointing guns in wigwams and killing women, children and elders indiscriminately. Terrified survivors ran to the river and were mercilessly shot down; others drowned as canoes capsized in the turbulent water, carrying their occupants over the falls to their deaths.

English expansion: In the decades preceding Metacom's War, English settlements grew rapidly, threatening to overrun local Native populations and homelands. Starvation, forced compliance with foreign colonial laws, territorial disputes and the confusion of English deeds ignited smoldering resentment in southeastern Massachusetts. Hostility spread to the Connecticut River Valley as warriors attacked English settlements in an effort to reclaim lost territory and halt expansion.

Devastating blow: The ruthless attack and loss of life at Peskeompskut demoralized Metacom's allies. It is the only violent attack in either oral or written history on Peskeompskut, a place considered a safe, communal fishing zone by local Native peoples. Their rebuffs at Hatfield and Northampton earlier that spring and the later English resettlement at Deerfield made it clear that the English expansion could not be easily stopped. The devastation at the falls and hillside village at Peskeompskut left lasting wounds among the Native peoples of the Connecticut River Valley. Even future attacks on Deerfield would be insufficient reparations for the loss.

Captions for rollovers in the interactive scene illustrations.

Fired upon by his former neighbors from English Northampton (formerly Nonotuck), Umpanchela falls wounded.

Each of the English volunteers has brought his own musket.

Weetanusk has snatched this small child out of her burning wigwam in a desperate attempt to escape.

Captain Turner directs the attack, determined to strike a mortal blow against the colonists' Native adversaries.

Benoni Stebbins joins his Northampton neighbors in the attack; they will suffer grievously during the disorganized English retreat.

Natives fleeing the merciless gunfire will try to escape in this canoe. Some survived, but others died when their canoes capsized in the rushing water of the falls.

This fishing spear is mute testimony that this was a communal fishing site long recognized as a safe zone for generations of Native people—until this day.

The fish drying on this rack were to provide precious food supplies for warriors and their families forced from their homelands and regular food sources.

The element of surprise allows English militiamen to pour deadly fire into wigwams full of sleeping Native people.

Chased to the water, a Native woman dropped her canoe paddle when she was shot trying to escape the carnage.

These glass beads recall an earlier, more peaceful time when English and Native peoples exchanged trade goods.

Like so many other tools and possessions, this basket and its content lie scattered as the camp is destroyed.

Each man on the expedition carries a cartridge box containing powder and shot rolled together to reload their flintlock muskets.

Many of those fleeing to the water drown in the rushing rapids of the Connecticut River, swollen with spring rains and snowmelt.

The location of this fishing camp, hemmed in between the steep, rocky hillside and the river makes flight next to impossible for Peskeompskut's terrified inhabitants.

Surprised from sleep, Native women, children and elders rush from their wigwams without even putting on moccasins.

The camp is crowded with Native peoples from many groups as the new leaves on the trees signal the beginning of the spring fish runs.

The night before, the people feasted heartily on the plentiful salmon and shad, grateful to have survived a long winter with little food among them.

Of all his family, Atiwans alone escapes the English; memories of this bloody dawn will remain with him for the rest of his life.

Anxious to resettle his claim in the abandoned English town at Deerfield, John Hawks seizes this opportunity to eliminate Native opposition.

Captain Turner's sword and sash symbolize his leadership of this attack.

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