Swamp-Fight Revelation

For months now, I’ve been jumping back and forth from old Greenfield newspapers, Registry of Deeds land records and various other sources and field trips in a concerted effort to fine-tune my understanding of the land I traveled as a boy and young man, and which I still explore.

I would describe my focus area as South Deerfield spilling into Whately. It is the land of my forebears, deeply stained with my father’s DNA, and mine.

The most exciting newspaper discovery I stumbled across appeared while keyword-searching the Gazette and Courier for my third great-grandfather, John Chapman Sanderson (1804-86), a major Whately landowner and gentleman farmer who built his mid-19th-century home on the west side of River Road on the lot of today’s Pasiecnik creemee stand. Next door on the south stood the original Sanderson homestead of his great-grandfather, Joseph Sanderson, the second settler to set his stake in the Hatfield village earliest known as Canterbury.

The key information I found appeared under a Whately heading in the Jan. 1, 1872 newspaper. It publicized Rev. J.H. Temple’s forthcoming History of the Town of, Whately, Mass.: Including a Narrative of Leading Events from the First Planting of Hatfield, 1660-1871. What grabbed my attention was the second and third sentences of paragraph No. 2, which read:

“The frontispiece will represent the scene of the Swamp Fight, which occurred on Aug. 25, 1675 west of the residence of J.C. Sanderson, Esq. This sketch was drawn by Mrs. A.H. Hall of Ashfield.”

More detailed than most town news stories of the day, the 450-word filing was written by none other than James M. Crafts, then a community correspondent, later the author of his own History of Whately (1899). Crafts, who descended from many of Hatfield’s founding families, sang praise of Temple’s credibility as a Whately historian, writing:

“For this work we are confident there are but few men so competent as Mr. Temple to do justice to the topic. Thirty years ago, he was settled in Whately over the Congregational society. At that time there were some old men more than 90 years of age still living, whose minds were clear with truly wonderful memories. With these men Mr. Temple enjoyed such intimate relations that he drew from them very much of inestimable value to lovers of history.”

If you do the math, Temple had been in town since about 1840 and thus had spoken to sources born as early as 1750, only 75 years removed from the Swamp Fight. So, these venerable sources would have known older residents who were alive for the Swamp Fight, which set off the Connecticut Valley campaign of King Philip’s War (1675-76) – a Native rebellion that placed what would become Franklin County in grave danger for at least 10 months.

The new revelation was not the Hopewell Swamp battle site, which has long been recognized by authoritative historians, but instead the identification of the artist who sketched the woodblock illustration appearing at the front of the book. Hall’s depiction of the site on J.C. Sanderson’s land where the fight began had for decades confused me. Looking up a ravine from the depths of the swamp, her sketch portrays a deep, narrow crevice supporting a small brook, with mountains in the background. The vexing issue was that never in my lifetime has such a brook existed where she places it – that being the upper end of Hopewell Plain traversed by Long Plain Road in East Whately. So, what was going on? Was it a simple case of artistic license, or had the terrain been altered?

For years, I assumed the former. Now I know better. The sketch is still remarkably accurate if you know the site from which the Hall perspective was born.

I began to form this realization shortly before my June 2018 retirement. The first clues were revealed on the earliest topographical maps of Whately published during the last 15 years of the 19th century by the United States Geological Society. The old maps show a small brook that no longer exists running west to east across Long Plain Road. The stream flows from a spring just west of the railroad tracks. This spring stream was tunneled under the tracks, crossing Long Plain Road between today’s Fairview Farms office building and the livestock auction. From there it crossed the vast plain before dropping into a deep ravine entering Hopewell Swamp. After making its way through that dense marsh and pulling in the backside of another boggy spring before crossing Chang Farm and traveling under River Road to join Sugarloaf Brook just north of Herlihy Park.

The section of that brook running from the tracks to Hopewell Swamp never existed in my memory or in that of anyone else I queried, including the current landowners, brothers Alan and Brad Sanderson, slightly younger distant cousins of mine. Topographical maps published since 1935 bear me and them out. On the 1935 map published after a 30-year hiatus, the brook has vanished and the plain appears as the one I knew as a farm hand, pheasant hunter and wayward teen seeking nighttime privacy from the adults.

Most likely, shade-tobacco farmers at some point tunneled the small stream through pipes and buried it to create one open, uninterrupted agricultural plain. Today, the spring is still piped under the plain, exiting a concrete and stone-framed 14- to 16-inch pipe in the very ravine artist A.H. Hall depicted in her sketch – the western hills gracing the landscape. In my younger days, there was a hidden farm dump there, and many a cock pheasant came cackling out of the surrounding brush, not to mention the mucky, cattail swamp below and beyond.

This buried spring brook exits the aquifer that gave us what is today known as Tri-Town Beach, a swimming hole that bubbled up in the early 1960s during Interstate 91 construction. I remember its beginning. We called it Manmade Lake and used it as a private swimming hole popular as a place to skip school on fine spring days.

So, yes, there was a brook crossing that plain traversed by the Native trail known as the Pocumtuck Path, which led travelers from Hatfield to Deerfield in the earliest days of settlement. Problem is, it’s no longer visible. When Hatfield and Deerfield villages sprouted in the late 17th century, the Pocumtuck Trail was the trunkline off of which all others trails branched. In later years, this path became a county road, not to mention the dividing line for the earliest land divisions of Deerfield, Whately and Hatfield.

When the Hatfield Norwottucks fled their village in the dark of night and were pursued on the morning of Aug. 25, 1675 by Hatfield troopers, they took this path northward and sprang an ambush from the wooded brook ravine dropping into Hopewell Swamp. A skulking battle ensued, continuing through the swamp for about three hours before the blackpowder smoke cleared. Nine colonials and an estimated 26 Indians died.

Although I have learned that you can’t believe everything you read in the newspaper, take it to the bank that A.H. Hall set up her easel where the Swamp Fight began. The mystery of that hidden brook has sewn confusion far too long. Now that we know there was indeed a brook where early accounts seem to place one, the rest of the story falls into place nicely. That skirmish “below Sugar Loaf hill” fits like a tailored suit.

Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Mad Meg theme designed by BrokenCrust for WordPress © | Top