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The Deerfield Massacre - Capture of Himself, Wife and Others - Their Winter March to Canada

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"Benjamin Burt was the twelfth child of David and Mary Holton Burt; he was born at Northampton, Mass., on November 17, 1680. During his childhood the borderland along the Connecticut valley was the theatre of Indian forays and massacres. When eight years old his brother David, a soldier on duty at Schenectady, N. Y., was taken prisoner on the dreadful night of February 9, 1690, when that town was destroyed by the French and Indians, and was never again heard of, as stated in the previous sketch. Having added to his occupation as farmer the additional craft of black smith, Benjamin moved in 1701 to Deerfield, the outpost settlement of Massachusetts. Here, on October 19, 1702, he married Sarah, daughter of Daniel Belden, who had greatly suffered in his family by Indian outrages.

Deerfield is beautifully situated near the confluence of the valleys of the Deerfield and Connecticut rivers, and contains a large area of that alluvial soil so attractive to early settlers. It is surrounded by a picturesque region of hills and vales, but its location at the union of river valleys from the north, west and east made it easily accessible to hostile approach from those directions. These conditions and its extreme frontier position had attracted to it as a strategic point the savage enemy in the " King Philip" and the French wars. In 1703, its exposed site led to its fortification by a palisade of tree trunks entirely surrounding it, and to its protection by a garrison.

In January, 1704, an expedition was formed at Montreal, Canada, under the command of Major Hertel de Rouville, for a foray upon Deerfield. The party consisted of two hundred Frenchmen and one hundred and forty-two Indians, and Major de Rouville had for subaltern officers his two brothers. The foray upon Schenectady fourteen years earlier was almost exactly repeated. The invaders made a forced march through the wilderness and suffered terribly from the intense cold. When they reached the vicinity of their destination there were four feet of snow on the ground and the crust on it was sufficiently strong to bear the weight of men, while the drifts had made easy inclined paths to the top of the palisade that encircled the devoted village. The sole sentinel on duty, depending upon the mid-winter rigor as a sufficient defense, had been unfaithful to his trust and sought shelter from the icy blasts, when just before daybreak on February 29, the assault was ordered upon the undefended and unsuspicious town. A general attack was simultaneously made by the invaders scattered throughout the settlement. The unfortunate inhabitants, wakened from slumber and pleasant dreams by the frightful warwhoops of the savages, .were massacred or disabled as they ran afrighted from their assaulted homes, to which incendiary torches were applied to illumine the awful scene.

As in other such raids the Frenchmen failed to restrain their barbarous allies, and the imagination can but faintly conceive the terror and frenzy that overwhelmed the homely people of that quiet hamlet when they realized in the mingling light of flame and dawn that they were in the hands of their ruthless foe. What a commentary upon the utter barbarism of war was the misery of these ill-fated people, caused by the quarrels of two monarchs three thousand miles distant.

Very few of the unfortunate people escaped to the adjacent forest, and such of the others as were not slaughtered at sight were gathered in the open space near the little church ; and among these were Benjamin Burt and his wife, who had escaped death only to witness the destruction of their home. Less than eight years earlier, in a sudden raid upon her father's house, Mrs. Burt had seen her mother, two brothers and infant sister killed by the Indians, and another brother desperately wounded, while she escaped by hiding in the attic, and her father, a brother and a sister were taken captive to Canada, whence they did not return for two years- Her father's fate was the best that could now befall her, as she and the other wretched survivors clung together in scanty attire, alternately chilled by the winter's cold or scorched by the heat of their blazing homes, as they tearfully counted the slain by their absence, mingled their lamentations over the loss of loved ones, and saw all their treasure turning to ashes, while a dreadful uncertainty obscured their own fate. In their midst their revered pastor, the Rev. John Williams, addressed prayers for divine assistance and support, which were interrupted by the orders to march, as the forlorn captives were driven from the village, while its conflagration still continued. The number of prisoners was one hundred and twelve, and among them were Mrs. Burt's step-mother, Mrs. Hepzibah Belden, and Mr. Burt's cousin, Nathaniel Brooks, with his wife and two children.

The prisoners were first taken to the "west mountain" north of the late village, and on the same afternoon started on their terrible journey to Canada. Their route was up the valley of the Connecticut, and the deep snows and rugged character of the wilderness made their progress as slow as it was painful ; on March 3 they had gone only thirty miles on their way and advance after that date was even slower. The condition and sufferings of these unfortunate creatures cannot be adequately described ; in the few brief, agonizing minutes of the attack they had neither forethought nor time to make the least preparation for such a fearful journey; poorly clad and shod, the rocks, bushes and brambles soon rent their scanty garments and when sodden with the penetrating melted snow their power to resist the icy blasts was almost exhausted. At night when the exertion of motion no longer stimulated their blood they could only save their vital warmth by lying close together in the snow, a feebly palpitating mass of misery. There was the further privation of insufficient food, the Indians always depending for subsistence on their forays upon the hap-hazard wild game that fell in their way. Of course the captives received the minimum share of such poor food as they had and that of a quality repugnant to the weaker ones. The women and children naturally suffered the most from the unintermitting fatigue and deficient food, and when they lagged or were disabled they were immediately slain by the impatient and ruthless savages. The wife* of Pastor Williams was the first victim, having given out early in the march, and was tomahawked in the presence of her afflicted husband and children. The next victim was Mrs. Belden, the step-mother of Mrs. Burt, then nearly sixty years old, and who met the fate that about ten years earlier had overtaken her three daughters at Hatfield, where they were tomahawked by the Indians. Altogether there were thus slain on this sad journey nineteen captives, most of them being pregnant women. Some of these poor creatures, when they felt that their powers of endurance were nearly exhausted, calmly prepared for death by seeking the consolation of prayer with Mr. Williams, who gives in his journal a pathetic account of the resignation and heroism of these brave souls about to part from their tortured, worn-out bodies. Mr. Williams, who gives in his journal a pathetic account of the resignation and heroism of these brave souls about to part from their tortured, worn-out bodies. 'I saw in the naked forest Our scattered remnant cast, A screen of shivering branches Between them and the blast; The snow was falling 'round them, The dying fell as fast.'

On this direful march none endured more than Mrs. Burt ; when she started upon it she was in the eighth month of her first pregnancy, and despite the solicitous aid of her husband could scarcely have borne the burdens, rigors, privations and horrors of those twenty-five woeful days, had she not been sustained by her youth and extraordinary powers of endurance. The writer has often in fancy depicted to himself this ancestress, subjected in her early wifehood to that direful ordeal ; the days of unmitigated misery in the deep snows of the bleak and trackless wilderness; the piercing cold ; the sore, aching, frost-bitten limbs; the ever gnawing hunger; the slaughter of her step-mother and of the many women burdened like herself; of the long nights haunted by the vague dread of the morrow with all its known and unknowable terrors. Was it with joy or dread that she felt within her the throbs of her unborn child?

When the party reached Coos in Vermont (near the present site of Newbury on the Connecticut) it was entirely destitute of pro visions and two of the captives died here of sheer starvation. The hunters having succeeded in getting some game, the dreary march was resumed, until on March 25 the party reached Chamble about eighteen miles northeast of Montreal. Here, on April 14, Mrs. Burt was delivered of her first child, a son named Christopher. Subsequently the captives were distributed among the Indians and French and put to various services, the larger portion of them being employed in the convent and Jesuit academy near Montreal, Mr. Burt and his wife being among these. Strong efforts were made to convert them to the Roman Catholic faith and these Mr. Williams subsequently denounced in earnest phrase in his rare and famous book, "The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion."

The destruction of Deerfield excited great interest and sympathy throughout New England. Among the recent publications of the Massachusetts Historical Society is the diary of Mr. Samuel Sewall. He writes at Boston on March 6, 1704: " We are extreamly [sic] grieved to hear that Fifty Seven persons were kill'd and Ninety Captivated out of the little Town of Deerfield. The very worthy Minister, Mr. John Williams, and his wife, are among the Captives. How they will be able to travel to Canada in the very deep Snow and terrible Cold since Tuesday Night last when they were Taken; would make a hard Heart bleed to think of. We know not yet the Particulars or manner of the Tragedy."

Ensign John Sheldon of Deerfield made four expeditions to Canada to redeem his fellow-townsmen, and finally on May 30, 1706, left Quebec with over forty of them, among whom were Mr. Burt, his wife and child. They went down the St. Lawrence and thence 'by sea to Boston, where they arrived on August 2d. On the voyage Mrs. Burt bore her second child, a son who was named "Seaborn," from the place of his birth. Mr. Sewall, writing from Boston on August 22, 1706, to Mr. Williams, still in Canada,says: " As you pray'd earnestly for those that returned last, so you will be glad to hear that they Landed here on the 2d Ins't. I took the widow 'Hirt into my House. It was a great blessing to see Mr. Willard baptise Ebenezer Hinsdale and Seaborn Burt, two little Sons born on the passage. The Captives most of them began their Journey homeward on the 12 Ins't."

The Colonial government then sent the brigantine Hope to Quebec, which left there October 25 with Mr. Williams and fifty-six others, arriving at Boston on November 21. The remainder of the captives formed attachments in Canada, and being converted by the priests, married into French families and remained there.

Mr. Burt and his family repaired to Deerfield, overborne by the memory of their own misfortunes and the massacre of so many of their near relatives in the border wars. As an illustration of the afflictions of those who founded our nation, the names of these relatives may be given. On Benjamin Burt's side were: (1), his brother David, captured at Schenectady, February 9, 1690, and never after heard from ; (2), his brother John, killed in a scout in May, 1707 ; (3), his uncle, Joseph Baker, killed October 29, 1675 i (4), his uncle, Thomas Holton, killed March 14, 1676; (5 and 6), his cousins, William and John Brooks, killed October 27, 1675 ; (7)- his uncle, Sergeant Samuel Wright, killed September 2, 1676 ; (8, 9 10), his cousin Nathaniel Brooks's wife, captured at the same time as himself, the wife slain on the march to Canada and the children never after heard from.

On Sarah Burt's side were (1, 2, 3 and 4), her mother, two brothers, and sister, killed September 16, 1696; (5 and 6), her .cousin, Mary Belden, and child, killed September 19, 1677 ; (7), her cousin, John Smith, killed May 30, 1676; (8), her step mother, captured at the same time as herself and slain on the march to Canada.

They thus together had eighteen relatives slain, besides many others severely wounded or carried into captivity. Upon their return to Deerfield, the rebuilt village presented no familiar aspects, but revived the horrors of its destruction and the subsequent incidents. Mr. Burt and his wife considered the advisability of seeking a safer abode, and as the latter had kindred settled at Stamford, Ct., on Long Island Sound, they migrated there, and finally located at Norwalk, about seven miles from the former town...

Early Days in New England: Life and Times of Henry Burt of Springfield and Some of His Descendants. Genealogical and Biographical Mention of James and Richard Burt of Taunton, Mass., and Thomas Burt, M.P., of England

Henry Martyn Burt, Silas Wright Burt
C. W. Bryan Company, printers, 1893 - New England - 617 pages