29 February

Marquis de Vaudreuil (1698-1778)

French Attack Deerfield

This story may be read only once every four years, but historian J. L. Rutledge in Century of Conflict says that it led eventually to France's losing Canada. There might have been peaceful co-existence between French Canada and what is now the United States if Governor Vaudreuil had not persisted in the policy of attacking settlements in New England.

On February 29, 1704, Deerfield, near the northwest frontier of Massachusetts, was the target for destruction. It was a peaceful village with no military significance. The attack was led by Hertel de Rouville, whose force included four of his brothers, fifty soldiers and two hundred Abenaki and Caughnawaga Indians. Dragging their supplies on sleighs, they marched 300 miles on snowshoes in bitter winter weather from Montreal to Deerfield. When they arrived on the night of February 28, they were starving and cold, but they could not light fires without causing an alarm.

Deerfield's forty-one homes were quickly destroyed when Rouville's men made their vicious attack at dawn. Forty-eight citizens were killed, including women and children. Reverend John Williams, who was spared, saw two of his children killed, and then he and Mrs. Williams were included in a group of 100 prisoners who were forced to march to Montreal with the troops. Mrs. Williams had given birth to a child only one week before, and was unable to wade across the swift and unfrozen Green River. As she stumbled in the stream, an Indian killed her with a blow of his hatchet.

The march to Montreal was comparable in cruelty to that inflicted by the Japanese on British and American prisoners during World War II. Reverend Williams survived the ordeal and wrote a book about it called The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion. Eventually, fifty-seven of the prisoners were returned to Boston in exchange for French prisoners taken in New England. One of the Deerfield residents who did not return was the Williams' seven-year-old daughter, Eunice. One of the Indians had taken pity on her during the march, and carried her practically all the way. She was taken to the mission at Caughnawaga and educated. A few years later, she married the Indian who had saved her.


29 February

-1680    Father Hennepin left to explore the Mississippi.

-1712    Montcalm was born at Candiac, France.

-1892    The Treaty of Washington between Britain and the United States allowed both sides to submit the Bering Sea fishing dispute to arbitration.

-1960    President Segni of Italy visited Canada until March 2.