In his 19th century book, “Soldiers of King Philip’s War,” George Madison Bodge used wartime military reports to trace movements and key locations in the conduct of the war. In so doing, he placed a great deal of emphasis on Marlborough’s critical role. Few of the modern historians mention Marlborough other than that it was destroyed in March of 1676. But in Bodge’s book, the second most referenced word (after Boston) was Marlborough. Not only that, but he devotes a whole chapter on Marlborough and an additional chapter on the Sudbury Fight, some of which took place in Marlborough and fully involved the ill-fated Marlborough soldier garrison.
The attention on Marlborough makes perfect sense. After the initial battles in southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the balance of the war was fought in central and western Massachusetts, particularly in areas controlled by the Nipmucs. Because Marlborough was on the frontier and on the main road (what was to become the Post Road), almost all the military movements from December 1675 to May 1676 came through Marlborough. In addition, the Natives, knowing of Marlborough’s strategic importance, saw it as a key objective.
Much of the source material for the war, and most of the stories involving the heroism of the Praying Indians, came from the Administrator for Indian Affairs Daniel Gookin. Gookin was well acquainted with Marlborough because of the Praying Indian plantation located here. Since he spent a great deal of time in Marlborough because of official duties, he also came to know the English settlers. Much of his history, called “An Historical Account of the The Doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians of New England,” looks at events in the town of Marlborough.
These two great historical works place Marlborough at the very epicenter of the first great battle over native rights in American History. Despite these compelling histories, there is little local public acknowledgement of Marlborough’s role. Our downtown is filled with monuments to those who fought in the long history of America, but only the recently installed Museum in the Streets markers make mention of King Philip’s War. Nowhere else can there be found a single stone that commemorates the only war actually fought in Marlborough, a war in which Marlborough played a critical part.
The Mission of Ephraim Curtis
In the early period of the war, the Wampanoag Sachem known by the English as King Philip, son of the great English friend Massasoit (of Thanksgiving fame), was dislodged from his home in northern Rhode Island and retreated to the Nipmuc country of central Massachusetts. Before his arrival there, the English sent Ephraim Curtis of Sudbury, the first settler of what would become Worcester and a friend to the Indians, “to make a perfect discovery of the motions of the Nipmug or Western Indians” (from his report). Before he left, he received discouraging news from some Indians about the negative intentions of some of the Nipmucs.
Hearing this, his three Praying Indian guides from Natick were reluctant to proceed without additional manpower. Curtis “repaired to the constable at Marlboro and to the military officers and told them my business; and they pressed two men with horses and arms to go along with me” (from his report). In this report he also mentions a Marlborough Indian who played a key role in the adventure.
After a dangerous journey into the interior, the small group was able to meet with five sachems whose leader was Muttaump. Curtis wrote a thorough report on July 16, 1675. In it, he showed cause for further alarm. Because of this, the Governor and Council sent Curtis on a second foray with the request to have the leading sachems come to Boston. When he arrived, Muttaump was not there, so he left a message and returned to Boston. This set the stage for the larger troop to be sent under Captain Edward Hutchinson, the first man known to have been buried in Marlborough, and the subject of our next installment.