Colonial

The Town Prepares for War

From August 14, 1675 to August 19, the people of Marlborough looked on as the ill-fated troop of soldiers returned, wounded and broken from the battle at Brookfield. These events and others, particularly the attack on nearby Lancaster, provided strong motivation for establishing a defensive plan for the town. 

At some point, it’s not certain when, a colonial soldier garrison was established by the colonial authority in Boston and a soldier fort was built on Sligo Hill near the old water tower.  In the mid 1800’s there was an old tunnel on the hill where the fort had been connected to a well.  This location is lost to history, but there may still be remnants of the tunnel buried on the hill.

Lieutenant John Ruddock was the commander of the local militia and, at first, he was placed in charge of the soldier garrison.  Their presence was not enough to calm the fears of the local populace and soon, there was disagreement on how the soldiers should be deployed.  A meeting was held on October 1, 1675 to discuss plans for defense in the event of an Indian attack.

It is interesting to note that it was not the selectmen who called the meeting.  Years of internal strife may have made it difficult for everyone to respond to town leadership.  But Minister William Brinsmead was still on good terms with most of his flock and it was he who called the meeting.  Ruddock, however, was not in attendance, a notable and troubling development.

Marlborough historian Charles Hudson outlined the garrison decisions that were made at the meeting.  In all, there would be nine garrisons with each having a number of soldiers from the colonial deployment and a number of local militia. 

Marlborough Historian Charles Hudson

To the south, the Kerly house, probably near the mill on present day Mill Street, would have nine  militia and two soldiers for a total of eleven, while the blacksmith Johnson’s house would have three militia and nine soldiers.  This was located across from the Meeting House, near the present day senior housing on Main Street.  The Joseph Rice house, near to Mechanic St. would have three militia and no soldiers.

Also, downtown, the Ward house, near present day Ward Park would have three militia and three soldiers.  The Wood house on the east section of downtown would have two and two.

To the west, the Williams house at the corner of Lakeside Avenue and Williams Street would have three and three. The Thomas Rice house, probably near the Peter Rice homestead on Elm Street would have six militia and two soldiers. The Peter Bent house near the corner of Williams Street and Forest Street would have three and three and the soldier fort on Sligo Hill would have the remaining thirteen soldiers. In total, there were thirty-two militia and thirty-seven soldiers.  Notice that the economic assets of the town, the mill and the blacksmith, received the most protection.  Instructions were given to each family indicating which garrison they should go to in case of Indian attack.

In some great detail George Madison Bodge, in his book Soldiers of King Philip’s War, chronicles the trouble created for Lt. Ruddock. In a series of letters to the colonial War Council he outlines the many problems he faced.  On October 1st he wrote, “Our men at the garison want shoos and stockins and shurts very much they complaine to me dayly to goe home and suply themselves but I dare not let them goe because sum have gon on that acount and Com not againe.”

Historian George Madison Bodge

In a postscript he wrote, “The Constable had been this morning and warned the soulders to com to me for theire victls (food) for the town would diet them no longer I desire derection in this case alsoe that he had warned them that did quarter them to quarter them no more.”

The town meeting compounded the problems.  In a letter of October 4th, he wrote, “When we met together to apoynt houses to be ffortified I would have had houses apoynted and men apoynted to these houses but the Insign would not yeald to that but would have the town caled together to see what houses they were willing to goe to and to fortify soe the designe was that my house should not be ffortified nor have any gard if danger be … they themselves will have the Inhabitants to gard theire houses but if I have any I must have of the soulders and be at Charges to maintaine them myself …  I have propounded to them that the Inhabitants be equally devided to the houses that are to be garded and the garison soulders divided likewise but they would not yeld to that …. sum have manedged theire maters soe that I have Leetle or noe command of the Inhabitants of the town…. there are (those) that cannot swolow the pill that I should have so much trust and pour (power).”

The narrative ends here.  We cannot know how the issues were resolved, but it’s clear that within a few months an outside officer was appointed to command the Marlborough soldier garrison.  Clearly, the internal strife was sufficient to affect the war effort.

The Marlborough soldier garrison would continue to be a critical element in the colony’s plan to protect the frontier.  In March and April of 1676, the story of the soldier garrison would grow to heroic and tragic proportions.

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