The Indian Spies From Deer Island

During the period of 1675-1676, perhaps the greatest spy story of early America involved the town of Marlborough. When the colonial army left to confront the Narragansett Indians in December of 1675, General Daniel Gookin, Superintendent for Indian Affairs, went to Deer Island to enlist two of the Praying Indians in a spy mission. These two men, James Rumneymarsh and Job Kattenanit accepted the assignment and made their way to the enemy Indian encampment near Brookfield.

On January 24th, Rumneymarsh returned and told Gookin that Indian “King Philip” had left to New York to try to enlist the Mohawks. He further reported that the Narragansetts were on their way to join the Nipmucs, and that they planned to join forces and make a major attack on the frontier towns beginning with Lancaster.

On February 1st, a small group of enemy Indians led by Netus sought to recover the Indian corn left at the Praying Indian town of Megunko in present day Ashland. Finding no corn, they attacked the nearby farm of Thomas Eames in present day Framingham..

The elder Eames had gone to Boston to seek soldiers for protection, but his family was left defenseless. His wife sought to defend the family with hot kitchen oil and kitchen implements, but both she and most of the older children were slain and the younger children were taken captive. Some were believed to have become tribe members in Canada. Netus was the leader of the small troop that attacked Marlborough and was killed by soldiers hunting them that same evening.

On February 9th, Job Kattenanit, who had stayed behind to try to rescue his family who had been abducted from Hassanamesit (Grafton), returned to report that Lancaster would be attacked the following day.  Lancaster was the adjoining town to Marlborough at that time and there were close relatives in both towns. The area that is now Berlin was part of Lancaster back then, while the area that is now Hudson was part of Marlborough.

Gookin dispatched the Marlborough soldier garrison, led by Captain Wadsworth and supplemented by troops from Boston, to go to the relief of Lancaster. They arrived in time to save one garrison, but the garrison at the minister’s house was overrun and the minister’s wife, Mary Rowlandson, was captured. In addition, relatives of Marlborough residents were butchered.

Mary Rowlandson wrote a diary while in captivity and provided a clear record of the Indian movements for the next few months. This “captivity story” became a must-read for the next two centuries and created a sense of fear and foreboding for any caravan heading to the west. The perceived savagery of all Indians created a level of fear that produced conflict even with friendly Indian tribes.

Kattenanit further reported that the Nipmucs, combined with the Narragansetts, were intent on attacking the remainder of the frontier towns, including Marlborough, Medfield and Groton. Despite the accuracy of the reports concerning Lancaster, the colonial leadership refused to heed the warnings and within a short period of time all of these towns were attacked and destroyed.

Later in the month of February, a force of six hundred was chosen to once again hunt down the Nipmucs and Narragansetts. They were led by Major Thomas Savage who insisted on using Praying Indian guides. Six men were chosen from Deer Island. The aforementioned Katananit and Rumneymarsh, as well as James Speen, Andrew Pitimee, John Magus and William Nahatan. Four of those men were signers of documents relating to the sale of Indian lands in Marlborough in 1684.

Marlborough was chosen as the point of departure. They set up headquarters, led by Major General Denison, at the home of William Ward (located on Hayden Street near Ward Park). Job Kattananit petitioned Major General Denison to allow him to seek out his family as well as other friendly Indians, who he had contacted on his earlier spy mission. Though initially given the go-ahead, Captain Mosely intimated that the Indians were not to be trusted, and Kattananit was retrieved.

According to Gookin, the army lined up in order for the march at the main road before William Ward’s home. They arrived in Brookfield on or near about March 3rd, but the Indians had left for the Connecticut River Valley. The army followed, ignoring the advice of the Indian spies who advised them to confront the remaining force at Mount Wachusett.  This error in judgement allowed the Wachusett contingent to go forward with the plan that involved the destruction of Marlborough.

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