On January 14, 1676, the War Council in Boston, feeling that enemy Indians were in winter encampment and on the defensive, withdrew all the soldier garrisons on the frontier. This resulted in attacks on the family of Thomas Eames in present day Framingham, the attack on Lancaster, and the plans for attacks on the other frontier towns.
When the ‘Hungry March’ came through Marlborough in February, Captain Samuel Wadsworth was left with forty of his men. On February 10th, he responded to the attack on Lancaster and Captain Samuel Brocklebank of Rowley was ordered to Marlborough with a company of men. That company would remain in Marlborough until April 21st.
The larger body of the colonial army was sent into the wilderness in search of enemy Indians who were on the run with Mary Rowlandson and other captives from Lancaster. The peaceful Praying Indian guides insisted that the Indian plan was to attack the frontier towns and pleaded with the English leadership to divert themselves to Mount Wachusett where the remaining enemy were stationed. Their warning fell on deaf ears.
On March 13th, Groton was attacked, destroyed and abandoned. Captain Simon Willard, under orders to protect the frontier with a small force, spent the next two weeks aiding in the citizen retreat from Groton. Marlborough was thus exposed.
On about March 25th, Brocklebank had written to Major General Denison requesting that the garrison be allowed to return home. Denison’s reply of March 28th is preserved in the Massachusetts Archives. Brocklebank offered two reasons, “Their necessities and wants having beene in the countryes service ever since the first of January at Narragansit (and) they doe little where they are.”
On Sunday, March 26th, the people of Marlborough were at church services at the Meeting House at the foot of Prospect Hill, site of the present day Walker Building. Historian Charles Hudson describes the events as follows.
“A hymn of praise had been sung. Their spiritual leader, Reverend Mr. Brinsmead, commenced his sermon, and was dispensing to them the word of life, when he was interrupted by the appalling cry, ‘The Indians are upon
us.’ The confusion and dismay which ensued, can better be imagined than described! The assembly instantly broke up; and the people made for the neighboring garrison, where, with a single exception, they all arrived in safety, just in season to elude the savage foe.”
The garrison was at the home of William Ward near to the present day Ward Park. One man, Moses Newton was helping an elderly woman when he was shot. “In so doing he received a ball in his elbow, from the effects of which he never fully recovered.”
Escape route from Meeting House to Ward Garrison
On March 28th, Brocklebank sent the following report. “The assault the enemy made upon the towne of Marlborough upon Sabbath day did much dammage as the inhabitants say, to the burning of sixteen dwelling houses besides about thirteen barnes and seemingly did indeaver to draw out the men out of the garisons but we not knowing ther numbers and our charge of the Countries ammunition and provision durst not goe out…then on Sabbath day night there came about twenty men from Sudbury and we out of the severall garrison drew out about twenty more and in the night they went out to see if they could discover the enemy and give theme some checke in ther proceeding who found them laid by ther fires and fired on them and they run away at present but the number being few and not knowing the number of the enemie but aprehending by ther noyse and fireing at them they indeavored to compass them in the returne home without any losse of any man or wound from the enemie.” Yes, those old English records can be a challenge to decipher.
The attack, led by Lieutenant Richard Jacob, wounded about thirty Indians, fourteen of whom died. Included was the Indian Netus who led the attack on the home of Thomas Eames. About a third of the homes were destroyed as well as many cattle. Both the Meeting House and the nearby home of minister Brinsmead were also destroyed. Most of the townspeople fled to the home of relatives closer to Boston. Four home garrisons were maintained, including the home of William Ward. The soldier garrison was maintained until the end of the war. Brocklebank, Jacobs and the remainder of the garrisoned soldiers never received their relief. They become fully involved in the ill-fated defense of Sudbury the following month.
And so it was that Marlborough joined a relatively small number of American towns that were attacked, destroyed and abandoned. Some of these were destroyed along the line of Rt 495 or in the Connecticut River Valley in the same time period of King Philip’s War, some during the Civil War.