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The Sudbury Fight: Turning point of the War

First of a Four Part Series

In the annals of American history there are a few battles that are considered to be central to a war itself, battles which may have turned the tide of the war or, perhaps, ensured its victory. Just such a battle was the Sudbury Fight during King Philip’s War. That it was fought in a time where there were no photographs or magazine illustrations, no newspaper reports or media coverage, no historically minded writers or poets does not in my mind diminish its importance to the great American drama.

Without a doubt, the Sudbury Fight, though a crushing loss to the colonists, served to turn on the proverbial lights for the colony. It made the colonists aware of their terrible position, made them aware of their dependence on the Praying Indians, gave them a troop of martyrs to rally around, and otherwise motivated the colonists to put aside self interest and conduct a proper war.

The Sudbury Fight was certainly about Sudbury, but just as certainly it was also about Marlborough. In April of 1675, the hostilities began with the demolition of Marlborough and on the fateful day of that battle, an important skirmish most probably was fought on Marlborough soil and the entire Marlborough soldier garrison was fated to be cut to pieces in the concluding confrontation. Here is how it all happened.

Mary Rowlandsand, wife of the Lancaster minister, was captured by the Nipmucs on February 10, 1676 and remained with them for eleven weeks. We learn from her ‘captivity story’ that the Indians conducted an involved ritual before departing for Marlborough and Sudbury from Mount Wachusett. The spirits assured them of a great victory. The Indians were badly in need of food, provisions, weapons, and ammunition. They were led by Muttawmp, sachem of Menemeset. King Philip (Metacom) may have been there, but was certainly not in a leadership role. There were estimated to be about five hundred warriors, but Daniel Gookin says that women may have also participated to give the impression of greater numbers.

On April 18 and 19, a large band of Indians came to Marlborough and laid waste to whatever remained. This destruction was far greater than on March 26. All but a few buildings in the town, including one of the four garrisons, were destroyed. Any wandering cattle were also killed. According to Gookin, there were forty-seven homesteads in Marlborough at the start of the war. About two thirds of these were destroyed in the April attack. Those in the garrisons had learned from experience never to confront Indians during these raids, as there were always many more Indians waiting in ambush than one could see. The Indians only attacked when they had a clear numerical advantage, and they had learned from experience to avoid attacking a garrison directly, if it could be avoided. Marlborough was not the main target.

The English and allied responders included the Sudbury Residents (about eighty), a small contingent from Concord (twelve), Captain Wadsworth and his troop from Marlborough (fifty-seventy), and Captain Brocklebank and his small troop, also from Marlborough with Wadsworth (no more than ten). Other participants included Captain Cowell who came from Brookfield through Marlborough with a ‘troop of horse’ (eighteen), the Watertown militia (about forty), and Captain Prentice from Charles­town with a ‘ply of horse’ troopers. Captain Hunt­ing came from Charlestown and arrived late with a troop of Praying Indians. The total English presence was no more than two-hundred-fifty men, but their forces were badly fragmented and many of them did not see action. Wadsworth and Brocklebank faced the largest part of the Indian force.

On April 18-19, Marlborough was attacked and burned. On April 20, Captain Wadsworth came from Milton with about seventy men to finally replace the small Garrison remaining with Brocklebank. On April 21, in the early morning, Indians to the east of the Sudbury River attacked buildings as far as present day Weston. Garrisons in the area did not respond for fear of ambush.

At about 6;00 AM, the Indians attacked the relatively isolated Garrison of Deacon Haynes on what is now Water Row in Sudbury, just to the west of the Sudbury River. 

Until about 1:00 PM the Indians sustained the attack and tried to burn the garrison, but with no success. At the time, Sudbury was located primarily in present day Wayland. Few townspeople lived to the west of the river. The Indians controlled the bridge over the river thus preventing the Sudbury and Watertown militia from responding. The Haynes Garrison site continues to be maintained on Water Row, just a short distance from Old Sudbury Rd.  Well worth a short visit.

Next: A Troop of Horse and the Marlborough Garrison

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