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Amherst Creates.

Reviews | Short Takes


Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville
Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville, known as the gSacker of Deerfield.h Right: An 18th-century painting of a Huron woman and man. Artists in both cases are unknown.

Captors and Captives: The 1704 French and Indian Raid on Deerfield. By Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney, Professor of History and American Studies. Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003. 376 pp. $30 hardcover.

This year the museum town of Deerfield, Mass., celebrated the 300th anniversary of the famous French and Indian attack that occurred there on Feb. 29, 1704. The celebration featured costumed demonstrations and reenactments\the party-like events that, for better or worse, wefve come to expect in our treatment of such anniversaries. But co-authors Kevin Sweeney and Evan Haefeli have marked the occasion with a much more valuable and lasting contribution: publication of this critical new history that expands our understanding of the raid and its place in the early struggles for North America.

The Deerfield attack occurred near the beginning of a colonial war known as the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713), or Queen Annefs War. Initially a European quarrel between England and France, its American front was one of the wars with the French and Indians that convulsed the colonies for much of the 18th century. Captors and Captives throws a penetrating light on the period, focusing on the Deerfield story to analyze its larger context, including the different war aims of the French and their Indian allies. The authors approach the attack as gan excellent entry point into the histories of Native, French and English peoples of the colonial Northeast,h producing a book as much, they say, gabout the connections between peoples as it is about the conflicts over resources, religion and politics that drove them apart.h

Theyfve done this with thoroughness, dispassion and rigor (complete with 81 end pages of source notes and tables).

Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville
An 18th-century painting of a Huron woman and man. Artists in both cases are unknown.

In the storyfs pivotal event, a stealthy force of about 250 French and Indian warriors surprised the sleeping village in the dead of winter and launched a terrifying assault in which three soldiers and 38 townspeople, including many small children, lost their lives. More of the English were gspared,h however: 111 persons, mostly women and older children, were taken captive and forced to march on the raidersf long, bitter retreat back to Canada. Fewer than 90 captives survived this harrowing trek; others, unable to keep up, were summarily executed and left behind in the snow.

Most of the surviving prisoners eventually returned to New England, but 36 spent the rest of their lives in Canada, assimilated into French or Indian communities.

Sweeney and Haefeli spell out the different motives the several parties had in prosecuting the war and taking so many captives. As governors of thinly settled colonies, the leaders of New France wanted to consolidate the various Indian tribes of the region into one aggressive bulwark against the English. And many of the Indians\the Abenaki of northern New England, for instance\signed on because they wanted to resist English expansion and avenge earlier English attacks on their homelands. Tribes like the Mohawks, on the other hand, were engaged in a gmourning war,h taking captives to replace family members who had died in war or pestilence. French clerics welcomed prisoners\especially the young\as Protestant candidates for conversion to Roman Catholicism. Under-populated French settlements valued the captives as laborers, and French officials saw them as currency for prisoner exchanges.

The authors are particularly good at clarifying the roles of the various Indian elements\groups that also included Hurons, Pennacooks and Iroquois. Another virtue of the book is its attention to the fate of many specific individuals: the English women who married their captors; the ambitious French officers who fought for promotion and status.

To be sure, several chapters have a statistical, demographic or family-history emphasis that may slow down readers looking only for a stirring adventure story. Sweeney and Haefeli are not out to be mere popularizers; they are meticulous scholars making a new contribution to this story of 18th-century people in conflict. Captors and Captives serves the purpose handsomely and should set a standard in the literature for decades to come.

—Douglas C. Wilson ’62

The author is the former editor of this magazine.

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