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On the sleepy morning of May 19, 1676 in present-day Gill, Massachusetts, a band of English colonists under the command of Captain William Turner fell upon the poorly guarded Indian village of Peskeompscut near the falls at dawn, slaughtering many of its inhabitants. More than 300 native people were killed (including many women and children), while only one colonist died in the surprise attack. There is still a marker commemorating the incident in Gill.
The Battle of Turner’s Falls, also known as the Peskeompscut massacre, was fought on May 19, 1676, during King Philip’s War, in present-day Gill, Massachusetts near a falls on the Connecticut River. The site is across the river from the village of Turners Falls. A band of English colonists under the command of Captain William Turner fell upon the poorly guarded Indian village of Peskeompscut near the falls at dawn, slaughtering many of its inhabitants. Many of the warriors in the camp escaped, and they regrouped with those from other nearby camps to dispute the English retreat, during which Turner was killed.
Prelude At what is now Turners Falls, many Peskeomscut Indians went to catch and cure fish. Months of war with the English had used up their limited supplies of food, so they needed to store up as much as possible. They also went to the abandoned fields at Deerfield to plant and hpoefully harvest crops before the winter came.
During the summer of 1676, many warriors went to English settlemants to organize cattle raids that would hopefully bring back enough food for their tribes. One night, a group of warriors raided some cattle in nearby Hatfield. Determined, the settlers rounded up a group of 150 men to retreive their livestock.
Led by Captain William Turner, the unit crossed Bloody Brook and the Deerfield River, eventually arriving at Mount Adams, which was within a mile of the Peskeomscut Falls (Present day Turners Falls). Having feasted well on fresh fish and cattle, the Peskeomscut Indians were sleeping and they had not sent out any scouts. The settlers marched closer and closer to the wigwams, with the Indians having no indiacation of what was going to happen.
As the settlers were pressed right up to the wigwams, Captain Turner gave a prearanged signal. Suddenly all guns thrust into the wigeams and fired. Many of the Indians were killed instantly, while some ran into the falls and drowned. Being ruthless in their attack, the colonists killed men, women, children, and the elderly, leaving no one alive.
The History of Deerfield, Vol. I, George Sheldon, 1895
Leaving his horses under a small guard, Turner led his men through Fall river, up a steep ascent, and came out on a slope in the rear of the Indian camp. He had reached his objective point undiscovered. Silence like that of death brooded over the encampment by the river, save for the sullen roar of the cataract beyond. With ears strained to catch any note of alarm, the English waited impatiently the laggard light, and with the dawn, stole silently down among the sleeping foe; even putting their guns into the wigwams undiscovered. At a given signal the crash of a hundred shots aroused the stupefied sleepers. Many were killed at the first fire.
The astonished survivors, supposing their old enemy to be upon them, cried out “Mohawks! Mohawks!” rushed to the river, and jumped pell-mell into the canoes which lay along the shore. Many pushed off without paddles; in other cases the paddlers were shot, and falling overboard, upset the canoe; many in the confusion plunged into the torrent, attempting to escape by swimming. Nearly all of these were swept over the cataract and drowned. Others, hiding about the banks of the river, were hunted out and cut down, “Captain Holyoke killing five, young and old, with his own Hands from under a bank.”
A very slight resistance was made, and but one of the assailants wounded; another “was killed in the action by his friends, who, taking him for an Indian as he came out of the wigwam shot him dead.” The wigwams were burned, and the camp dismantled. English Retreat Several hundreds of Indians lost their lives while only one colonist died. However, Captain Turner had not devised a retreat plan, and, hearing the shots, nearby tribes along the river were alerted and started to approach the site. Begining to panic, the settlers retreated in groups, hoping to find their way back. Inflicting casualties whenever possible, the warriors pursued the colonists.
Of the 150 colonial men, about 40 were killed, including Captain Turner. Others had to try to find their way back home, a few were successful, while others never made it home. About a month later, Captain Turner’s body was found. It was buried on the bluff where he fell and Peskeomscut Falls was renamed Turners Falls.
History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II,” by Louis H. Everts, 1879
Unhappily, the glorious victory was destined to be followed by a disastrous defeat. Capt. Turner, knowing full well that formidable bodies of Indians were in the neighborhood, and were likely to attack him, tarried after the fight but long enough to destroy the Indian camp, and then gave the order for the return march. By this time, however, the Indians on the east bank of the river, and others from below the scene of the fight, were gathering to attack the English, and it was not without some difficulty that the whites reached the place where they had left their horses, for they were twice attacked while en route, although in each case they successfully repulsed their assailants.
Shortly after mounting and taking up the return journey for Hatfield, Capt. Turner, who had earlier in the day manifested signs of physical indisposition, grew so ill that it was with difficulty he was enabled to keep his seat on his horse. At this juncture, the command having reached Smead’s Island, opposite where Montague City now stands, a sudden attack in large force was made by Indians, and, a report circulating that the attack was led in person by Philip, at the head of a thousand savages, the whites became panic-stricken, and, separating into small bodies, fled in the wildest disorder. The passage from Smead’s Island to Green River was little short of slaughter.
The savages, pursuing, shot down the flying foe or took them into captivity, and when at last Green River was reached, the English ranks had been reduced to less than 150 men. Here Capt. Turner received his death wound, and fell in Greenfield Meadow, near the mouth of Green River, where his body was subsequently found by the English and tenderly cared for. Upon the fall of Capt. Turner, Capt. Holyoke, assuming command, rallied the scattered remnants of the band, and, although constantly beset by savage attacks, conducted the retreat with skillful tact and bravery, and eventually reached Hatfield, with 38 men missing from his command.
At age 20, in May 1676, William Clarke was one of 22 soldiers of Northampton who took part in the Falls Fight under Capt. William Turner. Today, Turners Falls is an unincorporated village and census-designated place in the town of Montague in Franklin County, Massachusetts. Of the men, directly connected with Northfield history, in this fight, were Nathaniel Alexander, James Bennett, Philip Mattoon, Joseph Kellogg, Samuel Boltwood, Stephen Belding, [Capt.] William CLARKE, John Lyman, Cornelius Merry, and Joseph WARRINER. Richard KIMBALL’s son-in-law Joseph Turner He was killed by the indians near Deerfiled Mass on his return from the Falls Fight. Richard PRATT’s son John was a mariner. He was a soldier of King Philip’s war, serving under Captain William Turner and took part in the Turner Falls Fight May 19, 1676,. at Hadley, and for his service in that war his son Thomas about sixty years afterward had land granted him in Bernardston, Mass. John MILLARD’s son Robert was taxed 5.17.06. The Massachusetts towns were then required to equip and provision their own militiamen, and the money listed in this account was probably used for this purpose. Besides this financial contribution to the war effort, Robert Millard served at the Falls Fight under Capt. William Turner.
THE TURNERS FALLS, MASSACHUSETTS FIGHT – Excerpt abridged from The History of Deerfield, Vol. I, George Sheldon, 1895, pp. 155-157.
After sunset, Thursday, May 18th , this little army set out on a memorable march…. The cavalcade passed out from Hatfield street with high hopes and determined hearts. Crossing the meadows to the north, vowing vengeance for stolen cattle, they wended their way slowly up the Pocumtuck path. Over the Weequioannuck and through the hushed woods as darkness was closing down, to Bloody Brook. Guided by Hinsdell, the troops floundered through the black morass, which drank the blood of his father and three brothers, eight months before; they passed with bated breath and clinched fire-lock, the mound under which slept Lothrop and his three score men. As they left this gloomy spot, and marched up the road, down which the heedless Lothrop had led his men into the fatal snare, the stoutest must have quailed at the uncertainty beyond.
Was their own leader wise? Did he consider the danger? Was it prudent to neglect precautions against surprise? Leaving his horses under a small guard, Turner led his men through Fall river, up a steep ascent, and came out on a slope in the rear of the Indian camp. He had reached his objective point undiscovered. Silence like that of death brooded over the encampment by the river, save for the sullen roar of the cataract beyond. With ears strained to catch any note of alarm, the English waited impatiently the laggard light, and with the dawn, stole silently down among the sleeping foe; even putting their guns into the wigwams undiscovered. At a given signal the crash of a hundred shots aroused the stupefied sleepers. Many were killed at the first fire.
The astonished survivors, supposing their old enemy to be upon them, cried out “Mohawks! Mohawks!” rushed to the river, and jumped pell-mell into the canoes which lay along the shore. Many pushed off without paddles; in other cases the paddlers were shot, and falling overboard, upset the canoe; many in the confusion plunged into the torrent, attempting to escape by swimming. Nearly all of these were swept over the cataract and drowned.
Others, hiding about the banks of the river, were hunted out and cut down, “Captain Holyoke killing five, young and old, with his own Hands from under a bank.” A very slight resistance was made, and but one of the assailants wounded; another “was killed in the action by his friends, who, taking him for an Indian as he came out of the wigwam shot him dead.” The wigwams were burned, and the camp dismantled.
Richard MONTAGUE’s son-in-law Isaac Harrison served in King Philip’s War and was killed by Indians in the Turner’s Falls Fight, while serving under Captain William Turner. After his death his family brought suit in court against John Belcher, a surviving soldier of the fight, claiming that Belcher failed to render aid to Harrison and left him to die. However, the court took no action against Belcher.
History of Hadley : including the early history of Hatfield, South Hadley, Amherst and Granby, Massachusetts pg 165. (1905)
The complaint of Martha Harrison, which was substantiated by testimony before the Commissioners of Hadley, June 22, 1676, exhibits some incidents of this disorderly flight. Martha Harrison of Hadley, widow, makes complaint against John Belcher of Braintree, a soldier in Capt. Turner’s company, for being the culpable occasion of the death of her husband, Isaac Harrison, a wounded man, riding upon his own horse, who fell from his horse, being faint, and this John Belcher, who was behind him, rode from him with Harrison’s horse, though he entreated him not to leave him, but for God’s sake to let him ride with him.
Stephen Belden of Hatfield, testified that he, riding behind Jonathan Wells, saw Isaac Harrison on the ground rising up, and heard him call to the man on his horse, 3 or 4 rods before, to take him up, saying he could ride now; the man rode away, and both Jonathan Wells and I called him to go back, and he would not. This was when we were returning from the fight at the falls. There is no record of Belcher’s being punished. — Many had lost their horses. — Mather says the soldiers were more numerous than the Indians that pursued them. Elder John STRONG’s son-in-law Jonathan Wells (1659-1739) was made a Captain upon the death of his brother Thomas Wells III in 1691.
At the age of 16, Jonathan was the “boy hero” of the Peskeomskat Fight. He also was Military Commander of the settlement at Deerfield when the town was attacked on Feb 29, 1703/04 Turners Falls Reporter 1875 Mr. Jonathan Wells of Hatfield, one of the twenty who remained in the rear when Turner began his march from the Falls, soon after mounting his horse, received a shot in one of his thighs, which had previously been fractured and badly healed, and another shot wounded his horse.
With much difficulty he kept his saddle, and after several narrow escapes, joined the main body just at the time it separated into several parties, as has been related. Attaching himself to one that was making towards the swamp, on the left, and perceiving the enemy in that direction, he altered his route and joined another party flying in a different direction.
Unable to keep up with the party, he was soon left alone, and not long after fell in with one Jones, who was also wounded. The woods being thick and the day cloudy, they soon got bewildered, and Wells lost his companion, and after wandering in various directions, accidentally struck Green River, and proceeding up the stream, arrived at a place since called the Country Farms, in the northerly part of Greenfield.
Passing the river and attempting to ascend an abrupt hill, bordering the interval west, he fell from his horse exhausted. After lying senseless some time, he revived and found his faithful animal standing by him. Making him fast to a tree, he again lay himself down to rest, but finding that he should not be able to remount, he turned the horse loose, and making use of his gun as a crutch hobbled up the river, directly opposite the course he ought to have taken.
His progress was slow and painful, and being much annoyed by mosquitos, towards night he struck up a fire, which soon spread in all directions, and with some difficulty he avoided the flames. Now new fears arose; the fire, he conjectured, might guide the Indians to the spot, and he would be sacrificed to their fury. Under these impressions, he divested himself of his ammunition, that it might not fall into their hands, bound up his thigh with a handkerchief, staunched the blood, and composing himself as much as possible, soon fell into a sleep.
A dream suggesting to him that he was travelling from, instead of to Hatfield, he reversed his course, and through time brought up at the upper part of Greenfield, and soon found a foot path which led him to the trail of his retreating comrades. This he pursued to Deerfield River, which, with much difficulty, he forded by the aid of his gun.
Ascending the bank he laid himself down to rest, and being overcome with fatigue, he fell asleep, but soon waking he discovered an Indian making toward him in a canoe. Unable to flee, and finding his situation desperate, he presented his gun, then wet and filled with sand and gravel, as if in the act of firing.
The Indian, leaving his own gun, instantly leaped from his canoe into the water, escaped to the opposite shore and disappeared. Wells now concluded he should by others who he knew were but a short distance down the river, but determining if possible to elude them, he gained an adjacent swamp, and secreted himself under a pile of drift wood.
The Indians were soon heard in search of of him, traversing the swamp in all directions, and passing over the drift wood; but lying close, he fortunately avoided discovery, and after they had given up the search and left the place, he continued his painful march through Deerfield meadows. Hunger now began to prey upon him, and looking about he accidently discovered the skeleton of a horse, from the bones of which he gathered some animal matter, eagerly devoured, and which in a measure allayed his hunger and added to his strength.
Passing the ruins of Deerfield, at dusk, he arrived next morning at Lathrop’s battle ground, at Bloody Brook, in the south part of Deerfield, where he found himself so exhausted that he concluded he must give up further efforts and lie down and die. But after resting a short time, and recollecting that he was within eight miles of Hatfield, his resolution returned, and he resumed his march through pine woods, then smoking with a recent fire; there he found himself in great distress from a want of water to quench his thirst, and almost despaired of reaching his approximated home.
But once more rousing himself, he continued his route and about mid-day on Sunday reached Hatfield, to the joy of his friends, who had supposed him dead. After a long confinement, Mr. Wells’s wound was healed, and he lived to an advanced age, a worthy member of the town. Aftermath In 1736, the General court granted to the survivors of this fight, and their descendants, a township,which in commemoration of the event was named Fall-town, since incorporated under the name of Bernardston. Bernardston was first settled in 1738 as a part of “Fall Town,” which also included Colrain and Leyden.