When The Bradford House Was Attacked
One hundred years before the American Revolution we nearly lost the Bradford House when it was set alight by an Indian war party in 1676. The attack took place during the King Philip’s War.
On a per capita basis, historians regard King Philip’s War as one of the bloodiest and costly conflicts in American history.
The male population of colonial New England was decimated*. One man in six was killed in the war.
In fact, civilian casualties out numbered military casualties by better than four to one. More than 2,600 settlers were slain and at least 600 men and 12 officers were killed in battle. By the war’s end, twenty-five English towns had been destroyed and more than 1,200 homes had been torched.
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In addition to lives and property, the colonists lost more than 8,000 head of cattle, along with many thousand bushels of wheat, peas and other grains. The war was a blow to the New England economy that would take a generation to overcome.
It should be remembered that in the 1670’s Plymouth County was thinly settled.
According to the article, “Population of Plymouth Town, Colony & County, 1620-1690” by Patricia Scott Deetz and James Deetz, the total population of Plymouth County as late as 1690 was only 3,055 people: Plymouth – 775; Scituate – 865; Bridgewater – 440; Duxbury – 410; Marshfield – 400; Middleborough 165.
It’s ironic that Major John Bradford’s house was the target of an Indian raid since it was actually his father, Major William Bradford (of Marshfield) who served as a commander in the King Philip’s War.
Major William Bradford commanded the First Company of the Plymouth County regiment. He had 158 men under his command when his company took part in a preemptive attack on the Narragansett Indians in Kingston Rhode Island.As costly as King Philip’s War had been to the English settlers, it was devastating to for Native Peoples of the region.
The war ended with more than 6,000 Indians dead, wounded or enslaved. Scores of Native villages and communities were wiped off the face of the earth and hundreds of Natives who fought with Philip were sold into slavery in the West Indies, while others, mainly women and children, were sold as household servants in New England.
The story of the Bradford house fire passed down through the generations until an account by Francis Drew found its way into the ‘official’ History of Plymouth County.
Several months after the Rhode Island campaign, Indian war parties were conducting raids in and around the south shore. Halifax, the Eel River at Plymouth, and Kingston were each attacked in turn. Because of hostilities in the area, Major John Bradford and his family had taken temporary shelter in the town’s guardhouse on the other side of Jones River.
One day the Major and several companions were returning to the Bradford House to pick-up supplies when they discovered the house to be on fire. As they approached they saw an Indian standing sentinel on the brow of Abram’s Hill.
When the lookout spotted Bradford and his group, he attempted to warn the other members of the raiding party. The sentinel waved his blanket in the air and called out ‘Choewaug! Choewaug!’ — ‘The white men are coming’.
The warning didn’t do much good. The war party were so busy plundering the contents of Bradford’s house they never heard the alarm.
They remained unaware of the Major’s approach until, “Bradford rushed in among them.”Members of the raiding party instantly scattered and took off in the direction of a dense swamp located at a frog pond near the base of the hill. John Bradford, with weapon in hand, set off in hot pursuit.
The Major gun was loaded with multiple shot when he fired at the retreating Indians killing one – or at least that’s what he thought when he saw the Native drop to the ground.
But when Bradford reached the spot where his foe had fallen he could find nothing. The body had vanished! The whereabouts of the ‘dead’ Indian remained a mystery until one day, years after the war was over, Major Bradford had a conversation with a Native.
The Indian asked Bradford if he recollected a shooting incident while his house had been raided during the war. When Bradford answered that he remembered the event, the Indian revealed that he was the warrior who had been shot by Bradford. He told Bradford that he had not been killed but had been severely wounded when he fell to the ground.
Despite his wounds he had been able to crawl behind a log and hide while Bradford searched in vain for his body.
The unnamed Indian showed Bradford the scars where three balls had passed through his side. Bradford marveled at the fact that the Indian had not been mortally wounded and felt the Native’s survival was a ‘wonderful’ thing.
Luck had ridden with both sides on the day of the raid. The Indian was lucky to have recovered from his wounds and Bradford was fortunate that his house had not been consumed by fire. The house was saved by Bradford’s timely arrival and the fact that the wood of a new addition was still green and damp.
While the Bradford House survived the war, poor old King Philip did not. He was killed in August of 1676 in ambush by a Native going by the name of Alderman. Alderman was a Pocasset Indian who fought on the side of the colonists. After King Philip’s death, colonial officials ordered that Philip’s body to be quartered and pieces were hung from trees.
King Philip’s head was shipped to Plymouth where it was mounted on a stake and stood on public display for the next twenty-five years. (This was the standard punishment for traitors in England.) One of Philip’s hands was given to Alderman, who kept it in a pail of rum and made money by showing it off at taverns.
* Decimation (Latin: decimatio; decem = “ten”) was a form of military discipline used by officers in the Roman Army to punish mutinous or cowardly soldiers. A unit selected for punishment by decimation was divided into groups of ten; each group drew lots, and the unlucky soldier who drew the death lot was executed by his nine comrades.