by J. A. Buxton
Chapter III - The Town of Brookfield
In 1673, Brookfield was incorporated by the General Court. In this region there were and still are many hills, both small and large. The most prominent hill is Coy’s Hill, on the west, which was bare of trees and still doesn’t have too many. Unlike Coy’s Hill, Marks’ Hill, now in Warren, is covered by rocky woodlands. Long Hill, on the south and southwest, has been altered since 1673 by numerous farms, but there is still quite a bit of forest land.
Foster Hill, to the east, was crowned by the rich acres of the Foster farm, but now there are three houses on the hill. Wigwam Hill, to the north and northeast, was a lovely and beautiful stretch of native woodlands.
During this time, the King Philip’s War was raging all around the small town of Brookfield. Ephraim Curtis was sent to discover any signs of unrest in the Quaboag Indians. His report, dated July 16, 1675, reported widespread disaffection, and he was sent on a second trip to Brookfield.
In order to discover and thwart the plans of the Indians and, if possible, to conclude a peace treaty with them, Captain Hutchinson, Captain Wheeler, and about twenty men or more marched from Cambridge to the Nipmuck country around July 28, 1675. Finding that the Indians fled from them and had deserted their villages, the white men continued on to Brookfield.
When they arrived there on Sunday, August 1, 1675, they learned that the Quaboag Indians were about ten miles northwest of the town. Four white men were sent to the Indians’ camp to tell them that the white men wanted peace and wanted to deliver a peace treaty from the General Court. At first, the Indians prepared to fight the white men, but finally the chief sachems promised to meet the rest of the white men the next day about eight o’clock upon a plain within three miles of Brookfield.
When the four men returned with this message, this group of men along with three Brookfield men marched to the plain designated. When they arrived at this spot, the Indians were not to be seen. Captain Hutchinson was prepared to return to Brookfield, but the three Brookfield men strongly persuaded him that the Indians were not the white men’s enemy. The small group of men continued on toward a swamp where, unknown to them, the Indians were hidden.
The swamp was so bad, there being a thick swamp on the left and a rocky hill on the right, the white men had to walk single file. When they had marched some sixty or seventy rods, the Indians shot out at them from various hiding places. The surviving white men attempted to run for their lives up the rock hill since the Indians were hidden in the swamp. Captain Wheeler was seriously hurt in the flight and had his horse shot out from underneath him. His son, Thomas Wheeler, seeing the danger that his father was in, returned to his father and gave his own horse to his wounded father. Thomas then caught a horse belonging to one of the slain men, and both men escaped. In the fight, eight white men were killed, and five men were wounded. A marker now denotes the approximate location of the ambush of Captain Wheeler and his men.
When they finally go to Brookfield, the men went directly to one of the largest and strongest houses in the town. The inhabitants, hearing of the ambush, soon followed them, very poorly provided in clothing and food. The Indians, hard on their heels, were burning whatever they could get their hands on. Cattle were slaughtered; houses were burned to the ground.
The Indians shot at the house where the settlers and soldiers were located. Only one man was wounded, however; Henry Young was looking out of a garret window and was mortally wounded. That same day, a son of Sergeant Pritchard had gone to his father’s house to get more food and had been caught. The Indians had cut off his head, kicked it around like a football, and put it upon a pole before his father’s house that night.
That night, the Indians shot at the white men and set fire to the fortified house. In the attempt to put out the fire, only two white men were wounded, but many Indians were killed.
Ephraim Curtis, on the request of Captain Wheeler, tried repeatedly to escape from the house and get some help. On the third try, he managed to creep through the woods and head for Marlborough. Before he could reach there, Major Willard had been informed by some people passing close to Brookfield of the attack. He quickly headed for the stricken town.
Meanwhile, on August 3, 1675, the Indians continued their attack on the fortified house. They continued shooting and shouting, blaspheming the name of the Lord, scoffing at the settlers’ prayers, and shot into the house. Many of them went into the meeting house, some twenty rods from the house, and mocked the settlers by saying, “Come and pray.” They also sang psalms and made a hideous noise somewhat resembling singing.
The Indians also tried several stratagems to fire the fortified house. One attempt might have succeeded, but the house was saved by a providential shower of rain. At this time, the white men numbered approximately twenty-six while the Indians numbered between three and five hundred.
The next evening, just before dusk, Major Willard arrived with forty-six men. These men were shot upon, but the settlers quickly got them into the fortified house. Disappointed, the Indians fired the meeting house. By August 5, 1675, the greater part had gone away. Many white men had been killed; Captain Hutchinson, weary and sadly wounded, died on August 19 and was buried the next day.
After the siege had ended, the inhabitants of Brookfield viewed their burned houses and, with discouragement, moved to either where they had lived before settling in Brookfield or where they had relatives to receive them. Thus, the first settlement of Brookfield ended in failure.