The Raid of Haverhill, MA (1708)

Right before dawn on August 29, 1708, a Native American raiding party entered the town of Haverhill, MA, catching the sleeping villagers by surprise. These Algonquian and Abenaki warriors were under the command of French military commander Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville, the same commander who oversaw the now infamous raid on Deerfield, MA four years earlier. Both raids were part of Queen Anne’s War between the French and English in North America. The party carried French-supplied muskets in addition to their tomahawks and scalping knives. John Keezar, a Haverhill resident who was collecting his grazing horse from his neighbor’s field, was the first to see them. He immediately fired his gun to give warning. but it was too late. His gunshots served only to bring other local men to their doors to investigate, where they were shot on sight.

John Johnson opened his door at the sound of the alarm only to be shot in his doorway. His wife, Katherine, escaped with their one-year-old grandchild through the garden, but was pursued. She, too, was shot. In one last drastic effort of defense, her falling body covered the babe so that it was concealed from the enemy and survived. It was found unhurt by the town’s survivors later that day.

john johnson & wife's Indian raid 1708 grave

Reverend Benjamin Rolfe held off the attackers by pressing his weight against his family’s cabin door. Two shots through the door served to wound Rolfe enough to bring down the door, and tomahawks finished him off. As the Indians poured into the cabin, the hiding places of Rolfe’s wife and infant were quickly found. A hatchet was sunk into her scalp as her infant’s head was smashed against a stone. Rolfe’s sacrifice, mixed with the bravery of the African family slave Hagar, was enough to save the two older children, though. While Mr. Rolfe held the door, Hagar carried the children to the cellar, where she hid them in covered storage tubs, and hid herself behind a large meat barrel.

The Hartshorne family suffered similarly. Thomas Hartshorne and his two sons fled their house at the first sound of the alarm, intending to ride to the closest military post to get assistance. All three were shot dead before they even made it out of town. Mrst. Hartshorne, left alone in the home, hurriedly concealed all but one of her children in the cellar before concealing herself. She heartbreakingly sacrificed her infant child, who would undoubtedly cry and give away their concealment, in order to save the rest of her children. Upon finding the babe, the raiders threw it out a window. It was a lucky child, though, for it landed on a pile of clapboards relatively unharmed. Though unconscious when it was found after the attack, it recovered fully.

Houses were burning and the watch-house was torn apart as the attack continued. Amidst the chaos, a few women of ingenious nature and much courage saved their families. Mrs. Swan leaned against the besieged door with her husband. When their strength was running low, and the door cracked open a full arm’s width, she grabbed her cooking spit from the fire and drove the hot metal through the belly of the warrior closest to entering. Her creativity and initiative scared off victim’s comrades. In the Wainwright home, Mrs. Wainwright determined to outwit the attackers. Even though her husband had died just minutes before in the attack, she threw on a cheery face and unbarred the door. She welcomed the Indians as if they were anticipated friends and offered to assist them in any way she could. Paralyzed with confusion, the natives who entered her home were speechless. Once they regained their bearings, they demanded money. Under the pretense of gathering the funds in the other room, Mrs. Wainwright escaped out the back with all but one of her children. A daughter was taken captive and never heard from again.

By the time the sun started to rise, the men of the town took superior covered positions and were able to fight back. They shot and killed a number of their attackers, which force the latter to retreat. By the time the Indian party left, though, the town was destroyed. The meetinghouse and most homes were burnt completely. As a party was organized to follow the retreating raiders, the remaining survivors searched for those still hiding and, more sorrowfully, the bodies of victims. The town had not enough coffins for the number of dead, and instead a large put was dug in the burial ground for the sixteen dead.

Of the sixteen unlucky victims, one seems more unlucky than most. Ruth Johnson, John Johnson’s daughter-in-law, was found dead at the end of the attack. This was not the first run-in Ruth had had with the French-led Indians. In a 1697 attack on Haverhill, the ten-year-old Ruth was captured after witnessing the murders of both her parents and two sisters. She was held in Canada for unknown amount of time before being recovered. When she returned to Haverhill, she eventually fell in love and married a man named Thomas Johnson. She held her only child in her arms when she was killed in the 1708 raid. Her tombstone reads,

Ruth, ye wife of

Thomas Johnson

Died August ye

29 1708 & in ye

21Year of her

age

Once w’t ye Indians

In captivity,

After ‘twas her lot

In their hands

to dy

ruth johnson's 1708 tombstone

In addition to those killed, an unknown number, perhaps about thirty, were taken captive. Some of the captives were able to escape when the local militia pursued their captors, but many were never recovered.

The 1708 and 1697 attacks were just two of many against the frontier town of Haverhill, MA. In fact, in George Wingate Chase’s 1861 History of Haverhill, MA, the chronological organization is broken up so that every other chapter can narrate the “Indian Troubles” of that time period, including 1675-1678, 1688-1695, 1700-1710, and 1713-1725. And Haverhill was not special in this way. All frontier towns at this time were subject to the hostilities between the French and English over control of North America. From the mid-seventeenth- to mid-eighteenth-centuries wars were continually fought for this control, including King Williams War (1688-1697), Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713), Father Rale’s War (1722-1725) and King George’s War (1744-1748).

In all of these engagements, French and English troops allied themselves with local tribes to wreak havoc in their enemies’ settlements, while the majority of the power-shifts played themselves out on the high seas in naval battles. With no major shifts in power on land, none of these wars settled the border disputes between Britain’s northern colonies and the southern part of New France, and the western Ohio River Valley. The question of which great European power would control North America remained disputed until the French and Indian War of 1754-1763, when the fighting shifted from the seas to the colonies and from European supplied and commanded Indian warriors to large numbers of regular uniformed troops shipped across the Atlantic.

Indian raids did not stop with the end of the French and Indian War, though, as the results of the conflict quickly led to the American War of Independence, which provided two white warring powers to which the Natives could align. The Americans and British continued to use Native allies to attack their enemies in the nineteenth century as Americans fought for land claims against the British near the Great Lakes. This theme was also continued in other areas where manifest destiny brought the Americans in contact with land claimed by European powers, such as in the Southwest against Spain, and the Oregon Country against Great Britain.

For further info, and pictures courtesy of, see:

History of Haverhill, MA (p.19-25): https://archive.org/details/historyofhaverhi61chas

Another blog: http://www.vastpublicindifference.com/2010/04/gravestone-of-day-ruth-johnson.html

A Very Grave Mattter Website (on Haverhill, MA cemetery): http://www.gravematter.com/cem-ma-haverhill.php

Find A Grave Website (on John Johnson): http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=johnson&GSfn=john&GSbyrel=all&GSdy=1708&GSdyrel=in&GSob=n&GRid=11011939&df=all&

Wikipedia (on scalping): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scalping#Colonial_Wars

Crucible of War by Fred Anderson (on the French and Indian War): http://www.amazon.com/Crucible-War-British-America-1754-1766/dp/0375706364

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