Colrain — Indian Troubles
Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.
The early settlers of Coleraine were much harassed by Indians, and for better protection built three forts. The first of these was built perhaps as early as 1740, in the centre of the little settlement, near the present Shelburne line, about a mile due south of where the first meeting-house was subsequently erected. Traces of the cellar of this old fort are, it is said by some, still to be seen, but they are scarcely positive enough to satisfy the critical observer. The second fort Fort Lucas was set just east of Meeting-house Hill, and the third called Fort Morrison was near North River, about a mile north of what is now Coleraine Centre.
Upon the first intimation of savage menace, which was watched for with vigilant care, the settlers would promptly flee to the nearest fort; and, once therein, safety was well assured, since the Indians seldom ventured to attack such strongholds when adequately manned.
In 1746, on the 10th of May, a band of Indians, returning from an unsuccessful attack upon Major Burke's fort in Fall-town (Bernardston), passed through Coleraine, and, ambuscading a party consisting of Matthew Clark, his wife and child, and two soldiers (who, having been alarmed by the reported approach of Indians, were seeking the safe shelter of Fort Lucas), killed Clark, but in turn lost one of their number, while the soldiers, with Mrs. Clark and child, gained the fort.
Not long after (in August, 1747), John Mills, a settler, was attacked by Indians and killed near his house, and about the same time a woman named Pennell disappeared from the settlement, and, nothing being heard or seen of her after, the belief was general that she had been carried into captivity by Indians.
The story is told of an Indian who, seeking to lure a cow-hunting settler to his fate by ringing a bell which he had taken from the very cow for which the settler was searching, was himself first discovered by the latter and shot dead in his tracks.
The renewal of Indian hostilities in 1755 brought fresh and alarming troubles to the Coleraine settlement, and, during the last French-and-Indian war, the constant care and vigilance which the settlers were called upon to exercise permitted them scarcely any leisure for the pursuit of business avocations, and the settlement made but little advancement during that period.
A number of Coleraine men, including John Bolton and David Morris, went into the service, and fought under Wolfe, at Quebec, in a company known as "Rogers' Rangers,"* March 20, 1758. Indians appeared in the vicinity of Fort Morrison, and the inmates thereupon sent Capt. John Morrison and John Henry to warn the people lodged in the other forts of threatened danger. Upon sallying out, Morrison and Henry were discovered by the savages, but, although hotly pursued and fired upon, the two men, mounting an estray horse which they happened fortunately to encounter, escaped in safety to Fort Lucas, Morrison receiving, however, a shot that broke his right arm. Added to that misfortune, the Indians burned Morrison's house and barn and killed all his cattle.
On the following day, March 21st, Indians appeared in force on the high hill west of Fort Morrison, and, conjecturing it to be illy defended, made a night attack upon it. Of the incidents which ensued Dr. Holland has given a graphic report, as follows:
"There were but three men in the fort,—Maj. Willard, of Deerfield, Deacon Hulbert, and Joseph McGown. Maj. Willard was wounded soon after the attack, so that he was unable to render any assistance. Some of the women in the fort melted their teapots and made bullets; others of them loaded the guns, and the two men fired so fast that the savages were led to believe that the fort was full of men; and to confirm this belief the more, Deacon Hulbert, who was a large and powerful man, and who had a voice of thunder, would cry out to the red-skins to 'come on,' as they were 'ready for them.' Much of the night was passed in this kind of fighting, until, finally, the savages concluded that they must adopt some other means to accomplish their purpose. They went to some barns in the vicinity, and piled upon a cart a load of swingling tow, believing that by keeping the load in front of them, so as to protect them from the guns of the fort, they might, with safety, place it in immediate contact with it, and then, by setting it on fire, they would burn the fort and those in it, or compel them to surrender. Daylight coming before the Indians got their load to the fort, and not deeming it safe to go within gun-shot of the whites after this time, they relinquished their intentions, and withdrew into the forest. Early in the attack Maj. Willard caused the children to be warmly clad, not doubting that before morning they would be in the hands of the savages and on their way to Canada. Soon after this night conflict Joseph McCowen, wife, and a son six months old, were surprised and taken prisoners by the Indians. Mrs. McCowen was a corpulent woman, and before the close of the first day's march she became so much exhausted as to be unable to reach their camp for the night. The savages permitted her husband to go back and remain with her a short time, but would not allow him to assist her in reaching the camp. He was soon compelled to leave her, and, as soon as he turned his back, the savages buried their tomahawks in her head. He was taken to Canada, and, after a few years, returned to the home of his early life. The child was kindly cared for by the savages, and was sold to a French lady, who adopted him as her own. The father was permitted to see him occasionally as long as he remained in captivity. After the close of the war, Mr. McCowen went to Canada to procure his child, but was unable to find him. He again returned to Coleraine, and soon learned that his boy, who had grown to be a tall lad, had been secreted and kept from his sight. Another attempt to reclaim his child proved equally fruitless."
Many of the inhabitants of Coleraine abandoned the settlement during the season of Indian warfare for places of better security, but upon the termination of hostilities promptly returned, and with them came new settlers in considerable numbers, so that, by 1767, 90 farms were occupied and nearly 1000 acres cleared.
* This same Capt. Robert Rogers was the man who, in 1760, commanded the detachment sent by Gen. Amherst to take possession of the French post, Detroit, and who met on his way, near where the city of Cleveland, 0., now stands, the celebrated Ottawa chief, Pontiac. Rogers rose to the rank of major. He was afterward charged with attempting to sell or betray Mackinaw to the Spaniards, and in the Revolutionary war deserted to the British.