Saturday, April 06, 2013

The burning of Groton and the death of John Nutting


My 9th great grandfather, John Nutting, emigrated from England to America. He was born around 1623 and helped settle the towns of Chelmsford and Groton, in Massachusetts (where we live now!). John was killed by Indians in King Philip's War.  Here's the story, from "Nutting Genealogy" by John Keep Nutting:

The Burning of Groton

It is hardly necessary to remind ourselves that when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, it was with only friendly intentions toward the Indians. They very soon secured the friendship of Massasoit, the most influential Sachem of the region, and made with him a firm treaty of alliance. This condition lasted during the lifetime of the chief, and for some time after. During this period white civilization was pushing into the wilderness in every direction, the settlers usually, as at Groton, purchasing the claims of the Indians of the vicinity by the payment of values satisfactory to them, if not of great intrinsic worth.

But at length one of the sons of Massasoit, who had received the English name of Philip, gained sufficient intelligence to perceive whither all this was tending. He saw that in a short time all the lands of the Indians would be taken by the white men, however friendly. The Indian would be obliged to take refuge in the West, already fully occupied according to Indian modes of life, and for the most part by tribes hostile to his own. 

It was necessary that the intruding whites be driven out. Realizing the magnitude of the task, Philip sought to unites all the tribes of the region for the supreme effort. As so often occurs, his plans were betrayed, and active hostilities began before he had intended.

Settlement had moved forward by different detachments, so to speak--one line directly westward from the Bay towards the Connecticut, and up along its course, and another, with which we are most concerned, in a northwesterly direction. On the frontier of this latter series of settlements, Lancaster, Groton, and Chelmsford were the exposed points. West of these, all was Indian territory until near the Connecticut. 

Mutterings of the coming storm began to be heard from all quarters. The settlers began to prepare. Five of the dwellings of the pioneers were fortified by surrounding them with strong stockades, so arranged as to be defended by musketry. Four of these were quite near each other, so situated, on either side of the James brook, that its flow would provide water for the cattle yarded between the "garrisons". One of these four was the house of our ancestor [John Nutting], and it is natural to regard him as, either with or without formal title, the leader of its little force. In that force were his own sons John and James, both able to bear arms, and John already a man of family. Ebenezer would be a lad of ten, and Jonathan only eight.

The fifth garrison has never been located, but it was "near a mile from the rest". I am fain to think it may have been near the River, at the place tradition calls "the White-man's Fort". That would be rather more than a mile, however.

Trouble actually began March 2, 1676. That night, Indians came and rifled some of the deserted houses, carried off cattle and swine, and pretty thoroughly waked up the town. 

March 9, four men, who had gone out with two carts to bring hay, were attacked. One was killed, two reached shelter, and one was made prisoner. He however escaped, and reached Lancaster, up the River south ward.

March 13, a body of about 400 Indians stealthily came to the place. They were under the command of a chief named Monoco, or Monojo, the latter indicating he had been among the Spaniards. He could speak English brokenly, and was well acquainted with Captain James Parker, and probably with all the men of Groton. The settlers translated his name, calling him One-eyed John, indicating that he had lost an eye. This chief knew his business. Scouts from town had been out in all directions the day before, and reported no Indians. Either the attacking body had been hidden, or had come from a distance later.

Early in the morning, the watch at Nutting's garrison reported two Indians skulking about,--no doubt "upon discovery", or scouting. As there were supposed to be no other Indians in the neighborhood, it seemed to all a desirable thing to capture or kill these rascals. It would be easy, it seemed, if a sufficient force went out, to surround them. Accordingly the whole fighting force of that garrison, and some from Parker's (which was within speaking distance) sallied forth, led as we suppose by our Founder himself. 

Monojo had planned wisely. The two supposed scouts led the whites on and on, till they were in the midst of the ambuscade prepared for them, which rose up and poured in a volley. thanks probably to the worthless guns furnished to the Indians by traders, or to the equally worthless ammunition--perhaps also to poor marksmanship--only two shots took effect. One man was killed outright, and another was wounded. A panic ensued, and the men, apparently thinking nothing of the defenceless women and children at the Nutting garrison, fled to Parker's en masse. Meanwhile the other part of Monojo's plan had also succeeded, a second ambush having risen up behind Nutting's pulled down some of the palisades, and effected an entrance. 

However, the women and children all escaped to Parker's. The enemy found only an infant, already dead. Whose, it is not recorded. There were five families in refuge there.

Monojo lost no time in occupying the garrison thus captured, from which he kept up such fire as he could upon the other houses. Night put an end to active hostilities, but Monojo called up Captain Parker, reminding him that they were old neighbors, and held quite a conversation with him. He discussed the cause of the war, and spoke of making peace. He naturally ridiculed the white man's worship of God in the Meetinghouse, seeing that God had not helped them. He boasted that he had burnt Medfield and Lancaster, would now burn Groton, then "Chelmsford, Concord, Watertown, Cambridge, Charlestown, Roxbury, and Boston", adding, "What me WILL that me DO!" The chronicler, however, is pleased to add to his account that not many months later this boaster was seen marching through the Boston streets which he had threatened to burn "with and halter about his neck, wherewith he was hanged at the town's end", in September of the same year.

The Indians cut off the head of him who had been killed by their first fire, and "did set it upon a pole, looking unto his own lande."

Undoubtedly the person killed was our Founder. It is singular that of the four who lost their lives at this time (two of whom were shot while driving carts the fleeing settlers toward Concord) not a single name comes down  to us. Two possible reasons may be cited for this omission  One is, the light estimate in those days of the ordinary laborer or servant. To persons of education or wealth, what happened to such was of little importance. No record was called for. On this supposition, the Minister of Ipswich, who penned the only account of the Groton disaster, would perhaps not think of mentioning the names of those killed, unless they were of rank at least above mere servants or laborers. This explanation, I am aware would indicate that the one whose head was displayed as mentioned could hardly have been farmer Nutting, but was probably some menial. 

A second possible (and very natural) explanation of the omission of names, is found in the haste and trouble of the time, and the probable hearsay character of the information upon which the Minister of Ipswich constructed his account. Not being personally acquainted with the individuals, it probably seemed unimportant to search for their names. 

One thing is certain, the unbroken and unvarying family tradition, in all branches, has been that our Founder "was killed by the Indians". In many cases the added phrase is "in King Philip's War", or "at the burning of Groton". 

Monojo was undoubtedly acquainted with John Nutting, and knew well where "his own lande lay"--namely, at his garrison, a few rods to the north of where he fell. It seems to me likely also, that the particular direction toward which the gory trophy was made to "look" would hardly have been noticed, had not the chief called attention to it by way of boasting, in his talk with Captain Parker.

The Town and Church Records, of course were in abbeyance for some time following the catastrophe, so that the absence of any entry concerning the death of John Nutting is not to be wondered at. (The Church Record is hopelessly lost.) But it is significant that his name never appears after, in any connection. The names of his sons, John, James, and (once or twice) Ebenezer, naturally take the place of his. Sarah, his widow, is found some time later at Woburn, living, it is supposed, with her married sister--Blodgett.

Dr. Green says (p. 28) in his Historical Address, Feb. 20, 1880:

"In this assault John Nutting's garrison was taken by stratagem  The men defending it had been drawn out by two Indians apparently alone, when the savages in ambush arose, and killed one of the men, probably John Nutting himself, and wounded three others...There is a tradition, which is entitled to credence, that John Nutting was killed while defending his log-house fort during King Philip's War. His wife's name appears a few months later in the Woburn records as 'Widow Nutting', which is confirmatory of the tradition".

And so we take leave of our first American Ancestor. Evidently he was a man of enterprise and energy. It is also certain that he was not without means--witness his Proprietorship, first in the Chelmsford enterprise, then in that of Groton. If he proves to be the man of Governor's Island, the source of such wealth as may have been his is easily explained. But at least he was no pauper or mere man of his hands.

It is equally certain that he was truly a pious man. Among the things he coveted, was a home "nigh to the Meetinghouse", so that he and his wife and his "smale childr:" might not miss the beloved "ordin:". His humble position as sexton or janitor of the Meetinghouse, both at Chelmsford and at Groton, could not have been because he needed the trifling stipend but rather because he felt it to be an honor to be "a door keeper in the house of the Lord".

That he was a brave man needs only the history of his last morning to show. Without doubt he fell in leading his little force for the defence of his town and family.

The entire village was burnt, except the three garrisons still held by the settlers. These were probably burnt upon being abandoned. the church was the second building to be fired. Judging from certain bills and accounts in reference to it, it must have been a very humble structure.

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