The Falls Fight

Land! Land! Hath been the idol of many in New England! –Increase Mather

      Just after King Philip's War so-called by the English and shortly before King William's War or Governor Dudley's War called the War of the Spanish Succession by Europeans, Deerfield was the northernmost colonial settlement in the Connecticut River Valley. In May 1676 several large bands of Indians had camped in the vicinity. The settlers felt threatened by this gathering of tribes. They appealed to Boston for soldiers, and a militia was sent out to drive away Squakeags, Pokomtucks, Mahicans, Nipmunks, and others. The standing forces were led by Captain Turner of Boston. Captain Holyoke brought a contingent from Springfield; Ensign Lyman, a group from Northampton. Sergeants Kellog and Dickinson led the militia from Hadley. Benjamin Wait and Experience Hinsdale were pilots.

      "The Reverend Hope Atherton, minister of the gospel, at Hatfield, a gentleman of publick spirit, accompanied the army."

      The small force of 160 men marched from Hatfield on May 17, shortly before nightfall. They passed the river at Cheapside where they were heard by an Indian sentinel who aroused his people. Indians searched the normal fording place but the colonial militia had missed it by accident. Finding no footprints they assumed the sentry had been deceived by the noise of moose passing along the river. The colonial troops continued on their way until they happened on an unguarded Nipmunk, Squakeag, Pokomtuck, or Mahican camp. This they immediately attacked by firing into the wigwams. Wakened from sleep the frightened inhabitants thought they were being raided by Mohawks. The chronicler writes: "They soon discovered their mistake but being in no position to make an immediate defense were slain on the spot, some in their surprise ran directly to the river, and were drowned; others betook themselves to their bark canoes, and having in their confusion forgot their paddles, were hurried down the falls and dashed against the rocks. In this action the enemy by their own confession, lost 300, women and children included."

      What the historian doesn't say is that most of the dead were women and children.

      Only one white man was killed at what came to be called The Falls Fight. Indian survivors soon rallied neighboring bands and when they realized that the English force was only a small one, they pursued and harassed the victorious retreating army. Now thirty-seven soldiers were killed and several more wounded. The soldiers were retreating because they had run out of ammunition. The retreat soon became a rout. About twenty members of the militia stood their ground and fired at the pursuing Native Americans who were crossing the river. After a hard skirmish they rejoined the body of the now surrounded army, and together they fought their way ten miles back to safety. Except for Hope Atherton and seven or eight others who were somehow separated from their fellows. These Christian soldiers soon found themselves lost. After hiding in the woods for several days some of them came to the Indians and offered to surrender on the condition that their lives would be spared. But the Squakeags, Nipmunks, Pokomtucks, or Mahicans, instead of giving them quarter, covered each man with dry thatch. Then they set the thatch on fire and ordered each soldier to run. When one covering of thatch was burnt off, another was added, and so these colonists continued running, until, Indians later told the historian: "Death delivered them from their hands."

Prophesie is Historie antedated; and History is Postdated Prophesie. –John Cotton

      In our culture Hope is a name we give women. Signifying desire, trust, promise, does her name prophetically engender pacification of the feminine?

      Pre-revolution Americans viewed America as the land of Hope.

      "The Reverend Hope Atherton, minister of the gospel, at Hatfield, a gentleman of publick spirit, accompanied the army."

      Hope's baptism of fire. No one believed the Minister's letter. He became a stranger to his community and died soon after the traumatic exposure that has earned him poor mention in a seldom opened book.

      Hope's literal attributes. Effaced background dissolves remotest foreground. Putative author, premodern condition, presently present what future clamors for release?

      Hope's epicene name draws its predetermined poem in.

      I assume Hope Atherton's excursion for an emblem foreshadowing a Poet's abolished limitations in our demythologized fantasy of Manifest Destiny.


                                                           –from Articulation of Sound Forms in Time


Susan Howe, Singularities, Wesleyan University Press, 1990.