Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Eames Massacre

My great great grandmother Henrietta's line goes back to the 1600s in historical Sudbury, MA, town of my birth and upbringing and of zip code 01776. One of the two oldest family names from Sudbury in our tree was Eames which evolved into the name Ames. Henrietta's mother was an Ames. Many Ames ancestors are buried in Wadsworth cemetery in Sudbury not far from my grandparents. Wadsworth Cemetery is a peaceful spot I have spent a lot of time in over the years. In the middle of the cemetery is a monument, dedicated in 1852 to Captain Samuel Wadsworth and the 28 men who died during one of the last battles in King Philip's War on April 21, 1676. The obelisk was erected to honor those men who are buried beneath it. Each year on Memorial Day, members of the Wampanoag tribe decorate the monument honoring men from both sides of the conflict. 

So important was the battle in Sudbury's history that the monument appears on the town's official seal.

Six generations before Henrietta was born,  Thomas Eames was born in 1618. He moved to Sudbury in the late 1660s after having emigrated here from England in 1634. He first made his home in Dedham, then in Medford and finally Cambridge before he sold his home and eight acres there and moved his family to Sudbury. Thomas leased the Pelham Farm in Sudbury for several years. Although a mason and brick maker by trade, the farm is what fed his family. Thomas had been a soldier in the Pequot Wars in 1637 and was injured "maimed in his limbs". Because of this disability he petitioned the court to allow him a land grant based on his service in that war. But his petition was denied.

Thomas Danforth, Deputy Governor at the time and a wealthy landowner in Framingham saw the petition, took pity on him and leased him some land on the side of Mt. Wayte in Framingham, just south of where he had been living in Sudbury. Here he made his home along with his second wife, the widow Mary Blandford Paddleford. Between them they had many children from each a previous marriage as well as some who were born to Thomas and Mary. 

During this same period Metacomet, chief of the Wampanoag tribe, also called Philip by the English, was actively and successfully rounding up the support of surrounding tribes to drive the settlers out of the area. His father, Massasoit, had been a friend to the Pilgrims in Plymouth, but Philip did not trust the English. He rallied thousands from tribes all over to reclaim their lands and raids on outlying farms and remote settlements were a constant threat and struck fear into the hearts of all the settlers and their families.

But many of the Indians in the area were friendly with the settlers and had lived among them peacefully for years. Among these "praying Indians" was Netus, also known as 'William of Sudbury'. Netus and his family would often worship with the settlers of Sudbury and probably knew Thomas and his family quite well.

As so often seems to be the cause of conflict, misunderstandings and false accusations became common in a climate already rife with fear and before long nobody trusted anyone on either side of the situation, no matter their history. These friendly Indians who had dwelled peacefully among the English settlers were being forced from their homes by the English military who first moved them all to Natick, the town next to Framingham, forbidding them to leave the area for any reason, including hunting and fishing. Then, as if that weren't enough of a hardship to impose on them, in late October of 1675, soldiers were sent to round up all the Indians from Natick and relocate them to Deer Island in Boston Harbor. They weren't allowed to bring winter stores, nor had they shelter. Feeling betrayed and fearing that they would not survive the winter on Deer Island, a handful of these Natick Indians fled into the woods, including Netus.

Thomas' farm was miles from the next inhabited property. From all accounts there were only seven families in all of the town of Framingham at the time. His family was particularly vulnerable in such a remote area and Thomas was well aware of that. He petitioned the court to allow him to keep his two horses for his own means of escape, rather than surrendering them to the military for use in protecting the towns of Sudbury and Marlboro where he traveled regularly.  "Divine Providence having cast my lot in a place both remote from neighbors, in the woods and in a place of no small danger in this day of trouble when God hath so signally (?) let loose the heathens against his people everywhere..." And in 1675, he may also have asked the court for protection because Boston sent four guards to Framingham. But when no attack came, these guards were removed in the late fall or early winter, at about the same time that Netus and a handful of Nipmucks who had escaped the forced move to Deer Island were living in the wilds of Natick and Framingham and Sudbury.

Late in January of 1676, word reached the settlers that Sudbury and the surrounding towns were going to be Philip's next area of attack. Perhaps that's why Thomas left his family, taking the horses and the wagon to Boston for supplies, ammunition and further assistance for himself and the neighboring farms.

On the morning of February 1, 1676, while Thomas was in Boston, Netus gathered a band of a dozen or so Braves and headed toward Natick where they had left corn and other winter provisions before the soldiers had come to relocate everyone. But when they arrived, the food was gone, probably taken by the area settlers to add to their own winter stores. So, Netus and his men headed toward Thomas Eames' farm, a place he was sure would have food.

Mary, Thomas' wife was making soap that morning. Her children, some from her first marriage, some from Thomas' first marriage and some of their own, were busy on the farm, perhaps performing some of the chores that their father normally would perform. Two of the children were out on the edge of the property by the well.

Netus' men approached the two and grabbed them, taking them to the cover of the woods and keeping them quiet so that they wouldn't alert the rest of the family. While one of the men, William Jackstraw, guarded the children, the others approached the home. Mary was known to be a formidable woman and witnesses say that she vowed not to be taken alive. So she threw the pot of boiling lye on the invading band of men, infuriating them. She fought with every weapon she could get her hands on, but she was no match for the strong men and she was killed along with several of her children. Netus was one of those who engaged in the actual killings, according to testimony, while others in the group begged them to just take the survivors rather than killing any more children. Although, this account may not be completely accurate because the tellers of the story were also those who had supposedly begged Netus to show some mercy hoping that they would be offered some leniency at the trial. All of the Eames farm buildings were burned to the ground, their livestock slaughtered and anything worth taking had been taken by Netus and his group or destroyed.

Although there are differing accounts, Thomas claims that his wife and nine children were killed or captured. One account reads as follows:

Mary Eames, wife killed
Mary Eames, daughter, age 32, killed
Zacharia Paddleford, age 18, captured and escaped
Edward Paddleford, age 15, killed
Thomas Eames, Jr. age 12, killed
Samuel Eames, age 11, captured and escaped
Margaret Eames, age 9, captured and ransomed
Nathaniel Eames, age 7, captured and escaped
Sara Eames, age 5, killed
Lydia Eames, age 3, remained with her captors 

Massacre of the Eames family.
Our ancestor, John Eames, Thomas' oldest son by his first wife, was not at the farm during the attack. Perhaps he was with his father in Boston purchasing ammunition and asking for assistance. Just a year later, in 1677, destitute and in despair, Thomas Eames petitioned the court and was granted 200 acres in Framingham and Sherborn and 80 acres on the Framingham Sudbury line, and another 200 acres of Indian land near his original home in Sudbury for the losses that he incurred. Thomas never came back to the Framingham area, living instead in Sherborn where he became a Selectman. He died suddenly in 1680.

A month after the massacre, Netus was killed in a battle where he led 300 men in an attack at Sudbury near Marlboro.  Three of the Indians that took part in the Eames massacre were hanged after standing trial, including those who testified to begging Netus to be merciful. Netus' wife and the wife of another chief said to have been involved, were sold into slavery.


A.D. 1900

I wonder how this story came down through the generations? Did Henrietta's mother tell her about it when she was a little girl, sitting by the fire, maybe in a house on the land Thomas had been granted? Was it spoken about at all? Were they forever a fearful family, generations later? Did they marvel at Mary Eames's courage or curse her for provoking the savagery by resisting and injuring her attackers? Would their lives have been spared had she just given them some food? We can't answer those questions, but, it is certainly a fascinating story. It answers the question for me as to how the Eames family decided to settle in Sudbury. 
The Ames "cousins" I knew as a girl were Ruth Ames, a large woman who was a spinster lady my grandmother's age. She taught me piano when I was eight years old at her big old upright piano that was covered with tall piles of music books and sheet music. I was always afraid it was going to topple over on top of me when she sat down next to me to play, her huge upper arms bouncing up and down as she banged on the keys. She was a very sweet woman but I don't remember what she looked like. I was just eight years old and because of their proximity to my line of sight, I remember her arms more than her face. Her mother Julia lived there as well but I only saw her once or twice. She was very old. They lived in an old farm house in the middle of what once was an apple orchard, surrounded by apple trees that bloomed every spring. The home was on the Sudbury-Framingham line, probably on land granted to Thomas Eames almost 300 years before. I wonder if Ruth ever knew the story?