32 – Refugees
Watertown, End of March 1676
“John Fay?” Suzanne stood before him, looking at him quizzically.
For a moment she knew he didn’t recognize her. “Oh, yes, Goody Morse is it?”
“It is. I was so surprised to see you! I’m sorry to hear about Marlboro. You cannot, if you are here, have had any good outcome.”
His round face had laugh lines around a thin mouth, that was turned down. Sad blue eyes that naturally slanted down mirrored what she guessed were the facts. “Worse than anyone could imagine. Indians burned the farm, animals slaughtered, all gone.”
“And Mary? I don’t see her here.”
He slumped, eyes peering at the ground for some moments. “She didn’t come. I mean, she couldn’t,” and he began to stammer. Impatient with himself, he forced the words that wouldn’t come, the only words he could say. “She’s gone.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to pry.” Suzanne hadn’t expected that answer, and she found herself floundering. Despite feeling as though she’d intruded in a room wherein, she had no title to be, she felt his answer raised more questions. In this context, ‘gone’ could mean she was kidnapped, could mean she’d died, could mean she’d left him, though the latter seemed ludicrous the moment she thought it. The Fays, she’d thought, were well matched, though he annoyingly belittled women’s work. She’d not forgotten his slight when she’d helped their newborn nurse.
“You aren’t prying. No. It’s hard for me to talk about it.” His face wrenched in a spasm. “It’s just that I don’t know why God spared me and not her.”
He’d assumed that she knew what he’d intended by that word ‘gone.’ Suzanne now knew Mary had died.
“Elizabeth—my sister—she’s promised to take the children. And she’ll have me here until I can rebuild.”
“Did Mary take ill?”
“Indians murdered her.” His bitterness oozed through his more obvious grief and shock.
“Horrible! So sorry!” She paused, making eye contact. “I have no words that can comfort you.”
He stared at her, noncommittally, saying nothing. Suzanne could not help but read in his silence his agreement with her. He could take no comfort from words. “My sister tells me it helps to talk of it. But you suffered just weeks before as I now do, and I couldn’t understand your losses when you told me. Now I do.”
“We’ve shared similar fates, it’s true. I don’t know that talking helps, but if you’d like, Joseph and I would like you to have supper with us. We can share our repast and perhaps our grief. We haven’t gotten over my sister’s death and the attack in Groton.”
“Yes. See, Joseph is just there.” Suzanne pointed to where Joseph sat with the men. “Why don’t you join him. He can show you the way.”
At sundown, Suzanne lit the lanterns and the family gathered to break bread at the Sabbath’s end. It was soon dark, and Abigail had little trouble coaxing the sleepy children to retire in the loft.
Joseph and Will were filled with questions about the attack on Marlboro, but aware of John Fay’s loss, they approached the subject with care. Benjamin listened intently, absent mindedly stroking his cat, which covered the boy’s lap; spilling off, the cat’s front legs hung from his knees.
When Joseph took up his pipe and lit it, Benjamin found his own and puffed on it in synchrony with Joseph, now, his idol.
Joseph began. “When we left Ward’s Garrison, you were safe behind walls because you thought the Indians were going to attack any minute. Yet, Reverend Sherman said you were at the meeting house for Sunday service when the attack came. I’m confused. What happened?”
“After that day you left, the scouts didn’t find a single Indian in the area. A week went by without any signs. So, Captain gave us an ‘all clear’ and we returned to our farms.”
Will nodded knowingly, familiar with the patterns of Indian warfare. “Indians were planning an ambush?”
“That’s it. We found out later, after help came from Sudbury, that hundreds were camped north of us, not far from the praying village on the other side of the river.”
Suzanne shuddered. The village where they had stayed in their flight from Groton.
“We didn’t know; the scouts hadn’t ranged that far north. So, that Sunday we went to meeting. The minister—Reverend William Brimsmead—he saw them first and warned us.”
Joseph drew on his pipe. “How far was it to the garrison?”
“Ward’s garrison wasn’t half a mile. We all knew the way. We’d stayed there before. But she. She.” He stopped to quell the spasm that passed across his mouth. “She fell. Shot. A neighbor promised to take the children, and I went back.” Here he stopped, overcome by anguish. He whispered hoarsely. “She was gone.”
Suzanne intervened. “You don’t need to speak of it. Be still now.”
He was silent for a long pause, then shook his head. “I couldn’t leave her, but I had baby Elizabeth. The children.”
Joseph put down his pipe. “I cannot imagine. You did the right thing, but it must have been horrible to leave your wife.”
“Most of us made it to Ward’s garrison.”
Suzanne chest caved remembering the two weeks they’d sheltered in Parker’s garrison in Groton, not knowing their fate minute to minute. It had felt more a prison than a haven. “Were you under siege?”
“No volleys of gunshot. Nothing like that, but if anyone dared out of the palisades, Indians shot them down.”
Abigail, the children safely asleep, joined them. She stopped short in her tracks at these words. Suzanne motioned for her to sit beside her on the bench.
Will stared at Benjamin. “You listen, Ben. Before you go enlisting.” He turned back to John Fay. “That when they started firing the town?”
“Right. They took advantage. They fired burning brands at the houses; they slaughtered cattle; cut down fruit trees, too. They want us to leave.”
“You said help came from Sudbury?” Will sat forward in his seat, leaning elbows on the table. He ignored the sensational descriptions and focused on the maneuvers.
“We sent out a runner, and he must have made it that far. The people of Sudbury came up at dawn next day and killed about forty of them. They got Netus, who was the one destroyed Thomas Eames’s house, close neighbor. The Indians left then.”
Will shook his head. “Doesn’t sound like Sudbury has any troops left to secure the town if they are securing Marlboro.”
Suzanne felt a chill. “Monoco boasted all night what he was going to do next. Burn Marlboro and Sudbury, too.”
Abigail leaned closer and took Suzanne’s hand in both of her own, as though to warm them. Suzanne accepted her sister’s concern. Though she was as yet unaware of her own edginess and vigilance, she appreciated any comfort.
Will stood and raked coals in the firebox. A few meager flames licked the last bits of partially burned timber. “Boston will send support. They must know by now.”
Suzanne didn’t have the heart to ask about Elizabeth, the tongue-tied six-week-old infant. “Where are you living now?”
“We’re at my sister’s house. She’s promised to take in the children.”
“Yes, I remember that you had three? Is that right?”
“Yes. The baby you know. Elizabeth. And I have Johnny, who’s seven now. And a girl, three.”
“Johnny’s age is right between our sons’ Joseph and Samuel. Are you sending him to Norcross’s school?”
“Good. We’ll have Johnny over.” Suzanne was already entertaining the thought in the back of her mind. He will need a wife, and Abigail needs a husband. Abigail would have a way of ingratiating herself if she cared for his son.
John Fay turned to Will. “I heard you are part of Captain Prentice’s cavalry. Will you be called back?”
Will set down the poker. "We head out next week. Are you thinking of joining?”
“Not the cavalry, but as rifleman.”
“Brother-in-law’s a rifleman in Captain Tyng’s Fifth. Jonathan Brown. I’ll let Jonathan know.”
“Appreciate it. I feel like I have to do something.”
“We all must.”
John Fay left long after the time the Morse’s usually ended their Sabbaths, but in some elemental way, hearing the plight of someone who’d suffered the same fate comforted all of them.
Soon after, there was talk about a band of Connecticut forces who joined with Mohegan warriors to hunt down a famous warrior chief, Canonchet. The words was they’d captured and executed him. Joseph told her that Canonchet was considered the most important capture in the war so far. He could be likened to a British general. “King Philip,” he explained, “is good at inspiring his people to fight, but he’s not a tactician. This could mean the end of the war for us.”
For all his optimism, Suzanne didn’t see any end in sight, especially after Joseph joined Jonathan Brown and John Fay in the fourth regiment, a small cadre of armed settlers who patrolled the Watertown surroundings. As she treated more and more refugees from surrounding villages, it seemed as if the war was ramping up, not down. The attacks came like waves rolling onto shore. On April 9, Thursday, Wampanoags entered the village of Bridgewater, south of Plymouth, where they set fire to fourteen houses before they were expelled. On Wednesday, the following week, she heard of another attack, in the north this time. One-Eyed John’s warriors had attacked Chelmsford, a town just northeast of Groton, and left it a smoking desolation. Displaced settlers streamed into Concord. Then, two days after that, Indians began gathering to the north of Marlboro and Sudbury, unbeknown to the colonists.
Twelve volunteers from Concord answered an alarm, many of them refugees from the Groton and Chelmsford attacks, charged with heading off new attacks on Marlboro. They chased Indians east who had finished burning down the last of the buildings there still standing. However, they were ambushed by large numbers gathered to the north of the towns, and only two of the men escaped to Haine’s garrison in Sudbury.
That Sunday, April 19, Reverend Sherman announced that the Wampanoag Indians on the southern front had traveled from Bridgewater to enter Weymouth and then Hingham, burning houses as they traveled northeast. They were closing in on Boston, which was only twenty-five miles north of their last attack.
By now, towns north of Watertown had been completely abandoned: Groton, Billerica, Lancaster, Chelmsford, and Marlboro. Every town west of Sudbury had been abandoned; and Sudbury became the temporary western border of Massachusetts. It was only twenty miles from Boston, and Watertown and Cambridge were the only two towns in between. Between these towns, the roads wound through Indian lands.
The Boston magistrates, now worrying that the closing ring of war operations gave them little room to defend the center, issued orders to Cambridge, Watertown, and other of Boston’s closest towns to protect themselves by stockades.
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