The Year of the Monkey, 1692 Style

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IT’S NO SURPRISE THAT OUR PRESIDENTAL elections always fall in the Year of the Monkey, a Chinese astrological cycle rife with the potential for all manner of monkey business—trickery, discord, even chaos to the point of pandemonium. The year 1692 had been a Monkey year, too, one that in New England fully lived up to its reputation.

To set the stage, in June 1689 Hampton town clerk Henry Dow was going about his business as usual—planting his corn, mending his barn, cutting timbers for a vessel he was building. On Sunday the twenty-third, his day of weekly rest was shattered by an Indian alarm raised in Portsmouth. Coming as it did during a period of relative peace, the alarm had its skeptics, but Henry was not one of them. His creed was better safe than sorry, and for the next five days he set aside his saw and hoe to “hail” his townsmen to the danger of attack. Twenty miles to the north at Cocheco, the famous Indian deceiver Major Richard Waldron also had received rumblings of strange Indians in the area, but unlike our vigilant Henry, he foolishly chose to ignore them.

The tomahawk fell in the early morning hours of June 28. Houses sacked and burned, scores of settlers captured or killed, 80-year-old Waldron tortured to death in his home, his body gleefully mutilated by enemies who had come to settle old scores. Before the sun had reached its zenith, messengers were shouting out the dire details from horseback as they raced south to alert the Massachusetts militia. The English would point to Cocheco as the spark that ignited the nine-year conflict known as King William’s War.

 King William’s War

Since the overthrow of the sitting English monarch in late 1688, the imperial glue that held the New England colonies together had dissolved, their governor-general deposed and held captive in Boston. With Roman Catholics and Anglicans occupying the highest seats of power, this sudden vacuum of authority failed to distress the Puritans of Hampton, an independent-minded lot if ever there was one. They were, however, in a state of alarm over the Cocheco massacre.

One week after the raid, the men of Hampton chose Henry Dow and others to attend a meeting of the New Hampshire towns to decide what should be done for their “peace and safety.” And, “to secure themselves and their families from the violence of the heathen,” they voted to build a fortification around their meeting house.

Hampton was made part of a cobbled-together regional defense force. Every man over the age of 16 was bound to serve, and many fathers, sons, and brothers took up arms together. The Towle twins, Joseph and Benjamin, went to Wells under Captain Sam Sherburne; Thomas Nudd and his son Samuel, Sgt. John Smith and his son John, Abraham Drake and his son Robert, Joseph Dow, Sr. and his son Joseph—all did garrison duty together. Henry Dow, in his mid-50s, also did garrison duty several times a month, sometimes “a-warding” for his sons Simon and Samuel.

As town clerk, Henry kept a written account of the town’s militia men. The preserved remnant of this mouse-eaten record divulges that the standard time served was 37 days, at a rate of one shilling per day; that Hampton men scouted the nearby woods; posted messages to Portsmouth, Haverhill, and Exeter; soldiered at Wells, Cocheco, Exeter, and Lamprey River; chased Indians north to the shores of Winnipesaukee and west to Pennecook on the Merrimack River. Men who stayed at home billeted and fed out-of-town soldiers and took up arms “in defense of their garrison the town and country.”

 The Year of the Monkey

The year 1692 more than satisfied the Monkey’s potential for chicanery and chaos. The tragedies of that time still haunt us today, their effects frothing into the following years like an overfilled pot of misery. It began in January with the French and Wabanaki visiting death and destruction on the settlement of York, Maine and the heretofore well-mannered girls of Salem Village unleashing their own bizarre brand of terror. They writhed, twitched, and in time accused nearly 200 persons of witchcraft. Town constables and jailers were hard put to keep up with the bedazzled magistrates’ thirst for arrest warrants and imprisonments.

Into the midst of this welling cauldron of conflict stepped Sir William Phips—swashbuckling, barely literate, stamped with the reluctant imprimatur of the English Crown—to reimpose the royal will and to save the northern colonies from their “thousand perplexities and entanglements.” Boston took the measure of Sir Phips, and as usual, observed where best to insert the blade.

The men of Hampton, meanwhile, having endured three years of a huddled existence within their meeting house palisade periodically awash with distraught goodwives and crying children, voted to expand the cramped fortification by rebuilding it “between the minister’s house, the prison, and the meeting house.” Men would have “liberty” to build private houses inside the fort, “according to the custom in other forts.”

The Monkey marched on. By the time the corn in Salem Village was waist-high, six women had been convicted of witchcraft and hanged. The people of Hampton could hardly be blamed if they worried that the contagion might leak northward. They had endured their own brushes with the Devil, the last one just twelve years earlier (another Monkey year). Rachel Fuller, a young mother of three who fancied herself a healer, had been accused of murdering her neighbor’s child with witchcraft. She was jailed but never brought to trial. The memory of the trauma had faded, but Rachel and other named witches still lived in town. Now under constant threat of Indian attack, striving to settle a permanent minister, their land rights jeopardized by a carnival of inept officials, it seemed that a new storm of witchcraft might just well destroy the town.

Sir Phips ceded the witchcraft worries to the experts while he concentrated on matters more mundane, commissioning Major Benjamin Church, who knew a thing or two about fighting Indians, to lead a force of men into Maine to fight their earthly foes. To that end, Henry Dow was out and about on July 28 rounding up men for the “present expedition to the eastward.” By the next day he had the names of eight volunteers; all were unmarried, the youngest, twenty-one, the oldest, forty-four: Ichabod Roby, Abraham Cole, Jr., Jonathan Moulton, Ben Taylor, James Crafford, Joseph Cram, Nehemiah Hobbs, and Henry’s youngest son, Jabez. Henry shepherded his volunteers to Great Island, where they boarded a ship to join the main force of 450 soldiers at Boston.

Accompanying the Church expedition, Phips supervised the building of a large stone fortress at Pemaquid, a jut of land on the rocky Maine coast, the Crown’s eastern line in the sand between English and French America. The Hampton volunteers may have worked on the fort, named William Henry, or they may have gone with Major Church on what would prove to be a fruitless search for the enemy.

In mid-August, Hampton tavernkeeper Love Sherburne received news that her mother, Frances Hutchins of Haverhill, had been carted off to Salem’s jail, accused of afflicting the Salem girls. She would ultimately be spared, but by late September the count of those hanged at Salem Village had reached nineteen. One man was pressed to death for obstinately refusing to enter a plea when he was charged with witchcraft. When Phips returned to Boston at the end of the month, he was appalled to learn that his own wife had been accused. No longer able to sidestep the issue, he ended the trials, and as a salve to his outraged chief justice ordered a new court to try the cases, but without the use of “spectral evidence.” By May 1693 he had pardoned the remaining accused and ordered their release from prison.

 Treaty of Pemaquid

Phips had quelled the juvenile terrorists of 1692, but the war dragged its feet until he and the chief sagamores of the eastern tribes smoked the peace pipe in late summer 1693. When a copy of their treaty made its way to Hampton, Henry Dow wrote down its most significant passage (in his own unique shorthand) along with the names of the native signers and the three Indians taken hostage as a “pledge of good faith.” This treaty turned out to be little more than a much-needed cease fire.

“The people had a respite from hostilities for about a year,” wrote Joseph Dow, the fourth great grandson of Henry Dow. Then, on a warm summer day in 1694, “a large number of Indians fell upon the settlement at Oyster River (Durham); took three garrisons, burned thirteen houses, and killed or carried into captivity ninety-four persons. Other outrages followed,” including the destruction of Sir Phips’s Pemaquid fortress.

Henry Dow Journal 137

A page from Henry Dow’s 17th-century journal. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society and the Herbert H. Dow Museum, Midland MI. The shorthand notation reads: “In a due course of Justice the Indians submit to be ruled by their Majesties laws and desire to benefit of the same.” Translation by Cheryl Lassiter.

All things run their course, including men, munitions, and the money to pay for them. War had exhausted both sides, and in 1697 the English and French concluded a treaty of peace. The following year the eastern Indians made peace with the English. This ended the hostilities—for the next four years, anyway, another Monkey year.

A HISTORY MATTERS column published in the Hampton Union on February 19, 2016.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of three books of local history, including “Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole, 1656-1680.” Her website is http://www.lassitergang.com.

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