Capt. James Parker, a native English Puritan, was one of the principal figures during the formative years of the town of Groton, which this year celebrates its 350th birthday. Previous installments of this series have followed Parker’s involvement in the first years of Groton’s history, and the town’s efforts to hold together between King Philip’s and King William’s wars.
King William’s War
One reason his Groton neighbors looked to Capt. James Parker to represent them in Boston during 1693 was his experience with Indians. Whatever lull in hostilities there had been following the end of King Philip’s War in 1676 was giving way in the early 1690s as the French and English brought their centuries-old hatred of each other to a new hemisphere. King Louis XIV found a willing ally among the Native American people, especially in the New England colonies and New York.
William of Orange, who ruled a growing English empire with his wife Mary II, was king during the first of the so-called French and Indian wars. King William’s War was fought off and on from 1689 to 1697, and as with King Philip’s War, Groton felt the brunt. However, instead of losing mostly property, this time the loss was measured in deaths and captives.
“During this period the Indians began again to be troublesome,” wrote Dr. Samuel Green in his Groton During the Indian Wars.
Groton naturally looked to their long-time militia captain for leadership.
“The military company of the town was still kept up, and known as the Foot Company,” noted Green. “Sen. James Parker, was appointed the captain of it.”
Governor and council approved the appointment, along with others, on July 13, 1689.
It didn’t take long for Capt. Parker to get to work. On July 16, 1689, Parker sent his son James Jr. along with James Knop to inform the provincial government of “ouer presant unsetled and almost destrected condition.”
Boston responded quickly, sending the two Groton emissaries back with “forty pounds of powder” and “one hundred weight of lead.”
In August, Capt. Parker dispatched three soldiers to a garrison house in the Nonacoicus section (present day Ayer). Later that month, Groton learned it was to be the westernmost of four outposts established by Massachusetts in the province’s effort to concentrate its line of defense. These outposts stretched all the way to present day Berwick, ME, then a part of Massachusetts.
Town Meeting also took action in December 1689 by voting “that no Indein shall come into our towne to dwell or trad without lisanc from authority.”
A few years later, in the town’s 1693 orders to selectmen, they were instructed to “tack speshall care that no parson or parsons whatsoever shall abide in this town apone any pretenc whatsoever unless it be such as have paranct frinds or relations that will Respond for the towns sequrity.”
At a time when Salem, more protected due to its location on the coast and nearer the seat of government in Boston, was panicking over perceived witchcraft, the residents of Groton fought against a similar wave of paranoia against some of the neighboring Indians. When a Native named Jacob was falsely accused by Abraham Miller for supposedly breaking an ironic town ordinance against Indians hunting “without som English Companey with him,” three upstanding Groton men — Josiah Parker, Joseph Parker and Thomas Tarbell — stepped forward in December 1691 to testify on behalf of the hapless aborigine.
A tribe of Indians still resided in a section of town called Nashoba (present-day Littleton), and on June 6, 1694, Capt. Parker, Simon Stone and William Longley met with the Indians there “to renew the bounds between Nashobah and the town.” A few weeks later the matter was still unresolved, and another attempt was made to negotiate with the Natives.
Miseries of War
Then, on July 27, 1694, the Groton residents’ worst nightmare reoccurred. Indians attacked their town again.
It was no uprising from peaceful tribes close to town, however. This assault came from the powerful Abenaki Indian nation to the north sweeping down through Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York.
“This expedition against Groton was planned in part by the Indians at a fort called Amsaquonte above Norridgewock, in Maine,” said Green.
Likening the Indian hostilities to a bad storm, Cotton Mather in his treatise Magnalia, wrote, “Some Drops of it fell upon the Town of Groton.”
“On July 27 about break of Day Groton felt some surprising Blows from the Indian Hatchets,” added the great Puritan writer.
Unlike the attack on the town nearly two decades earlier where only three settlers were killed and two kidnapped, this time the Indians were not focused primarily on burning the village. French authorities had placed a bounty on English scalps, and the native tribes were looking to capitalize.
“It is said that the scalps of the unfortunate victims were given to the Count de Frontenac, governor of Canada,” according to Green. “The Indians had learned that captives had a market value; and children, when carried off, could be more easily guarded than adults (and later ransomed).”
An account of the attack written by a later governor of Massachusetts reports that after being repulsed from a garrison house owned and defended by Lt. William Lakin, the Indians “fell upon other houses, where the people were off their guard, and killed and carried away from the vicinity about forty persons.”
Other accounts put the number of killed at 21 or 22, the number seriously wounded at three, and the number captured at 13.
Among those killed during the attack were two of Capt. Parkers’ sons, James Jr. and Zachariah, along with James Jr.’s wife, Mary (the daughter of Abraham Parker of Chelmsford, and thus James Jr.’s cousin as well as his wife). In addition, at least three of James Jr. and Mary’s children were taken as prisoners.
In a 1699 petition to the provincial government, Josiah Parker wrote that “among others James Parker Junr Brother to yor humble Petnr was killed, with his Wife, several of his Children also were then carried away Captive, one of which named Phinehas Parker something less than a year ago was (by a Master of a Vessell belonging to Ipswich) redeemed from the Indians at ye Eastward.
“The said Phinehas who is a poor Orphan now about twelve years old, and is like wise lame of one of his Leggs occasioned by ye cruelty of ye Salvages,” he added.
Also hard hit during the attack was the family of William Longley, who had teamed up with James Parker Jr. to bring Gershom Hobart back to the Groton pulpit only the previous year. Seven members of the Longley family perished, and three children were captured. A monument on Longley Road today reads, “Near this spot dwelt William and Deliverance Longley with their eight children. On the 27th day of July 1694 the Indians killed the father and mother and five of the children and carried into captivity the other three.”
As for pastor Hobart’s family, Green writes, “One of his boys was killed, and another, Gershom, Jr., was carried off.” Members of the Shepley and Rouse families were also killed and kidnapped during the battle.
“After the attack of July 27,” wrote Green, “the town was left in straitened circumstances, and the inhabitants found it difficult to meet the demands made on them.” It was certainly with a heavy heart that Selectmen William Lakin Sr. and Capt. James Parker wrote to the General Court on behalf of “the present survivers of this Towne” on the 15th of October, 1694.
“It pleased God the disposer of all men & humane affairs to place us upon ye outward borders of ye inhabited land on this side the country,” they wrote. “(Their position” and distant Living hath bin in these times of late awfull dealing our hurt & damage both as to psons & estates beyound parrelell with any inward Townes.”
Their petition for tax relief refers to “this years soar and awfull troubles by ye late deaths captivityes and consequent meseryes, whereby we lost severall able valuble psons.”
In response to the petition, the legislature in Boston abated half of Groton’s 50 pound tax for that year, and delayed collection of the other half.
“The Life and Legacy of Capt. James Parker” came about through writer Rudy VanVeghten’s search into his maternal ancestral roots. He has uncovered a significant amount of information about these ancestors and how they settled in Groton in the mid-17th century, with later generations eventually migrating north. This series is a capsule of what he discovered about one of Grotons’ – and one of his family’s – founding fathers. The entire series is posted on the Internet at home.comcast.net/~rvanveghten/parker.
Copyright © 2005 by Rudy VanVeghten. Used by permission.