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Deerfield Sculpture

by Christopher Cummings, Longmeadow High School Intern
March 3, 2022

Hello, everyone. I’m Christopher Cummings and I’m a senior at Longmeadow High School. I’ve been interning at the Longmeadow Historical Society for about 3 months now.  The task I have been given is to learn about, reflect on and tell the story behind a recently acquired gift to the museum.  The gift is a statue called Deerfield by sculptor Jud Hartmann.  I’ve become absolutely fascinated by the story of the 1704 Raid at Deerfield that is depicted in the statue.  It depicts three native men attacking Englishman John Sheldon's door. This was an actual event that happened during the 1704 raid. Since I'm personally a huge fan of colonial history and native interactions I naturally felt interest in this piece. This story is important to Longmeadow’s history because our first minister, Rev. Stephen Williams was captured and marched to Canada during the raid. He was only a young boy at the time.

The statue tells the story of the French and Native raid on the northernmost English settlement of Deerfield in 1704. As a part of the Spanish Succession War, the French sought to defend their colony, New France, against the larger and more populated New England. Although not much fighting occured in the colonial territory, the French figured it would be best to strike first, before the English continued to expand their colonial territories.

To take the initiative against the English, the French went on the offensive, using their native allies to their advantage. The raiding party was diverse, being made up of not only French soldiers, but members of several different native tribes. France attempted to bring many different native groups together and maintain alliances by launching a joint raid on Deerfield. 

These natives were the Abenaki, Huron, Iroquois, Mohawks and Pennacooks, each with their own reasons for participating in the raid. The Abenaki and Pennacook supported the French, as they had already been struggling in a series of wars with England that hadn’t been going their way. The Hurons and Iroqouis, in a tradition known as “mourning wars,” fought to bring captives to make up for the loss of dead family members. The Mohawks fought for this same reason as well, except allegedly with the notable extra motivation of reclaiming a lost bell they had bought from the French that was stolen by the English. From the website of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Museum in Deerfield I learned, “Kanienkehaka oral tradition tells that in Deerfield the Kahnawake raiders hoped to find a church bell that had been purchased by the people of Kahnawake and transported on a French ship from Europe. According to this tradition, the bell was stolen en route by English privateers and later bought by John Williams.” With all these parties combined, the raid was one of the most diverse attack parties ever assembled on the continent up to that point. See reference for additional information.

In 1703, a few months before the raid, the English actually had good reason to believe there would be an impending attack. English forces spotted the raiding party outside Fort Chambly on the Richelieu River. The English sent forces to reinforce Deerfield before the raid. However, as months passed and nothing happened the English militia departed. Aside from repairing the palisade and building a few minor fortifications, the English were caught vastly underprepared when the raid occured in February 1704.

John and Stephen Williams

Two of the most famous individuals from this raid were Deerfield residents, John and Stephen Williams. John Williams (1664-1729) was a Deerfield minister. In 1706 his release was negotiated and he was returned to New England. However he wasn’t happy to hear that his then ten year old daughter, Eunice, refused to come home with him. She instead stayed with the Mohawk family who had adopted her, and joined their tribe by marrying François-Xavier Arosen, or Amrusus, a Kanawake. When John Williams returned home he wrote and published a memoir of his experience, The Redeemed Captive, in 1707. It became one of the most popular captive retellings of its time.

Stephen Williams (1694-1782), the son of John Williams was only 10 years old when he was captured in 1704. He, too, recounted his experience in handwritten account of his experience.

After the events depicted in the statue, the captured residents of Deerfield, including Stephen and John Williams, were forced to march this route in cold and brutal winter conditions.

The Sculpture

In the sculpture we see three natives attempting to break down the Sheldon house door.  The actual door still exists and is on display at the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association Museum in Deerfield.  It still displays the hatchet marks and has been referred to as “The Old Indian Door” for generations now.   John Sheldon and his family lived in Deerfield at the time of the raid. Although they ended up being captured, their reinforced door came to symbolize English strength during the raid. The attackers were ultimately able to get in by sneaking through the back, after failing to break down the door. 

Per Jud Hartmann, the sculptor of the statue, each native figure represents a different tribe. The native man closest to the door with a raised hatchet is an unnamed Abenaki raider.

However the other two native raiders are some of the most impactful characters of the Deerfield story.

I learned through an email correspondence with Mr. Hartmann, the native man in the middle  who appears to be in full motion is named, “Amrusus, a Caughnawaga Mohawk, wearing an Iroquois deerskin jacket with a distinctive double fringe down the back. He later married Eunice Williams.”  Eunice Williams, John Williams' daughter, would ultimately choose to live with the native society that she had been adopted into rather than return home to New England.

Hartmann also said, the second Native American is one by the name of “Thaovenhosen, the Huron chief who was a key & important ally of the French who lived close to Quebec in the Huron village of Lorette. Signifying his importance & close ties to the French, he is wearing a French army officer’s great coat which he would have received as a gift.” The French supplied arms and other equipment to their allies, and through Thaovenhosen’s appearance we can see that.

Is it fair to say this piece is controversial? Yes, of course it is. As with many things in history it's difficult to really define what a piece means to some people. To one person looking at this statue you might see a “Barbarians at the gate” scenario, in which a door stands alone to keep out “savagery.” However, to another person they could see an accurate representation of native cultures in action, albeit not a very friendly action - but nonetheless a correct retelling of what happened. Others can see it as complete fabrication, but that's not for me to decide. Anyone is open to interpret a piece anyway they like as after all, no one OWNS history. Part of the point of art like this is to retell history and illustrate the way some see it. So it's not wrong for someone to interpret this piece as controversial. When people in the future look back on the past art is one of the most widely interpretable things.

Personally I feel like I’ve learned a lot about not only European conflict and colonial history, but a lot more about native cultures at the time. It’s something that isn’t generally taught  unless you take a specific class relating to it. I can say as a high school senior that even though I took AP US History alongside all the other highest level history classes, I never spent an extended period of time learning of native cultures. The extent that we learned about natives in AP was effectively “Alright Jackson went and removed them all on the Trail of Tears, some of them resisted but they all eventually gave in.” The only tribes I recall from that class are the Cherokee and the Chicksaw, and that's because of the Trail of Tears. Native culture isn’t appreciated for what it is in any way shape or form, and doing a project that's centered entirely around it has been a great learning experience for me.

Questions for Further Thinking

  • How would an early 1700’s French Canadian describe this piece? How would an Abenaki, or an Deerfield resident of the time respond if they saw it?

  • How would you describe this piece? What feelings does this statue provoke in you, why?

  • If this statue was sculpted from the perspective of each of the parties represented what changes would be made? Would anything look different?

  • Do you believe this depiction is fair? Why or why not?

  • Does anything in the sculpture stand out as particularly symbolic?

  • Do any particular parts of the natives' attire and outfits stand out to you, such as hair,face paint, or body paint?

For information on the artist, Jud Hartmann, visit his website at https://judhartmanngallery.com.

Works Cited


Note: In the Fall 2021 the Longmeadow Historical Society was asked to host a student intern from Longmeadow High School.  Christopher Cummings '22 spent some time with us with the task of helping us learn more about a recent donation to the Longmeadow Historical Society: a sculpture by Jud Hartmann depicting one incident in the event known as the 1704 Raid on Deerfield.  The event has ties to Longmeadow in that our town’s first minister, Stephen Wiliiams, was captured and held for ransom as a result of the attack.   We plan to make use of the sculpture to generate discussion about different perspectives over time and across cultures. We are proud of Christopher for the work he has put together here to get us started.


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