"The Granny Tale: The Process of Discovering the Truth Behind the Note"
As some of our readers will recall, we recently discussed so called "granny notes," those scraps of paper that claim to know the details of a treasured object and how it came to be in the collection of the Historical Society. Last time we explored the illustrious history of a ceramic bough pot that was purported to have come over on the Mayflower (and was in reality two centuries too young). This week we will explore the story of the Indian baskets.
2014-007, Native American splint basket with side handles, hand decorated in red and black with hearts and medallions, southeastern New England, mid 19th century. Photograph by Lorraine German.
The Longmeadow Historical Society has a wonderful collection of baskets, many paint decorated. They range in size, shape and use. A review of 18th and early 19th century probate inventories from Longmeadow showed that about a half of households listed baskets. They were used for many purposes, including produce, textile production, and food storage. In the 1785 probate inventory of storekeeper Samuel Colton, a group of baskets is listed.
Samuel Colton probate inventory, BV 3 Longmeadow Historical Society archives
In another ledger belonging to Samuel Colton, a Timothy Pease of Enfield is credited for repairing baskets. That says a lot about the utility of the humble basket--everyone used them, and many farmers and their families made them, and they were worth repairing.
Samuel Colton ledger, BV 21 Longmeadow Historical Society Archives
In fact, the baskets in the Storrs House were supposedly made by Eunice Williams (1696-1785), the "unredeemed captive" from the 1704 raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts. On February 29, 1704, French and their Native American allies raided the outpost town of Deerfield, carrying 112 captives to Canada. Among those captives was a teenaged Stephen Williams (1693-1782), who later became Longmeadow's first minister. His seven year old sister Eunice was also taken, and unlike Stephen and other members of the Williams family, she was not "redeemed" or ransomed back. She remained with her native captors, later marrying a Native man named Arosen. Decades later Eunice visited her brother Stephen in Longmeadow. She was wary of potential efforts to return her to her brother's care, and famously refused to sleep under his roof, preferring instead to camp in the nearby orchard.
photo by Lorraine German
014-006, rectangular Native American splint basket, hand decorated in Mohegan pink and blue, southeastern New England, photo by Lorraine German
A list of objects in the Storrs House Museum was compiled in 1930 by Lucy J. Smith. In that book is a reference to the baskets: "A Collection of a half dozen baskets, said to be the work of Eunice Williams and her Indian family when visiting her brother, the Rev. Stephen Williams (Deerfield has in its Memorial Museum a number of baskets of this kind)." The Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association's Memorial Hall Museum does indeed have at least one basket made by one of Eunice's descendants. In 1837, a group of Abenakis from Canada visited Deerfield. Sophie Watso, one of the visitors, gave a basket to Catherine Williams. Catherine noted "Basket given me September 1837 by Sophie one of the St. Francis Indians Connected with the Williams family." (Historic Deerfield Magazine Pocumtuck, Autumn 2020).
In 1992, a exhibit of baskets was shown in the Storrs Library. The description of the display is as follows: "Shown here are baskets and Indian items woven by Mrs. Chicklas' grandmother and given to her and her daughter. Claudia Chicklas and her daughter are direct line descendants from Eunice Williams and her Canadian Abenaki Indian husband. Also exhibited are baskets from the Storrs House Collections. Eunice brought several with her when she visited Longmeadow in 1756. Notice the colors and painted paw prints."
Several years ago, the LHS board enlisted the assistance of a local antiques expert to examine the basket collection. We discovered that many of the baskets appeared to be Native American made. Were any of them from the time period or area that would tie them to Eunice? Further study may help us to determine whether the style, decoration, method of construction and materials corroborate this story. Stay tuned as we learn more.
Contributed by Betsy McKee, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member
Originally published June 17, 2021