Thursday, January 29, 2009


The pace of the war picked up as the Summer of 1675 drew to a close. In September,
the New England colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven
formally declared war on 9 September. The Indians countered with attacks on
the towns of Deerfield, Hadley, and Brookfield, followed by Springfield and Hatfield
in October. While Simon Willard did the best he could to bolster defenses and
protect the towns, he didn't have enough manpower to be effective. Most of the troops
were deployed in the south to protect the more populous areas of Massachusetts and

Matters worsened after the colonists attacked the Narragansett Indian settlement in
Rhode Island in the Great Swamp Fight which brought that tribe into a more active
role in fighting the colonists. Numerous settlements were destroyed or damaged
so badly that their inhabitants were forced to evacuate them and move back towards
the safety of the coastline. Among these were Simon Willard's own family. In
February 1676 the town of Lancaster was abandoned after an attack. Most of the
survivors of the attack had sheltered in a blockhouse owned by Cyprian Stevens,
Simon's son-in-law, which probably had been Simon's before his move to Groton.
The following month, it was Groton that fell and Willard's home was burned to the
ground. Like so many other colonists, the Willard family moved back to the safety of

Even after that, the 70 year old kept up his busy work load, as this letter to
his superiors shows about his activities in the month of March, 1676:

" A short narrative of what I have attended unto by the Councill of late, since I
went to relieve G-roatton. The 21:1: 75-76, I went to Concord, and divided the
troope committed unto me from Essex & Norfolke into three pts one to garde
the carte, pressed from Sudbury, one pt for ye carte pressed from concord, both
to Lancaster, one pt for ye carte that went from Charlestowne & Wattertowne that
went vol- iiitiers or wear hiered when I had sent them to their severall places I
came downe being the 22: 1: 75-6 : & went to concord the 25 : 1: 75, when I
came there & inquired how it was with Lancaster the answer was they weare in
distresse, I prsently sent 40 horse thither to fetch awaye corne, and I went that
night to Chellmsfoord to se how it was with them, they complayned, Billerikye
Bridge, stood in great need of beinge fortified, I ordered that to be don, allso
they told me, that the Indians made two great rafts of board & rayles, that they
had gott, that laye at the other syd of the river, I ordered 20 souldiers to go
over & take them, & towe them downe the River, or prserve them as they se
cause, the 27 of this instant I went from Chellmsford to concord agayne when
I came there, the troopers that I sent to Lancaster last had brought away all the
people there, but had left about 80 bushells of wheat & Indian corne, yesterday
I sent: 40: horses or more to fetch it away, & came down from concord, this
day I expect they will be at concord, Some of the troope I relesed when this
last worke was don, the other I left order to scout abroad untill they heare
from me agayne, I thought it not meet to relese men, when we stand in need
of men, my desire is to know what I shall do herin in, concord & chelmsford
look every day to be fired, and wold have more men but know not how to
keepe them, nor paye them,
your humble servant.
Simon Willard 29:1:76. "
(from Mass State Archives vol 68 page 186, quoted in "Soldiers in King
Philip's War" by George Madison Bodge, Leominster, Ma, 1896.)

Simon Willard had returned to Charlestown on the same day he wrote this letter
and was performing his duties as part of the legislature when he came down with
what probably was the influenza. Perhaps he had already been weakened by
the stress on his health that such an active life in cold weather had put upon his
septuagenarian body. He died on 24 April,1676 and six military companies
took part in his funeral procession when he was buried on 27 April.

Simon Willard's family remained prominent in New England. Two of his
descendants were Presidents of Harvard University and ironically, the
name Simon Willard is better known because of another descendant, the
inventor of the Willard "banjo" wall clock. It's not surprising since
most of the heroes of the King Philip's War have been overshadowed by the
better known heroes of the French and Indian Wars and The American

But in the earliest days of the New England colonies when their existence was
threatened, it was men like Simon Willard who helped ensure their survival.


Apple said...

Great series Bill, I really enjoyed it!

Becky Jamison said...

I really enjoyed your story. Thank you for sharing this.

Bill West said...

Thanks, Apple and Becky! I've had
fun doing it.