The Bells of Deerfield and Caughnawaga

During this period of rapine, the early settlers of Vermont, few though they were, were constantly exposed to the depredations of the Indians, for the frontiers of both New England and Canada were one continued scene of massacre and devastation. The most memorable of these massacres was the sacking of Deerfield, Mass., in 1704. A party of about 300 Indians under De Rauville, set out from Canada, against this ill-fated place, in the dead of winter. They proceeded up lake Champlain, to the mouth of the Winooski river, and following up that stream, they passed over to the Connecticut river. Proceeding down the river on the ice, they arrived in the vicinity of Deerfield on the 29th of February. Here they concealed themselves till the latter part of the night, when, perceiving that the watch had left the streets, and that all was quiet, they rushed forward to the attack. The snow was so high as to enable them to leap over the fortifications without difficulty, and they immediately separated into several parties so as to make their attack upon every house at the same time. The place was completely surprised, the inhabitants having no suspicion of the approach of the enemy till they entered their houses. Yet surprised and unprepared as they were, the people of Deerfield made a vigorous defense; but were at length over come by the enemy. Forty-seven of the inhabitants were slain, the rest captured, and the village plundered and set on fire.

The old bell captured at this time and carried by the Indians to the vicinity of Burlington, there buried in the sand, and at last carried into Canada, is an historical fact known to almost all school children. To show something of the character of the Indians at that time, and partly on account of its weird fascination, we print the following interesting legend, found some years since in an old English publication:

” Father Nicolas having assembled a considerable number of Indians who had been converted to the Catholic faith, had established them in the village which now bears the name of the Saut St. Louis, upon the river St. Lawrence. The situation of this village is one of the most magnificent which the banks of that noble river presents, and is among the most picturesque the country affords. The church stands upon a point of land which juts into the river, and its bell sends its echoes over the waters with a clearness which forms a striking contrast with the iron bells which were formerly so common in Canada, while the tin-covered spire of the church, glittering in the sunlight, with the dense and gloomy forest which surrounds it, gives a character of romance to this little church, and the legend of its celebrated bell.

” Father Nicolas having, with the aid of the Indians, erected a church and a belfry, in one of his sermons explained to his humble auditors, that a bell was necessary to a belfry, as a priest to a church, and exhorted them to lay aside a portion of the furs that they had collected in hunting, until enough was accumulated to purchase a bell, which could only be procured by sending to France. The Indians exhibited an inconceivable ardor in performing this religious duty, and the packet of furs was promptly made out, and forwarded to Havre where an ecclesiastical personage was delegated to make the purchase. The bell was accordingly ordered, and in due time forwarded on board the Grande Monarque, which was on the point of sailing for Quebec. But after her departure, it so happened that one of the wars which the French and English then so often waged sprung up, and in consequence the Grande Monarque never attained her destined port, but was taken by a New England privateer, brought into the port of Salem, where she was condemned as a lawful prize, and sold for the benefit of her captors. The bell was purchased by the village of Deerfield, upon the Connecticut river, for a church then about being erected by the congregation of the celebrated Rev. John Williams.

” When Father Nicolas received news of the misfortune, he assembled his Indians, related to them the miserable condition of the bell, retained in purgatory in the hands of heretics, and concluded by saying that it would be a most praiseworthy enterprise to go and recover it. This appeal had, as it were, a kind of inspiration, and fell upon its hearers with all the force of the eloquence of Peter the Hermit, in preaching the crusades. The Indians deplored together the misfortune of their bell, which had not hitherto received the rite of baptism; they had not the slightest idea of a bell, but it was enough for them that Father Nicolas, who preached and said mass for them, in their church, said that it had some indispensable use in the services of the church. Their eagerness for the chase was in a moment suspended, and they assembled together in groups, and seated on the banks of the river, conversed on the unhappy captivity of their bell, and each brought forward his plan which he deemed most likely to succeed in effecting its recovery. Some of their number, who had heard a bell, said that it could be heard beyond the murmur of the rapid, and that its voice was more harmonious than that of the sweetest songster of the grove, heard in the quiet stillness of evening, when all nature was hushed in repose. All were melancholy and inspired with a holy enthusiasm; many fasted, and others performed severe penances to obtain the deliverance of the bell, or the palliation of its sufferings.

“At length the day of its deliverance approached. The Marquis de Vaudreuel, governor of Canada, resolved to send an expedition against the British colonies of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The command of this expedition was given to Major Hertel de Rouville, and one of the priests of the Jesuit college, at Quebec, was sent to procure the services of Father Nicolas to accompany the expedition. The Indians were immediately assembled in the church; the messenger was presented to the congregation, and Father Nicolas, in a solemn discourse, pointed to him as worthy of their veneration, from his being the bearer of glad tidings, who was about departing for his return to Quebec, to join the war. At the end of the discourse, the whole audience raised with one voice the cry of war, and demanded to be led to the place where their bell was detained by the heretics. The Indians immediately began to paint themselves in the most hideous colors, and were animated with a wild enthusiasm to join the expedition.

“It was in the dead of winter when the Indians departed to join the army of M. de Rouville, at Fort Chambly. Father Nicolas marched at their head, with a large banner surmounted by a cross, and as they departed from their village, their wives and little ones, in imitation of women of the crusades, who animated the warriors of Godfrey of Bauillon, they sang a sacred hymn which their venerated priest had selected for the occasion. They arrived at Fort Chambly after a march of great hardship, at the moment that the French soldiers were preparing to start on their march up Lake Champlain. The Indians followed in their rear, with that perseverance peculiar to their character. In this order the Indians remained, following in silence, until they reached Lake Champlain, where all the army had been ordered to rendezvous. The lake was then frozen, and less covered by snow than the shores, and was taken as a more convenient route for the army. With their thoughts wrapped in the single contemplation of the unhappy captivity of their bell, the Indians remained taciturn during this pensive march, exhibiting no symptoms of fatigue or of fear; no regret for their families or homes, and they regarded with equal indifference on the one hand the interminable line of forest, sometimes black from dense evergreen, and in others white from loads of snow; and on the other, the black lines of rocks and deserts of snow and ice, which bordered their path. The French soldiers, who suffered dreadfully from fatigue and cold, regarded with admiration the agility and cheerfulness with which the Indians seemed to glide over the yielding surface of the snow on their snow shoes. The quiet endurance of the proselytes of Father Nicolas, thus forming a striking contrast with the irritability and impatience of the French soldiers.

” When they arrived at the point where now stands the city of Burlington, the order was given for a general halt, to make more efficient arrangements for penetrating through the forests to Massachusetts. In leaving this point M. de Rouville gave to Father Nicolas the command of his Indian warriors, and took the lead of his own himself, with compass in hand, to make the most direct course for Deerfield. Nothing which the troops had thus far suffered, could compare with what they now endured on this march through a wild country, in the midst of deep snow, and with no supplies beyond what they could carry. The French soldiers became impatient, and wasted their breath in curses and complaints at the hardships they suffered, but the Indians, animated by a zeal which sustained them above the senses of hardships, remained steadfast in the midst of fatigue, which increased with the severity of their sufferings. Their custom of traveling in the forest had qualified them for these hardships, which elicited the curses and execrations of their not less brave, but more irritable companions. Some time before the expedition arrived at its destination, the priest Nicolas fell sick from over exertion. His feet were worn by the labor of traveling, and his face torn by the branches which he neglected to watch in his eagerness to follow the troops. He felt that he was. engaged in a holy expedition, and recalling to mind the martyrdom of the saints, and the persecutions which they endured, he looked forward to the glory reserved for his reward for the sufferings which he might encounter in recovering the bell.

” On the evening of February 29, 1704, the expedition arrived within two miles of Deerfield, without being discovered. De Rouville here ordered his men to rest and refresh themselves a short time, and he here issued his orders for attacking the town. The surface of the snow was frozen, and crushed under their feet, but De Rowville, with a remarkable sagacity, adopted a stratagem to deceive the inhabitants and the garrison. He gave orders that in advancing to the assault, his troops should make frequent pauses, and then rush forward with rapidity; thus imitating the noise made in the forest by the irregular blowing of the wind among branches laden with ice. The alarm was at length given, however, and a severe combat ensued, which resulted in the capture of the town, and the slaughter or dispersion of the inhabitants of the garrison.

” This attack occurred in the night, and at daybreak the Indians who had been exhausted by the labors of the night, presented themselves before Father Nicolas in a body, and begged to be led to the bell, that they might by their homage prove their veneration for it. Their priest was greatly affected by this earnest request, and De Rouville and others of the French laughed immoderately at it, but the priest wished not to discourage them in their wishes, and he obtained of the French chief permission to send one of his soldiers to ring it in the hearing of the Indians. The sound of the bell in the stillness of a cold morning, and in the midst of the calmness of the forest, echoed clear and far, and fell upon the ears of the simple Indians, like the voice of an oracle. They trembled, and were filled with fear and wonder. The bell was taken from the belfry, and attached to a pole in such a manner that four men could carry it, and in this way it was borne off with their plunder in triumph, the Indians glorying in the deliverance of this miraculous wonder. But they shortly perceived it was too heavy a burden for the rugged route they pursued, and the yielding nature of the snows over which they traveled. Accordingly, upon arriving at the point on the lake where they had left it, they buried their treasure, with many benedictions of Father Nicolas, until the period should arrive when they could transport it with more convenience.

“As soon as the ice had disappeared, and the bland air of spring had returned, giving foliage to the trees, and the fragrance and beauty of flowers to the forests, father Nicolas again assembled at the church his Indian converts, to select a certain number of the tribe, who, with the assistance of a yoke of oxen, should go and bring in the dearly prized bell. During this interval, all the women and children of the Indian villages, having been informed of the wonderful qualities of the bell, awaited its arrival with eagerness and impatience, and regarded its advent as one of those events which but rarely mark the progress of ages. As the time approached when the curious object should arrive, they were assembled on the bank of the river, and discoursing upon the subject, when far off in the stillness of the twilight, there was heard from the depths of the forest a sound which, from being feeble and scarcely audible, became every moment louder. Every one listened, when presently the cry arose, “it is the bell! it is the bell!!” and in a moment after, the oxen were seen emerging from the wood, surrounded by a group of Indians, and bearing the precious burden on a pole between them. They had hung upon the beam and around the bell, clusters of wild flowers and leaves, and the oxen were ‘adorned with garlands of flowers. Thus marching in triumph, Father Nicolas entered his village, more proud of his success, and received with more heartfelt joy, than a Roman general returning in triumph from the conquest of nations. From this triumphal march in the midst of the quiet of the evening, which was broken only by the murmur of the rapid, softened by the distance arose the shouts of rejoicing, as the cortege entered the village, and the idol bell was deposited in the church. Every one gratified his eager curiosity by examining the strange and musical metal, and the crusade had been crowned with unqualified success.

“In due time the bell was raised to its place in the belfry, and has ever since, at the accustomed hours, sent its clear tones over the broad bosom of the St. Lawrence, to announce the hour of prayer and lapse of time, and although its tones are shrill and feeble beside its modern companions, they possess a music, and call up an association which will long give an interest to the church of the Saut St. Louis, at the Indian village of Caughnawaga.”


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