1708 – French raid on Haverhill
The campaign took place in July and August 1708
For the campaign of 1708, Governor-General Philippe de Rigaud Vaudreuil decided to organise a major raid into New England. This raid was intended to be even larger in scope than the Deerfield raid of 1704.
In the summer, the Native American converts of all the Canadian missions were mustered at Montréal, where Vaudreuil, by exercising, as he says, "the patience of an angel," soothed their mutual jealousies and persuaded them to go upon a war-party against Newbury, Portsmouth, and other New England villages. The party consisted of about 400, of whom 100 were French, under 12 young officers and cadets; the whole commanded by Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville and Saint-Ours des Chaillons. Its initial targets were the towns of New Hampshire on the Piscataqua River.
The main French party (approx. 100 Canadiens militiamen and Troupes de la Marine) under Rouville set off from Trois-Rivières It was accompanied by bands of Abenaki and Nipissing. A band of 220 Iroquois from the Kanehsatake and Kahnawake missions was to depart Montréal under René Boucher de La Perrière, and additional Wendat (Hurons) and Abenakis were to come from near Québec
Fortunately for the British, the Canadian Iroquois of Kahnawake were only half-hearted towards the enterprise; and through them the watchful Peter Schuyler got hints of it which enabled him, at the eleventh hour, to set the intended victims on their guard.
For the sake of speed and secrecy, Rouville's war party set out in three bodies, by different routes. The rendezvous was at Lake Winnepesaukee, where they were to be joined by the Norridgewocks, Penobscots, and other eastern Abenakis.
In mid-July, one of these bodies departed from the Saint-Laurent River. The party arriving from Québec travelled upstream on the Saint-François River. On the way, a Wendat died in an accident. Considering this a bad omen, the Wendats turned back. The Iroquois of Kahnawake travelled from the region of Montréal by way of Lake Champlain. On the way, some men fell sick and the rest refused to continue.
Rouville's party continued and reached the shores of Lake Winnepesaukee, – probably at Alton Bay, – where, after waiting in vain for their eastern allies, Rouville, who was at the head of only 160 men, resolved to make no attempt on Portsmouth or Newbury, but to turn all his strength upon the smaller village of Haverhill, on the Merrimac.
On Sunday 29 August, half an hour before dawn, Rouville's war party was ready to launch its attack.
Haverhill consisted of between 20 and 30 dwelling-houses, a meeting-house, and a small picket fort. A body of militia from the lower Massachusetts towns had been hastily distributed along the frontier, on the vague reports of danger sent by Schuyler from Albany; and as the intended point of attack was unknown, the men were of necessity widely scattered. French accounts say that there were 30 of them in the fort at Haverhill, and more in the houses of the villagers; while others still were posted among the distant farms and hamlets. In fact, the militia of the village was under the command of Simon Wainwright, who was assisted by a dozen of colonial troops under the command of Major Turner.
In spite of darkness and surprise, the assailants met a stiff resistance and a hot and persistent fusillade. Vaudreuil says that they could dislodge the defenders only by setting fire to both houses and fort. In this they were not very successful, as but few of the dwellings were burned. A fire was kindled against the meeting-house, which was saved by one Davis and a few others, who made a dash from behind the adjacent parsonage, drove the Native American warriors off, and put out the flames. Rolfe, the minister, had already been killed while defending his house. His wife and one of his children were butchered; but two others – little girls of six and eight years – were saved by the self-devotion of his maid-servant, Hagar, apparently a black woman, who dragged them into the cellar and hid them under two inverted tubs, where they crouched, dumb with terror, while the Native Americans ransacked the place without finding them. Captain Wainwright was preparing to organize a defence when gunfire from the raiders passed through the door to his house, killing him instantly. British accounts say that the number of persons killed – men, women, and children – was 48; which the French increase to 100.
The distant roll of drums was presently heard, warning the people on the scattered farms; on which the assailants made a hasty retreat. Posted near Haverhill were three militia officers, – Turner, Price, and Gardner, – lately arrived from Salem. With such men as they had with them, or could hastily get together, they ambushed themselves at the edge of a piece of woods, in the path of the retiring enemy, to the number, as the French say, of 60 or 70, which it is safe to diminish by a half. The French and Native Americans, approaching rapidly, were met by a volley which stopped them for the moment; then, throwing down their packs, they rushed on, and after a sharp skirmish broke through the ambuscade and continued their retreat.
The return of Rouville's party to Canada was difficult. Having lost its baggage, it suffered from privations.
Vaudreuil sets the total loss of Rouville's party at 8 killed and 18 wounded, – the former including 2 officers (Verchères and Chambly). He further declares that in the skirmish all the British, except 10 or 12, were killed outright; while the British accounts say that the French and Indians took to the woods, leaving 9 of their number dead on the spot, along with their medicine chest and all their packs.
This article incorporates texts of the following source which is in the public domain:
- Parkman, Francis: A Half-Century of Conflict – France and England in North America Part VI in The Works of Francis Parkman, Boston: 1897, Vol. 11, pp. 94-99
Wikipedia – Raid on Haverhill (1708)