Marker #55 Baker River

12 01 2010

#55 Baker River

Marker Text:

Known to Indians as Asquamchumauke, the nearby river was renamed for Lt. Thomas Baker (1682-1753) whose company of 34 scouts from Northhampton, Mass. passed down this valley in 1712. A few miles south his men destroyed a Pemigewasset Indian village. Massachusetts rewarded the expedition with a scalp bounty of £40 and made Baker a captain.

Erected in 1968, this marker is located on Rt 25 in Rumney, about 8 miles west of I93 off exit 26, in a rest area and information station.  You’ll pass the world famous Polar Caves on the way there.


The Baker River is a quiet waterway about 36 miles long with its headwaters originating on the south side of Mount Moosilauke (4800 feet).  It parallels  Rt25 in Rumney before entering Plymouth and emptying into the Pemigewasset River.

To learn the full story of Thomas Baker we’ll need to go back 8 years before the event on the marker to 1704 and the town of Deerfield Massachusetts.  It was there that a key event in Queen Anne’s War would occur and chart Baker’s course in life.  The Deerfield Massacre.

At dawn on leap day, February 29th 1704, the settlement at Deerfield came under attack from a force of 300-400 Indians and their French commanders.  Two Garrisons protected the town, one surrounded by a high palisade.  Fearing attacks, many residents spent their nights within the garrison walls.  The attack force stealthily approached the town and climbed snow drifts to get inside the palisade and open the gates.  The massacre was on.  As dawn broke hatchets fell and guns fired.  The Indians ransacked and burned homes lighting up the skies and alerting settlements to the south.

The pattern would be the same as befell Hanah Dustin from Haverhill 7 years earlier:  Strike at dawn, pillage, burn the town, take captives and escape north.  The town garrisons and militia put up a valiant fight eventually driving off the attack. 48 were killed, 140 “alive at home” (wounded) and 112 people were taken captive.

Among the captives was the town minister John Williams, who would later write a book about the event The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion  and 22 year old Thomas Baker.  I’ll bet you thought I forgot about him by now!

To make a long story a bit shorter, Baker was taken to Montreal.  He would spend 15 months there before escaping.  In May of 1705, he and 3 others managed to get clear of Montreal making their way back to Deerfield where they arrived weak and hungry on June 8th.

The Deerfield Massacre, his capture and escape would define Bakers life.  Described as “somewhat rough in manner” he joined the King’s army and became a proficient scout.  Commanding soldiers scouting north for Indian raiding parties would be his day to day life, and he eventually earned a commission to Lieutenant.

#55-3 Now we can get to the event that earned Thomas Baker his promotion to Captain, and the naming of a river after him.  It’s not as exciting as the Deerfield massacre.

The Indians that raided Massachusetts and New Hampshire were using the Pemigewasset more often to make their escape.  Baker was assigned 30-35 men (accounts vary) for an exploratory mission up the Connecticut River Valley and then southeast to what is currently Plymouth NH.  Travelling north they went as far as what is currently Haverhill NH. On their arrival no Indians were to be seen.  Striking Inland and following the terrain the party would eventually arrive in what is today Warren, NH and the Baker River.

Baker River HDR

Baker River, at the marker with Rattlesnake Mt. in the distance, 12/09

The trip down the river was uneventful until the party arrived at the confluence of the Baker River and the Pemigewasset at today’s Plymouth.  There they encountered a small band of Indians who had made their home there.  Baker attacked, killing many including their chief, and scattering the rest.  After inspecting the village they took as many furs and supplies as they could carry, and burned the rest to the ground.  They finished their journey heading south to the Merrimack, and then to Boston to report.

The marker story ends here, but Captain Baker doesn’t.  In 1714, guiding negotiators to Montreal to gain the release of British Captives, Baker would meet his wife Margaret.  As a baby she had been taken from Dover, NH in an Indian raid in 1689.  She was given to the Catholic priests for upbringing.  She married a Frenchman named LeBeau and had three children before M. LeBeau died.

She returned to Massachusetts with Baker and they were wed in 1715.  He continued his scouting missions, became a local politician, and by 1735 had resettled in Margaret’s home town of Dover, NH.  Captain Baker died in 1735.  Mrs. Baker ran a tavern in Dover as a widow until her death in 1773.

Marker Twofer! #75 Portsmouth Plains and #62 Breakfast Hill.

6 12 2009

These two markers belong together.  They both commemorate the same event a few miles apart.

#75 Portsmouth Plains

Marker text:

In the pre-dawn hours of June 26, 1696, Indians attacked the settlement here. Fourteen persons were killed and others taken captive. Five houses and nine barns were burned. This plain was the Training Field and Muster Ground. Close by stood the famous Plains Tavern (1728-1914) with its Bowling Green where many distinguished visitors were entertained.

This marker is located on Rt. 33 in Portsmouth, about 2 miles East of I95 on Middle Rd.


#75 zpic1 Part of Portsmouth Plains today is a Baseball field.


Bonus Marker #62!

#62 zpic1

Marker #62, Breakfast Hill

Marker text:

On the hillside to be seen to the north of this location a band of marauding Indians and their captives were found eating their breakfast on June 26, 1696, following the attack at the Portsmouth Plains. When confronted by the militia the Indians made a hasty exit leaving the prisoners and plunder. This locality still enjoys the name of Breakfast Hill.

This marker is located on Rt. 1 North, in North Hampton.  As you can see from the Photo, it is right at the Rye town line.


The Native American attacks, spurred on by the French, had been occurring since the late 1680s.  The Massacre at Oyster River in the summer of 1694 set the New Hampshire settlements on edge.  Since that day, small Indian raids, harassment and mutilation of livestock and the occasional killing or kidnapping contributed to the anxiety they felt going about their daily lives.

Thursday the 25th of June was a cool unsettled day with occasional lightning and rain.  Early in the day a party of Indians  from the York, ME / Nubble area were seen paddling up the Piscataqua from Portsmouth.   Word spread quickly among the settlements to keep people alert for potential mischief.  That afternoon at Portsmouth Plains the livestock came out of the woods where they had been grazing and seemed somewhat agitated.  Was it just the storm, or were there Indians waiting to attack?  The villagers suspected Indians but decided to stay in their homes for the night instead of seeking the safety of the nearby Garrison.

Etching of a late 1600s Garrison House

As the daylight faded and the people of Portsmouth Plains settled in for the night the Massacre MarshIndians that had previously been seen paddling up the Piscataqua probably slipped quietly back down the river in the dark to meet up with the rest of the raiding party at  what is today Rye.  Previous raids into this area had been launched from south of Ordiorne’s Point.  In 1691 a raiding party came ashore and killed 21 people, burning homes and taking hostages at what is today still called Massacre Marsh. They were also from York/Nubble.  Massacre Marsh is about 2 miles south-east from Portsmouth Plains, and would have provided a safe hiding place for their canoes.

The raiding party made their way to Portsmouth Plains during the night.  Just before dawn they set fire to the barns and outbuildings of the village, only then screaming their war cries to wake the people.  They charged the houses, looting anything that could be easily carried and killed as they went.  The women and children that could escape while the men put up a defense ran for the garrison house just north of the Plains.  The elderly and injured attempted to hide in the nearby woods.

The men of the village fought as well as they could but they were outnumbered.  It was only a matter of time before they too had to retreat to the garrison. 

The raiding party knportsmouth plains routeew the path to the garrison and positioned men along the path in the forest.  They killed, maimed or captured villagers that were alone or in twos as they tried to reach safety.

By the time the garrison had organized a response and returned to Portsmouth Plains, the raiders were gone.  The march to the Plains was a gory one.  Many dead and wounded lay on the path, including 33 year old Mary Brewster.  At first they thought her dead.  She had been scalped and her head split by a tomahawk.  Her head would later be mended with a silver plate and she would go on to live a good long life to the age of 81.

Arriving at the Plains the men of the garrison counted five homes burned. Nine barns in total were destroyed, two of them filled with grain and livestock for the village. There were more dead and wounded. Captain William Shackford of Dover was among the men at Portsmouth Plains that morning and led the pursuit of the raiding party. Following their trail south, they finally found them.  The Indians had stopped to eat on a hillside that is to this day called Breakfast Hill.

The Indians had placed the captives between themselves and any pursuers that may come after them providing a human shield in case they were discovered.  A direct assault would not work without killing the hostages.  Shackford sent men around the hill for the attack.  As the men charged out of the woods the Indians they fled into the marshes to the east and disappeared.   They hid in the marshes the rest of the day, slowly making their way back to the coast and hidden canoes by nightfall.  Shackfords men saved all the hostages and recovered everything that had been stolen by the raiding party.

Portsmouth had been alerted to the attack in the morning and expected the Indians may try to sneak away in the dark.  Men were sent up the Pascataqua to stop escape to the west.  Commander Gerrish was assigned with some Sloops to patrol the coast to cut   off if any attempted escape by sea.    The raiding party was spotted that night attempting to escape North up the coast and Gerrish set the line of sloops in their path.  Unfortunately he misjudged the distance to the raiders in the dark and gave the order to fire early, while they were out of range.  The Indians quickly turned to the open ocean  paddling for  the Isles of Shoals.  Gerrish attempted to chase them but could not catch them as the disappeared around the Isles and headed North back to York.


Postscript: Most of the histories have some mention of this incident all the way back to Belknaps first history.  By far the most complete is found in Rambles About Portsmouth pp 71-76, written by an early Portsmouth columnist Charles Brewster.  This re-telling is based on his account of what happened that day.

Meanwhile, back in Europe (1650-1700)

28 11 2009

Back in England this would be a half century of turmoil triggered by the English Civil wars from 1641-1651, that resulted in the execution of King Charles I, and the exile of his son, Charles II to Mainland Europe.  From the period 1651 to 1660 England was ruled as first a Commonwealth and then Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate before Charles II returned to reclaim the throne in 1660.

Charles II would rule until his death in 1685.  During his reign he signed a secret pact with the French and promised to convert to Catholicism which he did on his deathbed.  This pact and conversion would lead to problems after his death, and have a large impact in New England.  His Catholic Brother, James II would become King for a few years before William of Orange deposed him in 1688 in The Glorious Revolution.  The English were none to happy about a Catholic Monarch.

King William III (William of Orange)

As you can probably guess, these shifting Kings and Governments reverberated back in the colonies.  Governors were appointed by Kings, Parliament had their agents there as well.  Dukes and Lords had landholdings and settlements.  All of them had to make decisions on where their loyalties lay and it impacted the individual colonists that were trying settle the land and make a few pounds on the side.  What a mess.

New Hampshire had once again gained separation from Massachusetts in 1679, and was governed by Edward Cranfield, a real character.  He was in New England mostly to scoop up as much wealth as possible by controlling who got what land that was granted to Mason and now being managed by his son.  Using the power of his office, he assigned councilors, dismissed and punished the ones that disagreed with him, convened and disbanded councils at will, etc.  He had tried raising all kinds of taxes, jailing people (including Pastors) and anything else he could think of to further his fortune. In the end, the colonists hated him.   His Sheriffs’ and Tax collectors were driven off or beaten and his orders ignored.  London finally gave him the boot in 1685, the same year James II ascended to the throne.  You can read all the political dirty details in Belknap Vol I, Chapter VIII.  It’s dry, but fascinating stuff.

James II appointed Edmund Andros, a Catholic like himself, Governor in New England December of 1686.  Andros was a loyal Royalist and another tyrant.

To particularize the many instances of tyranny and oppression which the country suffered from these men, is not within the design of this work. Let it suffice to observe, that the press was restrained; liberty of conscience infringed; exorbitant fees and taxes demanded, without the voice or consent of the people, who had no privilege of representation. The charter being vacated, it was pretended that all titles to land were annulled; and as to Indian deeds, Andros declared them no better than "the scratch of a bear’s paw." Landholders were obliged to take out patents for their estates which they had possessed forty or fifty years: for these patents, extravagant fees were exacted, and those, who would not submit to this imposition, had writs of intrusion brought against them, and their land was patented to others. To hinder the people from consulting about the redress of their grievances, town-meetings were prohibited, except one in the month of May, for the choice of town officers; and to prevent complaints being carried to England, no person was permitted to go out of the country without express leave from the governor.

Belknap V1 P119

Nice guy. But by 1689, with William of Orange ousting James II, he gets his comeuppance.

They believed Andros to be a papist; that he had hired the Indians, and supplied them with ammunition to destroy their frontier settlements; and that he was preparing to betray the country into the hands of the French.  At the same time, the large strides that King James the Second was making toward the establishment of popery and despotism, raised the most terrible apprehensions; so that the report of the landing of the Prince of Orange in England was received here with the greatest joy.

The people had now borne these innovations and impositions for about three years: Their patience was worn out, and their native love of freedom kindled at the prospect of deliverance. The news of a complete revolution in England had not reached them; yet so sanguine were their expectations, so eager were they to prove that they were animated by the same spirit with their brethren at home, that upon the rumor of an intended massacre in the town of Boston by the governor’s guards, they were wrought up to a degree of fury.  On the morning of the eighteenth of April, the town was in arms, and the country flocking in to their assistance. The governor, and those who had fled with him to the fort, were seized and committed to prison.

… Andros and his accomplices were sent home as prisoners of state, to be disposed of according to the king’s pleasure.

Belknap V1pp121-122

All of this brings us to King William’s War, or the First French and Indian War in New England.  It was New Englands part in the broader Nine Years War.  This war pitted King Louis the XIV of France against just about everyone else in Europe. 

Many of the next markers commemorate events from that war.