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

#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.

#62

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‚Äôs 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.

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