Windham Life & Times – June 21, 2019

Nutfield 300

Above: The front piece from the Londonderry Celebration book with an Indian lurking in the trees

Nutfield Celebration 1869

George Patterson

If the evening is just right, when I’m sitting in my yard overlooking Cobbett’s Pond, I imagine Indians, standing there, ready to push their canoes out onto the still water. I have  also been intrigued by the many stories of Indian artifacts, told by Bob Thorndike and Ray Barlow that were found in Windham. I was told that at one time,  when the water was low on Canobie Lake, you could walk along the shore and find arrowheads. And of course, there was the huge trove of Indian artifacts that were found when the state rebuilt Cobbett’s Pond Road in the 1950-60’s. The Windham Range once supported a large Indian settlement. To the Nutfield settlers and their English precursors, the Indian meadows were highly coveted land grants.

“It seems that in the early settlement of Haverhill, the most desirable tracts, was land that had been cleared by the Indians. Howe states, “….It is said that the uplands at the time were mostly covered by a heavy growth of timber, except and occasional spot burned over by fires set by the Indians. The meadows were, many of them, cleared and covered with a tall and dense growth of grass. The Indians were accustomed to burn the grass in the fall, that they might more easily capture the deer resorting to them to feed on the young grass in the spring. These meadows appear to have been much sought after by the early settlers, who obtained from them the principle subsistence for their cattle. They cut and stacked the hay in summer and in the winter drew it home on sleds. An early writer says of Haverhill: ‘keeping of cattle…encourages them to spend their days in those remote parts… being an overwhelming desire in most men after meadow land.” Joseph Howe’s Historical Sketch of the Town of Methuen

 By the time that the Nutfield settlers had arrived, most Indians had migrated north to escape the hordes of European settlers. Passaconoway, a powerful sachem and shaman who had long ago prophesized the end of his people and who had advocated making peace with the settlers because he could only see hopelessness in the Indian cause. He lived to be nearly 120 years old, a ruler of all the tribes in this entire region; he was forced the indignity of begging for a place to live from the Puritan government in Massachusetts. They granted him the right to live on an island in the middle of the Merrimack River near the falls at Lowell, which they took back when he died.

Well back to one of the speakers at the 1869 Nutfield Celebration who made an impassioned speech on behalf of the Native Americans. The honorary George W. Patterson, was born in Londonderry in 1799, the youngest of twelve children. He was a politician from New York who served in the United States House of Representatives and as Lieutenant Governor of New York: “How little do those who now inhabit the town know of the privations and sufferings of the early settlers. When they came here they had no shelter but the broad canopy of heaven, and for many years the log cabin was their only dwelling place. They located themselves on each side of ‘West Running brook,’ in what was, and still is, known as the ‘Double Range.’ This was said to be for safety in case of Indian attack. History shows that the early settlers, when attending religious worship on the Sabbath, always went armed, and the first minister, Rev. Mr. MacGregor, carried his gun into the pulpit, well loaded and primed, ready to repel attack. (if this seems odd, odder still is the fact that the settlement stored its required allotment of gunpowder in the attic of the meeting-house.) But if the early settlers had known the true character of the Indians, they would have feared no danger from them.  They had dealt fairly and honestly with the natives, and after acquiring title from the Crown of Great Britain they, like honest me, (as they were,) purchased and paid the Indians for their right to the township, which was originally about twelve miles square, and during all the Indian wars of New England, no man or child in Londonderry was ever injured or disturbed in their persons of property by the Indians.” (This politician, as is often the case, was a little off on his facts, since it was well known that in 1721, fourteen year old John Gregg was killed by Indians on Golden Brook in Windham.)

“I have had the occasion to know much of the Indian character. After my settlement in western New York, near the Genesee river, the Indians were my nearest neighbors for several years, and I never experienced anything but kindness at their hands, and I have never known an instance of Indian troubles from the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock to the present day, where whites were not the aggressors. The Indian fires are hardly extinguished in their wigwams till the worthless white race take possession (In 1869, the West was being settled and the Indians moved onto reservations.) Even before the title to the land is obtained by the government, and when the Indians defend their rights, the newspapers are filled with accounts of ‘Indian outrages…’”




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