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“Such Was the Tumultation These Women Made”: The Women of Marblehead Wreak Revenge Upon Indian Captors, 1677

The Wampanoag Indians of New England began Metacom’s War (also known as King Philip’s War) in 1675 in an attempt to expel the English from the region. Metacom, leader of the Wampanoag, fashioned an alliance of many different groups, but Christian Indians and Iroquois who allied with the English proved to be a significant factor in the eventual colonial victory. In August 1676 colonial troops captured and killed Metacom, ending hostilities in southern New England. However, other Indians continued their attacks for another two years along the northern New England coast. In particular, they targeted fishing ketches operated out of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Mariner Robert Roules narrated one such incident in July 1677 when his boat was captured by Indians, then recaptured by the settlers. When the settlers sailed Roules’ boat into Marblehead harbor, the women of Marblehead took bloody revenge upon the Indian captives.

I Robert Roules of Marblehead, mariner, aged thirty years or thereabouts, belonging to the catch William and Sarah of Salem, do upon oath say, that Joseph Bovey went out master of the said ketch upon a fishing voyage to the eastern coast. After we had caught, and being about half laden with fish, and riding at an anchor at port La Tour, near cape Sable, and on the easterly side thereof, on the 7th of this instant, July, it being saturday, purposing here to take in wood and water, and in two days to be again upon our fishing design, but on the Lords day) being the 8th instant, in line dawaning of the day, there came suddenly on board of us a canoe of Indians, in number nine or ten, as near as could judge, with their arms ready fixed, loaded and cocked. I first discovered them, and dropped down upon deck to save myself from their shot. They immediately fired upon us, and their shot chiefly struck against the windlass, and so did not hurt us. I then called to them, and said What for you kill Englishmen? They answered me, If Englishmen shoot we kill—if not shoot, we no kill. They then ordered us to come up. By this time they had boarded us, and we were obliged to surrender without conditions. The[y] then proceeded to bind me, and the other four men with me, the master, Capt. Bovey being one. They stripped us, one after the other of all our clothes, only leaving tie a greasy shirt and waistcoat, and drawers we used to fish in, our shoes and stockings being in the cabin. They then gave us liberty to sit upon deck, bound as we were all, till about two of the clock in the afternoon. After this they unbound us, and commanded us to sail our vessel towards Penobscot, which we endeavored to do; but the wind shortening we were forced to come to an anchor again, and lay there till the second day of our capture. In the meantime, they told us they intended to kill all of us, and all the Englishmen, being in number twenty six, including boys, except three. They had taken four other vessels besides ours. On the second day they commanded us and the other ketches to sail together for Penobscot. The Indians had dispersed themselves into all the ketches; there being seventy or eighty of them. As we sailed onward we espied a bark and gave her chase and soon took her, and found it Mr. Watts vessel. The Indians compelled us to haile him, and he answered us he was from Boston, bound on a fishing voyage. To prevent the murder of him and his men, as soon as we came up with him we told him he was taken, but he thinking it only a joke, laughed at us. The Indians now rose up and told Capt Watts if he did not strike they were all dead men. All but four of the Indians then went on board him, divided and mixed the Englishmen in the different vessels with themselves; sending master Bovey with one man more of our company, onboard another ketch, and left me as master of the ketch, (they wholly disliking the said Bovey) with an old man, whom I desired. And now being on board with Capt. Watts, the Indians having sent two of their number away, took two of Capt. Watts' men in their place, whereof one was William Buswell.

We had not been thus situated but a short time, when another sail was discovered, and we were commanded to give chase. We did so till it began to grow disky [dusky], and then the Indian Sagamore of our vessel ordered me, who being at the helm, to bear up; but I refused. Thereupon the Sagamore grew angry, and was about to fall upon me, which William Buswell observing, seized him by the throat, and a close scuffle ensued. Buswell however soon tripped up his heels, fell upon him, and kept him down with his knee upon his breast. Meantime, another of my companions in captivity, named Richard Dowries, closing with a second Indian, succeeded in getting him down also; and in attempting to throw him overboard, his legs became entangled, which Buswell perceiving, left his man, and seizing upon him too, they quickly threw him into the sea.

While this was going on the other Englishmen were enabled to confine the other Sagamore in the cook room, by shutting down the scuttle upon him. All hands then grasped another Indian and threw him overboard. It was a desperate attempt, but the victory was now certain. The two remaining Indians were Sagamores, one was an old man the other was a young man. One was fast in the cook room, and the other was glad to surrender to save his life.

We next proceeded to bind the two Indians, and then made all the sail we could to the southward, and on the fifteenth day [Sunday], a little before sun-down, we came to an anchor in the harbor of Marblehead.

News had reached this place that we were all killed and many people flocked to the water side to learn who we were and what other news they could, concerning the many vessels that had been taken by the Indians. They hailed us, and then some came on board; and when they saw the Indians, they demanded why we kept them alive and why we had not killed them. We answered them, that we had lost everything, even to our clothes, and we thought if we brought them in alive, we might get somewhat by them towards our losses, But this did not satisfy the people, who were angry at the sight of the Indians, and now began to grow clamorous. We told them we should take them on shore and deliver them into the hands of the constable of the town, that they might be answerable to the court at Boston; and so we carried them on shore with their hands bound behind them,

Being on shore, the whole town flocked about them, beginning at first to insult them, and soon after, the women surrounded them, drove us by force from them, (we escaping at no little peril,) and laid violent hands upon the captives, some stoning us in the meantime, because we would protect them, others seizing them by the hair, got full possession of them, nor was there any way left by which we could rescue them. Then with stones, billets of wood, and what else they might, they made an end of these Indians. We were kept at such distance that we could not see them till they were dead, and then we found them with their heads off and gone, and their flesh in a manner pulled from their bones. And such was the tumultation these women made, that for my life I could not tell who these women were, or the names of any of them. They cried out and said, if the Indians had been carried to Boston, that would have been the end of it, and they would have been set at liberty; but said they, if there had been forty of the best Indians in the country here, they would have killed them all, though they should be hanged for ii. They suffered neither constable nor mandrake, nor any other person to come near them, until they had finished their broody purpose.

Taken upon oath this Robert Roules.

7th of July, 1677.

Edward Rowson, Sec.

Source: Robert Roule, Deposition, MS 252, Edward E. Ayer Collection, The Newberry Library, Chicago, IL., reprinted in James Axtell, “The Vengeful Women of Marblehead: Robert Roule’s Deposition of 1677,” William and Mary Quarterly 3rd. Ser., 31 (Oct., 1974), 650–52