Jonas Fairbank & the Lancaster Massacre, 1676
Jonas Fairbank [sometimes Fairbanks], my 8th great grandfather, was the third son and fourth child of Jonathan Fairbank, who was born about 1594 and came to Massachusetts from Sowerby in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He settled in Dedham about 1636, where his house, built about 1641 still stands as the oldest timber frame house in New England. Jonas was born in 1625, baptized in Halifax, Yorkshire 6 March 1625. He married Lydia Prescott 28 May 1658 in Lancaster, when she was not quite 17 years of age. They had seven children between 1659 and 1673. Jonas was killed by Native Americans in the massacre of Lancaster, 10 February 1676.
The Lancaster massacre was a major action of King Philips War, sometimes called the First Indian War or Metacomets War after the Wampanoag chief Metacomet, who had adopted the name Philip, son of Massasoit. Over the years since the first settlement at Plymouth, relations between the English and the Native Americans gradually deteriorated, with Indian raiding parties attacking homesteads and villages throughout Massacusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maine. In November and December of 1675, a large force of over 1000 colonists attacked the Narragansetts and burned Indian villages throughout Rhode Island. In response, the Indians attacked and destroyed many Massachusetts frontier settlements. The war is considered to be the deadliest war in Colonial American history and the greatest calamity in seventeenth-century New England. More than half of New Englands towns were attacked, twelve destroyed, and about 1600 men of military age were killed, as well as women and children.
There were two attacks on Lancaster. The first came on 22 August 1675 [2 September 1675, new calendar] and resulted in the deaths of eight residents, including a woman and two children. Six months later, on 10 February 1675 [21 February 1676, new calendar], a much larger and more deadly attack occurred. The colonists had been warned by a pair of friendly Indian spies, but they didn't take the warning seriously. The following is excerpted from the History of the Town of Lancaster, Massachusetts, published in 1879.
"...in the depth of winter,...most of the colonial troops, exhausted by the last campaign, were at home, or in winter quarters. ... Thus it happened that Lancaster was almost as defenceless as in the preceding autumn. A few houses had been garrisoned, but the people were not very vigilant, supposing that the severity of the weather would keep the Indians in quiet till the opening of spring. ... On the evening of February 9, the people retired to rest, as usual, with perhaps some eye to watchfulness. ... early in the morning of the tenth, king Philip, followed by fifteen hundred warriors of the Wampanoag, Narragansett and Nipmuc tribes [other reports put the number closer to 400], made a desperate assault on Lancaster. They invested the town in five different places. The first was probably at Wattoquoddoc, southwest part of Bolton, where Jonas and John Fairbanks [Jonas 15 year old son was actually named Joshua, not John] and Richard Wheeler were killed. Wheeler had a garrison house."
"The main attack was on the house of the Rev. Mr. Rowlandson. This was the central, fortified house. ... Into this house the people living in the neighborhood, and perhaps some from the Neck hastily ran for protection. ... There were at least forty-two persons [other reports say 37], old and young, male and female, in the house of Mr. Rowlandson. This garrison was guarded only on the front, (which probably faced south) and the two sides, with no flankers to cover the rear, and no port-holes in that direction. ... The house was defended upwards of two hours with determined bravery. The Indians, after several unsuccessful attempts to set fire to the building, filled a cart with combustible materials, and approached the defenceless rear. In this manner the house was soon enveloped in flames. ... Of all in the house, whether thirty-seven or forty-two, only one, Ephraim Roper, escaped. Twelve were killed, some shot, some stabbed with spears, and some knocked on the head with hatchets. [Mrs. Rowlandson] and Mrs. Drew, sister of Mrs. Rowlandson, [were] taken captive; also the wife of Abraham Joslin, and other women and children to the number of about twenty. ... The women and children were taken into captivity with the purpose of obtaining ransom. And nearly all, after almost incredible sufferings, were restored to their friends."
"Different accounts vary in regard to the whole number of the slain, and the captured. There were fifty persons at least, and one writer says fifty-five. Nearly one-half of them suffered death on the spot, or in the wilderness. ... Some of the houses, but not all were burned on the day of the massacre, as the Indians made haste to escape. ... The remaining people soon came from their lurking places, and with the aid of the soldiers [who arrived from Marlborough after the slaughter], buried their dead. ... Not a slab, or mound, or group of unlettered stones, give any indication of their resting place. ... The place being considered untenable, troops were sent up with carts, who transported the people, with their remaining movable property, to the eastern towns, where they found homes with their friends. Then the Indians, who seemed to have been lurking around, came out of their lairs, and set fire to the buildings still standing; and with the exception of the house of God and one dwelling, when they ceased to burn, there was nothing left but smoking and blackened ruins in this lovely valley." The town was not resettled until 1682. Jonas' son Jabez, my ancestor, returned to Lancaster, married there in 1692, and died there in 1758.
Prepared 10 October 2019