Deerfield: Whose Story? A historiographic museum tour

Deerfield, 1704: a byword in traditional New England history for a brutal attack on colonial innocents. Is the above picture of seemingly wanton violence the whole story? Was it a “massacre,” or was it defensive? What role did foreign powers play? Why were Mohawk warriors from Canada part of the attack, and what did the Pocumtuck, on whose land the colonists had built Deerfield, hope to achieve? Click here for a 62-minute video of a tour of the1704 Raid on Deerfield exhibit at the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, MA arranged by the Board of the Partnership for the Historic Bostons.

On this field trip to Deerfield, the group saw how the Memorial Hall Museum explores the views of the five parties to the conflict: English, French, Kanienkehaka (Mohawk), Wendat (Huron), and Wobunaki (including the Pocumtuck People, who had lived in the Deerfield area for more than 6,000 years). In so doing, it challenges the longstanding telling of this history as a colonial catastrophe, and looks at the wider context. (Above and below) Museum Librarian Jeanne Solensky describes some of the articles on display at the Museum to Jessica Mink, Partnership President John Morrison, and Lubov Kogan.

In a tour designed just for PHB members and friends, we viewed the museum’s Deerfield raid exhibition and saw how it opens up what was a one-dimensional view of history to voices from all sides to the conflict. This is a brilliant example of how, historiographically, we can start to tell a nuanced and multisided account of New England history. (Click on pictures above to enlarge)

(Above, left) Museum Curator Ray Radigan describes how the Museum approached telling the story of the Raid on Deerfield from a variety of points of view. (Above, center and right) Ray talks about how the door of the Sheldon House that was attacked was interpreted in the 19th century.

“Recognizing the damage inflicted by colonial settlement,” says the museum, it “seeks to interpret these fraught histories from culturally diverse, nuanced, and inclusive perspectives. We seek to build productive relations with contemporary Native American nations today, in the interests of truth and reconciliation.” (Above) John Morrison looks at the exhibit on the Native American Perspective after Museum Executive Director Tim Neuman points out a plaque (click to enlarge) placed in 1992 describing what happened to the Pocumtuck People who have lived in the Deerfield Area for over 6,000 years.

Click here for a video of author Kevin Sweeney talking about his book, Captures and Captives, about the Raid.