The Deerfield Massacre by James L. Swanson: Book Review

A few weeks ago, on American Ancestors, I listened to author James L. Swanson talk about his new book, The Deerfield Massacre.

Although I love books, I generally find that author presentations don’t do much to encourage me to purchase a book. This event required a ticket – $12.50 or $45.00 for a ticket and a signed copy of the book.

I opted for the ticket and the book for one reason only. My ancestors Benjamin Burt (1680-1759)and wife Sarah Belden (1682-after 14 December 1730) not only lived in Deerfield, but were among the 100+ captives taken on the forced march to Canada.

On 29 February 1704, a combined force of French and allied Indian tribes, struck the town, killed many, burned homes and took captives.

Not only did Benjamin and Sarah survive the 300 mile trek north, which was amazing especially for Sarah, who was 7 1/2 months pregnant with her first child, but they and son Christopher, born 14 April 1704 in Montreal, Canada were eventually ransomed.

Their second child, a son named Seaborn who was, of course, born at sea on 4 July 1706 on the way back to Boston, is my ancestor through my maternal grandmother.

My connection to Deerfield is what drew me to attend American Ancestors’ online visit with the author.

To be honest, the interview held my interest for a few minutes and I was really waiting for the book to arrive in a couple of weeks.

Arrive it did and my first reaction was disappointment about the “signed” copy. Yes, the author’s signature is in the front of the book. However, Swanson signed labels which someone else, I’m sure, affixed to the book pages. That’s not really my idea of an author-signed copy because he likely never even held my book and he certainly didn’t inscribe his name on a page of the book.

That wasn’t the end of the world and I eagerly started reading the account of the Deerfield attack. I learned a lot from the first half of the book – Parts I – A History of Superstition, Violence, and Massacre and II – The Aftermath: Captivity and a Test of Faith.

It told the story of the complete shock of the colonists, living on the Massachusetts frontier, being attacked in the dead of winter, which they never expected.

Many of the captives, unable to keep up in the march to Canada, were killed by the Indians along the way.

Those who survived had a mixed experience in Canada, with some held by Indian families and some kept as servants in French families.

Some chose to remain in Canada even when given the opportunity to return home, but many most definitely wanted to return to New England. The latter group included my Burt ancestors.

The Burts were mentioned in passing by the author, mostly, I believe, because it was memorable that Sarah gave birth to Seaborn on the voyage home.

Part III – Memory, Myth, and Legend, which is the second half of the book, discusses how Deerfield reacted to the attack and then delves into a review of all the commemorations, programs, pageants and other activities/products that have been created through the centuries.

That half of the book was not very interesting and I would have preferred a summary of those activities in the Epilogue.

This was my first experience paying for an author talk and receiving a signed book. I don’t think I’d do it again. For $45.00, it was a bit disappointing.

However, if you are interested in the 1704 Deerfield Massacre or, perhaps like me are descended from residents who experienced that awful night, our favorite online website has this book priced at $22.17 for hardcover or $14.99 on Kindle. I’m a bit sorry I didn’t just go the Kindle route, which is a great price for a well researched explanation of the attack.

One thought on “The Deerfield Massacre by James L. Swanson: Book Review”

  1. I don’t often go and look up something like this, but I’d never heard of the Deerfield Massacre before….so off to Wikipedia I went! Even if the book was a little disappointing, the fact your ancestors were part of the march is still fascinating and a wonderful historical story you’ll always be able to share.

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