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Clark Garrison/RM site Plymouth, MA
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A Reinterpretation of the Attack on the Clark Garrison/ RM Site Plymouth, MA

"March 12 (1676). This Sabbath eleven Indians assaulted Mr. William Clarks House in Plymouth, killed his wife, who was the Daughter of a godly Father and Mother that came to New-England on the account of Religion, and she herself also a pious and prudent Woman: they also killed her suckling Childe, and knocked another Childe (who was about eight years old) in the head, supposing they had killed him . . .And whereas there was another Family besides his own, entertained in Mr. Clarks house, the Indians destroyed them all, root and branch, the Father and the Mother, and all the Children. So that eleven persons were murdered that day, and under one roof; after which they set the house on fire." (Slotkin and Folsom 1978: 112).

The attack on the Clarke garrison house occurred during the first year of fighting of King Philips War, fought in New England from June 1675 until approximately 1677. When this war eventually dissipated it left 12 New England towns abandoned and burned to the ground, hundreds of English dead, it essentially eliminated New Englands Native peoples status as sovereign Nations and in 1692, lead to the end of Plymouth Colony as it was known, combining it with the Massachusetts Bay colony. But, what role did this attack play during the war? Who was involved, why and where did it happen and were the events recorded by colonial chroniclers true, unbiased reports of the events as they occurred, or were they purposefully or accidentally mis-recorded and remembered so that they could be used to further a certain Boston ministers agenda? These are all questions that this work seeks to answer.

William Clark and his family were the inhabitants of the Clark garrison house in 1676. William Clark was the oldest son of a very influential Boston importer, Thomas Clark. He was probably born around the middle 1630s. In the 1660s he married Sarah Wolcott, daughter of another very influential Boston family. Their children were James, John and Andrew. Clark held numerous positions in Plymouth town government such as surveyor and rater but who was William Clark and why was his house attacked?

The Plymouth Colony records are somewhat slim about actually coming out and explicitly stating who just about anyone was, but in Clarks case we can determine it with some certainty and the who is intimately connected with the why. Both William Clark and his father Thomas appear to have been opportunistic merchants. His father moved to Boston in 1655 where he married the daughter of a prominent upper class family. William, while not moving to Boston, also married the daughter of one of the most respected and well off families in Boston, the Wolcotts. It is known from later records that Clark had a warehouse in downtown Plymouth on Town Brook and was the highest rated merchant in town.

But, the warehouse in Plymouth center was not the only place where Clark stored goods. From the archaeological excavation of Clarks house, we can now state with reasonable confidence that he also either stored goods in his house at the Eel River, or most probably, he had another warehouse or trading house near his Eel River home. This, I believe, was the reason why Clarks house was targeted on March 12, because the Natives who attacked on Sunday had probably traded with Clark before at his house and knew that he had goods such as powder, shot and arms that they needed.

Excavations were carried out at the site in 1941, 1949, 1968, 1987 and 1995 but the 1940s excavations were the most revealing in terms of data recovered. Dozens of features were uncovered spanning the entire Native to present day use of the knoll on which the site lies and thousands of artifacts were recovered. Unfortunately, while excellent notes, plans, profiles and photographs were taken, the true layout of the site has not been understood or appreciated until now. James Deetz identified the house as being of a longhouse form popular in certain parts of England, but what neither he, nor anyone else identified was the fact that the longhouse that he saw was a result of at least two successive building episodes at the site.

The initial house built was a post-in-ground structure approximately 20 square and is evidenced by large corner and smaller intermediate posts. The expanded structure was 14 meters long and 6 meters wide with a 3 meter square cellar in the western half and a 2.5 meter wide hearth in the eastern half. A second post-in-ground structure has been identified to the east of the main house, paralleling it. This structure is at least 7 meters wide and continues beyond the area that has been excavated. A 3 meter wide hearth is located on the western end of this structure. A third structure possibly associated with the seventeenth century occupation is located 7 meters to the north of the first and is identified as being of post-in-ground construction. This building, which may have been a barn or other outbuilding is at least four meters wide and appears to extend to the north out of the area excavated.

Surfer maps generated for the various artifact classes generally show a concentration of artifacts in the cellarhole, at the hearth of the main house, between the two houses and around the hearth of the second structure. The types of artifacts associated with each structure differs though. Very few artifacts were recovered in association with the possible barn to the north. Most of the ceramics that were recovered were found within the main house near the hearth including the North Devon Gravel-Free baluster jar fragments, the redware, the tin-glazed ceramics, and the stoneware. Other classes such as faunal remains and window and bottle glass were located here as well.

Items relating to trade, such as bale seals, beads, copper scrap, tobacco pipes, five pairs of scissors, buttons and clothing hook and eyes, and six knives are all concentrated to the east of the main structure near and within the second structure. The current theory that is being tested with the artifact distributions is that this second structure represents a trading house built by William Clark that was used for trading with Natives and with Clarks neighbors.

The hypothesis that his house was attacked because it was used as a trading house is supported by the Plymouth Court records. In 1676 a certain Native woman had identified the warriors that had attacked the house and the court recorded that:

Keweenam . . . hee went to him (Tatoson) and certifyed him that

hee had lately bin att the house of William Clarke, att the Eelriver,

and that his house was slightly fortifyed, and that it was well

furnished with nessesaries, and that his way would be to repaire

thither now, and that on the Lords day, the folkes of the house

being but three, the most of them would be gon to meeting, and they,

being there, might descerne it; and incase they left a man att

home or soe, they might soon dispatch him, and then they would

mett with noe opposition. . . the said Tatoson went towards Plymouth,

and on the morrow following, in the morning about 9 or ten of the

clocke, hee with his companie did this cruwill villanie. . . .

Keweenam . . .hee did not fully owne the said accusation, onely

hee owned that hee was att William Clarkes house a little before

the facte comitted, and in the company of Tatoson the day before . . .

and had given him information of the weakness of the house,

both with respect to fortification and men"(PCR 1676:205).

Before the house was attacked, the Natives who were to eventually attack it knew that it was not well fortified, that it contained a good store of material they needed, that there were not many people living there, and that on the Sabbath, there, theoretically should not be anyone there except perhaps a male guard whom they could quickly kill. The attack on Clarks house was not a random act of violence by a marauding band of Indians, as has been often claimed, it was, in fact, a well thought out attack that was done on Sunday with the expectation that their would be no one there to resist them that they would have to kill. It is truly amazing that this Keweenam had been to Clarks house the day before it was attacked. Obviously Clark knew the southeastern Massachusetts Natives, and was probably trading with them before and during the war.

The military artifacts recovered from the excavations and the identification of his house as a garrison house support the theory that Clarks house was targeted because he maintained a store of military goods. Military artifacts from this site took the form of large amounts of lead waste, twisted lead kames, and lead shot from around the main house hearth and between the two structures. This pattern was also repeated with flint chipping waste and gunflints. These were concentrated around the main house hearth, to the immediate south of the main house, possibly near where the door was located, and between the two structures. Gun parts in the form of a worm and barrel fragments were also recovered from the main house. Three pewter or lead bandolier bottle caps were also recovered near the hearth. It appears that Clark kept the items which would have been most desired by both English and Natives fighting the war within his main house where they could be most easily protected. No evidence of any sort of defensive palisade was uncovered by any of the excavations at the site.

Now that we can more reasonably say who William Clark was and why his house was attacked the question is, how many persons were killed? Increase Mather, living in Boston and receiving his information at least second-hand, reported that "eleven persons were murdered that day" by 11 Natives, yet the Plymouth Colony records, the official records of this singular attack on Plymouth state that only one person, Sarah Clark, was killed " Att the same time three other Indians appeered before the councell, whose names were Woodcocke, and Quannapawhan, and one called John Num; the two former were accused by an indian squa, that they were present and actors in that bloody murder of Mistris Sarah Clarke . . ." (PCR 1676:205). When all accusations were made final, 11 Natives men in all were accused and found guilty of the attack on the Clark house.

Why is there a discrepancy between what Increase Mather reported and what was reported by the Court? What was the real number of persons killed? I believe that it was only one or possibly two and not 11 and that Mather either intentionally or accidentally inflated the figure. But why would Mather do this, was it accidental or was there a more insidious reason behind it? In Increase Mathers mind, the attack on William Clarks house was not a random act of violence, it was punishment from God on persons who were not strictly following the tenets of Puritanism, it was a sign for all to see, that this is what happens when the faith is neglected for the pleasures of the world.

Increase Mather did not hide his reasons for writing his history of King Philips War, on the contrary, he was very open about what the war meant to him, it was a sign sent by God to punish New Englanders for their fall from grace. Misunderstanding and misinterpretations of events that occurred during the war were reported throughout Mathers work. Richard Slotkin and James Folsom in their work, So Dreadful a Judgment, report that such misunderstandings were essential to the concept of history that Mather employed and advocated (Slotkin and James 1978:67).

Increase Mather felt that the actual persons fighting the war were inconsequential to the fact that God had caused the war to occur. To this end he sought messages from God in the battles and occurrences of the war and ". . . providential deaths and rescues, incidents in which peculiar ironies and coincidences are prominent, become central to the narrative." (Slotkin and Folsom 1978:67). The result of this focus on any event, no matter how trivial, that shows how God had punished the Puritans for their fall from grace, had the intent of reinforcing Mathers main intention of writing the narrative which was ". . . to restore a religious world view, a God-centered consciousness of historical process, and a sense of mans powerlessness and absolute dependence on the will of an angry God." (Slotkin and Folsom 1978:67).

With the preconceived notion that all actions of the war took place as a result of the Puritans sins and worldliness, how would Mather have reacted when he heard of the attack at William Clarks house? It has to be assumed that Mather would have known more about William Clark and Sarah Wolcott than he recorded in his writings. He must have known that Clark was a merchant and he did know that Sarahs family had come to Massachusetts Bay for religious reasons. From informant intelligence or a reading of the Plymouth court records, he would have known that the Natives who attacked Clarks house on the Sabbath were probably on friendly or at least trading terms with him. For Mather the situation could have been summed up as follows: The house of William Clark, one, if not the, most prosperous merchant in Plymouth who had trading connections with Boston, was attacked on the Sabbath and a number of people who had not gone to the Sabbath meeting, including Sarah Wolcott (Clark), daughter of pious parents who had come to the New World on matters of religion, were killed by warring Natives. He may have also heard that the number of people involved was 11, but had not or did not care to make the distinction that the 11 persons involved were not 11 English who were killed but 11 Natives who attacked. I believe that the number of persons killed was inconsequential to Mather, the most important aspect of the attack, that aspect which reinforced his belief in a God sent war due to the colonists having strayed from Him, was that the persons killed were not at Sabbath meeting and that the most important one killed was Sarah Wolcott (Clark) the second generation of a pious religious family.

Mathers presentation of history put great significance on incidents, no matter how small, that occurred following major fast-and humiliation days, or meetings of the council, or in this case occurred on the Sabbath because they represent responses to supplications to God (Slotkin and Folsom 1978:67). Because he viewed the war in religious terms, he continually sought signs from God in the incidents and signs that happened after these sort of God centered events were extra important. At the same time, as he was reporting the war on his terms, he was also criticizing the worldly spirit of a whole class of Puritans for whom the world had become primarily ". . . a place in which to achieve wealth and status and for whom the orthodox purity is less important than political and social compromises that would ensure them protection of life and property against taxation of the Crown and the vexation of the Indians." (Slotkin and Folsom 1978:71). Mather felt that " . . . to pursue ones calling primarily to accumulate wealth was to violate the spirit of the Puritan ethic." (1978:71). The incident at the Clark house provided him with the perfect example of how a prosperous merchant and the worldly gains that resulted from such a position could corrupt the daughter of a pious first family of Boston to the point that she stayed home on the Sabbath. As punishment for her fall from grace, God had sent the Natives to her just as he had sent them to all of New England, to remind them that they must regain their true course. It was unimportant to him truly if one or 11 persons were killed, but he may have consciously or unconsciously felt that 11 persons absent from the Sabbath meeting being killed was even better fuel for his fire, even if he was not sure of all the facts in the case.

A reanalysis currently underway of the archaeological collection excavated in the 1930s to 1990s from the RM site has lead to new insights regarding one of the incidents during King Philips War. The site has long been believed to be the location of the Clark Garrison house, which was attacked and burned on Sunday March 12, 1676 at 9:00 in the morning. Until now, all of the documents and data relating to this site have not been completely synthesized but with the current work that is being undertaken, it can be said with a high degree of confidence that this is in fact the site but that the incident that brought the site to prominence has been misrepresented throughout the centuries. The records of land transactions throughout the seventeenth century were scrutinized and it was determined that the land on which the site is located was, with a high degree of probability, in the possession of William Clark in 1676. Using the Plymouth Colony records, it was learned that William Clark was the most prosperous merchant in Plymouth in the late seventeenth century with family, as well as professional ties, to Boston importers and merchant families. Using the archaeological data, it was learned what Clarks house looked like and that the site was occupied, probably by his father Thomas, prior to Williams familys occupation. Archaeologically it was also determined that there is a high probability that there was a trading house located to the east of the main house which, when tied in with the Plymouth Court records, probably catered to Natives. Clarks dealings with the local Natives can be gleaned by the Plymouth records where at least twice he was the English man who was authorized by the Court to purchase lands of the Natives. The types and quantities of various artifact types such as bale seals, tobacco pipes (both clay and Native-made soapstone), buttons and clothing eyes, knives, beads and scissors also make the case that he probably traded with both English and Natives, but catered to the Native trade at this site.

But the Court records also provide us with a different view of the event which made the site and William Clark infamous. Increase Mather was the first person to publish a report on what occurred when the house was attacked in 1676. He stated that 11 persons were killed, with Sarah Clark being the one he was most concerned with. He never stated who the other 10 people were and did not seem as concerned with them. The Plymouth Court records stand in sharp contrast to Mathers writings. They state that the Natives who were brought to court were tried for the murder of Sarah Clark and noone else. There was also one Natives own testimony where he stated that they knew that there were only three persons living in the house and that they specifically attacked because they thought that all of the occupants would be at Sabbath meeting. Why the discrepancy between Mather and the Plymouth Courts records?

I believe that Mather either purposefully or accidentally inflated the number killed. Accidentally it may have been done because there were 11 Natives involved and perhaps he only heard that 11 persons were involved and assumed it was 11 English killed. It may have also been a case of the telephone game where he was reported information that was distorted before it reached him.

Purposefully it may have been done as propaganda that he hoped would heighten the impact of the attack that was so close to the heart of Plymouth. The attack would seem more dreadful if it involved more people than just Sarah and perhaps a child. It served Mathers agenda to inflate the number of persons killed. Mather wrote his book to show that God had sent this war upon his chosen people in this New Jerusalem to punish them for their worldliness and fall from their Puritan mission, just as God punished people in the Bible. He held up the death of Sarah Clark as a prime example of how this person who was from a pious family that had come with the first migration for religious reasons was killed by the Natives as punishment for all the colonys sins. At the same time, the attack could be held up as an example for others. The people, in Mathers account, were in their house on the Sabbath, not at meeting where they should have been, and they were the family of, or were associating with the wealthiest merchant in Plymouth. To Mather, merchants were seen as prime examples of the worldliness that was infecting the colony and the attack on a merchants house and killing of his family served as a fine lesson to all against the dangers of materialism over spiritualism.

It is hoped that with the completion of this project that a fuller understanding and appreciation for this event can be gained. It is also hoped that the significance of the archaeological site that represents the Clark Garrison house and all that it has to offer New England archaeologists can be more appreciated.

Copyright 2002 Craig S. Chartier