Oyster River Massacre

The Indians, spurred on by the French, attacked the English settlers in l675, 1689 and 1690. In the latter year, Sir William Phips led a disastrous attack on Quebec. As a result, the Abnaki and Penacook Indians went on the warpath, raided Haverhill, and destroyed Wells and York in Maine,

In August, 1693 Phips concluded a treaty with the Sagamores at Pemaquid, Maine. Apparently the treaty's terms were limited to the territory of Massachusetts Bay. The Indians promised to make no further war, and the New England colonists, as a gesture of good faith, returned five hostages to them.

Thus, in a spirit of calm, the summer of 1694 began with the English settlers lulled to a sense of false security. The French command in Quebec, knowing that England was at war with France, was alarmed by the Treaty of Pemaquid, for they depended on the Indians' constant hostility to the English as a buffer for their own position in Canada.

Le Sieur de Villieu of Quebec, commanding the fort at Penobscot with the Penobscot chieftains Madockawando and Moxus, led a party of some 300 St. John, Penobscot and Noridgewog Indians in an attack on the Oyster River settlement. According to Cotton Mather, English captives then in Canada knew of the planned attack on Oyster River two months before it took place.

The Indians divided into small groups, each ambushed near a garrison, and at daybreak on July 18, 1694 attacked the settlement, starting with John Dean's house at the Falls and working down both sides of the Oyster River. John Dean was shot and killed as he went to get his horse from pasture. His wife and daughter were captured, taken two miles up the river and left in the care of an old Indian. He complained of a headache and asked Mrs. Dean for help. She had seen him take a bottle of rum from her house, so she told him that that was a good remedy. The Indian took a large dose and fell asleep, Mrs. Dean and her daughter escaped into the woods.

The Beard garrison, near the junction of the present road to Dover and that to Portsmouth, was probably the first to be burned. Along the north shore of the tidewater, east from the Beards’ were the garrisons of Lt. Stephen Jones, James Bunker, Joseph Smith, Lt. James Davis and John Meader. Lt. Jones received early warning, and his garrison and the Bunker and Smith garrisons were ably defended by their occupants and the neighbors who rushed to their aid. James and Joseph Davis sent their family away by boat and remained to put out the flames when the Indians tried to bum their fortification. They were successful.

The Meader garrison was burned, after the family had abandoned it and escaped by water, either because it was insufficiently manned or because ammunition was lacking. Many accounts say that John Meader’s was the only garrison below Jones Creek that was burned, but Stackpole's History of Durham states that it was only one of sixteen houses burned.

The day following the massacre, twenty soldiers under Captain John Woodman (Woodmans had one of the fifteen garrisons) were sent to defend the remaining garrisons at Oyster River. Three men were posted in the Meader place. On February 5, 1695/6, he reported that there were still two soldiers posted at Meader's, Since two of John Meader's sons, John and Joseph, were married at the time of the massacre, it is logical to suppose that they had homes to which their parents could go for shelter. Probably John Meader immediately rebuilt his own garrison house.

The Indians swept along the south shore of the river, burning and killing. A few garrisons were saved by their occupants, but when the Indians finally retreated to Lake Winnepesaukee where they divided their prisoners, they left behind fourteen houses burned, and they had killed or captured 94 persons.

A full account of the massacre is given in Jeremy Belknap's History of New Hampshire.