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The Candlemas Massacre and the Salem Witch Trials

One week after two girls in Salem, Mass., begun having strange fits, the Candlemas Massacre wiped out the village of York in the District of Maine.

It was a snowy night when a French and Indian war party traveled on snowshoes to the outskirts of the village and waited until just before dawn. When it was all over, they killed or captured about 150 people and burned almost all of their houses.

The Candlemas Massacre took place in the midst of King William’s War, one of the French and Indian wars fought intermittently in North America from 1689 to 1763.

The Massacre would have an impact on subsequent events, including the Salem witch trials and the next French and Indian War, known as Dummer's War or Father Rales' War.

The Rev. George Burroughs in nearby Wells described the Candlemas Massacre: 'Pillours of Smoke, the rageing of the mercyless flames, the insultations of the heathen enemy, shooting, hacking... & dragging away others.'

He concluded with an accusation that foreshadowed the Salem witch trials:

The 'Sorrowfull tideings' from York, wrote Burroughs, showed 'God is still manifesting his displeasure against this Land.'

Salem witch trial

Salem witch trial

York, Maine

English colonists had settled Maine under a charter granted to Fernando Gorges. York was successively known as Bristol, Agamenticus and, in 1642, as Gorgeana, becoming the first incorporated city in America. Gorges died 10 years later, York was renamed and Maine was absorbed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

New France – now Canada – claimed it too.

Massachusetts officials wanted to push Maine’s boundaries beyond Casco Bay.

Jean-Vincent d'Abbadie de Saint-Castin

Jean-Vincent d'Abbadie de Saint-Castin

Gov. Edmund Andros in 1686 ordered a raid on the home of Baron Saint-Castin, a Frenchman who founded Castine, Maine. Saint-Castin retaliated by destroying the English fort at Pemaquid in 1689.

In 1692, Madocawando, sachem in the Penobscot band of Wabanakis, led the Candlemas Massacre. He was known for his courage, his hatred of the English and his son-in-law – Baron Saint-Castin.

The Candlemas Massacre

The Candlemas Massacre wasn’t a complete surprise.

Shubael Dummer, founder of York’s First Parish Congregational Church, was urged to leave the village because of the dangerous unrest.

Wrote Cotton Mather,

Though solicited with many temptations to leave his place, when the clouds grew thick and dark in the Indian hostilities, and was like to break upon it, he chose, rather, with a paternal affection to stay amongst those who had been so many of them converted and edified by his ministry.

The residents of York may also have seen paper money, the first in North America, issued by Massachusetts to pay for the war with the French and Indians.

Plaque marking the spot where the attackers left their snowshoes

Plaque marking the spot where the attackers left their snowshoes

On Jan. 24, 1692, Madocawando and French missionary Louis Pierre Thury led as many as 300 French and Wabanaki on snowshoes from Canada to York. Before dawn, they piled their snowshoes next to a large rock and crept into town. (There is a plaque there now.)

"The Inhabitants were in their unguarded Houses, here and there scattered, Quiet and Secure," according to a contemporary account. Taking the houses one by one, the warriors killed the inhabitants and livestock, captured others and burned most of the buildings.

Shubael Dummer was shot at his own front door while trying to escape on his horse. The Indians stripped him of his clothes and mutilated his body. His wife Lydia and their small son were among the captives forced to march through the snow to Quebec.

"On the next Lord's Day a full welted savage, purposely to deride the ministerial character of Mr. Dummer, put on his garments, and then stalked about in the presence of the distressed captives some of whom belonged to his church, to aggravate their feelings,” according to historian William Williamson.

Illustration of a surprise Indian raid during King William's War

Illustration of a surprise Indian raid during King William's War


When Indians burst into the Moulton house, four-year-old Jeremiah was hiding under the bed. Amid screaming and scuffling they buried a hatchet into his mother’s head, then tomahawked his father. Jeremiah watched as the Indians scalped his parents. After they left he stayed under the bed until the house caught fire. He ran from the house toward a group of men who turned out to be Indians, who tied him up along with the others.

Capt. John Floyd with a small group of militiamen rushed to the scene of the Candlemas Massacre from Portsmouth, N.H. They discovered about 18 houses burned, the remainder rifled and the dead lying about. The gaol, the meeting house and the garrison were left standing.

Floyd and his men buried 48 people in a mass grave along with an unrecorded number of small children.

The Old Gaol in York

The Old Gaol in York

The captives were taken to Canada, where some were ransomed by Capt. John Alden Jr., son of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins of the Plymouth Colony. Lydia Dummer was set free, but separated from her son. She traveled to Quebec three times to find him, but never saw or heard from him again.

Jeremiah Moulton reappeared during another of the French and Indian wars. It was known as Dummer's War, after Shubael Dummer’s nephew William, acting governor of Massachusetts. It was also known as Father Rale’s War, after Father Sébastien Rale who led an alliance of Wabanaki Indians on the side of New France.

In 1724, Jeremiah Moulton led 200 men to the Wabanaki settlement of Norridgewock to kill Father Sebastian Rale and slaughter the Indians. The Englishmen killed Rale and 80 Abenakis, including two dozen women and children

Moulton returned to York and became sheriff. In 1719 he rebuilt the gaol with timbers left from the one that was left standing. Today it still stands, the last known public building of the colonial era.

Later in 1692, John Alden and John Floyd were accused of witchcraft in the Salem witch trials because of their involvement with the Candlemas Massacre. Alden escaped from jail to New York. Floyd was never executed, though it’s unclear why.


  1. Thanks for this story. Captain John Alden Jr. is my eighth great grandfather and I had no idea about his participation in this event.

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