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Richard Waldron and the Pennacook Indians – ‘Go Plant Your Pumpkins’

In 1676, Richard Waldron of Dover, N.H. received an unwelcome order from Massachusetts. King Philip's War was winding down and a group of Indian fighters had fled to New Hampshire. The government at Boston wanted them pursued and punished.

King Philip's war pitted the Wampanoag against the Massachusetts colonists in 1675. As the Massachusetts colonists gained the upper hand, Indian forces were driven northward until the war was finally ended in 1678.

robert waldron painting

A View near Point Levy opposite Quebec with an Indian Encampment, by Thomas Davies (National Gallery of Canada)

By 1676 Waldron was something of a strongman in New Hampshire. He had served as second president of the colonial New Hampshire Royal Council and was the deputy to the Massachusetts General Court.

An ornery Puritan who came from England to New Hampshire in 1635, Waldron came from wealth and expanded it greatly, acquiring lands in Dover where he constructed mills on the Cochecho River and ran an active trading post with the local Pennacook Indians, with whom he maintained largely friendly relations.

He was not to be trifled with. When two Quaker women persisted in spreading their beliefs in Dover, he had them stripped to the waist, marched behind a cart through eleven towns and flogged before setting them loose to flee into Maine.

Waldron's loyalties were clearly with the English colonists, but the order to harass the Indians – who were his trading partners – would have posed a dilemma. Carry it out and he would be attacking the Indians with whom he had maintained peaceful relations. Refuse and he would lose favor with Massachusetts.

The Pennacook, under Passaconaway and his son Wonalancet, kept a peace with the English settlers, though they both eventually despaired of the English continually ignoring treaties and agreements.

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Waldron ultimately found a stealthy way of eating his cake and having it too. Or so he apparently thought. He invited the Pennacook to a “sham battle” – a war game. When the Indians had discharged their muskets, he quickly took prisoners of the fugitive Indians he sought – along with a handful of local Pennacooks who protested his actions – and shipped them to Boston.

Waldron may have thought his trickery was a way to carry out his mission with minimal violence, but to the Indians it was dishonorable.

Thirteen Years Later...

Revenge is a dish best served cold, the old adage suggests, and it certainly was for the Pennacook. For 13 years the tribe mulled the fate of Richard Waldron. Several of the fugitives he had sent to Boston were tried and executed for their part in King Philip's War. Indians not executed were sold into slavery in the Caribbean.

Following King Philip's War, New England enjoyed a period of peace. But tensions festered as the Indians and colonists chafed against one another. English settlers viewed the Indians as essentially a conquered people now subject to English rule. The Indians perceived themselves as an independent people who had signed a treaty with the colonists to end hostilities – a treaty that the colonists did not always honor.

In 1689, colonists in New Hampshire began sensing hints that the Indians were growing hostile. Some even shared their fears with Waldron – who was by this time 80 years old. He dismissed their concerns assuring them that he would know if the Indians intended to start a fight. 'Go plant your pumpkins,' Waldron told his neighbors.

richard waldron attack

Attack on Richard Waldron from OLD TIMES IN THE COLONIES. BY CHARLES CARLETON COFFIN

Meanwhile, Indians under the leadership of chiefs Kancamagus and Mesandoit, were amassing a force near Dover. What would become known as King William's War to settle ownership of northern New England was about to break out.

In June, with the weather still cold, several Indian women asked if they might sleep near the fire inside the Garrisons that the colonists under Waldron had built at Dover. This was not uncommon on cold nights, and the colonists welcomed them.

Mesandoit himself sat with Waldron one night. He informed Waldon that some Indians were coming soon with some merchandise to trade, and he asked Waldron what he would do if unfriendly Indians arrived. Waldron assured him that he could rouse a force of 100 men in an instant.

Late in the night, with the colonists sleeping and no watch posted, the Indian women inside the garrisons opened the doors and admitted the Indian forces who had assembled. Awakened by Indians in his home, Waldron fought furiously with his sword to repel the invaders, but he was over-matched.

Waldron's final moments were painful and unpleasant as the Indians tortured him to death and taunted him with a final question: “Who will judge the Indians now?”

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The Indians left Dover with 29 captives, which they intended to sell in Canada. Twenty-three people were killed. The garrisons and mills were plundered and burned.

Following the attack, a letter arrived for Waldron from Boston warning him than intelligence from Chelmsford, Mass. suggested some Indians were planning an attack on Dover, coming under the guise of peaceful traders.

Thanks to: The Border Wars of New England, Samuel Drake and The History of New Hampshire, Jeremy Belknap.

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