Monday, August 4, 2014

Chapter 34 - Our Ancestor Ralph Hutchinson

My great grandfather Eugene H. Ferree's middle name was Hutchinson.  His middle name was of course a family name; his mother's maiden name was Hutchinson as was the surname of one line of his male ancestors dating back to one Ralph Hutchinson who had immigrated to America in the early 1600s. Eugene Hutchinson Ferree's photograph appears on the left.

We have mentioned some of our Hutchinson ancestors in earlier chapters.  Eugene's grandfather, Mosely Hutchinson (1795-1861), and his great grandfather Silas Hutchinson (1758-1836), are both mentioned in Chapter 14.  Silas Hutchinson who was a drummer boy during the American Revolution, married Elizabeth Buell, a descendant of five of the passengers on the Mayflower thereby giving our family the distinction of being Mayflower descendants.  Silas was one of the earliest settlers in the wilderness community of Ithaca, New York when he moved there from his family's home in Connecticut in 1788. He later became the first and perhaps only doctor in the area.  Silas' and Elizabeth's son, my 3rd great grandfather, Mosely Hutchinson moved from Ithaca to Cayuga, New York where he became a farmer, a large landowner, an attorney and for a period a judge and a State Assemblyman. In Chapter 15 of this Baker Family Tree Blog we discuss the many of our ancestors who fought in the American Revolution including Silas Hutchinson the drummer boy mentioned above as well as his father Eleazer Hutchinson (1735-1813) who served as a captain in the Connecticut State Militia during the Revolution.  Our Hutchinson family tree line includes many hard working American pioneers.  The subject of this chapter however, is an individual who was the quintessential American pioneer who along with his family faced the hardships of the early American wilderness: building new towns in areas previously occupied by Indians and still under the constant threat of Indian attacks, food shortages, cold endless winters, illnesses and disease, and lose of children to early deaths. My 8th great grandfather Ralph Hutchinson was not to become a great American statesman nor a war hero.  He was just one of the many common men in the early days of our country's development who through hard work and devotion to family helped create our country. His story is told below.

Ralph Hutchinson's name first appears in Colonial American records on 8 August 1656 in Boston, Massachusetts when his name and the name of his new wife Alice Bennett, were recorded on a marriage document. As was the custom and the law during this period of history in Puritan controlled New England there was no actual church ceremony performing their marriage. There was only a civil ceremony officiated by a local magistrate who in their case happened to the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Endicott.  Governor Endicott was well known to be a zealous Puritan and an avid opponent of the Anglican Church's custom of marriages being performed by the church. His objection was based on the simple premise that such church weddings were not mentioned in the bible. It seems that life in Puritan Boston during this period of history was tightly controlled.  A good number of the residents of the Boston area had immigrated to America seeking freedom to worship as they pleased but what developed in America at least early in the New England colony, was a very controlled type of freedom. One was free as long as one conformed to the Puritan rules. The Puritan authorities dictated much of how the citizens acted from what type of clothes they wore, to how they kept their hair (men to have their hair cut short), to their never attracting attention to themselves, and when and where they went to church and how they worshiped.  On the 26th day of March of 1657 there was a record of Ralph Hutchinson being fined 10 shillings for entertaining a John Gilbert in his home which we presume meant that John Gilbert spent the night. Apparently this was against the rules without permission and the authorities required that they be informed if strangers were in town. Ralph had violated these rules.  It is no wonder that so many of the early settlers migrated away from the Boston area to get away from such pressures. They had left England seeking freedom and what they found in the Boston area was a community where individuality and freedom of expression was tightly controlled by the leaders of the Puritan Church.  As we will see in a subsequent paragraph of this story, Ralph Hutchinson and his family were soon to leave the Boston community.

We have no historical documents that tell for certain Ralph Hutchinson's birth year, where he was born, the names of his parents, or when he emigrated to America.  We can only make educated guesses.  Based on his marriage date and his death date it is safe to assume that he was probably born in England between 1625 and 1630.  We believe that it is also a safe assumption that he emigrated as a child sometime before 1642 since after 1642 emigration to America from England came to a virtual halt as a result of the policies of King Charles I and the onset of the English Civil War.  Whether he came with his parents or as an orphan accompanied by Hutchinson relatives we may never know. Since he ended up learning the carpentry trade, we have to suspect that at a young age he may have been given over as an indentured apprentice where he learned to work with wood and tools perhaps to help build the many new homes that were under construction in the Boston area in the late 1630s and through the 1640s.  It is not hard to imagine that Ralph was related to one or more of the numerous Hutchinson families who had immigrated to New England in the 1630s. In the book "Genealogical Guide to Early Settlers to America" by Henry Whitlemore published in 1905, the author lists no less than sixteen men including Ralph with the surname of Hutchinson who settled in New England in the early years of the colony. Two of these men were named John Hutchinson which perked our interest since Ralph and Alice named their first son John perhaps after his grandfather John.  However, after further research we found no evidence suggesting any relationship with a John Hutchinson or any of the other Hutchinsons mentioned in the book. His heritage will have to remain a mystery.

The family history of Ralph's wife Alice, my 8th great grandmother, is even more obscure. Alice's surname listed on their marriage document was Bennett and we know that prior to her marriage to Ralph she was married to a Francis Bennett. Alice and Francis had four children before Francis' untimely drowning in 1655 off the coast of an island called Noddles Island.  Many years later the water around Noddles Island was filled in with dirt and the area is now part of Boston's Logan International Airport.  It is not known what Francis was doing out on the water although he undoubtedly fell out of a rowboat that he was using to get to and from the island and like so many of his contemporaries he probably had never learned to swim. Noddles Island was used for grazing animals and growing crops so he may very well have been on his way to tend to his cow or pigs. In his will he left everything to his surviving children which included money, land and his debts and he directed his wife to administer the estate for the use and care of their children.  The inventory of his estate revealed an interesting possibility.  One of Francis' debtors was a "brick-maker" which suggests that Francis Bennett was a bricklayer. Since we know that our Ralph Hutchinson was a carpenter we are presented with the strong probability that Francis and Ralph knew one another and Ralph therefore would have known his future wife, then Francis' wife, Alice Bennett before they were married.  We suspect that following their marriage Ralph moved into the small Bennett home joining both Alice and her 4-1/2 year old son James, and her 1-1/2 year old daughter Elizabeth. Alice and Francis Bennett had lost two of their four children during their six year marriage. Despite the fact that Boston was over 2-1/2 decades old at the time of the Bennett marriage, times were still tough especially for small newborn children. One final note is worth mentioning.  The Francis Bennett home remained in Francis' estate administered by Alice until 1697 at which time the land was sold and the money distributed to his heirs. What we find interesting is that apparently Ralph Hutchinson had no interest in remaining in the Bennett home, for less than three years following his marriage to Alice he left the Boston area with his new family and never returned.

The painting to the right shows a view of the Connecticut River and the Oxbow Bend in the river that is located just south of the Hutchinson homestead in Northampton, Massachusetts. Ralph Hutchinson's move to Northampton was probably not motivated solely by his distaste of the stringent rules imposed by the Puritan authorities in Boston. He and his family were after all Puritans although it is unlikely that Ralph was a stringent Puritan like so many of his Boston area contemporaries. As an indentured apprentice and an orphaned child it was unlikely that he had been subjected to a strong Puritan upbringing. It is rather more likely that it was Ralph Hutchinson's adventurous spirit and his belief that his carpentry skills would be put to a more profitable use in the new community of Northampton that was his real motivation for his departure to Northampton in the year 1659. Northampton was first settled in 1654 primarily by Puritan settlers already living in other communities in the Connecticut River Valley, communities such as Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield all to the south.  These early settlers recognized the value of the abundant fertile meadow lands along the various waterways, and the adjacent forested upland areas as well as the fact that large home lots were being made available at no cost at least to these early settlers. These were obviously very attractive features. During the first two years after the establishment of the community approximately twenty-five families had arrived, constructed their homes, set up their governing structure, and built their "Meeting House" that was to be used for both the public secular meetings as well as for public worship gatherings. Two of the earliest settlers of Northampton in addition to Ralph Hutchinson were my 9th great grandfathers. Thomas Root (1605-1694) and his family settled in Northampton in May of 1654. Thomas Root's granddaughter, Hannah Root, married Ralph's and Alice's son John Hutchinson. Hannah Root's sister Sarah married another son of Ralph's and Alice's, Samuel Hutchinson, my 7th great grandfather. The other of my 9th great grandfathers to settle in Northampton was Edward Baker (1610-1687) who settled there with his family in 1657. The story of Edward Baker is told in Chapter 26 of this Blog.  By the time that Ralph Hutchinson arrived in 1659 there were around fifty families living in Northampton. Since these families worshiped together and attended most of the weekly town meetings together they obviously would have known one another.  This is fascinating since Ralph and Alice Hutchinson were my mother's 7th great grandparents and Thomas and Elizabeth Root were my mother's 8th great grandparents and they definitely would have known Edward and Joan Baker my father's 8th great grandparents.  

Ralph Hutchinson's first trip to Northampton in 1659 was made without his wife whom he had left home in Boston pregnant with their second child. Their first son John, whom we previously mentioned had later married Hannah Root, was born in 1658 and he was only a year old when his father left for Northampton. Also in the Hutchinson household were Alice's children by her previous marriage, James Bennett who was seven and Elizabeth who was five years old.  Ralph obviously left his wife with her hands full when he made the 100 mile trek westward to Northampton and while the period of time that he was gone making arrangements to relocate is not known, what is known is that he and two other men sometime in 1659 were granted eight acres of land each. Their lots were located south of the Mill River and at the time, Ralph Hutchinson's new property was the southern most lot in the young six year old community of Northampton. Undoubtedly Ralph constructed a new log home for his family before returning to Boston to be with his wife and family before the birth of their second child, a daughter, who was born in February of 1660.

We know that Ralph and his family moved to Northampton shortly after the baptism of their new daughter Mercy in early March of 1660 for in July of 1660 Ralph Hutchinson was granted four acres of land on Elm Street in exchange for his providing 400 pieces of clapboard to be used as siding for a new and much larger meeting house that was to be built up the street from his new lot.  Ralph was obviously recognized as the town's new carpenter and since the town was without a saw mill this meant that all of the clapboards he was hired to provide had to be arduously made by hand.  We can only assume that Ralph was immediately recognized as a skilled carpenter which probably led to an expanding call for his services in this new growing community. In the historical records of Northampton Ralph is clearly designated to have been a 'carpenter' although it is not clear whether this meant that he built homes or that he simply prepared and supplied the wood building materials for the construction of homes and other structures.  We suspect the latter as Ralph was hired to make the clapboards for the community meeting house and considering that no saw mill existed in Northampton until around 1673 there was probably a huge demand in the community for milled lumber and the like all of which were manufactured by hand using only axes and hand saws. Some of the writings that we found on Ralph Hutchinson suggested that he built a home on his land on Elm Street, however we believe this to be incorrect since he acquired the land south of the Mill River prior to his grant of land on Elm Street and he undoubtedly built a home for his family before or soon after their arrival in Northampton.  We believe that the Elm Street property was granted as payment for the clapboards and the property was to be used as a staging area to construct the clapboards.  In any case, Ralph sold the property sometime prior to 1667 and possibly soon after the construction of the new meeting house.  The sale of the property obviously provided the Hutchinson family with always needed cash or equivalent tender.

Life in a new community like Northampton was not always easy nor was it exciting. Much of what we know about the early years of Northampton and Ralph Hutchinson comes from the book "History of Northampton" by James Russell Trumbull published in 1898.  This brief description from this book is worth reading although we suspect that it is a bit embellished:
"Their homes, nearly all built of logs, were but scantly furnished, and contained little beyond the bare necessities of life. Their flocks and herds supplemented what the soil provided, and the nimble fingers of the housewife, and her daughters, manufactured the fabric, as well as the garments that clothed the family. They lived quiet and contented lives, attending two services at the meeting house on Sundays, and town meetings regularly on week days, at least most of the time did, as often as the business of the community demanded attention. Their food was coarse, but nutritious. Corn and wheat and rye were the staple at every meal; meat was abundant, pork, beef, mutton, wild game and fish, were plenty; potatoes were unknown, but turnips, cabbages, beans and a few others vegetables, were used to considerable extent."

We suspect that Ralph Hutchinson received food such as wheat, corn, beef and pork and even furs as payment for his services more so than cash since the majority of the residents of Northampton were farmers and cash, consisting of gold and silver, was probably scarce or not even in circulation.  We also know that the Hutchinson family had an allotment of eight acres of 'meadowland' in addition to their eight acre home site. The meadow land was used for planting their vegetable garden, growing wheat and corn, and for the grazing of their livestock. Despite James Russell Trumbull's above description of what appears to be an abundant food source for the settlers of Northampton, an adequate supply of food was not always guaranteed considering the occasionally long and cold winters or the too wet or too dry summers that would have drastically reduced the growth of their gardens. The inclement weather, the undependable food sources, and disease and the total lack of medical attention was particularly hard on the younger children.  Young Mercy who was born in March of 1660 shortly before their move to Northampton, had to endure the long trek from Boston to Northampton, and two long hot summers and cold winters before she died in the spring of 1662 probably from some untreatable illness.  Only one month following the death of Mercy a second daughter was born to Alice and Ralph but she too died after only one year of life. Poor Alice. She had lost babies from her first marriage, then her husband died, and then two more babies died in the early years of her second marriage. We suspect that she and Ralph might take exception to Trumbull's statement in the above paragraph that "they lived quiet and contented lives . ."  Life was tough in the 17th century in Colonial America.

On the more positive side, many of the earliest settlers in Northampton and for that matter in the other early settlements along the Connecticut River had been wealthy farmers in England before they emigrated to America. Their reasons for emigrating have been discussed extensively in other chapters in this Blog.  They were Puritans and regardless of the drastic lifestyle changes resulting from their relocation, the importance of their being able to freely worship as they pleased overrode any of the obvious disadvantages. Many of these new settlers who became the leaders in the communities like Northampton were intelligent, educated, and highly motivated to lead in a manner that was in the best for the new towns.  They also encouraged their residents to get involved both by requiring attendance at the town meetings and by encouraging residents to serve on various committees. Most of the major decisions in the community such as a decision to build a new meeting house were decided by the majority and not by the sole decision of the few leaders. Attendance at the religious services on Sundays was also a requirement of living in Puritan controlled Northampton. While the Puritans encouraged hard work they also practiced charity and if a family was experiencing difficulties such as the loss of a father during hard times, families helped other less fortunate families.  Life in early Northampton was not always easy but it survived and eventually prospered largely as a result of the strong character of its inhabitants, our ancestors.

We have previously suggested that Ralph Hutchinson was not a wealthy man nor was he likely raised by a devote Puritan family. We also know that he was able to sign his name which means he was educated at least to some extent and we know that by 1661 he was recognized as a citizen of the community with all of the civil and political rights associated thereof. He was also a recognized member of the Puritan Church since he had obtained the status as a 'Freeman' in that year.  There are a couple of interesting records in the Trumbull history that might hint at Ralph's relationship with the Puritan Church or at least give us a little insight into his personality. In April of 1662, the townspeople voted to formally establish a church in Northampton and the written Covenant prepared setting forth their decision was signed by over seventy individuals including Alice Hutchinson but not by her husband Ralph. Ralph's failure to sign the covenant might suggest that he disagreed with the decision although we might also note that many of the other wives signed the Covenant without their husbands including newlywed Ruth Baker but not her husband Joseph, my 8th great uncle.  Edward Baker, my 9th great grandfather, also did not sign the Covenant.  Perhaps these men were satisfied that holding religious services every Sunday in the Meeting House was acceptable and that going to the added expense of formally establishing and building a new church in Northampton was unnecessary. This may very well have been Ralph Hutchinson's position for we find that in November of 1662 he signed a letter with eight other men declaring their descent of the town's decision to offer free land to the new church pastor, Joseph Elliot. Their argument was that the land had "previously been sequestered perpetually for the ministry" and that giving the land away to the current pastor was shortsighted and would add cost in the future when a new pastor had to be hired and provided a place to live. Ralph's thinking on this matter seems at least to this descendant, to have been correct.                        

The home that Ralph Hutchinson provided his family in 1659 was probably small, built of logs with a thatched roof that leaked in a downpour, a dirt floor, few windows, and a fireplace and chimney that barely keep the cabin warm in the winter.  However, as his family grew and Ralph with his carpentry skills, he was undoubtedly able to greatly improve and expand the home in the next few years by adding hardwood floors, installing clapboard siding, a few new glass windows, and a wood structured roof built and covered with wood shingles. We have to believe that the home was enlarged with the addition of a separate kitchen and new bedrooms to house the expanding family. Four additional sons were born to Alice and Ralph between the years 1664 and 1671 including Samuel Hutchinson, my 7th great grandfather, born in 1666 and Eleazar Hutchinson who died at the age of one in 1669.  By the time of the birth in 1671 of their last son, there were a total of seven children living in the Hutchinson household including James and Elizabeth Bennett, children from Alice's first marriage. Also located on the home site were probably a barn and a major workshop to house Ralph's expanding carpentry business. Unfortunately, the location of the Hutchinson homestead was not in an ideal location within the community. The meeting house and later the church were located just over a 1/4 of a mile east of their home, but the walk to the meeting house and church required traveling down a dirt road which must have been a sea of mud in the wet spring months and very uncomfortable in the cold winter months.  To make matters worse, they had to wade across the Mill River and while there was a vote to build a bridge across the river as early as 1662, the bridge was not built until 1673. The town justified delaying the building of the bridge and the terrible inconvenience it caused to the residents living on the other side of the river, including the Hutchinson family, by exempting them from having to pay the 'highway tax' for the maintenance of the roads. It is doubtful that Ralph would have accepted this logic. It is possible of course that the family may have traveled to church in a wagon so that at least the younger children and Alice would not have had to wade the river but it is unclear that this privilege of riding to church was allowed by the Puritans.  Ralph would have owned a wagon and horses for both his family's use but also to haul his finished lumber to his customers within the community. Nevertheless, the lack of a bridge across the river plus the inevitable spring flooding of the Mill River must have been an incredible annoyance for the family and hard to accept. But hard work and devotion to family by men such as our Ralph Hutchinson helped create our country and make it great and a reason to be extremely proud of our heritage. 

When the Hutchinson family settled in Northampton in 1659 there were just under 50 families living in the community.  Within the next ten years the total population of the village had more than doubled. As was typical in our country during this time period, the majority of the settlers were farmers with only a handful of the men in the community listed otherwise as merchants or tradesmen such as carpenters, shoemakers, masons, tanners, blacksmiths, and so forth. Ralph was one of only two men listed as a carpenter during the time period prior to 1661. As the population grew his work load as a carpenter obviously grew as well.  He undoubtedly benefited when the community built the new meeting house, the stockade fencing around the community, and the church, and he was specifically listed in the town records as having been hired in 1666 to help build a new grist mill. Notwithstanding his obvious workload on community projects, his largest volume of work would undoubtedly have been derived by supplying materials and labor helping to build new homes and farm structures including even wood fencing. In fact, it was not until 1670 when a major saw mill was constructed along the Mill River below "Baker's Meadows," that the demand for his hand milled materials would have been curtailed.  There are no existing records of Ralph Hutchinson's business other than his being described as a 'carpenter.' We suspect however, that he probably employed a few helpers, possibly even apprentices, to help with the work.  The family may have even provided housing on the property for these workers. Furthermore, Ralph's sons and his stepson James helped in some fashion despite their young ages and if they did not help in the carpentry business they definitely helped caring for the gardens and the livestock. By 1670, James Bennett was around 18, John Hutchinson was 12 and his brother Judah was 6 years old.  They all would have been required to work to their ability. Even Elizabeth Bennett who was 16 years old in 1670 would have helped her mother in the house and in the fields. The children would have been expected to work with the family six days per week although in the town of Northampton like the other communities in Puritan New England, the children were required to attend school particularly in the winter months when the workload was slower. 

When we think of the Puritan sons and daughters we picture them in a number of ways such as in a church pew with their parents, in a one-room school house in front of a strict teacher, working in a field with their parents, playing games in front of a fireplace in their cozy cabin, but foremost we think of them following the wishes of their devote parents and their church minister.  What we do not think possible is that one or more of these children would be arrested for vandalism and theft. Nevertheless, this happened to young 15-year old James Bennett along with two of his friends in the year 1667. James Bennett was only four years old when his mother married Ralph Hutchinson following the death of James' father Francis Bennett a year earlier. James could not remember his father and while he knew that his mother's husband was not his real father he still must have looked to Ralph Hutchinson as a father figure.  We have no reason to believe that Ralph Hutchinson was an overly authoritarian father although we know that he was a hard worker, opinionated, and he probably expected his employees and his children to following the rules. We have to assume that children 350 years ago were not really that much different than they are today and therefore it is not that unusual to find a 15-year old boy rebelling against parental authority. James Bennett along with his friend Godfrey Nims, broke into the home of a Robert Bartlett while the Bartlett family was away at church. The boys ransacked their home and stole "24 shillings in silver and 7 shillings worth of wampum."  The court records showed that they gave the valuables to a local Indian who had promised to take them to French Canada. Their plan was to run away. The Court ruled that the two boys were to be fined triple the value of what they robbed and they were each to be whipped, in James' and Godfrey's case, with 16 lashes each and in the case of the younger Benoni Stebbin boy since he had known about the planned robbery but did not report it, with only 10 lashes. Fortunately for James Bennett his step-father stepped in to plead his case and ultimately James Bennett was not whipped and Ralph Hutchinson agreed to pay a fine of five pounds. Five pounds would have been an enormous sum of money for the Hutchinson family in 1667. Fortunately in the longer term all three boys turned out to be good citizens in their adult lives although in each of their cases misfortune was to eventually befall their lives. James Bennett was killed by Indians in 1676 at the young age of twenty-four. He left behind a wife and a young daughter.  His good friend Benoni Stebbins was also killed by Indians at the age of 48 in the year 1704. Godfrey Nims died at the age of around 54 only several years following an Indian raid on his village where the Indians killed or captured his wife and most of his children. Life in New England in the late 1600s was not easy and it was filled with many dangers.  

It is hard to understand the motives of a group of men from Northampton including Ralph Hutchinson who filed a petition in 1671 with the 'General Court' requesting permission to start up a new community located on the Connecticut River about 35 miles north of Northampton.  Their petition was initially denied but after the petition was resubmitted the following year, their request was granted.  The new settlers including the Hutchinson family, started relocating to this new community, later to be called Northfield, the following year in 1673. Ralph Hutchinson in 1673 was in his mid-40s and he and his wife had six children including the two Bennett children ranging in age from two years old to twenty-two years old.  Why would they want to start from scratch again in this wilderness and somewhat mountainous area located just south of the New Hampshire and Vermont borders.  Undoubtedly this same question might be asked about the hundreds of thousands of families who moved westward across our country during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. These pioneer families as they grew larger and the overall populations within the communities grew larger required more and more land to grow their crops and raise their livestock.  Ralph Hutchinson must have realized that while they currently lived in relative comfort in their home in Northampton, there was no way that their eight acres and their limited meadow lands would be of adequate size to support their children as they reached adulthood and started their own families. Already James Bennett was a young adult and Ralph knew that land around Northampton was either too expensive if it was even available or too far out from the community center and away from the fertile meadow lands to be desirable as a home site. On the other hand, there were large home sites available in Northfield where the land was fertile and the lots were free. 

Of the twenty 7-1/2 acre home-lots made available in Northfield, sixteen were initially occupied including one by the Hutchinson family. In 1675, two years after the initial settlement, James Bennett, who was then newly married, occupied a lot as did the James Root Jr. family (my 8th great grand uncle on my mother's side) and the Thomas Webster family (my 9th great grand uncle on my father's side.) Their original homes were either built of logs or rude frames covered with clapboards and the structures covered with thatch and then around this initial cluster of homes a stockade fence was constructed. The sketch above is a representation of how the initial Northfield community may have appeared shortly after its founding. It is unclear whether the Ralph Hutchinson home at least as of 1675 was within the area surrounded by the stockade fence. Clearly considering the homes, the Meeting House, the fort and the stockade fencing that had to be built, Ralph Hutchinson's talents as a carpenter must have again been put to good use. In addition to his own home construction, there was land to be cleared and crops to be planted and maintained.  What we find interesting is that during this period from 1673 when the family first moved to Northfield until the Indians attacked Northfield in September of 1675 shortly after the beginning of what was later to be called the King Philip's War, Ralph Hutchinson maintained the ownership of his home on South Street in Northampton.  It was as if he had a premonition of the troubles that were soon to befall his new community of Northfield.

We have discussed the King Philip's War in previous chapters in this blog most notably in Chapter 26 wherein we described the war and its impact on the Baker family in Northampton. The fact that there was an Indian uprising fifty-five years after the arrival of the Pilgrims should have come as no surprise to the Puritans in the late 17th century and definitely not to our present day historians.  Even before the landing of the Mayflower in 1620, European fishermen had unknowingly delivered germs such as smallpox, spotted fever, typhoid, and measles to the Indians tribes of New England and the diseases quickly spread and decimated the Indian population who had not developed any immunities against these diseases.  This damage was quickly followed by the newly arriving white men who rapidly displaced the Indians from their land and their sources of food. The Puritans justified the taking of the Indian land by claims that the tribes had sold their land, however the concept of a land sale was totally alien to the Indians.  By the time of the King Philip's War that began in 1675 the population of Europeans living in New England had grown to 80,000 whereas the Indian population had dwindled to around 10,000.  The first Indian attack occurred in June of 1675 against a few small homesteads near the small Plymouth colony of Swansea.  The attacks quickly spread through the other New England settlements including an attack on Thursday, September 2, 1675 on the small rural town of Northfield.

The settlers of Northfield were caught totally unaware when the Indians attacked and before they could all retreat to within the protected walls of their stockaded fort, six men and two boys were killed. Fortunately Ralph Hutchinson and his family were able to safely retire to the fort. In the meantime however, the Indians proceeded to burn the homes outside the stockaded area including the Hutchinson homestead. They also proceeded to kill all of the livestock and burn the fields. Realizing that a successful attack on the stockaded fort was impossible, the Indians eventually retired. The Hutchinsons and the other families including James Bennett and his new wife remained in the safety of the fort until the arrival of the militia sent to rescue them on Monday, September 6th. At this point and under the protection of the militia, the settlers abandoned Northfield and in the case of the Hutchinson family, they returned to their previous home in Northampton. Northfield was not to be resettled until 1682 and while Ralph and Alice Hutchinson did not return for the second settlement, three of his sons including my 7th great grandfather, Samuel Hutchinson, did resettle in Northfield.  In Samuel's case along with his wife Sarah Root and their children they later relocated in 1697 from Northfield to Lebanon, Connecticut.

Ralph's and Alice's troubles were not over when they returned to Northampton in mid-September of 1675 for only two weeks later on September 28th a group of Indians surprised, killed, and scalped a man and his young son who were cutting wood near their home.  The man was Joseph Baker, my 8th great grand uncle, son of Edward Baker.  Joseph's son was Joseph Baker Jr., his oldest, who was only nine years old when he was killed.  One month later on the 28th of October, the Indians again raided Northampton and once again Ralph, Alice, and their children were able to escape with their lives fleeing back to the stockaded fort area with the other citizens. While no one was killed during this raid, four homes along South Street plus the barns and other outbuildings were burned by the Indians and again the cattle and other livestock were slaughtered and the wheat and other crops destroyed.  One of the home sites burned belonged to the Hutchinson family. They ended up losing everything that they had not previous lost in the Northfield fire: their home, their furnishings, their clothes, their food supplies, and even Ralph's tools and wood supplies. They were now totally destitute and were it not for their neighbors who immediately offered them shelter and food who knows what might have happened to my Hutchinson ancestors. Unfortunately the Indian raids were not over and again in November Indian raids led to several more settlers being killed and more buildings burned. The Militia were quickly dispatched to Northampton where they spent the winter protecting the citizens and helping them further fortify their town. Once again Ralph Hutchinson's carpentry skills were again put to good use. The Hutchinsons and their neighbors whose homes were also burned applied for land grants within the fortified area and Ralph built a new home this time on the west side of King Street.  Ralph was in his late 40s when he once again had to start over. Alice's two children by her first marriage, James and Elizabeth, were both married by 1675 and were no longer living in the new Hutchinson household. John, Ralph and Alice's oldest son was about 17.  The other three boys were 11, 9, and 4 respectively. The family was still relatively young and life in this Connecticut River Valley community does not seem to have gotten much easier. We have no idea of how this string of tragedies may have affected Ralph and Alice's personalities and their joy of life in their later years. Alice had lost two children and her first husband by 1655 followed by the early deaths of two of her young daughters by Ralph. Within a two month period in 1675 she had two homes destroyed  followed a year later in 1676 by the death of her oldest son James who was killed by Indians. Their youngest son Moses Hutchinson was also killed by Indians in 1704 a year after the death of Ralph who died in 1703 in his mid-70s. Alice outlived her husband by a decade living into her mid-80s and finally passing away in 1714. She had outlived both of her husbands and eight of her eleven children.  While Ralph lived another twenty-eight years after the Indian attack in 1675 and the loss of his home, it is hard to imagine that he ever fully recovered.  There is no mention of Ralph Hutchinson in any history books following the record that he was granted land on King Street after his home was burned. Apparently Ralph was not involved in any committees with either the church or the governing of Northampton. While we are confident that he continued to work hard at least as long as his health permitted, he apparently kept to himself preferring not to engage in public services. As they both aged they eventually came to live with their son Judah Hutchinson and his wife Mary Bridgman whom he married in 1692. For a period while he was still single Judah lived in Northfield and he may have later returned to Northampton sometime after 1687 to help his parents and perhaps assume his father's business.  Both Ralph and Alice may have been buried on their own property and even if they were buried in a church cemetery we could find nothing in the historical records that provides us with a clue as to the location of their burial site.    

History books and especially the text books used in our schools, teach us about the movements of our ancestors and they hit the highlights and dates of the historical events such as the landing of the Mayflower, the first Thanksgiving, the founding of Boston, the French and Indian Wars, the Puritan teachings and so forth. However these text books at best gloss over the incredibly hard lives of our early American settlers. We think that if we were able to transport our present population back in time into the late 17th century of Colonial America, most of us would or could not survive the hardships that daily faced our great grandparents. We have in the course of our studies and in the writing of these chapters grown to enormously respect our ancestors. We must thank them for what they have given us and for the hardships that they had to face and overcome so that we may be the beneficiaries of the relatively peaceful and healthy lives that we enjoy today.



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Mark Clark said...

Mr. Baker,

I read with interest your post regarding Ralph Hutchinson and his family. I believe Ralph is also my 8th GGrandfather (Ralph-Samuel-Stephen-Paul-Jemima,who maried a Clark and lived in New Marlborough, MA.) Jemima's grandson Zenas Clark migrated to Northern Kentucky in the 1850's, which is where we are today. We were able to take a family trip to New Marlborough this summer and we visited the Old Mill River Cemetery where we found the graves of Stephen, Paul, Jemima and several of our Clarks.

Thank you for this informative and interesting post!

Mark Clark

Stephanie Comalander said...

Mr. Baker,

Thank you for your blog. It has been valuable in trying to piece together my own ancestors. Ralph Hutchinson is my 9th great grandfather. I actually have the Hutchinson line traced back to Bernard Hutchinson (born 1282). I didn't begin tracing my Hutchinson family tree until 15 years ago when my father informed me that the people I THOUGHT were my grandparents were actually my GREAT grandparents. As it turns out, they raised him, but his biological father was a Hutchinson. Funny story, my dad actually had two birth certificates with two separate social security numbers. His name at birth was Hutchinson, but at age 5, my (great) grandmother obtained a new birth certificate for him with the name Comalander. He never used his Hutchinson name or ssn, but it existed. When my father passed, we had to get two death certificates, one for each name. Freaky, huh?