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The Angel of Hadley and the French and Indian Wars

Updated on June 17, 2012

During the Reverend Mr. Russell’s interminable sermon, many of the men at the service struggled to stay awake. It was September 1, 1675, and the long work of hunting, building, fishing and farming had taken a toll. Children squirmed under the baleful glares of their mothers, and townsmen patrolled the aisles, in the hopes of catching a dozing neighbor.

Muskets were stacked at the back of the meeting house, as required by law and self-preservation. The restless Algonquin neighbors, had become increasingly hostile as the uprising near Boston had spread even to this quiet community nearly a hundred miles away.

Somnolence turned briefly to confusion before the men rushed from their pews to retrieve their weapons at the urgent calls from the white-haired stranger who had burst through the meeting house doors.

“Indians!” he called. ‘Indians!”

“Arm yourselves and follow me!”

The stranger in outmoded clothing rapidly organized the settlers to defend against the sudden attack by neighbors they had come to trust, and then he was gone.

The citizens of town spoke in amazement of the ”angel” who had appeared to save them from death only to disappear as soon as the battle was won.

The Connecticut River, looking south from Sunderland (near Deerfield) toward Hadley. Mount Holyoke Range at Suth Hadley is at background.
The Connecticut River, looking south from Sunderland (near Deerfield) toward Hadley. Mount Holyoke Range at Suth Hadley is at background. | Source

A place called Norwottuck on the Quineticook

At least, that is the way the story has come down to us from that small New England town on the land the native Algonquins called Norwottuck before the settlers renamed it Hadley.

Norwottuck, across the teeming Quineticook River from Nonatuck, which settlers had renamed Northampton, was, as it is today, fertile farmland, nourished every spring by the rising waters of the Quineticook, or as it is known today, the Connecticut River, that curved around three sides of the fortified village on what is now the West Street Common.

Ezra Stiles, president of Yale University recounted the tale of “The Angel of Hadley” in “A History of the Three Judges of King Charles I,” published In 1794. Stiles wrote that the residents could "not account for the phenomenon, but by considering that person as an Angel sent of God," to preserve them. Fortunately, he noted, “It was the usage of the frontier towns in those Indian Wars, for a select number of the congregation to go armed to public worship."

Charles I's death warrant
Charles I's death warrant

To kill a king

This legend of the Angel of Hadley has been retold in various forms over the years, and a copy of Frederick A. Chapman’s painting of the event, “Perils of our Forefathers,” hangs in the lobby of Hopkins Academy, the local high school founded in 1664. It was curiosity about that painting that sent me to the library to find what I could about the dramatic event.

The story is based on a deathbed statement by the Reverend John Russell, who admitted that he had given two angels (not his term) sanctuary in his home. Not everyone, including Charles II of England, perceived them as such.

Of the 59 judges who had signed the death warrant for Charles I In 1649, a dozen or so had been hanged, drawn and quartered, some posthumously, after being disinterred. Almost 20 spent the rest of their lives in prison. Others died or escaped, including three, John Dixwell, Major General William Goffe, and his father-in-law, Lieutenant General Edward Whalley, (son of the sheriff of Nottingham) who fled first to Boston and then New Haven, Connecticut. When a warrant for their arrest arrived in the colonies, Dixwell assumed a different identity and Whalley and Goffe went into hiding, first in a cave near New Haven and then, in 1664, in Hadley, where Mr. Russell sheltered them. Adding credibility to the story, when the minister’s house was long after destroyed by fire, human bones were discovered in the basement,

"The Perils of our Forefathers" The original hangs in Forbes Library Northampton, Massachusetts
"The Perils of our Forefathers" The original hangs in Forbes Library Northampton, Massachusetts

Revolt against the European colonists

Thomas Hutchinson, the royal governor of Massachusetts, recounts the story in his “History of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay” published in 1760. Gov. Hutchinson had used General Goffe's journals, letters, and other papers, which he had obtained from renowned Puritan minister Increase Mather, the first president of Harvard University.

In a preface to the 1905 reprint of Sylvester Judd's 1863 “A History of Hadley,” George Sheldon dismissed the Angel of Hadley as a romantic anecdote. Sheldon holds that the regicides were wanted men and, given the fate that had befallen their peers, that Mr. Russell would have been much in danger if he had been caught harboring them. Contemporary accounts suggest that complicity in protecting the men was widespread among officials in the colonies.

In the late summer and early fall of 1675, the settlers had reason to fear attack. Although the natives and settlers enjoyed brisk trade, a Major John Pynchon in Springfield was exploiting the natives, trading weapons for beaver furs and encouraging the Indians to sign promissory notes for any difference. He leveraged these promissory notes into deeds for Indian lands, which the natives understood as agreements to share the land, establishing their own villages near those the settlers were fortifying. As the original inhabitants realized that the European idea of land ownership was not the same as theirs, which is more of community land with shared use, conflicts arose.

In the eastern part of the colony, the great chief Massasoit made and honored his treaty with the European settlers. When he died his sons rose up against continued European encroachment on Indian land. When Massasoit’s elder son died under suspicious circumstances soon after the settlers released him from detention, his younger brother Metacom, whom the settlers called Philip, allied with the French in waging war, known as King Philip’s War, on the English. When Metacom was defeated, his severed head was displayed on the village green in Plymouth.

Although the settlers in Hadley had developed a warm and trusting relationship with the local Norwattucks, tensions were high, and when one of the tribe bragged that he had participated in a raid, Major Pynchon ordered Captain Thomas Lathrop, who was posted to Hadley, to confiscate the Indians’ weapons. Lathrop found the village deserted; the tribe had fled to Pocumtuck, now Deerfield (and a story unto itself), about a dozen miles north.

A time of trouble

In September 1675, the time of the ostensible Angel of Hadley story, a wave of Indian raids swept through the valley. When Captain Lathrop and about seventy troops were escorting a provision cart from Pocumtuck to Norwottuck, hundreds of warriors attacked, killing Lathrop and more than sixty soldiers. The massacre, in which fourteen native warriors died, is now known as the Battle of Bloody Brook.

Seventeen days before the Bloody Brook massacre, the men of Norwottuck and other valley tribes attacked Deerfield--Pocumtuck--village, burning several houses and killing one of the settlers. The English settlers abandoned the settlement after the second time it was burned that year,

It was on the same day as Bloody Brook that a “grave elderly person” interrupted the prayer meeting warning the congregation to arm themselves against Indians that were stealthily approaching the meetinghouse. Gov. Hutchinson reported, "In his mien and dress he differed from the rest of the people." He added that after organizing the settlers to repel the attack, "the deliverer of Hadley disappeared," leaving the congregation "in consternation, utterly unable to account for this phenomenon."

Despite documents and testimony, doubts about the events surrounding the appearance of the Angel of Hadley continue. I, for one, choose to believe the magical story that brings intrigue from political upheaval in Great Britain to the peaceful farming community in the Pioneer Valley.


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    • Clive Donegal profile imageAUTHOR

      Clive Donegal 

      6 years ago from En Route

      Thanks, Angela.

    • profile image

      Angela Oddone 

      6 years ago

      I love learning about history. Thank you!

    • Clive Donegal profile imageAUTHOR

      Clive Donegal 

      6 years ago from En Route

      Wow is good!

      Thanks again.

    • Vasiliki Bouras profile image

      Vasiliki Bouras 

      6 years ago



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