Monday, May 12, 2008

Two contemporary descriptions of the fort at the Great Swamp Fight in South Kingston, RI,

Norman Muller writes in:

I was doing some research, and came across the following two contemporary descriptions of the fort at the Great Swamp Fight in South Kingston, RI, that were written shortly after the battle on December 19, 1675, and published only a couple of months later. The first one caught my eye because it describes a stone wall (I had never heard of this before). And the second one, published only a month after the first, describes a wooden palisade, in back of which was a clay wall. I have trouble imagining just a clay wall, but a stone wall chinked with clay makes sense. This second description, too, is new to me.


1. A farther Brief and True Narration of the late Wars risen in New-England, Occasioned by the Quarrelsome Disposition and Perfidious Carriage of the Barbarous and Savage Indian Natives there. With an Account of the Fight, the 19th of December last, 1675. London , February 17th, 1676.

p. 9. “In the midst of the Wood was a plain piece of Ground on which the Indians had built a Fort; the Stone-Wall (emphasis mine) whereof enclosed about four or five Acres, in which Rampart was about 1000 Indians.”

2. A Continuation of the State of New-England; Being a Farther Account of the Indian Warr, And of the Engagement betwixt the Joynt Forces of the United English Collonies and the Indians, on the 19th of December 1675. With the true Number of the Slain and Wounded, and the Transactions of the English Army since the said Fight. With all other Passages that have there Hapned from the 10th of November, 1675 to the 8th of February 1676. London , March 27, 1676.

p.6. “The next day, about Noon, they came to a large Swamp, which by reason of the Frost all the Night before, they were capable of going over (which else they could not have done) they forewith in one body entered the said Swamp, and in the midst thereof was a piece of firm land, of about three or four Acres of ground, whereon the Indians had built a kind of a Fort, being Palisade’d ‘round, and within that a clay Wall (emphasis mine), as also felled down abundance of Trees to lay quite round the said Fort, but they had not quite finished the said work.”


JimP said...

The stone wall reference from the quote Norman provided has been famously dismissed for decades by the, "Stone-Layer John" myth -- that is, there was one Narragansett man who was, "taught the mason's trade," and was responsible for building all of the Narragansett, "stoney forts," including Great Swamp and Queen's Fort.

The problems started with Drake who wrote that one of Stone-Layer John's contemporaries said he was active, ingenious, learned the mason's trade, and helped in building their forts.

Sidney S. Rider then added to Drake's comment, "He and he alone of the Indians could do such things."

And there you have history's dismissal of the Narragansett stone fort complexes.

There is supposed to be another Narragansett stone fort south of Queen's Fort along the appropriately named Stoney Fort Rd. I never did get a chance to see if I could find it.

pwax said...

Isn't there a fort somewhere near Bristol?

Norman said...

Where is the "Stone-Wall" I mentioned specifically described elsewhere? I had never come across this reference before. I've seen the name "Stone Wall John" mentioned in a rather vague sense, as he was the one who supposedly built stone forts for the Narragansett Indians, but not with specific reference to the fort in the Great Swamp.

JimP said...

Drake made the connection.

"Hence we may hazard but little in the conjecture that he was the chief engineer in the erection of the great Narraganset fort, which has been described in the life of Philip."

Sidney S. Rider also made the connection and he talks about Stone Layer John in his chapter about the Great Swamp Fort and Queen's Fort.

And that stone wall isn't the only stone wall that's mentioned in regards to Stone Layer John. Captain Oliver wrote about an ambush by Indians from behind a stone wall, and scholars have guessed it to be Queen's Fort and the builder to be Stone Layer John.

JimP said...

Oh, and I should've mentioned that the connection that they made -- and I'm not quite sure how -- was that Stone Layer John and the blacksmith reportedly in the Great Swamp Fort during the fight are one and the same person.

JimP said...

There has been a long and ugly debate over those descriptions of the Great Swamp Fort. For example, 19th century historian James Arnold wrote in the Narragansett Historical Register following his visit to the alleged site of the fort:

"Again, the island is spoken of, by the most cautious historians as being strongly fortified. "Strongly," is a relative term, - very relative, - and some bolder, or more careless historians, have gone so far as to make the term include a wall of masonry around it. Others, that the indian fort was palisadoed round and within that was a clay wall.'

"To speak of a clay wall on the island seems to one standing upon it an absurdity. There is no clay on the island. It is a mile through impassable swamp to the nearest dry land, and there is no clay bed known to exist for miles around. To suppose that the Narragansett indians dug that clay miles away, and "packed" it on their backs across that swamp in order to make that clay wall, requires an estimation of indian character that is based purely on the imagination."

JimP said...

One last thing -- to respond to Peter's question about a fort in Bristol. There was one known on Mount Hope known to history as King Philip's Fort. But also according to history it was a temporary fort and didn't last more than a month. There is, however, the remains of what was likely a sacred hilltop site there, with a very nice stone chair and lots of quartz.

Norman said...

Given that the two references I mentioned were written in 1675 and published in 1676, and that one mentions a stone wall and the other a clay wall, it is reasonable to conclude there was something at the Great Swamp Fort besides a wooden palisade. Whether a Stone Wall John was involved in this, is beside the point. Other writers have simply muddied the waters.

Where in Drake is the reference you mention, such as a specific page?

JimP said...

That quote from Drake is in his Book of the Indians -- Book III, Chapter 5 -- usually around page 75-77 depending on the copy -- the entry is entitled Stone-Wall John.

And, I agree, that whether Stone-Wall John was involved or not is irrelevant.

But what Stone-Wall John symbolizes in history is not irrelevant. He is the poster boy for all historians who believe Europeans had to teach New England's Indians how to build in stone. He's the guy they point to, as absurd as it may seem to us.

JimP said...

The thing that frustrated me when I was getting deeply involved in research on the Stone-Layer John issue was that Drake and Rider continually quote alleged contemporaries of Stone-Layer John, but they provided no references whatsoever. I have failed miserably in trying to locate the quotes allegedly made about Stone-Layer John -- particularly that it was, "he and he alone of the Indians who could do such things."

archaeologist said...
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