Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Oyster River Massacre, 1694 (and two lucky uncles)

The Falls at Oyster River

The Oyster River Massacre happened on 18 July 1694 at Durham, New Hampshire, then part of the town of Dover.  There had been a period of peace with the native Abenaki tribes following the Cochecho Massacre and the Seige of Pemaquid, Maine in 1689.  The government at Boston entered a new trade negotiation with the Abenaki and the French wished to end this agreement.  They didn't want the Abenaki to ally with the English.  The New England settlement at Oyster River was attacked by about 250 Abenaki led by Claude-Sebastien de Villieu of Quebec.   About 100 inhabitants were killed and 27 taken captive to Canada.   Half the town was destroyed, along with crops and animals, which left the survivors destitute.   Five out of twelve garrisons were destroyed.  Many of the refugees fled to Massachusetts.  It was the worst massacre of King William's War. 

The settlement eventually rebuilt, and was protected by troops from Massachusetts.  By 1716 Oyster River Plantation was a separate parish of Dover, named after Durham in England.  The town of Durham was incorporated in 1735 and included parts of Dover, Madbury, Lee and Newmarket.  

Oyster River from the footbridge below the historic marker

I could not find a complete list of deaths or captured individuals from the Oyster River Massacre.  According to the New Hampshire Provincial and State Papers, Volume 2, pages 125 – 128, some of the surnames mentioned as killed were  Dean, Adams, Drew,  and Davis.   

List of some of the captured individuals of the massacre was found in the book New England Captives Carried to Canada, by Emma Lewis Coleman, pages 253-254 and the names include the following people:

Mercy Adams
Two daughters of John Davis
John Dean’s wife and child
Peter Denbow
John Derry
Deliverance Derry
John or Joseph Derry
Thomas Drew
Tamsen Drew
Thomas Edgerly, Sr.
Joseph Edgerly
A daughter and some children of Thomas Edgerly, Jr.
Judah (Davis) Emerson
Ann Jenkins and three children
Samuel Rand
Remembrance Rand
Mrs. Hannah Watson
Joseph Watson
Abigail Willey/Willis, daughter of William Pitman of Dover

There are many interesting stories from this event.  John Bickford (about 1625 - 1697) married my 8th great aunt, Temperance Hull, the daughter of Reverend Joseph Hull.  An unrelated man, Thomas Bickford, had a garrison house. I can only imagine that my great aunt and uncle Bickford were sheltering at this fortunate garrison because John Bickford did not die in this attack, but he died three years later in 1697.  According to The History of New Hampshire, by Jeremy Belknap, ed. John Farmer (Dover, N.H.: S.C. Stevens and Ela & Wadleigh, 1831):

"Thomas Bickford preserved his house (12.)  in a singular manner. It was situated near the river, and surrounded with a palisade. Being alarmed before the enemy had reached the house, he sent off his family in a boat, and then shutting his gate, betook himself alone to the defense of his fortress. Despising alike the promises and threats by which the Indians would have persuaded him to surrender, he kept up a constant fire at them, changing his dress as often as he could, shewing himself with a different cap, hat or coat, and sometimes without either, and giving directions aloud as if he had a number of men with him. Finding their attempt vain, the enemy withdrew, and left him sole master of the house, which he had defended with such admirable address."

Another great uncle was lucky.  Robert Burnham (about 1614 - 1691), my 9th great grand uncle, built a garrison house at Oyster River in 1654.  The Burnham Garrison was about a mile below Durnham Falls.  It sheltered the Burnham descendants and the Pitman family, and none were lost. Seven garrisons were defended: Burnham, Bickford, Smith, Bunker, Davis, Jones and Woodman.  Robert Burnham's daughter, Sarah was married to John Woodman (about 1634 - 1706), who also successfully defended the Woodman Garrison, the largest garrison in the Oyster River area.  

The state historical marker is on the south side of Route 4, just east of the intersection with Route 108, by the bridge over the falls at Oyster River.

On July 18, 1694, a force of about 
250 Indians under command of the
French soldier, de Villieu, attacked 
settlements in this area on both
sides of the Oyster River, killing
or capturing apporximately 100
settlers, destroying five garrison
houses and numerous dwellings. It
was the most devastating French and
Indian raid in New Hampshire during
King William's War.          1993

Oyster River Massacre links:

“The Great Massacre of 1694: Understanding the Destruction of Oyster River Plantation”, by Craig J. Brown, Historical New Hampshire, Volume 53 (1998), pages 68 – 89.

The URL for this post is
Copyright © 2015, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. I'm here in Durham and saw the sign "Oyster Bay Massacre" and decided to read about the event.
    It's appalling that the French would choose to slaughter livestock as a strategy, but that's just another case of the savagery displayed by conquerors during that era and later, intent on grabbing "strips" of territory on this rock called earth.

  2. my 10 tenth generation grandfather married Rev Joseph Hulls daughter. Dorothy his name was Oliver Kent . we are related!

  3. My great great grandparents were the Edgerlys descended from Thomas Edgerly. Very interesting to find this article, thank you!

  4. My grandfather fred h Jenkins owned the ..old mill at the falls

  5. My Great X6 Grandfather Huckins was working a field with 16 other men, when the attackers got between them and the block house. They killed them all, and then gave their word they wouldn’t hurt the women & children in the house, but they killed several and took the wife hostage. She was rescued from the tribal island in Augusta a couple of years later.

  6. My 6th time removed great grandmother was Mercy Adams

  7. In the Oyster River Massacre, my grandmother Judith (Davis ) Emerson was captured and held in captivity for 5 years. If she did not return , her son Solomon would not have been born , and I would not exist.
    Judith gave birth to 3 more children with Samuel Emerson