Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ware River's Menameset and Wheeler's Surprise

My goal today was twofold: first, I would visit the site of Wheeler's Surprise, an early battle in King Philip's War that occurred on August 2, 1675. Secondly I would paddle on the Ware River past 2 Nipmuck villages known as Menameset.
In July, 1675, Ephraim Curtis made 2 visits to the Nipmuck sachems at their island stronghold in the Quinebaug River in the days just before the Nipmuck entered the war.   A third mission was organized under the command of Captain Edward Hutchinson, and Ephraim Curtis was along as a guide.  They went to the island stronghold but found it vacant and received intelligence that the Nipmucks were now encamped at Menameset along the Ware River.  What they weren't aware of was the fact that the Nipmucks had already entered the war.
This marker erected in 1930 tells the basic story...
The marker is located at the intersection of Barre Rd. (Rt. 67) and D. Whitney Rd.  The location of the ambush has long been in question.  This article by Eric B. Schultz and Michael Tougias in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society, Volume 60 (2) 1999 presents the various theories and a map showing the pertinent locations.  I also found this Web site describing the first ever re-enactment of the battle and also showing the location where relics were found that more than likely confirm the locale as being Slein Road in New Braintree, MA.
So, after leaving the 1930 marker, I drove down Thompson Road in search of the original marker erected in 1906.  Soon, I was on Mckay Road and this ultimately became Slein Road.  On my left was a rocky hill and on my right was the Winimusset Valley.  It occurred to me that I might be driving very close to the very spot where the ambush occurred.  The 1907 marker was originally located near where Slein Road crossed Winimusset Brook, but due to floods in 1955 washing out the bridge, the marker was moved to West Street where I found it this morning...

With my first goal of the day accomplished, I next headed to a launch site where the Ware River passes under Wheelwright Rd. (Rt. 32) near Adams St. in the town of Barre.  Here, I launched into the river and began paddling downstream towards the Nipmuck villages that once comprised Menameset.  After passing through a brief sleet shower, I reached the site of the upper village which was located in an oxbow...



This village was the furthest from the Wheeler ambush site and the most secure, being surrounded by water on 3 sides.

The middle village was reached 2 miles further downriver near the portage trail around the Wheelwright Mill dam...
The wigwams may have been located on the elevated area beyond the trees.

The portage here is on the left side of the river, just before the dam...
There are no warning signs or floats alerting paddlers to the dam ahead.  I walked the short portage trail and took these photos showing the waterfall, abandoned mill, and view downriver...



About a mile below the dam is where the lower village was located and it was the one closest to where Wheeler was ambushed.  However, as my boat was laden with a good amount of trash, I elected not to do the portage and instead began my return trip upriver.

Wildlife seen on the river today were numerous wood ducks, a pair of hooded mergansers, a blue heron, red-winged blackbirds, and a mink.

The weather today was all over the place: a little rain, a little sun, sometimes cold, sometimes warm.  A classic spring day in New England.  The opening photo shows improving conditions towards the end of my trip.

Trash was plentiful mostly due to someone having allowed their household trash bags to end up in the river...
Combining the contents of 3 such bags with other flotsam resulted in this haul of 158 pieces...
There were 60 recyclable containers (12 redeemable) and 98 pieces of miscellaneous rubbish such as plastic bags, styrofoam, and a busted 5-gallon pail.  YTD = 1381


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