Deception at Cochecho Falls


This past Monday after a pleasant and tide-assisted paddle up the Cochecho River, I found myself nearing the end of tidewater in Dover, NH.  Expecting a waterfall I became a little concerned upon seeing only a huge brick building on my left and a wall of solid rock on my right...

However, entering a portico on my left brought me under the brick building to where the falls and fish ladder came into view...
 ...paddling a little further revealed more of the fall's majesty...

A good bit of water has flowed over the falls since the arrival of Europeans in the 1600s.  However, it was not far from this spot that one of the most unusual and disturbing events of King Philip's War occurred some 350 years ago.  On a September day in 1676 gathered on a field near the falls were approximately 400 Native Americans (many being women and children) and approximately 200 English soldiers.  Historical accounts are all over the place in describing the events that unfolded there.  Most agree on when it happened, where it happened, and who the participants were. But as to the what and why there's little agreement.

In September 1676 King Philip's War was winding down.  Metacom, the Wampanoag leader also known as King Philip, had been killed in August.  By September his severed head sat atop a pole in Plymouth, MA.  Native Americans from various tribes who'd fought on his side were left with few options.  They could try finding refuge to the west in New York or head north into Canada ...or they could hope for amnesty which would allow for their remaining in their ancestral homeland.  One Native American leader who had somehow managed to stay neutral throughout the conflict was Wonalancet, sachem of the Pennacooks.  In fact Wonalancet had signed a treaty with the English at or near the same field in July.  Perhaps, as a result of this, many who had fought for Metacom sought refuge under Wonalancet's authority.

Meanwhile, the man Wonalancet had signed the treaty with, Major Richard Walderne who operated a trading post near the Cochecho Falls, was present to receive Wonalancet and his people as his invited guests.  Unknown to Wonalancet was the fact that a force of soldiers from the Massachusetts colony would soon arrive on the scene.  This force was under the command of William Hathorne and Joseph Sill.

It was the arrival of the unexpected soldiers that set in motion shenanigans that any honorable person would have difficulty justifying.  The Native Americans were invited to participate in a mock battle which has been referred to variously as a "sham battle", a "contrivance", or a "surprise".  They were provided weapons loaded with one round and urged to fire into the air.  After doing as instructed the Native Americans found themselves surrounded and defenseless.  Shortly they became prisoners and subsequently found themselves being loaded onto ships for transport to Boston.  For some 200 of them their days of freedom had come to an end.  Once in Boston eight were found to have committed murderous acts and were executed.  The remainder were sold into slavery and shipped to far-off islands in the Atlantic.  Anglo historians tell us the "Cochecho Surprise" was a clever ruse and saved lives.  History also shows the Native Americans saw it as an act of treachery especially on the part of Major Walderne, and some 12 years later Wonalancet's nephew Kancamagus paid Mr. Walderne a visit and settled the score, so to speak.  Details of that event can be found here.

My plan was to land near Cochecho Falls and walk around a bit.  While finding a landing spot near the falls was not possible, paddling downriver a bit brought me to a unique dock specifically designed to accommodate paddlecraft...

Walking around the scenic Henry Law Park I tried to imagine the area as it might have looked in 1676.

Returning to my boat I paddled downriver with the now outgoing tide and thought of those captive Native Americans and what must have been going through their minds as they passed through the Lower Narrows...

Along the way I saw these three white-tailed deer enjoying an afternoon of freedom in a beautiful riverside meadow...

At the mouth of the Cochecho where it joins with the Salmon Falls river two wild and free eagles watched over the confluence...

At this point the prisoners aboard the ship would have seen a widening Piscataqua River before them...
...which would soon take them past Portsmouth to the sea and eventually Boston Harbor.


While paddling earlier on the Salmon Falls River I encountered this swimming squirrel...
...who'd managed to swim all the way across the river.  Hope he found happiness and continued freedom on the other side.  Oddly it was the second swimming squirrel I'd encountered in a week.  Squirrels are on the move everywhere these days!

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