Thursday, February 25, 2021

Chillin' on the Assabet

 

Lucky was this paddler yesterday in being able to ascend Fort Meadow Brook a bit from the Assabet River.  Plentiful sunshine had temperatures approaching 50 degrees F.  Upon reaching the old railroad trestle that spans the brook it became necessary to work out a mutual non-aggression pact with this pair of mute swans...


Back on the Assabet River remaining ice sheets became places for various critters to chill away the day:

A swan and Canada geese...

...some mergansers...

...and this brave musquash...


Hopefully, they were all wary of this guy's presence...


I'll be keeping an eye on this nest to see if a pair of eagles might put it to use...


Near Crow Island's downstream end the ice became thicker and persuaded me to head back upriver...


Only a tiny uptick in trash...



Monday, February 22, 2021

Sudbury River Quietly Sleeps

 

Yesterday's bright sunshine possibly interacted with an icicle in creating a 'little dipper' effect to the right of my boat's bow on the Sudbury River in Concord, MA.  It truly was a sparkling day.

The nearby boat livery, the South Bridge Boathouse, looked fast asleep...


The railroad bridge carrying the tracks of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) also stood silent as it has been for the last 5 weekends due to COVID related cutbacks in service...


In fact, effective March 2, the MBTA will cease running all trains (weekend and weekday) on this section of the line until May 1.  Shuttle buses will be used to transport people between Littleton/495 and Alewife.  During the shutdown period a new system for controlling trains, Positive Train Control (PTC), will be installed.  Being aware of this upcoming cessation of service and being a life-long railfan, I paid closer attention to the passing trains while out hiking last week.  So before these trains disappear for the remainder of the winter I photographed two which were running right on schedule:

Inbound Train 1404 began its descent of the grade leading to the Assabet and Sudbury rivers...
...

Outbound Train 1405 climbed the same grade as it left the Assabet behind...

...and headed further westward...

Hopefully, the snow will be long gone when service resumes in May.

Meanwhile, back on the river, the inscription at Egg Rock was fully in view...

...thanks to most of our recent precipitation being in the form of snow.

Bluebirds and robins were the theme yesterday, particularly on the lower Assabet.  

One of many bluebirds seen flitting about...


...and this robin seemed to be walking on water...


Trash, like paddling opportunities this month, was few and far between...

Before getting out on the river I'd read an uplifting article in Sunday's Boston Globe: "Federal Government Drops Legal Battle Over Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's Reservation Status."  In the unattributed article (at least on my Kindle version) Congressman Bill Keating is quoted as follows: "The claim that the Tribe of the First Light, the Tribe of the First Thanksgiving was not an original Native American Tribe has always been disingenuous.  And the Trump administration's attempt to remove their land from trust last March - in the midst of a pandemic - was heartless."
   
As I understand it the basis for denying the Tribe's legitimacy in the first place was a U.S. Supreme Court ruling which claimed that because the Wampanoag Tribe wasn't specifically recognized by the federal government in 1934 they didn't qualify...even though the Wampanoag Tribe had been in existence long before the Mayflower made landfall!     




Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Assabet's Promised Water

 

Being locked in winter's grip of late, my boat and paddle sit high and dry gathering dust.  Still wanting to get outside, and given our generous snow cover, I thought of my snowshoes and reached into my gear closet's back corner (where this 'winter-hater' generally prefers they stay). I also found my gaiters and trekking poles and thus equipped headed out into the woods near my home.  The simple satisfaction of being the first to break a trail through the snow-covered ground was mine to be had.  This newly broken trail brought me alongside one of the Assabet River's tributaries, Fort Pond Brook (above photo), and standing there in the silence of the woods I pondered how the water cycle was in a prolonged pause of sorts.  A good portion of the very snow I stood in will ultimately melt, enter this brook, and flow the few miles to the Assabet River.  There with a little luck and some good timing I'll enjoy dipping my paddle blades into the very same molecules of water.

Then silence was broken with the raucous sounds of a male pileated woodpecker...

...who for the next 20 minutes made his presence known.

Conversely, a red-bellied woodpecker quietly went about its business...


Saw lots of tracks in the snow...mostly deer...

...and rabbits and maybe a fox.  However, this guy seemed a little out of place...
Perhaps his being out and about says more about the arrival of spring than whatever mister groundhog had to say.

Either way it's good to know that meteorological spring is only 13 days from now...and at worse only 33 days until the 'traditional spring' our calendars speak of.

Recently (Feb. 9th) I read a tragic story in the Boston Globe written by David Abel.  It concerned a member of the litter-picker upper community, Jack Coughlin, who lives in the Connecticut River town of Agawam, MA and who has worked for many decades in cleaning up our environment.  He has also advocated for expanding the Massachusetts 'Bottle Bill' to include placing a deposit on carbonated beverage containers and those nasty little 'nip bottles' (a noble cause if ever there was one).  Unfortunately, tragedy recently befell Mr. Coughlin when he was struck by a car and seriously injured.  His family has a GoFundMe page for those who wish to help provide for his care.  It can be found at this link or by simply Googling his name and town.   Many are hoping for his recovery.

  




Sunday, February 7, 2021

Respite from Winter

 

Nathaniel Hawthorne in his short story The Old Manse described the bottom mile or so of the Assabet River in Concord as follows: "It is sheltered from the breeze by woods and a hillside; so that elsewhere there might be a hurricane, and here scarcely a ripple across the shady water."  While there wasn't a hurricane yesterday afternoon, there was a stiff 20 mph breeze out of the west/southwest which occasionally blustered to 30 mph.  Without the shelter Nashawtuc Hill provided the wind-chill factor would have spoiled the 42 degrees F. of relatively warm temperature. 

So protected, I worked my way upriver passing the snow-covered Egg Rock Inscription...


   ...and further along found Dove Rock looking sofa-like...

At my turnaround point, while taking a break, a winter stonefly paid me a visit...


Then it was back downriver under sunny skies...


A brief venture was made beyond Nashawtuc Hill's protection from the wind down to the Old North Bridge...


...with a nod to the Minuteman statue...


A quick retreat to Egg Rock...

Very little trash...



It was good to get out on the water again, especially with more snow and cold in the forecast.

For some reason the Blood, Sweat, and Tears song "Sometimes in Winter" came to mind.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Conflicting Markers...Fight or Massacre?

 

The two above pictured historical markers commemorate the approximate location where Captain William Turner was mortally wounded on May 19, 1676 alongside the Green River in Greenfield, Massachusetts.  The bronze plaque embedded in a boulder was dedicated with great fanfare back in 1905 and refers to a retreat after the "Falls Fight"...

...whereas the adjacent and more recent marker refers to a retreat after a "massacre" of Indians fishing at the falls...
So which was it?  I believe the consensus among modern-day historians is that what took place at Turner's Falls was more a massacre and less a fight.  The raid involved soldiers at daybreak shooting into wigwams in which mostly women, children, and old men were sleeping. To this day there is debate as to whether or not the impressive falls and village adjacent to the falls should be named in Capt. Turner's honor.  I first encountered the above two markers last spring when camping and paddling in the Montague/Greenfield area, and have been mulling over the divergent accounts ever since.  This past fall I returned to the site to photograph the markers where they still stand side by side.  

Later, while looking for more information, I came across a 2016 article in a Greenfield newspaper in which a local historian made the following rather declarative statement: "...Turner's raid was sanctioned by the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  I say again: sanctioned by the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  With its blessing, the encounter at Riverside now resides in the annals of New England and Indian history."  After reading such a strong statement which didn't cite any specific evidence I set about trying to find out whether or not the Massachusetts Bay Colony had actually sanctioned or blessed the raid. It was something I hadn't previously given much thought to.  I suspected if such evidence existed it would be easy to find...it wasn't.  My search, however, would ultimately bring me to Hadley Common on a recent January afternoon where it's said the planning for the fateful raid almost certainly took place.  I also learned of  Hadley's "regicide" story and the possibility that one of the regicides may have played a behind the scenes role in advising Capt. Turner.

Historical sources I turned to included: Soldiers in King Philip's War by George M. Bodge 1891; History and Proceedings of the Pocumtuck Valley Association Vols. IV and V. (addresses by George Sheldon in 1900 and 1905); History of Hadley by Sylvester Judd 1863; National Park Service Technical Report 1676 Battle of Great Falls/Wissantinnewag-Peskeompscut Site Identification and Evaluation Project Phase II by Kevin McBride, David Naumec, Ashley Bissonette, Noah Fellman 2020; UMass Amherst Hadley West Street Common and Great Meadow: a cultural landscape study by Patricia Laurice Ellsworth 2007; and British Civil War Project BCW-project.org .

Initially I learned more about the man, Captain William Turner, including the fact that he was described as being a "tailor by trade, and he plied that vocation in Boston during these years, 1664 -75".  He was long persecuted by the Massachusetts General Court for his Baptist religious beliefs and had suffered periods of banishment and imprisonment.  His earlier offers to serve the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the conflict known as King Philip's War were rejected.  However, at a time in early 1676 when the war wasn't going well for the colony, he was offered a military commission provided he recruit his own men.  Despite the recent decline in his health from being imprisoned he reluctantly accepted and assembled a troop of men.   By March 1676 Captain Turner and his troop of 78 men had joined with a much larger force commanded by Major Thomas Savage in protecting the remote Connecticut River towns of Northampton, Hadley, and Hatfield some 85 miles west of Boston.  On March 15th this force successfully repelled attacks by Native Americans at Northampton and Hatfield.  However, when the threat of Native American attacks much closer to Boston became imminent, the Massachusetts Bay Colony's governor and council ordered on April 1 that Major Savage and most of the army leave the Connecticut River towns and head eastward.  They further instructed Major Savage "Wee are willing for the present that you leave...not exceeding 150 men, all single men, leaving Capt. Turner in Capt. Poole's place."  Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association president and noted historian of the area, George Sheldon, in a 1900 PVMA field day address said "Turner had been ordered to act strictly on the defensive, that possibly some of the towns might be saved, ..."   George Bodge in his book Soldiers of the King Philip's War further describes Capt. Turner as having been "left with mostly single men, and very largely boys and servants, or apprentices.  These troops were designed for the defence of the towns, and were for garrison duty only.  Hadley was made headquarters, and a garrison of fifty-one men was detailed there.  Forty-five were stationed at Hatfield, nine were sent to Springfield, and forty-six at Northampton."  

So Capt. Turner found himself headquartered in the small frontier town of Hadley situated on a neck of land where the Connecticut River takes a sharp westward swing before returning to its southward heading...
The above 1895 map still shows the basic outline of Hadley' palisaded common and where the town's Puritan minister Rev. John Russell Jr.'s house was located.  Sylvester Judd's book History of Hadley notes that "During the war, the head-quarters were at the house of Rev. John Russell, and he entertained the principal officers..."

This image on a bronze plaque in the town's common depicts how the town may have looked in 1676...
I believe the view depicted is looking to the south with woods to the east (left) and planting grounds to the west (right).

Performing garrison-duty in those days probably meant soldiers being lodged in the homes of  townspeople, perhaps on a rotating basis.  Over the course of his 6 weeks headquartered in Hadley Turner wrote a letter to the governor and council on April 25 (less than a month before his death) asking  "And I should be glad if there might be some fitter person found for this employment: for I much doubt my weaknes of body and my often infirmities will hardly Sufer mee to doe my duty as I ought in this employment:"  (Hardly sounds to me like a guy chomping at the bit for battle).
Around this same time Turner's wife, Mary, also wrote the council stating: "That whereas your poor petitioners husband Voluntarily & frely offered him selfe unto & now Is in your Service far from his home together with his son & servants leaving onely one servant with me which God by his Providence hath bereaved me off soe that I Am at present wholy Almost left destitute of maintenance for myselfe which calls uppon me to crave of your honours Consideration of my present Condition."  

During this same time period Turner was counseling with, or perhaps more likely being counseled by, Reverend John Russell of Hadley.  Mr. Russell was also in communication with the Connecticut War Council downriver in Hartford. He had been informed by that body that peace negotiations with the Native Americans were in progress, and that no offensive measures should be taken as the lives of hostages might be in peril.  On April 29th a letter was sent to the General Court of Massachusetts Bay mentioning: "...The enemy is now come so near to us, that we count we might go forth in the evening, and come upon them in the darkness of the same night...It is the generall Voyce of the people here y now is the time to distress the enemy;..." This letter is signed by Rev. Russell first and Turner second, as well as the signatures of six others. It's the first time the basic plan for the overnight raid is mentioned.  A final pre-raid letter is sent to the Connecticut  council on May 15th stating in fait accompli fashion: "This being the state of things, we think the Lord calls us to make some trial what may be done against them suddenly without further delay; and therefore the concurring resolution of men here seems to be to go out against them tomorrow night, so as to be with them, the Lord assisting, before break of day."  This last letter is signed by only Rev. Russell with Turner and two others signing an addendum to the letter.  This evolution of events seems to indicate Rev. Russell was taking more and more of a leadership role in the decision-making process.  

Unbeknown to Capt. Turner was the fact that Rev. Russell was keeping a very big secret: The Puritan pastor of this small frontier town had been providing sanctuary within his home to two of the most wanted men in all of the British Empire for a dozen or more years.   They were English Puritans and Parliamentarians Major General William Goffe, and his father-in-law, Major General Edward Whalley.  Both men had fought with Oliver Cromwell and company during the English Civil Wars. Both had also led men into combat at the battlefields of Dunbar and Worcester which involved tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides.  After Cromwell's victory in the first Civil War, Goffe and Whalley served as judges in the trial of King Charles I (namesake of our Charles River) and along with 57 other men signed the King's death warrant in 1649.  This resulted in the king's head being separated from his body.   After Oliver Cromwell's death in 1658 came the Restoration and the executed king's son, Charles II, took the throne in 1660.   Goffe, Whalley, and the other surviving signers of his father's death warrant were considered "regicides" or "king killers" and became wanted men with a reward of 100 pounds on their heads. They fled to New England where they enjoyed continued freedom for a brief period.  Eventually though they were forced into hiding to avoid capture and ultimately sought refuge in Hadley. While Whalley is thought to have died in the fall of 1675, Goffe is said to have remained in Hadley through the first half of 1676.  If so, when the occasion arose where Goffe's military expertise might be helpful, doesn't it seem reasonable that his host Rev. Russell might have consulted him?  Sure seems logical to me.  It also seems logical to me that Capt. Turner may have deferred to men seeming to have more military experience and enthusiasm than himself.  George Sheldon in his 1905 address at the Capt. Turner marker dedication said: "Captain Turner with his scattered command was also waiting and watching the turn of events.  At his right hand stood Parson John Russell who had for years carried his life in his hands while sheltering the proscribed judges.  Back of Russell, was available the judgment of one who had led his charging squadrons in the eyes of the world on the fields of Naseby, Dunbar and Worcester (English Civil War battlefields).  The first time I came across these remarks by Sheldon I had no idea who he was referring to in regards to "proscribed judges".  However, I later came across an earlier 1900 address by Sheldon in which he said:  "He (Turner) now took counsel of his own judgment and being backed by sturdy John Russell and perhaps - who knows - by Gen. Goffe himself, certainly by the elders and chief men he took the responsibility of disobeying orders."  This was when I realized that in both addresses Sheldon was referring to the regicide Maj. Gen. Goffe and acknowledging the role Russell, and possibly Goffe, played in planning the raid.  He also mentions Capt. Turner having disobeyed the orders given to him by the General Court of Massachusetts Bay...to remain on the east side of the Connecticut River in defensive mode only.  

Prior to reading the regicide story I hadn't realized the lengths to which Puritan clerics in Massachusetts and Connecticut went to in protecting the regicides.  Had the regicides or those harboring them been caught, they would have suffered the same fate as William Wallace in the movie Braveheart...hanged, but cut down before death, then disemboweled, drawn, and quartered.

There's a legend in Hadley known as "The Angel of Hadley" in which during an attack on the town by Native Americans, an elderly gentleman appears and comes to the rescue of the town.  After helping to save the day, he disappears without a trace.  The details don't seem to agree with any actual facts and it remains an unproved legend. However, Sylvester Judd in his History of Hadley offers one of the most plausible versions of how the legend may have come about: "...while the people were all gone to meeting, the solitary captive (regicide) would feel a degree of security in sitting at his window, which at that season might be open.  there descrying the approach of the skulking savages, who would not suppose an observation from this elevated post, and who probably thought every man to be inside the meeting house, Goffe would, we may imagine, apprize the congregation at once of their danger, and then throw himself in with the men as they rushed out from their interrupted devotions.  Everything in this theory is consistent and probable."  

Last week I journeyed to Hadley Common to visit the spot where Capt. Turner, Rev. Russell, and perhaps others hatched their fateful plan.  This marker stands near to where the home of Rev. Russell stood...

Another nearby marker from the Massachusetts Bay Colony tercentenary notes the presence in town of regicides Whalley and Goffe...
The regicides living concealed for fifteen long years sure makes our present COVID restrictions seem like a walk in the park!

This bronze plaque attempts to show how the town of Hadley may have looked with palisade walls...

Today's busy Route 9 is named Russell Street and two streets just to the east are named Whalley and Goffe streets.

In conclusion I couldn't find any evidence of the Massachusetts Bay Colony having sanctioned or blessed Capt. Turner's raid on the fishing encampment at the Great Falls.  The unsanctioned raid did, however, break the back of the Native American insurgency and for them marked the beginning of the war's most horrific period resulting in many being killed, sold into slavery, or exiled from their homeland.  Historians such as Sheldon and Judd chose to view Turner's actions as heroic and Sheldon specifically said: "His bold action saved the towns and practically closed the war in the Connecticut valley."...or, in the way I read it, 'the end justified the means'.  However, I cannot help but wonder what thoughts ran through Capt. Turner's mind as he lay there dying on the riverbank.  His decision had resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Native Americans (most of them women, children, and old men) as well as some 38 of his own soldiers. What he had seen and done that day must have given him pause.  Another man who'd served as chaplain on the mission, Hope Atherton, disappeared at some point and was assumed dead.  Five days after the raid he walked into Hadley with a rambling account of his wanderings.  It's said that he was never 'right in the head' again and died the following year while still a young man. 

If the raid hadn't happened, and peace negotiations been allowed to develop further, how might things have gone?  Might a Native American homeland been established somewhere in the central or western part of Massachusetts and Connecticut?  Could such a solution have succeeded?  We'll never know.  

While learning more about the legendary regicides in Hadley, I came across mention of another regicide legend much closer to home. Less than five miles from where I live is the oldest cemetery in the town of Stow, MA.  In the cemetery is this large granite slab said to have been placed atop a man's grave...

This Stow local legend tells that an elderly man going by the name John Green arrived in town one day and quietly lived out his remaining years there.  Shortly before his death he told friends he had reason to believe his remains would be tampered with and requested a large slab be laid above his unmarked grave in hopes it would discourage such tampering.  Though the legend claims this man was the regicide Maj. Gen. William Goff, there isn't enough accurate evidence to establish that the man buried in such fashion was in fact Goffe or even a regicide.  Nevertheless, it's certainly a strange request for anyone to have made in 1688 or at any time for that matter. 

Last Friday, both of the regicide legends were on my mind while out upon the Assabet River in Stow...
...the town's Lower Village Cemetery lies about 2 miles beyond my boat's bow.

Leaving the Assabet River, a short paddle up Fort Meadow Brook brought me to the old Central Massachusetts Railroad trestle where these steel rails once ran continuously to and across the Hadley Common situated some 75 miles to the west...

Long before the regicides and now many lifetimes later the waters of Fort Meadow Brook still find their way into the Assabet River as they will for eternity...

A little trash brought me back to our present days of floating birthday balloons, the novelty of leaf-covered ground in mid January...
...and a welcome cup of hot cocoa.



 




Thursday, January 14, 2021

Seeking Solace On the Sudbury

 

The placid waters of the Sudbury River in Wayland MA seemed a good place for getting my mind off all the past week's disturbing news and images, while at the same time trying to process it all...a contradiction...I know.

Anyhow, I soon encountered this unfortunate carp-on-ice...

...and began looking around for the usual suspects.  Just a little more than half a mile away I came upon the likely culprit sitting on a pile of what he might call his toothpicks...

...

Further upriver, the still high water levels allowed access to Heard Pond.  The pond, however, was found to be iced over...

On a spit of land between the river and the pond these remains of an earlier habitation were found:
Perhaps an in-ground fridge...

A space-saving corner sink...

A small skull with a good set of teeth...


That day's trash...

And a bit from the Assabet in Concord last Sunday...

 
May our U.S. Constitution continue to serve as our steadfast compass.