The Groton Indian Raid of 1964 and Lydia Longley

Article excerpt

*(The story of Lydia Longley was first popularized by Helen A. McCarthy Sawyer of Groton, Massachusetts. Curiosity aroused this school teacher and history devotee when she became puzzled to read in Samuel Green's local history that the Indian captive Lydia had been "placed" in a Canadian convent. As a result of meticulous research, Mrs. Sawyer privately published a charming, illustrated children's account in 1958 called Lydia Longley: The First American Nun (190 pages). The success of this monograph justified a reprint in 1983. I am grateful to the author for having introduced me in the 1970s to this fascinating story. According to a Montreal professor, William A. Styles in The Sign of November, 1936, the first nun of birth in the future United States was captive Mary Anne Davis, who became an Ursuline. The author gives no date of profession to back his claim, while the reliable Emma Lewis Coleman, New England Captives Carried to Canada 1677-1760 (Portland, Maine: 1925), 2 vols., records 1701 as the year of the Davis profession of vows.)

A little over 300 years ago, shrieking war cries and flying tomahawks shattered the summer calm in a frontier town of the Massachusetts Province. At the time, France was still ruling Canada prior to 1763 as French Catholics and English Protestants contended in a bitter struggle over the northeastern corner of the future United States. The 1694 Indian raid on the village of Groton numbered among its victims the Longley household, thereby forever altering the survivors' fate.

The King Philip's War of 1675-1676 had crippled Indian power in the Northeast. In terms of revisionist historian James D. Drake, this "civil war" uprooted the incipient "covalent society" of English settlers and aborigines.' Yet the struggle further ignited a series of shorter violent episodes called King William's War of 1690-1699 that included the Groton assault. Writing eight decades later, one author observed that "... the people were yet contending with the natives for possession of the soil, and the ground was wet with blood of the slain, and the war cry was ringing in the forests of Maine..." whence the Groton assailants were to originate.2

The first settlers of 1655 erected frame houses with thatched roofs, as well as several garrisons to house a few soldiers and to serve as shelter in case of Indian attack. A stockade provided protection for both people and animals. The fertile fields, sparkling rivers and game-rich woods furnished a bountiful supply of food. In no time, these pioneers were planting and harvesting "Indian corn," barley, oats, potatoes, rye, and growing abundant meadows for hay.3

Lydia Longley's grandfather, William Longley,4 with his wife and children, had come by wagon to Groton in 1663 from the ocean shores of Lynn where he had held a variety of public offices. He quickly established himself on a farm purchased on June 17, using money from the sale of property in Lynn.

The hardy Longleys engaged in a challenging life, unmolested by Indians until the widespread violence of King Philip's War. By February of 1676 marauders braved the winter snows to strike more frontier towns, repeating a raid on nearby Lancaster that netted among its captives the celebrated Mary Rowlandson. Soon Groton suffered a pair of attacks on March 2 and March 13, as survivors fled for their lives to safer frontier villages. Among the refugees were the Longleys who escaped to Charlestown on the Atlantic coast.5

Still, fear proved no deterrent for repatriation. Within a year, the returning Longleys joined their resilient colleagues, rebuilding Groton. In the restored village, Lydia's father, also William, married a woman named Lydia on May 5, 1672. The bride, whose maiden surname is unknown, died early in the marriage, survived by a daughter, also Lydia, who is the focus of this study.

Typical of those days, the Longleys were a large family. On the eve of the 1694 disaster, the Longley household consisted of the father, William, stepmother Deliverance, twenty-year old Lydia, twelve-year-old John, an infant Betty, and five other children whose names are not known. …