Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Case of the Barking Dog that Saved the Garrison

My ancestor - awoken by the dog to save the garrison
For many years the settlers of Cocheco (present-day Dover, NH in the Dover Neck area) enjoyed a peaceful co-existence with the local Native Americans, the Penacook tribe. The Cocheco community was led by Richard Walderne (Waldron), who built a sawmill and later opened a trading post. Over the years there were a few minor problems, as when Walderne was charged with selling liquor to the Indians despite laws forbidding such sales. However, overall the two groups had peaceful interactions with each other. 

During King Philip's War, many Indians fled the fighting in Massachusetts and ended up in New Hampshire, living among the Penacooks. Massachusetts sent troops to round up the fleeing Indians and fearing a battle that would end the peace in Cocheco, Major Walderne arranged a trick to separate the Massachusetts Indians from the locals. The Massachusetts Indians were sent back to Boston for punishment - some were hanged and others were sold into slavery. 

Needless to say, this did not sit well with the Penacooks and the bitterness from this incident and the pressures of the colonists on Indian land kept building during the next decade. To guard the safety of the colonists, every neighborhood built a fortified blockhouse where people could go in case of attack. On the north side of the river, there were three garrisons - the homes of Richard Walderne, Richard Otis and Elizabeth Heard and on the south side the homes of Peter Coffin and his son, Tristram. These garrisons had foot-thick squared logs that bullets could not penetrate and a second story that extended over the first floor by two to three feet. In the overhang, a loose board could be pulled up so boiling water could be poured on attackers and fires could be fought as well. For additional protection, each garrison was surrounded by an 8 foot palisade. Settlers would spend each night within the protection of the garrison and kept their guns nearby during the day. 

It is now 1689... Walderne was cocky and sure they could repulse any attack. He ignored warnings and a letter from Governor Bradford giving him more specific information arrived the day after the massacre. (Maybe that's why a postal system was important enough to be provided for in the Constitution.) When several Indian women asked to spend the night in each of the garrisons, no one thought too much of it since it was a common occurrence. The settlers felt safe enough to go without a night guard and in the wee hours the women opened the gates and let in several hundred Penacooks. 

The Penacooks had special animosity towards Mr. Walderne and he suffered greatly. His ears and nose were cut off and stuck in his mouth and he was forced to fall upon his own sword. The garrison was burned to the ground and the rest of the family was taken captive. The Otis garrison fell and Otis and two of his children were killed. This garrison was also burned and his remaining family taken to Canada. 

At the Heard garrison, Elder William Wentworth was in charge since Elizabeth Heard was away. He was awakened by a barking dog and managed to close the gates and fend off the attack. The Wentworth Geneaology paints a vivid picture of this 73 year old man's heroism; "Elder Wentworth was awakened by the barking of a dog. Suspicious, he hastened to the door and found the Indians entering. Alone, and seventy-three years of age, he pushed them out, shut the door and falling on his back held it until the inmates came to his assistance. While he was lying in this position, two bullets passed through the door and over him. It was the only garrison saved. Twenty-three persons were killed and twenty-nine carried away captive."  
Signature 1654

Signature 1696

It's a colorful story, if a bit incredulous and possibly embellished by time. Evidently the settlers neglected to make the door as thick as the walls - since the walls were supposed to stop bullets from penetrating the structure. But since Elder William Wentworth is my ancestor, I am going to believe it (well mostly). It's like when someone can lift a car to save the person trapped beneath it, right? 

William Wentworth & Elizabeth
Ezekiel Wentworth & Elizabeth Knight
Tamsen Wentworth & Hezekiah Hayes
William Hayes & Olive
Isaac Hayes & Alice Garland
Richard Hayes & Rebecca
Sydney Hayes & Aphia Delphinia Cole
George H. Hayes & Anna J. Rowe
Eva Delphinia Hayes & Estes G. Yates
Linona Alice Yates - my grandmother

Sources for info and images:
The Wentworth Genealogy: English and American by John Wentworth. 1878. Accessed on openlibrary.org. 2012


  1. Great post, Pam! And the Peter Coffin and Tristram Coffin you mention were my ancestors.

  2. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.