The First Frary to the Connecticut River Valley
of Western Massachusetts
Ens. ELEAZER FRARY born February 14,1640, Medfield, MA. Died December 19, 1709, Hatfield, MA
Much of the early Frary ancestry available gives us information on John and Prudence Frary’s arrival in the Massachusetts Bay Colony about 1637. They arrived with sons John, Theophilus, and Samson. Eleazer was born in 1640 after the family arrived in America. The family eventually moved from Dedham to Medfield where there was land available to farm. As custom, they lived in “town” more for protection from Indian attacks than for any other reason. The street named after John, Frairy Street, still exists and runs down from the Meetinghouse to the end where the Frary’s house stood. John and son, John Jr., farmed along the Stop River south of Medfield. A bridge over the Stop River, Frary’s Bridge, can still be found, even though the old wooden structure was torn down in the 1990’s and replaced with a new sturdy bridge of stone. You can find the bridge by following these directions: The bridge, new one, is on the Stop River, really a brook. Take 27 south from main street for 1.1 miles. Right, on South Street . Then .9 miles to Noon Hill Road (gravel). In the valley there are two bridges.
Little is known about Eleazer’s early childhood and life however records from Hatfield, in western Massachusetts indicate he had moved to Hadley, east of the Connecticut River about 1660. Hadley had been settled some years before mostly by farmers moving up the river valley from Hartford, Connecticut. Much of this information was extracted from A History of Hatfield, Massachusetts, in three Parts, Book 1. By Daniel White Wells and Reuben Field Wells. Published under the direction of F.C.H. Gibbons, Springfield, Mass 1910. (reprinted).
In 1661 a commission of residents of Hadley established plots of land granted to residents of Hadley on the western side of the River later to be known as Hatfield. It is speculated that residents of Hatfield broke away from Hadley for religious reasons and one can only assume that they got tired of crossing the Connecticut River in all kinds of weather to attend “meetings.” Numerous petitions were sent to the General Court in Boston about this controversy as quoted from Reuben Wells’ text,
“First, your petitioners, together with their families within the bounds of Hadley town, upon the west side of the river, commonly called by the name of Connecticut river, where we, for the most part, have lived about 6 years, have attended on God’s ordinances on the other side of the river, at the appointed seasons that we could or durst pass over the river, the passing being very difficult and dangerous, both in summer and winter, which thing hath proved and is an oppressive burden for us to bear, which, if by any lawful means it may be avoided, we should be glad and thankful to this honored court to ease us therein, conceiving it to be a palpable breach of the Sabbath, although it be a maxim in law, ‘ nemo debet esse judex in propria causa”, yet by the Word of God to us, it is evidently plain to be a breach of the Sabbath Ex. XXXV 2, Levit. XXIII 3, yet many times we are forced to it, for we must come at the instant of time, be the season how it will.
Sometimes we come in considerable numbers in rainy weather, and are forced to stay till we can empty our canoes, that are half full of water, and before we can get to the meetinghouse, are wet to the skin. At other times, in winter seasons, we are forced to cut and work them out of the ice, till our shurts (sic) be wet upon our backs. At other times, the winds are high and waters rough, the current strong and the waves ready to swallow us—our vessels tossed up and down so that our women and children do screech, and are so affrighted that they are made unfit for ordinances, and cannot hear so as to profit by them by reason of their anguish of spirit, and when they return some of them are more fit for their beds than for family duties and God’s services which they ought to attend”
According to town records, Eleazer Frary was one of the original residents granted land in Hatfield in 1661. He also had signed the above 1667 petition to the court to separate from Hadley on the east side of the river. It was the Hadley pastor, Rev, John Russell, who rejected the proposal by the west side residents by citing the 1660 covenant and felt “they had a clear call from God to be a society.” The General Court, however, stood by the Hatfield residents and allowed that if they procured an able minister and built its own meetinghouse, they would be freed from the maintenance of the minister on the east side. A committee was then appointed in 1668 to provide for the structure as well as support and boarding for their own minister. The new town was thus incorporated May 31, 1670.
Eleazer Frary’s plot, about 4 acres, was located in the center of town occupying the southwestern corner of the junction of Main Street and Mill Street, now known as School Street. The land was later the site of The Smith Academy and a western portion of the vacant land is now occupied by the fire station. Homes were not built on the plots east of Main Street, probably due to the fact that the Connecticut River flooded in the springtime often spoiling the fields east to the river. The river has changed course over the years and thus some land on one side or the other was lost. Mill Creek in town has probably not changed its course over the years, but many of the area swamps have been drained to make the fields usable. These areas were later to be granted as plots of land north and west of town. Eleazer and sons, Isaac, Samuel, Jonathan and Eleazer Jr. , had land grants west of Hatfield that were considerably larger than Eleazer’s original 4 acres in town.
According to Reuben Field Wells text on the History of Hatfield, the local Indians were friendly and freely traded with the English settlers. They were known just as River Indians but included several tribes who spent time fishing and hunting. North in the valley was the most warlike tribe, the Pocumtucks, who had their main fort on Fort Hill directly in front of present-day Deerfield. The Pocumtucks had been decimated by disease and war and almost eradicated in their war with the New York Mohawks in 1664.
Thus it was that the Pocumtuck Valley was abandoned in 1664, but within 6 or 7 years English had begun farming there. Soon the “Proprietors” of the town of Dedham, long searching for new lands to settle, began surveying 8,000 acres to divide into “cow commons” based on the value of an individual’s estate. Samson Frary was one of the Dedham Proprietors who obtained land in 1669. However, we know that two men had already been “ploughing land” at Pocumtuck, Samuel Hinsdale of Hadley and Samson Frary, and “Frary had a cellar there”. So, it is possible that Samson had moved to the valley before 1669 and had lived with his Brother, Eleazer in Hatfield. As Richard Melvoin indicates in his book New England Outpost, W. Norton & Company, NY, NY, 1989, Samson Frary and Samuel Hinsdale were among the first English to establish residence in Deerfield.
Indian wars against the English were rare following the Pequot was of 1637 which was a disaster for the native Americans. It was not until 1675 that a significant major conflict was mounted by many New England Indian tribes. It was King Philip’s War. As this conflict spread across Massachusetts, its leader, Massasoit’s second son, Philip, a warlike sachem named Metacom,, was able to incite tribes along the way. He had no problems arousing the Nipmucks in western Massachusetts who were responsible for most of the attacks on English along the Connecticut River valley. When it was all over, 4 English settlements were in ashes, Brookfield, Northfield, Swampfield and Deerfield. Deerfield had repelled the attacks but its houses, barns, livestock were all gone. Residents fled to the safety of Hatfield, Hadley and Northfield. Some never returned but headed elsewhere to settle.
Hatfield itself suffered several attacks as did Northfield and Hadley as the attacks spread down the Connecticut River Valley. Deerfield residents were further decimated by a surprise attack by several hundred Indians at Bloody Brook September 18, 1675. Over 60 were killed. Deerfield lost 14 of its residents including Samuel Hinsdale, Pocumtuck’s first resident, and one John Root, brother of Samson Frary’s son-in-law. The Pocumtuck valley once again was uninhabited.
King Philip continued his war across New England and spread into New York. Here it was not the English who stopped Philip but the Mohawks who attacked Philip’s forces camped for the winter east of Albany. Later, In the spring of 1676, Captain William Turner organized a band of 150 troops and attacked an Indian camp on May 18, 1676, at the great falls of the Connecticut River. Capt. Turner himself was killed as were 37 of his men, but the Indians lost over 200 and never again were able to mount an effective attack. King Philip’s war dwindled until late in 1676 when Philip himself was killed back in eastern Massachusetts and the uprising was finished. Hatfield, Hadley, and Northfield had also suffered greatly during King Philip’s War and had again become the new “frontier.” Life in Hatfield returned to ‘normal” for the next 10 years. Former residents of Deerfield who had survived slowly moved back to the Pocumtuck valley or elsewhere south along the Connecticut River.