Associated with ancient bloodshed and modern fender-benders, a familiar site in South Deerfield has a deep history that reveals a forgotten footpath fork, with a long-ago abandoned leg leading straight to the southern base of Mount Sugarloaf and beyond.
We’re talking about South Deerfield’s famous Bloody Brook Corner, a sharp curve on North Main Street passing the Bloody Brook Monument, commemorating the infamous Sept. 19, 1675, King Philip’s War ambush where Capt. Thomas Lathrop and 75 colonial soldiers and militia met their doom. Back then, both forks led to the nascent Hatfield village by roughly parallel routes at slightly different elevations.
The discovery of this forgotten fork in the road at a historical landmark came to light in the mid-19th century journals of Deerfield surveyor/mapmaker/historian Epaphras Hoyt, author of “Antiquarian Researches: Comprising a History of the Indian Wars in the Country Bordering Connecticut River and Parts Adjacent,” published in 1824. Born in Deerfield, Hoyt (1765-1850) began keeping a journal late in life. These journals were handed down privately among extended Hoyt family members for 165 years before they were assembled and sold at auction for more than $30,000 to Historic Deerfield in December 2015. Now available to researchers, these important papers provide an invaluable peek into upper Pioneer Valley history, and especially into the settlement of Bloody Brook, which became South Deerfield. So, of course, this fresh information about my hometown was of great interest to me personally.
I grew up in a house overlooking Bloody Brook Corner and could see the obelisk monument across the street through the posts at the foot of my bed. Maybe there’s a curse on that site, because I was awakened from many a sound sleep by loud nighttime car crashes. As a boy, I explored the meadows, hillside pastures and North Sugarloaf ridgeline across the street without ever getting so much as a faint whiff of an ancient fork in the road there. Centuries of tillage have likely erased any trace of that ancient path, although it’s not impossible that random pieces remain on farm roads between the monument and the youth baseball diamond a mile away at the southwestern foot of Sugarloaf.
My late father, a South Deerfield native with roots reaching to the very beginning of the village, was surprised to hear of the old fork in front of his house. A veteran land surveyor, he knew that the line dividing the eastern and western lots drawn by Deerfield’s earliest proprietors was the road leading from Old Deerfield to the Whately line — passing through The Bars to Mill Village Road, across Routes 5 & 10 to South Deerfield, and down Main Street to the Whately line at Brookside Cemetery. But he had no clue that what’s known as the Pocumtuck Path had originally forked into two trails at Bloody Brook Corner.
Now, thanks to Epaphras Hoyt’s resurrected journals and tireless research by retired historian Peter A. Thomas, we have a much clearer picture of the indigenous trail system between Hatfield, Deerfield and beyond. Thomas photographed and transcribed journal excerpts related to King Philip’s War and Bloody Brook before diligently searching for related papers in the dusty Historic Deerfield and PVMA archives. Despite his yeoman efforts, a couple of questions linger that may never be answered:
1.) What route did the Lathrop and his troops take from Hatfield to Deerfield to salvage winter grain before imminent Indian warfare swept the valley?
2.) What was their intended route back to garrisoned Hatfield with cartsful of grain when ambushed crossing Bloody Brook approaching the fork in the road?
Because the left fork to Sugarloaf appears to have been discontinued by the third quarter of the 18th century and was forgotten until very recently, and because the right fork became a county road and is still a heavily traveled secondary road, most historians settled on the latter as the most likely route Capt. Lathrop and his Flower of Essex troopers took that dreadful day.
However, documentary evidence in 1672 Indian deeds for Hatfield and Deerfield establish the presence of a commonly used trail crossing Sugarloaf Brook at a marked tree in the general vicinity of today’s Hagar Cross Road in South Deerfield. Likewise, the road following the river from Hatfield to Deerfield shows up on a primitive 1709 map. Also, on an August 1716 trip to the Connecticut Valley recorded in Judge Samuel Sewell’s diary, the Salem Witch Trials jurist stayed overnight in Hatfield with Col. Partridge before guide Samuel Childs of Deerfield toured him past Sugarloaf to view the Bloody Brook battleground and gravesite. Sewell’s written description strongly suggests that the route taken was the river road. Then again, Sugarloaf is on prominent display along the upper road as well, especially once you break into the sandy plain traversed by Long Plain Road. This outwash plain was, according to several archaeologists I’ve spoken to, probably open sandbanks in 1675.
Although Lathrop’s path is still a mystery that may never be solved, Hoyt’s journals provide more than enough exciting new clues to keep local-history sleuths busy for decades. Isn’t that what keeps historians’ engines revved?
Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a senior-active member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: http://www.tavernfare.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Link to original Recorder article.