Skip to Main Content

The Deerfield Massacre

A Surprise Attack, a Forced March, and the Fight for Survival in Early America

About The Book

In the tradition of the New York Times bestseller Empire of the Summer Moon comes a spellbinding account of a forgotten chapter in American history: the deadly confrontation between Indians and colonists in Massachusetts in 1704 and the tragic saga that unfolded, written by acclaimed historian James Swanson.

Once it was one of the most infamous events in early American history. Today, it has been nearly forgotten.

In an obscure, two-hundred-year-old museum in a little town in western Massachusetts there stands what once was the most revered relic from the history of early New England: the massive, tomahawk-scarred door that came to symbolize the notorious Deerfield Massacre of 1704. This impregnable barricade—known to early Americans as “The Old Indian Door”—constructed from double-thick planks of Massachusetts oak and studded with hand-wrought iron nails to repel the tomahawk blades wielded by several attacking Native tribes, is the sole surviving artifact from one of the most dramatic moments in colonial American history: In the leap year of 1704, on the cold, snowy night of February 29, hundreds of Indians and their French allies swept down on an isolated frontier outpost to slaughter or capture its inhabitants.

The sacking of Deerfield led to one of the greatest sagas of survival, sacrifice, family, and faith ever told in North America. One hundred and twelve survivors, including their fearless minister, the Reverend John Williams, were captured and forced to march three hundred miles north into enemy territory in Canada. Any captive who faltered or became too weak to continue the journey—including Williams’s own wife—fell under the tomahawk or war club.

Survivors of the march willed themselves to live and endured captivity. Ransomed by the royal governor of Massachusetts, the captives later returned home to Deerfield, rebuilt their town and, for the rest of their lives, told the incredible tale. The memoir of Rev. Williams, The Redeemed Captive, published soon after his liberation, became one of the first bestselling books in American history and remains a literary classic. The Old Indian Door is a touchstone that conjures up one of the most dramatic and inspiring stories of colonial America—and now, at last, this legendary event is brought to vivid life by popular historian James Swanson.

About The Author

Photo by Lisa Nipp

James L. Swanson is the Edgar Award–winning author of the New York Times bestseller Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer and an executive producer of the 2024 Apple TV+ Manhunt series. As a Historic Deerfield Fellow in Early American History, he lived in a pre–Revolutionary War house near the massacre site in Deerfield, Massachusetts.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (February 27, 2024)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501108181

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

“With his gifts of great storytelling and penetrating insight, James Swanson has given us a compelling account of an unjustly forgotten episode in American history. This is an immersive and memorable book.” —Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle

“It is easy to forget that America’s eastern frontiers were once just as savage as the more celebrated lands of the west. Call it the Wild East—the subject of James L. Swanson’s engaging new book The Deerfield Massacre. From a single horrific event Swanson builds an epic, violent portrait of a world most of us have forgotten.” —S. C. Gwynne, author of Empire of the Summer Moon

"A briskly told history of death, resilience, and recovery in the American past.” —Kirkus Reviews

"Acclaimed historian James Swanson's splendid The Deerfield Massacre plunges readers into the cauldron of faith, fear, and ferocity that was life in colonial New England. In this galloping work of narrative history, Swanson resurrects the long-forgotten massacre: the fate of the white captives as they fight to survive; and the plight of Native Americans as they struggle to preserve their ancestral lands. Swanson gives both sides their rightful place at the forefront of early American history." —Peter Cozzens, author of the award-winning The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West

“[A] meticulous account of the eponymous 18th–century massacre . . . Swanson’s narrative pivots ingeniously from the event itself . . . to trace the massacre’s afterlife . . . The result is a rewarding close look at the process of history-making.” —Publishers Weekly

“An epic thriller from one of America’s most terrifying chapters—when the tomahawk and scalping knife ruled the New England wilderness. James Swanson’s brilliant, action-packed story evokes a mysterious and dangerous land haunted by legends of supernatural witches, as well as the real threat of bloody Indian raids. By the end of The Deerfield Massacre, readers will think they hear the sounds of tomahawks chopping through their front door.” —Brad Meltzer, bestselling author of The Lincoln Conspiracy and The Nazi Conspiracy

"A wonderful read! James Swanson’s eloquent and gripping account of Deerfield’s bloody past transports readers across space and time, while critically assessing the town’s multiple efforts to grapple with its history. He explores the persistence of colonial memories, and welcomes the inclusion of often-ignored Native American voices and perspectives. From a midnight vigil in a haunting colonial graveyard, a visit to the tomahawk-splintered Indian House door, or a stroll along an icy moonlit river on a cold February night, Swanson evokes disparate and unexpectedly poetic connections. He invites readers to walk with him into, through, and beyond this complicated past." —Margaret M. Bruchac, Professor Emerita of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania and author of Savage Kin: Indigenous Informants and American Anthropologists

“In this magnificent book, James Swanson brilliantly uncovers the long-forgotten Deerfield Massacre. His vibrant prose transports readers back to 1704, a distant and forgotten America, a period even the Founders would not recognize. In the dead of night a barbaric attack engulfs a remote outpost on the Massachusetts frontier. At gunpoint, survivors of the slaughter are forced to march through a forbidding, frozen wilderness into captivity. Swanson’s thriller-like narrative is an epic tale of survival that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Highest recommendation!” —Patrick K. O’Donnell, bestselling author of The Indispensables and Washington’s Immortals

“A great book! James Swanson hits the trifecta that all popular American historians seek: a gripping and important chapter in the story of our nation; rich and fascinating research; and a propulsive, vividly cinematic sweep that transfixes readers with the physical courage, terrible suffering, and profound hope of those fighting for their lives in early America. Swanson turns the bloodbath into a key flashpoint in early New England and tells an unforgettable story of endurance and survival for the ages, restoring Rev. John Williams to our pantheon of heroes. This is first-rate American history.” —Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University and author of Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and the Great Environmental Awakening

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images