Friday, November 16, 2012

Tufts Military History Part One: Before the Revolution

The Tufts and many other families were very active in defense of their settlements long before the conflict with England. I am very proud of my own sons who defend freedom today and I appreciate the symbol of the National Guard being the statue of the Minute Man, but more than 100 years before the American Revolution many lives were lost and many Tufts sons served their communities.

Peter Tufts (1617-1700), the first American Tufts, must have mustered out as required by law in Massachusetts in the 17th century. He may have been too old to go out on offensive actions so any action would have been in local attacks on Massachusetts towns, and on required training days. From what we know of colonial Massachusetts (where Peter arrived around 1638), all men were required to serve in the militia in defense of their townships.

The following quotes from Brooks’ History of Medford appear to quote local records of early legislation. Examples of such records can be found in many of local New England town histories. The Tufts name appears in many of those references.

These laws and taxes for ammunition and supplies were vital to the survival of the towns and their inhabitants. Only “freemen” were allowed to be officers, or vote for them, and those in certain occupations (such as fishermen and shipbuilders) were excused from training because their work was vital to the community. Some poorer residents had accommodations to work for the money required to provide their guns, and watchmen were often appointed to guard against surprise attacks. Fines were levied if one did not attend training. Trainees also included young boys from ten years to sixteen who were instructed by a member of the militia at his discretion in use of small arms, bows and arrows, and pikes.  Shocking as this may seem, it was often the women and children who had to defend the more remote settlements while the men were out in the fields.
The danger of attack from the Indians was ever present. Town histories often contain graphic tales of kidnapped settlers and murdered women and children. The French would pay ransom for captives in Canada, and the tribes often used these souls to replace members of their tribe lost in battle or by disease. My ancestor, Peter Labaree, whose granddaughter Sarah married Jonas Tufts in Charlestown, New Hampshire, was captured but escaped and returned to his frontier home at Fort #4.

King Phillip’s War, June 1675 – April 1678
  • Peter Tufts, Jr. (1648-1721), oldest son of Peter the immigrant, was a Captain in the Massachusetts Militia in King Phillip’s War and was referred to as “Captain Peter.” He lived in the Craddock Tufts house at 350 Riverside Avenue in Medford and raised two families with three wives. He commanded a troop of horse cavalry and probably went out on the initial alarm to defend the colonies around Swansea, Massachusetts (then part of Plymouth Colony) in 1675 during King Phillips War.  We know he was also sent out with the troop to pursue the Indians following the massacre at Groton, Massachusetts in 1704. He was also deployed with the cavalry troop in July 1706. He left his sword, a Silver Hilton, to his son Dr. Simon Tufts (1700-1746).

  • James Tufts (1650-1675), was the second son of Peter the immigrant. He was the first Tufts killed in combat in America that I have found. He was slain at Deerfield, Massachusetts, on September 18, 1675 in the attack later to be known as the “Battle of Bloody Brook.” During the conflict described as King Phillip’s War, the settlements along the Connecticut River Valley like Deerfield were constantly under attack by Indians. The townspeople decided to retire to Hadley, Massachusetts for the winter and moved the supplies there from Deerfield.   James, a Deerfield farmer, volunteered as a teamster, driving the ox carts.  Many of the soldiers guarding the wagons that day were from Captain Lathrop’s company from Malden and Medford, which often included Tufts and Tufts relatives. All but one of the teamsters and many of the soldiers perished in the Battle of Bloody Brook. It was actually more of an ambush than a battle: the column had paused to rest and let the ox teams catch up at “an unnamed brook” and were enjoying wild grapes when the Indians struck. It was the Indians’ normal means of warfare, to attack with a quick ambush and minimize their own losses. The brook got its name (Bloody Brook) from this episode.
    Soldiers in King Philips War.....
    George Madison Bodge

     James never married, but had one son. In the summer 1984 Tufts Kinsmen newsletter (volume X no. 2) Herb Adams writes that this only son was acknowledged by Peter the immigrant who provided for his upbringing in 1670. This is confirmed with reference to the actual records in the Tufts Kinsmen 2010 edition. James was born in Malden but lived for a time in Salem.  Elizabeth Wells claimed he had had relations with her and had fathered her child, and she had witnesses to back her up. There are no records and many suppositions about her ancestry, but she had a son James Jr. in Charlestown around 1670. James senior removed to Deerfield where Adams states he was a planter.  James Jr. was raised in the home of Captain Peter Tufts. His mother had died in 1674 and the governess provided by Peter had also died. Among James Jr.’s descendants are a long list of patriots and soldiers.

  • Henry Tufts (1651-1706?), Peter’s third son, may also have died in combat. In his 2010 edition of Kinsmen Adams reports that Henry died in 1706 in Dunstable, but, in the1982 draft, the date is 1675, and in the 1975 edition, the date is 1699. Adams writes at length about confusion between Henry Tufts and a Henry Jefts and isn’t even confident he is Peter’s son. A Henry Tuffs did serve in relief of Dunstable with John Lane’s troop. (Source: The New England historical & genealogical register and antiquarian journal, Volume 17.) The name Tufts was commonly recorded as Tuffs, Jefts and other variations. Adams bases some of his theory on the English practice of naming sons in sequence of their forefathers and a long lost record. There were certainly skirmishes in that area which are written in history and Dunstable covered a very large area at that time. This is obviously one of the mysteries that could be solved with further research. 
The French and Indian War (1754-1763)

  •  James Tufts Jr. (1670-1722), the son of the James killed at Bloody Brook, from Peter, and born in 1670 in Charlestown, served at Fort Saco, Maine which was part of Massachusetts at the time.  James Jr. lived in Medford and “Piscataqua” (Portsmouth area) New Hampshire and had his family of five children from 1696-1707.
  •  Aaron Tufts (1740-?) from Lancaster, Massachusetts, served in the French and Indian War in relief of Fort William Henry. Adams believes he was the son of William from James, Jonathan, and Peter. Born in 1740, in Medford, Aaron would have been only 17 for the 1757 New York campaign. His company marched as far as Springfield MA and returned.  Aaron is also listed in Captain Whitcomb’s company in Colonel Bagley’s regiment when they marched to Canada in 1758. Adams thought he may have died in Dalton, Massachusetts but no record is listed. Adams states he never returned from military service. The birth record spells his name Tuffts. (more research needed)
  • A John Jefts is listed in the company of men who suffered badly at the hands of the Indians at Pigwacket (near Fryeburg Maine) but it is unclear if this is a Jefts or one John Tufts. The John Tufts then would have been the minister in Newbury (unlikely) or John Tufts son of John and grandson of Peter the immigrant who died 16 May 1725 (one month after the expedition).some references list him as of Groton and state he was killed there. Another clue for more research.
  • William Tuffs (Tufts) (1738-1783) from West Brookfield Massachusetts was the son of John from James, James, and Peter. He is listed in the rolls as marching in relief of Fort William Henry in 1757 like Aaron (above). This was the relief of the fort which had been, by then conceded to the French. When the British and Colonial troops were marching from the fort in defeat, they were ambushed by Mohawk Indians allied with the French and close to 300 men were murdered with no control from the French. This attack is portrayed with some accuracy in a scene in the movie “Last of the Mohicans” . William was also on the rolls for 1758 and went out to capture the fort at Crown Point in 1759 and probably on to the capture of Quebec.
  • Isaiah Tufts, (1740-1773), was a soldier in the French and Indian War in 1757 (age 17). He was the son of Nathaniel from John and Peter. Isaiah married Abigail Pierce and had two children before passing in 1773. Two of his brothers married Abigail’s sisters. Nathaniel’s family was another family of many soldiers and patriots. Not much else was found on Isaiah, possibly due to his early passing.

Acadia (1745)

  • Peter Tufts (1715-1771), from Peter, Captain Peter, and Peter was also a colonial soldier. . He served in the siege of Louisburg, Nova Scotia and died of disease there on September 12, 1745 (record from General Shirley’s diary). The colonial troops were credited with dragging mortars across bad ground to effect the siege.
  • Lieutenant Thomas Tufts (1711-1746), born in Medford, was Peter’s cousin (above) and the son of Reverend Thomas (1683-1733) from Captain Peter, and Peter the immigrant. Lieutenant Thomas was a school teacher in Stratham, NH, a tavern-keeper at Greenland, Ensign, and Quartermaster in Colonel Moore’s Ninth Company in the French war, serving at Louisburg, Nova Scotia (with his Massachusetts cousins). History of Newfields states that the lieutenant’s service was from February 13 to September 6, 1745, although it also states that his father Reverend Thomas was born in England and immigrated to Boston (which is not correct). When he returned from the capture of Louisburg, Nova Scotia, Lieutenant Thomas was sick and never fully recovered. He passed away in Greenland, New Hampshire, in 1746. I’m looking for his resting place.

  • William Tufts Jr. (1727-1771) was the son of John Tufts of Medford from James, Jonathan, and Peter. He was a mariner and married Katherine Tufts (his cousin), the daughter of Lieutenant William Tufts from James, Jonathan, and Peter. He served at Louisburg heroically and the story is told in two sources. In “France and England in North America” by Parkman, there is reference to John Langdon Sibley’s “William Vaughan and William Tufts Jr at Louisburg”.  In this story Sibley says:  “William Tufts of Medford, a boy of eighteen, climbed the flagstaff, holding in his teeth his red coat, which he made fast at the top, as a substitute for the British flag, a proceeding that drew upon him a volley of unsuccessful shot from the town batteries”. This was the initial assault on the harbor in which they captured the main batteries before assaulting the fort and town. The Medford in the Revolution version of William’s feat states that he was the first to enter the works and that he was the son of John and Sarah Tufts.  After this, the colonials had to defend the main battery against a much larger force until reinforcements arrived. (William Jr.’s son, William, died in 1777 at the battle of Bennington in the Revolution). 

Many good references are available to read more about colonial wars before the revolution. Perhaps one of the best is Half Century of Conflict (2 volumes) and the many other works of Francis Parkman. One source I like to read to really get a feeling for colonial endurance are the works of Kenneth Roberts. Many may know his story about the Northwest Passage, which was made into a movie starring Spencer Tracy and Robert Young in 1940. The first part of this book details the expedition of Robert Rogers’ Rangers and their assault on the village of St. Francis, Canada. James Fennimore Cooper also wrote many historical novels (including the earlier-mentioned Last of the Mohicans) that really give the reader a feel for what life was like then. I can’t imagine my neighbor coming by one day and saying  ”Grab your flintlock and a pack, we’re going to march to Canada and raid an Indian village or take Quebec.” I’ve been to Quebec and I can’t see any easy way to attack that city on the hill, especially after marching through the forest for 2 months!
As always, I have much more information about these families. I can provide more details on them and these events but urge readers to seek out the books and records from the colonial period as well. Please leave comments with corrections, additions or other ideas. I will update them in the comments section or future stories.


  1. We are with my husband´s family here in Spain on Thanksgiving night. We had to skip the traditional Thanksgiving dinner and cobble together a substitute from local ingredients (it´s not celebrated here). It is 10PM and we just turned on the TV and they are showing ¨Northwest Passage¨! A very American movie on a night I feel very homesick for New Hampshire!

  2. It's hard not to think of my own ancestors who were captured by Indians and even could have been part of the Rangers who raided St. Francis. I really like the book as well. if you haven't read Kenneth Roberts works, you might enjoy them Heather. He wrote about the revolutionary era as well. The movie would make a nice re-make. I am working on the story of my ancestor Peter Labaree of Fort #4 Charlestown NH who was captured and escaped back to NH

  3. I received this comment and wanted to share the information with everyone that ALL able bodied men turned out in the early colonial days:
    I recently came across your blog on Tufts family genealogy and in particular was intrigued by the entries on the family's military history. In Tufts Military History Part One: Before the Revolution you write "Peter Tufts ... may have been too old to go out on offensive actions so any action would have been in local attacks on Massachusetts towns, and on required training days."

    Attached is an excerpt from The History of Middlesex County recounting that elderly men -- even men in their seventies -- still served in the militia and indeed participated in offensive actions. My own relative Edward Oakes was born about 1604, and thus would've been about 70 when he took part in King Phillip's War (he's credited with killing (and scalping) Peebe, King Phillip's right-hand-man) -- so it's entirely possible that Peter Tufts participated in a similar manner.