"Most of all," begins Demos in the
preface, "I wanted to write a story."|
For historians, this has
traditionally been something of a challenge. However, nothing popularizes history for the
rest of us non-academics than history told as a story. And this is what Demos has done
with his book.
This year marks the 300th anniversary of the events he
describes. In 1704, Deerfield, Massachusetts was attacked during the French and Indian
Wars. (If you're local to New England, see last Sunday's Boston Globe's NE Travel
section (2/22/2004, p. M15) for more details.) Next weekend, 2/28-29, Deerfield will host
a series of events to commemorate the raid but also to interpret its historical
significance. Demos's book is widely recognized as one of the best narratives of what
happened, and there isn't a better time to dip into the story if you are curious or
perhaps would like to visit the site.
From the historical record that
survived, Demos describes the raid and the travails of some of the captives, particularly
minister John Williams and his family. Some died, some eventually were freed (after the
their ransoms were paid), but one daughter remained with the local tribe. Demos presents
the letters and accounts of the people within the story and then points out what their
words really mean. He's a wonderful translator, exhuming the emotions and conflicts
buried within the historical record.
He is fair as well and points out
that the colonial record leaves many gaps in the point of view of the natives. Their
story is represented perhaps more by what is missing than by what we can read about them
today. And despite the hopeful resolution to this story, we know only too well that the
fears this raid instilled in the colonists set the pattern for their attitude towards all
native tribes as the former Europeans followed what they believed to be their manifest
destiny and headed west.
Final note: if you can't make Deerfield this
weekend, other events are planned for June 26-27, but special exhibits are planned all
year. Check out www.historic-deerfield.org for more information.