Saturday, April 24, 2021

Sudbury Fight April 21, 1676


 By early April 1676 colonial authorities were aware that a sizable body of  Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and Narragansett warriors under King Philip had gathered near Mount Wachusett.  They had already  attacked and burned the settlements of Lancaster and Groton and forced the partial evacuation of Marlboro.   To assist the towns the colonial Council of War ordered Captain Samuel Wadsworth and about seventy men to march to the garrison at Marlboro, passing through Sudbury on the evening of April 20, 1676. At the same time as Wadsworth and his troops marched westward along the Marlboro Road, five hundred or more warriors from the Wachusett camp had begun taking position in and around Sudbury. 

Map from Eric Shultz's book King Philips War: History and Legacy of Americas forgotten conflict.

About sunrise on the morning of April 21, 1676, Philip started his attack;  focusing first on on the houses on the western bank of the Sudbury River. the settlers quickly retired within the five garrison houses.  One garrison house known as The Haynes garrison drew fighting all morning.  Because of the long morning siege most authors feel it as the object of the natives attack.  But based on later events it could also have been a faint to draw the English  reinforcements into an ambush.  To the rear of the garrison a slight rise provided cover to a group of natives who set fire one of Haynes’ wagons with combustible material and rolled it downhill to set fire to the house.   But  the flaming cart  hit a rock and rolled over short if it's destination.  In the end, the Haynes garrison would hold out.  But  destruction raged around it. 

The Hayes Garrison House

When news of the attack on Sudbury reached Concord, eleven brave ( or foolhardy) men marched to Sudbury's defence.  They proceded along the west bank of the Sudbury River. When they arrived within view of the Haynes garrison, they were ambushed with only one man escaping. 

In the early afternoon, troops under Captain Hugh Mason from Watertown arrived to help.  They drove the natives from the central settlement and crossed the Town Bridge to the western bank of the Sudbury River. Hearing  the sound of heavy fighting on Green Hill, Mason and his troops tried repeatedly to reach that fight but were driven back each time. Finally at the  risk of being surrounded and cut off, they retreated to the Captain Goodenow (or Goodnow) garrison house.    From the west a troop of eighteen mounted men finally fought their way into Sudbury after a long running fight.

Captain Wadsworth learning of the attack on Sudbury soon after his arrival at Marlboro gathered together his exhausted troops, including those under Captain Samuel Brocklebank already stationed in Marlboro, and  rapidly retraced his march back to Sudbury. As Wandsworth and Brocklebank  force crossed the bridge at Noyes’ Mill just south of Green Hill, they spotted a handful of warriors fleeing northward in the large field at the base of the hill. Thinking they had surprised Philip’s rear guard, Wadsworth and Brocklebank’s men left the road and set off in pursuit along the west side of Green Hill.  When they reached the pass between Green Hill and Goodman’s Hill, shots rang out from both hillsides as bodies of warriors (perhaps five hundred in all) sprang their ambush.  With their escape  block to the northern and southern Wadsworth’s men were thrown momentarily into a panic.  The Captain was able to rally his men and firmed back to back repulsed several native charges. As the afternoon wore on and relief was effectively blocked from reaching them Wadsworth and his troops fought their way up its side so that by late afternoon they had reached the top.  Nearby to the south sat the Goodenow garrison and the Noyes’ Mill, the latter uninhabited but able to be fortified. Darkness might bring hope of escape. It was then that the natives lit the dry brush of Green Hill on fire, forcing Wadsworth and his men to flee from the smoke and flames. As they retreated in the direction of Noyes’ Mill and the Goodenow garrison.   Wadsworth, Brocklebank and most of their men were killed. A few reached the Noyes Mill  and held out their till relieved the next day.

Fighting on Green Hill

 As night fell the natives, having completed their rout, retreated to the west, leaving the frightened settlers scattered throughout Sudbury’s garrisons to wonder what fate would bring them in the morning. The next day Captain Samuel Hunting and his company of praying Indians (they had marched from Charlestown late that day) searched the area for the English dead, gathering the bodies of five of the Concord militia. These were buried in a common grave at the east end of Town Bridge.  Wadsworth and his men were buried near where they fell.

 The Sudbury Fight should have been one of King Philips best victories. The feint at the Haynes garrison, the ambushes of both the Concord and Wadsworth’s troops, the ability to seal off Green Hill from reinforcements,  were a brilliant display of military tactics.   A victory here should have given the Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and Narragansett warriors a tremendous lift. But such was not the case. Perhaps their unacceptable losses or the fact that the English settlements still held out and  reinforcements continued to pour in was made the victory hollow. In addition the native supplies of weapons, powder and especially food stuffs were exhausted.  No matter how many fights he won his people were starving.

  In any event, when the war party returned to its camp at Mount Wachusett, captive Mary Rowlandson wrote: To my thinking, they went without any scruple but that they should prosper and gain the victory. And they went out not so rejoicing, but they came home with as great a victory, for they said they had killed two captains and almost an hundred men. One Englishman they brought alive with them; and he said it was too true for they had made sad work at Sudbury, as indeed it proved. Yet they came home without that rejoicing and triumphing over their victory which they were wont to show at other times, but rather like dogs (as they say) which have lost their ears. Yet I could not perceive that it was for their own loss of men. They said they had not lost but above five or six, and I missed none, except in one wigwam. When they went, they acted as if the Devil had told them that they should gain the victory; and now they acted as if the Devil had told them that they should have a fall. 

Shortly after the fight Philip's alliances would splinter and scatter.   Philip returned with his people to their homeland around the Bristol area while the other native warriors concentrated their efforts on feeding their people.

Please note:  I will be following up on this post with two more.  One will be a visit to the sites today and what you can find there.  This will be followed up with a possible wargames scenario for refuge ting this action.  Stay tuned for more!


  1. Fascinating stuff! Looking forward to walking the ground remotely. 😁

  2. Really interesting stuff Mark - I know nothing about pre FIW American military history - I only know what King Phillips War is because of the figures on Brigade Games website!