Deerfield is a town in Franklin County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 5,125 as of the 2010 census. Deerfield is part of the Springfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area in western Massachusetts, lying only north of the city of Springfield.
Deerfield includes the villages of South Deerfield and Historic Deerfield; the latter is a historic district that preserves colonial and Federal houses and features house museums as well as a museum about Massachusetts's colonial period. The district has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is a center of heritage tourism in the Pioneer Valley near the Connecticut River.
Deerfield has numerous schools, including Deerfield Academy, a private secondary preparatory school; Frontier Regional High School; Deerfield Elementary; and two separate private junior boarding schools, Bement School, which is co-ed, and Eaglebrook School, which accepts only boys.
Deerfield was the northwesternmost outpost of New England settlement for several decades during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. It occupies a fertile portion of the Connecticut River Valley and was vulnerable to attack because of its position near the Berkshires highlands. For these reasons it was the site of intertribal warfare and several Anglo-French and Indian skirmishes during its early history.
At the time of the English colonists' arrival, the Deerfield area was inhabited by the Algonquian-speaking Pocumtuck nation, who settled a major village by the same name. English colonists arrived in 1673, and Deerfield was incorporated in 1677. Settlement was the result of a court case in which the government in Boston returned some of Dedham to Native American control in exchange for land in the new township of Pocumtuck, on which Dedham residents could settle. The Dedham settlers' agent, John Plympton, signed a treaty with the Pocumtuck, including a man named Chaulk, who had no authority to deed the land to the colonists and appeared to have only a rough idea of what he was signing. Native Americans and the English had different ideas about property and land use; this, along with competition for resources, contributed to conflicts between them.
Most of the Pocumtuck were gone by the time the settlers arrived, victims of disease and war with the Mohawk. The settlers expelled the few who remained by force; the Pocumtuck in turn sought French protection from colonists in Canada. At the Battle of Bloody Brook, on September 18, 1675, the dispossessed Indians destroyed a small force under the command of Captain Thomas Lathrop before being driven off by reinforcements. Colonial casualties numbered about 60. At dawn on May 19, 1676, Captain William Turner led an army of settlers in a surprise retaliatory attack on Peskeompskut, in present-day Montague, then a traditional native gathering place. Turner and his men killed 200 natives, mostly women and children. When the men of the tribe returned, they routed Turner's forces; Turner died of a mortal wound at Green River.
In the pre-dawn hours of February 29, 1704, during Queen Anne's War, joint French and Indian forces (including 47 Canadians and 200 Abenaki, along with some Kanienkehaka (Mohawk), Wyandot, and a few Pocumtuck, all under the command of Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville) attacked the town in what became known as the Raid on Deerfield. The settlement was razed and 56 colonists were killed, including 22 men, 9 women, and 25 children. The attackers took 112 captives, including women and children, and forced them on a months-long trek to Quebec. Many died along the way; some were killed because they could not keep up.
Deerfield and other communities collected funds to ransom the captives, and negotiations were conducted between the colonial governments. When New England released the French pirate Pierre Maisonnat dit Baptiste, Canada arranged redemption of numerous Deerfield people, among them the minister John Williams. He wrote a captivity narrative about his experience, which was published in 1707 and became well known. Because of losses to war and disease, the Mohawk and other tribes often adopted younger captives into their tribes. Such was the case with Williams's daughter Eunice, 8 years old when captured. She became thoroughly assimilated and at age 16 married a Mohawk man. Most of the Deerfield captives eventually returned to New England; others, such as Kahnawake, remained by choice in French and Native communities for the rest of their lives.
As the frontier moved north, Deerfield became another colonial town with an unquiet early history. In 1753 Greenfield was set off and incorporated. During the early nineteenth century Deerfield's role in Northeast agricultural production declined. It was overtaken by the rapid development of the Midwestern United States as the nation's breadbasket, with transportation to eastern markets and New York City enhanced by construction of the Erie Canal.
During the Colonial Revival movement of the late nineteenth century Deerfield citizens rediscovered the town's past. Residents founded the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association in 1870 and erected monuments to commemorate various events, including the Bloody Brook and 1704 attacks. In 1890 Charlotte Alice Baker returned to Deerfield to restore her family home, the Frary House. Baker was assisted by the Boston architectural firm Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, and her project was one of the first historic preservations in western Massachusetts. Today, tourism is the town's principal industry. Major attractions are Historic Deerfield, a National Historic Landmark district with eleven house museums and a regional museum and visitors' center, and the Yankee Candle Company.
An account of the town's early history was written by local historian George Sheldon and published in the late nineteenth century. By this time South Deerfield and other New England villages were already absorbing a new wave of Eastern European immigrants, particularly from Poland. The new people influenced Deerfield's demographics and culture. They were mostly Catholic peasants, who built their own churches and worked first as laborers, forming a community later known as Old Polonia. Twentieth-century immigrants from Poland tended to be more educated but settled in the larger cities. Immigrants in smaller communities followed different paths, and their descendants often moved to cities for more opportunities.