Folktale Friday: The Capture of the Rice Boys (Westborough Historical Society Third Grade Program)

Rice Brothers Memorial, 1906 (near the current Westborough High School).

You have probably driven by, walked by, or even stopped to read the plaque on the large stone near the Westborough High School. It marks the spot where one of the most famous stories in the town’s recorded history took place. In 1704, two sons and three nephews of Thomas Rice were captured by the Cagnawaga Indians from Canada. They were kidnapped and taken away from their families.  This event happened over 300 years ago. French settlers in Canada had encouraged Indians to raid the American colonies. Sickness had killed many boys in their tribes, so they needed more young men.

Thomas Rice had built a garrison (fort) house near a brook where Westborough High School is now. On a hot summer day, August 8, 1704, a group of men and boys were at work in the nearby field spreading flax.  The group included five Rice boys – Asher (10), Silas (9), Adonijah (8), Timothy (7), and Nahor (5). A wooded hill was near the field. Suddenly a party of eight or ten Indians rushed down from the hill and captured the five boys.

After a short distance, Nahor was killed because he was too young to survive the journey to Canada. The place where he was buried became Memorial Cemetery in the center of town. The other four boys were carried off into the woods. The rest of the farmers escaped in panic to the nearby home of Thomas Rice, father of the missing Asher and Adonijah.

What a sad day for these pioneers! They realized their boys had been kidnapped and taken north to Canada to be trained in the native culture. All rescue attempts failed until four years later when Asher was “redeemed” (the ransom paid) by his father. Asher was returned to his family. Later his father built him a home on South Street.  

Adonijah, Silas, and Timothy grew up with the Canawaga Indians near Montreal, Canada. Adonijah later married and settled near Montreal as a farmer. Asher lived until age 90 with his family in Westborough and Spencer. He never got over his fear of another attack. He stayed watchful and prepared himself for trouble.

Silas and Timothy stayed with the Canawagas and adopted their ways. Timothy was adopted by a chief and became a respected chief (or sachem) of the Iroquois nation himself. He helped to persuade his tribe not to take sides in the wars between the English and the French. He visited Westborough in 1740, but he could no longer speak English. He remembered his old home and some of the people he had known as a boy.

Perhaps the next time you read the plaque near the high school, you will be able to look out over the hill and picture that summer day – over 300 years ago – when the young Rice boys were ambushed and taken to Canada. How frightened they must have been! How strong they were to survive the experience and learn to live a different life. 

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Note that various versions of the same folk tale will be published so as to compare how each are told.

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