How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Settlement and Colonization

Note: The following is the fourth in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Settlement and Colonization

Whether the indigenous people of North America realized it at the time or not, contact with the English in the seventeenth century forced them into competing in the global trade market. At first, Native Americans traded deerskins and furs for iron tools, guns, and ceremonial objects. But when new settlers lost interest in the deerskins and furs, all that the native peoples had left to trade was land. Farmers quickly bought up their land, cleared it, and grew as many crops on it as possible in order to maximize profits.

These English settlers never intended to adopt, or even adapt to, the indigenous lifestyle they encountered and instead sought to preserve their European culture and way of life as much as they could. In 1704, tensions between British settlers and Native Americans played out to tragic consequences in Westborough. Five boys from the Rice family were working out in the field close to where the High School now stands when a group of ten members of the Mohawk tribe who had traveled south from Canada killed one of the boys and seized the other four. They carried the four boys back to Canada in order to replenish the dwindling number of males in their tribe due to plague and a consequent low birth rate. Two of the boys ended up adopting the indigenous way of life and staying with the tribe for the rest of their lives, and one of them even became a chief of the Iroquois nation.

In contrast to their experience in North America, when the British first landed in India they encountered the Mughal Empire, the most developed civilization in the world at the time. India’s wealth came from its incredible production of rice, cloth, and other goods, in addition to its advantageous geographical position in south-central Asia, which allowed it to control much of the trade in luxury goods carried out among China, Japan, Persia, and other Asian countries.

The monarchs and ministers in India saw British traders as “rude hairy barbarians” who dressed in smelly woolens and linens. In order to demonstrate goodwill with the Mughal emperor, British merchants began dressing in the same clothing as his courtiers and adopting other Indian customs, such as smoking hookas, in an attempt to cultivate more advantageous trade relations. This adoption of local Indian customs in turn set fashion trends back in England and in colonial America, where Indian-inspired dress and decorative arts became all the rage.

Massachusetts Bay Seal, 1629 (Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Massachusetts_Bay_Colony_Seal,_1629.jpg)

The charter for the Massachusetts Bay Colony granted by Charles I included the authority to make and use a seal. The final design featured a Native American holding a downward pointing arrow as a sign of peace and saying, “Come over and help us.” The seal clearly displays a sense of cultural superiority to the indigenous people that English colonists brought with them to North America.

Title page to Rev. Ebenezer Parkman’s account of the capture of the Rice boys
(Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/storyofriceboysc00park/page/n21)
Painting, portrait of East India Company official, ca. 1760-1764
by Dip Chand
(Victoria and Albert Museum, https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O16731/painting-portrait-of-east-india-company/)

Company paintings were made by Indian artists for British subjects, and this one is probably of William Fullerton of Rosemont who served in the East India Company starting in 1744. Note he is shown lounging on a carpet while enjoying a hookah.

Westborough-India Series Bibliography

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Eacott, Jonathan. Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter. Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Schama, Simon. Civilizations. PBS television series, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/civilizations/home/.

Vaver, Anthony. The Rebellion Begins: Westborough and the Start of the American Revolution. Westborough, MA: Pickpocket Publishing, 2017.

Wilson, Jon. The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.

Folktale Fridays: The Rice Boys (Forbes)

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

From The Hundredth Town by Harriette Merrifield Forbes, 1889, pp. 32-35.

One of the stories that the old people a hundred years ago told to their grandchildren was about Edmund Rice’s capture by Graylock, an old Indian living in the forests around Westborough, who occasionally made raids on the settlers. The women during the day were clustered together in the garrison-houses, while the men, with their guns near by, cleared their farms.

Edmund Rice was a young man, fitted by nature and circumstances to be a pioneer in a new country. He was bold and fearless, convinced that, whatever trouble might come upon others, he would live to make for himself a name in the annals of the new town. He would like to see the Indians attempt to capture him! Let Graylock come, — he might get the worst of it!

One morning Rice was swinging his scythe through the tall grass, with no suspicion of the dusky form creeping stealthily towards him.

With one quick, agile spring, Graylock was between him and his gun. He himself was armed, and all that Rice could do was to take in silence the trail pointed out to him, his captor following with levelled gun.

So they went for some distance, Rice, on the way, picking up a stout stick, upon which he leaned more heavily as they advanced on their journey.

There was but one chance of escape for him, and with his usual boldness and intrepidity he took it. Turning around quickly, when he saw that for a moment Graylock was looking in another direction, he felled him to the ground with his heavy stick. Leaving him dead, he ran back lightly over the fresh trail, and went on with his morning’s work.

This was probably before 1704, when the Indians revenged the death of Graylock by killing one of Mr. Rice’s sons and capturing two others. This massacre occurred near the garrison-house of his brother, Thomas Rice, which was situated on the Christopher Whitney estate, on Main street, then the “old Connecticut way.”

The account of this raid was written by Rev. Peter Whitney, the old Northborough minister and friend of Mr. Parkman. The latter doubtless heard the full particulars of the story from Timothy Rice, one of the boys. He writes: —  

“On August 8, 1704, as several persons were busy in spreading flax on a plain about eighty rods from the house of Mr. Thomas Rice (the first settler in Westborough, and several years representative of the town of Marlborough in the General Court), and a number of boys with them, seven, some say ten, Indians suddenly rushed down a wooded hill near by, and knocking the least of the boys on the head (Nahor, about five years old, son of Mr. Edmund Rice, and the first person ever buried in Westborough), they seized two, Asher and Adonijah, — sons of Mr. Thomas Rice, — the oldest about ten, and the other about eight years of age, and two others, Silas and Timothy, sons of Mr. Edmund Rice, above-named, of about nine and seven years of age, and carried them away to Canada.”

In about four years Asher was redeemed. Adonijah married and settled in Canada, while Silas and Timothy mixed with the Indians, had Indian wives and children, and lost all knowledge of the English language. Timothy became one of their chiefs. They called him Oughtsorongoughton. In September, 1 740, he returned to Westborough and made a short visit. Mr. Parkman writes: “They viewed the house where Mr. Rice dwelt, and the place from whence the children were captivated, of both which he retained a clear remembrance, as he did likewise of several elderly persons who were then living, though he had forgot our language.” They then visited Governor Belcher. Timothy, as chief of the Cagnawagas, was quite prominent in the history of the time, and influential in keeping the Indians from joining the English during the Revolution. The Cagnawagas were the principal tribe of the Canadian Six Nations. They “peremptorily refused” to join the king’s troops in Boston, saying, that if they are obliged to take up arms on either side, “that they shall take part on the side of their brethren, the English in New England.” Both brothers were living in 1790.

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Note: In 2016, Jillian Hensley published In This Strange Soil, a novel about the capture of the Rice brothers. The book is available at the Westborough Public Library both in the Local Author collection and in the Westborough Center for History and Culture.

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Click here to read more Westborough Folktales!

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

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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Click here to read more Westborough Folktales!

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