Jennings : The Brookfield Years
by Nicholas E. Hollis
Stephen Jennings' frontier fame, originating from the Great Rescue Mission (1677-78) probably led to his decision in the early 1690's to relocate his family from Hatfield Massachusetts to Brookfield, a distance of some twenty miles east toward the geographic center of the Bay Colony. Jennings may have been enticed with a land grant provided by citizens determined to resettle the area following the complete destruction of Brookfield in August 1675 during a three day siege by Indians, Resettlement efforts had begun in 1686, although only one of the original families moved back. In 1688, there had been a new Indian scare and Jennings may have been sought as a confidence builder, as well as for his negotiating prowess and backwoods fighting skills.
Town records reveal Stephen Jennings purchased a frame house in Brookfield in 1693 from Hezekiah Dickinson with fifty-five acres for the sum of £27.5. 0, which apparently augmented his holdings to a total of 104 acres. Dickinson may have been a relative of Jennings' wife, Hannah (Dickinson) Jennings. 1/ In 1695/96, Stephen built a house of birch logs on Foster's Hill near the site of the original fortified tavern, which had served as the safe haven during the earlier siege, despite being partially burned during the attack.
Jennings likely held a "strategic eye" for defensive positions and petitioned the Colony's General Court in Cambridge for resources to reinforce the structure and provide wages for the "Jennings Garrison.” This petition has presented in December 1704, supported by Jennings and two adult sons, Benjamin and Joseph. The petition was approved for the sum of £56.0.5 payable to Lt. Col. Patridge, head of the local militia. 2/ In the aftermath of the devastating Indian raids on Deerfield and other towns to the west earlier that year, the Court approved numerous funding requests for strengthened fortifications.
As early as 1705 "Jennings Garrison" was probably in existence near the old Ayres Tavern stand as a fortified house with the family living right in the garrison that could serve as a redoubt for neighbors in time of danger. It may also have been a separate building. Unfortunately, the entire structure burned down in 1931.
On May 25, 1707 Stephen sold his land to his sons Stephen V. and Joseph and lived near Woolcott's where he had his original grant of fifty acres. Woolcott's place was on the Old County road leading from the present Brookfield village. This would suggest that this property of Stephen Jennings later became the Jennings family farm which then stayed in the family for generations down to William Nevinson Jennings in the late nineteenth century. At around the same time Stephen sold his other property on Foster's Hill to a relative of Benjamin Waite, his old hero and companion, whose courage had galvanized the Great Rescue Mission years earlier. Stephen must have been disconsolate when news reached him of Waite's chilling end at the hands of Indians during the Deerfield Massacre of February 29, 1704. Waite had joined a party from Hatfield and rushed to aid Deerfield where he was killed and skinned -- the only one so treated (see Cornerstone for Courage).
In 1710, Jennings and his son Benjamin had been granted permission to build a mill (along with others in Brookfield), but their dreams were not to be. On July 20, 1710, while they were raking hay in a nearby meadow, Stephen Jennings, his son Benjamin, and four other men were killed during a surprise attack by Indians. It is not known if the haymakers even had time to reach their weapons. A monument honoring these early farmer-pioneers and their sacrifice stands in the south comer of the Old Indian Cemetery on Cottage Street near the center of modem West Brookfield.
1/ History of Brookfield. (1887) p 146
2/ Ibid. p. 167
Nicholas E. Hollis is president of The Agribusiness Council, a nonprofit/tax-exempt organization established in 1967. He is a direct descendant of Stephen Jennings and a native of New England. Much of the Waite-Jennings narrative was provided during interviews in 1979 with his great aunt, Ruth Hastings Jennings Anderson (1893-1987), and is also documented in The Young and Old Puritans of Hatfield by Mary P. Wells Smith, Boston (1900).
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Nicholas E. Hollis
"Leadership Education and Character Development through Historical Scholarship"