The Story of Eunice Williams Covered Bridge

 

Stretching over the Green River in Greenfield, Massachusetts is one of the most iconic (and one of the few remaining) covered bridges in Western Massachusetts. It’s easy to be unacquainted with the picturesque bridge, which is hidden away on a windy rural road but its location, deeply steeped in history, is even the site of a brutal murder. This dark past has left a mark that continues to reverberate to this day in the form of a ghost story.

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Who was Eunice Williams?

Eunice Mather was born on August 2, 1664, in Northampton, Massachusetts to one of the town’s foremost families. She was the daughter of a minister and in Puritan New England this meant that she was high on the social scale. Her father died when she was only five years old and four years later her mother remarried another minister. As the minister’s daughter, and in preparation to be a minister’s wife, Eunice was taught to read and write. This was at a time when literacy was not that common among women. Although Puritan beliefs emphasized the ability to read so that one could read the Bible and some women were taught to read, most could not write. She became Eunice Williams in July of 1687 when she married Reverend John Williams. From then on, like most women of the time, Eunice’s life was dominated by pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for infants. She bore children almost every year between her wedding at age 22 and her death at age 39. She was also responsible for daily chores such as planting, tending, and harvesting a garden, milking cows, cooking meals, preserving food, making clothes, and doing the laundry.

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The Deerfield Massacre

By 1704 the Thirteen American Colonies were fully engrossed in Queen Anne’s War. France had established itself to the north in Canada and tensions had been growing along the borders separating the French and English colonies as they were fighting for control of the continent. The English mode of colonization had a devastating effect on the Native Americans. So, disenchanted with the fiendish actions of the English that were still fresh in their minds, they sided with the French. Colonial New England had become a battlefield in the violent struggle between competing European empires and Natives. Communities were on high alert for an attack including the English settlement of Deerfield, Massachusetts.

Before dawn on a cold February night, enemy soldiers observed the villages from a vantage point about two miles away as they prepared for the night and took refuge behind a palisade. Once everyone had drifted off to sleep and stillness blanketed the village, the raiders launched their attack and crept quietly into the village. Snow drifts that extended to the top of the palisade simplified their entry and allowed a few men to climb over and open the gate. 

The home of Reverend Williams was one of the first to be raided. At the time, Eunice Williams was still recovering from recently giving birth and was awoken by a noise that she thought was the baby. As she came out of her slumber and the noise grew louder she realized that it was the sound of windows being smashed and the door breaking in. During the attack, the Williams’s new 6-week old baby, 6-year-old son, and servant were all killed. The rest of the family was told to dress for a long journey and were taken captive. As they were led out of their house they found their village ripe with chaos and strife. Homes were engulfed in flames and screams rang through the thin February air. I found varying reports on how many people were killed in the Raid on Deerfield but according to the New England Historical Society, it’s 39. However, all sources reported that 112 captives were taken that night.

The prisoners that included men, women, children, and the elderly began the 300-mile march north to New France where their fates would be decided. This was not an easy journey to be made, especially during a brutal New England winter and anyone who fell behind was to be executed immediately so they would not be slowed down. Many of these people had just witnessed their loved ones being murdered before their eyes and their village burned and destroyed. Among the captives were Reverend John Williams, Eunice, and their 5 surviving children. Eunice was still weak from giving birth and was especially in no condition for this journey. They were marching through deep snow, up hills, and over fallen trees. On March 1 the captives reached Greenfield, which is the first town north of Deerfield. There they needed to cross the Green River. The prisoners trudged across the river, the ice-cold water pricking at their skin like thousands of needles. While Eunice was crossing the river she slipped and fell on a rock, the strong currents swept over her head and tossed her against a boulder with painful force. She managed to drag herself up onto the boulder and heaved a sigh of relief. After taking a moment to catch her breath she was able to crawl to the river bank. She was soaked and freezing, her wet winter clothes weighing her down. She was struggling and this did not go unnoticed by her captors. They wasted no time and one of them marched over to the fallen Eunice and raised his tomahawk and in one stroke struck her down as her family watched in horror. But there was no time to stop and mourn, they had no choice but to keep walking. So, Eunice’s body was left there to decay on the banks of the Green River.

Reverend John Williams eventually returned to Deerfield after being released in a negotiated prisoner exchange. His daughter like most children who survived the journey was adopted by the Mohawk people. She became fully assimilated and married a Mohawk man. John Williams later became well-known as the author of The Redeemed Captive, his account of the Deerfield Massacre and being taken captive.

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The Bridge

To locals, it’s known as the Eunice Williams Covered Bridge although it’s also known as the Pumping Station Covered Bridge. A bridge has stood there since around the 1870s. In 1930 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts placed a historic marker (that is now noticeably absent) next to the covered bridge commemorating it as the location where Eunice Williams lost her life. Then, late on Halloween night in 1969 the bridge caught fire and was completely destroyed. The cause of the fire was ruled arson. The bridge was completely rebuilt in 1972. After that, the bridge underwent a series of significant repairs in 2014  after sustaining major damage by Hurricane Irene. This used to be a popular fishing and swimming spot, but in 2018 a fence was installed in order to deter vandalism and littering as the water is used as drinking water at certain times of the year. I assume this is when the marker from 1930 was also removed but I couldn’t find anything about when it was taken down.

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The Local Legend

According to the legend, if you are crossing the bridge on a moonless night, stop your car in the middle, and honk your horn Eunice will appear to you. People have also reported seeing her ghostly figure on the bank of the river around the bridge and hearing her screams ring through the night as if her energy is trapped reliving the last moments of her life. I’m sure the signs surrounding the location as a constant reminder of what took place there helped to add fuel to the legend. Then, the bridge fire on Halloween night added another layer of mystery to the legend. So, her echo still lingers and we continue to tell her story. Regardless of whether her apparition actually appears there or not, the bridge is haunted; haunted by the violent past that is a part of its history. After all, ghosts are just history begging to be remembered.

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