The Native and European inhabitants of the Piscataqua lived in relative peace for close to half a century. By the late 1660s, however, tensions had mounted as the immigrant population grew and land and resources became scarce. Hostilities between settlers and the Wabanaki broke out in 1675 and again late in the following decade. By 1690 England and France were at war and the local conflict had become one theater in a global war. The fighting, punctuated by short periods of peace, would last until 1713.
Although the Piscataqua suffered repeatedly during these wars, the Salmon Falls Raid of 1690 was the most devastating and the most remarkable. Leaving Trois-Rivières on the Saint Lawrence River in late January, a combined French and Native force of fifty-two men would travel 300 miles overland to launch a predawn attack on the Berwicks. Using survival skills adopted from Native allies, the French militia effectively pushed back the northern New England frontier to the margins of the Piscataqua.
Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville was born in 1668 in Trois-Rivières, New France, the son of a military officer. In 1690, twenty-two-year-old Jean-Baptiste and two of his brothers were part of a winter raiding party led by their father against English settlements along the Salmon Falls River. Accompanied by Native allies from the mission of Saint Francis at Odanak, Quebec, the French marched for two months by snowshoe through the forested homelands of the Wabanaki. On March 18 they attacked the settlements in present-day Berwick and South Berwick, strategic outposts on the edge of the New England frontier. They killed or took captive about eighty settlers, burning many farmsteads, slaughtering livestock and destroying sawmills.
At the loss of just two French casualties, they dealt a near fatal blow to the community. Joseph-François Hertel de la Fresnière, leader of the expedition, was dubbed “Le Hero” for the victory. Jean-Baptiste would go on to an impressive military career as well. He led the famous 1704 raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts, and was ultimately knighted by Louis XIV for his efforts on behalf of New France.
(From the Old Berwick Historical Society exhibit, 2017-2018, Forgotten Frontier: Untold Stories of the Piscataqua by Emerson Baker, Project Scholar, and Nina Maurer, Curator.)