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Colonial site of kidnapping a must stop for history buffs

Natives took hostages when settlers enroached

Redemption Rock in Princeton, Mass.Jon Mael for The Boston Globe

PRINCETON — Located on a scenic road that winds through Princeton and Sterling, Redemption Rock is a worthy stop for history buffs. Now run by The Trustees of Reservations, it played an important role in a well-documented clash between early settlers and Native Americans, and while it lacks the fame of its Plymouth counterpart, it remains high up on the list of significant boulders.

The story goes that in February 1676, Native Americans, increasingly upset about encroaching settlements, formed a coalition to attack settlers in Lancaster, which included the Princeton area at the time. The group of 400 Nipmuc, Narragansett, and Wampanoag men led by Metacom, who was referred to as “King Philip,” took 24 people hostage on the morning of Feb. 10 and didn’t return with them until May, when their release was negotiated by missionary John Hoar. When it came time to decide on a spot to have these negotiations, the two sides agreed upon the huge rock, which was on the very frontier between native and colonial territory.


The documentation of these events can be traced back to Mary Rowlandson, a local woman who had been taken hostage with three of her children. She was freed as part of the negotiation with Hoar at the rock (in which a ransom was paid) and described her 11-week ordeal in a book that was first published in 1682 and gained popularity in the colonies and back in England. About six feet up on the tallest face of the rock, the following is inscribed:

“Upon this rock May 2nd, 1676, was made the agreement for the ransom of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson of Lancaster between the Indians and John Hoar of Concord. King Philip was with the Indians but refused his consent.”

It makes sense that the rock was chosen as a meeting spot. It’s an impressive landmark — easily the most visible spot in the forest. According to Mark Wilson, Curator of Collections for the Trustees, it’s more than 60 feet wide and 20 feet tall at its highest point. On a dreary day, there’s an eery, unsettled feeling here. You can hear the leaves crunch underfoot, and it’s obvious that the mossy, heavily cracked boulder hasn’t been touched up for tourists. The Trustees, who acquired the rock in 1953, are passionate about preserving it.


“The story of Mary Rowlandson, her captivity, and return is important, interesting, and a significant event of the King Philip’s War,” Wilson says. “The Trustees was founded to help reserve places of scenic, cultural, and ecological importance, places like Redemption Rock, for all to enjoy, forever.”

The road leading to the boulder — Redemption Rock Trail — makes for a great drive through scenic, undeveloped countryside. One particularly satisfying stop is Over Easy Cafe (140 Redemption Rock Trail, Sterling, 978-422-6686). What started as an apple cart decades ago has continually expanded, partly due to an owner who was skilled in woodworking. The result is a restaurant-gift shop comprising multiple cozy rooms seemingly stitched together. If the building itself draws you in, the homemade muffins will keep you coming back. Fresh honey and maple syrup are occasionally offered too.

Jon Mael can be reached at jmael2014@gmail.com.