In 1638 Joseph Ring’s father, Robert, emigrated from Marlborough, Wiltshire, England to Salisbury, Massachusetts as a 24-year-old indentured servant. Robert was born in 1614. He married Elizabeth Jarvis (Jarvice) 1650 (NE Marriages 1600-1700 by Torrey). Robert died 1690 in Salisbury, Massachusetts (Salisbury VR page 611).
Joseph Ring was born Aug. 3, 1664, in Salisbury, Massachusetts, to Robert and his wife, Elizabeth Jarvis.
The boy, whose life would become a series of entanglements with history, was 11 when King Philip’s War broke out. This was the first of a series of on-again, off-again wars between the English settlers on the one side and the Indians and their French allies on the other that would last almost 100 years.
Today we can reinterpret the Indian wars as a clash of competing cultures which the Europeans were destined to win. But 17th-century settlers living at the edge of English civilization didn’t know if they would survive.
“Northern New Englanders faced an unknown enemy that seemingly appeared from nowhere, struck with devastating force and just as quickly disappeared,” said Cornell University history professor Mary Beth Norton, one of many academics who helped me trace my ancestor.
She said some readers of her 2002 book, “In the Devil’s Snare,” which linked the witch trials to the Indian wars on the frontier, compared the fear of Indians then to the terror following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
In Joseph Ring’s time, all able-bodied men served in local militias; volunteers were recruited for expeditions, or garrison duty on the frontier.
“The recruits tended to be younger, unattached types, who could use a few dollars and enjoyed an adventure,” said Emerson “Tad” Baker, chairman of the history Department at Salem (Mass.) State College.
Joseph Ring fit the profile. He was part of an expedition in 1690 as New Hampshire Capt. Shadrach Walton tried to relieve Fort Loyal, a stockade in Casco, now Portland, where about 200 inhabitants had been besieged by 500 Indians and French soldiers.
The four-vessel expedition arrived too late.
Joseph Ring and the others found the town burning after the Indians killed most of the settlers who had surrendered and been promised safe passage by the French commander.
The Indians “wreaked their vengeance unchecked,” reported the 1897 “Border Wars of New England” by Samuel Drake. “After plundering the fort the invaders set it on fire, and it was soon burned to the ground, leaving Casco untenanted, save by the unburied bodies of the slain.”
Most of what we know about Joseph Ring came from two affidavits he gave in 1692. They describe Ring’s role in the ill-fated expedition to Fort Loyal and provide other glimpses into his activities and possibly his state of mind.
In the statements, Ring describes a meeting that appears to have changed his life. In a tavern in Great Island, N.H., on the way to relieve Casco he met a man named Thomas Hardy, who invited Ring to play shuffleboard. Ring didn’t have any money, but Hardy lent him two shillings. Ring lost.
Over the next year, Ring was terrorized by Hardy, who kept demanding his money. Ring described a series of bizarre, dreamlike encounters with his nemesis and others. In one, Ring “was scared out of his wits by a fireball and ‘the dreadfull noyse & hideous shapes of these creaturs,’ ” Baker wrote, quoting words attributed to my ancestor.
Joseph Ring was possessed by demons, the Puritan minister Cotton Mather would write in a 1693 account justifying the witch trials. The young militiaman, he claimed, was struck dumb by a woman who was present when he met Hardy, a widow named Susannah Martin.
In 1692, Ring gave testimony during Martin’s trial in Salem that he had been drinking cider with Martin, another woman and Hardy before a roaring fire. Martin, he said, transformed herself into a pig. She was hanged on July 19, 1692.
It may be that a modern concept — post-traumatic stress — helps explain Ring’s strange and fateful claims. He surely absorbed a terror of Indian attacks, not just because of his militia experience, but family experience, as well.
His wife, Mary Brackett, came from a family that was one of the first to settle the area now known as Portland. As a 12-year-old girl, she and some relatives had been taken captive by a party of Indian raiders and marched into the wilderness before they escaped in a canoe. Later, in separate incidents, her grandparents, father and brother were killed.
The so-called Brackett Lane Massacre in Rye, N.H., in which several of Mary Brackett’s relatives died at the hands of an Indian raiding party, came close to the time of one bizarre encounter between Ring and Hardy — and Norton thinks that’s significant.
Norton believes Ring’s experiences along the frontier contributed to his testimony against Susannah Martin.
“Joseph Ring is a great example of a frontier resident who was terrified by the threat posed by the Indian war. “Although he appeared as a witness against Susannah Martin, he seemed far more concerned about the Indians and the demons he saw aligned with them than with Goody Martin.”
In the fall of 1703, Massachusetts placed a bounty on Indian scalps and sent out three raiding parties on snowshoes to keep their adversaries off balance. Joseph Ring is not on a list of Massachusetts soldiers from what was called Queen Anne’s War. But it’s possible he was an off-the-books soldier, perhaps a bounty hunter, seeking to avenge his family’s losses.
In any event, on Jan. 28, 1704, Indians attacked the Neale Garrison, and settlers fought them off with help from soldiers stationed nearby. A 1726 history of the early Indian wars by Samuel Penhallow said nine attackers were killed.
The losses so enraged the Indians, that at their return they executed their revenge on Joseph Ring, who was then a Captive among them, whom they fastened to a Stake and burnt alive; barbarously shouting and rejoicing at his cries.”
There is still no knowledge, why or how Joseph Ring was made captive.