Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Turner Falls Massacre – John Lyman

B. 16 Sep 1623 in High Ongar, England
M. 12 Jan 1654 in Branford, Connecticut
Wife: Dorcas Plumb
D. 20 Aug 1690 in Northampton, Massachusetts
Emigrated: 1631 on the ship Lyon

John Lyman was born September 16, 1623 in High Ongar, England (which is in Essex). His parents were Richard Lyman and Sarah Osborne, and John was one of nine children. In 1631, when John was eight years old, the family sailed to America on the ship Lyon. The ship also carried the wife, son and grandchildren of John Winthrop and they were given a cannon salute on its arrival in Boston harbor.

The Lyman family settled first in Roxbury, then traveled through 100 miles of wilderness to settle the new town of Hartford, Connecticut. John's parents were both dead by 1642; his father's will stated he would receive £30 when he turned 22 in 1645. On January 12, 1654, John married Dorcas Plumb, daughter of a ship owner, in Branford, Connecticut. Between 1655 and 1678, they had ten children.

By 1658, John had moved his family upriver to Northampton, Massachusetts. The house he built there was in the Lyman family for 150 years. John became a lieutenant in the militia during King Philip's War and in May of 1676, was called upon to lead a company of men from Northampton against the Indians who were doing cattle raids against settlers in western Massachusetts.

The military action the settlers took is known by some as the Turner Falls Fight and by others as the Turner Falls Massacre; the settlers attacked a camp of Indians early on the morning of May 18th and slaughtered them, including women and children. The settlers' force consisted of "150 men and boys." John was one of three leaders; the other two were Captain Samuel Holyhoke and Captain William Turner, for whom the Falls would be named posthumously. The fight or massacre has been described like this:

"Leaving his horses under a small guard, Turner led his men through Fall river, up a steep ascent, and came out on a slope in the rear of the Indian camp. He had reached his objective point undiscovered. Silence like that of death brooded over the encampment by the river, save for the sullen roar of the cataract beyond. With ears strained to catch any note of alarm, the English waited impatiently the laggard light, and with the dawn, stole silently down among the sleeping foe; even putting their guns into the wigwams undiscovered. At a given signal the crash of a hundred shots aroused the stupefied sleepers. Many were killed at the first fire. The astonished survivors, supposing their old enemy to be upon them, cried out 'Mohawks! Mohawks!' rushed to the river, and jumped pell-mell into the canoes which lay along the shore. Many pushed off without paddles; in other cases the paddlers were shot, and falling overboard, upset the canoe; many in the confusion plunged into the torrent, attempting to escape by swimming. Nearly all of these were swept over the cataract and drowned. Others, hiding about the banks of the river, were hunted out and cut down, 'Captain Holyoke killing five, young and old, with his own Hands from under a bank.'" (from A History of Deerfield, Massachusetts, George Sheldon, 1895)

Only one settler died in the raid (and that was the result of "friendly fire"), but 40 were killed as they made their way home "in a disorderly way" after the massacre. The event was seen as a milestone in King Philip's War, with the Indians eventually being defeated.

John lived out his years in Northampton and died there on August 20, 1690. He was buried in Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton. His wife lived another 35 years, dying in 1725.

Famous descendants of John Lyman include Franklin Delano Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, Bess Truman, Thomas Dewey and Helen Hunt.

1. Elizabeth Lyman – B. 6 Nov 1655, Branford, Connecticut

2. Sarah Lyman – B. 11 Nov 1658, Northampton, Massachusetts; D. 4 Apr 1733, Northampton, Massachusetts; M. Samuel Wright (1654-1734)

3. John Lyman – B. 1 Aug 1660, Northampton, Massachusetts; D. 8 Nov 1740, Northampton, Massachusetts; M. Mindwell Sheldon (1666-1735), 19 Apr 1687, Northampton, Massachusetts

4. Moses Lyman – B. 20 Feb 1663, Northampton, Massachusetts; D. 25 Feb 1701

5. Dorothy Lyman – B. 8 Jun 1665, Northampton, Massachusetts; M. Jabez Bracket

6. Mary Lyman – B. 2 Jan 1668, Northampton, Massachusetts; M. Samuel Dwight

7. Experience Lyman – B. 8 Jan 1670, Northampton, Massachusetts; D. young

8. Joseph Lyman – B. 17 Feb 1671, Northampton, Massachusetts; D. 18 Feb 1691, Northampton, Massachusetts

9. Benjamin Lyman – B. 10 Aug 1674, Northampton, Massachusetts; D. 14 Oct 1723, Northampton, Massachusetts; M. Thankful Pomeroy (1679-1773), 27 Oct 1698, Northampton, Massachusetts

10. Caleb Lyman – B. 2 Sep 1678, Northampton, Massachusetts; D. 17 Nov 1742, Weston, Massachusetts

Genealogy of the Lyman Family in Great Britain and America, Lyman Coleman, 1872
A History of Deerfield, Massachusetts, George Sheldon, 1895
"The Coming of Margaret Winthrop," Edith M. Thomas, The Independent, Volume 53, p. 2824, The Independent Publications, Inc., 1901 – The Lyman Family Website
GeneaStar: Famous Family Tree and Genealogy [website]


  1. I am a descendant of John Lyman through my maternal grandmother Jean Lyman Lanxner. Her father was William Welles Lyman of Norwich Connecticut.
    Rebecca Nebesar

  2. Hello Rebecca,
    I am a descendant of John Lyman through my paternal grandmother, Anna Lyman Matthews. My great grandfather was Luke Chandler Lyman and fought for the Union in the Civil War. Would love to correspond with you.
    Anna Hart Matthews