I pulled into Brookfield at high noon on Saturday, feeling about half past dead. Woodstock was 50 years ago, and I was having a flashback to happier times, when the bomber jet planes were turning into butterflies above our nation. Not quite.
Brookfield is a tidy looking town with a bloody past. Originally Nipmuc land called Quaboag, settlers from Ipswich “purchased” the area in 1660 from one Native sachem named Shattoocquis, who claimed to be the sole and proper owner. The price paid for six square miles of land was three hundred fathom of wampum.
The settlers were acting on the interests of William and John Pynchon, founders of Springfield, who wanted to establish a trading post in the middle of the colony to more easily move goods from Boston to the Connecticut River Valley.
On August 2nd, 1675, during the hostilities known as King Philip’s War, Nipmuc forces under the leadership of Muttawmp ambushed a force of English militia under Thomas Wheeler and Edward Hutchinson, killing ten. The surviving Colonial militia were chased back to the garrison house in Brookfield, where they held out under siege for two more days, as the town burned. Following the siege, which was lifted under counterattack with more loss of life on both sides, Brookfield was abandoned for a dozen years.
I leaned my bike up against the gazebo on the town common, under the Stars and Stripes and the Massachusetts flag, with its prominent image of a Colonial sword poised above a Native man, and I stretched out on the ground. Fighting off sleep, I got up and went door to door, distributing leaflets to change the flag and seal, and gradually wended my way to the building that housed the Tip Top Country Store, the outlet for the Brookfield Food Coop. It appeared to be closed on a Sunday at noon – I tried the front door and a side door and was about to give it up when a woman walking purposefully up the street observed me and my heavily loaded bike.
“Sorry to find the store closed,” I said ruefully. I needed some refreshment.
“But it isn’t closed,” she said. “Follow me.”
She led me down side stairs to a basement entrance, after noting the wheelchair access around back. She turned out to be one of the selectboard members in Brookfield – and she gave me good advice about how to get a resolution in favor of changing the state flag and seal on the town meeting warrant.
She introduced me to the cashier, who made room for me at the Sunday koffee klatch table, where three more locals of wide experience questioned me at some length about what I was up to, and then offered to take my leaflets and put them up at various locations in North Brookfield, West Brookfield and East Brookfield – practically the entire Quaboag plantation!
Some of them knew the state senator Anne Gobi, and offered to speak to her to see if she would support the legislation to change the flag and seal.
Then one of the owners of the store, a “60’s radical” from the Woodstock days named Rudy Heller, took time out from his preparations to travel that afternoon with his wife Sarah to a gun control rally at Boston City Hall (in favor of Red Flag laws – to take guns away from people who show signs of violent instability) to talk briefly with me.
A former selectman, Rudy offered his help to bring Gobi on board with the 11 other state senators who now support changing the state flag and seal, and also to help when it comes time to gather signatures and get the resolution considered on Brookfield town meeting floor.
Not a bad visit, all in all.
Now I am in Webster, looking for the Chaubunagungamaug Band of the Nipmuc Nation. I’ll keep my eyes open.