Indian Hill, Pittsfield

Main attributes of this Native American place: Archaeological; Native practices; Landmark.

Indian Hill, also called Fort Hill (a fortification called Ashley’s Fort had been constructed there in 1754, during the French & Indian War), west of former Gov. George N. Briggs’ homestead, southeast of Onota Lake ( once called Ashley’s Pond) in Pittsfield, is where in 1815, according to historian J.E.A. Smith, “Capt. Joseph Merrick turned up with his plough a Jewish frontlet, which, being opened, displayed the usual sentences of Hebrew scripture, beautifully inscribed upon parchment, which had been kept in perfect preservation by leathern casings. The theory that the American Indians are descendants of the lost tribes of Israel had then many ardent supporters, who, of course, hailed Capt. Merrick’s waif as confirmation of their faith, in a double sense ‘strong as Holy Writ.’” The relic was given to the Antiquarian Society of Worcester.

Grace Greylock Niles amplified on the finding: “In the Abenakis King’s burial‐field on Indian Hill, near Lake Onota or Onetho, at Pontoosac — place of winter deer of Housatonic Valley — a portion of the Hebrew Scriptures of the Great Spirit was unearthed in 1815.”

Whatever the merits of a single artifact in verifying a longstanding belief about Lost Tribes — just as plausibly the phylactery had been dropped by a German or British prisoner during the War of 1812) there was surely Native American activity here. In 1850 an excavation at a peat bog just northeast of Indian Hill revealed poles, “sharpened by the aid of fire,” Smith said, “as if for the construction of wigwams.”

Indian Point is the name of an earthen projection into Onota Lake. “And, doubtless, in the course of ages, erring marksmen left an armory of flint arrow‐heads on the gravelly bed of the lake,” Smith concluded.
— Bernard A. Drew


  •   Durwin, Joe, “Pittsfield’s Hebrew scrolls spark Mormon controversy,” These Mysterious Hills blog, 2 March 2006.

  •   Friedman, Lee M., “The Phylacteries Found at Pittsfield, Mass.,” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society No. 25, 1917.

  •   Niles, Grace Greylock. The Hoosac Valley: Its Legends and Its History. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912.

  •   Smith, J.E.A. The History of Pittsfield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, From the Year 1734 to the Year 1890. Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1869.

  •   Griffiths, Ralph, and George Edward Griffiths, eds., “The Jews and the Ten Tribes,” Monthly Review, June 1837.