‘This is all our history’: New exhibit explores the military experience of region’s underrepresented 


Staff Writer

Published: 07-27-2023 7:53 PM

With a newly redesigned Military Gallery, the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association is taking a new look at the history of the region’s armed forces.

Featuring both in-person and online sections, the new, permanent “Facing the Fight” exhibit at Memorial Hall explores the underrepresented military services and experiences of Black and Indigenous residents, as well as women from the Colonial era up to the early 21st century through rare artifacts and primary sources, including individual letters and photos taken by these people.

The new exhibit comes as the museum continues to explore the deep and often hidden history of Deerfield and western Massachusetts to ensure all stories are told, which are not always the same stories seen elsewhere, according to PVMA Curator and Assistant Director Ray Radigan.

“We’re making sure we’re telling both diverse stories and complete stories … and realizing, to do so, we need to be talking about everyone that was involved,” Radigan said. “To relate that to the present, we want the work we do to have as wide of an appeal as possible. This is all our history.”

Finding that history, though, can sometimes be difficult. Radigan said they undertook thorough research — with help from some Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts students — as they examined military records, payrolls, letters and numerous other sources to corroborate the stories they found.

The result was a wide-ranging history of the region’s Black, Indigenous and female soldiers that has been separated into the online and in-person exhibits. These are people who we know served in these capacities, Radigan said, but their perspectives and experiences are typically below the surface level of history people usually encounter.

“I think the volume overall, the number of people we were able to identify, I don’t want to say shocking, but it’s almost validating. It’s one of those things where you know, logically they were out there and part of it,” Radigan said. “These are not amorphous people, these are specific individuals.”

The website can be found online at bit.ly/44lHA19, and it features dozens of Black and Indigenous soldiers from western Massachusetts who fought in the Colonial era. Records range from a birth and death date, to brief life biographies and descriptions of their military service.

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At the museum, PVMA has set up documents, objects and photos, including rare original copies of a Paul Revere print of the Boston Massacre and Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” one of the most influential American Revolution pamphlets. Radigan said they also have one-of-a-kind letters and photos from the soldiers highlighted in the exhibit.

While the Paul Revere print and pamphlet copies have the greatest historical presence in the grand scheme of the conflicts highlighted, Radigan said the real focus of PVMA is bringing local history to the forefront.

“We’re not trying to tell the entire story of the Civil War or World War II — we’re focusing on the local individuals who served and were directly impacted by that,” Radigan said.

The Military Gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Oct. 31 at the Memorial Hall Museum, 8 Memorial St. in Deerfield. Admission is free due to the yearlong celebration of Deerfield’s 350th anniversary.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.