April 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 3
“Every one of us was seized by his future master…
Perhaps the most haunting tear of the American frontiersman was capture by the Indians, an experience of suffering which left a permanent mark on those who were lucky enough to survive it. As long as the Indian threat persisted, captivity accounts appeared constantly. One of the most remarkable examples of this uniquely American literary genre was written by a seventeen-year-old Scot named John Rutherfurd, who was captured near Fort Detroit during the Pontiac Rebellion of 1763. Published obscurely in the nineteenth century, his exciting account is today all but forgotten. It comes to AMERICAN HERITAGE from a New York book dealer, Miss Emily Driscoll, and has been edited by a noted authority on the history of the Great Lakes region, Dr. Milo M. Quaife, of Highland Park, Michigan.
The best-organized and most formidable Indian uprising of the eighteenth century was the rebellion of the tribes of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley in 1763, led by the Ottawa chief, Pontiac. Less than three years after the surrender of the last French army in North America, France’s former Indian allies struck the frontier in a well-planned and co-ordinated series of attacks. In all, ten British forts were captured in little more than a month, and for over a year settlements were ravaged from New York to Virginia. So serious was this outbreak that for a time the region beyond the Appalachian Mountains was closed to settlement by royal edict.
If the ferocity of the Indians seems appalling today—what John Rutherfurd witnessed was not exceptional—it must be remembered that Pontiac’s Rebellion was, in a real sense, a primitive religious crusade. Already resentful of tactless handling by their English masters, and afraid of the encroachment of white settlers on their hunting grounds, the Indians were only too willing to listen to self-styled mystics who preached union of all tribesmen west of the Appalachians and a return to the older pastoral way of life.
Perhaps the most notable event of this rebellion was Pontiac’s unsuccessful siege of Fort Detroit, which John Rutherfurd witnessed as a prisoner in the Indian camp. An orphan, the young Scot had come to Detroit to live with a trader named James Sterling, who was a business partner of his uncle. Early in May, 1763, he joined a survey party on a trip to Lake Huron. Unfortunately, what began as a sporting sojourn in the Michigan wilderness was to end in a protracted nightmare.
Major Gladwin of the 60th Regiment, commanding officer of Detroit, being desirous to know whether the lakes and rivers between that place and Michilimackinac were navigable for vessels of a greater burden than the small bateaux they then made use of—by which discovery Michilimackinac and the little posts thereupon depending might be more conveniently and expeditiously supplied with provisions and military stores—ordered Lieutenant Charles Robertson of the 77th Regiment, who commanded the King’s vessels on Lake Erie, to go with a party consisting of six soldiers and two sailors in a large bateau with the necessary implements to sound the Lakes.∗ Sir Robert Davers, who had passed that winter at Detroit (excepting some little excursions he made among the Indian villages in the neighborhood), having a curiosity to see farther into the country—which in fact was the motive that induced him to come so far as Detroit—accompanied Captain Robertson; and both gentlemen inviting me to go along, I joyfully accepted their invitation as it had then all the appearance of a pleasure jaunt. We promised ourselves excellent sport in shooting water fowl, with which that country abounds, not in the smallest degree dreading any interruption from the savages around us, who but a little before in full council had renewed their profession of friendship for the English and received from them presents to a considerable amount.
∗ Robertson’s mission was to determine whether the St. Clair route to Lake Huron was navigable for sailing ships. Although the British had the beginnings of a naval force on Lake Erie, no ships were as yet maintained on the upper Lakes.
We accordingly set out on May 2, 1763. Captain Robertson, myself, and the military party were in the bateau; Sir Robert Davers with a panee , or Indian slave, was in a little wooden canoe, being better than a bateau for going into shallow water after game, and so easily navigated that he and his boy were sufficient to cross the lakes and go up the creeks, among the Indian villages.∗
∗ One of the first and most unfortunate “dudes” on the western frontier, Sir Robert Davers of Suffolk, England, was touring the Great Lakes “on a voyage of curiosity.”
May 4th. We overtook a canoe with an Indian family in it. We exchanged our bread and tobacco with them for fish newly caught and parted very good friends.
May 5th. We passed several Indian villages, but there appeared to be few Indians at them. We supposed they were out upon their hunting parties, but afterwards found that they were on a party of a very different nature, being collected at the place where we were afterwards attacked by them.
May 6th. In the morning we arrived at La Pinnierre where there were some Canadians building a sawmill for whom we brought, at the desire of a French gentleman at Detroit, a few barrels of flour.† They returned us thanks, and told us with all the rhetoric they were masters of that all the nations of Indians around were in league to take up the hatchet against the English; that they knew of our coming that way, and were waiting six miles up the river to seize and destroy us; and if we proceeded any farther we would certainly be cut to pieces. They begged us with tears in their eyes for God’s sake to return, and by means of the wind and strong current of the river, we might gain the fort before they could perceive we had discovered their intentions.
†La Pinnierre (the Pinery), on the Pine River, was the principal source of building timber for French Detroit.
This was friendly advice given by people who showed, even by their countenances, that they had our safety very much at heart; and had we followed their counsel, many would have saved their lives on this occasion and others would have avoided a long and dangerous captivity. Captain Robertson partly doubted the truth of what the Canadians told us, and partly imagined they would not dare to attack us till under cover of the night. As it was then morning, he thought that he might go six miles farther and sound about the mouth of the River Huron ∗—which done, his work would be finished—and then return to the fort as fast as possible. He therefore ordered the rowers to ply their oars, and without seeming to suspect any danger proceeded till we came within six miles of the above river, where there was a small Indian village at the same place where the Canadians had informed us we would be attacked by the savages.
∗ That is, the St. Clair River at present-day Port Huron, Michigan. It must be noted that here and in several other places in the narrative Rutherfurd’s estimates of distance are inaccurate.
Then it was, though alas too late, that Captain Robertson discovered the truth of the information we had got; for the whole bank of the river was covered with Indians to the amount of three or four hundred. Sir Robert Davers, who was at the time considerably before us in his canoe, at the request of the Indians put the head of his canoe on shore and smoked a pipe of friendship (as they called it) with some of their chiefs till we came up. He advised us to row on and pass him, and not to seem to suspect their having a design upon us.
Here I must observe that the river was narrower and ran so rapid that we were obliged to keep the boat close to the shore; and even there the Indians could walk faster than we could row. To have attempted to return would have been inevitable destruction to us all; besides, they had all their canoes ready for pursuing us. This we were sensible of, so we kept rowing on and humored them as much as possible. They crowded about us, men, women, and children, giving us the friendly appellation of brothers, telling us they were glad to see us, and begging us to come ashore and we should have whatever was good, the squaws, or Indian women, showing us fish, maple sugar, &c, in order to induce us to land. We did not, however, choose to accept of their invitation or presents. They asked for some of our bread and tobacco, which we gave them. This was only to take up our attention, for all this time they were filing off by degrees, till at last there was not an Indian to be seen.
The squaws were collected so closely upon the bank of the river, endeavoring to divert our attention by ridiculous stories and immodest gestures, that it was impossible to see what was going on behind them or what the men were about, who were then posting themselves behind a rising ground a little beyond us. When we came opposite that place, the squaws, as it had been preconcerted, ran off as fast as they could.
As soon as they were all out of the way, the warriors fired upon us at the distance of about sixty yards. Captain Robertson was immediately wounded in the left side, which, showing me, he called to the men to sheer off; but alas! he had just spoken the words when another shot through his body killed him. I then took the helm and endeavored to bring the boat around, but two of the soldiers being now killed, the remaining five could not navigate the boat; and as they neither had their arms ready nor loaded, they thought only of screening themselves the best way they could from the enemy’s fire; but this was all in vain, for the Indians seeing Captain Robertson killed and the confusion we were in, rushed upon us and easily boarded us, at the same time, according to their custom upon such occasions, making the most dreadful cries and yellings, what they call the death hollow.
They had changed their dress from what it was when they spoke to us as brothers, having at that time their blankets and ornaments on, whereas now they were naked and painted black and red, making a very frightful appearance. Every one of us was seized by his future master; for by their custom whoever first seizes a captive by his hair, to him he belongs, and none may take him from him. I was laid hold of by one whose hideous appearance was enough to have banished any hope of obtaining quarter; but indeed before this I had given up all hope of being saved and became, in a manner, resigned to the worst. They immediately scalped Captain Robertson and the two soldiers that were killed, and stripped them naked.
My master—for as such I was to acknowledge him—at that time dragged me out of the boat by the hair of the head, into the water, which took me up to the neck. However, he brought me safe on shore, and with a rope adorned with trinkets (which they always carry with them to war to bind their prisoners) bound me and delivered me over in charge of his squaw; and then he went back to plunder the boat.
All this while, Sir Robert Davers (as I was afterwards informed by his Indian boy, who was with him in the canoe) upon seeing the Indians attack us, endeavored to escape with his light canoe to the opposite side of the river. The Indians called to him repeatedly to come on shore and give himself up to them, and they would not hurt a hair of his head. He paid no regard to them, which exasperated them so much that two of them leveled their pieces at him and brought him down. His body fell out of the boat into the river, which they picked up and brought on shore, cut his head off and buried his body. His head was also buried after the scalp was taken off.
My master returned with his share of the plunder of the boat, which he laid upon my back; with which, marching through the village, we came to the hut where he lived. We had not been there long, when a great many Indians came in and got drunk upon some shrub they had got as part of the plunder; and, as I knew that in their cups they often killed one another, I thought myself in as much danger as ever. One of them, dressed in Captain Robertson’s clothes, came in very drunk, and seeing me lying in a corner with my hands tied, gave a hollow, calling out English dog, and made a stroke at me with his tomahawk which must have killed me, had not an Indian more sober (and whom I afterwards found to be the best of them) seized his arm and prevented him, and then turned him out of the hut.
My master’s wife, seeing the danger I was in, and knowing the same or more Indians might return to the hut, made me lie down behind her, and covered me with skins and furs. Soon afterward the same Indian returned and demanded me from my master, saying no English dog should be left alive, upon which he was turned out a second time and well kicked. Soon after that a party of them came for me, upon which my master was obliged, in order to save me, to tell them I had been carried to another hut, which satisfied them.
The whole night they kept drinking what little liquor we had brought with us and making a most hideous yelling, dancing, and singing while they were feasting upon Captain Robertson’s body. This shocking piece of barbarity is practiced only by some of the Indian nations to the northward. The Six Nations, who use their prisoners, while alive, much worse than they do, never eat human flesh, which they do, not for want of food but as a religious ceremony, or rather from a superstitious idea that it makes them prosperous in war. They teach their children to be fond of it.
The next day my master’s son brought some small pieces of the body to the hut and roasted it upon a stick at the fire, and endeavored to prevail with me to eat of it, often assuring me that Englishmen’s flesh was very good to eat. My master requested me to taste it, telling me I was never to think of going back to the English, and so ought to conform to the custom of the Indians. I told him I would obey him in everything he desired me—and even in that if he insisted—but that it was very disagreeable to me, and that that was the only command I would make the least hesitation to obey him in, and begged he would not insist upon it. Thus, by a seeming readiness to obey him, I avoided eating the body of my friend; and I believe by showing a desire to please him rather gained upon his affections.
My hands were still kept bound behind my back. This being the second day of my captivity ∗ and not having seen any of the poor soldiers, I concluded they had shared the same unhappy fate as their captain, which added to my uneasiness, fearing that I would not be more favorably dealt with. However, to my great joy and comfort, towards the evening of that day I saw Sir Robert’s Indian boy, who told me he knew of some of the soldiers being alive.
∗ On this day, May 7, Pontiac and sixty warriors appeared before the gates of Fort Detroit, begging admission. But the commanding officer, Major Gladwin, had been warned that the Indians concealed shortened rifles underneath their blankets, and he ordered his men to stand armed and ready for action. The Indians were allowed within the walls; but observing the unexpected show of British strength, they did nothing. Realizing that he could not take the fort by subterfuge, Pontiac proclaimed outright war two days later. In full view of the garrison, the Indians rushed upon the cabin of an English settler and scalped the inhabitants, signaling the start of a siege which would continue for five months.
This boy, having lived long with the English and speaking the language, made me think he would desire to get free from the Indians, who used him much worse than the English did. I therefore thought I might confide in him, so I laid myself open to him and told him of a scheme I had formed of our escaping together: which was that we should both get out of our respective huts in the night time when all were asleep, meet at a certain place agreed upon and there untie each other. As he understood traveling in the woods, he would pilot us to Detroit, which was not above eighty English miles from where we then were; each of us should bring as much fish as would subsist us upon our journey thither.
He agreed to the proposal and went off with an intention, as I supposed, of meeting at the place appointed. However, towards the end of the evening I was surprised to see my master coming into the hut, looking very angry at me, and having a thin wooden post and an axe in his hand. Without saying a word, he put one end of the post in the ground and, tying the other to the roof of the hut, cut a notch in it about two feet from the ground and told me in an angry tone something I did not understand, with signs to me to lie down upon my back. Then, taking my leg a little above the ankle, he put it into the notch, against which he tied another piece of stick so close that I could not move myself to turn upon my side, and lay upon my back with my hands tied and the end of the rope drawn underneath my master’s body, who lay with his squaw near me, upon a bear-skin. Thus I passed the night like a criminal just before his execution, only with the difference that I had nothing to reproach myself with, having committed no offense against my God or the laws of my country. This treatment gave me good cause to suspect the treachery of the Indian boy, who, I afterwards found, had, in order to get his freedom, disclosed my intentions.
Next morning my master loosed my leg, and by an Indian who spoke English told me he had discovered my intention of escaping; and that had I gone off, or even attempted it, death would certainly have been the consequence, showing the situation of Fort Detroit surrounded by four Indian nations, viz: Chippewas (the nation I was with), Ottawas, Potawatomies, and Wyandottes, who so blockaded the fort that nobody could come in or go out; adding that in a few days there would not be an Englishman in it alive. Whereupon I found it was absolutely necessary for my safety to affect a relish for their savage manners, and to put on an air of perfect contentment, which I had often heard was the way to gain the affections of the Indians; whereas a gloomy, discontented air irritates them and always excites worse treatment, and sometimes occasions the death of the captive who is so unfortunate as not to be able to accommodate himself to his situation. I therefore assured him I should no more think of leaving him, which so pleased him that he took me out to walk and showed me where Sir Robert was buried and what remained of Captain Robertson’s body after the feast. He likewise pointed out to me how impossible it was for us to have escaped in our boat. He then took me to where the bodies of the poor soldiers lay who fell in the attack and were become food for the dogs, which were eating them.
Here he loosed my hands, and with the string bound up a heavy burden of sticks which he put on my back to carry home, telling me I was always to do that, or whatever work his wife desired me. When I was delivered of my burden, he again tied my hands and fastened the rope to the rafters of the hut, but did not put my leg in the stocks as on the night before. It was equally impossible for me to escape, but by this time I had given up all hopes of effecting it, unless a more favorable opportunity should offer.
Next morning my master and his family went off in his canoe to join the rest of the warriors encamped at Detroit, leaving me to the care of his father, who seemed fond of me and wished that I should become a savage as soon as possible. Soon after my master’s departure, his father stripped me of my clothes and told me I should wear them no more, but dress like an Indian. He accordingly gave me a blanket and breechclout, which is a piece of blue cloth about a yard and a half long and a foot broad which they pass through betwixt their legs, bringing each end under a belt which is round the middle for that purpose. Then he shaved my head, leaving only a small tuft of hair upon the crown and two small locks, which he plaited with silver brooches interwoven, making them hang over my face which was painted with a variety of colors. He likewise made me a present of a tobacco pouch and pipe, telling me I should smoke. I did, and afterwards became fond of it.
The hunting season being at this time past, the Indians lived upon fish, without either bread, butter, or salt. This did not agree with my constitution, so that having suffered much from a dysentery, I became so weak as to be unable to walk for seven or eight days, during which time the old man consoled me by telling me that I should not be eaten if I died of that disorder. Ten days after this my master returned with his family; and after much talk of the success of their arms against the English, how many prisoners they had taken, &c, he looked at me, turning me round about, and seemed surprised to see me dressed en sauvage . He asked for my hair, which the old man giving him, he put carefully by. Still my hands were tied, and whenever I had occasion to go out an Indian boy held the end of the rope, and when he brought me in, fastened it to the rafters of the hut again.
My master soon after this untied my hands, often telling me of the impossibility of my escaping. I told him I had no such intention, and feigned a satisfaction with their way of living and a particular fondness for my new dress, by which means I secured his good will, as he thought he was sure of me, and that from my being so young I would sooner take to the novelty of their way of life and more easily forget my country and my friends. Certain it is, by this behavior I fared in many respects better than those prisoners who appeared sullen and displeased with their situation, some of them suffering death on that account.
I now frequently saw two of the soldiers that were taken with me, but the Indians did not choose us to have long conferences together. However, these short meetings now and then were very satisfactory. It gives inexpressible pleasure to meet one of your countrymen when in a foreign country; judge how much more so when in captivity with a nation of savages of a different color from ourselves. Happy was I to meet and converse with these poor fellows, who a little before I would not suffer to speak to me without the usual marks of respect from an inferior to a superior. Here there was no distinction; nay, we were glad to find three people of our color. We used often to compare notes with regard to the usage we met from our masters. One of them told me he was obliged to eat of Captain Robertson’s body. We would form fifty different ways of making our escape, and immediately reject them all as impracticable.
About the middle of May we were in great distress for want of provisions, owing to the indolence of the savages, who never stir out of their huts to fish or hunt till necessity drives them, which was our case at this time. During four days the wind continued so high that no fish could be taken, as they durst not venture upon the lake with their little bark canoes, which generally are navigated by two men (or a man and a boy), the former standing in the bow, or fore part, where there is a pole fixed having a light at the end, which attracts the fish; it being in the darkest nights they are most successful. The man in the bow sees the fish approaching and directs the boy how to steer the canoe, so that he may strike the fish with a harpoon or three-pronged gig.
In this manner I have seen as much as two men could carry of catfish, perch, and pike taken in two hours’ time. Independent of the satisfaction of procuring what is so necessary a part of sustenance among them, it is a great amusement and truly a pleasant sight to see upwards of fifty of these lights moving upon the smooth lake in every direction, while the only sound heard is the different cries of wild beasts in the forest. This occasions no apprehension to the fishers, who are out of their reach. I before have observed that the stormy weather had reduced us to our last extremity, viz., picking up acorns and boiling them in ashes and water, changing the ashes and water frequently to remove the bitter taste. This was our food till the fifth day, when the wind abating, we got plenty of fish.
The Indians are so accustomed to being reduced to this shift that they think nothing of it, and are always sure to make up their loss. When they have victuals of any sort in their huts, they do nothing but eat, smoke their pipe, and sleep. Sometimes they amuse themselves with a game something like our children’s diversion of shinty, where the females play against the men and often come off victorious.∗ It is on this occasion that the beaux and belles make their conquests and dress in their best attire. My master used to dress me out in the richest manner, putting all the ornaments belonging to the family upon me, taking me out to the plain and making me strut about to show myself when the whole village was assembled, calling out to the people to look at the little white man. At this time I was only made a show of, and not suffered to join in the game.
∗ This was the game of lacrosse, immensely popular among the tribes of the Great Lakes.
Towards the end of May we began to make preparations for our voyage to join the rest of the warriors encamped within a few miles of Detroit. For this purpose my master thought it necessary to build a canoe (which he and I did in two days) sufficient to carry all our family for many thousand miles. The evening before our departure I was surprised to see my master seize one of the dogs—of which animals we had several in the hut poking their noses every now and then in our victuals, which they could easily reach as the floor was the only table we had. This dog (which I was not sorry for) was killed and given over to the squaw, who scraped him, as we do a hog, in hot water. Then my master invited all his neighbors, sending a man round the village with a number of little painted sticks, one of which was left with each. Upon entering the hut where the feast is held, every one produces his bit of stick and lays it upon a platter provided for the purpose. Each of the guests got a double portion, eating one and carrying the other home in a dish which they bring with them for this purpose. I sat in the corner of the hut, a silent spectator of this feast, being looked upon as a slave and unworthy to partake of so fine a repast.
After killing, or rather drowning, another dog for the purpose of appeasing the evil spirit (as they gave me to understand), we set out next morning in our canoe, making short daily voyages, always landing before sunset and putting up our cabin and cooking our fish, which office fell to my share, as well as cutting wood for the fire. The cabin or hut is soon made. It consists of about twenty young trees set up in the shape of a sugar loaf, and all covered with a kind of matting (which is carried in the canoe), excepting a hole in the top to let out the smoke. Every one carries his or her bed clothes on his back, which is either the skin of a wild beast or a coarse blanket; and all lie down promiscuously, men, women, and children, with their feet to the fire, which is in the center.
The second day of our voyage we came to an island where there was an Indian burying ground. Here we halted, and around a particular grave, which my master afterwards told me was that of one of his sons, he made us all plant a few grains of corn; which done, we re-embarked and went on our journey, which we ended in four days, arriving at a Frenchman’s house in the neighborhood of Detroit.
This man being a friend of my master, we took up our residence close by his house rather than join the rest of the warriors, who were encamped five miles nearer the fort. We immediately set about building a large bark house more convenient than those they carry about with them. Here the fireplace was out of doors, where I broiled two hours every day, boiling their kettle with a little fish or Indian corn in it. This new house we finished in about four days, the severest part of which work fell to my share, such as carrying the wood and bark.
Here I must observe that I suffered inexpressible pain from my not having any clothes on, not so much as a shirt to protect me from the scorching rays of the sun which burned my shoulders and back so much that I was one continued blister, and the palms of my hands were in the same state from continual working with the axe. The next piece of fatigue I was put to was assisting my mistress in planting a large field of Indian corn, or maize, pumpkins, and other vegetables. This being finished, my master carried me to the grand encampment about five miles from Detroit. Here I had the pleasure of seeing Captain Campbell and Lieutenant McDougall of the 60th Regiment, who came out of the fort at the commencement of the blockade, with Major Gladwin’s proposals of peace with the Indians. To these they would not listen; on the contrary, they detained those two gentlemen prisoners at a Frenchman’s house.
Upon my observing to Captain Campbell that I thought we might attempt our escape, being within sight of the fort, he told me by no means to think of it, as he was well assured that if any one escaped, the Indians were determined to sacrifice those that remained. I frequently made visits to these gentlemen, who belonged to the Ottawa nation. Every day there were prisoners and scalps brought in to the camp. The scalp is not, as is commonly believed, the whole skin of the head, but is only the uppermost part of the crown, and must have in it that swirl in the hair which every one has there before it can be approved of as a just trophy of the warrior’s achievement.
They at this time brought in Ensign Pauli of the 60th Regiment, who commanded at a small fort on Lake Erie. The Indians came into his fort as friends, and while some of them were smoking a pipe as a token of pretended friendship the rest were butchering his small garrison, of whom they did not leave one alive. This gentleman made a very good Indian, being of a dark complexion, and was much liked by his master, who soon adopted him into his family, which exempted him from all drudgery.
So great a concourse of Indians gathered together in the French settlement reduced the inhabitants to great distress for want of provisions. The Indians killed their cattle, sheep, and poultry; and when these failed we were almost starved, frequently having nothing for a whole day but a single handful of Indian corn, which we parched in the ashes and ate with a spoonful of bear’s grease. I often used to beg for a morsel of bread among the Frenchmen’s houses, from whose doors I was frequently turned with an empty stomach. I was not able to bear this as well as the Indians, who, when thus pinched, have a way of girding their bodies with a belt, which they continue to straiten as their fast continues to be prolonged.
In this distressed situation my master prudently resolved to quit the camp, and moved us back to the place where I was taken prisoner. Here we had fish as before, and sometimes a little venison. On our return to this village we halted near the burying ground I have mentioned, and while my mistress and I were erecting our hut, my master went out and killed a bear, which we ate of most heartily. After finishing our repast I was ordered to put the kettle again on the fire, which surprised me a little as we commonly went to sleep after eating. I ventured to ask the meaning of it, and was given to understand by looks and gestures that in the morning I should have the mystery revealed. My master then cut some of the choicest bits of the bear and put them into the kettle, which was hung over a slow fire, and we went to rest.
At day-break the next morning we were called up, and in a formal solemn manner walked up to the grave, near which a little fire was made. Having seated ourselves around it, each with our dish in our hand, my master arose and made a long speech, during which he often pointed to the grave and to me alternately. At every pause we joined in a sort of chorus by way of approving of what he said. When he had finished his speech he divided the broth and meat among us, and after saying a few words over the grave put a piece of the fat of the bear into the fire and directed us to do the same.
This, I was told, was to appease the spirit of the deceased, who might be offended at my being adopted in his place. He then told me I was as much their son as if I had sucked these breasts (showing me those of his wife), telling me at the same time to look upon the boys as my brothers, and that my name should be no more Saganash, or Englishman, but Adclick, which signified a white elk. Notwithstanding this, I was generally called by my master’s name, which was Peewash. I had three brothers, Mayance, Quido, and Quidabin.
My master, or rather my father now, frequently took me out hunting with him, which was an amusement I was very fond of. Although this was not the season for killing deer, he was under the necessity of taking a few to subsist his family upon when at the camp with the rest of the warriors. We accordingly set out for the camp when we had cured a few carcasses of venison, which we did by smoking; them, having no salt.
In crossing Lake St. Clair it happened to blow pretty hard, so that our little frigate was in danger of going to the bottom with Peewash and all his family. To appease the evil spirit, he cut some handfuls of tobacco small, and threw it into the lake, at the same time making a long speech. Whether owing to the tobacco or not I shall not pretend to determine, but we got safe upon terra firma; and as the rain had wet our shirts and blankets we hung them on trees and ran about naked till they were dried. They likewise make use of that plant (tobacco) in thunder storms, throwing a quantity of it into the fire; and while it is burning a squaw drums with a piece of iron on the bottom of a kettle. This, they pretend, prevents any mischief from being done to the family by the lightning.
By this time our corn was grown up about a foot high, so that it became necessary to have it hoed and weeded, which was a severe task upon my mother and me for six days. I flattered myself that my being adopted into the family would have exempted me from this kind of drudgery, as was the case with most of the other prisoners; but Peewash, having a particular regard for his wife, chose that I should still assist her on many occasions, and she, being fond of ease, laid the most of it on my shoulders. She frequently made me pound or bruise corn in a large mortar till there was scarcely any skin upon my hands. When I showed them to her she only laughed arid told me I should soon be better used to it, and that my hands would become hard like hers, which indeed were neither soft nor fine.
The men think it beneath them to do anything but fish or hunt for the support of their family, and in this they take no more trouble than is absolutely necessary. They frequently kill the game and leave it till they can send their squaws to carry it home, directing them how to find it by breaking off branches and marking the trees for miles from where the game was killed. Having found it, she brings home the choicest pieces and dresses them for her Lord and Master, who generally sleeps till he is called to get up and eat. When he has finished his repast he regales himself with a pipe of tobacco mixed with the leaves of the sumac shrub.
In the meantime the rest of the family are busy roasting fish or broiling steaks, each one for himself. The steaks are broiled or toasted upon the end of a stick as we toast bread, and in my opinion this is the most delicious way of eating roast meat. Sometimes our mother roasted a large piece for the whole family. As the outside becomes a little done, everyone with his knife falls upon it and slices away as it roasts, by which means the pleasure of eating (which is one of their chief gratifications) is prolonged. When soup is made, or rather when they boil their fish or meat, they hang the kettle up out of the reach of the dogs, for every one in their turn to drink as they choose. The want of salt made me for some time think whatever I ate was very insipid and tasteless. However, hunger and custom prevailed over prejudice and I soon came to eat as heartily as Peewash himself.
About the 8th of June Lieutenant McDougall with a Dutch trader made their escape into the fort,∗ which caused them to look more strictly after us that were left with them, particularly Captain Campbell, who was shut up in a garret in a Frenchman’s house. I frequently visited him with Peewash. One evening he told me he felt unwell, and was prepossessed with a notion that he was to die very soon. I endeavored to persuade him not to encourage a thought so melancholy and dispiriting, but to my great grief and sorrow the first thing I heard next day was that he had been killed.
∗ Actually, McDougall escaped the night of July 1; Captain Campbell was murdered but three days later.
That morning Captain Hopkins of the Rangers made a sortie from the fort, attacked a party of Indians, and killed one of the chiefs of the nation to which I belonged. The friends of the deceased were resolved to be revenged by killing an English captive. This they could not do more conveniently than by murdering poor Campbell, who belonged to the Ottawa nation. That nation, in their turn, was enraged against the Chippewas for killing their prisoner, whom they were fond of, and resolved upon having satisfaction, which could only be obtained by sacrificing a prisoner belonging to the Chippewas of rank equal to that of Captain Campbell, the better to compensate the loss. Accordingly they pitched upon Ensign Pauli, but he being informed of his danger by a handsome squaw who was in love with him, assisted by her escaped out of the Frenchman’s house; from whence with much difficulty he got into the fort after being fired at several times by the sentries, who took him for an Indian.
The Ottawas, disappointed in their design upon Pauli, determined to take my life—being, as they thought, next in rank to an officer and superior to any of the private soldiers they had among them. Peewash, hearing that they were in search of me, took me to a Frenchman’s barn and covered me with straw, in which situation I lay for the space of three hours, expecting every moment to have the tomahawk in my skull, till a party of Indians, with Peewash at their head, came and took me out of the barn. Notwithstanding his assuring me I was not to suffer death, I could not help being doubtful of my safety.
They marched me as a prisoner for four miles till we reached the grand encampment, which was in the middle of the French settlement. Here in the road was lying a dead body, mangled and scalped, which the dogs were eating. They made me stop for a considerable time, and looked at it with much seeming satisfaction, at the same time in an exulting tone of voice telling me that there lay our chief, our Great Chief, Captain Campbell. Indeed it would not have been possible for me to have recognized that it was the remains of my good friend. He was scalped and his ears, nose, an arm, a leg, and other parts of his body cut off. It was a very shocking spectacle to me; yet however disagreeable, I was obliged to view it.
They then led me into a great hall in a Frenchman’s house, in the court yard of which there were about two hundred Indians of different nations. In the middle of the hall a small table and five chairs were placed, in four of which sat the chiefs of the nations encamped around Detroit; the fifth chair was for myself, who at that time would gladly have dispensed with this mark of distinction.
They then produced some letters written in English; and Pontiac, the leading man of the four nations, told me by a French interpreter that as I could speak French and read English writing they had pitched upon me to explain what was in these letters; which he ordered me to do without concealing any part of them, threatening me with death if I did not read them verbatim as they were written. Then one of the prisoners, a native of Virginia who had been fond of an indolent life and married among them, told me that he could read English and would overlook the papers and discover if I attempted to conceal any part of them, adding that the consequence would be my being scalped on the spot.
I accordingly set to work and read the letters in French to a Frenchman, who explained them to the Indians. They were only some old letters that Captain Campbell had in his pocket when he was killed, and a few letters to him from his friends at Detroit, sent from thence by a Frenchman who, instead of delivering them, had kept them.
There were several French gentlemen in the hall, who were all as eager about reading the letters as the Indians. What both French and Indians wanted to know was whether peace was declared with France or not. It had been publicly declared by Major Gladwin in Detroit long before that time, but the Canadians could not bring themselves to believe that Le Grand Monarch [Louis XV] would ever cede their country to Great Britain. They still flattered themselves that if they could excite the savages to maintain the war against us for a little while, a reinforcement might come to their assistance from France, and that the English might be driven out of Canada; and they were in hopes that there might be something in the letters that might favor their design.
Accordingly they always told the Indians that Major Gladwin had only declared peace in order to prevent their making war upon the English. The letters, however, contained nothing that I thought could favor their design; notwithstanding, they found means to construe them differently, and at least made the Indians more doubtful of the truth of what had been told them by Major Gladwin. When I had done they all thanked me and appeared satisfied with my proceedings and gave me leave to return home with Peewash, who told me he was glad he brought me off so well.
The next memorable circumstance that happened to me was my being sold to Monsieur Cuillerier, with whom I had been well acquainted before my captivity, and during it had been frequently at his house (which was only two miles from Detroit) with Peewash in order to get a little bread and salt. In these visits I proposed to Monsieur Cuillerier to endeavor to purchase me from Peewash, who I knew was covetous and fond of riches in the Indian way of estimating wealth, which consists of possessing a profusion of trinkets, such as wampum, beads, bracelets, and silver gorgets.
This gentleman, on account of Mr. Sterling, with whom he was very intimate (and who afterwards married his daughter), was much my friend. He made several offers to Peewash for me, by bringing with him a horse and a cow, thinking they would do, as he had often said that he liked the white people’s manner of living and enjoying such comforts; but he had a greater liking for me than to part with me at so small a price. However, he agreed to let me go for certain merchandise, such as he should choose, to the value of £40, upon condition that I was always to live with Monsieur Cuillerier and not to be allowed to go back to the English.
This we both promised, although we only intended to keep it so long as it would be attended with no risk to my benefactor to break it, for rather than that he should suffer, I was resolved to live with him, although at the risk of being again seized by the savages. My mother and brothers took a very affectionate leave of me, and went home loaded with the goods they had got for me, leaving me overjoyed with my change of situation. I immediately threw away my dirty, greasy, painted shirt, which I had worn for two months without ever being washed. I scrubbed myself for two hours with soap and warm water to get the grease and paint off. Then dressing myself en Canadian with a clean French shirt and long ruffles, a new breech clout, with a mantlet exactly like our lady’s bedgown, and a pair of new leggings, I began to feel somewhat comfortable.
This Frenchman being a brother to the former French commandant, and a very great favorite of the Indians, they had favored him a little by not killing all his stock, such as cattle, poultry, Sec. So I got a good supper genteelly served up, went to a good bed which was provided for me, and slept better than I had done for a long while before. I awoke next morning happy in the thought of being out of the hands of the savages and once more, as I imagined, restored to liberty, thinking there was no doubt I would soon be among my friends in the fort. At the worst, to live with such a good family till the war ended would be but a slight hardship. But how fleeting are the joys of this life, and how uncertain are we weak mortals of what it may please the Almighty that we shall suffer in this state of trial and probation. I was happy at this moment beyond expression, and in the next I was doomed to misery.
Before sunset, as I was enjoying the company of the amiable Mademoiselle Cuillerier, lamenting together the miserable situation of many poor captives that were still in the hands of the Indians and contriving methods for the deliverance of some of them, a party of armed Indians entered the house—all of them Ottawas and consequently strangers to me—and without saying a word to me or any of the family seized me in a rude manner and brought me down stairs. Then, indeed, my situation wore a very gloomy appearance. I was hurried away from that good family without having time to say more than farewell to them who, on their part, were as much amazed as myself.
They dared not interpose in my behalf, nor attempt to save me. The ladies of the family burst into tears, crossed themselves several times, and, I believe, fervently prayed for me. All that Monsieur Cuillerier could say to me was to desire me to keep up my heart, and trust en le Bon Dieu. As we passed by the French houses, all the inhabitants were pitying me, saying what a sad thing it was to behold so young a lad come to so untimely an end; others were calling to me to keep up my spirits, saying there were still hopes, &c, &c. As for myself, I own I was at first much shocked when they seized me; but by degrees I became more resigned, and began to think seriously that my time was at last corne, and the dangerous escapes I had made were as so many warnings to me to prepare for that change which we must all undergo sometime or other.
They carried me to Pontiac’s hut—the chief of the Ottawas—who, after leaving me in suspense for some hours, procured a French interpreter who informed me the reason he took me from Monsieur Cuillerier was because several Dutch traders had got Frenchmen to buy them, or rather ransom them, as I had done, and if he suffered that trade to go on they would soon have no captives; therefore he was resolved either to keep us all, or else our scalps, for which reason he had ordered all that had been so bought to be taken from them that had purchased them, and that he had resolved to keep me for himself.
This speech eased me in some measure of the disagreeable apprehensions I was under, and gave me reason to hope that my last hour was not so near as a little before I had imagined; yet I wished again to be in Feewash’s family. However, this night I remained with Pontiac, but early the next morning the Chippewas, the nation I formerly belonged to, sent a party to take me from the Ottawas; but Pontiac, having somehow taken a liking to me (I believe owing to my youth, for they seldom grow fond of elderly people who have the misfortune to fall into their hands, from a belief that they never will be reconciled to their manner of life), refused to deliver me up, the consequence of which refusal had nearly been a war between the two nations.
This was prevented by Wasson, the chief of the Chippewas. After a good deal of altercation upon the subject, Pontiac thought it most prudent to deliver me up, and thereby avoid a war with a nation superior in number to his own, which, besides the possibility of destroying his own nation, would have infallibly ruined the common cause for which they were united. I was immediately carried off by King Wasson to his hut. He was very good to me. He gave me plenty of victuals, and he told me he had plenty of girls in his family to do all the work, so that I should never be asked to do anything, but live as he and his sons did.
This pleased me very much, and indeed the behavior of him and his family was such that I had reason to think myself fortunate in falling into his hands. Every member of the family, which was very large, vied with one another to show me the most countenance and favor, and when any disturbance or alarm appeared in the camp, such as the young fellows, out of mere wantonness or in a drunken frolic, killing any of the captives—which they too frequently did—I was always hid till the danger was over.
The old king became so fond of me that he offered to make me his son-in-law when I should be disposed for matrimony and should fancy any of his daughters, who were reckoned the handsomest in the camp, and had more wampum than any others. He was satisfied with my telling him that I thought myself highly honored by the proposed alliance; and although I was not inclined to take a wife at that time, I did not know how soon I might wish to change my condition, and that then I should be happy to choose one of his family.
Little did I suspect that the ease and tranquility I then enjoyed would be of so short duration. I had not been in this situation for ten days when Peewash expressed a desire to have his son back again with him, saying that he and his wife had heartily repented their selling me to the French gentleman. They were willing to return the merchandise they had received for me, providing I was again restored to them, adding that it grieved their hearts to see me in the possession of another.
Wasson, however great his desire to keep me in his family, knew that although he was the chief of the nation he had no power to keep what was another’s property. He likewise did not choose to expose himself or his family to the revenge of Peewash, who would take the first opporunity to resent the injury done him. He therefore was obliged to give me up to my father, who with his whole house received me again with joy and the most expressive marks of satisfaction, while that of Wasson seemed sorry to part with me, and even the princesses showed that they were not indifferent.
The number of prisoners increased every day. Towards the end of July they had upwards of fifty, besides a great number of scalps that were daily brought into the camp; they were every day murdering some of their prisoners, even those that had been as long among them as myself. One day, in particular, I was in the hall of a Frenchman’s house, which was crowded with Indians, when some of the young warriors brought eight naked captives into the hall, at the sight of which I was surprised and terrified. I asked an Indian who was of the same nation with myself, and who had frequently professed a regard for me, whether or not I was to fall a sacrifice with those they were about to murder. At this question, he was amazed to see me there; and without making any answer he hurried me through the crowd, and putting me into another room in the house charged me to lie close and make no noise, otherwise I would be discovered and killed. He then locked the door and left me to think on what had passed.
I found two Dutch merchants in the room in the same situation as myself, having been hid there by their masters, who were desirous of saving them from the fury of their brethren. During our confinement we heard the Indians making long speeches over the unhappy people that were to suffer, telling them it was in order to make them prosperous in the war against the English that they were to be killed. The poor victims were begging the French people, who were looking on, to intercede in their behalf. One little boy in particular, a drummer of the Rangers about twelve years old, was crying bitterly and imploring their mercy; but alas, he knew not how vain it was to ask it from wretches whose hearts were steeled against every feeling of humanity.
I ventured to crawl to the window, where I saw them lead to the riverside (which ran just by the house) eight of these poor creatures, one by one, whom they put to death on the spot. Some of them were tomahawked, others they shot with their guns, and some of them they made the little boys shoot with bows and arrows, in order to accustom them to cruelty and perfect them in the use of that weapon. Thus they prolonged the pain of these unhappy wretches, and when one fell, the multitude would set up the most dreadful yells and cries that can be conceived. When they were all dead they scalped them, and some of the Indians took the skin off their arms to make tobacco pouches of (as they had formerly done with Captain Robertson and Captain Campbell), leaving the first joints of the fingers by way of tassels.
Then they threw the bodies into the river that they might float down to the fort, where their countrymen might see what they said they should all undergo in a short time. When this tragical scene was at an end, the Indian that had hid me came and set me at liberty, first leading me publicly through the middle of the crowd to convince me that there was no more danger at that time. Then he delivered me to Peewash, who seemed very happy to see me safe, having heard that the warriors had been hunting to destroy me.
The following reason was given for this last instance of their barbarity. An old squaw, the wife of a chief, dreamed that she saw ten English men killed and scalped. This she told to the young warriors, who wished for nothing more than a pretext to make a frolic of that sort. She conjured them at the same time to make her dream come true, otherwise, she assured them, they would never prosper in war. This, with a great deal more enthusiastic stuff mixed in her speech, excited their passions to such a degree that they flew immediately about the camp like mad men to collect ten of the prisoners in order to kill them, in the manner I have related, to verify the dream of that imp of hell.
However, they were partly disappointed in their design, as all those who had any regard for their captives concealed them. The little drummer was the favorite of an old squaw, who wanted much to save him, but notwithstanding her tears and earnest entreaties the young fellows tore him from her arms, declaring that upon such an occasion they would spare neither age nor sex. Almost every day exhibited fresh instances of their barbarity upon some of the prisoners, so that I lived in continual terror, expecting that every day would be the last. I therefore resolved to attempt escaping at all risks.
There lived a Frenchman near where we had our cabin named Boileau. This man had been civil to me upon several occasions, and I thought he might be of some assistance to me in making my escape. I therefore sounded him upon the subject and found that a little money would go a great way with him. Accordingly I promised to reward him if he would assist me, and thereby gained him to my service. As the French were admitted into the fort, I gave him a letter to my friend, Mr. Sterling, who likewise promised him a reward if he should succeed in delivering me from my captivity. Major Gladwin and several other officers also assured him of their countenance.
When he returned with a line from Mr. Sterling, I found him ready to engage in my interest. I therefore redoubled my entreaties and promises in case of success. A scheme for my departure in the most secret manner was next to be fixed upon. We formed many, but rejected them all upon more coolly considering the matter. Our eagerness—he to enjoy the promised reward and I, what was more important, my liberty—made it difficult for us to determine upon the most practicable way of effecting it.
However, we at last determined upon the following plan: in the evening we should fix upon, he was to embark in his canoe, giving out publicly that he was going fishing as usual; instead of which, he was to go about two miles down the river nearer the fort, and at a certain point of low land which was covered with rushes, he was to push into the place in the dusk of the evening when the Indians would not perceive him, and so conceal himself. I, on my part, was to make the best of my way to him in the night, where he would lie waiting for me.
This plan we were to put into execution the following night. However, on this and several preceding nights the Indians were alarmed by a report that the Chippewas were to be attacked by our forces, which actually happened a few days afterward. Captain DaIzell, who had just brought a reinforcement to the garrison of Detroit, in the night of July 30-31 made a sortie with a strong body of men, with the intention of surprising the hostile camp. But the Indians, who had been warned of his design by the French, lay in ambush and attacked him with great spirit; nay, upon this occasion they did what savages were never known to do, they threw themselves into the houses and annoyed the British troops very much from there and from behind fences. The battle continued doubtful for some time; but at last our troops were obliged to retreat, which they did in good order to the fort, leaving upon the field Captain Dalzell and about sixty private soldiers.
Peewash knew nothing of the intended attack till the firing of the artillery and small arms roused him from his sleep. As soon as he heard it, he got up in a great hurry and put on his powder horn and pouch. He then tied my hands, lest in the confusion I should make an attempt to kill the women in the family and make my escape, after which he took his gun and ran as hard as he could to join the army with his party, which was about two miles from where we lived. About two hours afterward he returned to us, overjoyed with the success of the day, giving a most pompous description of the battle and making out that vast numbers of British soldiers were killed, while only six of the Indians had fallen. He likewise told me that our sugema, or great chief, was slain, meaning Captain Dalzell.
I was now unbound and sent to another hut for a large wooden mortar to pound corn in. The Indian to whom I went for it had likewise been in the engagement, and was boasting of his feats prodigiously. He told me he had taken the heart of our great warrior, which he would soon feast upon, showing me poor Dalzell’s heart roasting at the fire, pieces of the fat of which the young men took off, and in my presence rubbed it on the mouth of a poor soldier of the 60th Regiment whom they had taken prisoner. This, and other barbarities committed upon prisoners taken in the action, shocked me so much that I went directly to Monsieur Boileau’s under pretence of bringing some bread to our hut, and agreed to meet him the next night at the place appointed, after having repeated and enlarged my promises of reward to him.
When the evening came I lay down as usual upon my bear skin to sleep, putting off all my ornaments: wampum, silver bracelets, collar, etc. About the middle of the night when I guessed that the family were all fast asleep, I crawled out of the hut on all fours. When I was outside, I stood at the door for five minutes to hear if they were stirring, but as everything was still I thought this was my time to set off, which I did as fast as my feet could carry me, directly to the woods. I had no other clothes than my shirt, not even daring to put on a pair of moccasins to save my feet, for if the family had happened to awake, they would immediately have come after me; and if they had found me dressed, they would not be long in discovering my intention.
In all my life I never saw such a night of rain, thunder, and lightning. It was so dark, and the woods were so thick and full of briars and thorns, that I was very much retarded in my progress. I could scarcely make more than a mile in an hour. I therefore resolved upon a new method, and quitting the woods I went to the river which was hard by, in which I thought I could walk with the water up to my chin, so that the Indians on the road could not see me. This plan would have succeeded had I had more time, but I had yet four miles to go before I could reach the Frenchman, and was in danger of being surprised by daylight.
I therefore resolved to take to the woods again, but I was within an ace of being prevented, for just as I was going ashore I saw two Indians with their guns, in close conference. They passed by on the road within twenty yards of me. Fortunately there was an old tree which had fallen into the river close by me, behind which I immediately squatted; but I could not conceal myself altogether, so that they must have seen me had they looked that way. If they had observed me, I never would have gotten out of that spot alive. I knew this and was in dreadful apprehension, as several soldiers attempting to escape were caught, scalped, and tomahawked on the spot. But these Indians, fortunately for me, were engaged in earnest discourse, and were returning from a feast a little intoxicated. I saw them go into a little French house about one hundred yards from me. I immediately ran to the thicket, making as little noise as possible; and to prevent the whiteness of my skin from discovering me to the Indians I rubbed myself all over with black moss and mire.
Thus pursuing my journey in fear and hope, starting at every rustling among the leaves and often mistaking trees for Indians, I at last arrived at the place where I thought the Frenchman would be waiting with the canoe, but could not find him. I ventured to call out in a low voice, but nobody answered. I then began to exclaim against the perfidy of the Frenchman, who, in my desperate situation, I thought had deceived me. Being much exhausted with fatigue, I sat down to rest, hardly knowing what I did. My thoughts were occupied about the Frenchman who, upon reflection, I thought would not be such a coward as to abandon me when he knew that I had to go through the most dangerous part of the enterprise myself. I considered, likewise, that it was to his interest to carry out our agreement. Recollecting myself a little and looking around me, I discovered what my anxiety had made me overlook, that I was about a quarter of a mile higher up the river than the place we had appointed.
This discovery gave me fresh vigor and spirit. I soon reached the right place, and to my inexpressible joy, I found the man asleep in his canoe. After waking him we embarked and pushed to the middle of the river in order that the current might carry us down. We passed through the middle of the enemy’s camp, making as little noise with our paddles as possible. We could plainly hear them talk, and saw some of them dancing and singing at a feast around a fire. About an hour before day-break we arrived on board a ship lying opposite to Detroit.
Then it was that I was agitated in a manner I had never before experienced. It would be in vain to attempt to give an idea of my feelings on this occasion. In the morning I went to the fort, where my friends were overjoyed to see me, although I cut a very odd figure among civilized people. The whole town, inhabitants as well as the garrison, turned out to see me. My appearance was sufficient to excite their pity as well as their laughter. I had on nothing but an old greasy, painted shirt, my face was painted red, black, and green, my hair had been cut off, and my body was black with the moss I had put on. My thighs and legs were so torn by the briars and thorns and so affected by the poisoned vines that they were swollen as big as any grenadier’s in His Majesty’s service.
Monsieur Boileau went home as soon as he had put me on board the ship, fearing that if he did otherwise he would be suspected of having aided me in my escape, and this was the last sight I had of him. Mr. Sterling, by my order, gave him goods to the value of £23 which, with the £39 10 s. given by Monsieur Cuillerier when he bought me (of which scarcely any was returned when I was retaken), amounted to £62 10 s. Pennsylvania currency, which is equal to £39 sterling.
After I had been about ten days in the fort and had got the better of my fatigues (though not of the paint), one of the vessels sailed for Niagara to obtain a supply of provisions for the garrison. Mr. Sterling had obtained leave of Major Gladwin to have a considerable quantity of goods that were lying at Niagara brought to Detroit in the vessel, and having no proper person whom he could trust to oversee their safety, he applied to me. I knew that bringing up these goods would be of considerable advantage to the company, and wishing to do what little was in my power for the advantage of a company with which my uncle was connected, I agreed to run the hazard, and accordingly embarked on board the sloop.
We had some shots fired at us by the Huron Indians going down the river, which we returned. In four days we arrived at Fort Schlosser, near the Falls, and marched under a strong guard to Niagara without any interruption from the enemy. It was late before the sloop was loaded and ready to sail again. Some artillery stores and provisions, with about 18 officers and soldiers of the 17th and 46th Regiments, was the chief loading.
We had only sailed one day when the vessel sprung a leak and was half full of water before it was discovered. All of the pumps were of little use, so that after throwing all the heavy artillery and some other things overboard, we found the only way to save our lives was to crowd sail for the land and run the vessel on shore; but every one seemed to think she would go to the bottom before we could reach land.
Dread and consternation was painted on every countenance, and I was surprised to find myself the least moved of all, which must have been owing to my having been for some time so much exposed and inured to danger. While some were stripping themselves to swim, others cursing and swearing at their companions for not working, others praying, and some drinking brandy, I looked tamely on, after finding I could be of no assistance.
When we were at the worst and everyone thought we were going down, our boat, which was our last resource, broke adrift. Our prospect was now truly dismal, expecting every minute to sink or be dashed to pieces on the rocks. I may truly say that the cries and shrieks of a naval officer’s lady with three children affected me much more than my own condition. It was a pitiful sight indeed. The mother held two of her children in her arms while the other little innocent was making a fruitless attempt with her hands to stop the water from rushing into the cabin, already some three inches deep. She did this, she said, to prevent the water from drowning her mama.
A last, to the inexpressible joy of all on board, the vessel struck upon a bank of sand within fifty yards of the shore. The difficulty now was how to get ashore, where we had much reason to wish ourselves, as we feared the high surf of the lake would dash us to pieces. In this situation we would have been much at a loss had not Captain Montresor of the Engineers bravely undertaken to swim ashore. Although the distance was great with a high sea and the danger of Indians being there, he accomplished it and brought the boat back, by which means we all got safe to land.
Expecting the Indians would attack us, we fortified ourselves the best way we could with the barrels of provision. The necessity for this soon appeared, for we were soon attacked by a large body of them, who had watched our motions for some time, waiting till we should be more off our guard, which we in fact were at that time.
Several of us were walking along the shore of the lake when we were alarmed by the cries of the savages, which made us take to our heels and endeavor to gain the breastwork as fast as possible. I very nearly fell into the hands of the enemy again upon this occasion, as I had happened to stray from the rest of my companions. They rushed out of the woods upon one poor soldier of the 60th Regiment, who happened to be nearer them. He knocked down the first savage who reached him, but the second cut him with his tomahawk, which felled him to the ground. Neither that nor their scalping deprived him immediately of life. As soon as the Indians left him for dead, he got up and staggered toward the foot of the hill. The Indians were still firing upon us, and not a man dared venture to bring the poor fellow up the hill, who by this time had become insensible. We frequently called to him, but he paid no attention and wandered a little farther, where some days later, when the Indians were gone, we found him dead under an old tree.
For my own part, I had much ado to regain the top of the hill. I was hotly pursued, and in my flight, in scrambling through the bushes, both my shoes fell into their hands. This was a loss I regretted but little. As soon as we reached the breastwork they fired very hot upon us, which we returned. Our works being very open, we had several of our men killed. The Indians left us the next day, but we were detained upon this spot, which we called Lovers Leap, for twenty-four days before we could get a reinforcement of bateaux to carry us back to Niagara. It was here I first entered upon duty as a military man. Every one took his turn of duty as a common soldier. We marched over the carrying place at the Falls of Niagara just three days after the Indians had defeated our troops, and saw there about eighty dead bodies, unburied, scalped, and sadly mangled.∗
∗ These were the victims of the massacre at Devil’s Hole, a spectacular chasm in the Niagara River Gorge. At this time a wagon road ran along one edge; and here a British supply train was ambushed by Indians on September 14, 1763. Those white men who were not struck down on the spot were forced over the precipice, along with horses and wagons; only three escaped. Hearing the sound of distant rifle fire, a party of soldiers rushed to help, and was in turn ambushed and nearly wiped out.
When at Niagara, I resolved to tempt fortune no longer in the woods, and determined to go to New York. I arrived here a few days ago, where I expect to remain for some little time with my uncle, and afterwards join the 42nd Regiment, in which I have just got an ensigncy, preparing for an expedition against the Shawnee and Delaware Indians to the westward under the command of Colonel Bouquet. …
I wish you may be able to understand this long, ill-written narrative, which I have written in a great hurry, as when I began I had no idea that I should have swelled it out to the size of a pamphlet. However, if I had had more time, I don’t think that I should have put it into much better language, for having so long been confounded with hearing and speaking different languages, French, Dutch, Chippewa, Ottawa, &c ∗c that it is no wonder I should be at a loss to write or speak that of my native country.