Strange Tales of New England Captives

THE yellowest of yellow-back fiction has not spun from its wild fancy stranger tales than the true stories of some of the simple country folk who were stolen from their New England homes in the French and Indian wars between 1691 and 1760 . . . stories of humanity and kindness shining now and then through the black cloud of hate in those ferocious campaigns; of captives who refused to be ransomed; of Puritans who became Catholics; of New England maidens who fell in love with their cave-men captors.

John Zachariah Tarbell of Groton, Mass, transformed himself into a chief of the red men who stole him. A Deerfield girl was restored to her home, only to run away and rejoin forever her Indian friends. A baby captive, Fanny Noble of Swan Island, Me, fled in terror from her parents as strangers, when she was found by them, and screamed through the streets of Quebec as she was being taken back to her forgotten home. A lad from Salisbury, Mass, and a girl from Kennebunk, Me, who married and settled down in the land of their captivity, are acclaimed today the ancestors of more than a thousand perfectly good French folk.

As the Indians went on those raids for money rather than for blood, it was good business to keep the captives alive and well until the ransom was collected. To some higher quality in their natures, credit must be given for the general decency of the red captors toward the helpless women whom they captured.

The story of the daughter of Parson Williams of Deerfield, Mass, is a familiar example of the astonishing readiness and completeness with which dozens of New England prisoners threw off all the traditions of their homes, their church and their nationality. Captured when she was but 6 or 7, Eunice Williams' captor took pity on her, carrying her on his shoulders, sharing his best food with her and wrapping her in his warmest blanket at night. Her childish helplessness also won the hearts of the Indian family into whose care she was given at Montreal, and the little Puritan bloomed into an Indian maiden.

One day there slipped into the old Province House at Boston a squaw whose arms were aching to embrace the papooses that Massachusetts soldiers had snatched from her breast—for both sides were in the evil business of taking captives—and the Indian mother was told that she could not have her children unless she brought back Eunice Williams.

As fast as her moccasins would carry her eager feet 400 miles, the squaw sped to Montreal. She could not get even a glimpse of Eunice, but she returned with four other New England captives and redeemed her children.

When an official messenger from Massachusetts contrived to break through the barrier around Eunice, he reported that "her breast is harder than steel." Yet again and again in her long after-life something in her blood drew her back in to the scenes of her childhood and the graves of her people in the beautiful valley of the Deerfield. There she tented in the orchard of the rebuilt parsonage, which now bears the weather beating of 200 and more New England Winters, and peddled baskets in the streets of her native village.

Another Deerfield girl, Martha French, daughter of the village blacksmith, was the grandmother of Joseph Octave Plessis, first Archbishop of Quebec. A daughter of Jemima Howe of Hinsdale, N H, could not be prevailed upon to come home with her mother, and she went to France with the wife of the last French Governor, the Marquise de Vaudreuil, who married her to an officer. And that officer came over with the French fleet in the American Revolution to fight for the native land that his wife had renounced.

One of the two Sayward sisters from York, Me, who refused to return with their mother, married a wealthy seigneur and the other rose to the post of mother superior in her religious order. So, too, Mary Silver of Harvard, Mass, became a nursing nun at Hotel Dieu in Quebec, where she long cherished as her dearest wish that "my mother may embrace the holy Catholic faith."

Most notable of the Puritan nuns was Esther Wheelwright of Wells, Me. Captured when she was 7, Esther was taken into the home of the Governor of Canada at the Chateau of St Louis in Quebec. Notwithstanding the Marquis de Vaudreuil, her host, yielded to the appeals of her family and urged her to return home, Esther joined the Ursuline sisterhood. Even as she put on "the livery of the Divine bridegroom"; even as the officiating priest rejoiced over the marvels of God's Providence in having saved her from being "a slave of the demon of heresy," her mother down in Maine still was expressing the hope that "the wonder working Providence of God" would bring her back to the bereaved home.

In the inner chapel of the Ursuline Convent at Quebec, the Puritan nun, Esther Marie Joseph, rests from her 70 years of labor in the order that four times chose her to be its mother superior. And her miniature portrait of her New England mother, but with veil and drapery added, is cherished as a madonna by the Sisters of St Ursula.

The testimony of the New England captives generally, of those who returned as well as of those who remained, would seem to be strong corroborative evidence that the French and Indian wars, like most wars, was not so much between the people who fought them as between the rulers who plotted them.

James Morgan, Boston Daily Globe, Dec 1, 1927, p. 18