Re: Follow the River...AND Captives in northern New England

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Posted by Elaine on January 23, 2000 at 16:33:58:

In Reply to: Re: Follow the River...AND Captives in northern New England posted by Goody Sandy on January 23, 2000 at 13:46:00:

: : I have just finished reading James Alexander Thom's "Follow the River" (still waiting for copy of Deerslayer - on order!) and all I can say is Wow - what a tale! I couldn't put it down. Anybody else out there read it?

: : Adele

: Hi:

: One of the factors that made Mary's escape so incredible is that escape was an uncommon feat for either gender.

: In northern New England, nearly three hundred women, men and children were taken captive between 1689 and 1730; only eight percent of males and two percent of females managed to escape. Age was a key factor in determining the outcome of captivity. Captives over twenty were more likely to return than those under. Even more important than age, however, was gender. Although equal proportions of males and females were eventually ransomed, males were more likely to escape or to die, females to stay with their captors.

: There was little evidence in northern New England, however, of the "white Indian" phenomenon, the captive who chose to stay, or was enticed into staying, with his or her captors. Perhaps because the Abenaki Indians, who accounted for many of the raids, were less interested in adoption than in ransom. There is evidence of only four "white Indians" from northern New England. Many of the captives were taken to Canada and among the documented cases, "Anglo-French" are far more numerous than "white Indians."

: Although cold, hunger, fear and forced contact with an enemy culture were experiences shared by captives of all ages and both sexes, captivity often took adults and children, females and males in different directions. Most prisoners were taken from their own houses in attacks involving several dwellings in their neighborhood or the entire village.

: Fully one fifth of adult female captives were either pregnant or newly delivered of a child. One woman was taken from her house only eight days after delivery. When told to walk, she was unable to stir, but with prayer a new strength came to her. She trudged twenty miles the first day, was up to her neck in water six times, and at night fell into a swamp, and yet "She got not the least Cough nor Cold by the all this: She is come home alive unto us." Within the larger record of captivity her health seems less miraculous than commonplace. Whatever their condition, women taken from northern New England survived. Death claimed only three of fifty-two adult captives.

: The Abenaki pushed their English captives far beyond their own presumed ability. One captive wrote of traveling "over steep and hideous mountains one while and another while over Swamps and Thickets of Fallen trees, lying one, two, three foot from the ground, which I have stepped on, from one to another, nigh a thousand in a day; carrying a great Burden on my Back."

: But almost as frequently the narratives testify to assistance by the Indians in coping with the rigors of life on the trail. Another captive spoke of her Indian master carrying her newborn baby "tho' he had, as is said, a very heavy Burden of his own." Although she climbed mountains so step that she "was forc'd to creep up on my Hands and Knee," her master helped her. "When we came at very bad Places, he would lend me his Hand, or coming behind, would push me up before him: In all which he shewed some Humanity and Civility more than I could have expected."

: "Humanity" certainly had something to do with the treatment the captives received, but there were additional motives. Since prisoners were taken for ransom, for enslavement, or for adoption, their captors had a real stake in their survival.

: For whatever reason, most wives taken captive survived. Returning home, they gave their communities a vivid image of "wilderness courage." Such accounts provided intelligence about the eastern tribes and some captives traveled to Boston and testified to the Governor and council regarding the activities of the Indians. Once captive, Grace Higiman, demonstrated a particularly sharp memory for names, numbers, dates, and geographical detail, and after three years among the Canadian Indians offered the councilors advice on military strategy as well as specific information. "I apprehend That if the yearly supply form France to St. John's could be intercepted they would be greatly distressed and forced to draw off," she told them.

: If the majority of New England captives returned to their homes, an appreciable minority did not. The behavior raises the complicated issue of assimilation, unfortunately, there is not enough evidence from northern New England to draw any conclusions about the importance of Indian assimilation. The record for the French, on the other hand, is clear. Twenty-nine females and fourteen males from northern New England made new lives for themselves in Canada. That twice as many females as males remained with the enemy can be attributed to three factors: the primacy of marriage, the influence of religion, and the supportive power of female networks.

: Marriage was the single most important factor in determining which female captives returned and which stayed in New France. Only one married woman stayed. The two other adults who remained in Canada had both been widowed by the war, while all of the other expatriate females were single women and girls. In fact, fifty-eight percent of female captives between the ages of twelve and twenty-one found new lives in the land of their enemy.

: Every girl knew that she would eventually leave her father and mother and perhaps even her community to marry. To leave the country, the language, and the culture of one's childhood was not expected, of course, but in courtship proximity is more important than any other factor. Maine and New Hampshire were far away and French (and sometimes Indian) suitors insistent. Furthermore, there was no parent's guiding hand to restrain youthful infatuation.

: By putting one foot in front of the other, New England women and their daughters survived the trek to Canada. Once there, they responded in different ways. Some interpreted their captivity as a spiritual quest for courage and faith. Others accepted it as both an opportunity and a trial. Young girls responded to the nurture that they were given, sometimes embracing a faith foreign to New England. Older girls, especially those in their teens or early twenties, frequently choose to marry rather than to wait months and years for ransom. Most adult women kept their eyes on home and eventually returned, though not without accepting French friendship and eventually French religion. If female New Englanders resisted captivity less strenuously than males, their adaptation was never merely passive.

: Best wishes,
: Goody Sandy

: Source: "Good Wives, Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750" by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich


Dear Sandy,

Thank you for a most excellent post!

Regarding marriage ... I think *peer pressure* or societal stigma played a part here too. A New England girl recently among an Indian people would most likely not even entertain the idea of marrying an Abenaki, for instance, or a French Canadian. As time passed, though, the prohibition she would have felt in New England would certainly fade. Among the French, intermarriage was common and she would, by the acculturation she'd already been party to, begin to feel that such a possibility was not only reasonable, but very much acceptable. With cultural barriers removed only personal inclinations remained and marriage would seem a very practical option.

Thanks again!


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