Captivity and Redemption of Mrs. Jemima Howe – Indian Captivities

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A particular account of the captivity and redemption of Mrs. Jemima Howe, who was taken prisoner by the Indians at Hinsdale, New Hampshire, on the twenty-seventh of July, 1765, as communicated to Dr. Belknap by the Rev. Bunker Gay.

As Messrs. Caleb Howe, Hilkiah Grout, and Benjamin Gaffield, who had been hoeing corn in the meadow, west of the river, were returning home, a little before sunset, to a place called Bridgman’s fort, they were fired upon by twelve Indians, who had ambushed their path. Howe was on horseback, with two young lads, his children, behind him. A ball, which broke his thigh, brought him to the ground. His horse ran a few rods and fell likewise, and both the lads were taken. The Indians, in their savage manner coming up to Howe, pierced his body with a spear, tore off his scalp, stuck a hatchet in his head, and left him in this forlorn condition. He was found alive the morning after, by a party of men from Fort Hindsdale; and being asked by one of the party whether he knew him, he answered, “Yes, I know you all.” These were his last words, though he did not expire until after his friends had arrived with him at Fort Hindsdale. Grout was so fortunate as to escape unhurt. But Gaffield, in attempting to wade through the river, at a certain place which was indeed fordable at that time, was unfortunately drowned. Flushed with the success they had met with here, the savages went directly to Bridgman’s Fort. There was no man in it, and only three women and some children, viz. Mrs. Jemima Howe, Mrs. Submit Grout, and Mrs. Eunice Gaffield. Their husbands I need not mention again, and their feelings at this juncture I will not attempt to describe. They had heard the enemy’s guns, but knew not what had happened to their friends. Extremely anxious for their safety, they stood longing to embrace them, until at length, concluding from the noise they heard without that some of them were come, they unbarred the gate in a hurry to receive them; when, lo! to their inexpressible disappointment and surprise, instead of their husbands, in rushed a number of hideous Indians, to whom they and their tender offspring became an easy prey, and from whom they had nothing to expect but either an immediate death or a long and doleful captivity. The latter of these, by the favor of Providence, turned out to be the lot of these unhappy women and their still more unhappy, because more helpless, children. Mrs. Gaffield had but one, Mrs. Grout had three, and Mrs. Howe seven. The eldest of Mrs. Howe‘s was eleven years old, and the youngest but six months. The two eldest were daughters, which she had by her first husband, Mr. William Phipps, who was also slain by the Indians, of which I doubt not but you have seen an account in Mr. Doolittle‘s history. It was from the mouth of this woman that I lately received the foregoing account. She also gave me; I doubt not, a true, though, to be sure, a very brief and imperfect history of her captivity, which I here insert for your perusal. It may perhaps afford you some amusement, and can do no harm, if, after it has undergone your critical inspection, you should not think it (or an abbreviation of it) worthy to be preserved among the records you are about to publish.

The Indians (she says) having plundered and put fire to the fort, we marched, as near as I could judge, a mile and a half into the woods, where we encamped that night. When the morning came, and we had advanced as much farther, six Indians were sent back to the place of our late abode, who collected a little more plunder, and destroyed some other effects that had been left behind; but they did not return until the day was so far spent, that it was judged best to continue where we were through the night. Early the next morning we set off for Canada, and continued our march eight days successively, until we had reached the place where the Indians had left their canoes, about fifteen miles from Crown Point. This was a long and tedious march; but the captives, by divine assistance, were enabled to endure it with less trouble and difficulty than they had reason to expect. From such savage masters, in such indigent circumstances, we could not rationally hope for kinder treatment than we received. Some of us, it is true, had a harder lot than others; and, among the children, I thought my son Squire had the hardest of any. He was then only four years old, and when we stopped to rest our weary limbs, and he sat down on his master’s pack, the savage monster would often knock him off; and sometimes, too, with the handle of his hatchet. Several ugly marks, indented in his head by the cruel Indians, at that tender age, are still plainly to be seen.

At length we arrived at Crown Point, and took up our quarters there for the space of near a week. In the mean time some of the Indians went to Montreal, and took several of the weary captives along with them, with a view of selling them to the French. They did not succeed, however, in finding a market for any of them. They gave my youngest daughter, Submit Phipps, to the governor, de Vaudreuil, had a drunken frolic, and returned again to Crown Point with the rest of their prisoners. From hence we set off for St. Johns, in four or five canoes, just as night was coming on, and were soon surrounded with darkness. A heavy storm hung over us. The sound of the rolling thunder was very terrible upon the waters, which, at every flash of expansive lightning, seemed to be all in a blaze. Yet to this we were indebted for all the light we enjoyed. No object could we discern any longer than the flashes lasted. In this posture we sailed in our open, tottering canoes almost the whole of that dreary night. The morning, indeed, had not yet begun to dawn, when we all went ashore; and having collected a heap of sand and gravel for a pillow, I laid myself down, with my tender infant by my side, not knowing where any of my other children were, or what a miserable condition they might be in. The next day, however, under the wing of that ever present and all powerful Providence, which had preserved us through the darkness and imminent dangers of the preceding eight, we all arrived in safety at St. Johns.

Map of Indian Town of Missiskoui
A cutout from Sauthier’s 1779 Map of New York showing the area mentioned as Messiskow, which was actually Missiscoui. You’ll see mention on the map of the Indian Castle.

Our next movement was to St. Francois, the metropolis, if I may so call it, to which the Indians, who led us captive, belonged. Soon after our arrival at their wretched capital, a council, consisting of the chief sachem and some principal warriors of the St. Francois tribe, was convened; and after the ceremonies usual on such occasions were over, I was conducted and delivered to an old squaw, whom the Indians told me I must call my mother; my infant still continuing to be the property of its original Indian owners. I was nevertheless permitted to keep it with me a while longer, for the sake of saving them the trouble of looking after it, and of maintaining it with my milk. When the weather began to grow cold, shuddering at the prospect of approaching winter, I acquainted my new mother that I did not think it would be possible for me to endure it, if I must spend it with her, and fare as the Indians did. Listening to my repeated and earnest solicitations, that I might be disposed of among some of the French inhabitants of Canada, she, at length, set off with me and my infant, attended by some male Indians, upon a journey to Montreal, in hopes of finding a market for me there. But the attempt proved unsuccessful, and the journey tedious indeed. Our provisions were so scanty, as well as insipid and unsavory, the weather was so cold, and the traveling so very bad, that it often seemed as if I must have perished on the way. The lips of my poor child were sometimes so benumbed, that when I put it to my breast it could not, till it grew warm; imbibe the nourishment requisite for its support. While we were at Montreal, we went into the house of a certain French gentleman, whose lady, being sent for, and coming into the room where I was, to examine me, seeing I had an infant, exclaimed suddenly in this manner, “Damn it, I will not buy a woman that has a child to look after.” There was a swill pail standing near me, in which I observed some crusts and crumbs of bread swimming on the surface of the greasy liquor it contained; sorely pinched with hunger, I skimmed them off with my hands and eat them; and this was all the refreshment which the house afforded me. Somewhere, in the course of this visit to Montreal, my Indian mother was so unfortunate as to catch the small-pox, of which distemper she died, soon after our return, which was by water, to St. Francois. And now came on the season when the Indians began to prepare for a winter’s hunt. I was ordered to return my poor child to those of them who still claimed it as their property. This was a severe trial. The babe clung to my bosom with all its might; but I was obliged to pluck it thence, and deliver it, shrieking and screaming, enough to penetrate a heart of stone, into the hands of those unfeeling wretches, whose tender mercies may be termed cruel. It was soon carried off by a hunting party of those Indians to a place called Messiskow1, at the lower end of Lake Champlain2, whither, in about a month after; it was my fortune to follow them. I had preserved my milk in hopes of seeing my beloved child again. And here I found it, it is true, but in a condition that afforded me no great satisfaction, it being greatly emaciated, and almost starved. I took it in my arms, put its face to mine, and it instantly bit me with such violence that it seemed as if I must have parted with a piece of my cheek. I was permitted to lodge with it that and the two following nights; but every morning that intervened, the Indians, I suppose on purpose to torment me, sent me away to another wigwam which stood at a little distance, though not so far from the one in which my distressed infant was confined but that I could plainly hear its incessant cries and heart rending lamentations. In this deplorable condition I was obliged to take my leave of it, on the morning of the third day after my arrival at the place. We moved down the lake several miles the same day; and the night following was remarkable on account of the great earthquake3 which terribly shook that howling wilderness. Among the islands here about we spent the winter season, often shifting our quarters, and roving about from one place to another; our family consisting of three persons only, besides myself, viz. my late mother’s daughter, whom therefore I called my sister, her sanhop, and a papoose. They once left me alone two dismal nights; and when they returned to me again, perceiving them smile at each other, I asked, What is the matter? They replied that two of my children were no more; one of which, they said, died a natural death, and the other was knocked on the head. I did not utter many words, but my heart was sorely pained within me, and my mind exceedingly troubled with strange and awful ideas. I often imagined, for instance, that I plainly saw the naked carcasses of my deceased children hanging upon the limbs of the trees, as the Indians are wont to hang the raw hides of those beasts which they take in hunting. It was not long, however, before it was so ordered by kind Providence, that I should be relieved in a good measure from those horrid imaginations; for as I was walking one day upon the ice, observing a smoke at some distance upon the land, it must proceed, thought I, from the fire of some Indian hut, and who knows but some one of my poor children may be there? My curiosity, thus excited, led me to the place, and there I found my son Caleb, a little boy between two and three years old, whom I had lately buried, in sentiment at least, or rather imagined to have been deprived of life, and perhaps also denied a decent grave. I found him likewise in tolerable health and circumstances, under the protection of a fond Indian mother; and moreover had the happiness of lodging with him in my arms one joyful night. Again we shifted our quarters, and when we had traveled eight or ten miles upon the snow and ice, came to a place where the Indians manufactured sugar, which they extracted from the maple trees. Here an Indian came to visit us, whom I knew, and could speak English. He asked me why I did not go to see my son Squire. I replied that I had lately been informed that he was dead. He assured me that he was yet alive, and but two or three miles off, on the opposite side of the lake. At my request he gave me the best directions he could to the place of his abode. I resolved to embrace the first opportunity that offered of endeavoring to search it out. While I was busy in contemplating this affair, the Indians obtained a little bread, of which they gave me a small share. I did not taste a morsel of it myself, but saved it all for my poor child, if I should be so lucky as to find him. At length, having obtained of my keepers leave to be absent for one day, I set off early in the morning, and steering, as well as I could, according to the directions which the friendly Indian had given me, I quickly found the place which he had so accurately marked out. I beheld, as I drew nigh, my little son without the camp; but he looked, thought I, like a starved and mangy puppy that had been wallowing in the ashes. I took him in my arms, and he spoke to me these words, in the Indian tongue: “Mother, are you come?” I took him into the wigwam with me, and observing a number of Indian children in it, I distributed all the bread which I had reserved for my own child, among them all, otherwise I should have given great offense. My little boy appeared to be very fond of his new mother, kept as near me as possible while I staid and when I told him I must go, he fell as though he had been knocked down with a club. But having recommended him to the care of him that made him, when the day was far spent, and the time would permit me to stay no longer, I departed, you may well suppose with a heavy load at my heart. The tidings I had received of the death of my youngest child had, a little before, been confirmed to me beyond a doubt, but I could not mourn so heartily for the deceased as for the living child.

When the winter broke up, we removed to St. Johns; and through the ensuing summer, our principal residence was at no great distance from the fort at that place. In the mean time, however, my sister’s husband, having been out with a scouting party to some of the English settlements, had a drunken frolic at the fort, when he returned. His wife, who never got drunk, but had often experienced the ill effects of her husband’s intemperance, fearing what the consequence might prove if he should come home in a morose and turbulent humor, to avoid his insolence, proposed that we should both retire, and keep out of the reach of it until the storm abated. We absconded accordingly, but so it happened that I returned and ventured into his presence, before his wife had presumed to come nigh him. I found him in his wigwam, and in a surly mood; and not being able to revenge upon his wife, because she was not at home, he laid hold of me, and hurried me to the fort, and, for a trifling consideration, sold me to a French gentleman whose name was Saccapee. ‘Tis an ill wind certainly that blows nobody any good. I had been with the Indians a year lacking fourteen days; and, if not for my sister, yet for me, ’twas a lucky circumstance indeed, which thus at last, in an unexpected moment, snatched me out of their cruel hands, and placed me beyond the reach of their insolent power.

After my Indian master had disposed of me in the manner related above, and the moment of sober reflection had arrived, perceiving that the man who bought me had taken the advantage of him in an unguarded hour, his resentments began to kindle, and his indignation rose so high, that he threatened to kill me if he should meet me alone, or if he could not revenge himself thus that he would set fire to the fort. I was therefore secreted in an upper chamber, and the fort carefully guarded, until his wrath had time to cool. My service in the family to which I was now advanced, was perfect freedom in comparison of what it had been among the barbarous Indians. My new master and mistress were both as kind and generous towards me as I could anyways expect. I seldom asked a favor of either of them but it was readily granted; in consequence of which I had it in my power, in many instances, to administer aid and refreshment to the poor prisoners of my own nation, who were brought into St. Johns during my abode in the family of the above mentioned benevolent and hospitable Saccapee. Yet even in this family such trials awaited me as I had little reason to expect, but stood in need of a large stock of prudence, to enable me to encounter them. Must I tell you then that even the good old man himself, who considered me as his property, and likewise a warm and resolute son of his at that same time, and under the same roof, became both excessively fond of my company; so that between these two rivals, the father and the son, I found myself in a very critical situation indeed, and was greatly embarrassed and perplexed, hardly knowing many times how to behave in such a manner as at once to secure my own virtue, and the good esteem of the family in which I resided, and upon which I was wholly dependent for my daily support. At length, however, through the tender compassion of a certain English gentleman,4 the Governor de Vaudreuil being made acquainted with the condition I had fallen into, immediately ordered the young and amorous Saccapee, then an officer in the French army, from the field of Venus to the field of Mars, and at the same time also wrote a letter to his father, enjoining it upon him by no means to suffer me to be abused, but to make my situation and service in his family as easy and delightful as possible. I was moreover under unspeakable obligations to the governor upon another account. I had received intelligence from my daughter Miry, the purport of which was, that there was a prospect of her being shortly married to a young Indian of the tribe of St. Francois, with which tribe she had continued from the beginning of her captivity. These were heavy tidings, and added greatly to the poignancy of my other afflictions. However, not long after I had heard this melancholy news, an opportunity presented of acquainting that humane and generous gentleman, the commander-in-chief, and my illustrious benefactor, with this affair also, who, in compassion for my sufferings, and to mitigate my sorrows, issued his orders in good time, and had my daughter taken away from the Indians, and conveyed to the same nunnery where her sister was then lodged, with his express injunction that they should both of them together be well looked after, and carefully educated, as his adopted children. In this school of superstition and bigotry they continued while the war in those days between France and Great Britain lasted. At the conclusion of which war, the governor went home to France, took my oldest daughter along with him, and married her then to a French gentleman, whose name is Cron Lewis. He was at Boston with the fleet under Count de Estaing, [1778] and one of his clerks. My other daughter still continuing in the nunnery, a considerable time had elapsed after my return from captivity, when I made a journey to Canada, resolving to use my best endeavors not to return without her. I arrived just in time to prevent her being sent to France. She was to have gone in the next vessel that sailed for that place. And I found it extremely difficult to prevail with her to quit the nunnery and go home with me; yea, she absolutely refused, and all the persuasions and arguments I could use with her were to no effect, until after I had been to the governor, and obtained a letter from him to the superintendent of the nuns, in which he threatened, if my daughter should not be immediately delivered into my hands, or could not be prevailed with to submit to my paternal authority, that he would send a band of soldiers to assist me in bringing her away.

Upon hearing this she made no farther resistance. But so extremely bigoted was she to the customs and religion of the place, that, after all, she left it with the greatest reluctance, and the bitterest lamentations, which she continued as we passed the streets, and wholly refused to be comforted. My good friend, Major Small, whom we met with on the way, tried all he could to console her; and was so very kind and obliging as to bear us company, and carry my daughter behind him on horseback.

But I have run on a little before my story, for I have not yet informed you of the means and manner of my own redemption, to the accomplishing of which, the recovery of my daughter just mentioned, and the ransoming of some of my other children, several gentlemen of note contributed not a little; to whose goodness therefore I am greatly indebted, and sincerely hope I shall never be so ungrateful as to forget. Col. Schuyler in particular was so very kind and generous as to advance 2700 livres to procure a ransom for myself and three of my children. He accompanied and conducted us from Montreal to Albany, and entertained us in the most friendly and hospitable manner a considerable time, at his own house, and I believe entirely at his own expense.

I have spun out the above narrative to a much greater length than I at first intended, and shall conclude it with referring you, for a more ample and brilliant account of the captive heroine who is the subject of it, to Col. Humphrey‘s History of the Life of Gen. Israel Putnam, together with some remarks upon a few clauses in it. I never indeed had the pleasure of perusing the whole of said history, but remember to have seen some time ago an extract from it in one of the Boston newspapers, in which the colonel has extolled the beauty and good sense, and rare accomplishments of Mrs. Howe, the person whom he endeavors to paint in the most lively and engaging colors, perhaps a little too highly, and in a style that may appear to those who are acquainted with her to this day romantic and extravagant. And the colonel must needs have been misinformed with respect to some particulars that he has mentioned in her history. Indeed, when I read the extract from his history to Mrs. Tute, (which name she has derived from a third husband, whose widow she now remains,) she seemed to be well pleased, and said at first it was all true, but soon after contradicted the circumstance of her lover’s being so bereft of his senses, when he saw her moving off in a boat at some distance from the shore, as to plunge into the water after her, in consequence of which he was seen no more. It is true, she said, that as she was returning from Montreal to Albany, she met with young Saccapee on the way; that she was in a boat with Colonel Schuyler; that the French officer came on board the boat, made her some handsome presents, took his final leave of her, and departed, to outward appearance in tolerable good humor.

She moreover says that when she went to Canada for her daughter, she met with him again, that he showed her a lock of her hair, and her name likewise, printed with vermillion on his arm. As to her being chosen agent to go to Europe, in behalf of the people of Hinsdale, when Colonel Howard obtained from the government of New York a patent of their lands on the west side of Connecticut River, it was never once thought of by Hinsdale people until the above mentioned extract arrived among them, in which the author has inserted it as a matter of undoubted fact.

Consult Further:

Footnotes

  1. Missiscoui or Missisquoi, a town of the St. Francis Indians in which they had built a large “Indian Castle” which was placed on Sauthier’s Map of 1779 on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. Missisquoi land became part of the town of Swanton in the state of Vermont, and the tribe became a state recognized people called The Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi on 7 May 2012. Their attempt at federal recognition having previously failed. 

  2. This version of Mrs. Howe’s captivity erred in stating it was on the southern portion of Lake Champlain, other versions place it appropriately. 

  3. November 18, 1755 “Cape Ann” Earthquake  

  4. Col. Peter Schuyler, then a prisoner.   



MLA Source Citation:

AccessGenealogy.com. Indian Captiviy Narratives. A collection of first hand Indian captivity narratives from a variety of sources. For a list of sources, please see title page. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 27 August 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/canada/captivity-redemption-mrs-jemima-howe-indian-captivities.htm - Last updated on Feb 24th, 2014

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