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Narratives of Rogers, Goodwin, Toogood – Indian Captivities

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Three Narratives of Excessive Distress of Persons Taken at the Destruction of Salmon Falls, in the State of New Hampshire, on the Twenty-Seventh of March, 1690; Viz., The Cruel Torture of Robert Rogers, the Five Years’ Captivity of Mehetable Goodwin, and the Fortunate Escape of Thomas Toogood. From the Magnalia Christi Americana, of Doctor Cotton Mather.

When the news of the destruction of Schenectady reached New England, it spread great alarm over the whole country. The wise men gave particular caution to all the frontier posts, urging them to keep strict watch, and to make strong their fortifications; but the people in the east did not their duty, and Salmon Falls, a fine settlement upon a branch of Pascataqua River, fell into the hands of an infuriated and cruel enemy; the particulars whereof are at large set forth in the work entitled The Book Of The Indians, to which we have before referred.

But, as has been observed, notwithstanding these warnings the people dreamed, that while the deep snow of the winter continued, they were safe enough, which proved as vain as a dream of a dry summer. Near thirty persons were slain, and more than fifty were led into what the reader will by and by call the worst captivity in the world. It would be a long story to tell what a particular share in this calamity fell to the lot of the family of one Clement Short. This honest man with his pious wife and three children were killed, and six or seven others of their children were made prisoners. The most of these arrived safe at Canada, through a thousand hardships, and the most of these were with more than a thousand mercies afterwards redeemed from Canada, and returned unto their English friends again. But as we cannot take notice of all the individuals, we will pass to the notice of those named at the commencement of this narrative.

Among the prisoners was one Robert Rogers, with whom as the Indians journeyed they came to a hill, where this man, (being through his corpulence called Robin Pork) being under such an intolerable and unsupportable burden of Indian luggage, was not so able to travel as the rest; he therefore, watching for an opportunity, made his escape. The wretches missing him immediately went in pursuit of him, and it was not long before they found his burden cast in the way, and the tracks of his feet going out of the way. This they followed, and found him hid in a hollow tree. They dragged him out, stripped him, beat and pricked him, pushed him forward with the points of their swords, until they got back to the hill from whence he had escaped. It being almost night, they fastened him to a tree, with his hands behind him, then made themselves a supper, singing and dancing around him, roaring, and uttering great and many signs of joy, but with joy little enough to the poor creature who foresaw what all this tended to.

The Indians next cut a parcel of wood, and bringing it into a plain place; they cut off the top of a small red-oak tree, leaving the trunk for a stake, whereunto they bound their sacrifice. They first made a great fire near this tree of death, and bringing Rogers unto it, bid him take his leave of his friends, which he did in a doleful manner, such as no pen, though made of a harpy’s quill, were able to describe the dolor of it. They then allowed him a little time to make his prayers unto heaven, which he did with an extreme fervency and agony; whereupon they bound him to the stake, and brought the rest of the prisoners, with their arms tied each to the other, and seated them round the fare. This being done, they went behind the fire, and thrust it forwards upon the man with much laughter and shouting; and when the fire had burnt some time upon him, even till he was almost suffocated, they pulled away from him, to prolong his existence. They now resumed their dancing around him, and at every turn they did with their knives cut collops of his flesh out of his naked limbs, and throw them with his blood into his face. In this manner was their work continued until he expired.

Being now dead, they set his body down upon the glowing coals of fire, and thus left him tied with his back to the stake, where he was found by some English forces soon after, who were in pursuit of these Indians, Mehetable Goodwin, another of the captives of this band of Indians, who, it will be proper to notice, were led by the renowned Indian Chief Hopehood, had a child with her about five months old. This, through hunger and hardship, she being unable to nourish from her breast, occasioned it to make grievous and distressing ejaculations. Her Indian master told her that if the child were not quiet he would soon dispose of it, which caused her to use all possible means that his Netopship1 might not be offended; and sometimes she would carry it from the fire out of his hearing, when she would sit down up to her waist in the snow, for several hours together, until it was exhausted and lulled to sleep. She thus for several days preserved the life of her babe, until he saw cause to travel with his own cubs farther afield; and then, lest he should be retarded in his travel, he violently snatched the babe out of its mother’s arms, and before her face knocked out its brains; and having stripped it of its few rags it had hitherto enjoyed, ordered the mother to go and wash them of the blood wherewith they were stained! Returning from this sad and melancholy task, she found the infant hanging by the neck in a forked bough of a tree. She requested liberty to lay it in the earth, but the savage said, “It is better as it is, for now the wild beasts cannot come at it; ” [I am sure they had been at it;2 “and you may have the comfort of seeing it again, if ever you come that way.”

The journey now before them was like to be very long, as far as Canada, where Mrs. Goodwin‘s master’s purpose was to make merchandise of her, and glad was she to hear such happy tidings. But the desperate length of the way, and want of food, and grief of mind, wherewith she was now encountered, caused her within a few days to faint under her difficulties; when, at length, she sat down for some repose, with many prayers and tears unto God for the salvation of her soul, she found herself unable to rise, until she saw her furious executioner coming towards her with fire in his eyes, the devil in his heart, and his hatchet in his hand, ready to bestow a mercy-stroke of death upon her. Then it was that this poor captive woman, in this extreme misery, got upon her knees, and with weeping and wailing and all expressions of agony and entreaty, prevailed on him to spare her life a little longer, and she did not question but God would enable her to walk a little faster. The merciless tyrant was prevailed with to spare her this time; nevertheless her former weakness quickly returning upon her, he was just going to murder her, when a couple of Indians, just at this moment coming in, called suddenly upon him to hold his hand. At this such a horror surprised his guilty soul, that he ran away from her; but hearing them call his name, he returned, and then permitted these his friends to ransom his prisoner.

After these events, as we were seated by the side of a river, we heard several guns go off on the opposite side, which the Indians concluded was occasioned by a party of Albany Indians, who were their enemies. Whereupon this bold blade [her old master] would needs go in a canoe to discover what they were. They fired upon and shot him through, together with several of his friends, before the discovery could be made. Some days after this, divers of his friends gathered a party to revenge his death on their supposed enemies. With these they soon joined battle, and after several hours’ hard fighting were themselves put to the rout. Among the captives which they left in their flight was this poor woman, who was overjoyed, supposing herself now at liberty; but her joy did not last long, for these Indians were of the same sort as the others, and had been by their own friends, thus through a strange mistake, set upon.

However, this crew proved more favorable to her than the former, and went away silently with their booty; being loath to have any noise made of their foul mistake. And yet a few days after, such another mistake happened; for meeting with another party of Indians, which they imagined were in the English interest, they also furiously engaged each other, and many were killed and wounded on both sides; but the conquerors proved to be a party of French Indians this time, who took this poor Mrs. Goodwin and presented her to the French captain of the party, by whom she was carried to Canada, where she continued five years. After which she was brought safely back to New England.

Thomas Toogood‘s short narrative is introduced to relieve the reader from the contemplation of blood and misery. At the same time the other captives were taken, three Indians hotly pursued this man, and one of them overtaking him, while the rest perceiving it, stayed behind the hill, having seen him quietly yield himself a prisoner. While the Indian was getting out his strings to bind his prisoner, he held his gun under his arm, which Toogood observing, suddenly sprang and wrested it from him and momentarily presenting it at the Indian, protested he would shoot him down if he made the least noise. And so away he ran with it unto Quochecho. If my reader he now inclined to smile, when he thinks how simply poor Isgrim looked, returning to his mates behind the hill, without either gun or prey, or anything but strings, to remind him of his own deserts, I am sure his brethren felt not less so, for they derided him with ridicule at his misadventure. The Indians are singularly excessive in the practice of sporting at the misfortunes of one another in any case they are outwitted, or have been guilty of committing any blunder.

Mary Plaisted was another of the unfortunate captives at that time and place, but only a few particulars of extreme sufferings are related. She had been out of her bed of family sickness but three weeks when she was taken, and like others she was obliged to wade through swamps and snow, when at length she was relieved of the burthen of her infant son by her cruel master, who, after dashing out its brains, threw it into a river!

Footnotes

  1. One of Dr. Mather’s miserable misapplications of words. Netop, among the Indians, signified friend. Ed. 

  2. I need not remind the reader that this is no interpretation of mine Ed. 


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