Narrative of Robert Eastburn – Indian Captivities

A Faithful Narrative of the Many Dangers and Sufferings, as well as wonderful and surprising deliverances, of Robert Eastburn, during his late captivity among the Indians. Written by Himself. Published at the earnest request of many persons, for the benefit of the Public. With a recommendatory Preface by the Rev. Gilbert Tennent. Psalms 24, 6, 7, and 193, 2, 4. Philadelphia: Printed. Boston: Reprinted and sold by Green & Russell, opposite the Probate Office in Queen street, 1753.

Preface

Candid Reader: The author (and subject) of the ensuing narrative (who is a deacon of our church, and has been so for many years) is of such an established good character, that he needs no recommendation of others where he is known; a proof of which was the general joy of the inhabitants of this city, occasioned by his return from a miserable captivity; together with the readiness of divers persons to contribute to the relief of himself and necessitous family, without any request of his, or the least motion of that tendency. But seeing the following sheets are like to spread into many places where he is not known, permit me to say that, upon long acquaintance, I have found him to be a person of candor, integrity, and sincere piety, whose testimony may with safety be depended upon; which give his narrative the greater weight, and may induce to read it with the greater pleasure. The design of it is evidently pious; the matters contained in it and manner of handling them, will, I hope, be esteemed by the impartial to be entertaining and improving. I wish it may, by the divine benediction, be of great and durable service. I am thy sincere servant in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Gilbert Tennent.

Philadelphia. January 19th, 1758.

Kind Readers: On my return from my captivity I had no thoughts of publishing any observations of mine to the world in this manner. As I had no opportunity to keep a journal, and my memory being broken and capacity small, I was disinclined to undertake it. But a number of friends were pressing in their persuasions that I should do it; with whose motions I complied, from a sincere regard to God, my king and country, so far as I know my own heart. The following pages contain, as far as I can remember, the most material passages that happened within the compass of my observation while a prisoner in Canada. The facts therein related are certainly true, but the way of representing some things especially, is not so regular, clear and strong as I could wish; but I trust it will be some apology, that I am not so much acquainted with performances of this kind as many others, who may be hereby excited to give better representations of things, far beyond my knowledge. I remain your unfeigned well-wisher and humble servant,

Robert Eastburn.

Philadelphia, January 19, 1758.

A Faithful Narrative, &c.

About thirty tradesmen and myself arrived at Captain Williams‘ fort, at the carrying place, in our way to Oswego, the 26th of March, 1756. Captain Williams informed me that he was like to be cumbered in the fort, and therefore advised us to take the Indian house for our lodging. About ten o’clock next day, a Negro man came running down the road and reported that our slaymen were all taken by the enemy. Captain Williams, on hearing this, sent a sergeant and about twelve men to see if it were true. I being at the Indian house, and not thinking myself safe there, in case of an attack, and being also sincerely willing to serve my king and country, in the best manner I could in my present circumstances, asked him if he would take company. He replied, with all his heart! hereupon I fell into the rear with my arms, and marched after them. When we had advanced about a quarter of a mile, we heard a shot, followed with doleful cries of a dying man, which excited me to advance, in order to discover the enemy, who I soon perceived were prepared to receive us. In this difficult situation, seeing a large pine tree near, I repaired to it for shelter; and while the enemy were viewing our party, I, having a good chance of killing two at a shot, quickly discharged at them, but could not certainly know what execution was done till some time after. Our company likewise discharged and retreated. Seeing myself in danger of being surrounded, I was obliged to retreat a different course, and to my great surprise fell into a deep mire, which the enemy by following my track in a light snow soon discovered, and obliged me to surrender, to prevent a cruel death; they standing ready to drive their darts into my body, in case I refused to deliver up my arms. Presently after I was taken, I was surrounded by a great number, who stripped me of my clothing, hat and neck cloth, so that I had nothing left but a flannel vest without sleeves, put a rope on my neck, bound my arms fast behind me, put a long band round my body, and a large pack on my back, struck me a severe blow on the head, and drove me through the woods before them. It is not easy to conceive how distressing such a condition is. In the mean time I endeavored with all my little remaining strength to lift up my eyes to God, from whom alone I could with reason expect relief.

Seventeen or eighteen prisoners were soon added to our number, one of whom informed me that the Indians were angry with me, reported to some of their chiefs that I had fired on them, wounded one and killed another; for which he doubted not they would kill me.

I had not as yet learned what number the enemy’s parties consisted of; there being only about one hundred Indians who had lain in ambush on the road to kill or take into captivity all that passed between the two forts. Here an interpreter came to me to inquire what strength Captain Williams had to defend his fort. After a short pause I gave such a discouraging answer, (yet consistent with truth,)1 as prevented their attacking it, and of consequence the effusion of much blood. Hereby it evidently appeared that I was suffered to fall into the hands of the enemy to promote the good of my countrymen, to better purpose than I could by continuing with them.

In the mean time the enemy determined to destroy Bull’s fort, (at the head of Wood Creek,) which they soon effected; all being put to the sword, except five persons, the fort burnt, the provisions and powder destroyed, (saving only a little for their own use.) Then they retired to the woods and joined their main body, including which, consisted of four hundred French and three hundred Indians, commanded by one of the principal gentlemen of Quebec. As soon as they got together, (having a priest with them,) they fell on their knees and returned thanks for their victory. An example this, worthy of imitation ! an example which may make profane, pretended Protestants blush, if they are not lost to all sense of shame,2 who, instead of acknowledging a God, or providence, in their military undertakings, are continually reproaching him with oaths and curses. Is it any wonder the attempts of such are blasted with disappointment and disgrace?

The enemy had several wounded men, both French and Indians, among them, whom they carried on their backs; besides these, about fifteen of their number were killed, and of us about forty. It being by this time near dark, and some Indians drunk, they only marched about four miles and encamped. The Indians untied my arms, cut hemlock boughs and strewed round the fire, tied my band to two trees, with my back on the green boughs, (by the fire,) covered me with an old blanket, and lay down across my band, on each side, to prevent my escape while they slept.

Sunday the 28th, we rose early; the commander ordered a hasty retreat towards Canada, for fear of General Johnson. In the mean time, one of our men said he understood the French and Indians designed to join a strong party, and fall on Oswego, before our forces at that place could get any provision or succor; having, as they thought, put a stop to our relieving them for a time. When encamped in the evening, the commanding officer ordered the Indians to bring me to his tent, and asked me by an interpreter if I thought General Johnson would follow them. I told him I judged not, but rather thought he would proceed to Oswego, (which was indeed my sentiment, grounded upon prior information, and then expressed to prevent the execution of their design.) He further inquired what my trade was. I told him, that of a smith. He then persuaded me, when I got to Canada, to send for my wife, “for,” said he, “you can get a rich living there.” But when he saw that he could not prevail, he asked me no more questions, but commanded me to my Indian master.

Having this opportunity of conversation, I informed the general that his Indian warriors had stripped me of my clothing, and would be glad if he would be good enough to order me some relief; to which he replied, “I should get clothes when I came to Canada,” which was cold comfort to one almost frozen. On my return, the Indians, perceiving I was unwell and could not eat their coarse food, ordered some chocolate, which they had brought from the carrying place, to be boiled for me, and seeing me eat that appeared pleased. A strong guard was kept every night. One of our men being weakened by his wounds, and rendered unable to keep pace with them, was killed and scalped on the road! I was all this time almost naked, travelling through deep snow, and wading through rivers, cold as ice!

After seven days’ march, we arrived at lake Ontario, where I eat some horse-flesh, which tasted very agreeably, for to a hungry man, as Solomon observes, every bitter thing is sweet On the Friday before we arrived at the lake, the Indians killed a porcupine. The Indians threw it on a large fire, burnt off the hair and quills, roasted and eat of it, with whom I had a part.

The French carried several of their wounded men all the way upon their backs, many of whom wore no breeches in their travels in this cold season getting strong hardy men. The Indians had three of their party wounded, which they likewise carried on their backs. I wish there was more of this hardiness, so necessary for war, in our nation, which would open a more encouraging scene than appears at present. The prisoners were so divided, that but few could converse together on the march, and what was still more disagreeable and distressing, an Indian who had a large bunch of green scalps, taken off our men’s heads, marched before me, and another with a sharp spear behind, to drive me after him, by which means the scalps were often close to my face. And as we marched, they frequently every day gave the dead shout, which was repeated as many times as there were captives and scalps taken.

I may with justice and truth observe that our enemies leave no stone unturned to compass our ruin. They pray, work, and travel to bring it about, and are unwearied in the pursuit, while many among us sleep in a storm which has laid a good part of our country desolate, and threatens the whole with destruction.

April 4th. Several French bateaux met us, and brought a large supply of provision, the sight of which caused great joy, for we were in great want. Then a place was soon erected to celebrate mass in, which being ended, we all went over the mouth of a river, where it empties itself into the east end of Lake Ontario. A great part of our company set off on foot towards Oswegatchy, while the rest were ordered into bateaux and carried towards the extreme of St. Lawrence, (where that river takes its beginning,) but by reason of bad weather, wind, rain, and snow, whereby the waters of the lake were troubled, we were obliged to lie by, and haul our bateaux on shore. Here I lay on the cold shore two days. Tuesday set off, and entered the head of St. Lawrence in the afternoon; came too late at night, made fires, but did not lie down to sleep. Embarking long before day, and after some miles’ progress down the river, saw many fires on our right hand, which were made by the men who left us and went by land. With them we staid till day, then again embarked in our bateaux. The weather was very bad, (it snowed fast all day;) near night we arrived at Oswegatchy. I was almost starved to death, but hoped to stay in this Indian town till warm weather; slept in an Indian wigwam, rose early in the morning, (being Thursday,) and soon to my grief discovered my disappointment. Several of the prisoners had leave to tarry here, but I must go two hundred miles further downstream, to another Indian town. The moving being extremely cold, I applied to a French merchant or trader for some old rags of clothing, for I was almost naked, but to no purpose.

About ten o’clock, I was ordered into a boat, to go down the river, with eight or nine Indians, one of whom was the man wounded in the skirmish before mentioned.3 At night we went on shore; the snow being much deeper than before, we cleared it away and made a large fire. Here, when the wounded Indian cast his eyes upon me, his old grudge revived; he took my blanket from me and commanded me to dance round the fire barefoot, and sing the prisoner’s song, which I utterly refused. This surprised one of my fellow prisoners, who told me they would put me to death, for he understood what they said. He therefore tried to persuade me to comply, but I desired him to let me alone, and was through great mercy enabled to reject his importunity with abhorrence. This Indian also continued urging, saying, you shall dance and sing; but apprehending my compliance sinful, I determined to persist in declining it at all adventures, and leave the issue to the divine disposal. The Indian, perceiving his orders disobeyed, was fired with indignation, and endeavored to push me into the fire, which I leaped over, and he, being weak with his wounds, and not being assisted by any of his brethren, was obliged to desist. For this gracious interposure of Providence, in preserving me both from sin and danger, I desire to bless God while I live.

Friday morning I was almost perished with cold. Saturday we proceeded on our way, and soon came in sight of the upper part of the inhabitants of Canada. Here I was in great hopes of some relief, not knowing the manner of the Indians, who do not make many stops among the French in their return from war till they get home. However, when they came near some rapid falls of water, one of my fellow prisoners and several Indians, together with myself, were put on shore to travel by land, which pleased me well; it being much warmer running on the snow than to lie still in the bateau. We passed by several French houses, but stopped at none; the vessel going down a rapid stream, it required haste to keep pace with her, and we crossed over a point of land and found the bateau waiting for us, as near the shore as the ice would permit. Here we left the St. Lawrence and turned up Conasadauga River, but it being frozen up, we hauled our bateau on shore, and each of us took our share of her loading on our backs, and marched towards Conasadauga, an Indian town, which was our designed port, but could not reach it that night. We came to a French house, cold, weary, and hungry. Here my old friend, the wounded Indian, again appeared, and related to the Frenchman the affair of my refusing to dance, who immediately assisted him to strip me of my flannel vest, which was my all. Now they were resolved to compel me to dance and sing. The Frenchman was as violent as the Indian in promoting this imposition; but the woman belonging to the house seeing the rough usage I had, took pity on me and rescued me out of their hands, till their heat was over, and prevailed with the Indian to excuse me from dancing, but he insisted that I must be shaved, and then he would let me alone. (I had at that time a long beard, which the Indians hate.) With this motion I readily complied, and then they seemed contented.

Sunday, April 11th, we set off towards Conasadauga, and travelled about two hours, when we saw the town over a great river, which was still frozen. The Indians stopped, and we were soon joined with a number of our own company, which we had not seen for several days. The prisoners, in number eight, were ordered to lay down their packs, and be painted. The wounded Indian painted me, and put a belt of wampum round my neck, instead of the rope I had worn four hundred miles. Then we set off for the town on the ice, which was four miles over. Our heads were not allowed to be covered, lest our fine paint should be hid, the weather in the mean time very cold, like to freeze our ears. After we had advanced nearer to the town, the Indian women came out to meet us, and relieved their husbands of their packs.

As soon as we landed at Conasadauga a large body of Indians came and encompassed us round, and ordered the prisoners to dance and sing the prisoner’s song, (which I was still enabled to decline.) At the conclusion they gave a shout, and opened the ring to let us run, and then fell on us with their fists, and knocked several down. In the mean time, one ran before to direct us to an Indian house which was open, and as soon as we got in we were safe from beating. My head was sore with bruises, and pained me several days. The squaws were kind to us, gave us boiled corn and beans to eat, and fire, to warm us, which was a great mercy, for I was both cold and hungry. This town lies about thirty miles northwest of Montreal. I stayed here till the ice was gone, which was about ten days, and then was sent to Cohnewago, in company with some Indians, who, when they came within hearing, gave notice by their way of shouting that they had a prisoner, on which the whole town rose to welcome me, which was the more distressing as there was no other prisoner in their hands. When we came near shore, a stout Indian took hold of me, and hauled me into the water, which was knee deep, and very cold. As soon as I got ashore the Indians gathered round me, ordered me to dance and sing, although I was stiff with cold and wet, and lying long in the canoe. I only stamped to prepare for my race, and was encompassed with about five hundred Indians, who danced and sung, and at last gave a shout and opened the circle. About one hundred and fifty Indian lads made ready to pelt me with dirt and gravel-stones, and on my starting off gave me a smart volley, but from which I did not suffer much hurt. An Indian seeing me running, met me, seized and held me fast, till the boys had stored themselves again with small stones, and then let me go. Now I fared much worse than before, for a small stone among the mud hit my right eye, and my head and face were so covered with the dirt that I could scarce see my way; but discovering the door of an Indian house standing open, I ran in. From this retreat I was soon dragged to be pelted more, but the Indian women, being more merciful, interposed, took me into a house, brought me water to wash, and gave me boiled corn and beans to eat. The next day I was brought to the centre of the town and cried according to the Indian custom, in order to be sent to a family of Indians two hundred miles upstream, at Oswegatchy, and there to be adopted and abused no more. To this end I was delivered to three young men, who said I was their brother and set forward on our way to the aforesaid town, with about twenty more, but by reason of bad weather we were obliged to encamp on a cold, stony shore three days, and then proceeded on. We called at Conasadauga, staid there about a week, in which time I went and viewed four houses at a distance from the town, about a quarter of a mile from each other, in which are represented in large paintings the sufferings of our Savior, designed to draw the Indians to the papist’s religion. The work is curiously dons. A little further stand three houses near together, on a high hill, which they call mount Calvary, with three large crosses before them, which completes the whole representation. To all these houses the papists and Indians repair, in performing their grand processions, which takes up much time.

The pains the papists take to propagate such a bloody religion is truly surprising; and the zeal they employ to propagate superstition and idolatry should make Protestants ashamed of their lukewarmness. A priest asked me “if I was a Catholic.” I answered him, “no;” to which he replied, “no bon.” When I told a fellow captive of this, he said by my answer the priest understood that I was not a Christian. Shortly after another asked me the same question, and I answered, “yes, but not a Roman Catholic;” but he too said “no bon! no bon!”

We next set off on our journey for Oswegatchy, against a rapid stream, and being long in it, and our provisions growing short, the Indians put to shore a little before night. My lot was to get wood, others were ordered to get fires, and some to hunt. Our kettle was put over the fire with some pounded Indian corn, and after it had boiled about two hours my oldest Indian brother returned with a she beaver, big with young, which he soon cut to pieces and threw into the kettle, together with the guts, and took the four young beavers whole as they were found in embryo, and put them likewise into the kettle, and when all was well boiled, gave each of us a large dish full of the broth, of which we eat freely, and then part of the old beaver; the tail of which was divided equally among us, there being eight at our fire. The four young beavers were cut in the middle, and each of us got half a beaver. I watched for an opportunity to hide my share, (having satisfied myself be-fore that tender dish came to hand,) which if they had seen would have much displeased them.4 The other Indians catched young muskrats, thrust a stick through their bodies, and roasted it without skinning or dressing, and so eat them. Next morning we hastened on our journey, which continued several days, till we came near Oswegatchy, where we landed about three miles from the town on the contrary side of the river. Here I was to be adopted. My father and mother, whom I had never seen before, were waiting, and ordered me into an Indian house, where we were directed to sit down silent for a considerable time. The Indians appeared very sad, and my mother began to cry, and continued to cry aloud for some time, and then dried up her tears and received me for her son, and took me over the river to the Indian town. The next day I was ordered to go to mass with them, but I refused once and again; yet they continued their importunities several days. Seeing they could not prevail with me, they seemed much displeased with their new son. I was then sent over the river to be employed in hard labor, as a punishment for not going to mass, and not allowed a sight of or any conversation with my fellow-prisoners. The old Indian man with whom I was ordered to work had a wife and children. He took me into the woods with him, and made signs for me to chop, and he soon saw that I could handle the axe. Here I tried to reconcile myself to this employ, that they might have no occasion against me, except concerning the law of my God. The old man began to appear kind, and his wife gave me milk and bread when we came home, and when she got fish, gave me the gills to eat, out of real kindness; but perceiving I did not like them, gave me my own choice, and behaved lovingly. When we had finished our fence, which had employed us about a week, I showed the old squaw my shirt, (having worn it from the time I was first taken prisoner, which was about seven weeks,) all in rags, dirt and lice. She said it was not good, and brought me a new one with ruffled sleeves, saying “that is good,” which I thankfully accepted. The next day they carried me back to the Indian town, and permitted me to converse with my fellow prisoners. They told me we were all to be sent to Montreal, which accordingly came to pass.

On our arrival at Montreal we had our lodgings first in the Jesuits’ convent, where I saw a great number of priests and people who came to confession. After some stay we were ordered to attend with the Indians in a grand council, held before the head general, Vaudreuil. We prisoners sat in our rank, (surrounded with our fathers and brethren,) but were asked no questions. The general had a number of officers to attend him in council, where a noted priest, called Picket, sat at his right hand, who understands the Indian tongue well and does more hurt to the English than any other of his order in Canada. His dwelling is at Oswegatchy. Here I was informed that some measures were concerted to destroy Oswego, which had been long in agitation. We met on our journey many bateaux going up stream, with provision and men for an attack on our frontiers, which confirmed the report. The council adjourned to another day, and then broke up. My Indian father and mother took me with them to several of their old acquaintances, who were French, to show them their lately adopted son. These persons had been concerned with my father and other Indians in destroying many English families in their younger days, and, (as one standing by who understood their language said,) were boasting of their former murders! After some days the council was again called, before which several of the Oneida chiefs appeared and offered some complaints against the French’s attacking our carrying place, it being their land. But the general labored to make them easy, and gave them sundry presents of value, which they accepted. The French are exceedingly careful to prevent spirituous liquors being sold among the Indians, and if any inhabitant is proved guilty of it, their temporal interest is quite broken, and corporal punishment is inflicted on such offenders herein the French are vastly superior to us. The Indians do not fear our numbers, (which they deride,) because of our unhappy divisions, in consequence of which they expect to conquer us entirely.

Knowing these Oneidas were acquainted with Capt. Williams, at the carrying place, I sent a letter by them to let my family and friends know that I was yet alive, and lodged for redemption; but it never came to hand. The treaty being ended, the general sent about ten gallons of red wine to the Indians, which they divided among us. Afterwards came the presents, consisting of coats, blankets, shirts, skins, (to make Indian shoes,) cloth, (for stockings,) powder, lead-shot, and to each a bag of paint for their own use, &c.

After we prisoners had our share my mother came to me with an interpreter, and told me I might stay in the town at a place she had found for me, if I pleased. This proposal I almost agreed to, but one of my fellow prisoners, with whom I had had before some discourse about making our escape, opposed the motion, and said, “Pray do not stay, for, if you do, we shall not be able to form a plan for our deliverance.” So I told her I chose to go home with her, and soon set off by land, in our way thither, to Laschene, distant from Montreal about nine miles. Here we left our canoes, and proceeded without delay on our journey, in which I saw, to my sorrow, great numbers of soldiers and much provisions in motion towards Lake Ontario. After a painful and distressing journey, we arrived at Oswegatchy, where we likewise saw many bateaux, with provisions and soldiers, daily passing by in their way to Frontenac, which greatly distressed me for Oswego. Hence I resolved, if possible, to give our people notice of their danger. To this end, I told two of my fellow prisoners that it was not a time to sleep, and asked them if they would go with me, to which they heartily agreed. But we had no provision, and were closely eyed by the enemy, so that we could not lay up a stock out of our allowance. However, at this time, Mr. Picket had concluded to dig a large trench round the town. I therefore went to a Negro, the principal manager of this work, (who could speak English, French, and Indian well,) and asked him if he could get employ for two others and myself, which he soon did. For this service we were to have meat, [board,] and wages. Here we had a prospect of procuring provision for our flight. This, after some time, I obtained for myself, and then asked my brethren if they were ready. They said “they were not yet, but that Ann Bowman (our fellow prisoner) had brought one hundred and thirty dollars from Bull’s fort, [when it was destroyed, as has been related,] and would give them all they needed.” I told them it was not safe to disclose such a secret to her, but they blamed me for entertaining such fears, and applied to her for provisions, letting her know our intention. She immediately informed the priest of it! We were forthwith apprehended, the Indians informed of it, and a court called. Four of us were ordered by this court to be confined in a room, under a strong guard, within the fort, for several days. From hence, another and myself were sent to Cohnewago, under a strong guard of sixty Indians, to prevent my plotting any more against the French, and to banish all hope of my escape!

When we arrived at this place, it pleased God to incline the captain of the guard to show me great kindness in giving me liberty to walk or work where I pleased, within any small distance. I went to work with a French smith for six livres and five sous per week. This sum the captain let me have to myself, and further favored me with the privilege of lodging at his mother’s house, (an English woman named Mary Harris, taken captive when a child from Deerfield, in New England,) who told me she was my grandmother, and was kind; but the wages being small, and not sufficient to procure such clothing as I was in want of, I proceeded no farther with the smith, but went to my uncle Peter, and told him I wanted clothes, and that it would be better to let me go to Montreal, and work there, where I could clothe myself better than by staying with him. He after some reasoning consented.

I set off on my journey to Montreal, and on my entering the city met an English smith, who took me to work with him. After some time we settled to work in a shop opposite the general’s door, where we had an opportunity of seeing a great part of the forces of Canada, both French and Indians, who were commonly brought there before their going out to war, and likewise all prisoners. By this means we got intelligence how our people were preparing for defense; but no good news from Oswego, which made me fear, knowing that great numbers of French had gone out against it, and hearing there were but few to defend it.

Prayers were put up in all the churches of Canada, and great processions made, in order to procure success to their arms against poor Oswego; but our people knew little of their danger till it was too late. For, to my surprise, the dismal news came that the French had taken one of the Oswego forts. In a few hours, in confirmation of this news, I saw the English standards, the melancholy trophies of victory, and the French rejoicing at our downfall, and mocking us, poor prisoners, in our exile and extremity, which was no great argument either of humanity or true greatness of mind. Great joy appeared in all their faces, which they expressed in loud shouts, firing of cannon, and returning thanks in their churches. But our faces were covered with shame, and our hearts filled with grief!5

Soon after, I saw several of the officers brought in prisoners in small parties, and soldiers in the same manner, who were confined within the wall [of the fort] in a starving condition, in order to make them work, which some complied with, while others bravely refused; and last of all came the tradesmen, among whom was my son, who, looking round, saw me, to his great surprise, for he had supposed I was dead. This joyful sight so affected him that he wept; nor could I refrain from the expression of a father’s tenderness, in the same kind, upon so extraordinary an occasion; it was far more than I can disclose in writing, and therefore must cover it with a veil of silence. But he, with all my Philadelphia friends, being guarded by soldiers, with fixed bayonets; we could not come near each other. They were sent to the common pound, but I hastened to the interpreter to try to get my son set at liberty, which was soon effected. When we had the happiness of an interview, he gave me some information of the state of our family, and told me that, as soon as the news reached home that I was killed or taken, his mother was not allowed any further wages of mine, which grieved me much, and added to my other afflictions.

In the mean time it gave me some pleasure in this situation to see an expression of equal affection and prudence in my son’s conduct, who, though young in years, (about seventeen,) that he, in such a confused state of things, had taken care to bring, with much labor and fatigue, a large bundle, of considerable value to me, of clothing, &c., of which I was in great need. He likewise saved a quantity of wampum which we brought from New York, and afterwards sold it here for one hundred and fifty livres. He travelled with me part of the journey towards Oswego, but not being so far on his way as J was when taken, did not fall into the enemy’s hands until that place was taken. At that time he was delivered in a remarkable manner from a wretched captivity among distant Indians. His escape was in this manner: fifteen young white prisoners were selected out to be delivered into their power, who, from a well-known custom among the Indians, there was no doubt, were to supply the places of those they had lost in the war. Of this number was my son. The French artfully concealed their destination, and pretended they were designed to labor in the bateaux. My son, seeing that most of the selection were small lads, doubted their pretensions, for they were not equal to such performance. Watching his opportunity, he slipped from his place in the ranks unnoticed, and lay concealed until his place was filled by another. The other unhappy youths were delivered up a sacrifice to the Indian enemy, to be instructed in popish principles, and be employed in murdering their countrymen, yea, perhaps, their own fathers, mothers, and brethren! O horrible! O lamentable!

The insatiable thirst of the French for empire6 is heightened, doubtless, from the pardons they receive from the pope and their priests, [as will appear from the following facts:] On a Sabbath day I went to see what was the occasion of a great concourse of people at a chapel. I found a kind of fair, at which were sold cakes, wine, brandy, &c. Numbers of people were going in and out of the chapel, over the door of which was a board hanging, and on it was written, in large capital letters, “Indulgence plenary, or full pardon.” To return to my narrative.

When the people taken at Oswego were setting out on their way to Quebec, I made application for liberty to go with them, but the interpreter said I was an Indian prisoner, and the general would not suffer it till the Indians were satisfied; and as they lived two hundred miles from Montreal, it could not be done at that time. Finding that all arguments on that head would not avail, because I was not included in the capitulation, I told the interpreter my son must go and leave me, to be ready at Quebec to go home when the Oswego people went, which probably would be soon. He replied, “It would be better to keep him with me, for it might be a mean to get me clear much sooner.”

The officers belonging to Oswego would gladly have had me with them, but found it impracticable. This was an instance of kindness and condescension for which I was greatly obliged. Capt. Bradley gave me a good coat, vest, and shirt, and a young gentleman, who formerly lived in Philadelphia, (by name James Stone, doctor at Oswego,) gave me four pistols. These expressions of kindness I remember with gratitude, and, if ever in my power, will requite. This money, with what my son brought me, I was in hopes would go far towards procuring my release from my Indian masters. But seeing a number of prisoners in sore distress, among whom were Capt. Grant and Capt. Shepherd, and about seven more in company, I thought it my duty to relieve them, and commit my release to the disposal of Providence, nor was this suffered to turn to my disadvantage in the issue, for my deliverance was brought about in due time, in another and unexpected way. This company informed me of their intention to escape; accordingly I gave them all the help in my power, saw them clear of the town on a Saturday evening, before the sentries were set at the gates, and advised them not to part from each other, and delivered to Capt. Shepherd two pocket compasses; but, contrary to this counsel, they parted, and saw each other no more. By their separating, Captain Grant and Sergeant Newel were deprived of the benefit of a compass; the others got safe to fort William Henry, as I was informed by Sergeant Henry, who was brought in prisoner, being taken in a battle, when the gallant and indefatigable Capt. Rogers made a brave stand against more than twice his number.7 But I have not heard any account of Capt. Grant. I was enabled, through much mercy, to continue communicating relief to other prisoners out of the wages I received for my labors, which was forty livres per month.

In the latter part of winter, coal and iron were so scarce that it was difficult to get work. I then offered to work for my board, rather than to be thrust into a stinking dungeon, or sent among the Indians. The interpreter took some pains, which I thankfully acknowledge, without success, in my behalf. However, as I offered to work without wages, a Frenchman took me and my son in upon these terms. Here we staid one week, and hearing of no other chance, our employer offered us thirty livres a month to blow the bellows and strike, which I did for about two months, and then was discharged, and travelled about, from place to place, having no fixed abode. In this dilemma I was obliged to spend my little earnings for food to live upon, and my lodging was the hay-loft. I then made my case known to the kind interpreter, and requested him to consider of some means for my relief. He said he would.

Meanwhile, as I was taking a walk in the city, I met an Indian prisoner [a prisoner among them] that belonged to the town where my father lived. He reported that a great part of the Indians there had just arrived with the resolution to carry me back with them; and knowing him to be a very honest fellow, I believed him, and fled from the town, and concealed myself from the Indians. Schemes were now formed for an escape, and well prosecuted to a fortunate issue. General Vaudveuil gave me and my son liberty (under his hand) to go to Quebec, and to work there at our pleasure, without confinement, as prisoners of war. By this means I was freed from paying a ransom.

The commissary, Monsieur Portwee, [?] being about to set off for Quebec, my son informed me I must come to town in the evening, a passage being provided for us. I waited till near dark, and then entered the town with great caution, to escape the Indians, who kept watch for me, and had done so for some time, which made it very difficult and dangerous to move; but as they had no knowledge of my son, he could watch their motions without suspicion. In the morning, upon seeing an Indian set to watch for me over against the house I was in, I quickly made my escape through the back part of the house, over some high pickets, and so out of the city to the river-side, and fled. A friend, knowing my scheme for deliverance, kindly assisted me to conceal myself. The commissary had now got ready for his voyage, of which my son gave me notice. With no lingering motion I repaired to the boat, was received on board, got off undiscovered, and saw the Indians no more! A very narrow and surprising escape from, a violent death! for they had determined to kill me if ever I attempted to leave them.

I arrived at Quebec May 1st. The honorable Col. Peter Schuyler, hearing of my coming there, kindly sent for me, and after inquiries about my welfare generously told me I should be supplied, and need not trouble myself for support. This public spirited gentleman, who is indeed an honor to his country, did in like manner nobly relieve many other poor prisoners at Quebec. Here I had full liberty to walk where I pleased to view the city, which is well situated for strength, but far from being impregnable.

Here, I hope, it will not be judged improper to give a short hint of the French governor’s conduct. Even in time of peace he gives the Indians great encouragement to murder and captivate the poor inhabitants on our frontiers.8 An honest good man, named William Ross, was taken prisoner twice in time of peace. When he was first taken he learned a little of the French language, was afterwards redeemed, and got to his place of abode. Some years after, he, with two sons, was again taken, and brought to Quebec. The governor seeing the poor man was lame, and that one of his legs was smaller than the other, reproved the Indians for not killing him, asking them “what they brought a lame man there for who could do nothing but eat! You should have brought his scalp!” However, another of his countrymen, more merciful than his Excellency, knowing the poor prisoner to be a quiet, hard-working man, redeemed him from the Indians, and two other Frenchmen bought his two sons. Here they had been slaves more than three years when I first arrived at Quebec. This account I had from Mr. Ross himself, who further added, that the governor gave the Indians presents to encourage them to proceed in that kind of work, which is a scandal to any civilized nation, and what many pagans would abhor. Here, also, I saw one Mr. Johnson, who was taken in a time of peace, with his wife and three small children. A fourth was born on the way, whom Mrs. Johnson named Captive.9 All of these had been prisoners between three and four years. Several young men, and Mr. Johnson‘s wife’s sister, were likewise taken with them, and made slaves.

Our cartel being ready, I obtained liberty to go to England in her. We set sail the 23d of July, 1757, in the morning, and discharged our pilot about four o’clock in the afternoon. After that we neither cast anchor nor lead till we got clear of the great river St. Lawrence; from which I conclude the navigation to be much safer than the French have reported. In 28 days we arrived at Plymouth, which occasioned great joy [to us], for we were ragged, lousy, sick, and in a manner starved; and many of the prisoners, (who were in all about three hundred,) were sick of the small -pox. Myself and son having each a blanket coat, (which we bought in Canada to keep us warm,) and now expecting relief, gave them to poor sick men, almost naked. We were not allowed to go en shore, but were removed to a king’s ship, and sent to Portsmouth, where we were still confined on board near two weeks, and then removed to the Mermaid, to be sent to Boston. We now repented our well-meant though rash charity in giving our coats away, as we were not to get any more; all applications to the captain for any kind of covering being in vain. Our joy was turned into sorrow at the prospect of coming on a cold coast, in the beginning of winter, almost naked, which was not a little increased by a near view of our mother country; the soil and comforts of which we were not suffered to touch or taste.10

September the 6th we sailed for Boston, with a fleet in convoy, at which we arrived on the 7th of November, in the evening. It being dark, and we strangers and poor, it was difficult to get a lodging. I had no shoes, and but pieces of stockings, and the weather very cold. We were indeed directed to a tavern, but found cold entertainment there; the master of the house, seeing a ragged and lousy company, turned us out to wander in the dark. He was suspicious of us, and feared we came from Halifax, where the small-pox then was, and told us he was ordered not to receive such as came from thence. We soon met a young man who said he could find lodgings for us, but still detained us by asking many questions. I told him we were in no condition to answer them till we came to a more comfortable place, which he quickly found, where we were used well; but as we were lousy, we could not expect beds.

The next morning we made application for clothing. Mr Erving, son-in-law to the late General Shirley, gave us relief, not only in respect of apparel, but also three dollars per man, to bear our charges to Newport. When I put on fresh clothes I was seized with a cold fit, which was followed by a high fever, and in that condition obliged to travel on foot as far as Providence, in our way to Rhode Island. In this journey I was exceedingly distressed. Our comforts in this life are often embittered with miseries, which are doubtless great mercies when they are suitably improved. At Newport we met with Captain Gibbs, and agreed with him for our passage to New York, where we arrived, November 21st, and met with many friends, who expressed much satisfaction at our return, and treated us kindly, particularly Mr. Livingston and Mr. Waldron.

November the 26th, 1757, I arrived at Philadelphia, to the great joy of all my friends, and particularly of my poor afflicted wife and family, who thought they should never see me again, till we met beyond the grave. Being returned, sick and weak in body, and empty-handed, not having any thing for my family’s and my own support, several humane and generous persons, of different denominations, in this city, without any application of mine, have freely given seasonable relief. For which may God grant them blessings in this world, and in the world to come everlasting life, for Christ’s sak !

But to hasten to the conclusion, suffer me with humility and sorrow to observe that our enemies seem to make a better use of a bad religion than we do of a good one. They rise up long before day in winter and go through the snow in the coldest seasons to perform their devotions in the churches. When these are over they return, to be ready for their work as soon as daylight appears. The Indians are as zealous in religion as the French. They oblige their children to pray morning and evening, particularly at Canasadauga.

Our case appears to me indeed gloomy, notwithstanding our enemies are inconsiderable in numbers, compared with us; yet they are united as one man, while we may justly be compared to a house divided against itself, and therefore cannot stand long in our present situation. May Almighty God graciously incline us to look to him for deliverance, to repent of our sins, reform our lives, and unite in the vigorous and manly use of all proper means to this end. AMEN.

Footnotes

  1. It is a great pity that our modern managers of Indian affairs had not indulged in such scrupulous veracity. They would probably say our captive was “more nice than wise.” But perhaps he was like an old acquaintance of mine, who used to say sometimes that “he almost told a lie” though not quite. Ed  

  2. What would Captain Gyles have said to such praise of Catholics and their religion ? and by a Protestant too. He would no doubt have said that the devil had helped them, inasmuch as no good spirit would have heard the prayers of “wicked papists.” Ed.  

  3. The author probably refers to the time he was taken. Ed  

  4.  The reader will observe here a parallel custom to that in practice a hundred years before among the Indians who carried off Stockwell. They compelled him to drink raccoon fat because he wished to save some of the flesh of one for another time. See Stockwell’s Narrative. Ed. 18  

  5.  Oswego was taken July 15th, 1756, and 1400 English were made prisoners. Ed.  

  6. The author wished probably to convey the idea that the French might commit any crimes in the acquisition of empire, without fear of future punishment, so long as they availed themselves of absolution, which it appears, from his next paragraph, was very prominently held forth. Ed.  

  7. About the 21st of May, 1756, Capt. Rogers, with only eleven men, am-bushed the carrying place between lakes George and Champlain, fired on a party of twenty-two Frenchmen, and killed six. He had let another party of 118 men pass only “a few minutes before,” who immediately returned and rescued the others, and obliged the English to fly. Rogers says nothing about having any of his men taken, but took one himself. Rogers’ Journal. Ed.  

  8. The author certainly discovers great care for veracity in the course of his narrative, but he may have erred here. We hope he has. Ed.  

  9.  On Mrs. Johnson‘s return out of captivity she had published a very full and excellent account of it, which has gone through at least four editions since 1796. The last (Lowell. 1834) is quite imperfect. Ed 24  

  10.  Such barbarous treatment of poor prisoners, by a government like that of England, who had hazarded their lives in its cause, is almost incredible. Thus brutes might treat men, but men will not deal so with men. A miserable old cartel hulk may contain germs destined to shake the thrones of tyrants. Ed.  



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. 21 December 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/pennsylvania/narrative-robert-eastburn-indian-captivities.htm - Last updated on Feb 24th, 2014

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