Captain Jonathan Carver’s Narrative of his Capture – Indian Captivities
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Captain Jonathan Carver‘s narrative of his capture, and subsequent escape from the Indians, at the Bloody Massacre Committed By them, when Fort William Henry fell into the hands of the French, under Gen. Montcalm, in the year 1757. Written by himself.
Gen. Webb, who commanded the English army in North America, which was then encamped at Fort Edward, having intelligence that the French troops under Monsieur Montcalm were making some movements towards Fort William Henry, he detached a corps of about fifteen hundred men, consisting of English and provincials, to strengthen the garrison. In this party I went as a volunteer among the latter.
The apprehensions of the English general were not without foundation; for the day after our arrival we saw lake George, (formerly lake Sacrament) to which it lies contiguous, covered with an immense number of boats; and in a few hours we found our lines attacked by the French general, who had just landed with eleven thousand regulars and Canadians, and two thousand Indians. Colonel Monro, a brave officer, commanded in the fort, and had no more than two thousand three hundred men with him, our detachment included.
With these he made a gallant defense, and probably would have been able at last to preserve the fort, had he been properly supported, and permitted to continue his efforts. On every summons to surrender sent by the French general, who offered the most honorable terms, his answer repeatedly was, that he yet found himself in a condition to repel the most vigorous attacks his besiegers were able to make; and if he thought his present force insufficient, he could soon be supplied with a greater number from the adjacent army.
But the colonel having acquainted General Webb with his situation, and desired he would send him some fresh troops, the general dispatched a messenger to him with a letter, wherein he informed him that it was not in his power to assist him, and therefore gave him orders to surrender up the fort on the best terms he could procure. This packet fell into the hands of the French general, who immediately sent a flag of truce, desiring a conference with the governor.
They accordingly met, attended only by a small guard, in the centre between the lines; when Monsieur Montcalm told the colonel, that he was come in person to demand possession of the fort, as it belonged to the king his master. The colonel replied, that he knew not how that could be, nor should he surrender it up whilst it was in his power to defend it.
The French general rejoined at the same time delivering the packet into the colonel’s hand, “By this authority do I make the requisition.” The brave governor had no sooner read the contents of it, and was convinced that such were the orders of the commander-in-chief, and not to be disobeyed, than he hung his head in silence, and reluctantly entered into a negotiation.
In consideration of the gallant defense the garrison had made, they were to be permitted to march out with all the honors of war, to be allowed covered wagons to transport their baggage to Fort Edward, and a guard to protect them from the fury of the savages.
The morning after the capitulation was signed, as soon as day broke, the whole garrison, now consisting of about two thousand men, besides women and children, were drawn up within the lines, and on the point of marching off, when great numbers of the Indians gathered about, and began to plunder. We were at first in hopes that this was their only view, and suffered them to proceed without opposition. Indeed it was not in our power to make any, had we been so inclined; for though we were permitted to carry off our arms, yet we were not allowed a single round of ammunition. In these hopes however we were disappointed; for presently some of them began to attack the sick and wounded, when such as were not able to crawl into the ranks, notwithstanding they endeavored to avert the fury of their enemies by their shrieks or groans, were soon dispatched.
Here we were fully in expectation that the disturbance would have concluded; and our little army began to move; but in a short time we saw the front division driven back, and discovered that we were entirely encircled by the savages. We expected every moment that the guard, which the French, by the articles of capitulation, had agreed to allow us, would have arrived, and put an end to our apprehensions; but none appeared. The Indians now began to strip every one without exception of their arms and clothes, and those who made the least resistance felt the weight of their tomahawks.
I happened to be in the rear division, but it was not long before I shared the fate of my companions. Three or four of the savages laid hold of me, and whilst some held their weapons over my head, the others soon disrobed me of my coat, waistcoat, hat and buckles, omitting not to take from me what money I had in my pocket. As this was transacted close by the passage that led from the lines on to the plain, near which a French sentinel was posted, I ran to him and claimed his protection; but he only called me an English dog, and thrust me with violence back again into the midst of the Indians.
I now endeavored to join a body of our troops that were crowded together at some distance; but innumerable were the blows that were made at me with different weapons as I passed on; luckily however the savages were so close together that they could not strike at me without endangering each other. Notwithstanding which one of them found means to make a thrust at me with a spear, which grazed my side, and from another I received a wound, with the same kind of weapon, in my ankle. At length I gained the spot where my countrymen stood, and forced myself into the midst of them. But before I got thus far out of the hands of the Indians, the collar and wristbands of my shirt were all that remained of it, and my flesh was scratched and torn in many places by their savage gripes.
By this time the war-whoop was given, and the Indians began to murder those that were nearest to them without distinction. It is not in the power of words to give any tolerable idea of the horrid scene that now ensued; men, women, and children were dispatched in the most wanton and cruel manner, and immediately scalped. Many of these savages drank the blood of their victims, as it flowed warm from the fatal wound.
We now perceived, though too late to avail us, that we were to expect no relief from the French; and that, contrary to the agreement they had so lately signed to allow us a sufficient force to protect us from these insults, they tacitly permitted them; for I could plainly perceive the French officers walking about at some distance, discoursing together with apparent unconcern. For the honor of human nature I would hope that this flagrant breach of every sacred law proceeded rather from the savage disposition of the Indians, which I acknowledge it is sometimes almost impossible to control, and which might now unexpectedly have arrived to a pitch not easily to be restrained, than to any premeditated design in the French commander. An unprejudiced observer would, however, be apt to conclude, that a body of ten thousand Christian troops, most Christian troops, had it in their power to prevent the massacre from becoming so general. But whatever was the cause from which it arose, the consequences of it were dreadful, and not to be paralleled in modern history.
As the circle in which I stood enclosed by this time was much thinned, and death seemed to be approaching with hasty strides, it was proposed by some of the most resolute to make one vigorous effort, and endeavor to force our way through the savages, the only probable method of preserving our lives that now remained. This, however desperate, was resolved on, and about twenty of us sprung at once into the midst of them.
In a moment we were all separated, and what was the fate of my companions I could not learn till some months after, when I found that only six or seven of them effected their design. Intent only on my own hazardous situation, I endeavored to make my way through my savage enemies in the best manner possible. And I have often been astonished since, when I have recollected with what composure I took, as I did, every necessary step for my preservation. Some I overturned, being at that time young and athletic, and others I passed by, dexterously avoiding their weapons; till at last two very stout chiefs, of the most savage tribes, as I could distinguish by their dress, whose strength I could not resist, laid hold of me by each arm, and began to force me through the crowd.
I now resigned myself to my fate, not doubting but that they intended to dispatch me, and then to satiate their vengeance with my blood, as I found they were hurrying me towards a retired swamp that lay at some distance. But before we had got many yards, an English gentleman of some distinction, as could discover by his breeches, the only covering he had on, which were of fine scarlet velvet, rushed close by us. One of the Indians instantly relinquished his hold, and springing on this new object, endeavored to seize him as his prey; but the gentleman being strong, threw him on the ground, and would probably have got away, had not he who held my other arm quitted me to assist his brother. I seized the opportunity, and hastened away to join another party of English troops that were yet unbroken, and stood in a body at some distance. But before I had taken many steps, I hastily cast my eye towards the gentleman, and saw the Indian’s tomahawk gash into his back, and heard him utter his last groan. This added both to my speed and desperation.
I had left this shocking scene but a few yards, when a fine boy about twelve years of age, that had hitherto escaped, came up to me, and begged that I would let him lay hold of me, so that he might stand some chance of getting out of the hands of the savages. I told him that I would give him every assistance in my power, and to this purpose bid him lay hold; but in a few moments he was torn from my side, and by his shrieks I judge was soon demolished. I could not help forgetting my own cares for a minute, to lament the fate of so young a sufferer; but it was utterly impossible for me to take any methods to prevent it.
I now got once more into the midst of friends, but we were unable to afford each other any succor. As this was the division that had advanced the furthest from the fort, I thought there might be a possibility (though but a bare one) of my forcing my way through the outer ranks of the Indians, and getting to a neighboring wood, which I perceived at some distance. I was still encouraged to hope by the almost miraculous preservation I had already experienced.
Nor were my hopes in vain, or the efforts I made ineffectual. Suffice to say, that I reached the wood; but by the time I had penetrated a little way into it, my breath was so exhausted that I threw myself into a break, and lay for some minutes apparently at the last gasp. At length I recovered the power of respiration; but my apprehensions returned with all their former force, when I saw several savages pass by, probably in pursuit of me, at no very great distance. In this situation 1 knew not whether it was better to proceed, or endeavor to conceal myself where I lay till night came on; fearing, however, that they would return the same way, I thought it most prudent to get further from the dreadful scene of my distresses. Accordingly, striking into another part of the wood, I hastened on as fast as the briers and the loss of one of my shoes would permit me; and after a slow progress of some hours, gained a hill that overlooked the plain which I had just left, from whence I could discern that the bloody storm still raged with unabated fury.
But not to tire my readers, I shall only add, that after passing three days without subsistence, and enduring the severity of the cold dews for three nights, I at length reached Fort Edward; where with proper care my body soon recovered its wonted strength, and my mind, as far as the recollection of the late melancholy events would permit, its usual composure.
It was computed that fifteen hundred persons were killed or made prisoners by these savages during this fatal day. Many of the latter were carried off by them and never returned. A few, through favorable accidents, found their way back to their native country, after having experienced a long and severe captivity.
The brave Col. Monro had hastened away, soon after the confusion began, to the French camp, to endeavor to procure the guard agreed by the stipulation; but his application proving ineffectual, he remained there till General Webb sent a party of troops to demand and protect him back to Fort Edward. But these unhappy concurrences, which would probably have been prevented had he been left to pursue his own plans, together with the loss of so many brave fellows, murdered in cold blood, to whose valor he had been so lately a witness, made such an impression on his mind that he did not long survive. He died in about three months of a broken heart, and with truth might it be said that he was an honor to his country.
I mean not to point out the following circumstance as the immediate judgment of heaven, and intended as an atonement for this slaughter; but I cannot omit that very few of those different tribes of Indians that shared in it ever lived to return home. The small-pox, by means of their communication with the Europeans, found its way among them, and made an equal havoc to what they themselves had done. The methods they pursued on the first attack of that malignant disorder, to abate the fever attending it, rendered it fatal. Whilst their blood was in a state of fermentation, and nature was striving to throw out the peccant matter, they checked her operations by plunging into the water; the consequence was that they died by hundreds. The few that survived were transformed by it into hideous objects, and bore with them to the grave deep indented marks of this much dreaded disease.
Monsieur Montcalm fell soon after on the plains of Quebec.
That the unprovoked cruelty of this commander was not approved of by the generality of his countrymen, I have since been convinced of by many proofs. One only, however, which I received from a person who was witness to it, shall I at present give. A Canadian merchant, of some consideration, having heard of the surrender of the English fort, celebrated the fortunate event with great rejoicings and hospitality, according to the custom of that country; but no sooner did the news of the massacre which ensued reach his ears, than he put an immediate stop to the festivity, and exclaimed in the severest terms against the inhuman permission; declaring at the same time that those who had connived at it had thereby drawn down on that part of their king’s dominions the vengeance of Heaven. To this he added, that he much feared the total loss of them would deservedly be the consequence. How truly this prediction has been verified we well know.