Richard Benyo: Articles and Columns

The Times-News

December 28, 1968

The Gilbert Family Captivity, part 1

Mahoning Valley Settlers Captured by Renegade Indians

During the late 1700s and all during the 1800s the people in the New World had no great literature to sustain them in their rare moments of leisure. They were a people proud of their new land, and therefore sought literature that would reflect that pride.

With little colonial literature in the making (with the exception of the Puritan sermons and poetry that was common in the New England area), the common people—much like today—found a ready remedy for the long winter nights with dime novels and adventure stories from the two-bit hack writers.

Today we delve into the world of foreign intrigue through the novels of Ian Fleming, John LeCarre, Len Deighton, etc. We read science-fiction, spy novels, and novels of suburban love triangles, all of which, in one way or another, reflect our modern world.

In the 1800s people were reading thrilling tales of Indian raids, massacres, great battles between white man and red, and what we would call romantic westerns.

There were several magazines that catered to the taste of high adventure in the wilderness, too, which most likely evolved into the pulp magazines of the early 1900s. One of these magazines was called Hazard’s Register, and in the May 1829 issue there was a rather thrilling novelet concerning the capture, in 1780, of a Carbon County family.

The story is rather romantic, filled with high adventure, and shaded in the truth a little bit due to the fact that it was written almost 50 years after it happened.

The story is told in the ‘simple’ declarative for the first day of the capture, turning into a running diary-type story for the rest of the adventure. The story is based on a real-life captivity, and the names are authentic and the dates correct. The story-teller, though, leans a bit to the dramatic side.

The first day of the adventure will be retold in our words; the subsequent chapters will, for the most part, be those of the original author.

Some time after the massacre at Gnadenhutten and New Gnadenhutten, and after the building of Fort Allen in what is now Weissport, settlers began to move back into the area. They came back mainly to take advantage of the very fertile soil in the area east of Weissport, around Pohopoco, and west of Lehighton, in what is now Mahoning Valley.

The establishment of Fort Allen provided the needed feeling of security, and the lack of any major Indian activity in the area served to lure men and their families from the already well-populated areas of Philadelphia and Bethlehem.

In 1775, some 20 years after the Gnadenhutten Massacre, an elderly man named Benjamin Gilbert moved from Byberry, some 15 miles from Philadelphia, into the Mahoning Valley. He had a very large family, as was the rule rather than the exception in those days.

He located his property along Mahoning Creek and built a mill there. At the time of his settling there, he had already gone through one wife, and was married to the widow of Bryan Peart.

All went well for some five years, with several of the children from both former marriages finding occasion to wed and settle down in the vicinity of their father’s mill. Other families, among them the Dodson family, also moved into the Mahoning Valley area, near the Gilbert homestead.

Benjamin Gilbert couldn’t have been more happy. His family had land of their own, enough land to sustain them; his children were coming along well, and were further developing adjacent land; his new wife and he were getting along very well, and the combination of their two families seemed to have gone off with very little trouble as far as the children were concerned.

On April 25, 1780, however, the luck of the Gilbert family changed drastically.

They were going about their daily chores, working the farm and the mill, each member of the family doing his or her thing.

Suddenly, without warning, a band of 11 renegade Indians rushed from the underbrush, quickly taking captives of the Gilbert family.

The Indians were from a variety of tribes, and it is supposed that they had fled their own countries at the approach of General Sullivan’s army. Since that time they had wandered about, preying on weak and defenseless settlers.

The band of savages is recorded to have consisted of the following Indians:

Roland Monteur as the leader, or first captain; John Monteur, second in command, both of whom were Mohawks, descended from a Frenchwoman; Samuel Harras, a Cayuga; John Huston, Jr., also Cayugas; John Fox of the Delawares; plus five assorted Senecas.

The party of Indians captured the following settlers: Benjamin Gilbert, the father of the clan, who was 69 years old; his wife Elizabeth Gilbert, formerly Elizabeth Peart, at that time 53 years old; Joseph Gilbert, the oldest son, 41 years old; Jesse Gilbert, 19, another of Benjamin’s sons; Jesse’s wife Sarah, also 19; Rebecca Gilbert, a daughter of Benjamin, who was 16 years old; another son, Abner, who was 14; Elizabeth, 12, a daughter; Thomas Peart, a son of Mrs. Gilbert from her first marriage, who was 23; Benjamin Gilbert, the son of John Gilbert, of Philadelphia, who was visiting at the time, and who was 11 years old; Andrew Harrigan, a hired hand of German descent, who was 26 at the time; and Abilgail Dodson, the 14-year-old daughter of the neighboring Dodson family, who had come to the Gilbert mill that morning to have some grist milled for her father.

After making sure that all of the prisoners were securely tied up, the entire party traveled a half-mile farther on, where they came to the farm of Benjamin Peart (17-year-old son of Mrs. Gilbert), and thereupon laid hold of him, his wife Elizabeth Peart (20 years old), and their nine-month-old child.

All of the captives were made secure in their bindings, and left to sit for a half-hour while the Indians went about plundering the two farms for whatever they could make some use of.

Two of the Indians set fire to the houses and the captives were made to watch, but after the roofs had fallen in they were hustled off into the forest, the Indians being afraid of being found out by the patrols from the larger settlements.

They broke the party into smaller ones for the trip over the Flagstaff Mountain between Mahoning Valley and the Bloomingdale Mountain, and met atop the hill, which looked down on the mountain called Mochunk (Mauch Chunk). They stopped there for an hour in order to prepare mockasons for the children for the remainder of their journey.

Some of the shock having worn off with the very trying trip over the mountain, the captives partook of some food. The Indians related to them that Col. Butler, a confederate of theirs, was near at hand, and that they were going to go to him.

After the short meal and rest, the adventure continues in these words: “Near the foot of the hill flows a stream of water, called Mochunk Creek, which was crossed, and the second mountain passed, the steep and difficult ascent of which appeared very great t the much-enfeebled and affrighted captives. They were permitted to rest themselves for some minutes, and then pressed onward to the broad mountain at the foot of which runs Nescaconnah Creek.”

(The second mountain which is spoken of is Mount Pisgah; Nescaconnah Creek is Nesquehoning Creek.)

Mrs. Gilbert had some trouble in crossing the mountains, as the broad mountain is said to be seven miles wide. They made it, however, and halted for an hour at the other side. They then struck onward onto the Neskapack (Neskopeck) Path, which was very rugged and they had to move slowly.

Quackac (Quakake) Creek runs across the Neskopack Path, which leads over Pismire Hill, which they eventually came to. They rested there, then moved through the Moravian Pine Swamp, to Mahoninah Mountain, where they lodged for the first night.

“It may furnish information,” the narrative goes, “to some to mention the method the Indians generally use to secure their prisoners: they cut down a sapling as large as a man’s thigh, and therein cut notches in which they fix their legs, and over this they place a pole, crossing the pole on each side with stakes drove in the ground, and in the crochet of the stakes they place other poles on riders, effectually confining the prisoners on their backs; besides which they put a strap around their necks, which they fasten to a tree; in this manner the night passed. Their beds were hemlock branches strewed on the covering (which was an indulgence scarcely to have been expected from savages).”

Tired from the day’s trials and tribulations, Benjamin Peart fainted in the evening, which prompted Rowland Monteur to branish his tomahawk above the fallen settler, ready to smite him to death rather than put up with his weakness.

January 4, 1969

The Gilbert Family Captivity, part 2

How the Gilbert Family and Others Were Led Further on Their Way, and How Several of Them Came to be Scalped and How One Escaped Back

Last week we began a study of the capture of the Gilbert family in Mahoning Valley and their subsequent trip on April 25, 1780, across three mountains of Carbon County. We left them in the hands of a dozen renegade Indians in the vicinity of Weatherly. What follows is the diary-like account of the captivity as reported in the May 1829 issue of Hazard’s Register:

April 26: Early this morning they continued their route, near the waters of Teropin Ponds. The Indians thought it most eligible to separate the prisoners in companies of two by two, each company under the particular command of a particular Indian, spreading them to a considerable distance, in order to render a pursuit as impracticable as possible. The old people, overcome with fatigue, could not make as much expedition as their severe taskmasters thought proper, but failed in their journey, and were therefore threatened with death by the Indian under whose direction they were placed (Ben Peart had not been tomahawked as threatened, as the Indians reasoned that he would be more valuable as a pack animal than as a dead settler); thus circumstanced, they resigned themselves to their unhappy lot with as much fortitude as possible.

Towards evening the parties killed a deer, they kindled a fire, each one roasting pieces of the flesh upon sharpened switches (branches). The confinement of the captives was the same with the first night, but, as they were by this time more resigned to the event, they were not altogether deprived of sleep.

April 27: After breakfast a council was held concerning the division of the prisoners, which being settled they delivered each other those prisoners who fell within their several allotments, giving them directions to attend to the particular duties of that Indian whose property they became. In that day’s journey they had neared Fort Wyoming, on the banks of the Susquehanna, about 40 miles from their late habitation. The Indians, naturally timid, were alarmed as they approached this garrison, and observing great caution, not suffering any noise, but stepped on stones that lay in the path, lest any footstep should lead to a discovery. Not far from thence is a considerable stream of water, emptying itself into the Susquehanna, which they crossed with great difficulty, it being deep and rapid, and continued here this night. Benjamin Gilbert, being bound fast with cords, underwent great sufferings.

April 28: This morning the prisoners were all painted according to the custom among the Indians, some of them with red and black, some all red, with some black only. Those whom they painted with black, without any other color, are not considered of any value, and are by this mark generally devoted to death. Although this cruel purpose may not be executed immediately, they are seldom preserved to reach the Indian hamlets alive. In the evening they came to the Susquehanna, having had a painful and wearisome journey through a very stony and hilly path. Here the Indians sought diligently for a private lodging-place, that they might be secure as possible from any scouting parties of the white people. It is unnecessary to make further mention of their manner of lodging, as it still remained the same.

April 29: They went in search of the horses which had strayed from them in the night, and after some time found them. They then kept the course of the river, walking along its side with difficulty. In the afternoon they came to a place where the Indians had directed four negroes to wait for their return, having left them with corn for subsistence. These negroes had escaped from confinement, and were on their way to Niagara when first discovered by the Indians. Being challenged by them, answered, “They were for the kind,” upon which they immediately received them into protection.

April 30: The negroes who were added to the company the day before began to cruelly domineer and tyrannize over the prisoners, frequently whipping them for their spirit, and treating them with more severity than even the Indians themselves, having had their hearts hardened by the meanness of their condition and long subjection to slavery. In this day’s journey they passed the remains of the Indian town, Wyaloosing. The lands around these ruins have a remarkable appearance of fertility. In the evening they made a lodgment by the side of a large creek.

May 1: After crossing a considerable hill in the morning, they came to a place where two Indians lay dead. A party of Indians had taken some white people, whom they were carrying off prisoners; they came upon the Indians in the night, killed four of them, and then effected their escape. They stayed to observe them a considerable time, and were then ordered to a place where a tree was blown down. Death appeared to be their doom; but after remaining in a state of sad suspense for some time, they were ordered to dig a grave; to effect which they cut a sapling with their tomahawks and sharpened one end, with which wooden instrument one of them broke the ground, and the others cast the earth out with their hands, the negroes being permitted to beat them severely while they were thus employed. After interring the bodies, they went forward to the rest, and overtook them as they were preparing for their lodging. They were not yet released from their sapling confinement.

May 2: Having some of their provisions with them, they made an early meal, and traveled the whole day. They crossed the East Branch of the Susquehanna towards evening in canoes, at the place where Gen. Sullivan’s army had passed it in their expedition. Their encampment was on the western side of this branch of the river; but two Indians, who did not cross it, sent for Benjamin Gilbert, Jr., and Jesse Gilbert’s wife, and as no probable cause could be assigned why it was so, the design was considered as a very dark one, and was a grievous affliction to the others.

May 3: The morning, however, dispelled their fears, when they had the satisfaction of seeing them again, and understood they had not received any treatment harder than their usual fare. The horses swam the Susquehanna by the side of the canoe. This day the Indians in their march found a scalp, and took it along with them, as also some old corn, of which they made a supper. They frequently killed deer, and by that means supplied the company with meat, being almost the only provision they had, as the flour they took with them was expended.

May 4: The path they traveled this morning was but little trodden, which made it difficult for those who were not acquainted with the woods to keep in it. They crossed a creek, made up a large fire to warm themselves by, and then separated into two companies, with whom were Thomas Peart, Joseph Gilbert, Benjamin Gilbert, Jr., and Jesse Gilbert’s wife, Sarah. The others went more to the north, over rich level land. When evening came, inquiry was made concerning the four captives who were taken in the westward path, and they were told that “these were killed and scalped, and you may expect the same fate to-night.” Andrew Harrigan was so terrified at the threat that he resolved upon leaving them, and as soon as it was dark took a kettle, with pretense of bringing some water, and made his escape under favor of the night. He was sought after by the Indians as soon as they observed him to be missing.

May 5: In the morning the Indians returned, their search for Andrew Harrigan being, happily for him, successful only in finding faint traces of his passing.

Andrew Harrigan endured many hardships in the woods, and at length returned to the settlement and gave the first authentic intelligence of Benjamin Gilbert and his family and their friends.

The prisoners who remained were therefore treated with great severity on account of his escape, and were often accused of being privy to his design. Capt. Rowland Monteur carried his resentment to the point that he threw Jesse Gilbert down and lifted his tomahawk to strike him, which the mother prevented by putting her head on his forehead, beseeching him to spare her son. This so enraged him that he turned round, kicked her over, and tied them both by their necks to a tree, where they remained until his fury was a little abated. They passed through a large pine swamp, and about noon reached one of the Kittereen towns, which was desolated. Not far from this town, on the summit of a mountain, there issues a large spring, forming a very considerable fall, and runs very rapidly in an irregular, winding stream down the mountain’s sides. They left this place and took up their lodging in a deserted wigwam covered with bark, which had formerly been part of the town of the Shipquagas.

May 6, 7, and 8: They continued these three days in the neighborhood of these villages, which had been deserted upon Gen. Sullivan’s approach. Here they lived well, having, in addition to their usual bill-of-fare, plenty of turnips and potatoes, which had remained in the ground unnoticed by the army. This place was the hunting-ground of the Shipquagas, and whenever their industry prompted them to go out hunting, they had no difficulty to procure as many deer as they desired.

Roast and boiled meat, with vegetables, afforded them plentiful meals. They also caught a wild turkey and some fish called suckers. Their manner of catching fish was to sharpen a stick, and watch along the rivers until a fish came near them, when they suddenly pierced him with the stick and brought him out of the water.

Here were a number of colts: some of them were taken, and the prisoners ordered to manage them, which was not easily done.

May 9: When they renewed their march they placed the mother upon a horse that seemed dangerous to ride, but she was preserved from any injury. In this day’s journey they came to meadow ground, where they stayed the night, the men being confined, as before related, and the negroes lay near them for a guard.

May 10: A wet swamp that was very troublesome lay in their road, after which they had to pass a rugged mountain, where there was no path. The underbrush made it hard labor for the women to travel, but no excuse would avail with their severe masters, and they were compelled to keep up with the Indians, however great the fatigue. When they had passed it they tarried a while for the negroes, who had lagged behind, having sufficient employ to attend to the colts that carried the plunder. When all the company was together they agreed to rendezvous in an adjoining swamp.

May 11: A long stretch of savannas and low ground rendered this day’s march very fatiguing and painful, especially to the women. Elizabeth Peart’s husband not being allowed to relieve her by carrying the child, her spirits and strength were as exhausted that she was ready to faint. The Indians under whose care she was, observing her distress, gave her a violent blow. When we compare the temper and customs of these people with those of our own color, how much cause have we to be thankful for the superiority we derive from the blessings of civilization.

It might be truly said says of bitter sorrow and wearisome nights were appointed the unhappy captives.

May 12: Their provisions began to grow scant, having passed the hunting grounds. The want of proper food to support them, which render them more capable of enduring their daily fatigue, was a heavy trial, and was much increased by their confinement at night. Elizabeth Gilbert was reduced so low that she traveled in great pain all this day, riding on horseback in the morning, but toward evening she was ordered to alight and walk up a hill they had to ascend. The pain she suffered, together with want of food, so overcame her that she was seized with a chill. The Indian administered some flour and water boiled, which afforded her relief.

January 11, 1969

The Gilbert Family Captivity, part 3

How the Gilbert Family, Being Further Taken into New York State, Came in Sight and Sound of Fort Niagara and How Some Became Indians

May 15: In the morning the volunteer, having received information of the rough treatment the prisoners met with the negroes, relieved them by taking the four blacks under his care. It was not without much difficulty they crossed a large creek which was in their way, being obliged to swim their horses over it. Benjamin Gilbert began to fall; the Indian whose property he was, highly irritated at his want of strength, put a rope about his neck, leading him along with it; fatigue at last so overcame him that he fell to the ground, when the Indians pulled the rope so hard that he almost choked him. His wife, seeing this, resolutely interceded for him, although the Indians bid her go forwards, as the others had gone on before them; this she refused to comply with unless her husband might be permitted to accompany her. They replied, “that they were determined to kill the old man,” having before this set him apart as a victim. But at length her entreaties prevailed, and their hearts were turned from their cruel purpose. Had not an overruling Providence preserved him from their fury, he would inevitably have perished, as the Indians seldom show mercy to those whom they devote to death, which, as has been before observed, was the case with Benjamin Gilbert, whom they had smeared with black paint from this motive. When their anger was a little moderated, they set forwards to overtake the rest of the company. Their relations, who had been eye-witnesses of the former part of his scene of cruelty, and expected they would have been murdered, rejoiced greatly at their return, considering their safety as a providential deliverance.

May 16: Necessity induced two of the Indians to set off on horseback into Seneca country in search of provisions. The prisoners, in the meantime, were ordered to dig up a root, something resembling potatoes, which the Indians called ‘whoppanies.’ They tarried at this place until towards the evening of the succeeding day, and made a soup of wild onions and turnip tops; this they ate without bread or salt; it could not therefore afford sufficient sustenance, either for young or old; their food being so very light their strength daily wasted.

May 17: They left this place and crossed the Genesee River, which empties its waters into Lake Ontario, crossing the piece of water on a raft made of hickory withes bound together. This appeared to be a dangerous method of ferrying them over such a river to those who had been unaccustomed to such conveyances. They fixed their station near the Genesee banks, and procured more of the wild-potato roots, before mentioned, for their supper.

May 18: One of the Indians left the company, taking with him the finest horse they had, and in some hours after returned with a large piece of meat, ordering the captives to boil it; this command they cheerfully performed, anxiously watching the kettle, fresh meat being a rarity which they had not eaten for a long time. The Indians, when it was sufficiently boiled, distributed to each one a piece, eating sparingly themselves. The prisoners made their repast without bread or salt, and ate with a good relish what they supposed to be fresh beef, but afterwards understood was horseflesh.

A shrill halloo which they heard gave the prisoners some uneasiness; one of the Indians immediately rode to examine the cause, and found it was Capt. Rowland Monteur and his brother John’s wife, with some other Indians, who were seeking them with provisions. The remainder of the company soon reached them, and they divided some bread which they had brought into small pieces, according to the number of the company.

Here is a large extent of rich farming land, remarkable for its levelness and beautiful meadows. The country is so flat that there are no falls in the rivers, and the waters run slow and deep, and whenever showers descend they continue a long time muddied.

The captain and his company had brought with them cakes of hominy and Indian corn. Of this they made a good meal. He appeared to be pleased to see the prisoners, having been absent from them several days, and ordered them all round to shake hands with him. From him they received information respecting Joseph Gilbert and Thomas Peart, who were separated from the others on the 4th—that they had arrived at the Indian settlements some time before in safety.

The company stayed the night at this place. One of the Indians refused to suffer any of them to come near the fire, or converse with the prisoner who, in the distribution, had fallen to him.

May 18: Last night’s medicine being repeated, they continued their march, and after a long walk were so effectually wore down that they halted. The pilot, John Huston, the elder, took Abner Gilbert with him (as they could make more expedition than the rest) to procure a supply of provisions to relieve their necessity.

May 14: The mother had suffered so much that two of her children were obliged to lead her. Before noon they came to Canadasago, where they met with Benjamin Gilbert, Jr., and Jesse Gilbert’s wife, Sarah, two of the four who had been separated from them 10 days past, and taken along the western path. This meeting afforded them great satisfaction, the doubt and uncertainty of their lives being spared often distressing their affectionate relations.

John Huston, Jr., the Indian, under whose care Benjamin Gilbert was placed, designing to dispatch him, painted him black; this exceedingly terrified the family, but no entreaties of theirs being likely to prevail, they resigned their cause to Him whose power can control all event[s]. Wearily they made to stop to recover themselves, when the pilot, returning, assured them they would soon receive some provisions. The negroes were reduced so low with hunger that their behavior was different from what it had been, conducted with more moderation. At their quarters, in the evening, two white men came to them, one of which was a volunteer among the British, the other had been taken prisoner[,] brought some hominy, and sugar made from the sweet maple, the sap being boiled to a consistence, and is but little inferior to the sugar imported from the islands. Of this provision, and an hedge-hog which they found, they made a more comfortable supper than they had enjoyed for many days.

May 19: Pounding hominy was this day’s employment. The weather being warm made it a hard task. They boiled it and prepared it for supper, the Indians sitting down to eat first; and when they had concluded their meal, they wiped the spoon on the sole of their mockason and then gave it to the captives. Hunger alone could prevail on any one to eat after such filth and nastiness.

May 20: Elizabeth Gilbert, the mother, being obliged to ride alone, missed the path, for which the Indians repeatedly struck her. Their route still continued through rich meadows. After wandering for a time out of the direct path they came to an Indian town, and obtained the necessary information to pursue their journey. The Indians ran out of their huts to see the prisoners, and to partake of the plunder, but no part of it suited them. Being directed to travel the path back again for a short distance, they did so, and then struck into another and went on until night, by which time they were very hungy, not having eaten since morning; the kettle was again put on the fire for boiling hominy, this being their only food.

May 21: The report of a morning gun[shot] from Niagara, which they heard, contributed to raise their hopes. They rejoiced at being so near. An Indian was dispatched on horseback to procure provisions from the fort.

Elizabeth Gilbert could not walk as fast as the rest. She was, therefore, sent forwards on foot, but was soon overtaken and left behind, the rest being obliged by the Indians to go on without regarding her. She would have been greatly perplexed when she came to a division path had not her husband lain a branch across the path which would have led here wrong, an affecting instance both of ingenuity and tenderness. She met several Indians, who passed by without speaking to her.

An Indian belonging to the company, who was on the horse Elizabeth had rode, overtook her, endeavored to alarm her by saying that she would be left behind and perish in the woods. Yet, notwithstanding this, his heart was so softened before he had gone any great distance from her, that he alighted from the horse and left him that she might be able to reach the rest of the company. The more seriously she considered this the more it appeared to her to be a convincing instance of the over-ruling protection of Him who can “turn the heart of a man as the husbandman turneth the water-course in his field.”

May 22: As the Indians approached nearer their habitations they frequently repeated their halloos, and after some time they received an answer in the same manner, which alarmed the company much; but they soon discovered it to proceed from a party of whites and Indians who were on some expedition, though their pretense was that they were for New York. Not long after parting with these the captain’s wife came to them. She was a daughter of Slangorochti, king of the Senecas, but her mother being a Cayuga, she was ranked among that nation, the children generally reckoning their descent from the mother’s side. This princess was attended by the captain’s brother John, one other Indian, and a white prisoner who had been taken at Wyoming by Rowland Monteur. She was dressed altogether in the Indian manner, shining with gold lace and silver baubles. They brought with them from the fort a supply of provisions. The captain being at a distance behind when his wife came, the company waited for him. After the customary salutations he addressed himself to his wife, telling her that Rebecca was her daughter, and that she must not be induced by any consideration to part with her, whereupon she took a silver ring off her finger and put it upon Rebecca, by which she was adopted as her daughter.

They feasted upon the provisions that were brought, for they had been several days before pinched with hunger, what sustenance they could procure not being sufficient to support nature.

May 23: Their spirits were in some degree revived by the enjoyment of plenty, added to the pleasing hope of some favorable event procuring their releasement, as they were not far distant from Niagara.

The Indians proceeded on their journey and continued whooping in the most frightful manner. In this day’s route they met another company of Indians, who compelled Benjamin Gilbert, the elder, to sit on the ground, and put several questions to him, to which he gave them the best answers he could; they then took his hat from him and went off.

Going through a small town near Niagara, an Indian woman came out of one of the huts and struck each of the captives a blow. Not long after their departure from this place, Jesse, Rebecca, and their mother were detained until the others had got out of their sight, when the mother was ordered to push on, and as she had to go by herself she was much perplexed what course to take, as there was no path by which she could be directed.

January 18, 1969

The Gilbert Family Captivity, part 4

How the Gilberts Were, Some of Them, Delivered into the Hands of the Fort, and How They Tired for the Others’ Safety

In this dilemma forward as possible, and after some space of time she had the satisfaction of overtaking the others. The pilot then made a short stay, that those who were behind might come up, and the captain handed some rum around, giving each a dram, except the two old folks, whom they did not consider worthy of this notice. Here the captain, who had the chief direction, painted Abner, Jesse, Rebecca, and Elizabeth Gilbert, and presented each of them with a belt of wampam, as a token of their being received into favor, although they took them all their hats and bonnets, except Rebecca’s.

The prisoners were released from the heavy loads they had heretofore been compelled to carry, and was it not for the treatment they expected on their approaching the Indian towns and the hardships of separation, their situation would have been tolerable; but the horror of their minds arising from the dreadful yells of the Indians as they approached the hamlets is easier conceived than described, for they were no strangers to the customary cruelty exercised upon captives on entering their towns. The Indians, men, women, and children, collect together, bringing clubs and stones in order to beat them, which they usually do with great severity by way of revenge for their relations who have been slain; this is performed immediately upon their entering the village where the warriors reside. This treatment cannot be avoided, and the blows, however cruel, must be borne without complaint, and the prisoners are sorely beaten until their enemies are wearied with the cruel sport. Their sufferings were in this case very great; they received several wounds, and two of the women who were on horseback were much bruised by falling from their horses, which were frightened by the Indians. Elizabeth, the mother, took shelter by the side of one of them, but upon his observing that she met with some favor upon his account he sent her away; she then received several violent blows, so that she was almost disabled. The blood trickled from their heads in a stream, their hair being cropped close, and the clothes they had on in rags, which made their situation truly piteous. Whilst they were inflicting the king came and put a stop to any further cruelty by telling them “It was sufficient,” which they immediately attended to. Benjamin Gilbert and Elizabeth, his wife, Jesse Gilbert, and his wife were ordered to Capt. Rowland Monteur’s house; the women belonging to it were kind to them and gave them something to eat. Sarah Gilbert, Jesse’s wife, was taken from them by three women in order to be placed in the family she was to be adopted by.

Two officers from Niagara Fort, Capts. Dace and Powel, came to see the prisoners and prevent (so they were informed) any abuse that might be given them. Benjamin Gilbert informed those officers that he was apprehensive that they were in great danger of being murdered, upon which they promised him they would send a boat that next day to bring them to Niagara.

May 24: Notwithstanding the kind intention of the officers, they did not derive the expected advantage from it, for the Indians insisted on their going to the fort on foot, although the bruises they had received the day before from the many severe blows given them rendered their journey on foot very distressing, but, Capt. Monteur obstinately persisting, they dared not long remonstrate or refuse.

When they left the Indian town several issued forth from their huts after them, with sticks in their hands, yelling and screeching in the most dismal manner; but through the interposition of four Indian women, who had come with the captives, to prevent any further abuse they might receive, they were preserved; one of them, walking between Benjamin Gilbert and his wife led them, and desired Jesse to keep as near them as he could; the other three walked behind, and prevailed with the young Indians to desist. They had not pursued their route long before they saw Capt. John Powell, who came from his beat, and persuaded (though with some difficulty) the Indians to get into it with the captives, which relieved them from the apprehensions of further danger. After reaching the fort, Capt. Powell introduced them to Col. Guy Johnson and Col. Butler, who asked the prisoners many questions in the presence of the Indians. They presented the captain with a belt of wampum, which is a constant practice among them when they intend a ratification of peace. Before their connections with the Europeans these belts were made of shells found on the coast of New England and Virginia, which were sawed out into beads of an oblong shape, about a quarter of an inch long, which were strung together on leathern strings, and these strings, fastened with fine threads made of sinews, composed what is called a belt of wampum; but since the whites have gained footing among them, they make use of the common glass beads for this purpose.

The Indians, according to their usual custom and ceremony, at three separate times ordered the prisoners to shake hands with Col. Johnson.

May 25: Benjamin Gilbert, Elizabeth, his wife, and Jesse Gilbert were surrendered to Col. Johnson. This delivery from such scenes of distress, as they had become acquainted with, gave them a mere free opportunity of close reflection than heretofore.

The many sorrowful days and nights they had passed, the painful anxiety attendant on their frequent separation from each other, and the uncertainty of the fate of the rest of their family, overwhelmed them with grief.

May 26: Expression is too weak to describe their distress on leaving their children with these hard masters; they were not unacquainted with many of the difficulties to which they would necessarily be exposed in a residence among Indians, and the loss which the young people would sustain for want of a civilized and Christian education.

May 27: In this despairing situation the kindness of sympathy was awakened in one of the Indian women, who even forgot her prejudices, and wiped away the tears which trickled down Elizabeth Gilbert’s cheeks.

The particular attention of Col. Johnson’s housekeeper to them, from a commiseration of their distress, claims their remembrance. Benjamin, his wife, and Jesse Gilbert were invited to her house, where she not only gave the old folks her best room, but administered to their necessities, and endeavored to soothe their sorrows.

Jesse Gilbert was favored to get employ, which as it was some alleviation of his misfortune, may be considered as a providential kindness.

May 28: A few days after they came to the fort they had information that Benjamin Peart was by the riverside with the Indians. Upon hearing this report his mother went to see him, but every attempt for his release was in vain, the Indian would by no means give him up. From this place they intended to march with their prisoners to the Genesee River, about a hundred miles distant. As the affectionate mother’s solicitations proved fruitless, her son only felt the afflicting loss of his wife and child, from whom he had been torn some time before, but a renewal of his grief on this short sight of his parents. She procured him a hat, and also some salt, which was an acceptable burden for the journey.

Benjamin Gilbert, conversing with the Indian captain who made them captives, observed that he might say what none of the other Indians could, “that he had brought in the oldest man and the youngest child.” His reply to this was expressive, “It was not I, but the great God who brought you through, for we were determined to kill you, but were prevented.”

The British officers being acquainted that Jesse Gilbert’s wife was among the Indians, with great tenderness agreed to seek her out, and after a diligent inquiry found that she was among the Delawares, and went to them and endeavored to agree upon terms for her releasement. The Indians brought her to the fort the next day, but would not give her up to her relations.

May 29: As the cabins of the Indians were but two miles from the fort, they went thither, and Jesse and the officers used every argument in their power to prevail upon them, representing how hard it was to part these two young people. At length they consented to bring her the next day, which their whole tribe, for a final release.

May 30: They accordingly came, but started so many objections that she was obliged to return with them.

May 31: Early the next morning Capt. Robeson generously undertook to procure her liberty, which, after much attention and solicitude, he, together with Lieut. Hillyard, happily accomplished. They made the Indians several small presents, and gave them thirty pounds as a ransom.

When Sarah Gilbert had obtained her liberty she altered her dress more in character for her sex than she had been able to do while among the Indians, and went to her husband and parents at Col. Johnson’s, where she was joyfully received.

Col. Johnson’s housekeeper continued her kind attentions to them during their stay here, and procured clothing for them from the king’s stores.

June 1: About this time the Senecas, among whom Elizabeth Peart was captive, brought her with them to the fort. As soon as the mother heard of it she went to her and had some conversation with her, but could not learn where she was to be sent to. She then inquired of the interpreter and pressed on his friendship to learn what was to become of her daughter. This request he complied with, and informed her that she was to be given away to another family of the Senecas, and adopted among them in the place of a deceased relation. Capt. Powell interested himself in her case likewise and offered to purchase her of them, but the Indians refused to give her up, and as the mother and daughter expected they would see each other no more, their parting was very affecting.

The Indian woman who had adopted Rebecca as her daughter also came to the fort, and Elizabeth Gilbert made use of this opportunity to inquire concerning her daughter. The interpreter informed her there was no possibility of obtaining the releasement of her child, as the Indian would not part with her. All she could do was to recommend her to their notice as very weakly, and in consequence not able to endure much fatigue.

June 2 & 3: Not many days after their arrival at Niagara a vessel came up Lake Ontario to the fort with orders for the prisoners to go to Montreal. In this vessel came one Capt. Brant, an Indian chief, high in rank among them. Elizabeth Gilbert immediately applied herself to solicit and interest him on behalf of her children who yet remained in captivity. He readily promised her to use his endeavors to procure their liberty.

January 25, 1969

The Gilbert Family Captivity, part 5

How the Gilberts Were Transported Up-River and Found Themselves in the Territory of the British and French, and How They Came to End Up in the Barren Montreal Area

A short time before they sailed for Montreal they received accounts of Abner and Elizabeth Gilbert the younger, but it was also understood that their possessors were not disposed to give them up. As the prospect of obtaining the release of their children was so very discouraging, it was no alleviation to their distress to be removed to Montreal where, in all probability, they would seldom be able to gain any information respecting them, on which account they were very solicitous to stay at Niagara, but the colonel said they could not remain there, unless the son would enter into the king’s service. This could not be consented to, therefore they chose to submit to every calamity which might be permitted to befall them, and confide in the great Controller of events.

Here they became acquainted with one Jesse Pauling, from Pennsylvania, who was an officer among the British, and behaved with kindness and respect to the prisoners, which induced them to request his attention also to that part of the family remaining in captivity; it appeared to them of some consequence to gain an additional friend. The colonel also gave his promise to exert himself in their behalf.

After continuing 10 days at Col. Johnson’s, they took boat in the afternoon of the 2nd, being the sixth day of the week, and crossed the river Niagara in order to go on board the vessel (which lay in Lake Ontario) for Montreal. The officer procured necessities for their voyage in great plenty, and they were also furnished with orders to draw more at certain places as they might have occasion. Those civilities may appear to many to be too trivial to be mentioned in this narrative, but those who have been in equal distress will not be insensible of their value.

June 4: The vessel sailed down the lake on the sixth day of the week, and on the first day following, being the fourth day of the sixth month, 1780, came to Charlton Island, where there were such a number of small boats which brought provisions that it had the appearance of a fleet. Benjamin and Jesse Gilbert went onshore to obtain leave from the commanding officer to go to Montreal in the small boats, as the vessel they came in could proceed no farther. They met with a kind of reception, and their request was granted.

June 5: On the second day following they left Charlton Island, which lies at the mouth of Lake Ontario, and took their passage in open boats down the River St. Lawrence, and passed a number of small islands. There was a rapid descent in the waters of this river, which appears dangerous to those unacquainted with these kinds of falls. The Frenchmen who rowed the boats kept them near the shore, and passed without much difficulty between the rocks.

June 6, 7, & 8: Benjamin Gilbert had been much indisposed before they left the fort and his disorder was increased by a rain which fell on their passage, as they were without any covering. They passed Chawagatchy, an English garrison, by the side of the river, but they were not permitted to stop here; they proceeded down the St. Lawrence and, the rain continuing, went on shore on an island in order to secure themselves from the weather. Here they made a shelter for Benjamin Gilbert and when the rain ceased, a place was prepared for him in the boat that he might lie down with some ease. His bodily weakness made such rapid progress that it rendered all the care and attention of his wife necessary, and likewise called forth all her fortitude; she supported him in her arms, affording every possible relief to mitigate his extreme pains. And although in this distressed condition he, notwithstanding, gave a satisfactory evidence of the virtue and power of a patient and holy resignation, which can disarm the King of Terrors, and receive him as a welcome messenger. Thus prepared, he passed from this state of probation the eighth day of the sixth month, 1780, in the evening, leaving his wife and two children, who were with him, in all the anxiety of deep distress, although they had no doubt but that their loss was his everlasting gain. Being without a light in the boat, the darkness of the night added not a little to their melancholy situation. As there were not any others with Elizabeth Gilbert but her children, and the four Frenchmen, who managed the boat, and her apprehension alarmed her les they should throw the corpse overboard, as they appeared to be an unfeeling company, she therefore applied to some British officers who were in a boat behind them, who dispelled her fears, and received her under their protection.

June 9: In the morning, they passed the garrison of Coeur de Lac, and waited for some considerable time some distance away. Squire Campbell, who had the charge of the prisoners, when he heard of Benjamin Gilbert’s decease, sent Jesse to the commander of this garrison to get a coffin, in which they put the corpse, and very hastily interred him under an oak not far from the fort. The boatmen would not allow his widow to pay the last tribute to his memory, but regardless of her affliction, refused to wait; her distress on this occasion was great indeed, but being sensible that it was her duty to submit to the dispensations of an over-ruling Providence, which are all ordered in wisdom, she endeavored to support herself under her afflictions, and proceeded with the boatmen.

Near this place they passed by a gristmill, which was maintained by a stone wing extended into the River St. Lawrence, the stream being very rapid, acquires a force sufficient to turn a wheel without the further expense of a dam.

The current carried the boat forward with amazing rapidity, and the falls became so dangerous that the boats could proceed no farther; they therefore landed in the evening, and went to the commanding officer of Fort Lasheen to request a lodging; but the houses in the garrison were so crowded that it was with difficulty they obtained a small room belonging to the boat-builders to retire to, and here they stowed themselves with 10 others.

June 10: The garrison of Lasheen is on the Isle of Jefu, on which the town of Montreal stands, about the distance of nine miles; hither our travelers had to go by land, and as they were entirely unacquainted with the road, they took the advantage of an empty cart (which was going to the town) for the women to ride in.

The land in the neighborhood is very stony and the soil thin; the cattle small and ill favored.

When they arrived at Montreal they were introduced to Brig. Gen. McClean, who after examining them, sent them to one Duquesne, an officer among the loyalists, who being from home, they were desired to wait in the yard until he came; this want of politeness gave them no favorable impression of the master of the house; when he returned he read their pass, and gave Jesse an order for three days’ provisions.

Daniel McUlphin received them into his house; by him they were treated with great kindness, and the women continued at his house and worked five weeks for him.

Jesse met with employ at Thomas Busby’s, where he lived very agreeable for the space of nine months.

Elizabeth Gilbert had the satisfaction of an easy employ at Adam Scott’s, merchant, having the superintendence of his kitchen, but about six weeks after she engaged in his service, Jesse’s wife, Sarah, was taken sick at Thomas Busby’s, which made it necessary for her mother to disengage herself from the place where she was so agreeably situated, in order to nurse her. These there were favored to be considered as the king’s prisoners, having rations allowed them; this assistance was very comfortable, but Elizabeth’s name being erased out of a list at the time when they needed an additional supply, they were much straitened. Upon an application to one Col. Campbell, he, together with Esquire Campbell, took down a short account of her sufferings and situation, and after preparing a concise narrative, they applied to the brigadier-general to forward it to Gen. Haldiman at Quebec, desiring his attention to the sufferers, who speedily issued his orders, that the releasement of the family should be procured, with the particular injunctions for every garrison to furnish them with necessaries as they came down.

As soon as Sarah Gilbert recovered form her indisposition her mother returned to Adam Scott’s family.

Thomas Gomersom hearing of their situation came to see them; he was educated a Quaker, and had been a merchant of New York, and traveled with Robert Walker in his religious visits, but upon the commencement of the war had deviated from his former principles and had lost all the appearance of a Friend, wearing a sword. He behaved with respect to the prisoners, and made Elizabeth a present. The particular attention of Col. Close, and the care he showed by writing to Niagara on behalf of the captives, as he was entirely a stranger to her, is remembered with gratitude.

As there was an opportunity of hearing from Niagara, it gave them great pleasure to be informed that Elizabeth Gilbert was among the white people, she having obtained her release from the Indians prior to the others.

Sarah Gilbert, wife of Jesse, becoming a mother, Elizabeth left the service she was engaged in, Jesse having taken a house, that she might give her daughter every necessary attendance; and in order to make their situation as comfortable as possible they took a child to nurse, which added a little to their income. After this Elizabeth Gilbert hired herself to iron a day for Adam Scott. Whilst she was at her work a little girl belonging to the house acquainted her that there were some who wanted to see her, and upon entering into the room she found six of her children; the joy and surprise she felt on this occasion were beyond what we shall attempt to describe. A messenger was sent to inform Jesse and his wife that Joseph Gilbert, Benjamin Peart, Elizabeth, his wife, and young child, Abner, and Elizabeth Gilbert, the younger, were with their mother. It must afford very pleasing reflections to any affectionate disposition to dwell awhile on this scene, that after a captivity of upwards of 14 months so happy a meeting should take place.

Thomas Peart, who had obtained his liberty, and tarried at Niagara that he might be of service to the two yet remaining in captivity, viz., Benjamin Gilbert, Jr., and Rebecca Gilbert.

Abigail Dodson, the daughter of a neighboring farmer, who was taken with them, inadvertently informed the Indians she was not of the Gilbert family; all attempts for her liberty were fruitless.

February 1, 1969

The Gilbert Family Captivity, part 6

The Gilbert Family Compares Notes of Their Trials and Tribulations, and Raise Many a Hair Upon Each Others’ Heads in the Telling

We shall now proceed to relate how Joseph Gilbert, the eldest son of the deceased, fared amongst the Indians. He, with Thomas Peart, Benjamin Gilbert, Jr., and Jesse Gilbert’s wife, Sarah, were taken along the westward path, as before related. After some short continuance in this path, Thomas Peart and Joseph Gilbert were taken from the other two, and by a different route, through many difficulties they were brought to Caracadera, where they received the insults of the women and children whose husbands or parents had fallen in their hostile excursions.

Joseph Gilbert was separated from his companion, and removed to an Indian villa called Nundow, about seven miles from Caracadera; his residence was for several weeks in the king’s family, whose hamlet was superior to the other small huts. The king himself brought him some hominy, and treated him with great civility, intending his adoption into the family in the place of one of his sons who was slain when Gen. Sullivan drove them from their habitations. As Nundow was not to be the place of his abode, his quarters were soon changed, and he was taken back to Caracadera; but his weakness of body was so great that he was two days accomplishing this journey which was only seven miles, and not able to procure any food than roots and herbs, the Indians economy leaving them without any provisions to subsist upon. Here they adopted him into the family of one of the king’s sons, informing him that if he would marry amongst them he should enjoy the privileges which they enjoyed; but this proposal he was not disposed to comply with, and as he was not over-anxious to conceal his dislike of them, the suffering he underwent were not alleviated. The manner of his life differing so much from what he had before been accustomed to, having to eat the wild roots and herbs before mentioned, and as he had been lame from a child, and subject to frequent indispositions, it was requisite for him to pay more attention to his weak habits of body than his captors were willing he should.

When the master of the family was at home the respect he showed to Joseph, and the kindness to him, rendered his situation more tolerable than in his absence. Frequently suffering from hunger, the privileges of a plenteous table appeared to him as an inestimable blessing, which claimed the warmest devotion of gratitude. In such a distressed situation the hours rolled by with a tediousness almost insurmountable, as he had no agreeable employment to relieve his mind from the reflections of his sorrowful captivity. This manner of life continued about three months, and when they could no longer secure a supply by their hunting, necessity compelled them to go to Fort Niagara for provisions. The greatest member of the Indians belonging to Caracadera attended on this journey, in order to obtain a supply of provisions, their want of economy being so great as to have consumed so early as the eighth month all they had raised the last year, and the present crops unfit to gather; their profuse manner of using their scant pittance of provisions generally introducing a famine after a short time of feasting. They compute the distance from Caracadera to Fort Niagara to be one hundred and thirty miles; on this journey they were upwards of five days, taking some venison on their route, and feasting with great greediness, as they had been a long time without meat.

When they reached the fort they procured clothing from the king’s stores for Joseph Gilbert, such as the Indians usually wear themselves, with a coat, leggings, etc. His indisposition situated him at Col. Johnson’s for several days, during which time the British officers endeavored to agree with the Indians for his releasement [sic], but they would not consent. The afflicting account of the death of his father, which was here communicated to him, spread an additional gloom on his mind. After continuing at the fort about four weeks, the Indians ordered him back with them. This was a sore stroke, to leave a degree of ease and plenty and resume the hardships of an Indian life. With this uncomfortable prospect before him, added to his lameness, the journey was toilsome and painful. They were five days in their return, and when they arrived their corn was ripe for use; this, with the advantage of hunting, as the game was in its greatest perfection, furnished a present comfortable subsistence.

Joseph had permission to visit his fellow-captive, Thomas Peart, who was at a small town of the Indians about seven miles distant, called Nundow, to whom he communicated the sorrowful intelligence of their mother’s widowed situation.

At the first approach of spring Joseph Gilbert and his adopted brother employed themselves in procuring rails and repairing the fence about the lot of ground they intended to plant with corn, as this part of the preserving the grain was allocated to them; the planting and culture was assigned to the women, their husbandry being altogether performed by the hoe.

The Indian manner of life was by no means agreeable to Joseph Gilbert. Their irregularity in their meals was hard for him to bear; when they had provisions in plenty they observed no plan of domestic economy, but indulged their voracious appetites, which soon consumed their stock, and a famine succeeded.

In the early part of the sixth month, 1781, their corn was spent, and they were obliged to have recourse again to the wild herbage and roots, and were so reduced for want of provisions, that the Indians, having found the carcass of a dead horse, they took the meat and roasted it.

An officer from the fort came to inquire into the situation of the Indians, and, upon observing the low condition Joseph was in, not being likely to continue long without some relief, which the officer privately afforded, he being permitted to frequent his house, he advised him by flight to endeavor an escape from the Indians, informing him that he had no other expedient for his release. This confirmed him in a resolution he had for some time been contemplating, but his lameness and weakness, for want of proper sustenance, rendered it impracticable to make such an attempt at that time, and it would require much care and attention to his own health and strength to gather sufficient for such an undertaking. He therefore made use of the liberty allowed him to visit the officer and partake of his bread and meat that he might be prepared for the journey.

Embracing a favorable opportunity, when the men were generally from home, some in their war expeditions and some out hunting, he left them one night while the family slept, and made the best of his way towards Niagara Fort, following the path, as he had once before gone along it. Having a small piece of bread, which he took from the hut, he made a hasty repast, traveling day and night, in order to escape from the further distresses of captivity. As he neither took any sleep or other food by the way then the piece of bread mentioned for the two days and nights he pursued his journey, he was much fatigued when he reached the fort, and experienced the effects for several days. Upon his applying to Col. Johnson he was hospitably entertained, and the next day saw three of the Indians whom he had left at the town when he set off.

After a few days’ stay here, as most of the family were discharged from captivity and waiting for a passage to Montreal, a vessel was fitted to take them on board in order to proceed down the lake.

We next come to Benjamin Peart, who remained the first night after his arriving at the Indian huts with his wife and child, but was separated from them the next day, and taken about a mile and a half and presented to one of the families of the Seneca nation, and afterwards introduced to one of their chiefs, who made a long harangue, which Benjamin did not understand. The Indians then gave him to a squaw, in order to be received as her adopted child, who ordered him to a private hut, where the women wept over him in remembrance of the relation in whose stead he was received. After this he went with his mother (by adoption) to Niagara River, about two miles below the great falls, and stayed there several days, then went to the fort, on their way to the Genesee River, where he had the pleasure of conversing with his mother, and received further information concerning his wife and child; but even this satisfaction was short-lived, for he neither could obtain permission to visit his wife, nor was he allowed to converse freely with his mother, as the Indians hurried him off on board their bark canoe, when, having placed their provisions, they proceeded with expedition down the lake to the mouth of the Genesee River, the computed distance from the small village to the mouth of the river being one hundred miles, and from thence up the Genesee to the place of their destination, thirty miles. In their passage up the river they were about five days, and as the falls in this river near its entrance into Lake Ontario has made a carrying-place of about two miles, they dragged their canoe this distance to the place of boating above the falls. There were nine Indians of the party with them. They frequently caught fish by the way.

When the party arrived at the place of their designated settlement, they soon erected a small hut or wigwam, and the ground being rich and level they began with their plantation of Indian corn. Two white men who had been taken prisoners, the one from Susquehanna and the other from Minisinks, both of Pennsylvania, lived near this new settlement, and were allowed by the Indians to use the horses and plant for themselves. These men lightened the toil of Benjamin Peart’s servitude, as he was frequently in their company, and he had the liberty of doing something for himself, although without much success.

His new habitation, as it was not very healthy, introduced fresh difficulties, for he had not continued here long before he was afflicted with sickness, which preyed upon him near three months, the Indians repeatedly endeavoring to relieve him by their knowledge of simples, but their endeavors proved ineffectual; the approach of the winter season afforded the relief sought for. Their provisions were not very tempting to a weakly constitution, having nothing else than hominy, and but short allowance even of that, insomuch that when his appetite increased he could not procure food sufficient to recruit his strength. The company of his brother, Thomas Peart, who visited him, was a great comfort, and as the town he lived in was but the distance of eighteen miles, they had frequent opportunities of condoling with each other in their distress.

The Indian men being absent on one of their war excursions, and the women employed in gathering the corn, left Benjamin Peart much leisure to reflect on his solitude.

Towards the beginning of the winter season the men returned, and built themselves a log house for a granary, and then removed about 20 miles from their settlement into the hunting country, and procured a great variety of game, which they usually ate without bread or salt. As he had been with the Indians for several months, their language became more familiar to him.

February 8, 1969

Gilbert Family Captivity, part 7

More Individual Exploits and Dangers Are Revealed and Explained of What Has Happened During the Separations

Hunting and feasting, after their manner, being their only employment, they soon cleared the place where they settled of the game, which made a second removal necessary, and they are so accustomed to this wandering life that it becomes their choice.

They fixed up a log house in this second hunting place and continued until the second month, when they returned to their first settlement, though their stay was but a few days, and then back again to their log hut.

A heavy rain falling melted some of the snow, which had covered the ground about two feet.

The whole family concluded upon a journey to Niagara Fort by land, which was completed in seven days. At the fort he had the satisfaction of conversing with his brother, Thomas Peart, and the same day his wife also came from Buffalo Creek with the Senecas to the fort. This happy meeting, after an absence of 10 months, drew tears of joy from them. The Indians not approving of their conversing much together, as they imagined they would remember their former situation and become [a] less contented group with their lot and present manner of life, they separated again the same day, and took Benjamin’s wife about four miles away, but the party with whom he came permitted him to stay here several nights, and when the Indians had completed their purpose of traffic they returned, taking him some miles back with them to one of their towns; but upon his telling them that he was desirous of returning to the fort to procure something he had before forgot, in order for his journey, he was permitted. As he stayed the night with his adopted brother, the Indian came for him, but upon his complaining that he was so lame as to prevent his travelling with them, they suffered him to remain behind.

He continued at the fort about two months before the Indians came back again, and as he labored for the white people, he had an opportunity of procuring salt provisions from the king’s stores, which had been for a long time a dainty to him.

When one of the Indians (a second adopted brother) came for him, Benjamin went with him to Capt. Powell who, with earnest solicitations and some presents, prevailed upon the Indian to suffer him to stay until he returned from his war expedition; but this was the last he ever made, as he lost his life on the frontiers of New York.

After this another captain (a third adopted brother) came to the fort, and when Benjamin Peart saw him he applied to Adjt.-Gen. Wilkinson to intercede for his release, who accordingly waited upon Col. Johnson and other officers to prevail with them to exert themselves upon his behalf. They concluded to hold a council with the Indians for this purpose, who, after some deliberation, surrendered him up to Col. Johnson, for which he gave them a valuable compensation.

Benjamin Peart, after his release, was employed in Col. Johnson’s service, and continued with him for several months. His child had been released for some time, and his wife, by earnest entreaty and way of sickness, had prevailed with the Indians to procure her stay at the fort, which proved a great consolation and comfort after so long a separation.

About the middle of the eighth month there were preparations made for their proceeding to Montreal, as by this time there were six of the prisoners ready to go in a ship. Members were Joseph Gilbert, Benjamin Peart, his wife and child, Abner Gilbert, and Elizabeth Gilbert, the younger. These went on board the vessel to Charlton Island, which is as far as the large vessels they use on the lake can proceed; the remainder of the way (on account of the frequent shoals) they were obliged to go in smaller boats.

The commanding officer at Niagara procured a suitable supply of provisions, and furnished them with orders to draw more at the several garrisons as needs required.

In two days they arrived at the south end of Charlton Island, and went to the commander-in-chief to show their pass, and claim what they were in need of. Afterwards they continued on to the garrison of Oswagotchy, by the side of the River St. Lawrence, in an open boat by four Frenchmen, this class of people being chiefly employed in laborious services.

The stream was so rapid and full of rocks that the prisoners were too much alarmed to remain in the boat, and concluded to go on shore until they passed the danger, but the Frenchmen, who had been accustomed to these wild and violent rapids (the longest of which is known by the name of The Long Sou) kept on board. This surprising scene continued for the distance of six miles, and they viewed it with a degree of horror, their heads becoming almost giddy with the prospect. When the boat had shot the falls they again went onboard, and continued down the river to Ceor de Lac. A great distance before this they anchored and landed at the place where their father was interred, shedding many tears of filial affection to his memory. They afterwards applied to the commanding officer of the garrison for provisions and other necessities; they then bid adieu to this solemn spot of sorrow, and proceeded to Lasheen, which they reached the 24th day of the eighth month, having been eight days on their voyage.

After refreshing themselves at this garrison they set forward on foot for Montreal, which they reached the same day. They went to the brigadier-general and showed him their passport, and as soon as at liberty waited on their mother at Adam Scott’s, as had been already related.

The situation of Elizabeth Peart, wife of Benjamin, and her child is next to be related:

After she and the child were parted from the husband, Abigail Dodson and the child were taken several miles in the night to a little hut, where they stayed until morning, and the day following were taken within eight miles of Niagara, where he was adopted into one of the families of the Senecas; the ceremony of adoption to her was tedious and distressing; they obliged her to sit down with a young Indian man, and the eldest chieftain of the family repeated a jargon of words, to her unintelligible, but which she considered as some form of marriage, and this apprehension introduced the most violent agitations, as she was determined, at all events, to oppose any step of this nature; but after the old Indian concluded his speech she was relieved from the dreadful condition and embarrassment she had been under, as she was led away by another Indian. Abigail Dodson was the same day given to one of the families of the Cayuga nation, so that Elizabeth Peart saw her no more.

The man who led Elizabeth from the company took her into the family for whom they adopted her, and introduced her to her [new] parents, brothers and sisters, in the Indian style, who received her very kindly, and made a generous lamentation over her according to tradition. After she had been with them two days, the whole family left their habitation and went about two miles to Fort Slusher, where they stayed several days. This fort is about one mile above Niagara Falls.

As she was much indisposed, the Indians were detained several days for her; but as they cared little for her, she was obliged to lie on the damp ground, which prevented her speedy recovery. As soon as her disorder abated of its violence they set off in a bark canoe which they had provided, intending for Buffalo Creek, and as they went slowly, they had opportunity to take some fish.

When they arrived at the place of their intended settlement they went on shore and built a house.

A few days after they came to this new settlement they returned with Elizabeth to Fort Slusher, when she was told her child must be taken away from her; this was truly afflicting, but all remonstrances were in vain.

From Fort Slusher she traveled on foot, carrying her child to Niagara, it being 18 miles, and in sultry weather, rendered it a painful addition to the thoughts of parting with her tender offspring. The intent of their journey was to obtain provisions, and their stay at the fort was of several days’ continuance. Capt. Powell afforded her an asylum in his house.

The Indians took the child from her, and went with it across the river to adopt it into the family they had assigned for it, notwithstanding Capt. Powell, at his wife’s request, interceded that it might not be removed from its mother and, as it was so young, they returned it to the mother after its adoption, until it should be convenient to send it to the family under whose protection it was to be placed.

Obtaining the provisions and other necessaries, they came to Niagara to trade for, they returned to Fort Slusher on foot, from whence they embarked in their canoes. It being near the time of planting, they used much expedition in this journey.

The labor and drudgery in a family falling to the share of the women, Elizabeth had to assist the squaw in preparing the ground and planting corn.

Their provisions being scant they suffered much, and as their dependence for a sufficient supply until the gathering of their crop was on what they should receive from the fort, they were under the necessity of making a second journey thither.

They were two days on the road at this time. A small distance before they came to the fort they took her child from her and sent it to its destined family, and it was several months before she had an opportunity to see it again. After being taken from her husband, to lose her darling infant was a severe stroke. She lamented her condition and wept sorely, for which one of the Indians inhumanly struck her. Her Indian father seemed a little moved to behold her so distressed, and in order to console her assured her they would bring it back again, but she saw it not until the spring following.

After they had disposed of their peltries they returned to their habitation by the same route they had come.

With a heart oppressed with sorrow, Elizabeth trod back her steps, mourning for her lost infant, for his idea presented itself continuously to her mind; but as she experienced how fruitless, nay, how dangerous solicitations in behalf of her child were, she dried up her tears and pined in secret.

Soon after they reached their own habitation, Elizabeth Peart was again afflicted with sickness. At the first they showed some attention to her condition and complaints, but as she did not speedily recover, so as to be able to work, they discontinued every attention, and built a small hut by the side of the corn-field, placing her in it to mind the corn. In this lonely condition she saw a white man who had been made prisoner among the Indians. He informed her that her child was released and with the white people. This information revived her drooping spirits, and a short time after she recovered of her indisposition, but her employment of attending the corn continued until it was ripe for gathering, which she assisted in. When the harvest was over they permitted her to return and live with them. A time of plenty commenced, and they lived as if they had sufficient to last the year through, faring plenteously every day.

February 15, 1969

The Gilbert Family Captivity, part 8

How the Gilberts Finished Out Their Adventure, and What Exactly Was Going on Back Home While They Were Away

A drunken Indian came to the cabin one day, and the old Indian woman complaining to him of Elizabeth, his behavior exceedingly terrified her; he stormed like a fury, and at length struck her a violent blow, which laid her on the ground. He then began to pull her about and abuse her much, when another of the women interposed, and rescued her from further suffering. Such is the shocking effect of spirituous liquor on these people; it totally deprives them both of sense and humanity.

A tedious winter prevented them from leaving their habitation, and deprived her of the pleasure of hearing often from her friends, who were very much scattered; but a prisoner, who had lately seen her husband, informed her of his being much indisposed at the Genesee River, which was upwards of one hundred miles distant. On receiving this intelligence, she stood in need of much consolation, but had no source of comfort except in her own bosom.

Near the return of spring, their provisions failing, they were compelled to go off to the fort for a fresh supply, having but a small portion of corn, which they allowanced out once each day.

Through snow and severe frost they went for Niagara, suffering much from the excessive cold, and then they came within a few miles of the fort, which they were four days accomplishing, they struck up a small wigwam for some of the family with the prisoners to live in until the return of the warriors from the fort.

As soon as Capt. Powell and his wife heard that the young child’s mother had come with the Indians she desired to see her, claiming some relationship in the Indian way, as she had also been a prisoner among them. They granted her request, and Elizabeth was accordingly introduced and informed that her husband had returned to the fort, and there were some expectations of his release. The same day Benjamin Peart came to see his wife, but could not be permitted to continue with her, as the Indians insisted on her going back with them to their cabin, which, as has been related, was some miles distant.

Elizabeth Peart was not allowed for some days to go from the cabin, but a white family who had bought her child from the Indians to whom it had been presented, offered the party with whom Elizabeth was confined a bottle of rum if they would bring her across the river to her child, which they did, and delighted the fond mother with this happy meeting, as she had not seen it for the space of eight months.

She was permitted to stay with the family where her child was for two days, when she returned with the Indians to their cabin. After some time she obtained a further permission to go to the fort, where she had some needle-work from the white people, which afforded her a plea for often visiting it. At length Capt. Powell’s wife prevailed with them to suffer her to continue a few days at her house and work for her family, which was granted. At the expiration of the time, upon the coming of the Indians for her return with them, she pleaded indisposition and by this means they were repeatedly dissuaded from taking her with them.

As the time of planting drew nigh she made use of a little address to retard her departure; having a small swelling on her neck she applied a poultice, which led the Indians into a belief that it was improper to remove her, and they consented to come again for her in two weeks.

Her child was given up to her soon after she arrived at Capt. Powell’s, and her husband came frequently to visit her, which was a great happiness, as her trials in their separation had been many.

At the time appointed some of the Indians came again, but she still plead[ed] indisposition and had confined herself to her bed. One of the women interrogated her very closely, but did not insist upon her going back. Thus several months elapsed, she contriving delays as often as they came.

When the vessel which was to take the other five, among whom were her husband and child, was ready to sail, the officers at Niagara concluded she might also go with them as they saw no reasonable objection, and they doubted not it was in their power to satisfy those Indians who considered her as their property.

Eventually all of the captives were redeemed and, reaching this country in safety, assembled at Byberry to recount in a happy reunion their strange adventures during a captivity of two years and five months.

While the two-and-one-half year adventure of the Gilbert family was going on, Carbon County was not standing still.

It might, at this time, be helpful to take stock of what had happened in the county during its earliest days:

The little Moravian mission and colony, founded on the site of Lehighton in 1746, and its sister settlement on the opposite side of the river, where Weissport now stands, were not destined to long remain undisturbed. They were in reality very minute dots of civilization in the great mountainous wilderness north of Blue Ridge, on which was bestowed by the proprietaries the Indian name “Towamensing,” and a savage horde wiped them out on Nov. 24, 1755, as completely as if they had been characters written on the sand.

When the Indians made their onslaught with tomahawk and fire, those of the people who were not massacred fled from the burning village southward toward Bethlehem, and although some of them who had secreted themselves in the neighborhood returned after the immediate danger was over, they did so only to gather up such articles as the savages and the flames had left, and they soon made their way down the river to the parent colony, which they knew to be a place of security. Col. Burd, who crossed the Blue Ridge on his way to Fort Allen in 1758, says, “When I arrived on the top of the mountain, I could see a great distance on both sides of it; the northern part of the county is an entire barren wilderness not capable of improvement.”

The Indian name of the region, “Towamensing,” we will remark here, was an appropriate one, as its meaning is literally “a wilderness.”

Four or five years after the destruction of the Moravian mission, some men had returned into this wild country and taken up lands, but their number was very small. In 1762 the whole district of “Towamensing” embraced all of what is now Carbon County and a portion of the present county of Schuylkill, contained but 33 persons who were subject to taxation and whose names were placed upon the assessment roll. The region had been practically deserted.

Soon after the division of Towamensing, by the setting off of Penn Township in 1768, a few other families settled in what is now Carbon County, most of them locating on the east side of the river. Among their number were the Salt, Haydt, Beltz, Arner, and Boyer families which, in common with others who arrived later, are made the subjects of brief sketches in the township histories.

In 1775 there came to Penn Township, on the west side of the river, the Gilbert, Dodson, and Peart families. The capture of the Gilbert family by the Indians, which has already been related at length in the preceding sections of this series, led to a general exodus of the settlers from that immediate locality, and again the region was left as the almost undisputed ranging-grounds of the Indians and of wild beasts.

Some of the settlers farthest removed from the river, along which the Indians frequently roamed, sill retained possession of their cabins and small clearings, trusting to their remoteness from the warpath for security. The assessment list of Penn [Township] for 1781 (given in the history of the township) shows the names of quite a large number of inhabitants, but it must be borne in mind that Penn then stretched westward far beyond the present boundary of Carbon County, and that the assessment list was made in the early part of the year. The Dodsons appear to have remained until 1796, or the following year, when they removed to Shamokin.

From that time until 1803 or 1804 there appear to have been no settlements of importance made in Penn Township. Following the discovery of coal at Summit Hill in 1791, the lands including that important spot were taken up by Hillegas, Miner, and Cist, and in 1793, 1794, and 1796 other large tracts of land were taken up by various persons living in Philadelphia and Easton, on the supposition that they too contained coal. These tracts were on both sides of the river, and some of them were south of Blue Ridge.

[The preceding eight articles constitute Carbon County Trails of History No. 5-12. In six subsequent weeks, the history of the discovery of coal and the development of the county’s coal resources by The Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company was published.]