Taken Captive on the Western Frontier: The Account of Titus King (1755-58)

On a recent weekend I attended a fascinating one-day symposium, Exploring the 1704 Raid, sponsored by Historic Deerfield Inc., that focused on the French and Native American attack on the frontier settlement of Deerfield. This event, in part funded by Mass Humanities, examined the social, military, and material history of that raid, which was part of Queen Anne’s War, as well as the broader context of a contested North America peopled by various Native American groups and the French and English colonists who were competing economically, militarily, and ideologically for the land. The Deerfield raid of the early eighteenth century was an event that was similarly played out again and again throughout the next 50 year period with various wars between the French and English interrupted by short periods of shaky peace. Raids by the French and allied Native-Americans occurred throughout Western Massachusetts in the 1740s and 50s. These attacks along the frontier of the colony were generally comprised of small groups of Native Americans who resided in various communities in modern-day Quebec who were determined to take captives for ransom or absorption into their own communities. This did not, however, preclude bloodshed.

Various accounts of these Massachusetts raids and their captives have been recorded and studied. Perhaps most famous are those representing the 1704 attack, which included the capture of more than 100 individuals including Reverend John Williams (who would later write the Redeemed Captive Returns to Zion), or the story of his daughter Eunice Williams, who was also taken, but chose (like many others) to remain in the Native community where she later married and raised a family.[i] The following paragraphs will briefly examine another, lesser known raid, one that occurred in 1755 in Charlemont. This attack and seizure was on a much smaller scale than that which occurred at Deerfield in 1704. Though different in scope, the raid was part of the same broad conflict that occurred throughout the course of the eighteenth century. However, beneath the themes of North American conquest, and changing trade and settlement patterns, were much more personal stories. It is all too easy to forget the individuals behind the movement of history. While the larger developments such as government policies, religious motivations, and economics clearly played a decisive role in the shaping of people’s lives, it is often the nuances of those individual lives that so fascinate us. The following examination is based on the account of one man’s captivity. It details a short period of his life consumed by fear and uncertainty, but within the pages are also hilarity and brief glimpses of the real people who populated our past.

At Charlemont, two individuals were killed and two were taken north to Canada. Occurring during the Seven Years War, or the last French & Indian War, small raids were widespread across the Western Frontier of Massachusetts during the 1740s and 50s. Small dotted settlements and fortified farmsteads in townships like Charlemont, Colrain, and Falltown were easy targets for the snatch-and-grab tactics of the small raiding parties. This particular event began on June 11, 1755. The author of the tract chronicling the event was Titus King, a young militiaman from Northampton who was stationed at the fortified house of Paul Rice in Charlemont. That day, King and another young colonial soldier were helping Moses and Asa Rice (Paul’s father and son, respectively) at work in the fields along the Deerfield River. As the Rices worked, the two militiamen were acting as sentries scanning the surrounding treelines. According to King, their labor was interrupted “with a Frightfull Hollow [holler] & Fireing” of muskets.[ii] A small group of Native Americans sprang forth at the men. King wrote that upon hearing “the guns fired they being beteen me & the Fort I took to the woods but in Steed of making my ascape Ran into an ambush”.[iii] The other young man took a bullet in the head and died instantly while the eldest Rice was shot in the thigh. Seeing that Moses could not travel, he was put to death and King and the young boy were led away by their captives.

King recorded the difficult trek of the next few days with tough terrain, little food, and an uncertain future. Six days later, on the 17th of June, the small party neared the French-controlled settlement of Crown Point. In the few days prior to their arrival, King’s detainers began teaching their prisoners songs. The Native American men demanded that King “Sing an Indian Song there or Elce…be whipt” of which he claimed they “Seemd to be Very much a mind I Should git it perfect”.[iv] After later learning the dialect, he recounted the lyrics as “you are Sorroy you are taken you wanter go hum to See the girls” a somewhat humorous torment that the young man acknowledged “was only to make a Lettel Sport for themsels”.[v]

After arriving in their own territory, King’s captors had a chance to celebrate their successful raid and safe return. Their revelry included imbibing rum, seemingly to excess, for Titus wrote “one of the Indians Voumetd Very heartly”.[vi] The next day, the voyage north continued and he recollected that his hung-over guides “told me I must Paddel with the outher Indian that had not been Drunk While they Layed Down & Sleept” of which he observed “Now I was a Paddeling myself into Captivety”. [vii]

Where the English colonial captives ended up in Canada varied; some lived with the French, and others lived in various Native American villages. Some were killed, some stayed on under their own volition, and many others would be ransomed or exchanged for French prisoners and returned home. On his tenth day of captivity, King recalled “the Indians Told me this Day I must be an Indian”.[viii] Upon hearing this he “told them I Chose to Leve with the French they told me Frenchmen no good Enlishmen no good Indian Very good”.[ix] Next, the young man was instructed to “put on a Old Shurt of theres that Stand with Indian Sweet put wonpon in my neck Panted my Face” at which time he recalled that “I began to think I was an Indian”.[x] In a common scenario, King was to “be given away to outher Indians as there manner is to adopt the Enlish Prisons & So make Children of them”.[xi] A few days later, at the village of St. Francis in modern-day Quebec, King “became brother to the old Indian & Squaw being in the place of an Indian that was Killed the Last War I being in the Same Relation as he was to them I became a Grandfather they said there grandfather was come to Life again”.[xii] For centuries, if not longer, many of the Native American groups of the Northeast would periodically raid and incorporate members of enemy populations into their own, often directly replacing family members that had previously passed away or been killed. Indeed, many Englishmen and women taken captive during this period chose to stay in their adopted communities. Upon observing an influx of young captives King voiced his concern claiming the villages to be “an awfull School this for Children When We See how Quick they will Fall in with the Indians ways nothing Seems to be more takeing in Six months time they Forsake Father & mother Forgit thir own Land Refuess to Speak there own toungue & Seeminly be Holley Swollowed up with the Indians”.[xiii]

Titus, however, did not live out the rest of his life among the Native Americans. After eventually being sold off to the French, King financially arranged for his own freedom and passage to London. After a short stay, he set sail west for North America, landing in New York and finally making his way north to Northampton, arriving nearly to the day, on “10 June after three years Captivity”.[xiv]

Eighteenth-century New England, and Western Massachusetts specifically, played host to so many experiences like the one recalled by Titus King. While these exploits are framed by the larger context of North America at the time, they also have the potential to reveal a great deal about the individuals who called that time the present. Though these paragraphs only scratch the surface of what accounts like King’s can tell us about one individual’s experiences, beliefs, and perceptions, they can sometimes make observable a human side of the past so often brushed away by the more general historical themes of a given period.

[i] See, John Demos 1994, The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America. Alfred A. Knopf: New York and Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney 2006, Captive Histories: English, French, and Native Narratives of the 1704 Deerfield Raid. University of Massachusetts Press: Amherst.

[ii] See, A.C.B. 1938, p. 5. Narrative of Titus King of Northampton, Mass. A Prisoner of the Indians in Canada. Hartford Historical Society: Hartford.

[iii] See, A.C.B. 1938, p.5

[iv] See, A.C.B. 1938, p. 8

[v] See, A.C.B. 1938, p. 9

[vi] See, A.C.B. 1938, p. 10

[vii] See, A.C.B. 1938, p. 10

[viii] See, A.C.B. 1938, p. 10

[ix] See, A.C.B. 1938, p. 10

[x] See, A.C.B. 1938, p. 10

[xi] See, A.C.B. 1938, p. 13

[xii] See, A.C.B. 1938, p. 14

[xiii] See, A.C.B. 1938, p. 17

[xiv] See, A.C.B. 1938, p. 21

Author: Aaron F. Miller

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