Eunice Kanenstenhawi Williams
English / Kanienkehaka, 1696 - 1785
|Eunice Kanenstenhawi Williams - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative ||
Eunice Williams, daughter of the Reverend John Williams and Eunice Mather Williams, was born on September 17, 1696, in Deerfield, Massachusetts. The girl who would grow up to become the most famous "unredeemed captive" had a conventional New England Puritan upbringing until the age of seven. Her family's wealth and prominence made her early life a bit more privileged than that of other young Deerfield girls, and her fate as an adopted Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) better known.
Eunice and Her Siblings
Eunice was the sixth child of Deerfield's highly respected minister. Her older siblings were Eliezer, who was eight years older than Eunice; Samuel, six years older; Esther, five years older; and Stephen, three years older than Eunice. Her brother Eliakim lived less than a year and died six months before Eunice was born. When Eunice was 16 months old, her brother John was born. Brother Warham was born the day before Eunice's third birthday. When Eunice was five years old, she experienced death in the family: twins Jemima and Jerusha died within a week of their birth. Another baby sister named Jerusha was born in January, 1704, when Eunice was seven and had already assumed some housework responsibilities.
Eunice's mother was weak from lying in with Jerusha, so Eunice and Esther may have helped their mother or their African slave Parthena to swaddle Jerusha and unswaddle her every day or so to clean her. For the first three to six months, babies' arms and legs were pulled straight and tightly bound to their torsos with long, narrow strips of linen. Parents had a great fear that babies' limbs would stay soft and bent, and they thought swaddling would help ensure that their children would grow straight and strong. Swaddling also made it easier to keep the baby warm and protected from mishaps. Eunice could easily pick up the snug bundle that was baby Jerusha and put her into the narrow cradle by the fire; perhaps she thought that the swaddled baby looked pretty, like a butterfly in a cocoon.
After they were released from swaddling bands, babies of both sexes wore shifts longer than they were, perhaps for extra warmth and perhaps to discourage crawling. Parents of the time viewed crawling as animalistic, beneath the dignity of human beings, and pushed their children to stand and walk as early as possible. Some parents put their children in standing stools or tied them to posts in a way that held them upright, unable to sit or crawl. They used similar devices with wheels—called walking stools or go-carts—in which children beginning to walk could push themselves around. When they did begin to walk, boys and girls dressed in shorter shifts, gowns, and petticoats, as well as corsets or "stays" to make their figures more erect. Eunice and her four-year-old brother Warham dressed alike, but six-year-old John was very proud to have graduated to breeches like his father's.
Learning to be Useful
We can imagine that Eunice was glad she was older now, and could read and recite her catechism and sew. Perhaps Eunice saw how tired her mother looked and how greedily little Jerusha sucked, and felt satisfied that she was no longer such a sinful little creature. Now that Eunice could read Scriptures and be useful in the household, she was able to be closer to God and more obedient to her parents. The Puritans did not believe that children were born innocent and pure; rather, because original sin was not yet tempered by knowledge of God's word, children were considered sinful in their ignorance. As the poet Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) wrote:
"Stained from birth with Adam's sinful fact,
Thence I began to sin as soon as act:
A perverse will, a love to what's forbid,
A serpent's sting in pleasing face lay hid:
A lying tongue as soon as it could speak,
And fifth Commandment do daily break." (1)
Massachusetts Bay Colony law mandated that every father must instruct his children from a catechism at least once a week. A catechism presented Christian beliefs in the form of questions, which the father would pose to his children, and answers, which they would memorize. As Deerfield's minister, the Reverend John Williams surely fulfilled the legal requirement and more. He may have used the Shorter Catechism, with 107 questions, or Spiritual Milk for Boston Babes by John Cotton, with 87 questions. Beyond formal catechism lessons, John Williams likely wasted no opportunity to point out God's will in all things and draw lessons from every occasion, if he was like his colleague (and his wife's cousin) Cotton Mather. Mather 's rule was "rarely to let one of my children to come anear me . . . without some explicit contrivance and endeavor, to let fall some sentence or other, that shall carry a useful instruction with it." (2)
Eunice's mother was also very pious, and read her Scriptures every day, no matter how busy or tired she was. She very likely gave Eunice and her other children the benefit of her spiritual sustenance. The family also worshipped together daily, and spent most of the Sabbath at the meetinghouse, where father John preached and the rest of the family attended to his sermons with the people of the town.
Eunice's well-educated parents probably taught her to read. She may also have attended Deerfield's school, as the town taxed families with school-age children whether or not the children attended. (The town defined "school-age" differently at town meetings in 1698 and 1703, cutting in half the number of years that girls were expected to attend school. In 1698, the town voted to tax parents of all children between six and 10 for the school; in 1703, that was changed to between four and eight years old for boys, and between four and six years old for girls.) The tax paid for the schoolhouse and the schoolmaster's salary, but parents had to provide books and supplies. Mr. John Richards was the schoolmaster when Eunice was likely to have attended. He may have taught from the New England Primer, which included an ABC, a catechism, and pieces to memorize like "The Dutiful Child's Promises":
"I will fear God, and honor the King.
I will obey my Father and Mother.
I will obey my superiors.
I will submit to my elders,
I will love my friends.
I will hate no man.
I will forgive my enemies, and pray to God for them.
I will as much as in me lies keep all God's Holy Commandments.
I will learn my Catechism.
I will keep the Lord's Day Holy.
I will reverence God's sanctuary,
For our God is a consuming fire." (3)
Obeying one's elders was more important than ever during the fall of 1703 and the winter of 1704. Going outside the palisade was dangerous, with Indians waiting to carry them away as they had John Nims and Zebediah Williams in October. Eunice was probably kept busy in the house, anyhow, especially after Jerusha was born and soldiers were living with them. There was so much to do to help Mother and Parthena get the meals. Eunice might have carried water in from the well, helped cut up vegetables, stirred the stew, tended the fire, and on baking day helped make a week's worth of breads and pies. She could probably hem sheets, make a shift, and mend a tear in her brother's shirt. She was likely to card wool, spin, and to knit useful items such as stockings and caps. There was not much time for play.
|Eunice Kanenstenhawi Williams - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative ||
Attack on Deerfield
February 29, 1704
Seven-year-old Eunice Williams woke up with a start. She saw that her 12-year-old sister, Esther, with whom she shared the bed, was also awake and wide-eyed with fear. They heard terrible noises downstairs—breaking glass, splintering wood, and wild cries. Indians!
So many things happened so quickly. Lieutenant Stoddard, one of the two soldiers garrisoned in their house, jumped out an upstairs window. Six-year-old John started to cry, and Parthena, their African woman, ran to him and snatched him up in her arms. An Indian with a red-painted face and a hatchet in his hands appeared at the top of the stairs, followed by another and another and another. They were everywhere, opening chests, slinging blankets over their shoulders, taking jugs from the shelves. Parthena shouted "No!" and one of them grabbed her, still holding John, and pushed her roughly ahead of him down the stairs.
Two of the raiders, an Indian and a "Macqua," came toward Eunice and Esther's bed. The "Macqua" said something to Eunice in his language, gripped her arm, and pulled her out of bed. She cried out in fear, but did not dare struggle against him. He picked her up in his arms and carried her downstairs. Esther followed with the Indian, who held her by the arm.
In her parents' room, Eunice was shocked to see her father, whom she esteemed above all on earth, standing in his shirt, with his arms bound behind him. Her brothers Samuel and Stephen were also in the room, as was Warham, like Eunice in the arms of an Indian. Her mother stood at the open chest, pulling out petticoats and blankets. When she saw Eunice and Esther, Eunice's mother praised the Lord for preserving them. Eunice's captor set her down, and her mother helped her put on several wool petticoats, a scarf, a gown, and a warm cape with a hood.
Eunice stared as the Indians insulted her father and unbound his arms one at a time so he could dress. Warham asked Mother what would become of them, but she just hushed him. Eunice was older; she had heard adults talking and knew they would be taken off to New France. The "Macqua" who had taken her from her bed returned, carrying one of the soldiers' muskets, with her blanket tied across his shoulders. She saw that he watched her closely, and she hid her face in her mother's petticoat. After a while, he and the others, many of them carrying her family's possessions—food, drink, her mother's pots, a knife, a hatchet—pushed them out of the door toward the north gate in the palisade. Eunice hardly dared look around. She could smell things burning. The "Macqua" took her arm roughly as they hurried through the snow.
|Eunice Kanenstenhawi Williams - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative ||
February 29 - March 1, 1704
As the Williams family left Deerfield village and started walking across the meadows through the snow, urged on by their Native captors, seven-year-old Eunice had trouble keeping up. Suddenly she found herself lifted up in her captor's arms. She was frightened and twisted herself away from him, reaching toward her mother. But he didn't hurt her, and it was easier to be borne along in his arms than to stumble through the snow. They crossed the river and reached an open place at the foot of a mountain ahead of the rest of Eunice's family. There she saw scores more of their neighbors and friends, many looking shocked and frightened, some crying quietly.
Eunice's captor set her down by a large pack, and rummaged through it until he found a small pair of Indian shoes. He helped her take off her own shoes and put them on. He gave her a handful of ground parched corn to eat, and spoke to her in his language. She didn't know what he was saying, but he didn't seem angry.
Although she was slightly less afraid of her captor now, Eunice was glad when her father, mother, brothers and sister joined her. They were allowed to stay together while their captors gave the others Indian shoes and something to eat. She felt comforted that her father was there. He would be able to interpret God's intentions in what was happening to them, and would guide them all to the right understanding. God surely would protect them and provide for them—unless He was punishing them for their sins.
March 1 - 8, 1704
Seven-year-old Eunice Williams wondered why she was so fortunate as to be carried throughout the long journey. She rode on her captor's shoulders, or sometimes on one of the sleds, as the group made its way up the frozen Connecticut River. Other children her age and younger, and many of the mothers—her own mother!—had been killed by the Indians for falling behind. Her four-year-old brother Warham was also spared. Sometimes she and Warham got to ride on a sled together, and then she could take care of him, as she used to at home. It seemed so long ago that she would sit in the corner of the kitchen and keep him out of mischief while her mother cooked.
Eunice felt sorry for her father, who was greatly saddened by the death of her mother and who had to walk all the way, often through icy water. She had never seen him so worn down, though he still told the people that the Lord was righteous and we should patiently bear what He visited upon us.
When they reached the place where a large river joined the Connecticut, they camped for the night. In the morning, Eunice's brother Stephen and the Indians who had him went away up the river by themselves. Eunice was just able to wave goodbye to Stephen, and she cried to think she would see him no more. Stephen had always been a loving brother to her.
Eunice and many more of the captives—including her father, sister, and other two brothers—were to travel up the river to the west. The next morning, her father led the captives in prayer and in singing a psalm, which lifted their spirits. But then the minister's captors spoke a few words to the rest of the Indians, and their small group turned their backs and struck off into the forest on their own. The people were very downcast to lose their minister, who had sustained them through the nine days of the journey. Eunice's captor carried her close to Samuel, Esther, and Warham, so she could see her siblings instead of watching her father disappear into the woods. They were all she had now—other than her captor, who treated her gently.
February 1704 – 1713
In the bewildering days since the Indians and Macquas had broken into her home, burned her village, and driven her family on a journey through the snowy wilderness, Eunice had lost both her mother and father. Her mother, having fallen as she forded an icy stream, was killed on the spot. Her father was taken away by his captors the day after the army split up at the junction of the two rivers, and Eunice did not know if she would ever see him again.
Carried on the shoulders of her captor as they traveled through deeper snow and climbed into the hills, Eunice was numb—almost too cold and hungry to be afraid of what might happen next. After camping one night with the remaining group of Deerfield captives, the Indians conferred, and her captor set off with her and a few of his fellows. There were no longer any English adults for Eunice to look to for help or counsel, no one who could even understand her words.
Eunice's small band followed an ice-bound stream up through the mountains. Sometimes her captor passed her to one of the other men, and she rode on his shoulders or back. She stiffened with fear each time, remembering scenes of hatchet blows felling women and young children. But her captor's companions—his kinsmen, she would later learn—all treated her kindly.
After several days in which none of them had more than a handful of dried corn to eat, Eunice was left in a temporary wigwam while the men tracked a small deer herd. They shot a buck and a doe, and Eunice thought she had never tasted any victuals as sweet as the roasted meat she was given that day.
After what seemed to Eunice a long time in the mountains, the group reached Lake Champlain. Traveling was easier across the ice of the lake, and Eunice was able to walk on her own for a while. Her captor taught her to call him Rakenonhá:'a, which she thought was his name. She later learned that it meant "Uncle"—what she would call many of the grown men in the Bear and Turtle longhouses.
Traveling upriver from the lake, they came to a fort where there were men and women dressed like people from home. Eunice guessed that they must be French people, the papists her father had warned her and the rest of the captive congregation about. But she could see them looking at her with sympathy, and she thought of things like having bread to eat and a real roof to shelter under. She looked at Uncle to see if he would let her go and talk to them. Perhaps they knew where her father, brothers and sisters were. But Uncle turned and took her away from the French people, letting his kinsmen negotiate with them for supplies.
From the French fort, Eunice and her captors traveled west until they came to another river, and saw a large town in the distance: Kahnawake. They had arrived at their destination.
Eunice had never seen such a place. She had always thought of Indians as people who traveled around in the forests, carrying their goods with them. But Kahnawake was two to three times bigger than Deerfield, a veritable city of longhouses, more than she could easily count. It stretched out along the banks of a turbulent river. Beyond the longhouses Eunice could see a church steeple and other buildings, and the stone walls of a French fort. As they approached the town, many people ran to greet them—men, women and children all shouting and talking and crowding around them. (4)
Eunice was afraid and held tightly to Uncle's neck. He carried her to a part of the town where the longhouses were adorned with carved bears. Outside one of the longhouses, they were greeted by a woman with tears in her eyes. The woman gathered up Eunice and carried her through the bark door of the longhouse.
Inside the longhouse, Eunice blinked and tried to see where she was. It was dark and there was a lot of smoke in the air from the fires, three of them down the center of the building. The fires were like campfires; there were no chimneys, and the smoke drifted up and out through smoke-holes in the roof. On either side of the central aisle, there were platforms on which Eunice could see—as her eyes adjusted to the gloom—some old people sitting or reclining and young children napping.
A woman stirring a kettle over one of the fires stood up and came toward her. The woman's face and hair were streaked with black soot, and her clothes were dirty and ragged. She looked sad and care-worn—Eunice thought of her own mother after the infant twins died—but as she looked at Eunice she seemed to brighten. "Waongote," she said. (5)
Eunice was glad to be done with traveling, glad she was no longer out in the woods, always cold and fearful of what the warriors might do next. But she was uneasy, wondering where her father and siblings were and if she would see them again.
The woman and several others told Eunice that it was time for her to be formally adopted. They took her to a great washtub and plunged her in and scrubbed her clean. Then they gave her new leggings decorated with ribbons—for her petticoats were by this time shredded and stained—and a beautiful pair of beaded deerskin moccasins, a clean English linen shirt, and a red wool blanket as a cloak. They braided her hair and put a length of wampum around her neck, and led her to a feast at the council house in her new finery.
After everyone had eaten, an elder rose and spoke. An English woman who had been at Kahnawake for a long time translated for Eunice. "Now you are Waongote, [meaning] 'they took her and place her as a member of the tribe.' You are flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. By the ceremony that was performed today, every drop of white blood is washed from your veins and you are one of us by an old, strong law and custom. You are taken into the Kanienkehaka nation and into a great family, in the place of a beloved child. My daughter, you now have nothing to fear, for we will love, support, and defend you as we do each other." So Eunice became Waongote. (6)
The woman, who had first greeted her, asked Eunice to call her Istá. (7) She was kind to Eunice, and didn't ask her to do much work at first. Eunice rested in the longhouse for a few days, and was then allowed to wander freely in the immediate vicinity. Other women in the longhouse, who were also called Istá—Eunice learned that Istá meant "Mother" and that the others were Istá's sisters—watched over her. Eunice sometimes saw other girls from Deerfield—Mary Harris was there, and the two Kellogg girls, as well as Mercy Carter, Abigail French and Mary Field—but the Macquas became angry if they spoke to each other in English. (8)
Eunice tried to pray and recite her catechism every day, as her own mother and father had taught her. After her second week at Kahnawake, however, she was taken to see the Jesuit, who taught her prayers in Latin and told her about the saintly Macqua woman, Kateri Tekakwitha, (9) whom she should emulate. Eunice was troubled; would these new prayers help save her soul or imperil it? What would her father say about them?
On the Sabbath, Istá took her to Mass at the mission. The service was curious, delivered in the Kanienkehaka language in a chapel decorated with wampum belts and furs. Eunice thought the Macquas seemed pious at services, praying and singing fervently. So she was shocked when she saw men and boys playing games in the afternoon—profaning the Sabbath in a way that would earn severe punishment in Deerfield.
As the days began to get a little warmer, the women in the longhouse prepared to plant. Istá showed her the basket of seed saved from the previous year, and the short hoes, some of them made of stone. Eunice and the other children went to the field with the women and began to pull up by hand the dried cornstalks and bean vines left over from last year's harvest.
One evening, the Jesuit came to the longhouse and conferred with Istá and her mother, Ákso (Grandmother), who was the head of the longhouse. They told Eunice that Onontio himself was bringing her English father, the Reverend John Williams, to see her the next day.
The next afternoon, Eunice was brought to the chamber in the Jesuit's house where her father waited. He embraced her, but quickly put her at arm's length and began questioning her from the catechism. When Eunice had answered to his satisfaction—because she still remembered it very well—he asked her if she was being treated well by the Macquas. She thought of Istá and Uncle and said that people had been kind to her. Then she looked at her stern, frowning father, and said: "But they profane God's Sabbath, and a few days ago some of the men were mocking the Devil, and one of the Jesuits stood looking on. I try to pray every day and ask God for his grace, but they force me to say some prayers in Latin, but I don't understand one word of them; I hope it won't do me any harm." Her father admonished her gravely not to forget her catechism and the Scriptures that she had learned by heart.
Then their time together was over and Eunice was taken away. She was so agitated that Istá let her speak in English with some of the other captives. She told them what her father said, and that she was very much afraid that she would forget her catechism, without anyone to instruct her. (10)
Eunice saw her father again a few days later, for a short time, and again he instructed her to adhere strictly to her religious practice. She had no words to tell him how hard it was to do so in the longhouse, and he had no answer to her plea to keep her with him.
After the last time Eunice saw her father, she and the other longhouse children spent days in the fields with the women, sometimes helping with the planting and sometimes playing. When the planting was done, the village prepared to hold a Planting Festival to celebrate with feasting and dancing.
Eunice didn't notice when she stopped thinking of herself as Eunice, or when she stopped thinking in English. In her new clothing, she felt freer to move, and stronger. She could run as fast as the other Kahnawake girls. She could take her turn at the pounding the corn for the day's meal.
Sometimes English men came to Kahnawake and tried to speak to her and to her family. Their words sounded familiar, but she could not understand their sense. When their meaning was translated to her, it was always the same: did she want to go back to Deerfield and the Reverend John Williams? She could hardly remember anything about that life. She would hide her face and shake her head. No, she couldn't change herself again. She was of the longhouse of Ákso, of the Bear clan, of Kahnawake, of the Kanienkehaka.
Waongote was a serious and reverent girl. As she grew older, she spent a lot of time with Ákso, Grandmother, who had known the holy woman Kateri Tekakwitha. Together they visited her grave and saw the tributes left by people who had been healed by her intercession. Waongote studied the Catholic religion with her grandmother and with the Bear clan dogique; she was more comfortable with him than with the Jesuits. She was baptized with her new Christian name, Marguerite. Like many of the Kanienkehaka and the Jesuits who lived among them, she was thereafter known by two names, her Kanienkehaka name and her Catholic baptismal name.
Marguerite Waongote was becoming a young woman. She took on the responsibilities of an adult: planting, cultivating, and harvesting the corn, squash, and beans; collecting firewood; preparing food; making clothing. She attended Mass several times a week. During hunting season, she accompanied Uncle's hunting party to their camp, where she helped to prepare the deer they killed.
To reflect her growing responsibities in the community, it was time for Marguerite Waongote to take an adult name. Her grandmother and mother, both Bear clan matrons, consulted about an appropriate clan name that was not already in use. They determined that the serious and responsible young woman should be called Kanenstenhawi, "she brings in corn," expressing a woman's most sacred and solemn responsibility. She took her new name at a naming ceremony that was part of the Midwinter Festival. Now she was Marguerite Kanenstenhawi, as she would remain for the rest of her life. (11)
Marguerite Kanenstenhawi and Arosen
A man whom Kanenstenhawi had previously met on a trip to the Mohawk Valley in the southern part of Kanienkeh, came to Kahnawake and met with the men in the council house. Some of the people were angry with the French for involving them in wars against the English with promises of captives, but then taking control of captives won by Kahnawake warriors. Also, the French wanted to fight the English in Kanienkeh, where the Kahnawake people's kin lived and fought alongside the English. This would put the Kahnawake men in the position of killing their own relatives and breaking the Great Law of Peace. The man from the south, Arosen, proposed breaking with the French and making an alliance with the English, who were planning to attack the leading French settlement at nearby Montreal. The plan failed, and Arosen went back to the south, (12) but Kanenstenhawi's mother and grandmother had noticed him with approval. They pointed him out to her as a brave warrior, and noted that they knew his family to be a good one.
Arosen soon returned to Kahnawake, and stayed in the longhouse of his Wolf clan relatives. He had already adopted Catholicism, taking François Xavier as his Christian name, so the village was congenial to him. Marguerite Kanenstenhawi agreed with her mother that Arosen seemed to be brave and resourceful. In time, the matrons of his relatives' longhouse approached Kanenstenhawi's mother and grandmother. They all agreed that a match between Kanenstenhawi and Arosen would be appropriate, and they proposed the match to the young people. She was 16; he was in his 20s.
Both Arosen and Kanenstenhawi were happy with the proposal, and began openly spending time together. Although in their tradition they could marry with a simple family ceremony—the two longhouses exchanged gifts, and the husband, escorted by his relatives, came to the wife's longhouse for a bowl of corn soup—Arosen and Marguerite Kanenstenhawi wanted to be married by a priest.
They went together to the Jesuit, thinking that he would share their happiness at the prospect of being joined together by the Catholic sacrament of marriage. Kanenstenhawi was shocked to hear him try to dissuade them, to suggest that she should wait until she was older and had had a chance to meet men in the French community, or a fellow adopted English Kanienkehaka. Was she not exactly the right age for marriage, even older than the age at which many Kahnawake girls married? And she was a Kahnawakerónon; why should she marry outside of her village?
Arosen counseled her to be patient; they would show the Jesuit that they knew their minds and were ready for marriage. They approached him again, and found that he avoided him. Finally, they decided to marry according to Kanienkehaka tradition. The families were happy, and prepared beautiful gifts of furs and wampum, and dressed themselves in their best clothing. Istá and Ákso rearranged the longhouse so that Arosen and Waongote could have their own compartment, across the fire from Istá. The nuptial visit was made, and Arosen came to live with Kanenstenhawi's family.
Devout as she was, Marguerite Kanenstenhawi still wanted the blessing of the church. The couple approached the priest one more time, and told him that they were married now in the Kanienkehaka custom. They were living together and pledged never to leave one another. Would he sanctify their union with the Catholic sacrament? He could not refuse them, and to their joy performed the ceremony. (13)
Kanenstenhawi's Final Answer
That spring (of 1713), an emissary from the English came to Kahnawake. He was John Schuyler; Arosen knew him and his brothers from New York, where he had traded with them. The war between the English and the French was over, and travel along the old route between Albany and Montreal was now easier.
Marguerite Kanenstenhawi and Arosen were summoned to the priest's residence, and once again, she was pressured to return to her English family. The man Schuyler spoke at length about her father and his family's longing to see her, and her duty as a Christian to return. Kanenstenhawi said nothing in response. She couldn't trust herself to speak, with all the conflicting emotions that arose in her. Couldn't Schuyler see that she was a Kahnawakerónon now, married and settled? She was angry and offended with what he said, but at the same time she felt sorrow, and a cold fear that she would be taken against her will.
Then the priest spoke to her, with a long speech. She couldn't believe that he too was urging her to return to New England, he who had baptized and married her in the Catholic Church. She looked at the floor and remained silent.
Finally, Schuyler urged her just to make a visit, if nothing else, and said upon his word and honor that "if she would go only to see her father, [he] would convey her to New England, and give her assurance of liberty to return if she pleased." It seemed that they would not stop harassing her until she answered, so finally she spoke: "Jaght oghte" meaning "maybe not", a polite way of saying "No." (14) She hoped that that was the end of it and she would now be left in peace, with her new husband, her loving Kahnawake family, and her devout Catholic faith.
1713 - 1785
Marguerite Kanenstenhawi (Eunice) Williams's birth family never stopped longing for her return; they continued attempts to compel it through official channels, and urged her to reconsider her decision every time they had contact with her.
She saw her father one more time: in 1714, the year after John Schuyler's visit and her marriage. John Williams journeyed to New France as part of a commission sent by Governor Dudley of Boston, along with Captain John Stoddard of Northampton and three Deerfield men who were former captives: Thomas Baker, Eleazer Warner, and Martin Kellogg. The commission appealed to Governor Vaudreuil, as Governor Dudley had been appealing to him for years, to release all of the remaining English "prisoners." Vaudreuil's response was similar to those he had given before: that the captives were free to go, but he could not compel those who did not want to return to New England—especially those who were with his allies, the Native nations. The English commissioners argued that captives who were still children should be compelled to return.
After months of negotiations, a French officer met with Marguerite Kanenstenhawi and her "Indian relations, who said they would leave her to act her liberty respecting her return." Two weeks later, John Williams himself met with his daughter, but she was steadfast in her choice. He described that meeting in a letter to Samuel Sewall: "She is yet obstinately resolved to live and die here, and will not so much as give me one pleasant look. . . . the English are so naturalized to the customs and manners of the French and Indians, and have forgotten the English tongue . . . that I think it would be far easier to gain twice the number of French and Indians to go with us than English." (15)
An intriguing note that suggests Kanenstenhawi's attitude toward her father is in John Schuyler's description of his meeting with her the previous year. After Kanenstenhawi said "Maybe not" to Schuyler's two hours of pleading and cajoling, his final remonstrance was that even "the worst of Indians" would have agreed to his proposals. Arosen replied to this, saying that "had her father not married again, she would have gone and seen him long ere this time." (16)
We do not know how many children Marguerite Kanenstenhawi bore. Mission baptismal records prior to 1735 were destroyed by fire; surviving records show the births and baptisms of two daughters who lived with Kanenstenhawi until her old age. They were Catherine (Gassinontie, or "Flying Leg"), born in 1736, and Marie (Skentsiese, "New Fish"), born in 1739. Since Kanenstenhawi was 40 or older at the time of these births, she undoubtedly had had other children, although Kahnawake women overall had fewer pregnancies than their European counterparts. Children were spaced at least three years apart, whereas European women gave birth every one and a half to two years. However, the infant mortality rate at Kahnawake was higher than in European communities. Stephen Williams, Kanenstenhawi's English brother, wrote in his diary about hearing that his sister had had two children, one of whom had died, by 1722, when captive Joseph Kellogg returned with news of her. Williams later refers in his diary to "my brother in law [Arosen] and his son," and it is thought that a son named John also survived into adulthood. (17)
Marguerite Kanenstenhawi was also a baptismal godmother to four people, according to the mission records. Two were adult women who were new to Kahnawake—one a captive and the other an Iroquois woman from Iroquoia. The other two were girls born at Kahnawake.
Trade and Travel
Arosen and Marguerite Kanenstenhawi apparently traveled between Kahnawake and the Albany area—the center of the Kanienkehaka homeland—with some frequency. Arosen was involved in the fur trade between Albany and Montreal, which the French and English tried to outlaw. Kahnawake's large population and its people's independent spirit made it in effect a separate republic within New France, with its own, separate treaties and trade agreements. Natives in New France found that the English paid higher prices for northern furs than did the French—and that English goods, especially the fine blankets from the mills of Stroud, England ("strouds" became a generic term for English woolens), were of higher quality than French goods. In addition, the Kahnawakes' homeland and kin were in the Albany area, so travel there was a natural thing.
Kahnawake women as well as men were involved with the trade, smuggling furs out of Montreal in their baskets and acting as porteurs (carriers) for French merchants, carrying furs to Albany and English goods back. Whether or not Kanenstenhawi was a participant in the trade or just accompanied Arosen on some of his trips, there is evidence that she was at Albany with some regularity.
The Williams family heard about her travels there only after their father, the Reverend John Williams, died in 1729. Whether her father's death relieved her of some resentment toward her English family, or she was interested in receiving her share of the inheritance, Eunice/Kanenstenhawi's presence at Albany was made known to her brother Stephen. A little over a month after his father's death in July, Stephen wrote in his diary: "This day we had some news that my sister Eunice had been at Albany and was likely to be there again in October and that there was some hope she might be persuaded to come down and see us." (18)
Kanenstenhawi was not persuaded to visit until another 11 years had passed. Stephen pursued contacts with Dutch traders in Albany for news of his sister, and attempted communication with her through them. In 1730, a letter from Ebenezer Hinsdale spoke of news from one of these traders, a Mr. Corse. Corse had traveled with Arosen from Albany to New France, and Arosen told him that he was willing to visit Kanenstenhawi's relatives in New England, but that she "is exceedingly afraid of the English and endeavors to avoid them as much as she can when at Albany." (19)
Finally, in August of 1740, Stephen was summoned to Albany to meet with his sister. Stephen and his brother Eleazer and brother-in-law Joseph Meacham traveled to Albany, and after a few days' wait, had the "joyful, sorrowful meeting of our poor sister that we had been separated from for above 36 years." (20) Arosen and Eunice/Kanenstenhawi accompanied her brothers back to Stephen's home in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and stayed there for about a week. Relatives and neighbors from the Connecticut Valley north and south flocked to see the returned captive. Joseph Kellogg, who had been a fellow captive at Kahnawake, came to translate for the group.
Arosen and Kanenstenhawi left with promises that, now that the way was open, they would return for a longer visit. They did return three more times, in 1741, 1743, and 1761.
On their 1741 visit, they were accompanied by two of their children, and arrived in the midst of the excitement of the Great Awakening, a religious revival led locally by the Reverend Jonathan Edwards of Northampton. The Kahnawake family visited brother Stephen in Longmeadow, Massachusetts; sister Esther Williams Meacham in Coventry, Connecticut; and brother Eleazer Williams in Mansfield, Connecticut. At Mansfield, cousin Solomon Williams preached a fiery Great Awakening sermon likening Eunice/Kanenstenhawi's "miserable captivity with a barbarous and heathen people" where she lived "in the thickness of popish darkness and superstition" to the state of the congregation's souls—at least those who had not had an "Awakening" conversion experience. Kanenstenhawi and her family were among the congregation listening to this sermon, although whether it was translated for her is not known.
On their visit in the fall of 1743, Arosen, Kanenstenhawi, and their two children journeyed to Waltham to visit her youngest brother, Warham. They also visited Boston, where unconfirmed sources say they were received by leading ministers and the governor. In a demonstration of the influence of the Williams family and the relentlessness of their desire to keep Eunice among them, the Great and General Court (colonial legislature) voted to give Arosen and his family a present of 12 pounds, 10 shillings, and to pay them an additional seven pounds and 10 shillings annually if they would settle in Massachusetts. Although this was their longest visit, they finally left Massachusetts at the end of March after visiting Deerfield itself. The Williams family sent them off with a "set and concluding speech," no doubt filled with further arguments to stay.
King George's War and the French and Indian War blocked visits in the following years. In 1750, in an interval of peace between the two wars, Arosen visited by himself on an unknown matter of business. In his diary, Stephen Williams describes negotiations, mentions people being uneasy "upon account of the money," and describes a satisfactory solution—but never explains what the subject of the negotiations were.
Kanenstenhawi's final visit to New England came in 1760, when she was 64. The party included Arosen; their daughter Catherine and Catherine's husband Onnasategen, who became the "great chief" of Kahnawake; and their two-year-old grandson Thomas, who was the son of their other daughter Mary. The visit was for 10 days only. As in previous visits, the Williams family gathered at Longmeadow from various points in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and neighbors flocked to the church to gawk at the Indians. This time, however, the family's usual interpreter Joseph Kellogg was no longer living, so they had a difficult time communicating. Yet again, Stephen agonized over his attempts to convince his sister's family to stay in Massachusetts, and yet again they said "they [were] not at all disposed to come and settle in the country." (21)
From time to time in the years after the last visit, Stephen heard news about his sister. He heard that her husband, Francis Xavier Arosen, died in 1765. In March of 1771, Eunice Kanenstenhawi had a letter written to her brother (she was apparently illiterate, so she would have needed the help of a scribe):
"My dear Brother,
We have not received any account from you since your letter of the 19th September 1761 and are much surprised that you cannot find some opportunity of letting us know from you by letter or otherwise. We are all in good health. My two daughters are married and well. The one of them has one child, and the other has not had any nor any appearance of her ever having any. We have a great desire of going down to see you, but do not know when an opportunity may offer. We are very desirous of hearing from you, and when you write let us know if all our friends are yet alive and if they are in health and how they live, with their names that are alive. I am now growing old and can have but little hopes of seeing you in this world. But I pray the Lord that he may give us grace so to live in this as to be prepared for a happy meeting in the world to come. Doubtless you have hard that my husband is dead. He has been dead these six years. I have nothing more to acquaint you with, but am desirous to be remembered to all friends and relations, and remain your
Loving sister until death,
Eunice Williams" (22)
Eunice Kanenstenhawi survived her brother by three years: he died in 1782 at the age of 90, and she in 1785 at 89.
Descendants of Eunice Marguerite Kanenstenhawi Williams continued to feel connected to and visit the Connecticut River valley. Her surviving grandchild, Thomas Thorakwaneken Williams, visited Longmeadow and Deerfield in 1785. In 1800, he brought two of his sons to stay with Stephen Williams's granddaughter and her husband at Longmeadow, where the boys attended school. In addition to Eunice and Arosen's descendants from Kahnawake, there are also descendants among the Wôbanakiak. Wôbanaki oral traditions passed down in the Watso and Sadoques families from Odanak hold that Arosen was Wôbanaki, and that Eunice was adopted by the Wôbanakiak. In 1837, an extended family of more than 20 Wôbanakiak from Odanak visited Deerfield and the graves of the Reverend John Williams and his wife, Eunice Mather Williams.
About This Narrative
We know about Eunice's family—her siblings' births and deaths, her house, her father's occupation—from the Deerfield town records, and about the attack and march to Canada from her father John's and brother Stephen's narratives. John and Stephen Williams and their emissaries also recorded in diaries and letters their scattered contacts with Eunice in later years. Details of her daily life and feelings included in our narrative are imagined, based on historical studies of Puritan childrearing and education, material culture in Deerfield, and, for her later life, on information about 18th-century Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) life in Kahnawake. This narrative was written by Freda Brackley.
See Further Reading for a list of sources used in creating this narrative. For a discussion of issues related to telling people's stories on the site, see: Bringing History to Life: The People in The Many Stories of 1704.