English, 1688 - 1779
|Jonathan Hoyt - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative ||
Jonathan Hoyt was born in Deerfield, Massachusetts on April 6, 1688, to David Hoyt and his second wife Sarah (Wilson) Hoyt. The family of six had moved up the Connecticut River from Hatfield at the time of Deerfield's permanent settlement in 1682 or 1683. Jonathan's mother Sarah died the year after he was born, and his father married for the third time, to Abigail (Cook) Pomeroy of Deerfield. The Widow Pomeroy had three children of her own to add to Hoyt's four; Jonathan was the youngest of the seven. David Hoyt owned Lots 5 and 6 and Lot 34. The family probably built a house on 5 and 6 at the north end of the street.
Little is known of Jonathan Hoyt's life before age 15. His father was one of seven men, all of whom had come to Deerfield from towns in the south at the time of the permanent settlement (1682-1683), who held positions of power in town. David Hoyt, with John Sheldon, was elected deacon of church, which meant he was responsible for administering communion wine and overseeing church discipline. Related by his first marriage to the Wells brothers, Jonathan and Thomas (the community's military leaders), Hoyt was appointed lieutenant in the local militia company. Kinship, as well as ability, was a road to power.
In addition to his roles as deacon of the church and lieutenant in the militia, David Hoyt served Deerfield three times as moderator of town meetings and four times as selectman. Both offices were awarded to men of influence and by their fellow citizens.
Because of their father's close connection with the church, it is safe to assume that the children of David Hoyt attended church and prayer meetings regularly. Protestants were nearly always taught to read and write, since they were expected to read the Bible for themselves. Children were either taught at home in their early years, or sent to a local dame school.
Watching the men of the town march in formation on the town common or training field under the direction of Lieutenant Hoyt probably appealed to young Jonathan and his brothers, Ebenezer (b.1695) and Benjamin (b.1691). The boys and their neighbors may have spent the time freed from filling wood boxes, caring for livestock, or seasonal work in the barns, dreaming of adventure in the militia, as they watched the men prime and fire their muskets.
Jonathan was too young to have witnessed the erection of the palisade around the houselots surrounding the common in 1690, but he must have soon been aware of the reasons for the protective pickets in the middle of town. The families who occupied houses at the north end of the street, which included the Hoyts and a few other families, spent many nights inside that stockade, bundled together in houses already within the stockade or, like the Hoyts, in small dwellings constructed within the palisade on town land. Jonathan could not help but be aware that the world he lived in was violent and unpredictable.
As far as possible, children were kept within the bounds of the town in the 1690s because of both the real and imagined dangers on the outside. The town suffered several attacks during the 1690s and regular ambushes occurred outside the stockade. Samuel Smith was only one neighbor who was snatched while working alone outside the village; he spent four years in Canada before his escape and return to Deerfield. Farmers walked, armed and in groups, to their fields in the north or south meadows, both for protection and to share the hard work.
David Hoyt's role as second in command of Deerfield's militia must have meant talk of war and captivity stories in the Hoyt household. Others in town, Benoni Stebbins for example, whose son Joseph was Jonathan's age, had been captured by a band of Indians led by Ashpelon in the summer of 1676. It is certain that Benoni told and retold the story of his capture and dramatic escape by commandeering the Indians' horse while they were picking berries. Did Benoni's story act as a warning for the young people of Deerfield, or did they secretly long for what they perceived as adventure?
The people of Deerfield prepared numerous times for a direct attack on the town—both mentally and physically—and most, including the Hoyts, believed they were sleeping in safe quarters in dwellings within the palisade on the winter night of February 29, 1704.
|Jonathan Hoyt - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative ||
Attack on Deerfield
February 29, 1704
Jonathan Hoyt was 15 years old when the attack occurred, just before dawn on February 29, 1704. Led by French raiders, the party included Wôbanakiak, Kanienkehaka (Mohawks), Pennacooks, Wendats (Hurons), and Iroquois of the Mountain. A small number of the attackers scaled the wall of the palisade and opened the gate for the others, nearly three hundred in all.
The sleeping village was rudely awakened to the sounds of screams, shouts and discharging firearms. The Hoyts, whose small house was probably located near the north end of the enclosure, had no time to prepare for the attack. Wendats and Wôbanakiak burst into the Hoyts' small shelter and those of their neighbors, John Stebbins and Simon Beaman, and captured nearly all the members of those three families. (1) Throughout the village, all manner of reactions took place. Some fled, or attempted to flee, and were killed; some submitted to capture and became prisoners; others escaped capture and death by hiding.
David, Sr., and his wife Abigail, were taken captive. Their daughter Sarah, age 17; Jonathan, age 15; Ebenezer, age eight; and Abigail, age two-and-one-half were also seized and prepared to march to Canada as prisoners. According to family tradition, 12-year-old Benjamin escaped captivity by hiding in a bin of grain. Jonathan's older brother, David, Jr., age 28, his wife Mary and their daughter Mary were staying in the nearby house of Benoni Stebbins, where the occupants successfully repelled repeated assaults by the raiders. David, Jr., was one of the brave men who fell later that morning, in the meadows fight, futilely chasing the enemy who fled with their 111 captives.
|Jonathan Hoyt - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative ||
February 29 - March 1, 1704
Fifteen-year-old Jonathan Hoyt was in a daze as he and his family—after being driven and dragged across the meadows and the river—reached a height of land where the army stopped to regroup. Everything had happened so quickly. He and his family had been asleep when a gang of Indians and Macquas burst into their shelter. No one had been killed outright, thank the Lord, but his father had been bound and they were all roughly handled by the Indians. They were held in the meetinghouse until the raiders had had their fill of looting and burning the village. Jonathan was proud of his older brother, David, who was staying with the Stebbins family. People in the Stebbins house had held out against the cursed French and Indians, and were still shooting as his family was marched out the north gate. More power to them, Jonathan thought. He didn't know what had happened to his younger brother, Benjamin. He hoped he got away, somehow. He tried to picture Benjamin running to Hatfield to raise the alarm, and it made him feel better.
The family seemed to be in the charge of different Indians. The ones that had his father spoke some English. His father said they were Eastern Indians. He could not tell who was in charge of his mother and two-year-old sister Abigail, whom his mother was struggling to carry. Jonathan and his brother and older sister were with Macquas, and they did not speak English. They gestured toward a sack full of Indian shoes, motioning that they should put them on. The Macqua chief had been badly wounded by fire from the Stebbins house, and some of the men seemed angry. Jonathan hoped he could just stay with the rest of his family, whatever became of them all.
March 1-8, 1704
Jonathan Hoyt felt like crying, but he didn't dare let his master see him. He bit his lip as he helped little Abigail Nims onto a sled, thinking of his own sister Abigail, who had been murdered by these savages a few days before. Two-year-old Abigail Hoyt could not walk on her own in the icy slush that covered the Connecticut River, and his mother had been lagging behind trying to carry her. An Indian carried Abigail for a while, but she would not stop crying, so he threw her down on the ice and killed her.
The following day, Jonathan's eight-year-old brother Ebenezer had been killed when his feet got badly frostbitten and he could no longer walk. Now they were at a crossroads, a place where another great river joined the Connecticut. The army was splitting up. His mother had managed to say goodbye to him before she was taken west with some Wôbanakiak. How would she survive, he wondered, as he saw her party set off through the snow toward mountains whose tops were swathed in clouds.
And now Jonathan's father was leaving, too. Jonathan did not understand why the French army—and the Wendats who had him and his older sister Sarah—tarried at this spot, while the Wôbanakiak who had his father, Jacob Hix, and Stephen Williams pushed on up the Connecticut. The French had many wounded people, including the leader of the expedition, Lieutenant de Rouville, so perhaps that was why they rested here. Jonathan would have to console and protect his sister Sarah, who did not hide her tears as she lost sight of their mother.
Jonathan had learned that their captors were Wendats who lived near Quebec, which was the principal city of New France. He supposed they were going there. His new captor, Tsohahisen, was much nicer than the first. On the second day of the march, the Indians had held a number of council meetings, and some of the captives had been given to different masters. He guessed his original captor must have had too many captives, because he had been redistributed to Tsohahisn. Jonathan had been afraid that day, because the Indians were stripping the bark off trees and the people were saying that some of them would be burned or tortured. But nothing happened except that Jonathan got a new master, who seemed to try to be kind to him. (2)
February 1704 – October 1705
Fifteen-year-old Jonathan Hoyt and his sister Sarah, 17, were the only two members of their family left together. Two younger siblings had been killed earlier on the march. Their father had been taken up the Connecticut River with some Eastern Indians, and their mother went west into the mountains with her Indian captors. Jonathan and Sarah, as well as their friend, 17-year-old Ebenezer Nims, remained with a small group of Wendats (Huron) and the French army. Jonathan felt somewhat comforted by the presence of the French officers, glad that they were not alone with the Macquas.
Traveling up the slushy river remained difficult, and their progress was slow because so many of the French soldiers and officers were wounded. Food was scarce, too, and they stopped periodically while some of the men made hunting forays. They passed an Indian hunting camp where they saw young Stephen Williams with his Indian master, but they were allowed no more than a wave of the arm before journeying on. (3)
Eventually they came to a river that branched westward, and they began climbing into the mountains, following the river to its source. Their Wendat masters gave them snowshoes, which Jon found clumsy and difficult to use but which allowed them to walk on the deep snow. Sarah had to hitch up her skirts, which became soaked with snow, in order to manage. They reached the beginning of another river, the French (Winooski), which they followed until they reached the expanse of a great lake. Jonathan had never seen such a large body of water. Traveling across its ice was easier, a relief after the hard journey through the mountains.
When they finally arrived at the French fort, Chambly, Jonathan, Sarah, and Ebenezer were pleased to be received with kindness by the French people there. A woman came down to their camp and asked their masters if they could come to her home for a meal, and they were allowed to go. How good it was to eat bread, which they had not had since they left Deerfield! (4) The woman let Sarah sleep on a couch, and Jonathan and Ebenezer slept on some straw in the kitchen.
In the morning, the captives were disappointed to find that the Wendats were ready to keep traveling. The French army left them, traveling westward toward Montreal, while the Wendat band continued north along a wide river. At least the terrain was flat and open here. After a couple of days—Jonathan guessed that it must be April by now—they reached an even larger river that flowed northeast, free of ice. They found some stashed canoes, which the Wendats loaded with their burdens and captives. The warriors were clearly happy to have regained their canoes; they were strong, expert paddlers, and soon they were moving quickly past French farms and fields toward Quebec.
Jonathan was surprised when they left the river before reaching Quebec. He had been hoping to see a French city as big as Boston—though indeed he had never seen Boston. Instead, they traveled overland again, to the north. After a few miles, Jonathan heard a great sound in the distance, like the steady roar of a huge animal. The Wendat men heard it too, and shouted out. Jonathan's master, Tsohahisen, spoke and signaled to him in a way that suggested "home."
As the terrain began to rise, Jonathan saw the source of the sound—a great waterfall cascading through a rocky gorge. Above the mist rising from the falls he could see a high rooftop surmounted with a cross. The last part of the journey was a tough climb, but soon they saw the cluster of Native longhouses and few European-style buildings that was the village of Lorette.
Some children saw the group approaching, and soon a crowd of women and children surrounded the returning warriors and their captives, welcoming them. Tsohahisen led Jonathan to the door of a longhouse and motioned him in. Inside, it was dark and smoky, but as Jonathan's eyes adjusted to the gloom he made out an old, wizened woman reclining on a platform covered with beaver furs. This was Ahshutä', Tsohahisen's grandmother, who had the power to say whether Jonathan would be adopted into the family. Tsohahisen spoke with her at some length as she looked Jonathan up and down. Hungry and tired, Jonathan shifted his weight from one foot to the other, but somehow knew that he needed to remain standing respectfully before her until Tsohahisen finished speaking.
Jonathan learned later that the traditional Wendat alternative to adoption for a captive was death by torture. And he learned, in a story told and retold around the fires of Lorette, that Tsohahisen had saved him from that fate early on the march from Deerfield. Tsohahisen and his family held to tradition in many ways—indeed, his grandmother was an honored elder in the village, one of the few left alive who had grown up in their lost homeland of Wendake—but they also accepted Catholicism and regarded some traditional practices as inconsistent with their new faith. In council on the journey from Deerfield, Tsohahisen had defied some of the other young warriors, who wanted to burn Jonathan to avenge the death of their Great Chief in the battle. With much admiration for Tsohahisen's bravery in the Deerfield battle and his eloquence in council, people told how Tsohahisen had boldly stood and argued for Jonathan's life: "I also . . . am related to that Chief whose fall in battle we mourn, and whose death you would avenge by an unworthy cruelty. To me also is the captive due; I claim him as my own, and I contend that such is my right. If any one lay hands on him against my will, let him look to me for chastisement." (5)
Life Among the Wendats
Tsohahisen's grandmother accepted Jonathan into the longhouse, and he began his life as an adopted Wendat. He sensed that he had a certain status in the village as the captive whose life was saved by Tsohahisen. Jonathan could not help feeling a bond with Tsohahisen, and admiring him, though he was uncomfortable about it—after all, the battle-scars Tsohahisen proudly displayed came from fighting Jonathan's former neighbors. Tsohahisen carried himself with great authority, yet was soft-spoken and kind. He took Jonathan with him as he fished in the river, showing Jonathan how they built weirs with saplings at the mouth of smaller streams and speared the fish trapped behind it. The two of them went with other young men into the forest to find the biggest old trees, whose bark they stripped to make new canoes. Tsohahisen also taught Jonathan to speak the Wendat language. (6)
Jonathan enjoyed going into the woods with Tsohahisen and learning how the Wendats hunted and made things—like the snowshoes that had carried them through the winter forests—far more than he enjoyed attending the services at Our Lady of Lorette, the mission church. Tsohahisen went frequently and brought Jonathan along. Jonathan liked to hear the women and girls singing hymns in their beautiful, clear harmony, but the idolatry of the popish religion seemed as strange and primitive to him as the Wendat rituals.
Sometimes Tsohahisen told Jonathan to go and help the women in the fields, hoeing the corn, beans, and squash. Jonathan did not mind the work itself, since he was used to doing it at home, but he felt vaguely ashamed, because Wendat men did not usually work in the fields. His sister Sarah had a harder life in Lorette than he did. Although in Deerfield she had worked with their stepmother to run the house, she had not spent long hours in the hot sun planting, hoeing and weeding, as was expected of her here.
Late in the summer, as the crops began to yield, Tsohahisen brought Jonathan to Quebec with him every few weeks. They sold whatever vegetables were abundant at the time, as well as the medicinal ferns that the women had gathered. Tsohahisen sometimes left Jonathan with the vegetables while he sought out merchants with whom to barter the furs he also brought to the French city.
Jonathan looked like a Wendat now, dressed in the same mixture of European cloth garments and skin leggings and moccasins as the other young men from Lorette. His hair was long and he tied it back with a leather cord. He spoke more Wendat than he did French. When he didn't stop and think about it, he felt like Tsohahisen's nephew, as Tsohahisen considered him.
One day in September, Jonathan sat in the sun on a corner in Quebec, next to some squash laid out on a blanket. Tsohahisen was off somewhere doing business. Suddenly, Jonathan was startled to see a finely dressed Englishman about his age staring at him. The young man said "Are you an Indian or are you an English boy?" Hearing English spoken to him made Jonathan feel like he was waking from a dream; he thought, why yes, I am English, and he told the young man so. The man was William Dudley, son of the governor of Massachusetts, in Quebec to negotiate for the release of captives (as well as to gather intelligence about the river approaches to Quebec and to study the city's defenses). He asked Jonathan: "Do you not wish to go home and see your friends?" "Yes, I do," Jonathan replied, thinking about his father and mother and wondering if they had made their way home.
Dudley and his partner, Captain Samuel Vetch, had sailed to Quebec in a ship that was anchored in the St. Lawrence River off Quebec, ready to receive redeemed captives. Dudley knew that the way to get Jonathan away from his adopted family was to act quickly and put him out of his master's reach. "Where is your master?" he asked. "Can you bring him to me?" Jonathan set off to look for Tsohahisen, soon found him, and brought him to meet William Dudley. "I will give you this for the boy," said Dudley, holding out to Tsohahisen 20 silver dollars. (7) Jonathan was surprised that Tsohahisen took the money, but Dudley gave him no time to linger or say goodbye, and the two of them hastened to the ship.
Jonathan was never sure whether Tsohahisen had understood the transaction. Not long after Jonathan was on board Vetch's ship, Tsohahisen came looking for him. He demanded an audience with William Dudley, and told him that he wanted to take Jonathan back to his family in Lorette, and was willing to return the 20 dollars if that was what Dudley required. He was refused; according to the account written by Jonathan's grandson, "the Indian went away lamenting that he had parted with his favorite captive boy, for a few dumb dollars, that would neither hunt nor fish." (8) Jonathan and 10 other captives sailed for Massachusetts on October 12, 1705.
Jonathan Hoyt arrived in Boston on November 21st, 1705, along with 10 other captives, including Stephen Williams, one of the captive sons of Deerfield's minister. From there he returned to Deerfield, where only his sister Mary remained.
Other members of the Hoyt family met different fates. Jonathan's father, David, Sr., was taken directly to Cowass (today's Newbury, Vermont) by the Pennacooks, where he died of starvation. David's wife Abigail, age 44, arrived in Boston by ship with other captives in 1706 and then returned Deerfield. Ebenezer, age eight, and Abigail, age two, died on the march to Canada. Mary, age 19, was away visiting in Hatfield that night and returned to Deerfield to find her entire family gone. Jonathan's sister, Sarah, age 17, also captured by the Wendats, remained at Lorette until 1714. She married a fellow captive, Ebenezer Nims, to avoid pressure by her Wendat "relations" to marry a Frenchman. Sarah and Ebenezer, with their infant son, Ebenezer, were redeemed from the reluctant Wendats and returned to Deerfield, where they settled in the hamlet of Wapping, two miles south of the Deerfield stockade. Jonathan's oldest brother, David, Jr., was one of nine men killed in the meadows fight.
As the only son of David Hoyt to return from Canada, Jonathan inherited the largest portion of his father's estate. David Hoyt had left no will when he was killed at age 53 and, following the law of the day, his widow received her "thirds" when she returned from captivity in 1706. Abigail, David's widow and Jonathan's stepmother, soon married for the third time and moved to Wallingford, Connecticut, with her new husband, Nathaniel Rice, leaving the full occupancy of the house to Jonathan.
Jonathan married Mary Field, daughter of Samuel, on June 26, 1712, and they raised five children. They lived in the house built by Jonathan's father, which had survived the 1704 attack intact. In 1732, Jonathan purchased the lot just south, number 4, and joined it to his homelot.
Jonathan Hoyt's first 17 years had culminated in captivity and redemption. His next 74 years were spent devoted to military and public service. Commissioned a lieutenant, he was a skilled woodsman and scout and often guided scouting parties beyond the formerly safe 20- to 30-mile zone north of Deerfield as far as Cowass, Vermont and even to Lake Champlain, looking for signs of enemy activity.
Between the ages of 39, in 1727, and 63, in 1751, Hoyt served as selectman for Deerfield six times. He was town moderator in August of 1735, when his homelot was the site of a peace conference between Massachusetts governor Jonathan Belcher and representatives of several Native nations. The conference was the largest gathering of Natives and colonists since the attack of 1704, with 170 Indians, most of the governor's council, and members of the legislature's lower house, plus local dignitaries.
Eleven years later, in August 1746, Hoyt was lieutenant in command of the town at the fight at The Bars, a small farming settlement two miles south of the village, where a raiding party of Natives surprised and killed three men and two children working in the fields, captured one child, and severely injured another. Hoyt and his men followed the trail of the marauders up the Deerfield River with no success. This was the last attack on Deerfield residents by Natives.
For many years after his release from captivity in 1705, Jonathan Hoyt's Wendat captor Tsohahisen visited him in Deerfield. Jonathan's family remembers that the two men had a fond relationship: "his old Indian master came from Canada to make him a friendly visit, he was well received, and treated kindly. When he left, they took an affectionate leave of each other expecting to meet here no more." (9) According to Emma Lewis Coleman, Tsohahisen came so often, sometimes accompanied by his sister, that it became a financial burden and Jonathan ultimately petitioned the General Court for reimbursement. (10) Jonathan Hoyt died on May 23, 1779, at the age of 91.
About This Narrative
Jonathan Hoyt was a real person, born in Deerfield in the 17th century, who, with the exception of 18 months spent in captivity in Canada, lived his long life of 91 years in that Connecticut Valley town. Public and genealogical records have supplied information about Hoyt. The description of Jonathan's thoughts and feelings during the march to Canada and his captivity are imagined. This narrative was written by Susan McGowan Titus and 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.