Record Numbers

The Deerfield raid is largely remembered because the French and Native force took a record number of captives—112. Since taking captives was most important to the Native fighters— especially the Iroquoian Kanienkehaka and Wendat—the French traditionally let their Native allies seize all the captives, as a reward for their military cooperation. At Deerfield, however, the French did take into custody three renegade French traders, as well as the members of the English family into which one of them had married.

Uses of Captives

Captivity was a crucial element in mourning rituals among Iroquoian peoples, but it took on a new economic meaning in the colonial era as European governments and families offered money to redeem their loved ones. How difficult it was to "redeem" a captive often depended on whether he or she was intended to be adopted or ransomed. Captives taken specifically to console grieving Native families were intended to be permanently adopted into Iroquoian families, while others were held solely for ransom money.

Fevered Negotiations

English officials in Boston began concerted efforts to secure the return of the Deerfield captives in late 1704 and continued in earnest for three years. The politically-charged negotiations took time as both sides delayed the process. The French governor, Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, explained to skeptical English negotiators that he could not force Native communities to release their captives; the Natives were French allies, not subjects. By the time the War of the Spanish Succession ended in 1713, English negotiators traveling to New France had redeemed 55 captives (two more would return to New England years later on their own.) Of the 86 to 89 Deerfield captives who survived the march to Canada, 62 eventually returned to New England, while 26 remained permanently in Kanienkehaka or French communities. The fate of three captives remains unknown.



Of the 112 Deerfield captives, 86 to 89 survived the almost 300-mile trek through the snow to Native and French communities in Canada. Native captors had a stake in keeping their captives alive, hoping either to adopt them into their communities or ransom them.

Demands for Conversion

Once in Canada, most captives faced pressure to abandon their Protestant beliefs for Catholic ones. In Montreal, a devout circle of prominent French men and women in Montreal worked to transform the Protestant English into good Catholics. In the period from 1704 until the end of the war in 1713, at least two dozen captives, including two children of the Reverend John Williams, had been baptized into the Catholic Church.

Status & Fate

Economic calculations, cultural pride, and family ties all played a role in determining the fate of individuals. Depending on the community—even the family—in which captives found themselves, they could be used as servants or adopted as family members, bartered for money and ransomed, or retained as hostages. Status and connections also influenced a captive's fate. The Reverend John Williams—the first New England minister to be captured by a French and Indian raiding party, and connected by marriage to the prominent Mather family—experienced a far different reception in Canada than nine-year-old Mary Harris, who had no relatives to help her.

Returning Home

Sixty-two of the surviving captives returned to New England when given an opportunity. About half resettled in Deerfield and helped rebuild the shattered community. Struggling with painful memories and continuing risks, some of the former captives chose not to return to Deerfield. Some moved to places of greater safety in Connecticut; surprisingly, a few moved north to establish new frontier towns, such as Northfield, during the 1710s and 1720s. Over the next few decades, some Deerfield residents were visited by their former Native captors who now considered them relatives.


A Cultural Practice

The Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) and the Wendats (Huron) had a long-established tradition of launching mourning-wars to capture prisoners to replace family members who had died. If the established rites that channeled the grief of mourners failed to assuage the sense of loss resulting from the death of a relative, the clan matron of the mourning household could demand a raid to obtain captives who, if worthy, could ease the mourners' pain by either replacing the deceased through adoption, or by suffering ritual execution. Such expeditions were directed at enemies who may or may not have been responsible for the death that inspired the mourning-war. Kinship obligations to obtain captives for adoption were among the considerations that brought the Kanienkehaka and Wendats to Deerfield.

Kahnawake Autonomy

The Kanienkehaka at Kahnawake successfully incorporated seven Deerfield captives —Mercy Carter, Mary Field, Abigail French, Mary Harris, Joanna Kellogg, Rebecca Kellogg and Eunice Williams—into their families and community. During negotiations to return Eunice Williams, her Kanienkehaka family reported that they "would as soon part with their hearts" than their daughter. Their long tradition of adopting captives through mourning wars, and the large population of the community with its relative political autonomy, aided in the incorporation of captives and limited the influence of French priests and officials to redeem them. In later years, several of these former women captives and their Kanienkehaka families would visit relatives in New England. Their descendants can be found living today in Native communities in Canada.

Sulpician Interference

Interference by Sulpician priests made it harder for the Iroquois of the Mountain at La Montagne and Sault-au-Récollet to retain their English captives. These priests were intent on turning the English into French Catholics, not Kanienkehaka Catholics. In pursuit of this goal, they convinced the Iroquois to marry two of the Deerfield captives—Josiah Rising and Abigail Nims—to each other. The marriage was part of a larger effort to wean the two former captives from Iroquois society and acculturate their children in French religion and culture. Only one Deerfield captive, eight-year-old Hannah Hurst, was fully integrated and became an Iroquois of the Mountain.


Limited Success

Like the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk), the Wendats (Huron), had a long-established tradition of launching mourning-wars to capture prisoners to replace family members who had died. Only three captives are known to have been taken to Lorette, and in accordance with the mourning war tradition, each captive was adopted into a specific Wendat family. One captive, fifteen-year-old Jonathan Hoyt, learned the Wendat language in the few years he lived there, and could speak it the rest of his life.

The village's small size, its proximity to Quebec, and the intrusion of French officials, made retaining English captives difficult. Despite a Wendat desire to keep their adopted captives, none of the prisoners taken at Deerfield permanently joined the Wendat community at Lorette. However, departure from Lorette did not necessarily sever ties between captives and their adopted families. Jonathan Hoyt's adopted kinsman was a frequent visitor to Deerfield in the decades following Jonathan's redemption.


Higher Priorities

For the Wôbanakiak who joined the raid on Deerfield, taking captives for adoption—even for ransom—had been a secondary consideration in the on-going struggle against English invaders of their homelands. As a large contingent in the raiding party, the Wôbanakiak took many captives, but their prisoners passed fairly quickly into the hands of the French. The Wôbanakiak sometimes adopted captives, but did not systematically wage mourning wars to gain captives. Both child and adult captives were, however, tested for their potential as adoptees. Captives were trained in hunting, warfare, maple sugaring, and other skills, and expected to assist Native families in exchange for their own upkeep.


Deerfield captives taken by the Wôbanakiak in 1704 included a few children and some adult males who would bring a higher ransom and more political leverage. Some Wôbanaki people at Odanak retained their captives in the face of great pressure from the French, in an attempt to secure the release of Wôbanaki children from English custody in Boston. Although three captives remain yet unaccounted for, it appears that none of the 1704 Deerfield captives remained permanently with the Wôbanakiak.


Conversion Strategy

The French used conversion to Catholicism as a primary means of persuading English captives to permanently settle in New France. For the French, conversion relied on relentless education about the lies of Protestantism and the blessings of Catholicism. The older captives were well enough versed in Protestantism that they could argue with the Catholic clergy. These interchanges provided the French an opportunity to initiate the conversion process.


Officials and affluent Frenchmen's efforts to ransom captives from Native families went beyond care about their well-being or religious concerns. While government policy was to ransom as many prisoners from Native communities as possible, the government did not have the resources to care for ransomed captives awaiting prisoner exchange. The government therefore encouraged individual Frenchmen or religious orders to redeem captives and care for them. In exchange, the English captives worked in the Frenchmen's homes for their room and board, and the Frenchmen were reimbursed for ransom expenses once the prisoners were sent back to New England. Most captives ransomed by the French served only a few years before being sent back to the English.

Naturalized French Subjects

French communities proved more successful than the various Native villages at assimilating Deerfield captives; English captives apparently had an easier time crossing from one European culture to another. A total of 16 Deerfield residents, 10 females and 6 males, remained in New France after the War's end. Most married into the lower orders of French society and lived out their lives in Montreal or nearby communities such as Boucherville, Chambly, and La Prairie, as farmers or the wives of farmers and craftsmen. The captives who remained in New France integrated into rural communities not unlike those they had been born into. They assimilated, but we know that in times of peace they wrote and visited with relatives in New England, and in Canada, some former New Englanders maintained a social network.

Captions for rollovers in the interactive scene illustrations.

Wattanummon's primary goal was to retaliate against the English; he was indifferent to collecting a ransom so he gave his captive to a kinsman at St. Francis.

To reward their commitment to Catholicism, Sulpician priests granted former Kanienkehaka captives, Abigail Nims and Josiah Rising, land to build this house.

Many Wôbanakiak and Kanienkehaka passed through Ft. Chambly before taking their captives to their home communities.

Stephen Williams repeatedly offended his captors because he could not suppress his eagerness to be ransomed from the Wôbanakiak.

Since Atiwans planned to ransom his prisoner, he handed Reverend Williams over to the French only eight weeks after capturing him at Deerfield.

Obligations of traditional Wendat kinship defined Tsohahisen's relationship with Jonathan Hoyt throughout his captivity in Lorette and throughout his life.

John Sheldon probably wore these snowshoes on his three trips to Canada to redeem captives.

Baptism signified a captive's conversion to Catholicism and was the first step in persuading New Englanders to remain in New France.

Eunice (Kanenstenhawi) Williams's Kanienkehaka husband, Arosen, gave these gifts to his brother-in-law, Stephen Williams, on their visits to New England.

Through prescribed ceremony, Thaonwentsawakon presented little Eunice to his kinswoman, who would become Eunice's Kanienkehaka mother.

Using Catholic ritual alongside traditional ceremonies designed to assimilate captives, Eunice Williams became a daughter in her adopted Kanienkehaka family.

Seven Deerfield girls were adopted into Kahnawake families, where the people aimed to make their captives Kanienkehaka first, and Catholic second.

Despite his relatively swift ransom, Jonathan Hoyt maintained a relationship with his Wendat captor even after returning to Deerfield.

Reverend John Williams spent much of his captivity among the French waiting for English and French officials to negotiate a general prisoner exchange.

Stephen Williams wrote this account of his captivity among the Wôbanakiak and the French shortly after returning to New England in the spring of 1706.

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