Parting Ways


Parting: After walking 14 miles up the Connecticut River on the eighth day of the journey, the party reached Wassebastecook, the White River. Here they split up to follow separate routes to their final destinations—the Pennacook, Wendats (Huron), and French traveled north along the Connecticut, while the Wôbanakiak from the west and the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) traveled northwest along the White River. Captive families were separated, each captive going with his or her master.

Hard traveling: To get here, the raiders and captives had walked about 140 miles through wet, heavy snow. In the first three days of their journey, they covered only about 20 miles, across wooded hills to a camp on the Connecticut River in Sokwakiak territory, where sleds and other supplies were cached. From there, they walked north on the frozen Connecticut for four days, up to their ankles in slush and ice, at a pace of about 20 miles a day. Food was running low, but it was parceled out to be shared by captives and captors alike. Less fit and less used to winter travel than their captors, the captives also lacked snowshoes and suffered from cut, swollen feet. A number of weakened captives were killed along the way, as were young children if their captors could no longer carry them.

Survival: The raiding party felt confident that they were now beyond the reach of English pursuers, so they felt free to break into smaller groups and travel at a slower pace. Smaller groups were necessary for hunting, which was now urgently needed to prevent starvation. It would take at least two more weeks to reach their destinations.

What would be the fate of the captives?


Northwest journey: At the junction of the two rivers, the Western Wôbanakiak parted from their Pennacook kinsmen, and traveled northwest with the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk). Most of the English captives went with them, following trails that took the easiest paths up Wassebastecook and through the rough terrain of the Green Mountains. Unused to deprivation, the captives were dependent on their captors' hunting abilities to keep starvation at bay as they traveled in smaller groups. Once over the mountains, they traveled up the frozen face of Pitawbakw, or Lake Champlain. Some went directly north to the village of St. Francis; others stopped at the Wôbanaki village of Missisquoi, where they spent some time hunting.

Captive fates: The Pennacook and their few captives kept traveling on the Connecticut, north toward the meadows at Cowass, sharing in what little food was available. Wattanummon kept young Stephen Williams close by him, evaluating him as a candidate for adoption as he looked to meet up with his own kin. Stephen showed promise when he helped Wattanummon with hunting and other chores. By contrast, two adult male captives, David Hoyt and Jacob Hickson from Deerfield, did not fare as well. They were not tested as potential adoptees, were forced to do hard work, and eventually starved to death.

Diplomacy: At the close of a hard winter, a delegation of Pennacook traveled to Montreal to thank Governor Vaudreuil for mounting the raid against Deerfield. Both sides were satisfied that the raid was successful. The Pennacook were particularly pleased at how the new Native alliance had helped them to strike back at English incursions into Wôbanaki territory.


Families separated: "There the river parted and I went up one branch, my father . . . the other. I never saw my father for 14 months after." (1) For Stephen Williams and the other captives, this crossroads brought a new loss. Separated, they would no longer know their loved ones' fate. That fate was linked more than ever to their status as captives and their captors' ability to hunt. As a valuable candidate for ransom, John Williams was well fed and outfitted with snowshoes made from one of the five moose his masters killed.

Survival fates: Eighty-nine of the 112 captives reached New France. Although women and children were the most favored candidates for adoption, many perished on this march because they had difficulty keeping up. Ten out of 23 adult women—some elderly, others weakened by pregnancy or recent childbirth, some injured or otherwise unable to continue—died at their captors' hands. Eight children were also killed, half of whom were two years old or younger and thus unable to travel independently. Teenagers, adult men, and older children had a better chance of survival.

"Revival in our bondage": The captives interpreted their trials as God's punishment for their sins, and accepted God's will. When the raiders allowed a Sunday rest on the sixth day of the march, John Williams preached on a passage from Lamentations 1:18. "The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled against his commandment. . . . My virgins and my young men have gone into captivity." The captives identified with the Israelites' Babylonian captivity; Williams said their captors asked them to "Sing us one of Zion's songs." They sang a psalm, and the Natives mocked and loudly out-sang them.


Home to New France: At the junction of the Connecticut and White rivers, De Rouville's French soldiers and canadien militiamen parted from their Native allies. They felt they were beyond the reach of English pursuit at this point, and provisions to support such a large group were exhausted. The Natives could reach home with their captives by traveling in small hunting bands, which was a traditional way of winter survival. The French followed the route up the Connecticut taken by the Pennacook, then turned northwest along the Wells River to reach Lake Champlain and ultimately Montreal. With 10 captives and their wounded to care for, the French traveled slowly. They would deliver their prisoners to authorities in Montreal, where the captives would likely be questioned for information about the English.

French and captives: As the groups dispersed, the "march" was no longer a military expedition led by Lieutenant de Rouville. Up to this point, De Rouville had communicated with the captives through John Williams, considered the leader of the English. After captive Joseph Alexander escaped during the first night of the march, De Rouville told Williams "to tell the English, that if any more made their escape, they would burn the rest of the prisoners." (2) De Rouville knew that captives had become part of a new French-Native trade relationship. The exchange of captives for ransom compensated, in part, for the decline of the beaver fur trade. The French hoped that this trade would prevent Native peoples from developing alternative trade alliances with the English.


New struggles: The Kanienkehaka (Mohawk), carrying their young captives, parted from their French and Native allies—the Pennacook and the Wendats (Huron)—and headed northwest along the White River with the Western Wôbanakiak. As they traveled into the Green Mountains, they broke into small parties so they could hunt separate territories. The terrain was rougher here, and hunger weakened both captives and captors. Children were now at greater risk because there were fewer men to share the burden of carrying them. The Kanienkehaka man carrying six-year-old Elizabeth Hawks on his shoulders struggled with her and his heavy pack in the deep snow. Finally he gave up—and killed her.

Council: Early in the march, leaders of all of the Native groups met in council to resolve a potential conflict. In the chaos of the attack, some fighters seized several captives while others claimed none. Since sharing and reciprocity were important values in Native societies, and since captives were evidence of a warrior's success, this unequal distribution of captives caused grumbling. The leaders redistributed the captives and restored harmony.

Ransom: As they reached home territory, Kanienkehaka from Kahnawake went straight to their village, but the group from Sault-au-Récollet had to pass through Montreal on their way. As they did, they sold some captives—including John Williams's son Samuel—to French colonists. Montreal was the center of French-Native trade, both in furs and the exchange of captives for ransom.


Northward: When the expedition parted ways at the junction of the Connecticut and White Rivers, the small band of Wendats (Huron) set off up the Connecticut River with their few captives. Their home village of Lorette was almost due north, just northwest of Quebec. They traveled with De Rouville's men until they reached Chambly, when the Wendats continued along the Saint Lawrence to Lorette.

Conflicting values: The Wendats had lost their esteemed leader, who was wounded in the attack on the Stebbins house and died early in the march. Mourning-war tradition demanded retribution for his loss—in the form of ritual torture and death by burning of a captive. During a council meeting to redistribute captives on the third day of the march, a dispute arose among the Wendats concerning how they would avenge their chief's death. The French considered the Wendats the most devout of the Native Christians. Like other Native groups, though, they integrated their new religion with traditional spirituality and values. In fact, the French admired them as much for their fierceness in battle as for their piety—but Christian missionaries had tried to convince them to stop the ritual torture of captives. Tsohahisen, a young relative of the chief, was both exceptionally devout and a notably fierce warrior; he settled the dispute by appealing to both traditional and Christian values.

Captions for rollovers in the interactive scene illustrations.

The group is able to move more swiftly once they retrieve the sleds and other provisions stashed at a camp en route.

For millennia, Natives and Europeans have relied on dogs for labor; in this instance, dogs pull heavily laden sleds up the frozen river.

Captors and captives struggle to carry their heavy packs full of plunder, food, ammunition and vital camp supplies.

Each night the captors and captives work together to raise temporary lodges.

Atiwans is impatient to begin the long trek to the upper reaches of his homeland.

With a great distance still to travel, Thaonwentsawakon knows the life of his new little kinswoman depends upon him.

Tsohahisen has distinguished himself among his people with his valor on the expedition and his determination to be heard in the Wendat council.

With food supplies dangerously low, Wattanummon knows he and his captive boy must move quickly to rejoin his family at their winter hunting camp.

Her identity is less firmly fixed than that of older captives, making three-year-old Abigail Nims especially open to adapting to a new life.

Anxious and heavyhearted, ten-year-old Stephen wonders when and if he will ever see his father or brothers and sisters again.

Injured and fearful that he will not survive, John Williams urges Stephen to tell French authorities in Canada that he is the son of the Deerfield minister.

Eunice continues to experience tender treatment that has kept her alive and healthy thus far.

De Rouville wishes a safe journey and good hunting to a Kanienkehaka warrior as expedition members begin splitting up to depart for their various homes.

Jonathan Hoyt remains unaware that his life hung in the balance during a tense discussion among his Wendat captors concerning mourning war traditions and obligations.

War clubs are an efficient and merciful weapon for dispatching captives who can not maintain the grueling pace.

Although concerns of pursuit are fading, the raiding party keeps their muskets loaded and at the ready.

Ruth's heavy wool cape restricts her movements and blows open in the bitter March winds.

It is a matter of procedure to keep captives separated from their loved ones; Ruth Catlin comforts eight-year-old John Carter in the absence of his family.

A captured French renegade fur trader who recently married a Deerfield woman, Jacques De Noyon passes directly into French, not Native, hands.

Ruth Catlin's open defiance amazes her fellow captives and impresses her captors.

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