History From America's Most Famous Valleys
STORIES OF THE REVOLUTION
With an account of the lost child of the Delaware: Wheaton and the Panther, &c.
Thanks to Willis Barshied Jr. for the donation.
Printed by Hoffman and White,
No. 71 State Street 1836.
THE CAPTIVE BOYS OF RENSSELAERVILLE-JOHN AND
The parents of these children had migrated from their native country, Scotland, in the year 1774, and settled in an entire new place, twenty-two miles west of the city of Albany.
At this place a few families had chosen a residence, which was then called Van Rensselaer's Patent, but now Rensselaerville. Here a few log houses were erected by the new comers-the pioneers of a population which has since magnified in wealth and numbers, beyond the most sanguine expectations of these isolated back-woodsmen.
The war of the Revolution had raged with various success, for about four years, when reports of the depredations of marauding parties, composed of Tories and Indians, in and about the precincts of Old Schoharie, reached the hitherto unmolested society of Rensselaer-Patent, which threw the defenceless inhabitants into rear and perplexities,as yet to them unknown.
At a distance of some eight or nine miles from the home of the boys, at a place called the Beaver dam, was a Grist Mill, where the inhabitants resorted to get their grinding done. The Beaver dam was even then, comparatively, an old settled place ; but had escaped the vigilance of the ruthless Indians, and Tories, till the affair of which we are about to give an account took place, after which they built a Fort and stood on their defence.
Between the little neighborhood of the boys parents, and the first house, on the way to the Beaver dam, was a deep woods of about six miles distance. This first house was that of Johannas Deitz, where John Brice, the eldest of the two boys was at work, helping them thresh out their wheat. This family consisted of eight persons, the old man and his wife, his son and his son's wife, with their four children, which were very young. The parents of the boys, who are the subjects of the following story, at a certain time having got out bread, enquired of Robert, the younger of the two, who was then eleven years old, whether he could go to the Beaver dam for the, first time, to mill. To this he replied that he could, and the more easily, as at the same time three other lads, who were older, were going on the same errand, to the same place.
Accordingly, early in the morning, the horse and the grain were got ready, and the lad Robert set thereon; when a few hours trotting and chatting along brought the little group safely to the place of destination, where they procured the grinding of their grain. But the day, by that time was too far spent for them to reach their homes before dark, on which account they came to the resolution of staying at the miller's house until the next morning. The long woods which must be passed, was the chief reason of this arrangement. Little Robert was, however, an exception to to this plan, as he thought he could easily go toward home as far as to the place where his brother was at work.
The miller having placed his bag upon the horse, and seated him safely on it, he started off alone. While, as he slowly made his way along the newly made road, he thought of the war, of Indians, and of dreadful things undefined, such as children are capable of, especially when some way from home, and night coming on. Now and then the bounding of a rabbit across the road, or the sudden flutter of a partridge, made him start with fear for a moment, as the woods were darkening with the approach of night.
It was near the commencement of twilight, the last beams of the descending sun were flashing their golden glare among the peaks of the mountains, trembling for a brief moment on the placid face of a western sky, when he had nearly reached the gate, which hung across the road near the house where he intended to have slept that night ; a step or two more and he would have dismounted, in order to swing open this gate to reach the house ; but at that moment a tawny Indian, horribly painted, who had lain hid beside the road, among some old fog's, rose suddenly up and seized the bridle of the horse, without saying a word, or seeming to notice the boy at all. The gate he flung open, leading the horse directly toward the house. But in passing the barn door, what was the boy's terror, in addition to what the Indian had already inspired him with, when he beheld old Mr. Deitz lying there, weltering in his blood. This was not all; between the barn and house, which stood in a line with each other, he saw, in a similar situation, the wives of old Mr. Deitz, and son, with four small children of the latter, and a servant girl, (eight persons,) all soaking in their newly shed blood; which had as yet scarcely cooled in the evening air. He now perceived the house to be full of Indians, hideously painted; busily, and silently employed in carrying out its contents-provisions, clothing, &c. In casting his eye around, he beheld at a little distance from the house, his brother John and Captain Deitz, the son of the old man tied to a tree prisoners of war.
The Indians had now nine horses in their possession, four had been obtained from the Deitz family, four from his son-in-law, although a tory and one from the boy. On these they laid their plunder. The work of death and robbery being now accomplished, they hurried away with horses, baggage, prisoners and all, directing their course toward the place where the parents of the two captive brothers lived.
They had gone but a little way from the scene of butchery, when hearing a crackling noise behind them, the lads looked back, and saw the house, barn, and out-houses, all in flames. Four or five miles were now purued by the Indians, directly along the way, that led through the six mile woods, and nearly to the spot where the parents of the boys lived, when they suddenly turned out of the road into the woods, where after a short time on account of its being too dark, they encamped for the night.
Here, the first night of their captivity, they slept within a mile of their parents, in the arms of Savages, while those parents, unconscious, in their slumber, that their sons were on their dismal road of captivity, knew it not.
As soon as the grey light announced the morning, the Indians, nimble as the wolf, sprang up from their lair, eat a hearty breakfast of the food they had plundered, and then resumed their flight. Their progress was slow through the woods, occasioned by the bulkiness of their baggage, while they directed their way toward the head waters of the Catskill Creek, sleeping that night somewhere in the neighborhood of what is now called Potter's hollow, a few miles southwest of Oakhill, in Green County.
From this place they again set off in the morning toward the Schoharie river, and having nearly terminated the second days journey, in ascending to the height of land, aiming to reach, the river above Middleburgh, when all at once the Indians appeared to be greatly alarmed. At this particular juncture they had just entered an old field where was a deserted log house, at which it is probable they had intended to have slept that night. But instead of doing so, as the boys had hoped they would, they suddenly put their horses on a gallup, and seemed desirous of reaching the side of the field on their left hand, the margin of which lay along the base f a steep and heavily timbered mountain.
News, it appeared, had reached the garrison at Schoharie of the outrage committed not far from the Beaver dam, and knowing the course the Indians always took, in leaving the country, a scouting party in pursuit, had intercepted then) at this place. They had scarcely commenced their hurry to reach that side of the field, when the report of musketry in the woods below them, was heard to speak in vengeful peals, echoing among the caves, and along the broken ranges of the hills of Schoharie, in the brief rattle of successive vollies.
The cause of their alarm was now explained to the boys, for the keen eye of the Indians had discovered them before a shot was fired, when on looking that way they saw the woods alive with men, but too far off, as yet, to do much execution.
At the verge of this field, being obstructed in their course both by a fence and the steepness of the mountain, they were compelled to abandon their horses, plunder and all, the three prisoners and eight scalps excepted, and flee into the woods on the side of the ridge, where was offered the only hope of escape from the fury of their pursuers; yet even this could not have availed then any thing, had it not been so near dark, which now closed in and hid them as a gang of wolves in the fastnesses of the mountain.
If they had not been disturbed in their course, their intention was to have availed themselves of the warriors path on the Schoharie river, leading to the place called Brake a bin, from thence to Harpersfield, and soon to the Susquehannah, the Chemung, Genesee and Niagara.
As soon as it was day, having slept that night without fire, they set forward again, much cast down in their mind, pursuing the range of the mountain till some where near Gilboa, they crossed the creek, and so passed on through the woods to Harpersfield ; from thence to the Charlotte river, coming to the Susquehannah at McDaniels Mills, since so called, and thence onward down that river to the Ochquago.
Having now lost all their provisions, they were immediately exposed to the horrors of hunger, and no way to relieve themselves, as they did not dare to shoot any game, lest their tell-tale guns should report them to their pursuers. Three days and nights they were compelled to subsist on nothing except what the bushes might afford, wintergreens, birch bark, and now and then a few wild berries.
Captain Deitz was a peculiar sufferer, more so than the lads, as suspended from a stick were the aged scalps of his father and mother, his wife and the four bloody memorials of his babes, adorned with the half grown hair of their infant heads. These were constantly in his view, and often slapt in his face by the poor untutored warrior. What from the pain of a broken heart, and the concomitant sorrows of captivity, Captain Dietz died at Montreal, among his enemies, sinking to the grave as a fair pine, whose towering foliage had beat the bosom of the unconscious-earth, when the levelling axe, which had lain at its root, had done its office.
But on the third day when not far from the mouth of the Unadilla river, which empties into the Susquehannah a little below Sidney bridge, they shot a deer, when they built a fire, sliced in pieces, cooked and devoured the animal. At the mouth of this river the Indians considered themselves out of the region of danger, consequently travelled more at their leisure, stopping frequently several days at a time, to hunt; killing deer, partridges and wild turkies, so that they suffered no more for provisions during their journey to Canada, by the way of the Chemung and the Genesee.
At such times as when they went out to hunt a day, intending to return by night, the Indians always bound Captain Deitz and Robert's brother to a tree laying them fiat on their backs with their legs a little elevated to a limb; in this uneasy posture they were compelled to suffer till their return.
On a certain day, early in the morning, the Indians were observed in close counsel, the meaning of which was soon made known to the prisoners; a separation was about to take place. This measure was occasioned by the lameness of the Indian who was the owner of Robert Brice, having received a shot when pursued in the field, through the fleshy part of his leg, slightly grazing the bone, which continued to cripple him more and more till he could not travel as fast as his companions.
The poor boy was now separated from his brother and Captain Deitz, the only persons with whom he could converse about his father and mother, or who could in the least sympathize with, and pity his sufferings, was left behind with his lame master and two other Indians. It was a long time before they reached the Genesee or Indian country, after their separation, having lingered much on account of his master's lameness.
The first intimation that they had arrived within their territory, was the yells which they uttered, and the responses they received from a great distance, which they continued till within sight of each other.
But here commenced a trouble to the poor boy which he had not anticipated; for the Indian children about his size and age, immediately fell upon him pell mell with their fists and whips, making themselves immense sport and frolick, to sec him jump about and cry. He naturally fled for protection to his master, but obtained none from that quarter; not knowing this to be a custom and a privilege allowed the Indian boys, whenever a prisoner was so unfortunate as to be brought among them. His next resort was to fly as fast as he could to a hut, although full of the ruthless monsters, full grown Indians, all laughing at his trouble, he sprang in among them, trembling, pale and bleeding, when his pursuers desisted. Here they staid some time, when they again set off, he knew not whether, nor where the end would be, but whenever they approached an Indian settlement, the same ommious yells were renewed, when the same sort of persecution again befel him; but as necessity at first had taught him to fly to a hut, so he now had learned from the event, to press forward with all his power to the door of the first wigwam which offered to his view, never being repulsed on his entry.
Four times, in passing from one settlement to another, he experienced this sort of treatment, without the least interference of his master to save him from it; which custom at one time had nearly cost him his life. An Indian lad considerably larger than himself, who ought, even according to their notions of dignity of manners, to have known better, knocked him down with a club, but he sprang up, and soon found the accustomed asylum, drenched in blood, which after entering, no one any more at that place attempted to molest him.
At length the three Indians came to a place called the Nine Mile Landing, on Lake Ontario, where was the home of his master. Here they shaved his head and adorned it with feathers, and painted him after their manner, intending to bring him up as an Indian, taking him with them on their fishing and hunting parties, initiating as fast as possible the child into their modes of living.
Several weeks had passed away at this place, when his master in company with several other Indians, taking him with them, went to Fort Erie, opposite where Buffalo now stands, where, being noticed by a Captain of a vessel, a Scotchman, he bantered the Indian for the purchase of the boy.
A bargain was struck at fifteen dollars, which redeemed him from a life of perpetual savageism.
From this time he saw his Indian acquaintance no more, going immediately with his new master, the Scotch Captain, to Detroit. Having now for the first time since coming from Scotland seen a vessel, and having sailed in one the length of the Lake, supposed that if he should have to continue with his Captain a sea faring life, thinking that it was the ocean on which he was, that all opportunity would be forever lost of returning to his parents again, which, to accomplish, was the object of all his thoughts both night and day. On this account he contrive a plea to be left at Detroit, to which his master consented. He was placed in the care of one Parks, who was also a Scotchman, till called for by his original owner, who purchased him of the Indian. At this place he remained till the peace of 1783, when according to the articles of that peace, the prisoners of both countries were to be sent, each to the nearest place on the frontiers of their, respective countries, from whence they might reach their homes.
The news of the peace had readied Detroit, when all was joy and clamour among the captive Americans; and, among the rest, little Robert's heart beat high with the expectation of once more being pressed to the bosom of his father and mother, who for a moment had never been out of his mind, from the hour in which the Indian first seized his horses bridle. But what was the consternation of the poor boy, when his master told him he was not included among those who were to go to the stales; as that he had purchased him of the Indian during his life, and surely it were better to belong to a white man, one of his own countrymen too, than to be the slave of an Indian forever.
But, however this argument might seem to claim the gratitude of Robert Brice, yet it was not powerful enough to divest him of the one all absorbing wish of his heart, a return to his parents. But what should he do; his Captain was peremptory, there was no hope; dark clouds of despair, began to settle down on the bright prospect, which had but an hour before risen to his view-his country, father, mother, and long lost home.
But while weeping and musing on the dolefulness of his lot, the thought flashed across his mind, I will run and tell the British commanding officer about it; which he did all bathed in tear's, when the General said it should not be so, for the peace articles made no such exceptions. Then you might have seen the little Highlander's countenance brighten, as if he were leaping among the crags and mountains of his own native Scotland, he threw himself among his fellow captives, and soon was launched away on the bosom of the Lake that was to waft him toward his home.
The vessel soon moored at Fort Erie, where he had been purchased from the Indian; from this place they sailed down the river to Fort Slushey, in a Batteaux; from thence to Fort Niagara, at the upper end of Lake Ontario. Here, to his great joy, he found his brother, who he had not seen since they were parted in the woods, near the mouth of the Unadilla river, where they shot the deer. The number of liberated captives, men, women and children, amounted now to about two hundred persons. From Fort Niagara they were sent down to the lower end of the Lake, where they embarked on the St. Lawrence, running down the long sues, a place of great danger, on account of the rapids; and so on to Montreal. From Montreal across the St. Lawrence to Laparara, thence to St. Johns in carts, from St. Johns up Lake Champlain to Skeensborough, now Whitehall, from thence to Albany, a distance from Detroit, the place of starting of about a thousand miles.
News soon spread over the country that all the prisoners from the Canadas were on their way to the states, and on a certain day about two hundred would arrive at Albany. Among these the eldest of the two captive brothers, was expected to arrive, having frequently heard by means of the tories, that he was alive and well at Fort Niagara; but as for the younger--one, poor little Robert, there lingered not a hope of his return, or scarcely that perchance he might be yet alive, among the savages, somewhere in the boundless wanderings of the Indian nations.
Early on the morning of that day the mother's heart was first awake,when she roused her husband, saying, "Come let us rise John, you know he is at Albany by this time, if he is yet living. Oh ! make haste and fetch him." She she burst into tears; it was a mother's soul in its longings for her son. He sprang from the bed, for the father's heart was not a whit behind in the holy passion, though kept more within bounds; yet a tear or so was often seen to tremble on the withered cheek of the hardy Scotchman. He took a hasty breakfast, while the mother's eye followed him as he mounted his horse, and trotted out other sight towards Albany.
The distance was soon measured, while the musings of hope and fear, filled up the time. Somewhere in the Colonie, in the city of Albany, was situated the house, where the glad company of liberated captives were to make their halt. At this house old Mr. Brice expected to find his son John. Having come within sight of the Inn, he perceived a great crowd of soldiers, citizens, women and children, running this way and that; some with tears trickling down their cheeks, and others laughing for joy. He soon came among them, almost fearing to make the inquiry for his son.
He alighted and fastened his horse; when coming in contact with a person whom he knew from his dress was one of those who had returned from Canada, he made the enquiry, as his heart rose to his mouth in spite of his manliness, "De ye ken is there one John Brice, a mere lad wha has come alang wie ye from Canada?" "Oh yes," answered the man, "two of them, brothers; one is a little fellow. Here, come along with me." He followed all in a tremor, musing in his mind, "My God, can it be that both ray children are here." "There they are," said the man, "are they the lads you wanted ?" "Yes," he shouted; when the three were folded together in the ardent grasp of father and sons. "O ye pure things, ha ye come again, yer withers heart wie brake o gladness, wha she sees ye coming wie me.'"
He now started for home, putting the boys on the horse, while he walked by their side, talking all the way, of their sufferings among the Indians.
It was late in the evening when they came within the precincts of the well remembered little neighborhood, which the boys had left three years before. All was fresh in their memory as if but an hour had elapsed. They pointed out in the dark of the evening, as they went along, who lived there and there, when they left it, one for the mill and the other to work for old Mr. Deitz. Not a soul of the neighborhood had laid down to sleep, but all had assembled at the house of John's parents, to await his coming. So eager were they to know the worst or best, as it might turn out to be.
At length the neighing of the horses which had been parted all day, announced the coming of the most wretched or the most fortunate of fathers. They now all ran to the door, except the mother, who dare not, lest she should be disappointed. She staid back until the sound of voices struck her ear, as the well remembered ones other children, although now much altered. In an instant she had burst beyond them all, crying as she grasped them in her arms, "O Johnney, O Robert, ha ye come agin to yer pure mither; God on high be thanked for iver and ivcr, for so great a mercy;" crying all the while as loud as she could roar for joy, while the old neighbors well known to the boys, gathered around them as they pressed into the door together, asking a thousand questions about their captivity; how they were taken-if they had suffered-and of the Indians; whether they were cruel, scarcely that night suffering themselves to sleep, so great was the joy, not only of the parents, but of all who witnessed their return.
Robert Brice, the younger of the two, is still living in Bethlehem, Albany Co., and is a respected citizen of the farmer class, of about sixty-three years of age, from whose lips we received this account.
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