Wednesday, June 22, 2016

recent read; The Redeemed Captive

A few weekends ago we spent the weekend in western Massachusetts - "western" being the Pioneer Valley of the Connecticut River, not quite so west as the Berkshire mountains.

I took a very brief stop in historic Deerfield and got the bug to read about the raid of 1704. During Queen Anne's War, one cold winter morning, a combined force of native forces and French soldiers attacked the English settlement, carrying off over one hundred prisoners and marching them to Canada (New France.)

The gift/bookshop didn't have any very short reads about the raid. I forewent any thick history books and tried to go to a source - the narrative of John Williams - minister of Deerfield who was taken in the raid and spent three years in Canada until he was finally "redeemed" (prisoner exchange/ransomed) back to Boston.

I grabbed the Kindle edition. As it turns out, Williams's own narrative is hard to come by. The common edition available is a book written by one of his descendants decades after (1833.) The descendant gives highlights and excerpts from the original narrative.

Not having the original, I don't know how it was presented. But this later rehash is concerned with the details of the raid and the march to Canada for only about 20% of the volume. The other 80% describes all of Williams's hardships while living among the heathens (Indians) and idolaters (the French Catholics.)

What you get is much more The Temptation of Williams in the wilderness instead of Last of the Mohicans. He is tortured, beaten, roughly handled, debated by Jesuits on all sides. But he refuses to convert to evil Popery. I don't know if the original narrative has such an imbalance. But given that Williams was a Protestant (Anglican) minister, and so was his descendant, this is the track the book takes.

One thing I did find revealing was the French alliances with the Natives. It is clear - between the lines - that the French were in no way all-powerful in matters with their native allies. They were outnumbered and cautious. There are constant references to various French agents negotiating on Williams behalf - both with Natives and Jesuits priests who worked among the natives. The French could not simply order the Natives to comply.

Interesting read for a while but by the end I was skimming large portions.

p.s.- While searching for a cover image, I came across this nice, short article about the place of the execution of Williams's wife, Eunice. Great photographs.

The Ghost of Eunice Williams


  1. Thanks for the link to the ghost story. A great way to launch into lunch.

  2. Nice piece. Bing debated by Jesuits was probably as challenging as his rough handling. And key point on the power relationship between the French and the Indians. The French were never in a position to give orders, which the tribes would not have taken anyway. The art of persuasion (and bribery) was highly developed in New France.
    Jim Cornelius

  3. Interesting. I always look for quick reads about the places we stop too. Nice to get an overview.