Monday, November 24, 2008

Red Man's Squaw: The Return of White Female Captives & their Native-American Children

Captivity narratives abound in early Colonial and post-Colonial American history. Numerous European women were captured by Native-American tribesmen for centuries, some adapting or assimilating within Indian culture, others successfully escaping bondage and thus returning to family & friends, while a few, after long abscences, were ill-received by husband, father or kin, since they had become 'with child,' by their former captors.

A requirement of the Native-Americans in 1764, after their defeat during the 'French & Indian War,' was to return all their 'white captives,' "even their own Children born from White Women." Col. Henry Bouquet would comment that same year, how he had received some 200 captives, "including the Children Born from White Women married to Savages which I have obliged them to give up." (see, Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, Vol.9: 207; Henry Bouquet to Sir William Johnson, Nov. 15, 1764)

One such captive and her daughter, were part of the family of Johan Adam Buss, all of which had been captured by the Cayuga Indians on November 6th, 1756, at Maxatawny, in Albany or Allemangel Township, in what was then Northampton County, Pennsylvania.

('List of all the People Killed...' Conrad Weiser Papers, HSP)

According to the 'baptismal records' of the 'New Bethel' or Corner Church, of Albany Township, Berks County, PA, 'Anna Eva,' a child of Adam Buss & Mariah Sarah Gerhart, had been born in 1756 during her mother's captivity, but another child, named Maria Sarah Buss, was "born in heathenism by her mother Mariah Sarah and an Indian father on....1762." After her mother's return from captivity, the child would be baptized into the Christian faith on October 4th, 1767.

Johan Adam Buss had believed his wife had died while in captivity, and when his wife Maria Sarah returned, she found her husband had remarried.

This was not an isolated case. Catherine Jager, the daughter of Cunigunda & Baltis Yager (or Yeager), of Lynn Township, Northampton County, had been taken captive in 1756, at the age of nine.

Cunigunda Jager declares in a petition to the Pennsylvania Assembly, dated for June 4th, 1766, that her daughter had remained a prisoner among the Indians until "after the last Treaty of Peace with the Indians, when she, with others, was delivered up to Sir William Johnson," and furthermore that she had paid a man to bring her daughter back to her, in the sum of ten pounds, a sum which she had borrowed.

Mrs. Jager describes herself as "a very poor widow," and her daughter as "a very unhappy young Woman, having spent in the Indian idlenesss those Days of her Life...and is now unable to support herself; and what makes her misfortune still greater, she has a Child by an Indian Man, for which other young Women look upon her with Contempt and Derision..."

(PA Archives, Vol.VII: 5883)

Cunigunda Jager asked for "the Support of her unfortunate Daughter, with her innocent Babe." The court agreed, and by September of 1767, she was receiving support in the amount of "Fifteen Pounds."

As revealed in the historical fiction of Conrad Richter's famous works, A Light in the Forest and A Country of Strangers, along with Walter D. Edmond's (author of Drums Along the Mohawk), short-story, 'Dygartsbush,' the adjustment of returning White captives to their former homes and families, was not without stress, nor often trajedy.

However, as with so many topics and events in the past, be it 'Native American Heritage Month' or otherwise, such individuals as those above, all come together in creating what has become both Pennsylvania and 'America's History' in general, truly a unique and fascinating 'tapestry of tales.'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did they ever return any pygmies?