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The remarkable occurrences of James Smith

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  • The remarkable occurrences of James Smith

    This is an amazing account for many reasons. Anyone out there know about this? Captured by French allied natives while on a work detail cutting the Braddock road in prep for the English attack on Fort Duquene in Pittsburgh. Most prisoners were burned alive after being tortured, Smith was one of a lucky few to be adopted...

    Read it, it will be very hard to put down. It will cost you nothing, James Smith wrote it in 1759 and it is open source. Numerous versions are out there, I dont recall which might be best so check out a few. Funny, frightening, tragic, sympathetic, eye opening, its a real treasure account of not only Smiths adventure story but the view of an insight into native behavior and culture is really priceless.


    "Smith was born in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, which in 1737 was the frontier of the white settlement, and he was taken prisoner in 1755, by a small party of Delawares, near Bedford, while he was helping to cut a road for the passage of General Braddock's ill-fated expedition against the French. The Indians hurried from the English border, and forced him to run with them nearly the whole way to Fort Duquesne, which afterwards became Fort Pitt, and is now Pittsburg. A large body of savages was encamped outside the post, and there Smith expected to be burned to death with the tortures he afterwards saw inflicted upon many other prisoners; but he was only made to run the gantlet. Two lines of Indians were drawn up, with sticks in their hands, and Smith dashed at the top of his speed between their ranks. He was cruelly beaten, and before he reached the goal he fell senseless. When he came to himself he was in the hands of a French surgeon. He was well cared for, and he lived in hopes of rescue by Braddock's army, which was marching against Fort Duquesne in greater force than had ever been sent into the wilderness. But while he was still so broken and bruised as to be scarcely able to walk, the Indians came in with plunder and prisoners from the scene of their bloody victory over the British troops.

    A little later, Smith's captors claimed him from the French, and carried him to an Indian town on the Muskingum. The day after their arrival a number of the Indians came to him, and one of them began to pull out his hair, dipping his fingers in ashes to get a better hold, and plucking it away hair by hair till it was all gone except a lock on the crown. This they plaited with strings of beadwork and silver brooches, and then they bored his ears and nose and put rings in them. They painted his face and body in different colors, hung a band of wampum about his neck, and fitted his arm with bracelets of silver. An old chief led him into the street of the village, and gave the alarm halloo, when all the Delawares, Caughnewagas, and Mohicans of the place came running, and formed round the chief, who held Smith by the hand, and made them a long speech. He then gave Smith over to three young squaws, who pulled him into the river waist-deep, and made signs to him that he should plunge his head into the water. But Smith's head was full of the tortures of the prisoners whom he had seen burnt at Fort Duquesne; he believed all these ceremonies were the preparations for his death, and he would neither duck. He struggled with them, amidst the shouts and laughter of the Indians on the shore, until one of them managed to say in English, "No hurt you," when he suffered them to plunge him under the water and rub at him as long as they chose. By this means they washed away his white blood, and he was adopted into the tribe in place of a great chief who had lately died. He seems never to have known why this honor was done him; but he was then a lusty young fellow of eighteen who might well have taken the fancy of some of his captors; and he probably fell into their hands at a moment which their superstition rendered fortunate for him. When the squaws had done with him, he was taken up into the council house of the village, where he was dressed in a new ruffled shirt, leggins trimmed with ribbons and wrought with beads, and moccasins embroidered with porcupine quills. His face was painted afresh, and his scalp lock tied up with red feathers; he was given a pipe and tobacco pouch and seated upon a bear skin, while one of the chiefs addressed him in the presence of the assembled warriors. "My son," so the speech was interpreted to Smith, "you are now flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. You are taken into the Caughnewaga nation, and initiated into a warlike tribe; you are adopted into a great family... in the room and place of a great man. After what has passed this day, you are now one of us by an old strong law and custom. My son, you have now nothing to fear; we are now under the same obligations to love, support, and defend you, that we are to love and defend one another; therefore you are to consider yourself as one of our people."

    A grand feast of boiled venison and green corn followed, and Smith took part in it on the same terms as all the rest of his tribe and family. In due time he found out that no word the chief had addressed him was idly spoken, and he began to live the life of the savages like one of themselves, under the affectionate care and constant instruction of his brethren. He was given a gun, at first, and sent to hunt turkeys, but he came upon the trace of buffalo, and was lured on by the hope of larger game, and so lost his way. The Indians found him again easily enough, but as a punishment for his rashness his gun was taken from him, and for two years he was allowed to carry only a bow and arrows. Once when the hunters had killed a bear and he went out with a party to bring in the meat, Smith complained of the weight of his load; the Indians laughed at him, and to shame him they gave part of his burden to a young squaw who already had as much as he to carry. At another time, he went to the fields with some other young men to watch the squaws hoeing corn; one of these challenged him to take her hoe, and he did so, and hoed for some time with the women. They were delighted and praised his skill, but when he came back to the village, the old chiefs rebuked him, telling him that he was adopted in the place of a great man, and it was unworthy of him to hoe corn like a squaw. Smith owns that he never gave them a chance to chide him a second time for such unseemly behavior. After that he left all the hard work to the squaws like a true Indian, and guarded his dignity as a hunter. He was never trusted, or at least he was never asked, to take part in any of the forays against the white frontier, when from time to time parties were sent to the Pennsylvania borders to take scalps and steal horses. It was a sorrowful thing for him when his savage brethren set forth on these errands of theft and murder among his kindred by race, and it was long before he could make the least show of returning their affection. It was not until they gave him back some books which they had brought him from other prisoners, but had then taken from him for some caprice, that he says he felt his heart warm towards them. They pretended that the books had been lost, but declared that they were glad they had been found, for they knew that he was grieved at the loss of them. "Though they had been exceedingly kind to me," he says, "I still as before detested them, on account of the barbarity I beheld after Braddock's defeat. Neither had I ever before pretended kindness, or expressed myself in a friendly manner; but now I began to excuse the Indians on account of their want of information."...


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    • #3
      Good read Awass. I have read a few stories of Europeans being adopted into NA tribes but never that one. I'm gonna see if I can find the book...thanks for the post...
      The chase is better than the catch...

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      • #4
        Lot of humor in the book, for me anyway...natives catching beaver buy making a hole in top of lodge, then reaching in with thier hand, feeling around and grabbing the beaver, can you imaging the bite of a beaver?...canoing on one of the great lakes as i recall, white caps, during a bad storm, throwing a dog overboard to appease higher powers...medicine men using charlatin, snake oil salesman type methods to fool the believers into giving him tobacco donations, etc...

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        • #5
          Gonna have to check this one out. Really like Native American History and the 1st person stories are the best and probably most accurate. Thanks for sharing this post Awassamog
          Pickett/Fentress County, Tn - Any day on this side of the grass is a good day. -Chuck-

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          • #6
            What a nice thread Awassamog really ...
            I agree with Chuck nothing like a first hand written book . I almost feel like I don’t have to read it now . But with this great introduction and the pictures I will look for it .
            Very nice , thank you

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            • #7
              Interesting History there, I love reading about the early frontier. You may find some of the history from the life of Daniel Boone equally interesting. Not sure he indured anything such as that, but he went through a lot at the hands of the Shawnee. Frontier life could be brutal. Hard to imagine really. Thanks for sharing!
              Josh (Ky/Tn collector)

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              • awassamog
                awassamog commented
                Editing a comment
                Daniel Boone, as a young kid he was larger than life to me, I loved the Fess Parker show at the time. A legend for sure. I've read his stories in several of Alan Eckert books but that's it. Is there a book considered to be the best on him?

            • #8
              Thanks for recommending this book.
              Gary

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