"When they came to a halt, it was to consult and agree in what manner they should inflict the greatest torture on my poor son, in retaliation for the death of the savage who had fallen by his hands. The mode finally agreed upon was to burn him alive, at a stake, after their usual manner of putting to death a great portion of their prisoners."
An entire family taken from a father by events common on the frontier. The edge of civilization was a violent place, where cultures collided for the future of a continent.
Taken from, "Narrative of the Massacre, by the Savages, of the Wife and Children of Thomas Baldwin." New York: Martin and Wood, 1835. Edited by Gary M. Bohannon.
In 1781, after peace had taken place between the United States and Great Britain, the local natives expressed a willingness to coexist with us, and no longer disturb the peace of their neighbors, if they could be permitted to rebuild their settlements, and their women remained unmolested while they were engaged in hunting as formerly; proposals which were readily acceded to by the settlers. So strong did the natives feign a disposition on their part strictly to adhere thereto, that the settlers too soon threw themselves off their guard, and some of them, imprudently, removed themselves to greater distances from their fortified settlements. I was like others, convinced of peace, who selected a spot for the residence of my family, near Boonesborough, but less than one mile distant from an Indian settlement.
My Indian neighbors appeared pacifically disposed for several months, when, one morning a little after sunrise, my family were alarmed by the discovery of a savage, frightfully painted and armed with tomahawk and scalping knife, secreted in some thick brush, within a few rods of my house. As soon as discovered, he gave the war whoop, which was probably a signal to nine or ten others, who at that moment rushed from a neighboring forest, and who, with a horrible shout, approached my dwelling with uplifted tomahawks.
They set fire to my roof, which burned with such rapidity as to leave us no other alternative than either to remain where we were, and become the victims of the devouring flames, or fall into the hands of the savages, from whom we had but little mercy to expect! My family at that time was composed of myself, wife, two sons, and a daughter. I was the last to leave the house, being engaged in reloading my rifle, yet had a clear and melancholy view of the fate of each unfortunate member of my family as they rushed from the flames; which presented a spectacle, heart-rending in the extreme to a husband and parent, who could afford them no assistance.
My oldest son, armed with a hatchet, was the first to attempt to escape, and by dashing out the brains of the attacker who first laid hold of him, succeeded in clearing his way, but was closely pursued by others, and made a prisoner. His younger brother, in attempting to follow his example, was knocked down, and while one of the merciless wretches was engaged in tearing off his scalp, my youngest son was dispatched by a blow from another. My beloved companion, his mother, shared a similar fate, and my little daughter, but eleven years of age, who left the house at the same time with her poor mother, was seized by another of the monsters, and while apparently in the very act of raising his tomahawk to dispatch her, she fell on her knees and entreated for mercy.
Believing that she was about to share a similar fate with the others, and feeling determined that it should be at the expense of the life of him into whose hands she had fallen, I leveled my rifle at the head of the barbarian, which, fortunately for me perhaps, misfired. Fortunately I say, for had it taken effect, I should in all probability have been doomed to endure tortures, similar to those which were afterward inflicted on my unfortunate son.
My house was now completely engulfed in flames, and could no longer afford me a shelter, and as the savages were in a measure obscured by a thick body of smoke produced thereby, seemed at the instant to offer me some and the only chance to effect my escape by flight, and as no time was to be lost, I hastily threw off my coat and waistcoat, threw my loaded rifle into the flames, and sprang forth, and succeeded in outrunning several of them, but becoming exhausted, I was laid hold of by a stout savage, who, with his tomahawk raised ready to kill me if I advanced a step further, demanded my surrender, to which I reluctantly acceded. I was immediately thereupon strongly pinioned, and led a short distance front where lay the slaughtered remains of my poor wife and child — in a few moments after my surviving son and daughter were brought to the same spot, and where we were compelled to remain, without being permitted to exchange a word with each other, until the blood-thirsty wretches had finished packing up the most valuable of my effects which they had saved from the flames.
Having taken the lives of two innocent victims, and destroyed our home, with most of its contents, the fruits of many years industry, they took up their line of march in a direction west, compelling myself and two children to accompany them. When they came to a halt, it was to consult and agree in what manner they should inflict the greatest torture on my poor son, in retaliation for the death of the savage who had fallen by his hands. The mode finally agreed upon was to burn him alive, at a stake, after their usual manner of putting to death a great portion of their prisoners.
Later in the day, we were overtaken by another party of Indians, twelve in number, on their return from Boonsborough, where they had been to exchange furs for whiskey. My captors were forward on the occasion, to make a display of the booty which they had in their possession, and of some of which they made an exchange with their brethren for whiskey, of which they all drank so freely as to intoxicate themselves to that degree that they could proceed no further that night. I seized on this as one of the most favorable opportunities that might present to make my escape, which I effected that night, as my captors lay insensible from the whiskey.
Although I had been so fortunate as to escape, my youngest child was still in their power; and I resolved that I would hasten to some friendly settlement to obtain assistance to aid me in effecting her liberation; but, after thus resolving, and proceeding at a slow pace with a heavy heart a short distance, I more than once imagined that I distinctly heard the moans of the poor child, calling aloud for her father to return and deliver her from the hands of the frightful savages! Then would I stop, and again resolve, at all hazards, to return, and thus did I spend one half the day, without proceeding fifty rods either way, in resolving and re-resolving, when a thought suggested to my mind the propriety of appealing to Heaven, to decide for me, and to direct me to the way that I should go, resolving that after thus petitioning, I would without further delay, proceed that way that my inclination should lead me.
Upon my knees I offered up a fervent petition to this effect, and had scarcely concluded, when I was aroused from the suppliant position in which I had placed myself, by the barking of a dog, and soon after by the appearance of an Indian, running at full speed toward me! I now gave myself up as lost, not doubting but that he was one sent in pursuit of me. When within a few rods of me he seized his dog, and holding him with one hand tight by the mouth, to prevent his barking, and with the other seizing me by the arm, with a friendly smile led me to a thicket, where, re- questing me to follow his example, prostrated himself flat on his belly, he still holding the dog in the manner mentioned.
We had remained in this situation but a few minutes when the Indian pow-wow was heard, and very soon after their footsteps, as they passed in great haste within a few rods of us. At the very moment my Indian friend, for such he proved to be, elevated his head a little to ascertain the course they were steering; as soon as fairly out of sight he arose and requesting me to follow him, took a different route from that of my pursuers. We traveled on an Indian trot to the distance of five or six miles, when my friend, perceiving that I was suffering much from bodily fatigue, came to a halt, and being seated, drew from his pouch some parched corn, of which he invited me to partake.
Having become a little refreshed, I prevailed on my Indian benefactor to accompany me by the shortest route to Boonsborough, which we reached in safety the third day after. It was there I met with many of my old friends and acquaintances, and who seemed deeply affected at the recital of the unhappy fate of my family, and several of them kindly proffered their services to set out directly with me in pursuit of the savages, and to do all in their power to effect the liberation of my little daughter.
Seventeen of us set out early the next morning, accompanied by the friendly Indian as our guide. We were all well mounted, and morning of the third day, we reached my former home, and found the bodies of my wife and son lying apparently in the same situation in which they were left. They were by my friends enclosed in some slabs, roughly and hastily put together, and deposited beneath a hemlock tree.
The succeeding day we reached our destination; where, from appearances, there could be no doubt the savages had encamped the night in which I made my escape from them. But the savages had fled, and thus were we sorely disappointed in not being able to recover my poor child. As it was uncertain in what direction, or to how great a distance they might have conveyed her, it was thought advisable by all to return.
Our Indian guide having expressed a wish to return to his own home, he was, in consideration of the important services rendered me, presented by my friends with the beast on which he rode, and other presents of about an equal value, with a solemn promise on his part, to do all in his power to search out, and effect the liberation of my captive child, if found living; and if not, to acquaint me as soon as possible with her fate.
We returned directly to Boonsborough where I remained a welcome guest with my friends, until a peace was finally and permanently established with the neighboring tribes. As no further assaults from them were to be apprehended, and as no spot on earth appeared so dear to me as that in the immediate vicinity of where the mortal remains of a part of my family were reposing, I, soon again returned to my former home, with the strong determination of making it the place of my permanent residence until the day of my death.
Six months after my return, I was once more visited by my Indian friend, to whom, as I observed, I was so much indebted for the salvation of my life. Agreeable to his promise, he had traveled a great distance to furnish me with the melancholy tidings of the death of my little daughter, and the last of my ill-fated family. The particulars relating thereto which he communicated, were, that when the savages arrived at their settlement, she was claimed by one of their principal chiefs, and by whom she was conveyed to a settlement still farther west and there presented to a young chief, his son, whose wife she was designed to have been when she arrived at a suitable age. But an all-merciful God, in manifestation of his promise that he would be a father to the fatherless, was pleased to frustrate their wicked designs, by taking the helpless victim to himself, in three or four months after my separation from her.