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September Tea Party Winners: Janet Grunst's -- A Heart For Freedom for Chappy Debbie
audible of A Heart Set Free for Lucy Reynolds Roseanna White's is Wilani Wahl -- Debra E. Marvin's -- Kailey Behrendt paperback of Dangerous Deception, Carrie Fancett Pagels' -- The Victorian Christmas Brides collection goes to Nancy McLeroy!
October Tea Party winner for The Cumberland Bride goes to Teri DiVincenzo!!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Myths and Facts Surrounding Indian Captivity

When I started researching the experiences of white captives among native tribes, I’m not sure what I expected. Most of what I knew already was drawn from Calico Captive, a story based on real-life people during the French & Indian War, which painted a not-entirely-unflattering picture of native (and French-Canadian) life. Over the years I did gather that motivations for taking captive varied both depending upon the tribe, the times, and the individual. Some were taken captive as slaves (more on this in a later post), some for adoption into the tribe, and some for revenge and/or human sacrifice. And the treatment of captives varied dramatically depending upon the intended purpose for that captive.

Some myths I ran across as I researched:

Native Americans (“Indians”) were all brutal, ignorant heathens. Research has revealed that while their code of honor was different from ours, and seemingly random brutality often took place alongside seemingly random kindness, a sense of honor and high standard of behavior did indeed exist among native peoples.

Native Americans were all honorable, noble people whom whites of the time greatly misunderstood. Plenty of misunderstanding happened from both sides, but make no mistake, the code of honor and morality among native tribes clashed with Christian sensibilities in many ways. Greed, pride, pettiness, abuse, and all other human vices flourished among native peoples as surely as they did among European settlers.

White (or other) captives were always treated badly. Eyewitness accounts prove otherwise. When natives took captives intended for adoption, they treated said captives with remarkable kindness. Captives intended for slavery or sacrifice were a different matter entirely. The contradiction inherent in the kindness extended one or more captives in a group while brutality was dealt others still boggles the modern mind, but it happened often. One account I read told of a woman taken captive, heavy with child and a toddler in tow, after her older children had been killed and scalped before her eyes. While on the journey back to her captors’ home, the toddler was considered a liability at some point and also killed, but when the woman went into labor, accommodations were made for her delivery and recovery. Jonathan Alder witnessed the death of his older brother, but he himself was spared and eventually adopted by a Shawnee and Mingo couple. Jemima Boone (daughter of Daniel Boone) and her friend spoke after their recovery of the kindness of their captors, as well, which leads me to the next myth ...

Indians always rape female captives. Patently untrue. I’m sure there were exceptions, but in nearly all accounts I’ve read, there were strict rules about how and when native men took white captive women as their wives, in a culture where courtship and marriage seemed to be handled much more casually than in ours.

A couple of facts I learned:

While native peoples seemed to consider the killing of an enemy a light matter indeed, when they chose to adopt a captive, they usually accepted that one into their tribe and family with a whole heart. Once the adoption ceremony was complete—which often involved a protracted scrubbing-down and change of clothing—the captive was considered family, with no difference between him and a blood-born child.

Some captives returned to their old lives, but some did not, and were happy in that choice. (Whether such behavior constitutes Stockholm Syndrome, as some would suggest, is up for debate, and I won't get into that here. I'm only recording observations.) Alder lived some 20 years with the native peoples, after his capture at age 9. He did eventually return to white society, in a process that can only be described as a slow drift, for reasons that he never fully explains. His Indian wife grew unhappy with the changes and eventually left him, and a few years later he courted and married a white woman, and raised a family with her.

I’ve only scratched the surface here, but I’d love to hear more myths and facts as you think of them!

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A pair of sources I've found helpful and/or interesting:

http://sites.rootsweb.com/~varussel/indian/index.html (Emory L. Hamilton’s unpublished manuscript Indian Atrocities Along The Clinch, Powell and Holston Rivers of Southwest Virginia, 1773-1794)

A History of JonathanAlder: His Captivity and Life with the Indians, edited by Larry L. Nelson, which I drew heavily from while researching for my upcoming release, The Cumberland Bride.

18 comments:

  1. Very interesting. I'm looking forward to reading The Cumberland Bride.

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  2. This reminded me that many tribes (especially the Iroquois confederacy) were matrilineal, and clan mothers had a lot of influence with captive adoptions as well. There was the famous example of Seneca Chief Cornplanter who married the "White Woman of the Genesee", Mary Jemison. When given the opportunity to go back to her own people, she refused.
    Very interesting, Shannon--thank you!

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    1. Hi Pat! She's a good example of that, yes. Thanks so much for your input! <3

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  3. The Cumberland Bride is on the top of the TBR pile. Looking forward to it.

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  4. I am so looking forward to The Cumberland Bride. Kentucky has its own story of Indian captivity. Jenny Wiley was captured but eventually able to return to her former life. There is a Kentucky state park in her honor.

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    1. I think Jenny Wiley was one of those I read about back when I was first doing research for *Defending Truth*! The history of that region is definitely fascinating.

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  5. I agree with Pat Iacuzzi. I can't help but think of Mary Jemison. It's a fascinating story that I hope many of you will look in to!
    Thanks Shannon. Great post!

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    1. Thank YOU, Debra! I appreciate y'all stopping in and commenting! <3

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  6. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment, Lucy! :-)

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  7. Shannon, a very insightful post. It is, indeed, a complex history with no simple answers. Joan Hochstetler's Northkill Amish series shows the various treatment of white captives based on a true account. Fascinating reading.

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    1. Thank you so much, Elaine! Definitely complex. And yes, Joan's work is excellent!

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