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Lesson 8
Captives of 1704: Remembrance Sheldon, the Tavernkeeper's Son- As Told By Himself

I will remember that winter of 1704, when I was a lad of eleven. The snows had come early and deep, so that we felt safe from the savages, whom we had feared more than ever now that there was war between England and France. However, we boys of the town were not allowed outside the stockade, much to our disgust. Even in the Fall we might not go out to help with the harvests.
Several months earlier, a Mohawk had come to the tavern. He was a scout sent from Col. Schuyler of Albany, with a message of warning to my father.

It was after night-fall. Supper had been cleared away, and the family gathered for worship. We were much startled to see the Indian glide into our midst, tall and with an almost noble face. My father took the letter and, breaking the seal, read it amid breathless silence. Schuyler's Mohawk spies had brought word from Canada that the French and Indians intended an early attack on our fort.

The reading aloud of these words brought a chill to my heart, nor will I ever forget that scene: my father at the table by the flickering candles, my dear mother, with little Mercy on her knee, in an armchair by the west window, I on a stool at her feet, Mary and Ebenezer on the settle by brother John, some soldiers on a bench by the wall, and Coffee, the slave-boy, in the door of the lin-to.

Once or twice my father paused to ask a question of the Indian, then, finishing the letter, said solemnly, "This is a grave matter. My children, you have heard what Col. Schuyler says. See that you go not out, Remembrance, beyond the stockade bounds. Ebenezer, you needs must help John the more with the crops. Mary, you go at once to Mr. Williams and advise with him as to what action to take."

Busy days followed; trees were felled and hewn for the righting-up of the palisade, which was in much need of repair. In the setting up of these we younger boys gave a hand, and it was a welcome change.

A company of twenty soldiers was sent us from Hartford by the Council of Defense. A few men from the outside built huts within the stockade and lived in these with their families in great discomfort.

As I was saying, the deep snows coming early that Winter had eased our minds as to the Indians. In December and January we had several frolics, some of the young people from outside attending. There were a few weddings amongst us as well, my brother John's being one. He had the courage to bring his wife, Hannah Chapin, from distant Springfield. We were all rejoiced at her arrival and she proved a maid of lively spirit, and, although from a so much larger town, seemed ever happy and full of jests.

As Spring neared without sign of the enemy we chafed much at being kept in. Many older ones argued that, nothing having happened, nothing would. Mr. Williams alone spoke in season and out, with long speeches and prayers from the pulpit on the danger.

At last came the fateful 29th of February. That morning before daybreak, my father saddled his horse and started for Hatfield. He had much town business to do, he said, as well as medicines to buy for the sick, and would be gone the night. He did not hear the rumors that came to us during the morning of strange sounds heard in the night, as of the trampling of a host of Indians about the fort. Had he been with us I can not help feeling that things might have gone different.

That last day of school we never guessed what was coming. I got my whipping for bad spelling, as did several others. Stephen Williams was there, nose in book, as usual. School over, we all, except Stephen, got together in Catlin's barn, and watched a cock fight. Sam Carter and my cousin Ben Stebbins held the birds, while Henry Nims was posted at the door to give the signal should parson or school-master heave in sight. That is how, when Master Richards appeared on the scene, he found us all busy a-spinning tops, not ever guessed the real business afoot.

That night, as we sat about the fire, John's wife told stories of Springfield, knitting the while, my mother at the wheel smiling at each merry jest. We turned into our beds rather late, and I tumbled off to sleep at once.

In the middle of the night I woke suddenly to that fearful sound, the Indian war-whoop at our very doors! In the dark I could hear the soldiers giving orders, and knew they were handing out arms to the men in the house. Ebenezer shouted to me, "John is off to Hatfield to give the alarm!"

"But how?" I asked, my teeth chattering, for my heart had turned to water.

My brother went on shouting, "Go in to mother and help her and the girls!"

By this time the noise was terrible, what with the yells of savages, the din of the guns and the shrieks of men and women. I had run in to my mother. She was sitting up in bed, little Mercy crying beside her.

"Hand me my clothes, Remembrance, from off the chest," she called, "and do you dress Mercy. Thank God, the doors and windows are stout! Those wolves can never reach us," she added bravely.

In the dark my hands found hers.

"Remembrance, my brave lad!"

We had heard the axes hacking at the great door, but it was heavily spiked and barred, besides being of two stout thicknesses of oak, so I was hopeful it would hold.

At that moment, just as my mother had finished speaking, there was a report so loud I could have sworn that it came from inside the room.

In terror I spoke to my mother, but she made no answer. Again I found her hand and pressed it, but with no reply.

Someone came in just then with a lighted candle. It was my sister Mary. With a low cry she sprang to my mother's side. A spot of bright scarlet stained the bosom of her night-dress.

She had been shot through the heart!

And but now she had called me her brave lad! It was the thought of this, I believe, more than all else, that kept me up during the scenes that followed.

It is idle now to figure as to what might have happened had it not been for the crime of one who, in hasty flight, left ajar the outside door of the lin-to. In all these years we have never learned his name, though I have suspected Coffee, the slave-boy.

Up to that black moment we had made a strong fight, the young women helping. Though Hannah had sprained her ankle in an effort to follow John out of their chamber window, she loaded guns along with Mary.

When the savages began to pour in at the side door we knew it was all up with us. I had thought to hide little Mercy in the tall clock. She was scarce three years old, and it might have been done, but Ebenezer advised against it. "Twould rouse the Indians to greater cruelty," he said, "if they found her." They could not well have been more cruel, as it proved, but the struggle was short.

Because of the size and stoutness of our house, the Indians turned their captives into it till the rooms were full, when they used the meeting-house. Here, by torch-light, most of us boys who had attended the cock-fight met together again, pale and frightened, who were so full of life and deviltry a few short hours agone.

From Sam Carter I now learned that Henry Nims had been killed, he who had stood guard over our foolish play only that afternoon. Sam said he had seen the Indians pushing Mistress Nims and Nabby, along with Josiah Rising, all of a heap in at the meeting-house door. "We shall see them all again, I doubt not," he said. "on our little trip to Canada."

Carter has never come back from Canada, nor yet have the Hursts, nor young French, nor my cousin Sam Stebbins, nor many others. I and Samuel Williams and his brother, after two years' absence, returned by sea, being near to shipwreck on the way.

I shall not tell here of the journey to Canada, nor of the crimes committed on the trail. Others have written fully of these, notably Mr. Williams in his book. As for my life with the Indians, though hard enough, it was nothing to that of Stephen Williams.

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