In the Classroom > Unit Overview > Lesson 8

Lesson 8
Captives of 1704: Thankful Stebbins, the Carpenter's Daughter

On Town Street, in Deerfield, Massachusetts, in February, 1704, there lived, outside the stockade and three doors to the north of it, a Puritan who had seen much service as a soldier, one John Stebbins, a carpenter, with his wife and six children. Abigail, the oldest of these and only seventeen, was the two weeks' bride of a Frenchman named Denio. The other daughter, Thankful, was twelve. The ages of the boys ranged from four to fifteen.

On the 28th John Stebbins had been worried by strange noises in the night. He had called his wife and she said she, too, heard sounds as of the tramping of many Indians on the road toward the fort above. Thankful woke to hear her parents whispering. For a while she lay quiet, then, throwing a shawl about her, stole softly to the west chamber, and laid her ear to the frosty window-pane. Quite clearly she heard the tramping of moccasined feet.

"What is it, Thankful?" She had wakened her brother Samuel, who now crept to her side. Together they listened to the stealthy tramp! tramp!

"Indians!" he whispered. But when morning came they found no trace of them.

The Stebbins family were not the only ones to hear the weird company. Inside the stockade there were others, and these carried the story to Mr. Williams at the parsonage. He had for some time felt that the towns-people were growing careless, and he cautioned Thankful this morning as she appeared at the parsonage door with a large basket on her arm. It held a nicely browned roast of pork, a bottle of blackberry cordial, a loaf of steaming brown bread and a pot of butter.

"Mother thought these might be of use to you just now, with the soldiers and all," she said as she handed the basket to Mistress Williams.

She went on to ask if Esther Williams might be allowed to play with her later at her Uncle Benoni's next door, where she was to spend the day.

At her uncle's she found her cousin and their mother talking over the rumors of the night before. As usual, her Aunt Hannah was laughing.

"Let the Indians come!" she said stoutly. "They'll find a warm welcome." So saying, she took a musket from above the fire-place and looked it carefully over. Then, opening the gun-closet on each side, she examined the other guns. "They're loaded and in fine order, and there's plenty of powder and bullets to spare, and lead to make more," she remarked grimly. "We must give our soldiers summat to do. As for the rest--what think you, Thankful? Your Cousin Joseph stood watch last night. Sixteen years old and on sentry duty! But now, child," she added, "let us see the new frock and cloak."

Thankful had taken off her bright cloak and hood. Her dark hair peeped from its snowy cap in little curls about her face and neck. A faint rose-color glowed in her cheeks, answering the same shade in her simple but modish gown of changeable poplin.

"Th'art a sight for sore eyes, little mouse," said her aunt with a fond sigh. "Well may your mother call ye bonny in her Scots fashion. That she comes from Boston way shows in the very set of her cap, and she knows well how to gown her daughters. Those hanging sleeves be more like London than Deerfield. But I doubt you'll be fined like your Aunt Mary," with another sigh and a shake of the head. Benoni Stebbins's first wife had worn silk till her dying day in spite of the law against it. Hannah also had a love of finery with the courage to wear it. She was a wholesome woman and had mothered her many step-children as tenderly as her own. She kept them and their father from brooding over possible dangers, her watchword always "Be ready."

At the head of his well-furnished table Benoni Stebbins thought he would have a little fun with his niece. Turning to Thankful he said, so suddenly that she almost jumped, "And how's your new brother, the little Frenchman?"

Thankful blushed as if she had done something wrong. She had not liked her sister Abigail's choice, a man twice her own age from an enemy country. She might have waited for a nice Englishman, Thankful thought, seeing she was only seventeen.

"Let the child be," said her Aunt Hannah, to Thankful's relief, adding, "You'll marry an Englishman, will you not?" to which Thankful agreed so promptly that everyone laughed.

After dinner her small cousin Benjamin whispered to Thankful, "What have you in the basket?"

The basket was a covered one of willows.

"Wilt be very careful?" He promised.

"Then take a peep."

Very gently she lifted the cover, and to his surprise he saw a large and very solemn white owl.

"Give it me, Thankful," he begged.

"No, cousin; 'tis for Nabby Nims. 'Tis like her somehow, with its great wise eyes. She will be glad of it, and it's grand for the mice. Samuel found it in the great poplar."

"But I must be off now to Nabby's," she added, "or Sarah Smith's ghost will catch me," and soon Thankful, warmly bundled in her new green cloak, having bid all good-bye, stepped briskly off through the snow.

The visit had done her good; so was it always at her Uncle Benoni's. He had never grown old nor sour. She had heard of the pranks of his youth. Then he was ever in trouble; now he helped others out of it.

She forgot the Indians as she walked in the sparkling air.

Nabby Nims was delighted with the owl and Thankful left with a light heart to meet her father.

At supper all was cheer. The talk turned on the apple trees John Stebbins planned to bring by ox-team from Northampton, as soon as the season was right. They were to be set out between the house and the brook. To Thankful, as she listened, came a vision of robins nesting in the low branches, of crimson apples kissed by the sun, or lying in the thick grass at her feet. With an orchard this side of the brook and lambs on the other, her world would be complete.

That night she was again aroused, but now it was by no phantom sounds, but the piercing yells of savages. The lives of herself and her family were all saved because the "little Frenchman," Abigail's husband, was with them, and the Indians were friendly to the French.

Shivering with fear and cold, they were bound and hurried to the Deerfield tavern, where the other captives they were held until morning.

From the tavern the Indians made their attack on the house of Benoni Stebbins. True to her watchword, Hannah Stebbins was "ready." Against more than three hundred French and Indian soldiers, who returned again and again, the house was successfully held by seven men and a few women. Of these only one was lost. Benoni Stebbins, he of the great heart, fell in this last of many fights, defending his home.

When the wretched company of captives started on the march to Canada next morning, they passed through the north gate of the stockade by the home where Thankful had spent twelve happy years.

Where the house had stood she now saw, through a blur of tears, a heap of glowing embers. The chimney, standing there alone, seemed to mock at her dreams of yesterday.

Because of James Denio, Abigail Stebbins's husband, her family were not kept prisoners. Denio took his bride to his old home in Canada, Thankful and her brothers living with them.

Her parents returned to Deerfield, where, after a time, one of Abigail's sons came to them. Here, many years later, Abigail visited him and her widowed mother.

Thankful Stebbins never returned to Deerfield. Under Abigail's wing she caught glimpses of court and army life in Canada. Fine ladies and gentlemen stood sponsors at her baptism.

At nineteen, under her new name of Therese Louise, she, too, was married to a Frenchman, Adrian le Grain, habitant soldier of Chambly.

To them were born nine children. It was their greatest delight to listen to their mother's stories of her Puritan home. Best of all, they loved to hear of the robins' nests in the apple trees and the little lambs on the yonder side of the brook.

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