Learning of the length and bloodshed of border warfare between New England and New France comes as a surprise to many Americans.
One of the more startling facets is the tales of English hostages who were taken to Canada by Natives receiving payment for each person they brought north.
Some captives were ransomed by family and returned home, leaving the impression that the French were interested mostly in added revenue. You know, like legal piracy, or a landbound privateering. Maybe even as a kind of generous sympathy on behalf of the captors. Many, as I’m seeing, were wives.
Others, though, never returned, leaving the mysterious impression that they chose to remain, perhaps indulging in a more sensually rich culture than the Puritan world of their past. And perhaps some did.
The French were, however, at a distinct disadvantage in the colonial warfare and settlement. They were outnumbered by the British four to one, by many estimates. Or five to one, from another I’ve encountered.
One way for the French to build up their population was by immediately baptizing the Protestant captives into the Roman Catholic faith. For single women, this could soon be complicated by marriage and childbirth – she would not be allowed to take her children if she was “rescued” or “redeemed” and returned to New England, perhaps as a widow. Becoming a nun was another option.
Yes, further complicating the picture is the fact that some of the captives did in time become Catholic priests or monastics. As a consequence, there would be no place for them in New England without their renouncing that faith.
So far, I’ve come across no indications that the kidnapping ran in the other direction.
The definitive examination of the cases seems to be Emma Lewis Coleman’s two-volume New England Captives Carried to Canada between 1677 and 1760 during the French and Indian wars (published in 1925).
My book Quaking Dover presents two of the attacks, though there were other serious incidents in the town.
As I was saying about wanting to learn more?
2 thoughts on “About those taken into captivity”
There was a young lad named Farnsworth from New England who was captured by Indians and wound up in Quebec through circumstances that are not altogether clear. French-speaking people couldn’t twist their tongue around that string of four consonants in the middle of his name, so they shortened it to Farneth and later to Phaneuf. Phaneuf is now a common family name in parts of Quebec.
And in New Hampshire. Fascinating story.