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1757 Smith

James Smith [1737-1814] was from Pennsylvania. He was captured by the Delaware Indians in 1855, age 18, and adopted into the tribe by a family who had lost a close relative in battle. He had considerable freedom within the tribe. Smith escaped in 1759 and returned to his home in Conococheaque early in 1760. He served in the Revolutionary War as a Colonel. He wrote this account of his captivity 40 years after the events using the journal he had kept as a captive.

We took up our birch bark canoes which we had buried, and found that they were not damaged by the winter; but they not being sufficient to carry all that we now had, we made a large chestnut bark canoe, as elm bark was not to be found at this place.

We all embarked, and had a very agreeable passage down the Cayahaga, and along the south side of Lake Erie, until we passed the mouth of Sandusky; then the wind arose, and we put in at the mouth of the Miami of the Lake, at Cedar Point, where we remained several days, and killed a number of turkeys, geese, ducks, and swans. The wind being fair, and the lake not extremely rough, we again embarked, hoisted up sails, and arrived safe at the Wyandot town, nearly opposite to Fort Detroit, on the north side of the river. Here we found a number of French traders, every one very willing to deal with us for our beaver.

We bought ourselves fine clothes, ammunition, paint, tobacco, &c., and, according to promise, they purchased me a new gun: yet we had parted with only about one-third of our beaver. At length a trader came to town with French brandy: we purchased a keg of it, and held a council about who was to get drunk, and who was to keep sober. I was invited to get drunk, but I refused the proposal - then they told me that I must be one of those who were to take care of the drunken people. I did not like this; but of two evils I chose that which I thought was the least - and fell in with those who were to conceal the arms, and keep every dangerous weapon we could out of their way, and endeavour, if possible, to keep the drinking club from killing each other, which was a very hard task. Several times we hazarded our own lives, and got ourselves hurt, in preventing them from slaying each other. Before they had finished this keg, near one-third of the town was introduced to this drinking club; they could not pay their part, as they had already disposed of their skins; but that made no odds - all were welcome to drink. . . . .

Many of the young men were now exercising themselves in a game resembling foot ball; though they commonly struck the ball with a crooked stick made for that purpose; also a game something like this, wherein they used a wooden ball, about three inches diameter, and the instrument they moved it with was a strong staff, about three feet long, with a hoop net on the end of it large enough to contain the ball. Before they begin the play, they lay off about half a mile distance in a clear plain, and the opposite parties all attend at the centre, where a disinterested person casts up the ball, then the opposite parties all contend for it. If any ones gets it into his net, he runs with it the way he wishes it to go, and they all pursue him. If one of the opposite party overtakes the person with the ball, he gives the staff a stroke, which causes the ball to fly out of the net; then they have another debate for it, and if the one that gets it can outrun all the opposite party, and can carry it quite out, or over the line at the end, the game is won; but this seldom happens. When any one is running away with the ball, and is likely to be overtaken, he commonly throws it, and with this instrument can cast it fifty or sixty yards. Sometimes when the ball is almost at the one end, matters will take a sudden turn, and the opposite party may quickly carry it out at the other end. Oftentimes they will work a long while back and forward before they can get the ball over the line, or win the game.

About the 1st of June, 1757, the warriors were preparing to go to war, in the Wyandot, Pottowaatomy, and Ottawa towns; also a great many Jibewas came down from the upper lakes, and after singing their war songs, and going through their common ceremonies, they marched off against the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, in their usual manner, singing the travelling song, slow firing, &c.

On the north side of the river St. Lawrence, opposite to Fort Detroit, there is an island, which the Indians call Long Island, and which they say is above one thousand miles long, and in some places above one hundred miles broad. They further say that the great river that comes down by Canesatauga, and that empties into the main branch of the St. Lawrence, above Montreal, originates from one source with the St. Lawrence, and forms this island.

Opposite to Detroit, and below it, was originally a prairie, and laid off in lots about sixty rods broad, and a great length: each lot is divided into two fields, which they cultivate year about. The principal grain that the French raised in these fields, was spring wheat, and peas.

They built all their houses on the front of these lots on the river side; and as the banks of the river are very low, some of the houses are not above three or four feet above the surface of the water; yet they are in no danger of being disturbed by freshes, as the river seldom rises above eighteen inches; because it is the communication of the river St. Lawrence, from one lake to another.

As dwelling-houses, barns, and stables are all built on the front of these lots, at a distance it appears like a continued row of houses in a town, on each side of the river for a long way. These villages, the town, the river and the plains, being all in view at once, affords a most delightful prospect.

The inhabitants here chiefly drink the river water; and as it comes from the northward, it is very wholesome.

The land here is principally second rate, and comparatively speaking, a small part is first or third rate; though about four or five miles south of Detroit, there is a small portion that is worse than what I call third rate, which produces abundance of whortle berries.

There is plenty of good meadow ground here, and a great many marshes that are overspread with water. The timber is elm, sugar-tree, black-ash, abundance of water ash, oak, hickory, and some walnut.


See Also:

Peckham, Howard H. Indian Captives brought to Detroit. Detroit Historical Society Bulletin 12 (June, 1956): 4-9.