Monday, October 28, 2013

Mapping the Captives' Journey

Finishing the last few chapters of this project has been interesting—and a whole lot more complex and time-consuming than I expected. I decided we have to have a map in the book, and putting the information together for my illustrator is slowing progress too. Although little is known about the exact route the captives took when they were carried away by the Indians, it’s possible to take some educated guesses with the help of several resources available both in print and on the Internet.

A particular goldmine is a deposition of a “German peasant” by Colonel Henry Bouquet on May 30, 1758 at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. According to Beth Hostetler Mark, in her book Our Flesh and Blood (2003) the deposition is preserved on microfiche (I’m assuming in the PA Archives) as well as in print among Colonel Bouquet’s papers. The details given by this man, called variously “John Hochtattler” or “Hochstattler,” fit the oral family tradition and the known facts of our ancestors’ story so perfectly that it’s almost certain Jacob was, in fact, the man Bouquet questioned.

A letter by British Colonel James Burd, the commander at Fort Augusta at the forks of the Susquehanna River, to Pennsylvania’s deputy governor William Denney, dated May 24, 1758, accompanies the deposition. It provides additional information confirming the tradition that after Jacob’s escape from the Indians he floated down the Susquehanna River on a raft, or “float.” According to the letter, on May 24 Burd saw a white man floating down the river on a raft just as he was preparing to leave Fort Augusta for the British camp at Carlisle. He had the man pulled out of the river and discovered that he was “a Dutchman That was taken Prisoner last Fall nigh to Reading & had made his Escape from an Indian Town above Venango.” Because this man had been behind enemy lines, Burd took him along to Carlisle and turned him over to Colonel Bouquet for questioning.

After questioning “Hochtattler,” Bouquet, a French-speaking Swiss mercenary serving as the British second in command, sent the deposition to General John Forbes. In his cover letter, which reflects the typical attitude of the British and French toward Germans at the time, he states: “I had a German peasant brought here who was taken prisoner last year, and taken to Venango, etc. I am enclosing his deposition. The man is very stupid, and speaks only rude German. I did not think it necessary to send him to you. He is almost dead of hunger, having lived on grass for several days.”

Well, I think if I’d gone through what Jacob did and almost starved during a 15-day escape, I’d come across as pretty stupid too! It’s particularly nice that, by all indications, the British simply cut Jacob loose after they questioned him and let him find his way back home all the way from Carlisle without providing any transportation or provisions! Somehow he made it.

The introduction to the deposition includes details that are unreliable and can be discounted for the most part, although the general time frame given matches traditions about Jacob’s experience. In the deposition itself, however, “John” gives invaluable information about the journey into captivity, the French forts where he and his sons were taken along with other military intelligence, where he was held captive, and his eventual escape.

In my next post, I’m going to give the text of the deposition, which is fascinating. In later posts, I want to go into more detail about the extensive, historic Indian pathways of Pennsylvania. The information I’ve found is allowing me to reconstruct the captives’ journey with as much accuracy as possible, considering the passage of so many years.

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