Archive for Iroquios

The Account of Elizabeth Joy Howardson – Her Time as an Indian Captive of the Iroquois Tribe. A Memoir, Written by Mrs. Howardson in the Year of Our Lord 1706

Posted in 2010 with tags , , , , , , on November 17, 2010 by Kristen

I wrote this piece for my American Literature class, for an assignment entitled “Literary Adventures.” It is a fictional captivity narrative, such as might have happened to someone captured by Indians in Pre-Revolutionary America. I had a lot of fun learning more about Indian captives and imagining myself in the perspective of Eliza, the protagonist. I hope you enjoy it!

The Account of Elizabeth Joy Howardson – Her Time as an Indian Captive of the Iroquois Tribe

A Memoir, Written by Mrs. Howardson in the Year of Our Lord 1706

My Dear Readers –

It has been eleven Years since I was returned to Charity, our Village, after my Capture by a group of Indians from the Iroquois Tribe and the length of Time which I spent with the same. I passed many arduous times with them, yet there were also times full of many blessings, unexpected and wondrous. I was one of the fortunate of the Indian Captives – others whose Accounts you may have already heard having not been so fortunate. The Account of my Capture has gone unrecorded until now, and has been related to few but my Good Husband, one James Howardson, the son of a Founder of Charity, and to my own Children – especially to Henry, Justice, and Prudence Howardson, who were born to me after my Return, and so were unconscious of the Events before they were told of them by myself or my Husband. My Husband has urged me for many Years to write down a proper Account of my Experiences, as a Remembrance for myself, for Friends, and for Posterity. He has shown me that it would be sensible to do so and would serve as a Testimony of our Good and Faithful Lord, so that others may come to greater Trust in Him through the story of my Capture and Subsequent Rescue. Having finally sufficient Time to do so, and with these Thoughts in mind, I pen these Words. The Events are all true as I remember them, and are Proof of the great Favor I have been shown by God in my Life.


I was taken on the Morning of April 27th, 1693. I was then 24 Years of Age and had been seven Years wed at that time. I had one Son and one Daughter by my Husband – called William and Constance. William was 6 Years and Constance was but 4 Years of Age at the Time of my Capture. On that Day, my Husband was preparing himself to join a Hunting Party of some few of the Men of our Village, as Supplies had been running quite low and Winter had just let go its hold of the Land. It was the first of the warm Days of the Year, and our Necessity drove them on their Way.

I was preparing a large Packet of Food to send with my Husband when the Dog perked up its ears and whined most shrilly, as it is wont to do upon hearing the Footsteps of a Stranger or Neighbor, coming from far off. I thought it must be one of the Party, come to collect my Husband to begin the Journey, and I hurried through the final Preparations before sending him off. As I soon discovered, I needn’t have hastened so; a sudden Shot sounded in the Village, coming from one of the Houses some way off, and the Sound of wild Yelling and Whooping reached my Ears. I felt a chilling Dread then – I had heard the Stories of Indian attacks in other Villages, and had always hoped that we might avoid such a terrible Fate. But against all of our Precautionary Measures, this was not to be.

My Husband reacted immediately when he realized the Danger that was about to befall us. He took Constance from her chair and hid her in our Trunk, giving her a Biscuit and saying to her that he would protect her and come to get her out as soon as he might. I was quite anxious that she should stay there – so many things might go wrong; what if the Air was too stuffy or the Trunk were to be smashed? But my Husband insisted that it must be done. He did what he could for her Comfort in those short Minutes, insisting that she would be safest there – indeed, that he should like to hide William inside as well, only that there did not remain sufficient Space inside for them both. So I quieted and hid under our Bed with William as my Husband entreated me to do – he doubted that this would stop any Attackers, but thought it might slow them down. As my Husband crept out of Doors, his Gun in his Hand, to ascertain what was afoot, I made free to secret his Hunting Knife about my Person and stole away under the Bed with my Son. I did not see my Husband again from that Moment until the time of my Rescue long afterward – O! What might I have said or done, had I known? Countless Times did I wish, during my Captivity, that I might have had one last Embrace, one last Word, even one more Look before we perforce were parted. During the whole of my Time with the Indians, I had not the faintest Notion of when I would see my dear Husband again, or my little Daughter, either, if even I ever would.

Once my Husband had left our Home, I remained quietly under the Bed, waiting with my son for what should befall us. My Heart pounded in time with the sounding Drums that came ever closer as I listened. I clutched my Son tight to me and entreated him to remain silent (which I need not have done, so stilled by Fear was he), trying to whisper Words of Comfort in his Ear. I found it hard, as I was barely able to keep my own Wits about me. But for the Grace of God, I should have fainted or cried out or done something equally dangerous in my Terror. I grasped the Handle of my Husband’s Knife tightly in my Hand, trying to prepare myself for an Attack while the booming Gunfire sounded throughout our little Village.

I could not imagine what might have brought on this savage Attack; as far as I knew, we had always attempted to maintain Peaceful Relations with our Indian Neighbors. It was not until much later that I learnt of a Trespass that had been committed by two of our Youth – impatient for the Spring, they had gone a-hunting some few days before the Attack, and had apparently provoked the nearby Tribe of Iroquois Indians and an unintended Altercation had occurred. The Youths had accidentally killed two of their Number and wounded Another in their Panic, not having realized that they had encroached on the Indian Camp until it was too late. They had told no one, hoping to avoid a punishment, foolishly seeing these accidental Killings as less than the terrible Affair it was – I am of the Mind, especially after my Time with them, that the Uncivilized – unchristian as they are – do not merit such treatment from us, who call ourselves Followers of the One True God.

The Indians had waited until the State of the Weather was more opportunely in their Favor to Attack our Village in bitter Revenge. Thus, we were all forced to pay for the Folly of those Youths, who, I am told, were duly punished with five Days in the Stocks once their Fault regarding the matter was discovered.

My Terror threatened to overcome me as I heard Footsteps at the door of my house. My thoughts were alternately with my hidden Daughter, my Son, and my Husband – I could only guess at the Location of the latter and prayed fervently that the Lord might watch over him and keep him from any Harm. The Indians had now entered our House, and were making a great Noise in the Outer Room, knocking over the Furniture and doing goodness knows What. They burst through the Door of the Bedroom and began to search the Room. I thought I really should faint then – we were sure to be discovered in a moment. I could hardly keep from going to the Trunk in the corner, in which my little Daughter was hid, though I quickly realized that this would be the most dangerous thing of all to do. I held still tighter to William, and waited for the inevitable Moment when we would be found. It came – the Indians shoved the Bed out of the way, and we were exposed to their Eyes. They shouted at us with harsh, unintelligible Words that drove the Fear still deeper into my Heart, and one of them roughly took me by the hair and dragged me up from the Ground. I did not loose my hold on my Son, though I was trembling for Fear, wondering if I was soon to be scalped by the Indian’s cruel Knife. Seeing the Weapon, I remembered my own Knife and plunged it into the first Part of the Indian that I could manage to reach. I felt the Blade sink sickeningly into the Thigh of the Indian, and he screamed in Shock and Pain, dropping me to the Ground again. I prayed to the Lord to forgive me for this desperate Act, hoping that he would overlook the Violence of a Mother protecting her Child. Another of the Indians shouted at me and pulled me back up, while a third attempted to wrest my son from my Arms, but I would have none of it – I clutched him to me so firmly that I’m sure it must have been painful to him, but the Fear of being parted from him made my Grip fierce. The Indian who had hauled me up again now held my Arm firmly and was shaking me about roughly in an attempt to separate me from my Son. When this was not successful, he put his Knife to my Throat and spoke menacing Words into my Ear, the Meaning of which I could only guess at. I assumed, however, that they communicated a Threat to my Life if I would not loosen my hold on William. This did not deter my Motherly Sensibilities, however. It was only when the Indian threatened my Child with the Knife that I saw no other recourse but to let him go and, with him, to relinquish both our Fates.

The Indian that had torn William away from me rushed with him out of our House, while my poor Son cried and called loudly to me. I was greatly pained, not being able to help him in any way, but I did what I could for his younger sibling by not looking anywhere near her Hiding Place. Distracted as they were by my Son and me, the Indians did not investigate the Room further, to my great Relief. The one holding me dragged me Outside and threw me to the Ground, while his Companion limped out as best he could behind him. Curling up pathetically on the Ground, I covered my Head, waiting for the Death Blow that I felt sure was soon to come. I had caught a glimpse of several of the nearby Houses which were burning, and my Heart sank with Dismay – I prayed once more that God would keep the Flames from our home and my concealed Daughter. I heard the Sounds of Fighting and saw a group of struggling Men not far off – would these scenes of Violence and Death be the last I would see before I perished? I could do nothing but tremble.

While I waited there, nothing happened for what seemed an Age. I ventured a look at my Attackers, and saw them conversing in harsh tones. By their movements, I deduced that they were deciding whether or not to kill me. The one seemed to dissuade the other from doing so, and he lowered his Knife, to my great relief. Long afterward, I learned that they had only sought to destroy a Few, to repay the Amount as were killed of their Number by the reckless Youths. The rest were meant to be taken as prisoners, as was no doubt communicated between my Attackers at that moment. However, I was not to learn this, or anything else, at the time, since a great Blow fell upon my Head, and All was dark.

Among the Indians

When I awoke, I found myself in a Darkness which seemed so complete that I doubted whether I was truly revived. The Terror that had left me in my Stupor returned to me in Fullness, and I began to tremble. I daresay I was a Pitiful Sight to see. Never had I felt more alone – I knew not where I was; only that my Head ached awfully from the Blow I had received, and that I knew not whether any of my Family Members were alive or dead. I strongly suspected it was the latter, but could not let myself entertain such Thoughts for long or I would have gone mad. My Eyes began to accustom themselves to the Darkness, and I could make out rough Shapes around me, but could discern nothing of what they were. To keep my fear at bay, I began softly to sing a Hymn or two to distract my Mind and Lift my Spirits. In my Fear, I could do nothing but offer Prayers to God and sing Songs of His Faithfulness.

Presently, I heard a sort of whimpering Sob near me. I was much startled, and looked about me to find its Source – in vain. I felt a sudden, soft Touch on my Hand, and was further distressed, but a quiet, rasping Voice said “Who are you? O! Please, say you are a friend!”

I reached out to the Woman and found her. “It is I, Eliza Howardson. Who are you, my friend?”

She gasped and I suddenly felt her shaking Arms around me. “It is you! Oh, my dear friend! Don’t you know me? It is Abigail Townsend, your neighbor!”

I stifled a sharp Cry, and returned her Embrace. I had not recognized her hoarse, disembodied Voice at first, but I knew her now. What Comfort was brought to us, upon such a great Blessing of finding a friend in that dark and unholy Place! We consoled each other in our Misfortune, and wondered what would become of us now. At length, our Strength was spent after such Travails as we had endured, and we slept.

Later, we were awoken to find that a Fire had been lit at one End of the Strange Place in which we had come to ourselves. We could make out Human Shapes moving about near the Blaze which cast weird Shadows on the Wall. We could also discern that we were in a long, low structure, of a very Large Size. I had heard of the Indians having such houses, in each of which many Families would live and sleep. It seemed to me a Great Immodesty to live so. I was soon to become accustomed to it, though – the Place became my new Home for quite some time.

We looked upon the Man who had awoken us, and could dimly make out his Form. He was a Lithe, Dark Man, perhaps no older than my Husband. He thrust some sort of dry Cake of Bread into our Hands, and we immediately devoured it, suddenly finding ourselves to be famished. It did not satisfy, but it kept us for a time.

While we were being fed, another of the Males came up to the one who had awoken us, and began to talk to him, but of course we could not understand him. We were able to see more clearly now, and took in the details of both Men. The First was more plainly dressed but for the grotesque War-paint which remained on his lean Face, while the other was a burly Male who seemed several years older and had various Adornments and Weapons about his Person and in his Hair. Most dreadful were divers Scalps hanging from his Belt – I knew that some of them were likely those of our Townsmen, and I was terribly revolted at the sight. Of a sudden, Abigail cried out – she had recognized one of the Scalps as her husband’s, by its distinctive white-blond Color. She cried out his Name and immediately began to sob, as I held her close, not knowing what Words I might use to bring her Comfort. Nothing could describe our Horror and Grief at that Moment. I shut my eyes, unable to look more closely, as I was afraid I would see poor James’ scalp hanging there. I prayed more fervently than ever.

In the following Days, Abigail and I remained together as much as possible. The Indians did not seem hostile toward us – we had heard terrible Stories of People who had been tortured and killed by such Indians, but the Tribe seemed to have no such intention toward us. On the contrary; they seemed to wish to teach us things and employ us in such Tasks as their Women regularly perform. We were taught to weave, to prepare such Foods as the Iroquois eat, and to make and mend the Garments that the Tribe is wont to wear. The man who had fed us that first terrible Day knew some small bits of English, and seemed to have been assigned to communicate necessary Pieces of Information to us in his broken Manner. At first, we feared him, but we came to realize that he meant us no Injury, and we began to accept his help. He became a sort of Angel to us, as though sent to us by God – his unexpected Help was surprising to us, but we thankfully received it.

Just as this Man bore no Ill Will toward Abigail and I, so did the other Men of the Tribe treat us surprisingly well; at least those that did not ignore us outright. At first, we were in great Fear for our Chastity, having heard awful Stories of that kind as well. We need not have cast ourselves into anxiety over such things – during our whole Time there, not one of the Males made improper Advances toward us, nor did they try to importune us in any way. However, late in our Captivity, we were each approached on separate Occasions by Males who wished to make Brides of us. We were very disconcerted by this, though they made these Offers courteously enough, in their way. At length, we were able to make it clear that I was already bound to a Husband, and that Abigail, as a grieving Widow, did not wish to wed. The Men seemed disappointed when this was communicated to them by the Women of the Tribe whom we made to understand our situation, but no one approached us with such a Request again after those Instances.

One Day, about two Months (by my no doubt faulty Reckoning) after our initial Capture, something astonishing and wonderful happened – a neighboring Tribe of Iroquois came to trade with the Tribe of whom Abigail and I were captives. When scanning the group in my Curiosity, I espied none other than my own Son, William! I was overjoyed to see him again, having thought him likely to have perished. I cried out to him, and he saw me. We attempted to go to each other, but the Indian Males around us noticed the Commotion we were making and attempted to stop us. I grew frantic – I was in no wise willing to lose my Son again; I would have him with me or die in the Attempt to recover him. One of the Women in whose longhouse I was living and who knew me a little attempted to calm me, but I would none. Finally, those around us understood that the pale little Boy was my son, and the Tribe to whom I belonged seemed to bargain for him, for my Sake. At first, the other Group was loath to part with him, but he and I cried and strained toward each other so that they were obliged to relinquish him if only it would quiet us. Oh, it was a blissful Reunion! To hold in my Arms my dear Child, whom I thought I should never see again in this Life, was a Joy I had dared not wish for. The hope we both regained when we met once more became our sustenance, and we knew God’s Peace in the midst of our Trials.

The Women of the Tribe seemed as happy as I to gain another Child in their number. They treated him as sort of darling Pet, and they seemed partial to his fair childish Beauty. He became quite content, cosseted as he was by many of the Tribe, and he made a friend of many a young Indian child. They were often seen playing together in one lively mass, like a group of Pups.

I likewise found myself becoming close to some members of the tribe, especially those Females with whom I lived and worked. Over time, I was able to learn something of the language, and could eventually make short, simple conversation with some of the Members of the Tribe. Abigail, in her grief, was much slower to become accustomed to this new Way of Life into which we had been thrust – she rather retreated inside herself much of the time, doing only what she was bid and no more. She was hesitant to learn any of the Language, though she did learn some few Words which served her at Need. William, however, took to the Language as easily as breathing – his young Mind could soak up the Language like a Sop, and, though he has forgotten some of it due to Disuse, he retains still, at nineteen Years of Age, some Measure of his Knowledge of the Iroquois Speech to this day, something which has proved very useful in our necessary Dealings with the Indians throughout these eleven years.

After being with the Indians for a long while, I began to feel, if not happy, then at least complacent with my Situation. My existence became a long sequence of routine events and dealings with others, which I will not relate here because of their overall Monotony – such Monotony as I deem them to have, at any rate. I was able to live from Day to Day in Peace, something I had not expected to achieve upon being captured. I even began to look like my Captors – my own simple Dress wore out before too long, busy as my life became, and the Females were obliged to provide me with clothes of their own making, which I found to be quite lovely and comfortable to wear. My Skin even began to darken to a Shade closer to theirs, as a result of being so much in the Sun, and if my Features were not quite so European in their Looks, I would have been able to blend in with the Rest with tolerable Ease. However, even though I began to look like them on the outside, I did not feel as though I could accept their Ways fully on the inside. In spite of everything, I held fast to my Christian Ways. Though I had no Bible to comfort me, I remembered the Teachings of Christ, and it was His Great Love that saw me through to the end and kept my Hope alive, even in the darkest Moments.

Also, though my Captors were mostly kind to me, aside from occasionally expecting too much of me (I was often not able to keep up with the Alacrity and Skill of the Females with whom I worked, and was often impatiently castigated for this), it was impossible to forget the cruelties they had committed upon myself and upon the people of my Village. Of course, I still thought of my Husband and Daughter daily, longing to know that they were well, aching to see them again. I knew that, no matter how contented I became in living with the Tribe, I could never truly become one of them, as I would never cease to remember the Rest of my Family and wish to be with them. Even if I were to be adopted as one of the Tribe – and I have no doubt this would have happened, had I stayed with them for longer – I could never be truly happy with them. Because of his Youth, my Son showed Signs of becoming quite happy indeed to stay with the Iroquois, and I am certain that they would have gladly kept him, but it was too late for me to achieve such a contentment in being with the Tribe. I even entertained thoughts of escape from time to time, though could see no way that such a venture could become a reality – I had a very poor idea of where we were, having been insensible for the entire Journey to the Indian Camp. I reckoned that it would be more dangerous for me to attempt to leave than it would be to stay – at best, I would have to wander long before finding my Village and Family again; at worst, the Tribe would discover me and punish me for attempting to flee, and they would cease to show even the measure of Kindness toward me that they now demonstrated. And so, I remained with them, until such time of my Death or my Rescue, or some other opportune Chance, whichever it was that would first befall me.


Many, many months after my capture, the best and final unexpected Blessing of my Ordeal occurred. One day, there seemed to be a great Gathering at the Center of the Camp, with many of the Indian Men standing together around something I was not able to see. I was curious to find out what was happening, and so took Abigail by the Hand and crept toward the Group, with William trotting along behind us. Some of the Women seemed also inquisitive about the proceedings, and we searched for a good Place from which we could watch what was occuring. When I came nearer, the Group of Men were standing with more Space between them than they had seemed to do from a Distance, and I was able to peer through them to see what they were about. I could descry a Group of pale-skinned Men standing close together, and my Heart began to pound at the sight. When I got close enough to see that my Husband was one of their Number, I could not keep myself from crying out for Joy, but I had just enough Prudence left to keep from trying to run to him. The Men in front of me turned to look at me, and their Movement allowed my Husband to view me clearly. His Face seemed to me to be overcome with Joy, and in the Voice I had longed to hear for Months, said, “There! That is my Wife! That is my Son! I beg of you, Men, let me reclaim them. I have come to ransom them – see, here we have many Gifts to give in exchange for them.” There was then a great deal of Noise, as everyone tried to discern what was happening, since most of the Indians could not understand a Word of what my Husband had said. It seemed that my Husband and the Others had been trying to explain matters to the Indians for some time before we had come upon them, with no Success. I asked the Indian Man who spoke a bit of English to come and help me – I had retained a friendship with him, which proved to be a wise Choice. Together, all was accounted for as my paltry Skills in the Iroquois Language and my Indian Friend’s bit of English helped us to communicate to the Indian Chief that my Husband and his Comrades wished to ransom myself and my Son, and also Abigail (I refused to leave without her), and would give them several Firearms, two Knives, and various choice Items of Clothing, the like of which the Indians could not get or make. It was clear to all through the offering of these costly and precious Items how dearly my Husband and the Others wished to redeem us. It took some time before the Indian Chief would be satisfied, but finally, he accepted the Offer, and we were brought back to our Homes safely and in great Happiness. Though it caused an odd feeling in me to leave the place I had called home for a long while, a place which I had not known whether I would ever leave, I was beside myself with happiness once I realized how deeply God had blessed me and how carefully He had watched over myself, my Family, and Abigail. Once I returned to our Home (still intact, in spite of all that had occurred) and was reunited with my dear Daughter Constance, my Joy was complete.

My Husband, upon my Return, informed me that I had been absent for a little more than two Years’ Time. I was 26 years of age at the time of my Rescue, the year being 1695. Though I was happy to return, I found it hard to re-accustom myself to my old Way of Life once again, and knew that the Memory of my Experiences would always hang about me.

Indeed, I shall never forget my time with the Iroquois people – it has left an Indelible Mark upon me. I know them now as a People to be respected, perhaps even loved, as well as feared. Though my Captivity was very difficult in many ways, I do not regret that it has made me a stronger Woman or that it taught me of the Depth and Constancy of God’s Love. However, I shall also remember always the way the Attack of the Iroquois changed our Village, taking from us various fine and beloved Members whom we still dearly miss. It has served as a reminder that though this Land and its People are truly great, it has many Perils, and we shall never be true Masters here, for all that we may strive to be.


In addition to my own ideas and knowledge of this subject, as well as elements that I invented myself (for example, the village Charity is, of course, a fictional place that could plausibly be located somewhere in New York State), I used several sources to serve as inspiration for my story and to ascertain the plausibility of the dates and other details. I have compiled them into the following list:

Works Consulted

Dickinson, Alice. Taken by the Indians: True Tales of Captivity. New York: Franklin Watts,

1976. Print.

Drimmer, Frederick, ed. Captured by the Indians: 15 Firsthand Accounts, 1750-1870. New

York: Dover Publications, 1961. Print.

VanDerBeets, Richard, ed. Held Captive By Indians: Selected Narratives 1642-1836.

Knoxville, Tennessee: The University of Tennessee Press, 1973. Print.