The True Story Of A Kidnapped Boy
As Told By Himself

By Peter Williamson

I was born in Hirulay, in the county of Aberdeen, Scotland. My parents, though not rich, were respectable, and so long as I was under their care all went well with me. Unhappily, I was sent to stay with an aunt at Aberdeen, where, at eight years old, when playing on the quay, I was noticed as a strong, active little fellow by two men belonging to a vessel in the harbor. Now, this vessel was in the employ of certain merchants of Aberdeen, who used her for the villanous purpose of kidnapping--that is, stealing young children from their parents and selling them as slaves in the plantations abroad.

These impious monsters, marking me out for their prey, tempted me on board the ship, which I had no sooner entered than they led me between the decks to some other boys whom they had kidnapped in like manner. Not understanding what a fate was in store for me, I passed the time in childish amusement with the other lads in the steerage, for we were never allowed to go on deck while the vessel stayed in the harbor, which it did till they had imprisoned as many luckless boys as they needed.

Then the ship set sail for America. I cannot remember much of the voyage, being a mere child at the time, but I shall never forget what happened when it was nearly ended. We had reached the American coast, when a hard gale of wind sprang up from the southeast, and about midnight the ship struck on a sandbank off Cape May, near Delaware. To the terror of all on board, it was soon almost full of water. The boat was then hoisted out, and the captain and his fellow-villains, the crew, got into it, leaving me and my deluded companions, as they supposed, to perish. The cries, shrieks, and tears of a throng of children had no effect on these merciless wretches.

But happily for us the wind abated, and the ship being on a sandbank, which did not give way to let her deeper, we lay here till morning, when the captain, unwilling to lose all his cargo, sent some of the crew in a boat to the ship's side to bring us ashore. A sort of camp was made, and here we stayed till we were taken in by a vessel bound to Philadelphia.

At Philadelphia, people soon came to buy us. We were sold for (pounds)16 apiece. I never knew what became of my unhappy companions, but I was sold for seven years to one of my countrymen, Hugh Wilson, who in his youth had suffered the same fate as myself in being kidnapped from his home.

Happy was my lot in falling into his power, for he was a humane, worthy man. Having no children of his own, and pitying my sad condition, he took great care of me till I was fit for business, and at twelve years old set me about little things till I could manage harder work. Meanwhile, seeing my fellow-servants often reading and writing, I felt a strong desire to learn, and told my master that I should be glad to serve a year longer than the bond obliged me if he would let me go to school. To this he readily agreed, and I went every winter for five years, also learning as much as I could from my fellow-servants.

With this good master I stayed till I was seventeen years old, when he died, leaving me a sum of money, about (pounds)120 sterling, his best horse, and all his wearing apparel.

I now maintained myself by working about the country, for any one who would employ me, for nearly seven years, when I determined to settle down. I applied to the daughter of a prosperous planter, and found my suit was acceptable both to her and her father, so we married. My father-in-law, wishing to establish us comfortably, gave me a tract of land which lay, unhappily for me, as it has since proved, on the frontiers of Pennsylvania. It contained about two hundred acres, with a good house and barn.

I was now happy in my home, with a good wife; but my peace did not last long, for about 1754 the Indians in the French interest, who had formerly been very troublesome in our province, began to renew their old practices. Even many of the Indians whom we supposed to be in the English interest joined the plundering bands; it was no wonder, for the French did their utmost to win them over, promising to pay (pounds)15 for every scalp of an Englishman!

Hardly a day passed but some unhappy family fell a victim to French bribery and savage cruelty. As for me, though now in comfortable circumstances, with an affectionate and amiable wife, it was not long before I suddenly became the most pitiable of mankind. I can never bear to think of the last time I saw my dear wife, on the fatal 2nd of October, 1754. That day she had left home to visit some of her relations, and, no one being in the house but myself, I stayed up later than usual, expecting her return. How great was my terror when, at eleven o'clock at night, I heard the dismal warwhoop of the savages, and, flying to the window, saw a band of them outside, about twelve in number.

They made several attempts to get in, and I asked them what they wanted. They paid no attention, but went on beating at the door, trying to get it open. Then, having my gun loaded in my hand, I threatened them with death if they would not go away. But one of them, who could speak a little English, called out in return that if I did not come out they would burn me alive in the house. They told me further--what I had already found out--that they were no friends to the English, but that if I would surrender myself prisoner they would not kill me.

My horror was beyond all words. I could not depend on the promises of such creatures, but I must either accept their offer or be burned alive. Accordingly, I went out of my house with my gun in my hand, not knowing what I did or that I still held it. Immediately, like so many tigers, they rushed on me and disarmed me. Having me now completely in their power, the merciless villains bound me to a tree near the door, and then went into the house and plundered what they could. Numbers of things which they were unable to carry away were set fire to with the house and consumed before my eyes. Then they set fire to my barn, stable, and outhouses, where I had about two hundred bushels of wheat, and cows, sheep, and horses. My agony as I watched all this havoc it is impossible to describe.

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When the terrible business was over, one of the monsters came to me, a tomahawk in his hand, threatening me with a cruel death if I would not consent to go with them. I was forced to agree, promising to do all that was in my power for them, and trusting to Providence to deliver me out of their hands. On this they untied me, and gave me a great load to carry on my back, under which I travelled all that night with them, full of the most terrible fear lest my unhappy wife should likewise have fallen into their clutches. At daybreak my master ordered me to lay down my load, tying my hands round a tree with a small cord. They then kindled a fire near the tree to which I was bound, which redoubled my agony, for I thought they were going to sacrifice me there.

When the fire was made, they danced round me after their manner, with all kinds of antics, whooping and crying out in the most horrible fashion. Then they took the burning coals and sticks, flaming with fire at the ends, and held them near my face, head, hands and feet, with fiendish delight, at the same time threatening to burn me entirely if I called out or made the least noise. So, tortured as I was, I could make no sign of distress but shedding silent tears, which, when they saw, they took fresh coals, and held them near my eyes, telling me my face was wet, and they would dry it for me. I have often wondered how I endured these tortures; but at last they were satisfied, and sat down round the fire and roasted the meat which they had brought from my dwelling!

When they had prepared it, they offered some to me, and though it may be imagined that I had not much heart to eat, I was forced to seem pleased, lest if I refused it they should again begin to torture me. What I could not eat I contrived to get between the bark and the tree--my foes having unbound my hands till they supposed I had eaten all they gave me. But then they bound me as before, and so I continued all day.

When the sun was set they put out the fire, and covered the ashes with leaves, as is their custom, that the white people may find no signs of their having been there.

Travelling thence, by the river, for about six miles, I being loaded heavily, we reached a spot near the Blue Hills, where the savages hid their plunder under logs of wood. Thence, shocking to relate, they went to a neighboring house, that of Jacob Snider, his wife, five children, and a young man, a servant. They soon forced their way into the unhappy man's dwelling, slew the whole family, and set fire to the house.

The servant's life was spared for a time, since they thought he might be of use to them, and forthwith loaded him with plunder. But he could not bear the cruel treatment that we suffered; and though I tried to console him with a hope of deliverance, he continued to sob and moan. One of the savages, seeing this, instantly came up, struck him to the ground, and slew him.

The family of John Adams next suffered. All were here put to death except Adams himself, a good old man, whom they loaded with plunder, and day after day continued to treat with the most shocking cruelty, painting him all over with various colors, plucking the white hairs from his beard, and telling him he was a fool for living so long, and many other tortures which he bore with wonderful composure, praying to God.

One night after he had been tortured, when he and I were sitting together, pitying each other's misfortunes, another party of Indians arrived, bringing twenty scalps and three prisoners, who gave us terrible accounts of what tragedies had passed in their parts, on which I cannot bear to dwell.

These three prisoners contrived to escape, but unhappily, not knowing the country, they were recaptured and brought back. They were then all put to death, with terrible tortures.

A great snow now falling, the savages began to be afraid that the white people would follow their tracks upon it and find out their skulking retreats, and this caused them to make their way to their winter quarters, about two hundred miles further from any plantations or English inhabitants. There, after a long and tedious journey, in which I was almost starved, I arrived with this villainous crew. The place where we had to stay, in their tongue, was called Alamingo, and there I found a number of wigwams full of Indian women and children. Dancing, singing, and shooting were their general amusements, and they told what successes they had had in their expeditions, in which I found myself part of their theme. The severity of the cold increasing, they stripped me of my own clothes and gave me what they usually wear themselves--a blanket, a piece of coarse cloth, and a pair of shoes made of deerskin.

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The better sort of Indians have shirts of the finest linen they can get, and with these some wear ruffles, but they never put them on till they have painted them different colors, and do not take them off to wash, but wear them till they fall into pieces. They are very proud, and delight in trinkets, such as silver plates round their wrists and necks, with several strings of wampum, which is made of cotton, interwoven with pebbles, cockle-shells, etc. From their ears and noses they have rings and beads, which hang dangling an inch or two.

The hair of their heads is managed in different ways: some pluck out and destroy all except a lock hanging from the crown of the head, which they interweave with wampum and feathers. But the women wear it very long, twisted down their backs, with beads, feathers, and wampum, and on their heads they carry little coronets of brass or copper.

No people have a greater love of liberty or affection for their relations, yet they are the most revengeful race on earth, and inhumanly cruel. They generally avoid open fighting in war, yet they are brave when taken, enduring death or torture with wonderful courage. Nor would they at any time commit such outrages as they do if they were not tempted by drink and money by those who call themselves civilized.

At Alamingo I was kept nearly two months, till the snow was off the ground--a long time to be among such creatures! I was too far from any plantations or white people to try to escape; besides, the bitter cold made my limbs quite benumbed. But I contrived to defend myself more or less against the weather by building a little wigwam with the bark of the trees, covering it with earth, which made it resemble a cave, and keeping a good fire always near the door.

Seeing me outwardly submissive, the savages sometimes gave me a little meat, but my chief food was Indian corn.

Having liberty to go about was, indeed, more than I expected; but they knew well it was impossible for me to escape.

At length they prepared for another expedition against the planters and white people, but before they set out they were joined by many other Indians from Fort Duquesne, well stored with powder and ball that they had received from the French.

As soon as the snow was quite gone, so that no trace of their footsteps could be found, they set out on their journey toward Pennsylvania, to the number of nearly a hundred and fifty. Their wives and children were left behind in the wigwams. My duty was to carry whatever they entrusted to me; but they never gave me a gun. For several days we were almost famished for want of proper provisions: I had nothing but a few stalks of Indian corn, which I was glad to eat dry, and the Indians themselves did not fare much better.

When we again reached the Blue Hills, a council of war was held, and we agreed to divide into companies of about twenty men each, after which every captain marched with his party where he thought proper. I still belonged to my old masters, but was left behind on the mountains with ten Indians, to stay till the rest returned, as they did not think it safe to carry me nearer to the plantations.

Here being left, I began to meditate on my escape, for I knew the country round very well, having often hunted there. The third day after the great body of the Indians quitted us, my keepers visited the mountains in search of game, leaving me bound in such a way that I could not get free.

When they returned at night they unbound me, and we all sat down to supper together, feasting on two polecats which they had killed. Then, being greatly tired with their day's excursion, they lay down to rest as usual.

Seeing them apparently fast asleep, I tried different ways of finding out whether it was a pretence to see what I should do. But after making a noise and walking about, sometimes touching them with my feet, I found that they really slept. My heart exulted at the hope of freedom, but it sank again when I thought how easily I might be recaptured. I resolved, if possible, to get one of their guns, and if discovered to die in self-defence rather than be taken; and I tried several times to take one from under their heads, where they always secure them. But in vain; I could not have done so without rousing them.

So, trusting myself to the Divine protection, I set out defenceless. Such was my terror, however, that at first I halted every four or five yards, looking fearfully toward the spot where I had left the Indians, lest they should wake and miss me. But when I was about two hundred yards off I mended my pace and made all the haste I could to the foot of the mountains.

Suddenly I was struck with the greatest terror and dismay, hearing behind me the fearful cries and howling of the savages, far worse than the roaring of lions or the shrieking of hyenas; and I knew that they had missed me. The more my dread increased, the faster I hurried, scarce knowing where I trod, sometimes falling and bruising myself, cutting my feet against the stones, yet, faint and maimed as I was, rushing on through the woods. I fled till daybreak, then crept into a hollow tree, where I lay concealed, thanking God for so far having favored my escape. I had nothing to eat but a little corn.

But my repose did not last long, for in a few hours I heard the voices of the savages near the tree in which I was hid threatening me with what they would do if they caught me, which I already guessed too well. However, at last they left the spot where I heard them, and I stayed in my shelter the rest of that day without any fresh alarms.

At night I ventured out again, trembling at every bush I passed, and thinking each twig that touched me a savage. The next day I concealed myself in the same manner, and at night travelled forward, keeping off the main road, used by the Indians, as much as possible, which made my journey far longer, and more painful than I can express.

But how shall I describe my terror when, on the fourth night, a party of Indians lying round a small fire which I had not seen, hearing the rustling I made among the leaves, started from the ground, seizing their arms, and ran out into the wood? I did not know, in my agony of fear, whether to stand still or rush on. I expected nothing but a terrible death; but at that very moment a troop of swine made toward the place where the savages were. They, seeing the hogs, guessed that their alarm had been caused by them, and returned merrily to their fire and lay down to sleep again. As soon as this happened, I pursued my way more cautiously and silently, but in a cold perspiration of terror at the peril I had just escaped. Bruised, cut, and shaken, I still held on my path till break of day, when I lay down under a huge log, and slept undisturbed till noon. Then, getting up, I climbed a great hill, and, scanning the country round, I saw, to my unspeakable joy, some habitations of white people, about ten miles distant.

My pleasure was somewhat damped by not being able to get among them that night. But they were too far off; therefore, when evening fell, I again commended myself to Heaven, and lay down, utterly exhausted. In the morning, as soon as I woke, I made toward the nearest of the cleared lands which I had seen the day before; and that afternoon I reached the house of John Bull, an old acquaintance.

I knocked at the door, and his wife, who opened it, seeing me in such a frightful condition, flew from me like lightning, screaming, into the house.

This alarmed the whole family, who immediately seized their arms, and I was soon greeted by the master with his gun in his hand. But when I made myself known--for at first he took me for an Indian--he and all his family welcomed me with great joy at finding me alive; since they had been told I was murdered by the savages some months ago.

No longer able to bear up, I fainted and fell to the ground. When they had recovered me, seeing my weak and famished state, they gave me some food, but let me at first partake of it very sparingly. Then for two days and nights they made me welcome, and did their utmost to bring back my strength, with the kindest hospitality. Finding myself once more able to ride, I borrowed a horse and some clothes of these good people, and set out for my father-in-law's house in Chester County, about a hundred and forty miles away. I reached it on January 4,1755; but none of the family could believe their eyes when they saw me, having lost all hope on hearing that I had fallen a prey to the Indians.

They received me with great joy; but when I asked for my dear wife, I found she had been dead two months, and this fatal news greatly lessened the delight I felt at my deliverance.

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