The afternoon of Braddock’s defeat John Smith waited anxiously for word of the battle. He was sure that this would be the day of his salvation; that Braddock’s army would send the warriors fleeing in retreat and Contrecoeur would surrender the fort.
While resting in his quarters he heard a great commotion inside the fort. He rose and quickly hobbled out to receive what he thought would be good news. It was not. He feared so when he observed that the excitement being exhibited by those few returning from the battlefield were exultations of joy. Although he could not understand French he did understand Dutch which one of the soldiers spoke. Hesitatingly Smith asked, “What was the news?” The soldier informed him that a runner had just arrived and told them that Braddock was certain to be defeated. He said that the warriors and French had taken to the trees and gullies, surrounded him and kept up a constant barrage of fire upon them. He said he saw the British falling in heaps and if they didn’t retreat back across the river there would not be one left alive by sundown. For James Smith this was not good news!
A little later he heard the scalp haloos shouted by a number of warriors and saw them come in carrying many scalps, grenadier caps, canteens, small arms and other items issued to British regulars. Some time after that he saw a company of near 100 warriors and a few French arrive at the fort. Almost all had a number of scalps each. Then the main body arrived with a great number of wagon-horses, captured weapons and other loot. They brought the news that Braddock was defeated. All the warriors and French kept up a constant firing of small arms while the big guns of the fort continuously thundered in victory celebrations. Intermingled in the din were shouts of hundreds of victory whoops.
About sundown Smith saw a small company of warriors coming with about a dozen English prisoners. All were stripped naked and had their hands tied behind their backs. He watched from the wall of the fort as the prisoners were taken to the west bank of the Allegheny directly across from the fort. There the prisoners were burned to death amid shouts of victory. When the first one burned began to wail in pain James Smith could watch no longer so he retired to his quarters sore and dejected.
A few days later Smith was handed over by the French to their Caughnawaga allies. He wasn’t able to travel overland yet so they took him by canoe up the Allegheny to Venango where he recuperated for about three weeks. Then they moved him to a town on the west branch of the Muskingum River called Tullihas. It was inhabited by Caughnawagas, Delaware and Mohicans. The Caughnawaga were Christian Iroquois from the Montreal area who had left there to live in Ohio and return to their old ways.
One of the Caughnawaga men began to give him the dress of a native. He began by plucking out all of the hair on his head except a small square on his crown. This he braided into three scalp locks and adorned them with feathers and silver broches. After this they pierced his ears and nose which they fixed with ear rings and nose jewels. He was ordered to strip down and put on a breach cloth and they painted his face and body in various colors. They finished his transformation by hanging around his neck a large wampum belt and they put on his wrists and right arm silver bracelets. Since Smith had only witnessed cruel deaths perpetrated on their English captors he was sure he was being all done up for execution.
When he was ready an old chief led him by the hand out of the lodge and gave the call, coo-wigh, several times in rapid succession. All the town came out and this old chief speaking very loudly made a long harangue. He then handed Smith over to three young women who led him waist deep into the river. He thought this was the mode of execution they had choses for him; death by drowning.
The three young women tried to wrestle him under the water, so Smith strained with all his might trying to stay above a watery grave. The whole town was on the bank witnessing the spectacle with gales of laughter. One of the young women spoke a little English so she repeated, “No hurt you”. Upon hearing these words he gave up the fight and let them submerge him completely.
After this they led him to the council house where he was given the finest of new clothes including a ruffled shirt, leggings and moccasins. They put new feathers in his scalp locks and repainted his face in various colors. They gave him a tomahawk, pipe and medicine pouch containing tobacco and dried sumach leaves. The chiefs and leading men of the town then came in and all sat in silence in a circle; all of them smoking. They were silent for a long time, then one of the chiefs stood and made a long speech which was interpreted for him by one who spoke English.
The old chief called him his son and said that he was now bone of their bones and flesh of their flesh. That the ceremony that was done that day washed all of the white blood from his body and he was now adopted into the Caughnawaga Nation, into a mighty family and into the lodge of a great man. Again he called him son and said that he had nothing to fear because they were now under the same obligation to love and support him as they were to love and support one another. Smith was now to consider himself as one of them.
At first he did not entirely believe this speech but over the next four years while living among them he found this to be true. He would write in his memoir four decades later, “…from that day I never knew them to make any distinction between me and themselves in any respect whatever until I left them. If they had plenty of clothing I had plenty, if we were scarce we all shared one fate.”
NEXT WEEK: Fort William Henry 1757