A True and Wonderful Narrative of the Surprising Captivity and remarkable deliverance of Mrs. Francis Scott, an inhabitant of Washington County, Virginia, who was taken by the Indians on the evening of the 29th of June, 1785.
On Wednesday, the 29th day of June, 1785, late in the evening, a large company of armed men passed the house on their way to Kentucky, some part of whom encamped within two miles. Mr. Scott’s living on a frontier part generally made the family watchful; but on this calamitous day, after so large a body of men had passed; he lay down in his bed, and imprudently left one of the doors of his house open; the children were also in bed and asleep. Mrs. Scott was nearly undressed, when, to her unutterable astonishment and horror, she saw rushing in through the door, that was left open, painted savages, with their arms presented at the same time, raising a hideous shriek. Mr. Scott, being awake, instantly jumped from his bed, and was immediately fired at. He forced his way through the midst of the enemy, and got out of the house, but fell a few paces from the door. An Indian seized Mrs. Scott, and ordered her to a particular place, charging her not to move. Others stabbed and cut the throats of the three youngest children in their bed, and afterwards lifted them up, and dashed them on the floor near their mother. The eldest, a beautiful girl, eight years of age, awoke, and jumping out of bed, ran to her mother, and with the most plaintive accent? cried, “mamma! mamma! save me! “The mother, in the deepest anguish of spirit, and with a flood of tears, entreated the Indians to spare her life; but, with that awfully revolting brutality, they tomahawked and stabbed her in her mother’s arms.
Adjacent to Mr. Scott’s dwelling-house another family lived of the name of Ball. The Indians also attacked them at the same time, but the door being shut, they fired into the house through an opening between the logs which composed its walls, and killed a lad, and then essayed to force open the door; but a brother of the lad which had been shot down fired at the Indians through the door, and they relinquished the attack. In the mean time the remaining part of the family ran out of the house and escaped.
In the house of Mr. Scott were four good rifles, well loaded, belonging to people that had left them as they were going to Kentucky. The Indians, thirteen in number, seized these, and all the plunder they could lay their hands on besides, and hastily began a retreat into the wilderness. It was now late in the evening, and they travelled all the following night. The next morning, June the 30th, the chief of the party allotted to each of his followers his share of the plunder and prisoners, at the same time detaching nine of his party to go on a horse stealing expedition on Clinch River.
The eleventh day after Mrs. Scott’s captivity, four Indians that had her in charge stopped at a place fixed on for rendezvous, and to hunt, being now in great want of provisions. Three of these four set out on the hunting expedition, leaving their chief, an old man, to take care of the prisoner, who now had, to all appearances, become reconciled to her situation, and expressed a willingness to proceed to the Indian towns, which seemed to have the desired effect of lessening her keeper’s watchfulness. In the daytime, while the old man was graining a deer-skin, Mrs. Scott, pondering on her situation, began anxiously to look for an opportunity to make an escape. At length, having matured her resolution in her own mind for the accomplishment of this object, the first opportunity she goes to the old chief with great confidence, and in the most disinterested manner asked him for liberty to go to a small stream, a little distance off, to wash the blood from her apron, that had remained upon it since the fatal night, caused by the murder of her child in her arms, before related. He replied, in the English tongue, “go along.” She then passed by him, his face being in a contrary direction from that she was going, and he very busy in dressing his skin, passed on, seemingly unnoticed by him.
After arriving at the water, instead of stopping to wash her apron, as she pretended, she proceeded on without a moment’s delay. She laid her course for a high barren mountain which was in sight, and travelled until late at night, when she came down into the valley in search of the track she had been taken along in by the Indians a few days before, hoping thereby to find the way back to the settlement without the imminent peril, which now surrounded her, of being lost and perishing with hunger in this unknown region.
On coming across the valley to the side of a river which skirted it, supposed to be the easterly branch of Kentucky River, she observed in the sand tracks of two men that had gone up the river, and had just returned. She concluded these to have been her pursuers, which excited in her breast emotions of gratitude and thankfulness to divine Providence for so timely a deliverance. Being without any provisions, having no kind of weapon or tool to assist her in getting any and almost destitute of clothing; also knowing that a was tract of rugged high mountains intervened between where she was and the inhabitants easterly, and she almost as ignorant as a child of the method of steering through the woods, excited painful sensations. But certain death, either by hunger or wild beasts, seemed to be better than to be in the power of beings who excited in her mind such horror. She addressed Heaven, and taking courage, preceded onward.
After travelling three days, she had nearly met with the Indians, as she supposed, that had been sent to Clinch River to steal horses, but providentially hearing their approach, concealed herself among the cane until they had passed by her. This giving her a fresh alarm, and her mind being filled with consternation, she got lost, proceeded backwards and forwards for several days. At length she came to a river that seemed to come from the east. Concluding it was Sandy River, she accordingly resolved to trace it to its source, which is adjacent to the Clinch settlement. After proceeding up the same several days she came to the point where it runs through the great Laurel mountain, where there is a prodigious waterfall and high craggy cliffs along the water’s edge; that way seemed impassable, the mountain steep and difficult; however, our mournful traveler concluded the latter way was best. She therefore ascended for some time, but coming to a lofty range of inaccessible rocks, she turned her course towards the foot of the mountain and the river side. After getting into a deep gully, and passing over several high steep rocks, she reached the river side, where, to her inexpressible affliction, she found that a perpendicular rock, or rather one that hung over, to the height of fifteen or twenty feet, formed the bank. Here a solemn pause ensued. She essayed to return, but the height of the steeps and rocks she had descended over prevented her. She then returned to the edge of the precipice, and viewing the bottom of it as the certain spot to end all her troubles, or remain on the top to pine away with hunger, or be devoured by wild beasts.
After serious meditation and devout exercises, she determined on leaping from the height, and accordingly jumped off. Now, although the place she had to alight upon was covered with uneven rocks, not a bone was broken, but being exceedingly stunned by the fall, she remained unable to proceed for some time.
The dry season had caused the river to be shallow. She travelled in it, and, where she could, by its edge, until she got through the mountain, which she thought was several miles. After this, as she was travelling along the bank of the river, a venomous snake bit her on the ankle. She had strength to kill it, and knowing its kind, concluded death must soon over-take her.
By this time Mrs. Scott was reduced to a mere skeleton with fatigue, hunger, and grief. Probably this reduced state of her system saved her from the effects of the poison fangs of the snake; be that as it may, so it was, that very little pain succeeded the bite, and what little swelling there was fell into her feet.
Our wanderer now left the river, and after proceeding a good distance she came to where the valley parted into two, each loading a different course. Here a painful suspense took place again. How truly forlorn was now the case of this poor woman! almost ready to sink down from exhaustion, who had now the only prospect left that, either in the right or wrong direction, her remaining strength could not carry her long, nor but very little way, and she began to despair and who would not of ever again beholding the face of any human creature. But the most awful and seemingly certain dangers are sometimes providentially averted.
While her mind was thus agitated, a beautiful bird passed close by her, fluttering slowly along near the ground, and very remarkably took its course onward in one of the valleys before spoken of. This drew her attention, and, while pondering upon what it might mean, another bird like the first, in the same manner, passed by her, and followed the same valley. She now took it for granted that this was her course also; and, wonderful to relate, in two days after she had wandered in sight of the settlement on Clinch River, called New Garden. Thus, in the third month of her captivity, she was unexpectedly though joyfully relieved from the dreadful impending death by famine. But had she taken the other valley, she never could have returned. The day of her arrival at New Garden was August 11th.
Mrs. Scott relates that the Indians told her that the party with whom she was a captive was composed of four different nations; two of whom, she thinks, were Delawares and Mingoes. She further relates that, during a full month of her wanderings, viz. from July 10th to August 11th, she had no other food to subsist upon but what she derived from chewing and swallowing the juice of young cane stalks, sassafras leaves, and some other plants of which she knew not the names; that on her journey she saw buffaloes, elks, deer, and frequently bears and wolves, not one of which, although some passed very near her, offered her the least harm. One day a bear came near her with young fawn in his mouth, and on discovering her he dropped his prey and ran off. Prompted by the keen pangs of hunger, she advanced to seize upon it, but fearing the bear might return, she turned away in despair, and pursued her course; thus sparing her feelings, naturally averse to raw flesh, at the expense of increasing hunger.
Mrs. Scott continues 1 in a low state of health, and remains inconsolable for the loss of her family, particularly bewailing the cruel death of her little daughter.
- At the time the original narrative was written. It was printed in 1786. Ed [↩]