Narrative of the Captivity and Sufferings of Miss Sarah Gerish – Indian Captivities

Miss Sarah Gerish, who was Taken at the Sacking of Dover, in the Year 1689, by the Indians; as Communicated to the Reverend Dr. Cotton Mather, by the Reverend John Pike, Minister of Dover.

Sarah Gerish, daughter of Capt. John Gerish, of Quochecho or Cocheco, was a very beautiful and ingenious damsel, about seven years of age, and happened to be lodging at the garrison of Major Waldron, her affectionate grandfather, when the Indians brought that horrible destruction upon it, on the night of the 27th of June, 1689. She was always very fearful of the Indians; but fear may we think now surprised her, when they fiercely bid her go into a certain chamber and call the people out! She obeyed, but finding only a little child in bed in the room, she got into the bed with it, and hid herself in the clothes as well as she could. The fell Indians quickly pulled her out, and made her dress for a march, but led her way with no more than one stocking upon her, on a terrible march through the thick woods, and a thousand other miseries, till they came to the Norway Planes. 1 From thence they made her go to the end of Winnipisiogee Lake, thence eastward, through horrid swamps, where sometimes they were obliged to scramble over huge trees fallen by storm or age, for a vast way together, and sometimes they must climb up long, steep, tiresome, and almost inaccessible mountains.

Her first master was an Indian named Sebundowit, a dull sort of fellow, and not such a devil as many of them were, but he sold her to a fellow who was a more harsh and mad sort of a dragon. He carried her away to Canada.

A long and sad journey now ensued, through the midst of a hideous desert, in the depth of a dreadful winter; and who can enumerate the frights she endured before the end of her journey? Once her master commanded her to loosen some of her upper garments, and stand against a tree while he charged his gun; whereat the poor child shrieked out, “He is going to kill me!” God knows what he was going to do; but the villain having charged his gun, he called her from the tree and forbore doing her any damage. Upon another time her master ordered her to run along the shore with some Indian girls, while he paddled up the river in his canoe. As the girls were passing a precipice, a tawny wench violently pushed her head-long into the river, but so it fell out that in this very place of her fall the bushes from the shore hung over the water, so that she was enabled to get hold of them, and thus saved herself. The Indians asked her how she became so wet, but she did not dare to tell them, from fear of the resentment of her that had so nearly deprived her of life already. And here it may be remarked, that it is almost universally true, that young Indians, both male and female, are as much to be dreaded by captives as those of mature years, and in many cases much more so; for, unlike cultivated people, they have no restraints upon their mischievous and Indian propensities, which they indulge in cruelties surpassing any examples here related They often vie with each other in attempting excessive acts of torture.

Once, being spent with traveling all day, and lying down wet and exhausted at night, she fell into so profound a sleep that in the morning she waked not. Her barbarous captors decamped from the place of their night’s rest, leaving this little captive girl asleep and covered with a snow that in the night had fallen; but, at length awaking, what agonies may you imagine she was in, on finding herself left a prey for bears and wolves, and without any sustenance, in a howling wilderness, many scores of leagues from any plantation! In this dismal situation, however, she had fortitude sufficient to attempt to follow them. And here again, the snow which had been her covering upon the cold ground, to her great discomfort, was now her only hope, for she could just discern by it the trace of the Indians! How long it was before she overtook them is not told us, but she joined them and continued her captivity.

Now the young Indians began to terrify her by constantly reminding her that she was shortly to be roasted to death. One evening much fuel was prepared between two logs, which they told her was for her torture. A mighty fire being made, her master called her to him, and told her that she should presently be burnt alive. At first she stood amazed; then burst into tears; and then she hung about her tiger of a master begging of him, with an inexpressible anguish, to save her from the fire. Hereupon the monster so far relented as to tell her “that if she would be a good girl she should not be burnt.”

At last they arrived at Canada, and she was carried into the Lord Intendant’s house, where many persons of quality took much notice of her. It was a week after this that she remained in the Indian’s hands before the price of her ransom could be agreed upon. But then the lady intendant sent her to the nunnery, where she was comfortably provided for; and it was the design, as was said, for to have brought her up in the Romish religion, and then to have married her unto the son of the Lord Intendant.

She was kindly used there until Sir William Phips, lying before Quebec, did, upon exchange of prisoners, obtain her liberty. After sixteen months’ captivity she was restored unto her friends, who had the consolation of having this their desirable daughter again with them, returned as it were from the dead. But this dear child was not to cheer her parents’ path for a long period; for on arriving at her sixteenth year, July 1697, death carried her off by a malignant fever.Citations:

  1. These planes are in the present town of Rochester, N. H. Editor. []

Collection: Indian Captivity Narratives. A collection of first hand Indian captivity narratives from a variety of sources. For a list of sources, please see title page.

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