An Account of the Captivity of Hugh Gibson

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An Account of the Captivity of Hugh Gibson among The Delaware Indians of the Big Beaver and the Muskingum, from the latter part of July 1756, to the beginning of April, 1759.

To the Rev. Ahiel Holmes, D.D., LL.D., Corresponding
Secretary of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Vicinity of Pittsburg, 11th February, 1834.

Rev. and Dear Sir,

Very numerous were the instances of alarm, terror, captivity, extreme suffering, and murder in its most appalling forms, among the early settlers of the interior parts of Pennsylvania; of which, however, little is at present known, except from vague and obscure tradition. Full accounts of these, if it were possible to collect them, would swell a volume to no ordinary size, and of most painful interest

To rescue from oblivion some notices of the captivity of the late Hugh Gibson, I spent a day and a night with this venerable man, in February, 1826, while his mental powers were unusually bright, for one at the age of eighty-five years. It was very gratifying to him to have it in his power, before the close of his pilgrimage, to give, as he did in detail with great minuteness, a narrative of that part of his life which he had spent with the Indians. I took a brief memorandum of the facts, as he related them; and then making a transcript, in extenso, in a plain style, of what I had written, carefully read it to Mr. Gibson, in order that, if requisite, any corrections might be introduced. But, as it was found to be fully to his mind, none were suggested.

I will only add, that Mr. Gibson departed this life on the 30th day of the following July, — five months after my last interview with him.

Your friend and brother,

Timothy Alden.

Hugh Gibson, an account of whose trials and sufferings among the Indians is now, for the first time, submitted to the public, was the eldest son of David Gibson and his wife, originally Mary M’Clelland. His parents lived at the Six Miles’ Cross, near Stewart’s Town, in the north of Ireland, till about the year 1740, when they crossed the Atlantic and settled on a plantation of their purchase in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, two miles and a half below Peach Bottom Ferry, on the Susquehannah; where the subject of this Narrative was born in February, 1741.

Mr. Gibson at the age of five years was deprived of his father. His mother, in her widowed state, removed to a place in the vicinity of Robinson’s Fort, nearly twenty miles from Carlisle, and at length, in consequence of danger apprehended, with others, in 1756, resided in the Fort. On a certain morning in the latter part of July, he and his mother, with Elizabeth Henry, went out in search of their cattle. They were unexpectedly beset by a party of Indians. His mother was shot at some distance from him, and Sarah Wilson, who had joined her, was tomahawked.

Mr. Gibson heard the gun, which had proved instantly fatal to his mother, and was immediately after pursued by three Indians, from whom he attempted to escape; but soon finding it impossible to outrun them, stopped, and entreated them not to take his life. One of them had already aimed his rifle at him, but the powder merely flashing in the pan, the contents of the deadly weapon were not discharged. He was taken by one of the Indians, who was a son of King Beaver, and was afterwards presented by him to Bisquittam, another Delaware chief, and an uncle of the captor. Elizabeth Henry was also captured at the same time. The party of Indians, to whom the three above-mentioned belonged, consisting of about twenty, had killed a number of hogs two or three miles off, and, having breakfasted upon the swine’s flesh, took their two young captives through the trackless desert over the mountains, to Kittanning on the Alleghany River, now the site of the pleasant village of Armstrong.

From this place Gibson and two Indians rode to Fort du Quesne, standing near the extremity of the point of land formed by the junction of the Alleghany and the Monongahela, about sixty miles from Kittanning. Here he was first introduced to the before-named Bisquittam. Elizabeth Henry was conducted to some distant region, and her fellow captive never saw her again.

Bisquittam was one of seven brethren, all high in authority among the Delawares of the West. One of these had been killed by the Cherokees, and Gibson was adopted, according to aboriginal usage, to supply his place in the royal family (to use the phraseology of the narrator), and of course ever after, while residing with his savage associates, bore his name, which was Mun-hut’-ta-kis-wil-lux-is-soh’-pon, — a compound long enough for the cognomen of an eastern prince, yet of somewhat an uncourtly signification, as it is, literally interpreted — Big-rope-gut-hominy.

At the first interview, Bisquittam, addressing himself to Gibson, said, “I am your brother,” and, pointing to one after another in the company, added, “This is your brother, that is your brother, this is your cousin, that is your cousin, and all these are your friends.” He then painted his adopted brother and told him that the Indians would take him to the river, wash away all his white blood, and make him an Indian. They accordingly took him to the river, plunged him into the water, thoroughly washed him from head to foot, and conducted him back to his master and brother. He was then furnished, in Indian style, with a breech-cloth, leggins, capo, porcupine moccasins, and a shirt. After this ceremony he returned with his new friends to Kittanning. He was at the Middle Kittaning at the time the Upper Kittaning was destroyed by Colonel Armstrong, and heard the deadly firing. As the Indians were about to pass over to the east side of the river and to the scene of carnage, Gibson asked Bisquittam what he should do. He said, “Go to the squaws, and keep with them;” which he did. At that encounter, well known in Indian warfare, Armstrong lost forty men, and the enemy but fourteen, as reported by the Indians. Captain Jacobs, a noted warrior in those days of terror, killed, while under the covert of the house in which he was posted (his squaw assisting him in loading his guns), no less than fourteen, and refused to surrender, though repeatedly urged. At length some of Armstrong’s men threatened to burn the house over his head. He replied, that “they might if they would; he could eat fire.” He and his wife were burnt with the house. In the contest Jacobs had received seven balls before he was brought upon his knees. At this time, besides Jacobs, his brother and another great warrior were among the slain. The Indians told Gibson that they had rather have lost a hundred of their men than those three chiefs.

Gibson was now compelled to witness a painful specimen of savage barbarity — the torturing and burning of an inoffensive female, who had fallen into the hands of the merciless foe. The wife of Alexander M’Allister, who had been taken at Tuscarora Valley, was the unhappy victim. The same Indian who had killed Gibson’s mother, tied her to a sapling, where she was long made to writhe in the flames. He knew the Indian to have been the murderer of his mother, from her scalp, which hung as a trophy from his belt. Before these unfeeling wretches had satisfied themselves with the slow but excruciating tortures they caused this woman to endure, a heavy thunder-gust with a torrent of rain came on, which greatly incommoded the Indians. Mrs. M’Allister most earnestly prayed for deliverance, but cruel are the tender mercies of the poor unenlightened savages. They however, sooner no doubt than they intended, when they saw that their fire must be shortly extinguished, shot her, and threw her remains upon the embers.

They told Gibson that they had brought him to behold this sight, on purpose to show him how they would deal with him, in case he should ever attempt to run away.

Soon after these events, he went with his companions to Fort du Quesne, where he remained a number of days, and ascertained that the French and Indians daily drew fifteen hundred rations.

His next remove was to Kuskuskin [Hog-Town] on the Mahoning, a considerable distance above its confluence with the Big Beaver, where he stayed till the following spring. At this place his life was, for a period, in great jeopardy. He had inadvertently said that he had heard that the white people were coming against the Indians. Bisquittam’s brother, by name Mi-us’-kil-la-mize, was at the place, and his squaw had heard Gibson state the rumor he had heard. She had conceived a violent prejudice against him, and was determined that he should be burnt. A little white girl, about twelve years old, who had been taken in Tuscarora Valley, was instructed by the enraged squaw to tell Bisquittam, on his return from Shenango, whither he had gone to tarry a little while, that Gibson said, that he hoped the white men would come against the Indians, and that he wished to run away — adding that, if she did not say all this to Bisquittam, she should be burnt. The little girl told Gibson what a lesson she had received from the squaw. He told the young captive to say no such thing, but to say that he loved Bisquittam, his brothers, cousins, and friends, and that he had no intention to run away. among the Delaware Indians.

Miuskillamize ordered Gibson to go into the woods and hunt for his horse, which he might know from others by his large bell; and he should ride him to Shenango, there to be burnt by Bisquittam; to whom he had previously sent word, impeaching his white brother. Gibson spent three days, with a sorrowful heart, hunting for the beast, but did not find him. In the mean time Bisquittam caused information to be given that he would return to Kuskuskin, to burn him at that place.

He accordingly came, and Gibson was standing at the door as he rode up, his face painted black, and vengeance sparkling in his eyes. His first salutation in English, which he well understood, was, ” G — d d — n you; you want to run away, do you? The white girl will tell me all about it.”

She was called, and Gibson went into the house; but was in a situation to hear all that passed, yet unknown to Bisquittam. The little captive was faithful in stating what Gibson had told her. Upon this, Bisquittam called to him to come out. He made no reply. The call, in a louder tone of voice, was repeated once or twice. At length Gibson answered, and made his appearance.

Bisquittam, speaking with great mildness and affection, said, “Brother, I find the Indians want to kill you. We will go away from them — we will not live with them any more.” They then withdrew some distance, to a common, and erected their tent and kindled their fire, living by themselves. Thus he providentially escaped the most horrible kind of death ever inflicted by the savages.

In the spring of 1757 Gibson went to Soh’-koon, at the mouth of the Big Beaver, where he and his brother Bisquittam spent almost a year. At this place Bisquittam took a Dutch captive for his wife.

Gibson, and Hezekiah Wright, another captive, here cherished many serious thoughts of attempting an escape. Wright, to encourage Gibson in the enterprise, told him that he would teach him the millwright’s trade, and would give him forty dollars. In pursuance of their object, Gibson took a horse, saddle and bridle, belonging to the Indians, and set out, intending to cross the Ohio River, Wright on the horse, and Gibson by swimming. This was in the autumn of 1757. They had not proceeded far before Wright began to rue the undertaking, well knowing the dreadful consequence if they should fail to accomplish their purpose. They soon came to the conclusion that it was prudent to abandon their hazardous project; and so they returned to their companions, before any suspicions had been excited.

Some Indians came to Fort Mcintosh (now Beaver), and said in council, that a white man had run away, followed by two dogs; adding, that they supposed he would kill one of them and eat it, and afterwards the other.

It having been noticed that Gibson and Wright were often in close conversation, they were suspected of an intention to abscond. Bisquittam had no doubts on the subject; and gave vent to his indignation by English oaths and curses, which he had learned of his white fellow creatures; for the Indians have no words in any of their dialects for cursing and swearing. He then gave orders to the Indians to take Gibson away, and burn him. They accordingly took him and led him to the common, where they whipped him with a hickory stick till his body was perfectly livid. One of the Indians told another to go and get some fire, and they would burn him. Gibson now thought it proper to attempt an apology, which he hoped would be satisfactory, for his associating so much with Wright. He told the Indians that the reason why he was so frequently with Wright was, that he was a very ingenious man, and they were mutually contriving how to make a plough, like those used by white men, in order to plough in the rich bottom land, and to raise a great crop of corn. Upon this representation, the Indians told him that he must not be angry with them for what they had done; that Bisquittam was a great man; and that they must do whatever he commanded. They then, to make some amends for the flagellation they had given Gibson, and to secure his future friendship, presented him a new shirt and a pair of new leggins.

On a certain time, Bisquittam came to him, where he was busy making clapboards, and said, “You good-for-noth-ing devil, why do you not work?” and kicked him down, and trampled him under his feet. At length Gibson, after having borne his abusive treatment for some time, looking up with an unruffled countenance, and in a soft and gentle manner, merely saying, “I hear you, brother,” his master was instantly disarmed of his rage, and showed him the greatest kindness.

In the fall of the year they went back to Kuskuskin, where they spent the winter. In the ensuing spring, an Indian, called Captain Birds, from the circumstance that he had two birds painted, one on each temple, was making arrangements for going to war at Tulpehokken. Gibson said that he wished to go too, but was opposed by Bisquittam. All contemplating this expedition were volunteers. Gibson attended the war-dance every night with the Indians. One of his cousins, who encouraged him in his purpose of joining the war party, advised him to spend a few days in hunting, stating that Bisquittam would soon be out of the way, as he was about to set out for Koh-hok-king, in the neighborhood of Painted Post. “Then,” said he, “you can go.”

Gibson and a little boy, of twelve years of age, went on a hunting excursion, were absent three days, killed two turkeys, and returned; but Bisquittam, whether suspecting the plan or not is unknown, was still at the place. He, with the little boy again took a tour into the woods. They reached an Indian sugar camp the first evening, stole a horse and a bag of corn, rode seven miles to a cranberry swamp, tarried there seven days, parched and ate their corn, threw away the bag, killed one turkey, and returned to the sugar camp. Here they heard a gun. Gibson discharged his, which led the Indian who had first fired to come to him, as he expected and wished. His first inquiry was, whether Bisquittam had set out for Kohhokking, and, being answered in the negative, he sent the little boy to the Indian town, and the next morning took the nearest course to Fort McIntosh. He went to the warriors, among whom he saw the cousin who had encouraged him to join the war party. Bisquittam, having ascertained that Gibson was at Mcintosh, sent word to the Indians that if they took him away so that he should lose him, he would make them pay him a thousand bucks, or return him another prisoner equally good.

Having spent several days with the warriors, till they were about to repair to Fort du Quesne for their equipments, they told him he should not go with them. One of the savages held a tomahawk over his head and said he would kill him on the spot, and then he would not have the trouble of going — and added, that he only wished to go to the war, in order to have a good opportunity to desert from the Indians. The cousin before-mentioned said, in Gibson’s behalf, that he should be with him all the time, and that there would be no danger of his escape, even if he wished it. Upon this, he went over the ferry and accompanied them about five miles, where he saw Buffalo Horn, another brother of Bisquittam, who asked the Indians if Gibson was going with them to the war. They replied, that they could not persuade him to go. Buffalo Horn said that, after he had done eating, he would talk to him about it. This chief shortly after took him aside and said, “Hughey, are you going to the war ? I tell you not to go. You and I are going into the country in the fall. I shall go to fight the Cherokees, and you shall go with me. Stay with me, your poor old sick brother. Get me some pigeons and squirrels.” Gibson replied, “I will do whatever you wish me to do.” He then said to Gibson, “Take my negro man and canoe, and fetch me some corn from McIntosh.” In fulfillment of this direction, he went to that Fort, where he saw King Shingiss, (giving the title to this chief which Gibson gave him), a brother of King Beaver, and Bisquittam. King Shingiss said to him, “Are you here? You are a bad boy. We are all sick. You must go as an express to Kuskuskin, to tell the people that three Indians have been killed and three wounded by the Cherokees, and you will occupy my tent till I come.” Gibson, taking a loaf of bread and two blankets, immediately set out and traveled on foot to the place, a distance of thirty-six miles, in six hours.

The Indians said that they would all come to him to hear the news, that they might have the truth. Here he remained, dwelling in King Shingiss’s tent till autumn.

On one occasion King Shingiss and Gibson went into the woods, in pursuit of any wild animals they could find. The latter killed a large bear, much to the mortification of the former, as he killed nothing, and thought it highly derogatory to his character to be outdone by a white fellow hunter. While on this excursion, Gibson told King Shingiss there would shortly be a peace with the white men. “How do you know?” said he. Gibson replied, “I dreamed so.” A few days after, Frederick Post, in company with Bisquittam, came to Kuskuskin, with a view to settle the preliminaries of a peace. This was in the latter part of 1758. Ever after, while Gibson continued with the Indians, he was called a prophet.

Gibson was afraid to see Bisquittam, because he had wished to join the Tulpehokken warriors, contrary to his master’s will. However, he approached him affectionately, and said, “How do you, brother? I have brought a large bear skin, and make a present of it to you to sleep upon.” Bisquittam received him kindly and thanked him for the donation. They both repaired to Fort Mcintosh, where they abode till some time in the winter.

It was in the autumn of 1758, that General Forbes, being at Loyal Hanna, sent Captain Grant, with three hundred men and three days’ provisions, to view the ground and ascertain the best route to Fort du Quesne. Grant exceeded his orders, being sanguine of success, and rashly urged his way with the expectation of taking the Fort. He was met and pursued by the French and Indians on or near the hill in Pittsburg, which bears his name to the present day. Grant killed many of the enemy, but not a few of his own men were destroyed and taken. He also became a captive and was sent to Canada. The residue of his forces retreated to Fort Ligonier. This is the purport of Gibson’s statement.

The Indians, having strong suspicions that their brother intended to desert them, about the middle of October, 1758, took him to Kus’-ko-ra’-vis, the western branch, which uniting with White Woman’s Creek, the eastern branch, forms the Muskingum. There was his home till the beginning of the ensuing April, when he found means to make his escape.

At this place was David Brackenridge, recently taken at Loyal Hanna. Here also were two German young women, who had been captured at Mok-ki-noy, near the Juniata, long before Gibson. The name of one was Barbara. The other was called by the Indians Pum-e-ra-moo, but she was from a family by the name of Grove. It was at length determined by the inhabitants of the forest that the latter should marry one of the natives, who had been selected for her. She told Gibson that she would sooner be shot than have him for her husband, and entreated him, as did Barbara likewise, to unite with them in the attempt to run away. They proposed a plan, which they supposed would afford facilities for the desirable object. They were to feign themselves indisposed; when it was expected that they would be ordered to withdraw from the society of Indians, and to live by themselves for a season. The project succeeded according to expectation. On their making the representation, as agreed, the Indians told them to go and kindle their fire at some distance from them.

They selected for their purpose the bank of the Muskingum, just below the confluence of the two branches of the river. The night was appointed for their flight. In the mean time Gibson, returning late one evening to his master, told him that he had seen the track of his horse, which he knew by the impression of his shoes, no other horse in that quarter being shod, and that he had followed the track for some time without being able to overtake him. He then proposed to Bisquittam to go in search of the horse, and, having found him, to spend three days in hunting; to which his master acceded. It was further agreed that Bisquittam should spend some time in a meadow, a little below the fire of the two women, in digging hoppenies [i. e. groundnuts], and that Gibson should return that way with the horse and venison, and take the hoppenies and meat home. Bisquittam furnished him with a gun, a powder-horn well filled, thirteen bullets, a deer skin for making moccasins and sinews to sew them, two blankets, and two shirts, one of which was to be hung up to keep the crows from pillaging the venison.

After breakfast he started, and instead of going in pursuit of the horse, took his course leisurely to the women’s camp, seven miles, where he arrived about ten o’clock in the evening, and found Brackenridge with them, according to previous arrangements. As he travelled, in the evening he discovered some of the natives, though they probably did not notice him. He saw the fire, where Bisquittam had been digging hoppenies during a part of the day, perhaps not more than sixty rods from the spot whence they were to attempt their departure. The utmost caution, prudence, and despatch were indispensable in the hazardous enterprise; for, should their object be discovered, nothing could save them from the stake.

It was about the full moon. The Muskingum was very high, and there were two rafts near the women’s fire. They unmoored one, and it soon went down the river. They entered the other with their accoutrements, the women taking their kettle, crossed the Muskingum, and let the raft go adrift. They travelled with all possible expedition during the residue of the night in a southerly direction, in order to deceive the Indians, in case they should attempt to follow them. In the morning they steered a due east course.

On the second day they mortally wounded a bear, which, in the contest, bit the leg of Gibson,- and got into a hole, whence they could not obtain him. They however killed a buck, the best part of which they carried in a kind of hopper, 1 made of his skin. On the third day, at night, they ventured to make a fire, roasted and feasted upon their venison. On the fourth day they shot a doe, took the saddle, reached the Ohio River above Wheeling, made a raft with the aid of their tomahawks, passed over, and entered a deep ravine, where the land above them was supposed to be more than three hundred feet in height. Here they kindled a fire, cooked and ate their meat, and spent the night.

In the morning, with much difficulty they ascended the steep eminence, and set their faces for Fort du Quesne, keeping on the ridge not far, in general, from the Ohio. They saw the fresh tracks of Indians, when opposite to Fort Mcintosh, but were not molested, and probably were not seen by them.

On the fifteenth day after leaving the Muskingum, in the evening, they arrived in safety on the banks of the Monongahela, directly opposite to the Fort, and called for a boat. The people were suspicious of some Indian plot, having once before been grossly and treacherously deceived. The captives were directed to state their number, their names, whence they had been taken, with other circumstances, for the satisfaction of the garrison, before their wishes could be gratified.

Brackenridge told them that he was taken at Loyal Hanna, where he drove a wagon numbered 39. Some of the soldiers knew the statement to be correct. Gibson informed them that he was captured near Robinson’s Fort, and that Israel Gibson was his brother. Some present were acquainted with the latter. The females represented that they were from Mokkinoy, and that there were but four of the party.

Upon this, two boats with fifteen men well armed, crossed the Monongahela. Their orders were, in case there should appear to be more than four, to fire upon them. On approaching the western shore, the boatmen directed the captives to stand back upon the rising ground, and to come forward, one at a time, as they should be called. In this way they were all soon received and carried to Fort du Quesne, where their joy was such as may be better conceived than described. It was not long before they were all restored, like persons from the dead, to the arms of their relatives and friends.

Gibson went to Lancaster County, where he spent two years with his uncle, William M’Clelland, and married a daughter of the widow Elizabeth White. He then repaired to his late mother’s plantation in Shearman’s valley, two miles from Robinson’s Fort. He withdrew, after having wrought upon that place two years, in consequence of hearing that the Indians were intending to come and take him again into captivity, and lived in Lancaster County during the Revolutionary war. At the age of fifty-three years, he removed to Plum Creek, on the Alleghany, and thence to Pokkety.

Western Pennsylvania being free from all fears of Indian depredations, after Wayne’s Treaty, he settled, on the 17th of April, 1797, in Wayne Township, Crawford County, seven miles below Meadville, on the eastern bank of French Creek, his plantation comprising a part of Bald Hill, which, with the bottom land opposite, was called by the Indians Kish-a-ko-quil-la, from a chief, who had lived in the valley, of that name, in the vicinity of the Juniata.

From tradition it appears that there was an aboriginal town of considerable magnitude at this place, particularly on the fertile bottom on the western side of the Creek. Captain Samuel Brady, long a major missabib to the natives of the forest, far and near, is said, on one occasion to have taken forty scalps at this village. Another tradition represents that Washington spent a night at this Kishakoquilla, when on his way to Le Boeuf, now Waterford, with dispatches from Governor Dinwiddie. Tomahawks, axes and other tools, made of iron, are still occasionally found here in ploughing, which, no doubt, were obtained by the tawny pre-occupants of this region from the French, traces of whose establishments have been discovered in many places in Crawford and other adjoining counties.

In conclusion, it might be remarked that Mr. Gibson had no inclination to spend his days with the Indians, although in general, with a few painful exceptions, he was treated kindly by them. They were very urgent that he should form a matrimonial alliance with some daughter of the forest, for which, however, he had no desire. On one occasion, while at Kuskoravis, a certain squaw conceiving the purpose to take him for her husband, made some tender advances. He was not only coy but peremptory in refusing her hand. His brother and master, Bisquittam, was extremely angry with him for refusing to take a wife from the tribe, and in this case caused him to be severely whipped with a hickory rod.

P. S. David Brackenridge, a native of Scotland, was born near Campbleton Loch, and, when about twelve years of age, came to America, and lived with a relative near Fogg’s Manor meeting-house, in Chester County. He was about twenty-one years of age, when taken by the Indians. His friends supposed him to be dead, and appointed some one to administer on his estate. The day for selling his effects at auction having been duly advertised, they were all sold; and on the same day, before the purchasers had withdrawn, he arrived, to their no small astonishment, and all rejoiced to surrender to the rightful owner whatever they had bought.

Source: Alden, Timothy. An Account of the Captivity of Hugh Gibson among The Delaware Indians of the Big Beaver and the Muskingum, from the latter part of July 1756, to the beginning of April, 1759. Published in the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, volume 6 of the 3rd Series. Boston: American Stationers’ Company. 1837.

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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  1. In the dialect of our hunters — a hoppus.[]

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