Monday, January 03, 2011

Have you heard of John Gyles?

John Gyles was a little English ten year old boy captured by the Indians when they raided New England Settlements and took prisoners. He spent nine years as a prisoner of the Indians and later with a French Family. The following was taken from a book which he later wrote about his capture and deals with his life with the Indians. He goes on to write the following story about himself and his life.

“My father , Thomas Gyles, came out from England to this new land and settled on the Kennebec River (Maine) at a place called Merrymeeting Bay where he lived for some years .Then my grandparents died and Father took his family and went home to England to settle his affairs. When they were settled ,we came back to New England, but since the Indians were attacking the settlements in Maine ,Father began a settlement on Long Island. But the air did not agree with him, so as the Indians had become more peaceful, we went north to Merrymeeting Bay. When we arrived there ,we found the place deserted and that settlements were being made in Pammaquid in the province of New York (part of Maine) so we settled there and later Father became the chief justice. It was August 2 1689, my Father with some labourers, my two elder brothers and I went early in the morning to gather in the harvest from one of his farms. I was ten ,James was fourteen and Thomas was sixteen. We worked hard till noon. After dinner our people went back to work, some to the hay fields ,some to the corn fields. My Father ,James and I tarried near the farmhouse where we had dined ,until about one o’clock at which time we heard the report of several guns from the fort.

Father said he hoped it was a signal of good news; but to our great surprise, at that moment about thirty or forty Indians appeared behind a rising ground near our barn and discharged a volley of shots at us.

The yelling of the Indians, the whistling of their shot and the voice of my Father, who cried out “ What now, What now!” so terrified us that my brother and I ran, he one way and I another trying to escape. Looking back over my shoulder I saw a huge Indian chasing me with a gun in his hand. I fell, and the Indian grabbed me by the left hand. He tied my arms ,then lifted me up and went towards the field where the men were working at the hay. I saw two men shot down and two more knocked on their heads with hatchets. Then some Indians came bringing two captives, a man and my brother James. There was no sign of my brother Thomas. I learned afterwards that in some wonderful manner he managed to escape by land to a point on the west side of the river where several fishing vessels lay. He got on board one of them and sailed the night so he was safe. But where was my Father: We marched about a quarter of a mile and then stopped. Here they brought Father to us. He looked very pale and bloody. He asked to be allowed to pray with his children. This was granted to him. He recommended us to the protection and blessing of God, gave us the best advice and then said goodbye to us, hoping that we should meet in a better world. He died shortly after. I later heard he had five or six shot holes through his jacket. The Indians led us along the east side of the river towards the fort. When we came within a mile and a half of the town and could see the fort, we saw fire and smoke on all sides. We moved closer into a thick swamp. Then I saw many captives and among them were my Mother and two sisters. Mother asked about Father. When I told her he had been killed she burst into tears. There was one more member of my family, my younger brother. He was playing near the fort when the Indians came and he ran inside. When Captain Weems surrendered the fort , it was on condition that all the occupants should be allowed to leave in a fishing sloop ,lying in the river, so my little brother escaped with them to safety. A few days later we reached Fort Penobscot where I saw my Mother, sisters and brother James again. We were there about eight days. Then my Indian master carried me up the Penobscot River to a village called Madawamkee, which is at the mouth of the eastern branch of the Penobscot. The next day we went up that eastern branch many miles; we carried our canoe over land to a large pond, then went from one pond to another, until in a few days we went down a river called Meductic which empties into the St John River. We didn’t go down to the mouth of this river instead we passed over a long carrying place to Medocktack Fort. This was an Indian Fort. The Indians sat in a circle and looked at me with fierce countenances. They champed cornstalks which they threw into my hat as I held it in my hand. I smiled at them ,though my heart ached. I looked at one after another but could not see that anyone pitied me. A captive among the Indians is treated very cruelly unless his master or some of his master’s relatives lay down a ransom such as a bag of corn or blanket which saves him from their cruelty. As I stood there , a squaw and a little girl came and the squaw laid down a bag of corn in the circle. The little girl took me by the hand making signs for me to go out of the circle with them. Not knowing their customs, I thought they were going to kill me, and refused to go.Then a grave Indian came and gave me a short pipe and said to me in English “ Smoke it!” Then he took me by the hand and led me out. I thought my end had come but he took me to a French hut about a mile from the Indian Fort. The Frenchman was not at home, but his wife who was a squaw talked for a long time with my Indian friend. I could not understand a word they said. We stayed about two hours and then went back to the Indian fort where they gave me something to eat. A few weeks later we left the fort and went to a place called Meduxnakeg where there was one wigwam. When we got there an old squaw saluted me with a yell, taking me by the hair and one hand, but I was so rude as to break away from her. The Indians laughed. We stayed there for some time, living on fish, wild grapes and roots. When winter came we went up the river till the ice came down running thick in the river. Then we laid up our canoes till spring, and travelled sometimes on ice and sometimes on land, till we came to an open river, where we made a raft and crossed over bag and baggage. They treated me ok but I found it hard carrying burdens and I was hungry most of the time, for we had little food. But they would often encourage me saying in English “By and by great deal moose”. There were eight or ten of us, and we had two guns on which we depended wholly for food. Sometimes we had no food for two or three days, but after one of those fasts we killed a moose which supplied us with food for a while. Sometimes we killed a bear. The meat was preserved by taking the flesh from the bones and drying it in smoke. In this way it keeps sound for months without salt. We kept going further north all the time, but when spring came we moved back to the head of the St John River. There we made canoes of moose hides, sewing three or four together and pitching the seams with Balsam mixed with Charcoal. Then we went down the river to a place called Madawescook. There an old man lived and kept sort of a trading house. We stayed there several days then went further down the river till we came to the greatest falls in these parts ,where we carried a little way over the land, and putting off our canoes went downstream still. As we passed the mouths of any large branches we saw Indians. At last we reached the place where we had left our birch canoes in the fall, and putting our baggage into them, went down to the fort. There we planted corn. After that we went fishing and to dig roots for food. Then back to the fort to weed the corn, then fishing again and back to hill our corn. After that we went a ways up the river to take Salmon and other fish which we dried for food. We dried the corn when it was in the milk. The Indians gathered it in large kettles and boiled it on the ears till it was pretty hard .Then they shelled it from the corn with clam shells and dried it on barks in the sun .When it is dry, a kernel is no bigger than a pea and it will keep for years. When it is boiled again it swells as large as when on the ear, and taste sweeter than other corn. When we gathered and dried our corn we put some into Indian barns, that is into holes in the ground lined and covered with bark and then with dirt. The rest we carried up the river on our new winter hunting. This ended my first year of captivity. There is more on John Gyles in the book Our New Brunswick Story but this is all for this time. I hope you enjoyed reading this blog and I hope you will check out my Native American products in my Native American folder at*

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