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Narrative of the captivity of Frances Noble

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From Tragedies of the Wilderness:[1]

Narrative of the captivity of Frances Noble, who was, among others, taken by the Indians from Swan Island, in Maine, about the year 1755; compiled by John Kelly, Esq. of Concord, New Hampshire, from the minutes and memoranda of Phinehas Merrill. Esq. of Stratham, in the same state; and by the Former Gen. Tleman communicated for publication to the editors of the Historical Collections of New Hampshire.
James Whidden, the maternal grandfather of Mrs. Shute, was a captain in the army at the taking of Cape Breton in 1745. He owned a tract of land on Swan Island, in the river Kennebec, where he lived with his family. One of his daughters married Lazarus Noble, of Portsmouth, who lived on the island with her father. The Indians had been accustomed to visit Capt. Whidden for the purposes of trade. There was a garrison on the island to secure the inhabitants from the attacks of the enemy in time of war.
One morning, a little after daybreak, two boys went out of the garrison and left the gate open. The Indians were on the watch, and availing themselves of the opportunity, about ninety entered the garrison. The inhabitants immediately discovered that the enemy was upon them; but there was no escape. Captain Whidden and his wife retreated to the cellar, and concealed themselves. Noble and his hired man met the Indians at the head of the stairs, and fired upon them, wounding one of them in the arm. The Indians did not return the fire, but took Noble, his wife, and seven children, with Timothy Whidden and Mary Holmes, prisoners. The hired man and the two boys escaped. The captives were carried to the water’s side and bound; excepting such as could not run away. The Indians then returned to the garrison, burnt the barn and plundered the house, cut open the feather beds, strewed the feathers in the field, and carried off all the silver and gold they could find, and as much of the provisions as they chose. It was supposed they omitted to burn the house from the suspicion that the captain and his wife, from whom they had, in times of peace, received many favors, were concealed in it. Capt. Whidden, after the destruction of his property on the island, returned to Greenland, in this state, which is supposed to have been his native place, and there died.
The Indians also took in a wood on the island an old man by the name of Pomeroy, who was employed in making shingles. Having collected their captives and plunder, they immediately left the island, and commenced their return to Canada to dispose of their prey. Pomeroy was old and feeble, and unable to endure the fatigue of the march, without more assistance than the savages thought fit to render him, and they killed him on the journey. They were more attentive to the children, as for them they undoubtedly expected a higher price or a greater ransom. Abigail, one of the children, died among the Indians. The other captives arrived safe in Canada, and were variously disposed of. Mr. Noble was sold to a baker at Quebec, and his wife to a lady of the same place as a chambermaid. They were allowed to visit each other and to sleep together. Four of the children were also sold in Quebec, as were Timothy Whidden and Mary Holmes. The captives in that city were exchanged within a year, and returned to their homes. Mr. Whidden and Miss Holmes were afterwards united in marriage.
Fanny Noble, the principal subject of this memoir, at the time of her captivity, was about thirteen months old. She was carried by a party of Indians to Montreal. In their attempts to dispose of her, they took her one day to the house of Monsieur Louis St. Auge Charlee, an eminent merchant of that place, who was at that time on a journey to Quebec. His lady was called into the kitchen by one of her maids to see a poor infant crawling on the tile floor in dirt and rags, picking apple peelings out of the cracks. She came in, and on kindly noticing the child, Fanny immediately caught hold of the lady’s gown, wrapped it over her head, and burst into tears. The lady could not easily resist this appeal to her compassion. She took up the child, who clung about her neck and repeatedly embraced her. The Indians offered to sell her their little captive, but she declined buying, not choosing probably in the absence of her husband to venture on such a purchase. The Indians left the house, and slept that night on the pavements before the door. Fanny, who had again heard the voice of kindness, to which she had not been accustomed from her savage masters, could not be quiet, but disturbed the slumbers and touched the heart of the French lady by her incessant cries. This lady had then lately lost a child by death, and was perhaps more quick to feel for the sufferings of children, and more disposed to love them, than she would otherwise have been. Early the next morning the Indians were called into the house; Fanny was purchased, put into a tub of water, and having been thoroughly washed, was dressed in the clothes of the deceased child, and put to bed. She awoke smiling, and seemed desirous of repaying her mistress’ kindness by her infantile prattle and fond caresses. Fanny could never learn for what price she was bought of the Indians, as her French mother declined answering her questions upon that subject, telling her to be a good girl, and be thankful that she was not still in their power.
Mons and Mad. St. Auge took a lively interest in their little captive, and treated her with much tenderness and affection. She felt for them a filial attachment. When her parents were exchanged, her mother, on her return home, called upon Fanny, and took the child in her arms, but no instinct taught her to rejoice in the maternal embrace, and she fled for protection to her French mamma. Mrs. Noble received many presents from the French lady, and had the satisfaction to see that her little daughter was left in affectionate hands.
Fanny was taught to call and consider Mons and Mad. St. Auge as her parents. They had her baptized by the name of Eleanor, and educated her in the Roman Catholic religion. She learned her Pater Nosters and Ave Marias, went to mass, crossed herself with holy water, and told her beads with great devotion.
When four or five years old, she was enticed away from her French parents by Wheelwright, who had been employed by the government of Massachusetts to seek for captives in Canada. He carried her to the Three Rivers, where he had several other captives, and left her, as he pretended, with a relation of her French father’s for a few days, when she expected to return to Montreal. But she had not been to the Three Rivers more than twenty-four hours, when the old squaw who had sold her to Mad. St. Auge came along in a sleigh, accompanied by a young sanop, seized upon Fanny, and carried her to St. Francois, where they kept her about a fortnight. She had now attained an age when she would be sensible of her misfortunes, and bitterly lamented her separation from her French parents. The Indians endeavored to pacify and please her by drawing on her coat or frock the figures of deers, wolves, bears, fishes, &c.; and once, probably to make her look as handsomely as themselves, they painted her cheeks in the Indian fashion, which very much distressed her, and the old squaw made them wipe off the paint. At one time she got away from the savages, and sought refuge in the best looking house in the village, which belonged to a French priest, who kissed her, asked her many questions, and treated her kindly, but gave her up to the claim of her Indian masters. While at St. Francois, her brother, Joseph Noble, who had not been sold to the French, but still lived with the Indians, came to see her, but she had a great aversion to him. He was in his Indian dress, and she would not believe him to be a relation, or speak to him if she could avoid it. She was at last turned back by the Indians to Montreal, and to her great satisfaction was delivered to her French father, who rewarded the Indians for returning her. It was doubtless the expectation of much reward which induced the old squaw to seize her at the Three Rivers, as the Indians not infrequently stole back captives, in order to extort presents for their return from the French gentlemen to whom the same captives had before been sold. Before this time she had been hastily carried from Montreal, hurried over mountains and across waters, and concealed among flags, while those who accompanied her were evidently pursued, and in great apprehension of being overtaken; but the occasion of this flight or its incidents she was too young to understand or distinctly to remember, and she was unable afterwards to satisfy herself whether her French father conveyed her away to keep her out of the reach of her natural friends, or whether she was taken by those friends, and afterwards re-taken as at the Three Rivers and returned to Montreal. The French parents cautiously avoided informing her upon this subject, or upon any other which should remind her of her captivity, her country, her parents or her friends, lest she should become discontented with her situation, and desirous of leaving those who had adopted her. They kept her secreted from her natural friends, who were in search of her, and evaded every question which might lead to her discovery. One day, when Mons. St. Auge and most of his family were at mass, she was sent with another captive to the third story of the house, and the domestics were required strictly to watch them, as it was known that some of her relations were then in the place endeavoring to find her. Of this circumstance she was ignorant, but she was displeased with her confinement, and with her little companion found means to escape from their room and went below. While raising a cup of water to her mouth, she saw a man looking at her through the window, and stretching out his arm towards her, at the same time speaking a language which she could not understand. She was very much alarmed, threw down her water, and ran with all possible speed to her room. Little did she suppose that it was her own father, from whom she was flying in such fear and horror. He had returned to Canada to seek those of his children who, remained there. He could hear nothing of his Fanny; but watching the house, he perceived her, as was just stated, and joyfully stretching his arms towards her, exclaimed, “There is my daughter! O! that’s my daughter!” But she retreated, and he could not gain admittance, for the house was guarded and no stranger permitted to enter. How long he continued hovering about her is now unknown, but he left Canada without embracing her or seeing her again.
Her French parents put her to a boarding school attached to a nunnery in Montreal, where she remained several years, and was taught all branches of needlework, with geography, music, painting, &c. In the same school were two Misses Johnsons, who were captured at Charlestown, 1 in 1754, and two Misses Phipps, the daughters of Mrs. Howe, who were taken at Hinsdale in 1755. Fanny was in school when Mrs. Howe came for her daughters, and long remembered the grief and lamentations of the young captives when obliged to leave their school and mates to return to a strange, though their native country, and to relatives whom they had long forgotten.
While at school at Montreal, her brother Joseph again visited her. He still belonged to the St. Francois tribe of Indians, and was dressed remarkably fine, having forty or fifty broaches in his shirt, clasps on his arm and a great variety of knots and bells about his clothing. He brought his little sister Ellen, as she was then called, and who was then not far from, seven years old, a young fawn, a basket of cranberries, and a lump of sap sugar. The little girl was much pleased with the fawn, and had no great aversion to cranberries and sugar, but she was much frightened by the appearance of Joseph, and would receive nothing from his hands till, at the suggestion of her friends, he had washed the paint from his face and made some alteration in his dress, when she ventured to accept his offerings, and immediately ran from his presence. The next day, Joseph returned with the Indians to St. Francois, but some time afterwards Mons. St. Auge purchased him of the savages, and dressed him in the French style; but he never appeared so bold and majestic, so spirited and vivacious, as when arrayed in his Indian habit and associating with his Indian friends. He however became much attached to St. Auge, who put him to school; and when his sister parted with him upon leaving Canada, he gave her a strict charge not to let it be known where he was, lest he too should be obliged to leave his friends and return to the place of his birth.
When between eleven and twelve years of age, Fanny was sent to the school of Ursuline nuns in Quebec, to complete her education. Here the discipline was much more strict and solemn than in the school at Montreal. In both places the teachers were called half nuns, who, not being professed, were allowed to go in and out at pleasure; but at Quebec the pupils were in a great measure secluded from the world, being permitted to walk only in a small garden by day, and confined by bolts and bars in their cells at night. This restraint was irksome to Fanny. She grew discontented; and at the close of the year was permitted to return to her French parents at Montreal, and again enter the school in that city.
While Fanny was in the nunnery, being then in her fourteenth year, she was one day equally surprised and alarmed by the entrance of a stranger, who demanded her of the nuns as a redeemed captive. Her father had employed this man, Arnold, to seek out his daughter and obtain her from the French, who had hitherto succeeded in detaining her. Arnold was well calculated for this employment. He was secret, subtle, resolute and persevering. He had been some time in the city without exciting a suspicion of his business. He had ascertained where the captive was to be found he had procured the necessary powers to secure her, and in his approach to the nunnery was accompanied by a sergeant and a file of men. The nuns were unwilling to deliver up their pupil, and required to know by what right he demanded her. Arnold convinced them that his authority was derived from the governor, and they durst not disobey. They, however, prolonged the time as much as possible and sent word to Mons. St. Auge, hoping that he would be able in some way or other to detain his adopted daughter. Arnold however was not to be delayed or trifled with. He sternly demanded the captive by the name of Noble in the governor’s name, and the nuns were awed into submission. Fanny, weeping and trembling, was delivered up by those who wept and trembled too. She accompanied Arnold to the gate of the nunnery, but the idea of leaving forever those whom she loved and going with a company of armed men she knew not whither, was too overwhelming, and she sunk upon the ground. Her cries and lamentations drew the people around her, and she exclaimed bitterly against the cruelty of forcing her away, declaring that she could not and would not go any further as a prisoner with those frightful soldiers. At this time an English officer appeared in the crowd; he reasoned with her, soothed her, and persuaded her to walk with him, assuring her the guard should be dismissed and no injury befall her. As they passed by the door of Mons. St. Auge, on their way to the inn, her grief and exclamations were renewed, and it was with great difficulty that she could be persuaded to proceed. But the guard had merely fallen back, and were too near to prevent a rescue, had an attempt been made. Capt. M’Clure, the English officer, promised her that she should be permitted to visit her French parents the next day. She found them in tears, but they could not detain her. Mons. St. Auge gave her a handful of money, and embraced her, blessed her, and rushed out of the room. His lady supplied her with clothes, and their parting was most affectionate and affecting. She lived to a considerably advanced age, but she could never speak of this scene without visible and deep emotion.
She was carried down the river to Quebec, where she tarried a few days, and then sailed with Captain Wilson for Boston. She arrived at that port in July, one month before she was fourteen years of age. She was joyfully received by her friends, but her father did not long survive her return. After his death she resided in the family of Capt. Wilson, at Boston, until she had acquired the English language, of which before she was almost entirely ignorant. She then went to Newbury, and lived in the family of a relative of her father, where she found a home, and that peace to which she had long been a stranger. Her education had qualified her for the instruction of youth, and she partially devoted herself to that employment. She was engaged in a school at Hampton, where she formed an acquaintance with Mr. Jonathan Tilton, a gentleman of good property in Kensington, whom she married about the year 1776. He died in 1798. In 1801, she married Mr. John Shute, of New Market, and lived in the village of Newfields in that town till her death, in September 1819. She was much respected and esteemed in life, and her death was, as her life had been, that of a Christian.


  1. Drake, Samuel G.. Tragedies of the Wilderness : Or, True and Authentic Narratives of Captives: Who Have Been Carried Away by the Indians from the Various Frontier Settlements of the United States, from the Earliest to the Present Time ; Illustrating the Manners and Customs, Barbarous Rites and Ceremonies, of the North American Indians, and Their Various Methods of Torture Practised Upon Such as Have, from Time to Time, Fallen Into Their Hands. United States, Antiquarian bookstore and institute, 1846. Google Books

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