Sunday, February 08, 2009


King Phillip's War was but the first of a series of conflicts between the
New England colonists and the Indians but those that followed were often
extensions of the wars between England and France. The first of these
was part of the Nine Year's War in Europe and was known in the colonies
as King William's War, because it began when William of Orange drove
the last Stuart king from the throne of England in 1689. William joined with
other European rulers in a "Grand Alliance" against France, war ensued,
and eventually the hostilities spread to the American colonies.

Both the English and French made use of Indian allies and the fighting
stretched from Canada to New England and New York. By this time
many of the families who'd evacuated their homes during King Philip's
War had returned to their towns to rebuild, including my Houghton, Willard,
Prescott, and Sawyer ancestors, and once more their lives were touched
by warfare.

One of the more interesting stories of my ancestors in this period
is that of Thomas Sawyer, Jr. He was born on 2 Jul 1649, the son of Thomas
Sawyer, Sr. and Marie Prescott, and was the first white child born in Lancaster,
the town his grandfather John Prescott had founded. As noted in Cyprian Steven's
letter to the Governor in 1676, he was one of those who'd taken shelter in the
Lancaster garrison houses during the Nipmuc Indian attack of March. By that time
he was married to Hannah Lewis (21 Sep 1672). After the war he and his family
returned to the town where Thomas had a sawmill where the Sawyer family had
another close encounter with Indians. The story is told in William Richard
Cutter's Historic Homes and Places and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs
Relating to the Families of Middlesex County, Massachusetts (Lewis historical
publishing company, 1908) and you can view it on Googlebooks here:

"On October 16, 1695, Thomas Sawyer Jr., his son Elias, and John Bigelow of
Marlborough, were at work in his saw mill when they were surprised and captured
by the Indians. The Indians took their captives to Canada, and turned Bigelow
and young Sawyer over to the French to ransom. The Indians kept the other Thomas
Sawyer to put to death by torture. Sawyer proposed to the French governor that he
should build a saw mill on the Chamblay river, in consideration of saving his life
from the Indians, and giving the three captives their freedom. The French needed
the mill and were glad of the opportunity. But the Indians had to be reckoned with.
They insisted on burning Thomas Sawyer at the stake. They knew him and knew
he was a brave man, not afraid of torture and death. The crafty French governor
defeated their purpose by a resort to the church. When Sawyer was tied to the stake,
a Fench friar appeared with a key in his hand, and so terrible did he paint the tortures
of purgatory, the key of which he told them he had in his hand ready to unlock, that
they gave up their victim. Indians fear the unseen more than the real dangers, and
doubtless the friar took care not to specify what he would do in case the auto-de-fe
was carried on. Sawyer built the mill successfully, the first in Canada, it is said.
He and Bigelow came home after seven or eight months of captivity. Elias Sawyer
was kept a year longer to run the mill and teach others to run it. The captives were
well treated after the French found them useful to them."

It's certainly an interesting story. My only question about it is the part about Elias
Sawyer being left behind to run the mill, since he was born in 1689 and would only
have been 6 or at most 7 years old at the time. But there were three older Sawyer
sons andperhaps it was one of them instead of Elias taken in the raid. At any rate,
it was a better outcome than might have been expected in such a situation.

Other relatives of Thomas Sawyer Jr. would not be as fortunate.


Apple said...

I suspect there is some truth in there someplace. The part about the Friar with the key sounds a little off but possible. I'm pretty sure Elias would not have been left in charge at the age of 8! Another great post about my cousins!! Thanks Bill.

Joy and Phil said...

I couldn't find an e-mail address for you so will just post a quick note to thank you for stopping by my blog and signing up as a follower. I'm looking forward to reading your blog as well and doing some surfing down your list of favorites. It looks like I might learn a thing or two!
Happy hunting!

Bill West said...

You're welcome, cousin.
BTW I think we have another connection through Hanna Lewis,
Thomas Jr's wife whose parents
were William Lewis and Amy Weld?


Bill West said...

You're welcome. I empathize over
your comp crashing and hope to read
more happier posts on your blog.
I think I'd be going crazy if I my
files were lost! I enjoyed your
pictures, too!


Apple said...

William Lewis and Amy Weld were my 8th great-grandparents.
John Lewis & Margaret Whitcomb
John Lewis & Ann Whiting
Ebenezer Lewis & Hannah Gill
Hannah Lewis & Henry Glover
David Glover & Tamesin Hall
Louisa Glover & Daniel Carlisle
Ashley Carlisle & Anna Camfield
Daniel Carlisle & Pearl Camfield
Phyllis Carlisle & Harvey Berry
Charlotte Berry

We should swap gedcoms sometime. I imagine we're cousins on several lines. Only my sources (cough, cough) are not quite all they could be when you get back to New England.

Georges said...

This story is very interesting and I can assure you most of it is true. I am doing an history Masters degree about the french governor mentionned in it, that is Claude de Ramezay governor of Montreal at that time.
If you come to Montreal, you can visit the home of Ramezay where your ancestor was probably living as a captive in 1705,(at the Chateau Ramezay Museum, Mtl. This was at the time the nicest home in town, so I guess he was not so unhappy after all..

Ramezay indeed had a sawmill built near Chambly, on the Rivière des Hurons in 1706. He writes to the french minister responsible of the colonies, in november 1706: "J’ay rachepté l’année passée un prisonnier anglois qui estois entre les mains des sauvages qui scais faire des moulins a scie. Il a appris à quelques forgerons et charpentiers de mon gouvernement à en faire en travaillant à la construction d’un qu’il a fais à Chambly"
Ramezay had another sawmill built in 1713, and one of his girl, Louise, continued to run the business and had many others built near Lac Champlain (Vermont and NY)

There were other sawmills built before in Canada, but maybe the knowledge was lost as the last one before Chambly was built around 1685.

Ramezay is known as one of the first "industrialist" in New France, and I am very pleased to hear from someone who's ancestor is responsible in part for this reputation.

Thank you,
Georges Lemieux

Georges said...

and I forgot to mention that the event took place in 1705, not 1695. The sawmill was built in 1706 so Elias was 17, almost an adult in these days...
you can also see here:",M1"

Bill West said...

Thanks for that information. I'm not
surprised if the date was wrong since the account of the incident was written long afterward.

Glad you liked the post!

Peter Badger said...

Very interesting article as well as comments. Young Elias was probably the grandfather of my ancestor Elias Sawyer, born in 1745 in Lancaster, Worcester County, and his daughter Hannah, born in 1777 in Templeton.