Sunday, March 15, 2009


Six years after the capture and release of Enos Stevens, Fort No. 4 was still
subject to Indian attacks. On 30th Aug, 1754, during the height of the French
and Indian War, another raid was made on what was now called Charlestown,
N.H. and members of the Willard family once more found themselves
captives. Miriam Willard was visiting with her sister Susanna Willard Johnson's
family when the home was attacked. Everyone had been asleep so there was
no fighting and no blood shed. Taken in the raid were Susanna and James Johnson,
three of their children, Miriam Willard, and two men, Ebenezer Farnsworth and
Peter Laboree.

Susanna Johnson later wrote an account of her captivity and you can read it here
at Susan S. Martin's "Northeast Captivity Stories". For reason's that will become
clear later, I will focus on Miriam here.

The Indians forced the captured colonists into a grueling march north to Canada,
at one point stealing a horse belonging to Phineas Stevens for the pregnant Susanna
Johnson to ride. After she gave birth to her child and it became obvious the horse
was too weak for the trip it was slaughtered and fed the whole party. For the most part
they were well treated, and the only restraint on young Miriam at night was that the
Indians "...simply required her to lie upon the ground, while an Indian
lay upon either side of her, with cords passed over her body and under
theirs, so that the least stir on her part would arouse them. She testified,
however, to their modest and correct deportment during her continuance
with them, though entirely subjected to their control."
- ((Seth Chandler, History of the Town of Shirley, Massachusetts, self-published 1883
pp 716-717))

Then the party separated, with Miriam being taken on to Montreal where the
Indians sold her to the French. But while her ransom was paid, she had no way to
to return home, and somehow ended up living in the household of the Lieutenant
Governor and earned her keep for several years as a seamstress making dresses for
the ladies and uniforms for the men. When James Johnson failed to return in time
(through no fault of his own) with the money needed to free the rest of the family,
Miriam was reunited with her sister Susanna's family. Mr. Johnson and his son
Sylvanus were freed a year later, leaving the two women and the younger children
behind until they were set free in a few months later.

Unfortunately, they were forced to take the long way home. First they were shipped
to Plymouth, England, and then back across the Atlantic to land in New York in
December of 1757. When they returned home to Charlestown just after New Year's
Day, 1758, they learned that their father Moses Willard had been killed in an Indian
raid two years before in 1756. Miriam went on to marry the Rev. Phineas Whitney
in 1762 but died in 1769. They had no children.

Now if any of this story sounds familiar to you, it's perhaps because you already have
read it elsewhere. Writer Elizabeth George Speare based her novel Calico Captive
on Susanna Willard Johnson's account of her family's ordeal and tells the story
through Miriam's viewpoint.

And I, as a bookseller, have stocked and sold this book as part of school summer
reading lists never realizing until recently that it was the story of my distant
cousin, Miriam Willard!

Written for the 68th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy


S. Lincecum said...

Wow! Cool! :-)

Anonymous said...


Wow! What an amazing story! That's one lady I'd like to have a drink with - imagine hearing it all from her lips.


Linda Hughes Hiser said...

A fascinating read!

Anonymous said...

What an amazing story! And how neat for you to find out-she was related to you! I love to read westerns-or anything from that time period-so I truly enjoyed this post!

boomerblues said...

I just finished calico captive, and it was wonderful
I wish there were more stories about Miriam.