Table of Contents
of the Hunt — for Ancestors!
|"The Saga of the Four"|
|Excerpted from A.M. Caverly's (1872) History of the Town of
Pittsford, Vt. (Tuttle & Co., Printers, Rutland).
Caverly tells this tale in several very long, unrelenting paragraphs. For readability, I have broken them into smaller paragraphs. The tale begins on p. 136...
|In May, 1779, the commander at Fort Mott received information that
the enemy in considerable force was coming up Lake Champlain to annoy the
settlers in that vicinity; and in order to ascertain the truthfulness of
this report he sent a scouting party, consisting of Ephraim
Stephens, commander, Benjamin Stevens,
Ebenezer Hopkins, and
Rowley, Jr., on a reconnoitering expedition. The commander
of this party had orders not to venture across the lake, but to make every
discovery that could be made, in that vicinity, without doing it.
The route from Pittsford to the lake was nearly northwest, between twenty and thirty miles, through nearly on continued forest. On their arrival at the lake nearly opposite [p. 137] to the Fort at Ticonderoga, the commander was determined to cross over notwithstanding he was forbidden by his orders to do so, and all his party remonstrating against it, yet he could not be dissuaded, and at that place he procured a canoe and passed over to the Fort, where they spent some time in visiting, and reconnoitering in that vicinity, without discovering any signs of Indians. They were induced to venture further, and accordingly went on board of their canoe, and proceeded down the lake as Basin Harbor, [footnote: This is one of the best harbors on the lake, and is situated on the easterly shore in the town of Ferrisburgh, and three miles north of the southwest corner of it.] where they made a landing. After examining the shore for some distance up and down the lake, and back into the forest, they become (sic) satisfied that there were no savages in that vicinity and returned to their canoe.
When they had started out some little distance from the shore, feeling inclined to show their courage, as they had gone thus far without discovering the least trace of any enemy, they concluded to give one salute by discharging all their pieces. To their astonishment the echo of their guns had but little more than returned to them, before a party of some fifteen or sixteen Indians appeared on shore, on the very spot of land which they had just left, and their leader called out,
"If you wish to save your lives, surrender and come on shore."
Stevens and his men disregarded the command and pushed out into the lake amidst a shower of bullets, none of which, however, took effect, and they were soon out of range. The hostile party sprang into a canoe which the Americans had not discovered and began the chase. An Indian lay upon his belly in the bow of the boat, and as others loaded the guns and passed them along to him, he was enabled to repeat his shots rapidly and at the same time with deliberate aim. For a time these shots proved harmless; but at length young Rowley who sat in the stern of the retreating craft, steering it, received a shot in the back of the head. He fell so suddenly dead from his seat that his oars and [p. 138] hat fell into the lake. His companions plied their oars with redoubled energy, hoping to reach the opposite shore and escape. But finding their pursuers gaining upon them, they decided to surrender and trust themselves to the mercy of their captors.
The Indians, when they came up, with apparent sternness, commanded the prisoners to leap from their own canoe into theirs. When they had done this, one Indian sprang into the prisoners' canoe, and, before their eyes, took the scalp from the head of the dead man; and when he had returned to the Indians' boat, the other, with the dead man in it, was turned bottom-side up, and left to float wherever the winds should drive it.
The Indians then, with their prisoners, directed their way back to the eastern shore, and immediately commenced their march into the wilderness. When they had encamped for the night, the prisoners soon perceived that their feelings were about to be harrowed and torn beyond anything they had ever experienced. They beheld with horror the scalp of their comrade stretched upon the top of a pole, and they were commanded to follow the Indians in single file, dancing round it in a circle. The prisoners were kicked and pounded because they were reluctant to join in their fiendish mirth with all their might. After the dance the prisoners' hands were tied, and they were compelled to lie each one between two Indians, and each had an arm tied to that of an Indian.
The next night they arrived at a place where there was quite an encampment of Indians. Among them was an aged squaw pointed out to young Hopkins, (then but sixteen years of age,) and he was told that she was to be his mother. Seeing his extreme youth to be mingling in such scenes, she began to howl and lament most hideously over him, and combing his hair with her long fingers, she sent a chill of horror through his whole frame. Leaving this place, in a day or two, they arrived at a village where were quite a number of inhabitants, and here a new trial awaited the prisoners.
They perceived that the leader of the [p. 139] savage party had obtained by some means, some ardent spirits and had become nearly intoxicated. Of course he was full of courage and bravado, and being destitute of everything like humanity, he seemed to be blood-thirsty and inexorable as a tiger. He ordered arrangements to be made for the massacre of all the prisoners, and it was some two hours before the rest of the party could dissuade him from his purpose.
The prisoners were taken to St. Johns, and on approaching the shore -- the latter part of the journey to that place was upon the lake -- they saw a party of savages -- some two hundred -- drawn up in two lines, facing each other, with a narrow passage between them extending several rods. Through this passage each prisoner was to go, the Indians striking him with sticks or clubs, as he passed along to the head of the line, where the Indian chief stood with open arms ready to receive him. Near the edge of the water were placed young squaws who amused themselves by seizing the prisoners and ducking them in the water as they jumped from the boat upon the shore.
Ephraim Stevens was the first to pass this savage ordeal. As he leaped upon the shore he was not only pitched into the water, but was attacked with clubs and soon knocked down. Being, however, a young man of extraordinary strength and activity, he soon rose. To compel him to advance so slowly through the passage that each might have a chance to strike him, a large and stout Indian went directly before him, walking backward. Stevens had scarcely commenced before he threw his feet, by a sudden spring, into the breast of the Indian before him and threw him upon his back, and then by running with great velocity, he received scarcely a blow. For this exploit of agility and courage, he received the most marked manifestations of approbation from the multitude. They came round him, and slapping him upoin the back, gave him to understand that they could not have been better pleased.
Hopkins was the next to follow, and as he jumped upon [p. 140] the shore he was seized by an aged Indian and directed to follow him. He soon found that the object of this Indian was to hide him, that he should not be compelled to suffer that barbarous treatment. When he had led him slyly back out of the crowd, he pointed to a wigwam standing back some eighty or one hundred rods from the place where they were assembled, and bid him run. He did so, and found in the wigwam to which he was directed an aged squaw, whose locks were white almost as snow, and who exhibited a remarkable sympathy for him, and immediately got him something to eat.
Benjamin Stevens, Jr., whose turn came next, noticing a squaw ready to seize him, made a false motion to jump, when the squaw, springing to catch him, lost her balance and fell into the water. Stevens then leaped over her, creating so much merriment that he went through the course without receiving a blow, and was accosted by the old chief with
"Good Indian! Good Indian!"
The prisoners were taken to the St. Lawrence, and in the vicinity of Montreal, and the Indians of that village, male and female, soon gathered together and prepared for the carousal usual on such occasions.
Here, Ephraim Stevens was separated from his companions, his great strength and activity rendering him an object of extreme solicitude, and all his movements were carefully watched. The carousal being ended, he was confined in a small room and a guard stationed at the door. Early the next morning the door was opened and an Indian, who had not been there the night before, entered the room and fixed his eyes long and keenly on the prisoner. Stevens immidiately recognized this Indian as one of a party that had visited Pittsford before the war, on a hunting expedition, and one with whom he had there had some quarrel or difficulty. The visitor soon disappeared and presently two large, stout Indians came and stood in the door apparently as guard. In a [p. 141] short time a young squaw came and stood behind these two with looks of intense sorrow, and which even dissolved into tears.
"By this time," says Stevens, "I made up my mind that my old acquaintance, on Otter Creek, was determined to wreak his vengeance on me by a cruel sacrifice of my life, in the barbarous manner the Indians are sometimes wont to do. I determined to place myself in the hands of a less dangerous enemy or lose my life in the attempt. I looked around for some weapon, but saw none sufficient to use. I then thought I would try to pass the two Indians in a quiet and peaceable manner, as if I wanted carelessly to view the premises. Slowly and awkwardly I approached the door, but one of the Indians sprang forward, placed his hand on my breast, and shoved me back into the room. I quietly yielded to his push and made as though I was about to resume my seat, but as he ws returning to the door, I sprang with all my might and threw both prostrate on the ground. I flew like lightning through the door and the young squaw cried 'Run! Run!' but I needed no urging. In the midst of my speed I met a small British guard who had in custody my two companions, B. Stevensand E. Hopkins. I passed them swiftly; their officer hailed me, told me to stop and I should not be hurt. I first intended to leave them all, but taking into view all the circumstances of my situation, I concluded it would be impossible to escape, and being promised that I should receive no harm, I returned and surrendered to them."
He and his companions were soon taken to the British garrison. Here he was visited by his brother, Roger Stevens, Jr., who had turned Tory and was then a Captain in the British service. Roger reproved Ephraim for joining the rebels, and behaving disloyally towards the King. Ephraim retorted, cursing the King, and reproaching Roger for deserting his country. Roger promised Ephraim the liberty of the city if he would give his word not to leave it. Ephraim [p. 142] spurned the offer with indignation, and the three captives were sent to prison. Here Ephraim, for his praise of the Americans and contemptuous dispraise of the King and his cause, was hand-cuffed and fettered. His great strength enabled him to break the ordinary iron fetters, and he was loaded down with heavy irons.
He and his companions were then put on board a vessel, sent to Quebec and there thrown into a dungeon. Their keepers, supposing them safe in that place, took off their fetters. There they were confined till the following fall, when they were taken out under guard to labor in harvesting corn and grain. In some way they eluded the guard, escaped, took a boat, crossed the river, pushed into the wilderness and after wandering fourteen days with little to eat except roots and the bark of trees, they came in sight of the Green Mountains. But as they were fishing in the head-waters of the Connecticut river, they were recaptured by the Indians, taken back to Quebec and again thrust into prison. They were now ironed, and their guard was commanded to exercise the strictest vigilance.
In a few months, when the guard had become somewhat negligent, the prisoners managed to get the iron keys out of their bolts, and inserted instead thereof keys made of pewter, smoked in the candle to give them the appearance of iron. Having thus recovered the use of their limbs they improved the nights in digging a hole under the prison wall, which was also the main wall of the city, twelve feet thick. In the prison was a large chimney with a stone mantel, underneath which was an iron bar. This bar the prisoners appropriated to their use during the night, and restored it to its place in the morning before the arrival of their keeper, who found them as usual, in irons and to all appearances secure. The dirt and rubbish taken from under the wall were put in the bunks, and beds made over them, so that they were concealed from view.
The prisoners dug to the last stone in the wall, and were only waiting for a [p. 143] dark night to make their escape, when one of their number, under the influence of liquor, [footnote: It appears that there were other prisoners here besides the three that have been mentioned.] became unruly, commenced digging in the day time and was discovered. Then all their plans were frustrated and their labor lost. As soon as they found they were discovered, the prisoners threw all their rubbish into one large room, and ladies and gentlemen from all parts of the city came to see what the Yankees -- covered with irons -- had done. Their keeper offered a reward to any one who would tell where the tool was that had been used in the work. Ephraim Stevens replied that it was in the chimney, and this was searched from bottom to top without making the discovery, and for aught we know the iron may be there to this day.
The press-gang occasionally called at the prison and beat up for volunteers to man the British navy. On one of these occasions Ephraim Stevens declared that he was ready to go. His comrades remonstrated with him and told him he would never return, but he assured them that he would be back within a week. He set out and was conducted on board a vessel in the river, when the Captain, after showing him over the ship, asked him how he would like to be a sailor.
"First rate," said he, "but the first chance I have I will put a brand of fire into the magazine and we will all go to h__l together," and he d___d the king and all on board.
An attempt was made to hang him to the yard-arm. The rope was put around his neck and while it was being adjusted Stevens shouted,
"Draw away! I will find neck as long as you will halter! Draw away! You are a set of infernal cowards! I dare you to hang me, — thousands of Yankees will be upon the war-path! D--n you and your king."
In about a week the captain ordered his men to take Stevens back to prison, declaring that "he would have no such fellow on board his ship."
In the winter of 1781, the prisoners succeeded in digging [p. 144] their way out of the prison, and eluding the vigilance of the sentinels, they proceeded up the St. Lawrence on the ice, traveling in the night and secreting themselves by day. They suffered keenly from cold and hunger. One bitter cold night, Ephraim, being a little in advance of his party, fell through the ice. He promptly reinstated himself on the firm ice before his companions came up; but as he was completely drenched with water which almost instantly turned to ice, he knew that he must get to a fire or perish. This was extremely difficult. The British government had threatened severe punishment to any who should aid escaping prisoners -- but there was no alternative save death. A farm house was seen not far distant. Stevens approached it alone, and knocked for admission. The inmates were asleep, but he aroused them, told his story, and after much importunity, reinforced by the pleading of the man's wife, he was admitted at the muzzle fo a gun, a fire was made and Stevens relieved of his sufferings. His companions soon joined him, and the next night they proceeded on their way.
At length, when about a day's journey from Vermont, they missed their way, fell in with some British scouts, were recaptured and taken back to their prison in Quebec. Meanwhile, their friends in Pittsford, receiving no intelligence from them, supposed they were dead, and employed Elder Elisha Rich to preach their funeral sermon.
In June, 1782, Benjamin Stevens, Sen., of Pittsford learning that some prisoners were to be exchanged at Whitehall, made the journey thither hoping to hear something respecting the fate of his son, and his companions. While standing upon the wharf a vessel came in, and the first to disembark was his own Benjamin. What imagination can realize that scene? The dead was alive! Ephraim Stevens and Ebenezer Hopkins were also exchanged on this occasion and returned to their families.
These young men were of Capt. Thomas Sawyer's company, and received forty shillings per month for the time of their captivity. The following is copied from a certificate in the office of the Secretary of State:
State of Vermont, Clarendon, August 14, 1782.
Certified extract of the Journal of the General Assembly of a resolution of October 19, 1782, to pay Ephraim Stevens, Benjamin Stevens, Ebenezer Hopkins and Jonathan Rowley five dollars each, for guns they each lost in the service of the State, when they were taken prisoners in the year 1779.
|Family Group Sheet of Ebenezer HOPKINS & Rachel MEAD|
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