The Unredeemed Captive Summary
Facts and Information on the Deerfield Massacre of 1704, Eunice Williams and the Kanawake Indian Village
The Unredeemed Captive - A Family Story by John Demos was about Eunice Williams’ captivity and the ordeal her family went through to try and get her to return home. Eunice was captured together with her family and over 100 other town residents in the Deerfield Massacre of 1704. Demos accurately described the Deerfield raid, the captives’ trek to Canada and some individual’s captivity experience. He gave reasons for the raid and why it was successful. In addition, he described the Kahnawake Indian village where Eunice lived, their society, customs and so forth. Since very little is known about Eunice, Demos attempted to describe how he thought her life would have been like by relating life in the Kahnawake village.
The Deerfield raid was significant because it was the largest raid executed by the French and Indians. It yielded the largest number of captives taken in any raid. The raid sent shockwaves through the Massachusetts Colony even though they had been forewarned. The French started planning the raid early in 1703. Five different Native American Indian tribes started gathering in Montreal. It drew the attention of a few Native Americans who traded with the English. Rumors of the raid started circulating. However, overtime there were so many rumors circulating that no one paid them any attention. In Canada, circumstances caused the raid to be delayed. The raid occurred in winter which was unusual. There was three foot of snow on the ground. The raiders would have to trek over 250 miles to get to Deerfield and return the same distance with captives. On the night of the raid, the town was caught by surprise. The town watch had fallen asleep. After some resistance, the captives were rounded up and marched to Canada.
Demos references John Williams’ narrative, The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion, for the details of the trek and Captivity in Canada. Out of one hundred twelve captives only ninety two captives survived the trek to Canada. Over half of the captives killed along the trek were women including Williams’ wife. Williams and his children were treated surprising well. His children including Eunice were carried by their captors the entire journey. Before the captives reached Canada, the group splits into smaller groups each going to separate destinations.
In Canada, Williams was ransomed by the French governor. He managed to get the French governor to ransom all of his children but Eunice. Williams arranged a visit to see Eunice. When he finally spoke to Eunice, Williams was relieved that she was well and had not forgotten her catechism. He seemed more concerned about the Catholic threat than anything else. Since he couldn’t arrange for her ransom, Williams had no choice but to leave Eunice with her Indian master. He was told by the French that “the Indians would rather cut out their hearts than part with their adoptive captives.”
Williams returned home a celebrity after three years of captivity. He writes his narrative at the insistence of Cotton Mathers, a prominent citizen of the colony. All of his children except Eunice returned home. The long ordeal of trying to get Eunice to return began. After about ten years, Williams sent a representative who talked to Eunice. She was now married to an Indian and had forgotten English. Two interpreters were needed, one to translate English to French, the other to translate French to Mohawk. Eunice didn’t speak during the interview until the end. The representative and then her priest pleaded with her to visit her father. She did not argue neither did she give reasons. She just said no. Demos explained using a journal from one of the commissioners who regularly talked to captives, “I think it would be far easier to gain twice the number of French and Indians to go with us than English captives.” Williams saw Eunice once more in 1714. This was the last time he visited her. In 1729, John Williams died. After his death, Stephen carried on the ordeal of trying to get Eunice to return home. She finally began to visit with her family.
Problems with the book are clearly in the way it was written. It was written in the present tense and often switches to the past tense. Many sentences were fragments. Demos injected colonial spellings throughout the text enclosed in quotation marks. These grammatical errors intentionally or not make the reading very choppy. It takes awhile to get use to reading the sentences. However, after I got use to the grammar, I no longer paid it any attention. The title of the book implied that the story was about Eunice, the unredeemed captive but Demos doesn’t mention her but three times in the first half of the book.
I found several events interesting. One fact I found interesting was that Eunice and Stephen lived to be near ninety, a remarkable feat even for today. They must have come from hardy stock. Another fact was that many captives were captured more than once as documented in the case of Mehuman Hinsdale from Deerfield. Yet the most remarkable fact I found was the persistence of the Williams on trying to redeem Eunice. I credited this to the fact that both John and Stephen Williams were ministers. Stephen didn’t give up hope until after 1765, when Eunice’s husband died. When Stephen heard of the death of his brother in law, he thought Eunice would return home. She had no reason to stay so he thought. The Kahnawake community had long ago accepted Eunice as one of their own. When her husband died, Eunice had a large network of support to rely on. Stephen stopped writing Eunice. The last letter she received from him was dated 1761. Eunice wrote Stephen in 1771 expressing her surprise and concern that she had not heard from him. In the letter, Eunice told Stephen that her health was failing and she would not make another trip to visit. She would see him in the afterlife.
Demos, John. The Unredeemed Captive. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House, inc., 1995.