In 1704, Mohawk Indians raided the frontier town of Deerfield, Mass. They captured local pastor John Williams, along with his family. Most of the family (those who didn’t die in the attack or aftermath) would be ransomed – all but a seven-year-old girl the Mohawks refused to free.
Eunice Williams, born Sept. 17, 1696, would spend the rest of her life with the Mohawks. She converted to Catholicism and married a Mohawk Catholic. Her family never gave up trying to bring her home, but when they finally reached her as an adult it was too late. She refused to return, and her Puritan family never got over the loss.
In Deerfield, John Williams was a prominent Puritan minister, married to Eunice Mather, the daughter of Eleazer Mather and first cousin to Cotton Mather.
The Deerfield Raid
Historian John Demos believes the raid on Deerfield was masterminded by Marquis de Vaudreuil, governor of New France (Canada). He very much wanted the return of the mysterious pirate known as Capt. Pierre Maisonnat dit Baptiste. Baptiste had wrought havoc with English shipping on the Atlantic Coast on behalf of the French until he was captured by the British. Vaudreuil wanted the pirate returned, and the best way to do that was to capture an important English prisoner and offer him for exchange.
Vaudreuil quietly approached the Indians with his offer and they accepted, writes Demos in his award-winning book, The Unredeemed Captive.
On the night of Feb. 28, 1704, a band of Abenaki and Mohawk Indians attacked Deerfield. They killed 39 people, including small children. They plundered possessions, set houses on fire and slaughtered cows, pigs and sheep. The Indians took 112 people captive, including the surviving members of the Williams family: John, Eunice, and five of their children, Samuel, 15, Esther, 13, Stephen, 9, Warham, 5, and Eunice, 7. Then they began the two-month journey through the snowy wilderness into New France.
The children and their father would survive the long winter journey. Their mother would not.
By April 1704, the Indians took the Deerfield pastor and three of his children — Esther, Samuel and Warham — to Montreal. All four were turned over to the French authorities. They wouldn’t return home until further negotiations ended. Stephen was still at large in the woods with the Abenaki. He would stay with them for 14 months, until he was ransomed and sent to join his father in captivity in a small village near Montreal.
The Indians took Eunice Williams to live with Catholic Mohawks in a small mission fort near Montreal called Kahnawake. John Williams visited his daughter once, and she begged him to take her with him. He told her to pray and to remember her scriptures.
By 1706, five of the Williams family were ransomed and sent home. A Mohawk family that had lost a daughter to smallpox adopted Eunice Williams. The family gave her a new name: A’ongonte, meaning ‘she who has been planted like an ash.’ She was also baptized Catholic and given the name Marguerite.
Her father tried to arrange for her release, but the French intermediaries said the Mohawks “would as soon part with their hearts as the child.” She would later take the adult name of Kanenstenhawi.
Her father would spend the rest of his life trying to free the daughter he always knew as Eunice Williams.
In 1707, John Schuyler, a New York merchant who had many contacts with northern Indians and traders, heard about a sighting of Williams’ daughter. He also heard she didn’t want to return to her family. Schuyler stayed in touch with her Mohawk family in an effort to redeem her.
[optinrev-inline-optin1]In March of 1713 the Williams family learned the melancholy news that Eunice Williams had married an Indian. They were devastated.
Not Even A Look
John Schuyler visited her at Kahnawake. She had forgotten her English, and they needed a translator to communicate. Schuyler pleaded with her to return to her family. She said no, not even for a visit.
The next year, her father visited her. She did not give him so much as a pleasant look. He would never see her again.
Eunice Williams and her husband, François-Xavier Arosen, had two daughters who grew to adulthood, Catherine and Marie, and a son named John.
Eunice Williams Returns
After John Williams died in 1729, Eunice’s brother Stephen took up the task of bringing her back. He had become a minister in Longmeadow, Mass., and he persuaded her to meet in Albany with him, along with their brother Eleazer and brother-in-law Joseph Meacham. On Aug. 27, 1740, they had a ‘joyful, sorrowful’ meeting, and Stephen persuaded Eunice and her husband to visit them in Longmeadow for four days. They actually stayed a little longer, camping out in the orchard near Stephen’s house.
The next summer Eunice and Aronson brought their children first to Longmeadow to visit Stephen, then to Coventry, Conn., to visit her sister Esther. Finally they went to Mansfield, Conn., where they visited her brother Eleazer.
In 1743, Eunice Williams and her family came to spend the winter with her family in Longmeadow and Deerfield, where her brother Elijah lived. Stephen hoped that this long visit would persuade her to stay, but again she refused.
One Last Visit
She wouldn’t return for another 17 years. In 1761, she brought her husband, a daughter and son-in-law and grandchild to Longmeadow for a brief 10-day visit. Ten years later in 1771, she wrote a letter to Stephen, chastising him for not staying in touch and expressing a desire to see him again. Stephen died in 1782 without ever seeing Eunice again. She died Nov. 26, 1785 at the age of 89.
By the time she died, Eunice Williams had one grandson and 12 great-grandchildren. Two of her great-grandchildren were sent to school in Longmeadow, where they dropped their Indian dress and manners. One of them, Eleazer, would later make the fraudulent claim that he was the lost Dauphin – Louis XVII, the rightful heir to the throne of France.
In 1837, 23 descendants of Eunice Williams arrived in Deerfield, Mass., to visit the graves of their ancestor John Williams and his wife Eunice. They camped near the village and attended Sunday services. They stayed for 10 days, weaving baskets and selling fabrics to the villagers who visited them so often they could barely find time to eat their meals.
Eunice Williams’ descendants behaved ‘decently and inoffensively,’ according to the prefatory remarks of a sermon delivered about their visit. And then they returned to Canada.
With thanks to The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America by John Demos. You can help independent bookstores and The New England Historical Society by buying it here.
This story was updated in 2021. You may also want to read about the Rice boys, also taken captive by Indians, here.