This is the fascinating and bloody story of the American frontier of the eighteenth century—where white man clashed with red man in the Eastern Woodlands and on the banks of the great Ohio River. This history begins in the time when the British and French vied for the trackless wilderness to create a New World Empire. It takes the reader through the French and Indian War and chronicles battles, depredations and the suffering of early settlers. We join the Zanes and other notable characters along the Ohio. Here is the war of 1774, Boone's settlement and struggles in Kentucky and Lord Dunmore's War. As the American War of Independence erupts the British elicit the aid of savage Indian allies against the young America and the border once more is aflame with warfare and massacre. Peace with the British brings no respite and the bloody conflict continues between the settlers and native Americans to its bitter conclusion. This is an engrossing but gruelling account—filled with detail and incident—of savagery, tenacity and endurance as people struggle to build or keep a place for themselves in the world. An essential piece of research on the subject.
In the fall of 1754 about forty or fifty Indians entered that province, and dividing themselves into two parties, sought the unprotected settlements, for purposes of murder and devastation: the smaller party went about the forks of Delaware—the other directing their steps along the Susquehanna. On the 2nd of October, twelve of the former appeared before the house of Peter Williamson, (a Scotchman, with no family but his wife,) who had made considerable improvement near the Delaware River. Mrs. Williamson being from home, he sat up later than usual, and about 11 o’clock was astounded at the savage war whoop, resounding from various directions, near to the house. Going to the window, he perceived several Indians standing in the yard, one of whom, in broken English, promised that if he would come out and surrender he should not be killed; threatening at the same time that if he did not, they would burn him up in his house. Unable to offer an effectual resistance, and preferring the chance of safety by surrendering, to the certainty of a horrid death if he attempted an opposition, he yielded himself up a prisoner.<br>
So soon as he was in their power they plundered the house of such articles as they could conveniently take with them, and set fire to it, and to the barn, in which was a quantity of wheat, some horses and other cattle. After inflicting some severe tortures on Williamson, and forcing him to carry a heavy weight of the plunder, which they had taken from him, they went to a neighbouring house, occupied by Jacob Snyder, his wife, five children and a servant. The piercing cries, and agonizing shrieks of these poor creatures, made no impression on the savages. The father, mother, and children were tomahawked and scalped, and their bodies consumed by fire together with the house. The servant was spared that he might aid in carrying their plunder; but manifesting deep distress at his situation as prisoner, he was tomahawked before they proceeded far.<br>
Before they could accomplish farther mischief a fall of snow, making them apprehensive that they would be pursued by the united force of the settlement, induced them to return to Alamingo—taking Williamson with them.<br>
On their way back, they met with the party of Indians, which had separated from them, as they approached the settlements. These had been lower down on the Susquehanna, and had succeeded in making greater havoc, and committing more depredations, than it had fallen to the lot of those who had taken Williamson, to commit. They had with them three prisoners and twenty scalps. According to the account of their transactions as detailed by the prisoners, they had on one day killed and scalped John Lewis, his wife and three children, and in a few days after had murdered, with almost every circumstance of cruelty, Jacob Miller, his wife and six children, and George Folke, his wife and nine children, cutting up the bodies of the latter family and giving them piece-meal to the hogs in the pen. Wherever they had been, destruction marked their course. In every instance the houses, barns and grain stacks were consumed by fire; and the stock killed.<br>
The three prisoners who had been brought in by the last party, endeavoured soon after to effect an escape; but their ignorance of the country, and the persevering activity and vigilance of the Indians, prevented the accomplishment of their attempt. They were overtaken, and brought back; and then commenced a series of cruelties, tortures and death, sufficient to shock the sensibilities of the most obdurate heart, if unaccustomed to the perpetration of such enormities.<br>
Two of them were tied to trees, around which large fires were kindled, and they suffered to remain for some time, in the gradual but horrible state of being scorched to death. After the Indians had enjoyed awhile the writhings of agony and the tears of anguish, which were drawn from these suffering victims, one, stepping within the circle, ripped open their bodies and threw their bowels into the flames. Others, to emulate this most shocking deed, approached, and with knives, burning sticks, and heated irons, continued to lacerate, pierce and tear the flesh from their breasts, arms and legs, ’till death closed the scene of horrors and rendered its victims insensible to its pains.<br>
The third was reserved a few hours, that he might be sacrificed under circumstances of peculiar enormity. A hole being dug in the ground of a depth sufficient to enable him to stand upright, with his head only exposed, his arms were pinioned to his body, he placed in it, and the loose earth thrown in and rammed closely around him. He was then scalped and permitted to remain in that situation for several hours. A fire was next kindled near his head. In vain did the poor suffering victim of hellish barbarity exclaim, that his brains were boiling in his head; and entreat the mercy of instant death. Deaf to his cries, and inexorable to his entreaties, they continued the fire ’till his eye balls burst and gushed from their sockets, and death put a period to his sufferings. <br>
Of all these horrid spectacles, Williamson was an unwilling spectator; and supposing that he was reserved for some still more cruel and barbarous fate, determined on escaping. This he was soon enabled to do; and returned to the settlements.