THE TRUE STORY
OF A KIDNAPPED BOY AS TOLD BY HIMSELF
By Peter Williamson
I was born in Hirulay, in the county of Aberdeen, Scotland.
My parents, though not rich, were respectable, and so long as I
was under their care all went well with me. Unhappily, I was sent
to stay with an aunt at Aberdeen, where, at eight years old, when
playing on the quay, I was noticed as a strong, active little fellow
by two men belonging to a vessel in the harbor. Now, this vessel
was in the employ of certain merchants of Aberdeen, who used her
for the villanous purpose of kidnapping—that is, stealing young
children from their parents and selling them as slaves in the
These impious monsters, marking me out for their prey, tempted me
on board the ship, which I had no sooner entered than they led me
between the decks to some other boys whom they had kidnapped in
like manner. Not understanding what a fate was in store for me, I
passed the time in childish amusement with the other lads in the
steerage, for we were never allowed to go on deck while the vessel
stayed in the harbor, which it did till they had imprisoned as many
luckless boys as they needed.
Then the ship set sail for America. I cannot remember much of the
voyage, being a mere child at the time, but I shall never forget
what happened when it was nearly ended. We had reached the American
coast, when a hard gale of wind sprang up from the southeast, and
about midnight the ship struck on a sandbank off Cape May, near
Delaware. To the terror of all on board, it was soon almost full
of water. The boat was then hoisted out, and the captain and his
fellow-villains, the crew, got into it, leaving me and my deluded
companions, as they supposed, to perish. The cries, shrieks, and
tears of a throng of children had no effect on these merciless
But happily for us the wind abated, and the ship being on a sandbank,
which did not give way to let her deeper, we lay here till morning,
when the captain, unwilling to lose all his cargo, sent some of
the crew in a boat to the ship's side to bring us ashore. A sort
of camp was made, and here we stayed till we were taken in by a
vessel bound to Philadelphia.
At Philadelphia, people soon came to buy us. We were sold for £16
apiece. I never knew what became of my unhappy companions, but I
was sold for seven years to one of my countrymen, Hugh Wilson, who
in his youth had suffered the same fate as myself in being kidnapped
from his home.
Happy was my lot in falling into his power, for he was a humane,
worthy man. Having no children of his own, and pitying my sad
condition, he took great care of me till I was fit for business,
and at twelve years old set me about little things till I could
manage harder work. Meanwhile, seeing my fellow-servants often
reading and writing, I felt a strong desire to learn, and told my
master that I should be glad to serve a year longer than the bond
obliged me if he would let me go to school. To this he readily
agreed, and I went every winter for five years, also learning as
much as I could from my fellow-servants.
With this good master I stayed till I was seventeen years old, when
he died, leaving me a sum of money, about £120 sterling, his best
horse, and all his wearing apparel.
I now maintained myself by working about the country, for any one
who would employ me, for nearly seven years, when I determined to
settle down. I applied to the daughter of a prosperous planter,
and found my suit was acceptable both to her and her father, so
we married. My father-in-law, wishing to establish us comfortably,
gave me a tract of land which lay, unhappily for me, as it has since
proved, on the frontiers of Pennsylvania. It contained about two
hundred acres, with a good house and barn.
I was now happy in my home, with a good wife; but my peace did not
last long, for about 1754 the Indians in the French interest, who
had formerly been very troublesome in our province, began to renew
their old practices. Even many of the Indians whom we supposed to
be in the English interest joined the plundering bands; it was no
wonder, for the French did their utmost to win them over, promising
to pay £15 for every scalp of an Englishman!
Hardly a day passed but some unhappy family fell a victim to French
bribery and savage cruelty. As for me, though now in comfortable
circumstances, with an affectionate and amiable wife, it was not
long before I suddenly became the most pitiable of mankind. I can
never bear to think of the last time I saw my dear wife, on the
fatal 2d of October, 1754. That day she had left home to visit
some of her relations, and, no one being in the house but myself,
I stayed up later than usual, expecting her return. How great was
my terror when, at eleven o'clock at night, I heard the dismal
warwhoop of the savages, and, flying to the window, saw a band of
them outside, about twelve in number.
They made several attempts to get in, and I asked them what they
wanted. They paid no attention, but went on beating at the door,
trying to get it open. Then, having my gun loaded in my hand, I
threatened them with death if they would not go away. But one of
them, who could speak a little English, called out in return that
if I did not come out they would burn me alive in the house. They
told me further—what I had already found out—that they were no
friends to the English, but that if I would surrender myself prisoner
they would not kill me.
My horror was beyond all words. I could not depend on the promises of
such creatures, but I must either accept their offer or be burned
alive. Accordingly, I went out of my house with my gun in my hand,
not knowing what I did or that I still held it. Immediately, like
so many tigers, they rushed on me and disarmed me. Having me now
completely in their power, the merciless villains bound me to a
tree near the door, and then went into the house and plundered what
they could. Numbers of things which they were unable to carry away
were set fire to with the house and consumed before my eyes. Then
they set fire to my barn, stable, and outhouses, where I had about
two hundred bushels of wheat, and cows, sheep, and horses. My
agony as I watched all this havoc it is impossible to describe.
When the terrible business was over, one of the monsters came to
me, a tomahawk in his hand, threatening me with a cruel death if I
would not consent to go with them. I was forced to agree, promising
to do all that was in my power for them, and trusting to Providence
to deliver me out of their hands. On this they untied me, and gave
me a great load to carry on my back, under which I travelled all
that night with them, full of the most terrible fear lest my unhappy
wife should likewise have fallen into their clutches. At daybreak
my master ordered me to lay down my load, tying my hands round a
tree with a small cord. They then kindled a fire near the tree to
which I was bound, which redoubled my agony, for I thought they
were going to sacrifice me there.
When the fire was made, they danced round me after their manner, with
all kinds of antics, whooping and crying out in the most horrible
fashion. Then they took the burning coals and sticks, flaming
with fire at the ends, and held them near my face, head, hands and
feet, with fiendish delight, at the same time threatening to burn
me entirely if I called out or made the least noise. So, tortured
as I was, I could make no sign of distress but shedding silent
tears, which, when they saw, they took fresh coals, and held them
near my eyes, telling me my face was wet, and they would dry it
for me. I have often wondered how I endured these tortures; but at
last they were satisfied, and sat down round the fire and roasted
the meat which they had brought from my dwelling!
When they had prepared it, they offered some to me, and though
it may be imagined that I had not much heart to eat, I was forced
to seem pleased, lest if I refused it they should again begin to
torture me. What I could not eat I contrived to get between the bark
and the tree—my foes having unbound my hands till they supposed I
had eaten all they gave me. But then they bound me as before, and
so I continued all day.
When the sun was set they put out the fire, and covered the ashes
with leaves, as is their custom, that the white people may find no
signs of their having been there.
Travelling thence, by the river, for about six miles, I being loaded
heavily, we reached a spot near the Blue Hills, where the savages
hid their plunder under logs of wood. Thence, shocking to relate,
they went to a neighboring house, that of Jacob Snider, his wife,
five children, and a young man, a servant. They soon forced their
way into the unhappy man's dwelling, slew the whole family, and
set fire to the house.
The servant's life was spared for a time, since they thought he
might be of use to them, and forthwith loaded him with plunder. But
he could not bear the cruel treatment that we suffered; and though
I tried to console him with a hope of deliverance, he continued to
sob and moan. One of the savages, seeing this, instantly came up,
struck him to the ground, and slew him.
The family of John Adams next suffered. All were here put to death
except Adams himself, a good old man, whom they loaded with plunder,
and day after day continued to treat with the most shocking cruelty,
painting him all over with various colors, plucking the white hairs
from his beard, and telling him he was a fool for living so long,
and many other tortures which he bore with wonderful composure,
praying to God.
One night after he had been tortured, when he and I were sitting
together, pitying each other's misfortunes, another party of Indians
arrived, bringing twenty scalps and three prisoners, who gave us
terrible accounts of what tragedies had passed in their parts, on
which I cannot bear to dwell.
These three prisoners contrived to escape, but unhappily, not
knowing the country, they were recaptured and brought back. They
were then all put to death, with terrible tortures.
A great snow now falling, the savages began to be afraid that the
white people would follow their tracks upon it and find out their
skulking retreats, and this caused them to make their way to their
winter quarters, about two hundred miles further from any plantations
or English inhabitants. There, after a long and tedious journey,
in which I was almost starved, I arrived with this villainous
crew. The place where we had to stay, in their tongue, was called
Alamingo, and there I found a number of wigwams full of Indian women
and children. Dancing, singing, and shooting were their general
amusements, and they told what successes they had had in their
expeditions, in which I found myself part of their theme. The
severity of the cold increasing, they stripped me of my own clothes
and gave me what they usually wear themselves—a blanket, a piece
of coarse cloth, and a pair of shoes made of deerskin.
The better sort of Indians have shirts of the finest linen they can
get, and with these some wear ruffles, but they never put them on
till they have painted them different colors, and do not take them
off to wash, but wear them till they fall into pieces. They are
very proud, and delight in trinkets, such as silver plates round
their wrists and necks, with several strings of wampum, which is
made of cotton, interwoven with pebbles, cockle-shells, etc. From
their ears and noses they have rings and beads, which hang dangling
an inch or two.
The hair of their heads is managed in different ways: some pluck
out and destroy all except a lock hanging from the crown of the
head, which they interweave with wampum and feathers. But the women
wear it very long, twisted down their backs, with beads, feathers,
and wampum, and on their heads they carry little coronets of brass
No people have a greater love of liberty or affection for their
relations, yet they are the most revengeful race on earth, and
inhumanly cruel. They generally avoid open fighting in war, yet
they are brave when taken, enduring death or torture with wonderful
courage. Nor would they at any time commit such outrages as they
do if they were not tempted by drink and money by those who call
At Alamingo I was kept nearly two months, till the snow was off
the ground—a long time to be among such creatures! I was too far
from any plantations or white people to try to escape; besides,
the bitter cold made my limbs quite benumbed. But I contrived to
defend myself more or less against the weather by building a little
wigwam with the bark of the trees, covering it with earth, which
made it resemble a cave, and keeping a good fire always near the
Seeing me outwardly submissive, the savages sometimes gave me a
little meat, but my chief food was Indian corn.
Having liberty to go about was, indeed, more than I expected; but
they knew well it was impossible for me to escape.
At length they prepared for another expedition against the planters
and white people, but before they set out they were joined by many
other Indians from Fort Duquesne, well stored with powder and ball
that they had received from the French.
As soon as the snow was quite gone, so that no trace of their
footsteps could be found, they set out on their journey toward
Pennsylvania, to the number of nearly a hundred and fifty. Their
wives and children were left behind in the wigwams. My duty was
to carry whatever they intrusted to me; but they never gave me a
gun. For several days we were almost famished for want of proper
provisions: I had nothing but a few stalks of Indian corn, which I
was glad to eat dry, and the Indians themselves did not fare much
When we again reached the Blue Hills, a council of war was held,
and we agreed to divide into companies of about twenty men each,
after which every captain marched with his party where he thought
proper. I still belonged to my old masters, but was left behind on
the mountains with ten Indians, to stay till the rest returned, as
they did not think it safe to carry me nearer to the plantations.
Here being left, I began to meditate on my escape, for I knew the
country round very well, having often hunted there. The third day
after the great body of the Indians quitted us, my keepers visited
the mountains in search of game, leaving me bound in such a way
that I could not get free.
When they returned at night they unbound me, and we all sat down
to supper together, feasting on two polecats which they had killed.
Then, being greatly tired with their day's excursion, they lay down
to rest as usual.
Seeing them apparently fast asleep, I tried different ways of
finding out whether it was a pretence to see what I should do. But
after making a noise and walking about, sometimes touching them
with my feet, I found that they really slept. My heart exulted at
the hope of freedom, but it sank again when I thought how easily I
might be recaptured. I resolved, if possible, to get one of their
guns, and if discovered to die in self-defence rather than be
taken; and I tried several times to take one from under their heads,
where they always secure them. But in vain; I could not have done
so without rousing them.
So, trusting myself to the Divine protection, I set out defenceless.
Such was my terror, however, that at first I halted every four or
five yards, looking fearfully toward the spot where I had left the
Indians, lest they should wake and miss me. But when I was about
two hundred yards off I mended my pace and made all the haste I
could to the foot of the mountains.
Suddenly I was struck with the greatest terror and dismay, hearing
behind me the fearful cries and bowlings of the savages, far worse
than the roaring of lions or the shrieking of hyenas; and I knew
that they had missed me. The more my dread increased, the faster I
hurried, scarce knowing where I trod, sometimes falling and bruising
myself, cutting my feet against the stones, yet, faint and maimed
as I was, rushing on through the woods. I fled till daybreak, then
crept into a hollow tree, where I lay concealed, thanking God for
so far having favored my escape. I had nothing to eat but a little
But my repose did not last long, for in a few hours I heard the
voices of the savages near the tree in which I was hid threatening
me with what they would do if they caught me, which I already guessed
too well. However, at last they left the spot where I heard them,
and I stayed in my shelter the rest of that day without any fresh
At night I ventured out again, trembling at every bush I passed, and
thinking each twig that touched me a savage. The next day I concealed
myself in the same manner, and at night travelled forward, keeping
off the main road, used by the Indians, as much as possible, which
made my journey far longer, and more painful than I can express.
But how shall I describe my terror when, on the fourth night,
a party of Indians lying round a small fire which I had not seen,
hearing the rustling I made among the leaves, started from the
ground, seizing their arms, and ran out into the wood? I did not
know, in my agony of fear, whether to stand still or rush on. I
expected nothing but a terrible death; but at that very moment a
troop of swine made toward the place where the savages were. They,
seeing the hogs, guessed that their alarm had been caused by them,
and returned merrily to their fire and lay down to sleep again.
As soon as this happened, I pursued my way more cautiously and
silently, but in a cold perspiration of terror at the peril I had
just escaped. Bruised, cut, and shaken, I still held on my path
till break of day, when I lay down under a huge log, and slept
undisturbed till noon. Then, getting up, I climbed a great hill,
and, scanning the country round, I saw, to my unspeakable joy, some
habitations of white people, about ten miles distant.
My pleasure was somewhat damped by not being able to get among
them that night. But they were too far off; therefore, when evening
fell, I again commended myself to Heaven, and lay down, utterly
exhausted. In the morning, as soon as I woke, I made toward the
nearest of the cleared lands which I had seen the day before; and
that afternoon I reached the house of John Bull, an old acquaintance.
I knocked at the door, and his wife, who opened it, seeing me in
such a frightful condition, flew from me like lightning, screaming,
into the house.
This alarmed the whole family, who immediately seized their arms,
and I was soon greeted by the master with his gun in his hand. But
when I made myself known—for at first he took me for an Indian—he
and all his family welcomed me with great joy at finding me alive;
since they had been told I was murdered by the savages some months
No longer able to bear up, I fainted and fell to the ground. When
they had recovered me, seeing my weak and famished state, they gave
me some food, but let me at first partake of it very sparingly.
Then for two days and nights they made me welcome, and did their
utmost to bring back my strength, with the kindest hospitality.
Finding myself once more able to ride, I borrowed a horse and some
clothes of these good people, and set out for my father-in-law's
house in Chester County, about a hundred and forty miles away. I
reached it on January 4,1755; but none of the family could believe
their eyes when they saw me, having lost all hope on hearing that
I had fallen a prey to the Indians.
They received me with great joy; but when I asked for my dear wife,
I found she had been dead two months, and this fatal news greatly
lessened the delight I felt at my deliverance.