There were hundreds of Virginia frontier settlers stolen from their homes during the tumultuous years of 1754-64. Most were carried away to their captors' villages in Ohio, often never to be heard from again by their families. Some, like the lucky individual in the above story, were released when their fellow settlers caught up to and annihilated the raiding party, while others, using guile, were able to escape on their own. This latter group faced the most arduous challenge to their physical and mental strength as they instinctively groped their way back to family and friends. Of all captivity tales during this period, there are few that describe the lonely, desperate journey through trackless wilderness. For the few that desperation dictated such a journey, it was often death that awaited them at journey's end.
The following brief account comes from one of those who beat the odds against survival and, presumably, was reunited with friends and family. However, her companion would not be able to enjoy the same outcome.
Whenever necessary for explanations, braces [-] will be used for editorial notes. The area below the heavy line is the excerpt as it appeared in the newspaper.
December 8, 1763
The Pennsylvania Gazette
Extract of a Letter from Colonel Adam Stephen, dated
Winchester, October 18, 1763.
"One Eleanor Ryan, taken prisoner by the Indians the 23d of August last, near Stony Creek [located in Shenandoah County, Virginia, just east of Wolf Gap of North Mountain which lies on the Shenandoah County, VA-Hardy County, WV line], and who has made her Escape, gives the following Account, viz. That she was carried to Cape Cape [Cacapon River, probably through Wolf Gap and down the Trout Run Valley to the Cacapon], where a scouting Party, by talking, discovered themselves to the Indians, three of whom advanced to the road with cocked firelocks [this may have been in the vicinity of Wardensville], to fire on the party, whilst two stood by her and her brother, with their tomhawks ready to dispatch them, if they made any noise; but the Indians observing the party to be too strong for them, let them pass, and proceeded through the woods to the South Branch, passing the forts in the night. Towards the Allegheny mountains, they killed several horses for their bells; and coming on the tracts of some of our scouting parties, they were much afraid, and turned off through the most rugged mountains they could find, to prevent being tracked, first tomhawking all the horses they had taken. After travelling twelve days, they had got on one of the south branches of the Monongahela, and expecting to be tomhawked next day, as she was quite exhausted, and unable to march further, she took a resolution, with her brother, to attempt an escape that night; and accordingly being sent for firewood, as usual, they carried in several turns to camp, and, under pretence of bringing more, they went into a laurel thicket [what we know as rhododendron], and hid themselves, until the Indians had given over pursuit of them, and then steered towards the sun rising. After wandering in the mountains for 15 days, her brother perished by hunger; and in 5 days afterwards she got into Harnesfort [Harness's Fort, between present Moorefield and Petersburg], on the South Branch, almost starved to death."
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