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by Sharon Combs

As an historical reenactment group, we stress the importance of the historical blending of cultures during the18th and 19th centuries. Culture can be defined as the set of shared attitudes, beliefs, goals and practices that characterize a group of people. In this case, I am talking about Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans while prisoners of each other in the Americas. Europeans and Africans brought their cultures with them to America and mingled them with the native peoples. New items brought a change to the Native lifestyle, such as firearms, iron, coffee and brandy. Natives introduced tobacco and fine beaver pelts that were desired by European peoples. The capture of European and African people happened quite often by the Natives who desired them for replacing a lost loved one, to add to the tribal size, or for servants. Many times they would kill all the others whom they didn’t want at the time of the raid or take some back to camp to burn at the stake and torture. A popular topic of the times was the tales the people told after being rescued or by escaping on their own. Many were well treated and had all the privileges and responsibilities of a tribal member and could take a wife.

Adoption of prisoners was a common practice, often times disease and warfare took many lives which needed replaced. Early 1700 saw many Eastern Natives allied with the French and would sell captives to them in Canada. One famous captive was Daniel Boone himself, who was captured by Shawnee Chief Black Fish who adopted him as a son after rejecting a good offer from the British Lieutenant Governor of Detroit. Another true tale is about James Smith, an eighteen year old, who was captured and adopted by the Caughnawaga in 1755. He was working on the road clearing crew for General Braddock’s army near Ft. Duquesne (now Pittsburg) when captured by the group who were friendly with the French. He was forced to run the gauntlet between well painted warriors who flogged him senseless. He awoke with a French doctor tending his wounds with brandy and blood letting inside the fort. Questioned by the Natives about Gen. Braddock’s army size and arms, he was allowed to recover. He was put under the care of an older Delaware and was told the gauntlet was not punishment but an old custom saying hello and he would now be well treated. After the battle and defeat of Gen. Braddock, he was taken north to a village called Tullihas. The hair on his head was plucked out except for a three inch section on the crown which was tied with a narrow beaded garter and a silver brooch placed. Then his nose and ears were bored and fixed with earrings and nose jewels. He was stripped, painted, given a breech clout, taken to the river and scrubbed vigorously by three young Native women. They told him all his white blood was now gone, but James thought it was a ritual preparing him for death.

Dressed in a ruffled shirt, leggings, moccasins, garters with bead and porcupine work and given a tinsel laced cloak, he was given a pipe, tomahawk, flint, steel and a polecat skin pouch with tobacco and dry sumac leaves. Taken into a lodge with a group of the leaders, smoking was done and speeches given. That evening was a feast and he was introduced to his new family. He watched several war dances held by warriors who were to be led by Chief Pluggy to Virginia the next morning for raids. For five years, he hunted and traveled with his Native family, well treated until he found occasion to escape by turning himself into the French Canadians where he was returned to his original family.

A different tale is of William Crawford who had a horrifying death at the hands of Ohio Natives who struck revenge on him for a massacre he had led at Gnadenhutten on the Christian Delaware natives. These natives had been converted to Christianity by Moravian missionaries and were living peacefully. Crawford had all ninety six herded into a number of homes and butchered with axes and clubs by the militiamen. This was done as vengeance against other Natives for raiding along the frontier and Ohio River.

Another custom, cannibalism, has been practiced among primitive peoples for centuries and occasionally the American Natives as a rite of warfare. It was believed that eating the flesh of your brave enemy would endow one with the strength, courage and other manly qualities of the victim. Cowardly prisoners would never meet this fate. The heart was considered most desirable and the blood was drank. This is hard to believe but it was a time of warfare between the Natives and Europeans. The land was being taken rapidly and settled while the French were offering rewards for the scalps of Englishmen brought to them. Scalping was at its peak during the colonial wars. The French Canadians paid a good sum for scalps, and it didn't matter who the scalp belonged to. The state of Massachusetts paid 12 pounds for an Indian scalp in 1703. In 1723, the price raised to 100 pounds. The English offered their troops 200 pounds for the scalp of Shingas, the chief of the Delaware tribe, during the French and Indian wars. The Natives also took scalps as trophies and for bounty.

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