On this Thanksgiving Day I found myself thinking about one of the most remarkable stories I’ve ever read. It’s the captivity of Mary Moore, taken from Foote’s History of Virginia. This story of faith unshaken in the midst of the worst circumstances imaginable will move you. It also reminds us how easy, secure, and comfortable our lives are.
I’ve heavily edited it, primarily for length. This is part one.
While the Shawnees were reveling with spirituous liquors, the Cherokees seized the mother and daughter, condemned them to the torture, by fire, and death at the stake. Their sufferings were protracted through three days of agony. The uncomplaining mother comforted her poor dying child with gospel truth and exhortation, and died with a meekness that astounded the savages…
A certain James Moore, of Scottish ancestry, born in Ireland, emigrated to America with his brother about the year 1726, and took residence in Pennsylvania. His father-in-law having removed, with the rest of the family, to Rockbridge county,Virginia, Mr. Moore removed his wife and four children and took his residence with them. Here six more children were added to his family, which consisted of five sons and as many daughters. The sixth child, named after himself, was the father of Mary Moore, the wife of Rev. Samuel Brown.
This James Moore, the sixth child of the emigrant James, was married to Martha Poage, by whom he had nine children, five sons and four daughters. His fifth child, and second daughter, he named Mary.
Moore, in company with an English servant, John Simpson, sought a valley on the waters of the Blue Stone, a branch of New River, cleared a few acres of land, put up a log cabin; and in the fall of the year 1775 removed his family to their lovely home.
Mr. Moore was a man of courage; he fought bravely in the battle of Guilford; he loved the solitude and sweetness of the valley, and would not retreat through any fear of the hostile Indians. He feared God, and worshipped him in his family; his wife was devoutly pious, and contented to share his lot. They trained their children in the doctrines and truth of the gospel, to live righteously before God. They trusted in God’s providence and looked to him for protection. Perhaps they tempted him in their boldness and security. Five children were added to their family in this valley, making the number nine. Of these Mary, the fifth child, was born in the year 1777, and passed the first nine years of her life in alternate solitude and alarms. When seven years old she mourned the sudden disappearance of her second brother, not knowing whether he had gone to captivity or a premature grave by savage hands. On the 7th of September, 1784, James, then fourteen years of age, was sent to Mr. Poage’s deserted settlement to procure a horse for the purpose of going to the mill about twelve miles distant through a dreary wilderness. He did not return. The anxious search discovered trails of savages. And in time the hopes that he had hidden in the woods or fled to some distant habitation gave way to the sad conviction that his fate, for life or for death, had been committed to the hands of barbarians. This bereavement grieved, but did not subdue the heart of the father; perils by day and by night lost their power to alarm by their frequency. The children slept in security while their parent resolutely, almost stubbornly, maintained his position in the midst of exposure and loss. After some time a letter was received by the anxious father, from Kentucky, giving him information of his lost son, then supposed to be in or near Detroit.
The morning of the 14th of July, 1786, a party of Indians came up Sandy River, crossed over to the head of Clinch, passed near where Tazewell Court House now is, murdered a Mr. Davison and wife and burned their dwelling, and passed on to App’s Valley hastily, before any alarm could be given, and lay in ambush for the family of James Moore. A little spur puts out from the mountain, and gradually sloping towards the creek, about three hundred yards before it sinks into the low grounds, divides; at the extremity of one division stood Moore’s house, and near the other the trough at which he was accustomed to salt his horses. At the time of the greatest peril all seemed most secure. It was harvest time; and there were two men assisting Mr. Moore in his harvest. The guns were discharged on the preceding evening, to be reloaded sometime in the morning. Simpson lay sick in the loft; the men had repaired early to the wheat field, to reap till breakfast time; Mr. Moore was engaged in salting his horses; his wife was busied in her domestic concerns; and two of the children were at the spring. Suddenly the savage yell was heard, and two parties rushed from their hiding places on the ridge, the one down the slope to the house and the other towards Mr. Moore. All at the sudden alarm started for the house. Two children, Rebecca and William, were shot dead near the salt block, on their return from the spring; and the third Alexander, near the house. Mary rushed in, and the door was shut and barred against the approaching savages by Mrs. Moore and Martha Ivans, a member of the family, just in time to prevent their entrance. Mr. Moore finding himself intercepted by the Indians, at the house, ran on through the small lot that surrounded it, and on climbing the fence paused, and turned, and in a moment was pierced with seven bullets. Springing from the fence he ran a few paces, fell and expired. The two men in the harvest field, seeing the house surrounded by a large company of savages (the party consisting of about thirty) fled, and escaped unharmed. Martha Ivans seized two of the guns and ran up stairs to the sick man, Simpson, calling on him to shoot through the crevices; but the poor man had already received his death wound, in his head, from a bullet aimed from without the house. Two stout dogs defended the door most courageously, till the fiercest was shot. Martha Ivans and Mary Moore secreted themselves under a part of the floor, taking with them the infant Margaret; but the sobbings of the alarmed child forbade concealment. Should Mary place the child upon the floor, and conceal herself? — or should she share its fate? She could not abandon her little sister even in that perilous moment, and left her hiding place and her companion. The Indians were now cutting at the door, and threatening fire. Mrs. Moore perceiving that her faithful sentinels were silenced, Simpson expiring, and her husband dead, collected her four children, and kneeling down, committed them to God; then rose and unbarred the door.
After all resistance had ceased, the Indians, satisfied with the blood that had been shed, took Mrs. Moore and her four children, John, Jane, Mary, and Margaret, the fifth, Joseph, being in Rockbridge at school, prisoners; and having plundered to their satisfaction, set fire to the dwelling. Martha Ivans crept from the approaching flames, and again concealed herself beneath a log that lay across the little stream near the dwelling. But captivity awaited her. While catching a few of the horses, one of the Indians crossed the log, under which she was secreted, and sat down upon the end of it. The girl seeing him handle the lock of his gun, and supposing that he had discovered her, and was about to fire upon her, came out, to the great surprise of the savage, for he had not seen her, and to his great apparent joy delivered herself a captive. In a short time the Indians were on their march with their captives, and their plunder, to the Shawnee towns in Ohio, to which they belonged. The two men that escaped, hastened to the nearest family, a distance of six miles, and as soon as possible spread the alarm among the settlements. Before the armed men could reach the spot the ruin was complete, and the depredators far on their way to Ohio. Mr. Moore was found lifeless — scalped — but his body unabused, — and was buried where he fell.
The morning of July 14th, 1786, saw the family in App’s Valley full of life and cheerfulness; the sun went down that day on smoking ruins, the dead bodies of the father and four children — and the journeying of the mother with three children, helpless captives, to — they knew not what in the western forest. After the horrible event of the morning, perhaps the mother wept not, when the captors, dissatisfied with the delicate appearance and slow traveling of her weak-minded and feeble-bodied son John, dispatched him at a blow and hid him from the sight of pursuers. The hours of night passed slowly and sorrowfully as the four captives, all females, lay upon the ground, each tied to a warrior, who slept tomahawk in hand to prevent a recapture should they be overtaken by the pursuing whites. Of this however there was no danger; the rapidity of the retreat forbade all prospect of a recapture. But on the third day, a new cup of sorrow was put in the mother’s hand. The little infant Margaret, that Mary could not part with, was spared to the mother. The Indians even insisted in carrying it. On the third day, the little one became very fretful from a wound it had received on its cheek; irritated by its crying a savage seized it, and dashing its head against a tree tossed it into the bushes without a word. The company moved on in silence; the sisters dared not, the mother would not, lament the fate of the helpless loved one.
After some twenty wearisome days of travel down the Sandy and Ohio rivers, they came to the Scioto; here the Indians showed Mrs. Moore some hieroglyphics representing three Indians and a captive white boy; this boy, they told her, was her son, they had captured on their expedition, two years before, who had been here with them, and was still a captive. The prisoners were then taken on to their towns called Wappotomatick and Major Jack, near where Chilicothe now stands, and were kindly received. After a few days a council was called, and an aged Indian made a long speech dissuading from war; the warriors shook their heads and retired. This old man took Mary Moore to his wigwam, treated her with great kindness, and appeared to commiserate her condition. In a short time, a party of Cherokees, who had made an unsuccessful expedition in the western part of Pennsylvania, on their return home, passed by the Shawnee towns, and stopped where Mrs. Moore and her daughter Jane were. Irritated at their ill success, and the loss of some of their warriors, the sight of these prisoners excited an irresistible thirst for revenge. While the Shawnees were reveling with spirituous liquors, the Cherokees seized the mother and daughter, condemned them to the torture, by fire, and death at the stake. Their sufferings were protracted through three days of agony. The uncomplaining mother comforted her poor dying child with gospel truth and exhortation, and died with a meekness that astounded the savages. The Shawnees never approved of this gratuitous act of cruelty, and always expressed unwillingness to converse about the circumstances, charging Mrs. Moore’s death upon the Cherokees. They evidently felt dishonored by the deed. About the captivity and death of other people, and about the burning of Mr. Moore’s house, and the massacre of himself and children, they spoke freely…
The two girls remained with the Shawnee still the fall of the year 1788. In respect to their food, clothing, labor, conveniences and discomforts, their situation differed little from that of the young Indians. They were kept as property of value, without any very definite object. Contentions sometimes arose amongst the Indians about the right of ownership; and in times of intoxication, death was threatened as the only means of ending the quarrel. Whenever these threats were made, some of the sober Indians gave the girls the alarm, in time for their secreting themselves. While free from the influence of strong drink, the Indians expressed great fondness for the girls, particularly for the little black-eyed, golden-haired Mary.
The Shawnees continuing to be very troublesome to the frontiers, in the fall of 1788 an expedition was fitted out to destroy their towns on the Scioto. The Indians were informed by the traders, of the design and the departure of the expedition; and watched its progress. On its near approach, they deserted their towns, secreting their little property, and carrying their wives and children and aged ones beyond the reach of the enemy. Mary Moore revolved in her mind the probable chances of concealing herself in the forest until the arrival of the forces, and thus obtain her liberty; and was deterred from the attempt by the reflection, that the season was late and possibly the forces might not arrive before winter, and perhaps not at all. Late in November the American forces reached the Scioto, burned the Shawnee towns, destroyed their winter provisions as far as they could be found, and immediately returned home. After the departure of the forces the Indians returned to their ruined towns; and winter setting in upon them, deprived of shelter, their extreme sufferings compelled them to seek for aid in Canada.
On the journey to Detroit they endured the extremes of hunger and cold. It was the time for the falling of the snow, which came storm after storm upon these shelterless people. Martha Ivans and Mary Moore, with few garments, traversed the forests with deerskin moccasins, the only covering for their feet in these deep snows. Not unfrequently they woke in the morning covered with the snow that had fallen during the night; once the depth of their snowy covering was twelve or fourteen inches; their only bed or protection, besides the bushes heaped together being their single blanket. On reaching Detroit, the Indians gave themselves to riotous drinking; and to indulge this appetite sold their young captives. Mary was purchased, for half a gallon of rum, by a person named Stogwell, who lived at Frenchtown, near the western end of Lake Erie. Martha was purchased by a man in the neighborhood of Detroit, and being soon after released, took up her residence with a wealthy and worthy English family by the name of Donaldson, and received wages for her services. The purchaser of Mary neither liberated her, nor expressed any kindness to her, but employed her as a servant, with poor clothing and scanty fare.