Sunday, February 1, 2015

An account of the remarkable occurrences in the life and travels of Colonel James Smith

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John Wayne as Colonel James Smith
in "Allegheny Uprising."

Although my ancestors migrated from North Carolina and settled West Tennessee in the early 1830s, they weren’t the first to find the area appealing. Indians like the Chickasaw were using it as a camping and hunting ground for thousands of years before the wagon trains began unloading.

In school, the role of Indians was always part of our early Tennessee History curriculum and most Memphis-area youngsters growing up in the '60s and '70s could count on at least one field trip to Chucalissa Indian Village. It's not even all that unusual to stumble across flint arrowheads in the area, although I've never been that fortunate. While playing in the woods as a young boy, I frequently entertained the idea that an Indian possibly walked over the very spot on which I was standing. 

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Title page of Colonel James Smith's book.

If you happen to have an interest in the Indians of the early colonial period, you may enjoy a book I just finished that's available for free download or in hardcover

“An Account of the Remarkable Occurrences in the Life and Travels of Col. James Smith, Consisting of an Autobiography and an Analysis of Indian Culture” was written by Smith in 1799, 40 years after his capture and captivity by Indians.

In 1755, when he was 18 years old, Smith was part of an army of 1,400 who were sent to attack the French army at Fort Duquesne (now known as Pittsburg) as part of General Edward Braddock’s British Regiment. In his book, Smith claims he was taken captive by a band of Lenape Indians and stayed with them nearly five years.

Although initially beaten and tortured, he was eventually adopted into the tribe and became one of them. This excerpt, which takes place early in his story, shares what happened at the end of the adoption ceremony and is a great example of Smith's style of storytelling. 
"The old chief, holding me by the hand, made a long speech, very loud, and when he had done he handed me to three squaws, who led me by the hand down the bank into the river until the water was up to our middle. The squaws then made signs to me to plunge myself into the water, but I did not understand them. I thought that the result of the council was that I should be drowned, and that these young ladies were to be the executioners. They all laid violent hold of me, and I for some time opposed them with all my might, which occasioned loud laughter by the multitude that were on the bank of the river. At length one of the squaws made out to speak a little English (for I believe they began to be afraid of me) and said, 'No hurt you.' On this I gave myself up to their ladyships, who were as good as their word; for though they plunged me under water and washed and rubbed me severely, yet I could not say they hurt me much." 
His account of his years with the Indians is especially interesting because of his observations and reporting on the tribe’s social structure, religious beliefs and attitudes about Europeans who were settling around them in increasing numbers. 

Smith was one of many around this time who published accounts of first-hand experiences of living with “savages.” These captivity narratives were often based on actual experiences but many contained fictional elements used either to make a point or to make the story more sensational.

After his nearly five years living with the Indians, Smith escaped to Montreal where he was captured by the French and held for four months until being traded in a prisoner exchange with the British. Upon his return home, he said his friends and family "found him quite like an Indian in his walk and bearing."

In later years, Smith led the “Black Boys” a group of men from Pennsylvania who, ten years before the American Revolution, rebelled against the British. He eventually became a legislator in Kentucky, a Presbyterian missionary and a writer. 

Smith died on his farm in Kentucky around 1812. 

The film “Allegheny Uprising” was loosely based on Smith and the Black Boys Rebellion and stared John Wayne as Smith.

For more blog entries, visit my Blog Home Page or to check out the genealogy research about my specific family lines, go to my Haywood County Line Genealogy Website.

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