A Search in the Dark
All the arms at hand were two guns, two or three butcher knives, hatchets, and an ax. With these a rush was made for the cabin, my brother leading the way. On reaching the house the door was found wide open, not a sign of life or death was visible. This was a great relief, “for while there is life there is hope.”
The bridegroom called and called his wife, with the hope that she might have escaped in the darkness and be hiding near by, but no answer was received. As pursuit could not be made until morning, all returned to the house leaving a part of the number to guard the premises, while the others hastened to the fort to give the alarm. Early next morning runners were sent in every direction to notify the settlers to rally at the fort, to prepare for the pursuit. Samuel Vance, and his father-in-law, Luther Miller, with three brave and trustworthy neighbors, well-armed and provisioned, took the trail of the savages before it was fairly light, leaving instructions for others to follow as fast as possible.
About five o’clock that evening, the Vance party overtook the Indians (who had stopped to eat and rest a while), but did not dare show themselves. The savages were found to be too strong for them, being eight in number. The only hope of rescue at best, would be to overcome the Indians before they would have time to kill their captives. They fell back to wait for reinforcements, which did not reach them until after sunset. It was decided to start very early in the morning, with the hope of finding the Indians yet in camp, and only a short distance away. But their hopes were not realized, as the Indians did not go into camp that night, but kept on until they reached the river, where their canoes were secreted. Embarking, they hurried down the stream, traveling no doubt all night, making good their escape. The pursuing party, baffled and dejected, returned to the fort to report the unfortunate result of the pursuit. For eighteen years no tidings were received from any of the captives.
After the peace treaty of Greenville, 1795, one day a tall man, with bronzed face and Caucasian type of features, dressed in the garb of an Indian, appeared in Boonesborough, attracting much attention by reason of his fine physical development and manly bearing. The stranger, that evening having obtained permission to remain overnight at the house of one of the oldest residents, informed his host that he was George Neely, who, eighteen years before, with Martha Vance, the bride, and her sister, Sarah Miller, were captured by the Indians. The object of his visit, he said, was to ascertain whether his father and mother were yet living, and also to deliver a message from Martha Vance to her husband, Samuel Vance, confided to him over eighteen years before.
His Mother Dead
He was informed that his mother had been dead at least ten years. She had grieved so much over the loss of her only child, George, that she finally went into a decline and died, believing that her son was yet living. His father, after a time, returned to Virginia, where he had many relatives, with whom he would spend the remnant of his days. Samuel Vance was then absent, having gone in search of his wife. As soon as peace was declared between the whites and the Indians, he started on his hopeful errand, saying he would never stop the search until he found her, or learned her fate. The Miller family, as soon as peace was established, had moved East, settling near Fort Greenville, with a hope of being able to learn the fate of their two daughters.
Several old citizens, having learned that George Neely had returned, dropped in that evening to see him, and requested him to give them a history of his captivity, and what he knew regarding the fate of his companions.
His account of the captivity was as follows:
Late in the evening of the wedding day, the bride, Martha Vance, and her sister, Sarah Miller, with her aunt Eve, were starting to go over to the new cabin, and, at their request, I went with them. After the cabin had been swept out and arranged, and Martha had closed the door behind us, we heard loud screams, and the cry of “Indians! Indians!” The warning came from the old woman, who was a good ways ahead of us. The night was very dark and cloudy. Before we had time to think, we were surrounded by a band of Indians, eight in number. The women shrieked and screamed, but were shut up by threats and choking. We were hurried away, and had traveled about four hours, when we laid down to rest, starting again in the morning before it was light, and continued a rapid flight all day and far into the night, until we reached the river, when we at once got into the canoes they had secreted in the underbrush.
The women were completely worn out, and as soon as they took their places in the canoes they fell into a sound sleep. We descended the stream, until near daylight, when we reached the Ohio River, and at once crossed over. The Indians hid the boats as usual. After eating our breakfast, we started on our long journey to Sandusky. One of the Wyandots, who could speak a little English, told me that was their destination. The party was composed of five Wyandots and three Shawnees.
On reaching our point of destination, we all remained together in the village for several days. One morning Martha called me to her. She said that the Indians, who claimed her as their prisoner, were then about to start for their village, a six days’ journey away. “Go,” said she, “and find Sarah, and tell her I am going; bring her as soon as you can.” I found her, and the two sisters were soon in each others’ arms, and had only time to say “goodbye while they wept as though their hearts would break.
The separation, so unexpected, was a terrible shock to them. Sarah sank to the earth in despair. The Indians moved on down the hill, but for some reason halted her for a few moments, when I saw Martha beckoning to me to come to her. I ran as fast as I could, and when I reached her, while the tears ran down her cheeks, she said: “George, if you ever meet Samuel, or should have a chance to send word to him, tell him I say he must not despair; keep up heart, for the good Lord will take care of me, and eventually we will meet and be happy, and if not on this earth, we will meet in the better world, where parting is unknown. Tell Sarah she must not grieve, but to cheer up, have confidence in the Lord, and He will make it all right in the end.” We shook hands, and that was the last I ever saw or heard of Martha Vance.
Soon after this I lost sight of Sarah for about two years, the family by whom she was adopted having left the locality. I met her again at the “great corn dance,” a dance attended by the whole tribe. She informed me that they were living over on the lake shore; that she was married, having married a French Canadian rather than be compelled to marry and Indian. She had determined to drown herself before she would marry an Indian. She seemed quite happy. About a year later I met her again. She had a child in her arms. Her husband was with her. He was a genteel –appearing man. She was mounted on a pony, while he led another, carrying his pack of goods. He was a trader among the Indians, They were then, she said, on their way to visit the Shawnees, over on the Auglaize and Maumee rivers, with the hope of finding Martha. That was the last I ever saw or heard of her. I am satisfied in my own mind that the sisters did eventually meet, for the French trader could go where he chose, and Sarah said they would never stop the search until they found Martha.
Adopted by the Wyandots
I was adopted by a Wyandot family that had lost their only son by death. My foster parents always treated me with kindness and affection. The Indians all liked me, and I liked them. In time I married a woman in the Delaware tribe, and have three children in my wigwam and am happy and contented.
He left the house before it was light the following morning, and it was the last ever seen or heard of George Neely.
Soon after George Neely’s visit, Samuel Vance, sick and broken in spirit, returned from his long and weary journey throughout the Northwest. During the four months that he was absent he had visited every tribe living between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River, and had visited Detroit and Canada. But all to no purpose. A silence as deep as that of the forest through which he wandered hung over his wife’s fate. On reaching Boonesborough he was taken down with an acute attack of pleurisy, and before the message brought by George Neely was delivered to him he became delirious, and died within forty-eight hours after his return.
In one week after the death of Samuel Vance the following letter was received at Boonesborough. It had been sent to Fort Washington, to be forwarded from there to his destination. It was six weeks on the way!
Mouth of the Auglaize River,
October 10, 1799
To Whom It May Concern:
On yesterday a woman came to my trading house. She was the widow of an underchief of the Shawnees, who had been dead several months. She came, she said, to make a statement, which she wished me to write down and forward to Boonesborough, Kentucky. She spoke good English.
The Sad Story
“I am a white woman by birth. My name is Martha Vance, my maiden name was Miller; my father’s name was Luther Miller. On the evening of my wedding day, twenty-two years ago, I was captured by the Indians, in company with my sister, Sarah Miller, then in her sixteenth year, and a neighbor’s son, George Neely, age fifteen years. The band that captured us was composed of five Wyandots and three Shawnees. We were all taken to Sandusky. When the Shawnees started for their village they took me with them, claiming I was their prisoner. The Indians have always treated me with kindness. I remained single for nine years, hoping that something might turn up that would restore me to my husband and friends.
“I had learned to speak the Shawnee tongue. Under their laws, when a white prisoner of proper age learns to speak their language, they are compelled to marry. although I had for five years escaped the enforcement of the law, and no doubt would have escaped it longer, had it not been for the action of that villain, Simon Girty, who insisted that I should marry him, although he had a wife and children living near by. I had informed him on several occasions that I had a husband living. To this he paid no attention, but continued to press his suit, or demand, for he then threatened to call upon the tribe to compel me to comply with his demand. There was a chief of the tribe, who, for two years or more, wanted me to marry him. Finally, to escape the fiend, Girty, I married the chief. He died five months ago, leaving me with three children.
My life for the pat twenty-two years has been full of sorrow and misery, relieved for a short time by meeting with my sister Sarah, after a separation of eight years. She had married a French Canadian, an excellent man. They were searching for me when we met. Sarah’s husband erected a cabin for her near our wigwam, and, after making her as comfortable as he could, he left, to be gone for four months, going directly to Detroit to lay in a stock of goods, when he would return to the Wyandots.
“During the four months spent with my sister I was very happy. But this happiness then was brought to an end by the sudden death of Sarah; she died in childbirth; the mother and child were buried in one grave. The husband returned in a few days, to find his wife and child dead and buried. His grief was intense. In a day or two, taking his only child with him, he left for Detroit, where his mother resided, intending to leave the child to her care. Before leaving he gave me the cabin and promised he would do all in his power to inform my friends of his whereabouts.
By Henry Ironside, Merchant and Trader.
(This letter came too late to be of any benefit to poor Martha Vance. Her husband was now dead. Her father, Luther Miller, with his family, has many years before removed to the vicinity of Fort Greenville, with the hope that he might there learn something regarding the fate of his two daughters, and was never heard from after leaving Boonesborough. The result was that the letter to Martha Vance was not answered, and she was never again heard from.)
THE INDIANAPOLIS NEWS October 19, 1898, 9:10