(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – August 2011, No. 81)
Most Hoosiers are familiar with the story of Frances Slocum, born in 1773, the five year old daughter of Quaker parents who was kidnapped from her home in eastern Pennsylvania on November 2, 1778 by three Delaware braves. When last seen she was being carried off on the shoulder of one of her captors, her red hair flying in her face and crying out for her mother. Frances’ mother never gave up the hope of finding her daughter, and until her dying day urged family members to continue searching for the child’s return.
During the years of the great Revolutionary War many people, often children, who were abducted from their families by the natives were frequently treated with kindness and adopted as a member into their tribes .
After Frances was seized the Delaware party took her through western Pennsylvania, into Ohio and to the present site of Detroit. During these early years of captivity, the tribe migrated into northeastern Indiana and the village of Kekionga near Fort Wayne. Frances acclimated to the life of the Indian people assuming the name of Maconaqua meaning Little Bear and marrying a Delaware warrior. Eventually, she married Shapoconah, a Miami war chief, who lost his hearing and became known as Deaf Man.
Leaving the Fort Wayne area, Frances and her chieftain husband moved west to live at the Osage Village on the bank of the Mississinewa near Peru, Indiana. After the passing of her husband about 1833, Frances expressed no desire to return to her birth family. She had been with the Indian people for nearly sixty years before she revealed her white blood to anyone. It happened in 1834 or 1835 when Colonel George Ewing, who operated the trading firm of Ewing, Walker & Company in nearby Logansport, and was making a tour among his customers on the Mississinewa. Because the daylight was fast fading to darkness, Ewing asked for lodging overnight in Frances’ comfortable log house. Growing old and frail, fearing that she had not much longer to live, she decided that it was time to reveal her origins. Frances felt at ease speaking in the Miami language with the equally fluent Ewing of her abduction and life among the Delaware and Miami. All she could recall was that her father’s name was Slocum and that they lived along a river that Ewing correctly identified as the Susquehanna near Wilkesbarre. When Ewing returned to his store, he sent off a letter to the Postmaster at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to be reprinted in the Lancaster Intelligencer. The letter told of Frances’ experience hoping that some Slocum family member might read the letter and come forward. For some reason the Ewing letter was set aside and it was two years before it was published and Frances’ family finally learned of her fate. The family traveled to the Mississinewa but Frances would not give up her way of life. “I shall die here and lie in that graveyard, and they will raise the pole at my grave with the flag on it, so the Great Spirit will know where to find me.”
After her death in 1847, she was buried near her Mississinewa home along side her husband in the Bondy cemetery. However, in 1965 when the flood control dams on the upper Wabash River were built to create the Mississinewa reservoir and flood the cemetery the graves were removed. The relocation was a two-acre plot located on Bowman Road near the Frances Slocum State Forest. To ensure that no one will disturb the resting place of this woman, who rose to a position of prominence among her adopted people, a new grave was opened, the remains set in place and entombed in concrete to insure security.
Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi© is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 fm. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.