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Primary Sources: John Fitch: Indian Captive

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John Fitch's concept of a steam-powered boat was inspired by a memory of Indians paddling war canoes. In this excerpt from his autobiography, he describes being captured by Indians on the Muskingum River in Ohio (near the present-day town of Marietta).

We sat off from fort Pitt on the 18 March 1782...

...We had Ten men on Bord of ours all well armed but myself who had left my arms in Kentuckey... the next morning about sunrise we sent out a man to scout on the Island with orders not to fire on any sort of game whatever [so] that one gun should be an allarm to us...

Our scout being out so long I grew exceedingly uneasy I got up and walked the deck and kept my Eys most constantly on shore...

...About 60 feet from where we lay was a large pile of driftwood on the top of the Bank where the Indians got unperceaved by us and the first salutation we received from them was from their Rifles... they sent one of their Prisoners on the Bank to demand our surrendery. I told parkerson not to hear to them... and that we had nothing to fear from them for I was sure there was not more than five or six of them from the number of guns they fired at us... [but] he cappitulated... with five or six about him marched out to the Indians...

Thus sir we... gave ourselves up prisoners to savages for want of courage as nine stout healthy men of us all well armed marched out to eight Indians... on the 22 March 1782.

The Indians was very civil to us an behaved with the greatest coolness and deliberation... two of them went and scalped the two dead men...

...We was all Tied I think as a Badge of Captivity... I believe I was closer tied than any of the Rest as I did not hear them complain but my armes in a short time felt as if dead and was obliged to call the Indians up to slacken the Cords which they did in some measure but I suffered amazeingly that night by the cords being too tight about my arms...

The Indians was exceedingly Regular in their march and took the same precautions in their own country even till they came into their Towns as if they had been in an Enemies country and always two left in the Rear who never came up till after dark. This precaution would have been truly Laughable amongst the Backwoods People and the man who ordered it would have been esteemed an infamous coward. It is true I knew it unnecessary but they garded against even Possibilities...

They marched us moderate as they found we could hold out and [it] was 12 Days before we reached the Indian Towns. ..

The Indians was very particular when provisions grew scarce to give every one an equal share and gave the Prisoners equal to themselves that we had no just cause of complaint.

Excerpt from Frank D. Prager, ed. The Autobiography of John Fitch. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1976, pp. 66-72.


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