Because many children taken as captives had been adopted into Native families, their forced return often resulted in emotional scenes, as depicted in this engraving based on a painting by Benjamin West.

Native History: White Child Abducted by Delaware Embraced Native Life

Alysa Landry

This Date in Native History: On May 21, 1758, Delaware Indians kidnapped a child named Mary Campbell from her home in western Pennsylvania and held her captive during the French and Indian War.

By some accounts, Campbell was 10 at the time of her abduction, while other sources claim she was 12. She likely lived with the Delaware (also known as the Lenape) in what is now Summit County, Ohio, for about six years, said Michael Cohill, a historian in Akron, Ohio. She was repatriated in 1764 during the famous release of captives at the conclusion of Pontiac’s War.

Campbell, known as the first white child on the Western Reserve, was one of several known abductees captured during the war, Cohill said. Often, white women or children were taken to replace Natives killed in the conflicts over frontier land.

“If someone came into your city and killed a couple of your children, then your husband would go out and attack a village of white people and take their women, take their children,” Cohill said. “If you kill my children, I’m going to take yours as my own and raise them.”

The abduction probably was traumatic, Cohill said. Captives were transported from their homes to Native villages that sometimes were great distances away. Some captives died during the journey while others—those who did not cooperate—were killed.

Those who survived quickly assimilated to Native life, Cohill said.

“If you lived through the capture and traveling, you would do everything you needed to do to decide you belonged with these people and not make any attempt to leave,” he said. “If you did not cooperate with your captors, they killed you.”


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rjohara's picture
Submitted by rjohara on
There are many such stories in early history. On 20 June 1707 three English children, Sarah, John, and Zachariah Tarbell, were captured in a Mohawk raid on Groton, Massachusetts, during what was called Queen Anne's War -- one of the early Catholic-French-Indian vs. Protestant-English wars in the northeast. Sarah was sold to a French convent and became a nun, but John and Zechariah were adopted into the Mohawk tribe. "Tarbell" is today a common surname among the Mohawk of northern New York. Sarah, John, and Zachariah had another little brother, William, who was not captured that day, and I'm one of his many descendants. So if there are any Mohawk Tarbells out there -- greetings to you, my cousins.