Captivity Narrative: Jonathan Alder

In 1782, when Jonathan Alder was nine years old, he was captured and adopted by a Shawnee and Mingo family. When he entered adulthood, his Indian parents offered him freedom, but he chose not to leave them. It wasn’t until 1795, after both parents died, that he began a slow return to white society.

Below is an excerpt from Alder’s captivity narrative.

His entire narrative is available for purchase online, and you can learn more about his experience in the Captured by Indians exhibition at the Fort Pitt Museum.

We spent the balance of the fall in hunting. We passed through the west side of the Scioto River stopping awhile on the bottoms where Columbus now is. There was large fields of corn and an Indian town on the east side of the river where the new state prison is, which I will speak of hereafter. Then, we struck up betwixt the river and Big Darby. There was a great beech crop that fall and bear was very fat and fine. We killed bear and deer and by the time we got back onto the Mad River, our horses was well loaded with skins.

We had arrived back safely without any serious trouble and the one thing that gave me great consolation was that we had made the trip and they had neither killed nor hurt anyone. I was very careful never to tell them how I heard that door open and shut for fear they might think I was not a true partner.

I was now bordering close onto manhood. One morning my old Indian father called me and told me that I was now near the age that young men should be free and doing for themselves. I now had the right to come and go and stay where I pleased and was not under any restraint whatsoever, particularly from himself and my mother. “But,” said he, “if you choose, you can stay with us as long as we live and then we may eat of your venison and bear meat and oil, which will be a great consolation to us in our old days. But all the profits arising from the sale of your skins and furs shall be yours. I shall still draw my rations of clothing, and blankets, and powder, and lead from the British government and you shall always have what we don’t need.”

I thanked them both very kindly for the liberty they granted me, but told them I had no desire to leave them; that I preferred to stay with them as long as they lived if I should outlive them; that they had been very kind and good to me and that I would feel an obligation to them as long as I lived. “My white mother I have almost forgotten and, of course, I shall never see again,” I told them. “I accept you as my parents. I acknowledge myself to be your son by adoption and am under all obligations to you as such.” My mother came up to me and held out her hands. She was so overcome that she did not speak, but I saw that her eyes were full. My father came forward and shook hands with me without saying anything more. I must acknowledge that my feelings were greatly agitated, for everything had happened so unexpectedly. To avoid any further outbursts of feeling I picked up my gun and shot pouch and went off hunting. I must confess that the thought that I was now my own man, free to go and come, and act, and do for myself agitated my mind more or less all day. I had been free before, but this seemed to be a new era in my life. I killed a deer in the afternoon and carried it off. Everything seemed to be cheerful and pleasant, but there seemed to be a different feeling with us such as I cannot express. From this time on when I would sell my skins and furs, I had a purse of my own and kept the money and bought my own clothes.

Jonathan AlderLearn more about Jonathan Alder in his captivity narrative, “A History of Jonathan Adler: His Captivity and Life with the Indians.”

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