The Devil's Elbow
July 7, 1695
In the following pages, I will tell you a story. I am older now and some of the things I’ll relate happened more than 30 years ago although to me, it seems as if they happened only yesterday.
While I do not consider myself an accomplished teller of stories, I will do what I can with the abilities I have, so that you will know all that happened and why. And while I do not have what many call a formal education, as mine stopped at the time this story begins, my curiosity and attention to detail has always served me well.
Certain memories from this time make me smile, and though it was a difficult existence, there were many simple things and many people that brought me great pleasure. We tend to forget details as the year’s progress, and our memories of the good tend to outweigh the bad and I, like all other men, am subject to the same influence.
...As we approached the open area near the swamp, we didn’t see any Indians. Thinking they might be in the fields beyond the swamp, we continued onward. After two hundred yards, the path narrowed to no more than a few feet wide. On the right side was a steep, rocky hill covered with bushes of various sizes, and on the left was the swamp. Just to the left of the path was an area that was between the solid ground and the swamp. It was a bog and while it wasn’t solid ground it wasn’t swamp either and would not support the weight of a horse and rider. It was another hot, humid day and the closer we got to the swamp, the worse the mosquitoes got, so each of us was swatting and slapping. We rode on perhaps another 50 yards when all hell broke loose.
I heard several screams and saw 15 or 20 Indians rise out of the swamp and shoot at us. Sergeant Ayres was hit in the chest and fell to the ground moaning. Corporal Coy went up to help him, was shot in the face, and fell over on top of John. The attack had come so suddenly it took us a minute to react. I couldn’t believe what was happening.
Captain Wheeler yelled for us to fire and we did as best as we could. Bubs was startled by all the noise and commotion and backed up into Ephraim’s horse. I took a bead on the closest Indian, who I didn’t recognize, and fired, hitting him in the left arm. For the next few minutes everything seemed to happen slowly with each action and movement burned into my memory; I remember it all as much as I would like to forget it.
Ephraim’s horse continued to back up towards the hill and trying to control it, he yelled,
“Look out! There’s more coming out of the swamp!” Another group, twice as many as the first, came out from behind fallen trees and bushes. Two of the soldiers fired and missed. I was trying to reload and couldn’t get powder in the pan as the yelling and screaming went on all around me.
“Jack! Don’t let him get near your horse!” Will Prichard yelled to me. I looked up and saw a tall Indian running at me with his war club raised above his head. As he swung, I shifted in the saddle, lifted my left foot, and kicked him in the side of the face. Dazed, he hesitated a minute before starting to fall and seeing a chance to grab his club, I reached down, almost falling out of the saddle, and pulled it from his hands. He fell backwards with his arms outstretched and hit the ground facedown with a thump. I jumped down and standing over him, hit him in the back of the head as hard as I could; he made no noise as he went limp. Our guide George was pulled off his horse by two Indians and put up a tremendous fight, knocking one down but not able to get away from the other. They hit him in the back with a club and began to drag him away.
Of the soldiers, Zechariah Philips, was killed falling off his horse that reared up when shot by an arrow through the left flank. I don’t know how Tim Farlow was killed but Sam Smedly was shot in the throat and tumbled off his horse. Ed Coleborn was dragged off his horse and clubbed by three Indians. Sydrach Hapgood’s horse reared and he fell off somehow, landing on his feet ready to defend himself. He killed two Indians before he was shot in the leg and fell onto his back. Another Indian came up and leveling his gun at Sydrach’s chest, shot him and then turned toward me.
My gun was empty so I turned it around, grabbing it by the barrel to use as a club. Just as I was bringing it back, I felt a sharp sting in my left side. Looking down I saw my shirt ripped just above my rib cage, a small stream of blood darkening my side. I couldn’t worry about it now as the Indian came charging at me. He dropped his gun and grabbed his war club from his belt. He swung viciously, giving a loud grunt as the club whistled through the air missing me by no more than an inch. As he was drawing back for the next blow, I flipped my gun, letting go with my left hand and turning it with my right so the butt of the stock faced him. I grabbed the grip with my left hand and pulling it back as far as I could, slammed it with all my might into his throat. His eyes opened wide in surprise as the club fell from his hands. He fell to his knees gasping for air, his hands clutching his throat.
I felt the sting in my side again and looking down, saw more blood. While the wound was only a few inches long, it felt like it was two feet long. I realized it was not much of a wound, knowing it would be the least of my worries if we didn’t get out of here alive. I’d reloaded by now and was looking for the best shot when Captain Hutchinson ordered us to retreat. As we turned our horses around, there were a dozen more Indians standing in our path. They had let us pass on the way in and were now preventing us from going back the way we came. It looked like they had us trapped with no way out.
The Long Journey Home
May 29, 1721
This jotting down of words has become a habit. It began years ago when I was a young man as a way to record the happenings of the day, but now in my old age, it’s a way to pass the long winter evenings and lonely afternoons. I now find myself telling this story, a second story for you, seemingly without any conscious thought.
My father told me two things in the few years I knew him: If you have something to say, say it without thought of anything but the truth, and that the measure of a man is how he deals with life’s difficulties.
I think of these more often as I get older and I know both to be true. Much of my life has been in turmoil and it has had a great effect in making me the man I am. Through all of it, I never wavered from what I had to do, no matter how good or bad it was. I stood by my family, ready and willing to sacrifice my life if necessary. Through the years, I have come to believe that hope and perseverance are the two greatest values a person can have, for they will get you through the greatest difficulties and most trying times you will ever face.
The older you get, the more important certain people and things become. Through the years, there is a process of weeding out the unimportant things. When I consider those things, I find myself sitting in front of the fire, feeling the soft warmth, staring hypnotically at the flames dancing over the logs. My mind falls back to particular times or moments, some good, some not. We all do this at one time or another but I seem to do it more often now than in days past. As we go through life, our view of the world changes and most of these changes are unexpected. That is what happened to us.
Time has a way of moving quickly and catching you unaware of the passing years. It seems just yesterday that I was young, newly married, and embarking on my life with Becky. Yet in a way, it seems like eons ago, and I wonder where the years went.
For the next several years the seasons marched on, one moving into the other. Fields were planted and harvests made, Sabbaths came and went, food was prepared and eaten, wood was cut and burned, the warmth followed the cold. For the most part, it was a good time, a happy time.
Our wish for another daughter came true in September of 1680, when Becky gave birth to a beautiful little girl we named Sarah. She was a good baby, always gurgling and giggling, rarely crying, and slept well right from the start. She was, and still is, happy most of the time. Sam was six years old and Ephraim four years old when she was born, so we had our hands full for a while but they behaved themselves, at least for the most part.
The boys grew faster than we thought possible, learning to do their chores, helping Becky with the garden and taking care of the animals. Even when she was three years old, Sarah wanted to best her brothers at whatever they were doing and let nothing stand in her way unless it was Becky and me. She had a stubborn streak that was obvious even then, wanting her way most of the time. She was a cute little girl, the cutest in the entire village.
I looked at the boys and wondered what my mother thought of me at that age and what her hopes and dreams for me were.
It was a beautiful late October morning. The sky was a brilliant blue, with the sunshine and a soft breeze gently turning the yellow, red and gold leaves on the stem, causing them to float gently to the ground. It was just like the day years ago when Becky and I were young on the beach in Ipswich when we had our first kiss.
I sat by her bed, gently holding her hand in mine. We were alone in the house, as Sarah had gone to one of the neighbors.
Becky struggled to open her eyes. There was a terrible sadness in her face. “Am I going to die?”
“Yes.” I said. There was no other way to respond.
“I don’t want to leave you,” she said softly.
“You won’t leave me and I won’t leave you. I’ll always be with you.”
She sighed and gave me a weak, sad smile. “I love you, Jack,” she said, putting her other hand on mine.
“I love you, too. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful life with me.”
She looked at me with her soft green eyes, and asked me to hold her one more time. I held her for a long time, cradled her in my arms. I kissed her softly just like our first kiss on the dunes in Ipswich and held it, my lips touching hers for a sweet, wonderful moment.
I held her in my arms for a long time remembering all of the wonderful moments we shared … until I felt her take her last breath. I didn’t let go. I just sat holding her, not believing that she was gone, crying my tears of sorrow, of loss, of pain. My heart ached as it never did before as I relived those moments from our life together. I placed her gently on the bed and folded her hands together, kissed her on the forehead, and went out to tell the children.