Chosen People

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Carrot Ranch: April 11, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers.” You can play with the words, alter them or interpret them without using the phrase. Give it any slant you want — show what it means or add to its  meaning. Go where the prompt leads!

I was led to a story I had read about as a child, and more recently read a great deal about when I got to spend a week at Deerfield, MA on a National Endowment for Humanities scholarship for a course called “Living at the Edge of Empire”, which explored how Queen Anne’s War played out in North America. Native American groups across New England, New York, and New France were making military and economic choices whose alliances impacted them culturally- their religion, economics, and politics. Among Native American groups it was common practice to replace lost family members with captives who would be adopted and taken in as their own. In the Raid on Deerfield in 1704, many from that English settlement were taken captive by Native Americans allied with New France. Most of these English captives were redeemed, ransoms paid to the French officials, or exchanged for prisoners held by the English. Eunice Williams, youngest daughter of Deerfield’s Puritan minister, John Williams, at the age of seven, was adopted almost immediately upon her arrival at the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) town in New France near Montreal. Her treatment on the harried route north after the raid would suggest that she was chosen to replace a lost child in Kahnawake. Despite many attempts by her father to redeem her, to return her to Deerfield, she refused, though she and her husband and children did visit Massachusetts in later years after her father’s death.  

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When John Williams comes to Kahnawake I feel an old fear of being taken by force from people I love. My family, and even Governor Vaudreuil, say it is my choice. I am 16 and married, a Catholic woman of the Bear Clan, Marguerite Kanenstenhawi; I am no longer John Williams’ daughter Eunice. I no longer understand the English words he speaks, but I remember his contempt for the Jesuits and the Kanienkehaka people. Should I return to his New England I would be a captive. He pleads but I choose to remain with the family who chose me.

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14 thoughts on “Chosen People

    • This is a Canadian story, if you want it to be. She became a fangirl of Kateri, first Native American to be beatified. Bear Clan signifies the matrilineal lineage of her adopted family in that tribe. But those Mohawk in that township, while keeping many of their traditions, also embraced Catholicism, which was more adaptable and adaptive to native religions. When Eunice Williams’ father first visited with her and was negotiating for her redemption, he made her feel bad about the “papist” ways of her “captors”, an open people who had always treated her very well, and for a girl child especially her new life probably felt more free with more opportunity.
      What is interesting is that when John Williams came to call, even the Jesuits maybe would have preferred that she return to New England, despite her being a devout Catholic. When she was to wed a Native American man that her family and his approved of the Catholic priest tried to dissuade her and refused to perform the ceremony until they went ahead and married in the traditional way and he kind of had no choice but to sanctify the union in the eyes of the Church. The French would have preferred that female English captives stayed and married French men and I suspect there was racism on both sides of the border that made Marguerite Kanenstenhawi’s choice of family and culture tough to take. Few people, let alone women, had such profound choices in that era.

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    • This is my 99 word presentation of a true story. It may or may not distort the truth, but one does have to consider the freedoms and opportunities made available to this girl through her abduction and subsequent adoption by “savages”.

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  1. I enjoy your 99-word histories and how you use the literary art form to create the history’s story. Have you read Tribe? It’s an excellent look at PTSD and questions whether or not soldiers suffer from PTSD or from something more akin to being ripped from their tribe. He points out how our European ancestors lacked tribe and that many of these captives chose to stay because they belonged to a tribe. It’s an interesting book and not too long. I read it for understanding Ike.

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    • Think I’ll be checking that one out. Thanks, Boss. Yeah, in looking at this girls story you have to consider all that Stockholm syndrome , Patti Hearst stuff, but there’s more to it I think, so your reference will be interesting regarding this story. So she chose to remain Mohawk, despite being from an affluent well known family and so lived increasingly impoverished as her chosen people lost land and clout. When she returned to Deerfield as an older woman to visit her siblings native Americans had already gone from threat to sideshow celebrities.

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  2. Pingback: Beggars Can’t Be Choosers « Carrot Ranch Literary Community

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