A NATICK ROMANCE OF COLONIAL TIMES
written about 1840 by William Bigelow,
author of Bigelow’s History of the Town of Natick, Mass.
from the Days of the Apostolic Eliot, M DC L,
to the Present Times, M DCCC XXX. (1650-1830)
[
Note the similar legend entitled, Pokepsie, written about 56 years later by Charles M. Skinner.]
visits since 041030; last updated 041030.

The events connected with the history of our fathers cannot fail to interest the reader; and he will, I doubt not, feel amply repaid for the perusal of the following "plain unvarnished tale" of facts.

The indefatigable, and in many instances successful, labors of the apostle Eliot, in civilizing and christianizing the Indians of Massachusetts, are very generally known and highly appreciated. He, in fact, adopted the only rational method for the accomplishment of his purpose. It was a favorite maxim with him that the savages must be in a good degree civilized before they can be evangelized. Hence he fed them at first with the sincere milk of the word, instead of such strong meat as the most metaphysical mind can with difficulty digest. By collecting together a number of families in permanent habitations, by teaching them how to construct more comfortable dwellings than those to which they had been accustomed, by instructing them in agriculture, orcharding and some of the most important of the mechanic arts, and by inducing them to understand and obey the more practical precepts of the gospel, he made them that godliness is profitable as it respects the life that now is, as well as the regard to the hope which it inspires of a happier life to come.

By these means, under Divine Providence, in the course of a few years he had the satisfaction of seeing a number of "praying towns," inhabited by the children of the forest. The principal of these was Natick. Here the rude wigwam was succeeded by the decent framed house; the apple tree took place of the trees of the wood; grain waved in the rays of the sun, where not long before stood a wilderness impervious to his beams, and domesticated flocks and herds grazed in the open pastures, where but lately the wild beasts of the forest alone were wont to prowl for prey. A school for instruction in reading, writing and arith­metic was founded on the spot, where ignorance and indolence had recently reposed. — Prayer, praise and thanksgiving were heard to ascend to the father of all good, in the spirit of joyful hope, where, ere while, the diabolical powow [sic] was howled forth to the imaginary father of evil, through a servile and soul-de­grading fear. In the sacred though lowly chapel, the duties of Christianity were taught, and its holy rites administered, and many of the red men walked in its commandments and ordinances blameless.

Such was the condition of this settlement, when a respectable English family moved into it and fixed their residence among the Aborigines. The father and his sons were competently skilled in the trade of the carpenter, mason, smith and cordwainer; the mother and daughters in knitting, spinning, and making garments. In addition to these employments this family cultivated a farm and managed a dairy. They were of essential service in assisting the devout and philanthropic Eliot, not only by exhibiting before their neighbors examples of piety, virtue, industry and economy but by instructing them in the most useful arts. In church, in school, and in their daily occupations, they mingled with the natives on the footing of perfect equality.

At this time there resided at this place a native, but little past the age of 20 years, whose form was that of manly beauty, for which the aboriginal Americans were so justly celebrated. He had been for a considerable time a pupil of Eliot, and an inmate [sic] of his family. He had adopted the English costume and manners. In his person and dress he was remarkably neat and tasteful, and in his deportment graceful and prepossessing. He had studied, with considerable success, several of the liberal arts and sciences, was well instructed in the doctrines and duties of Christianity, and, as he gave abundant evidences that he had embraced this religion with his whole heart, Eliot was now em­ploying him as schoolmaster and occasional preacher among the lost sheep of his tribe. Civilization had not rendered him effeminate; for he retained all his native vigor, and might justly be said to have gained the true object of education, that is "the possession of a sound mind in a sound body." In addition to his other qualifications, he was skillful in the use of all the simples, known in his nation to be efficacious in the cure of diseases; and was not unfrequently called upon as a physician, by the white people in the neighboring towns, as well as by those of his own color in the place of his nativity.

Feeling unbounded gratitude toward Eliot, his spiritual guide and father, his friendship was very naturally extended to all the white people, with whom he became acquainted. He very naturally felt a peculiar attachment to the only white family in his native village, whom he frequently visited; and in process of time, he very naturally felt for their eldest daughter, Lydia, about his own age, a somewhat more powerful passion than friendship. Nor is it wholly unnatural to suppose that Lydia, who seldom saw any young man of her own complexion, should at least respect the good qualities of one, whose skin was some shades darker than her own. In reality, both felt a growing attachment to each other, though both were sensible of the inexpediency, if not propriety of cherishing it.

The increasing mutual fondness of these young persons could not long escape the penetrating eye of Lydia’s watchful mother, who, together with her father, reprimanded her severely, and took measures entirely to prevent in future the visits of Bran, which was the name of our hero. His parents also felt that natural aversion to intermarriages, which is in a degree prevalent among all nations, even of the same color; and they used their most strenuous exertions to direct the affections of their son to a more suitable object.

What were the feelings, on this occasion, of the two lovers, (for so I may as well denominate them at once,) I leave the reader to imagine; or if he or she insist on a description of them, one may be found in almost any play, novel or romance that is worth a perusal. I proceed with my narrative.

In a few days Lydia was taken ill with a fever. An English physician was sent for, who came and prescribed but without effect. Another was called in for consultation, — Still she grew worse, and at length was declared past recovery. At this solemn period, the parents were advised to consult Bran, who had been frequently successful in difficult cases. In that state of desperation, in which a drowning man catches at a straw, her parents consented. He came and prescribed; the fever speedily left her; and she gradually recovered her former state of health, strength and vivacity.

Which had the greatest efficacy in her restoration, the company and conversation of the physician or the simples, which he prescribed as medicine, I will not undertake to determine. Certain it is, that during his visits he found an opportunity to declare his strong and unalterable affection for his patient, and she to declare that, as she owed her life to him, the remainder of it should be devoted to the promotion of his happiness.

At this time King Philip’s war was raging, and the English inhabitants, being jealous that the praying Indians would join their enemies, barbarously seized them, and hurried them down to an island in the harbor of Boston, where they were closely confined and carefully guarded. Bran, with a few others were permitted to remain at home, and assist in guarding the garrison of Lydia’s father; but her parents still persisting in their opposition to her tender regard for him, immediately on the restoration of her health, sent her to Medfield, to reside with her uncle and aunt, who had no children; hoping that by uniting with those of her own nation only, her unhappy predilection would be overcome. Here her friends made use of every expedient they could devise, to induce her to transfer her affections. At one time they assailed her with the most serious expostulations; at another time attacked her with sarcastic raillery. Among other things, such doggerel as the following was handed round among her young associates:


        "Fair Lydia thinks it right,
          Most closely to unite
          The red rose and the white."

        "Sure Lydia would live on the cheapest plan;
          She asks nothing more than Indian Bran."

But all these exertions drew nothing from the unfortunate girl but sighs and tears.

But a few days elapsed, ere another kind of trouble fell upon her and the rest of the inhabitants of that ill-fated town, in which she resided. At day break they were roused from their slumbers by the tremendous war whoop of the savage enemy; most of their buildings were reduced to ashes; a large number of the people were slaughtered, and many were led captive into the wilderness, Among the latter were Lydia and her uncle and aunt,

The news of this disaster reached Bran and his associates in the course of the day, and he instantly resolved to rescue beloved Lydia, or perish in the attempt. He disappeared from the garrison, exchanged his English dress for the costume of the savage warrior; painted his face in the most terrific style; supplied himself with the best of arms and ammunition; and filled his pack with a plenty of provisions, not forgetting a purse of money and a large flask of occapee, the Indian name for rum, well knowing the power of both, either in savage or civil society. Thus provided he steered immediately for the Wachuset, having learned from spies some weeks before, that the general rendezvous of the enemy was in the neighborhood of that mountain.

By rapid travelling the whole of the succeeding night, and till late in the afternoon of the following day, most of the way through a pathless wilderness, he began to ascend the Wachuset. Having arrived at such a height as enabled him to overlook the surrounding country to a considerable extent, he halted to take a survey; and immediately discovered, at the distance of two or three miles, the smoke, high curling from the Indian encampment. He here seated himself upon a log, resolving to take some rest and refreshment, of which till now he had scarcely thought since the commencement of his expedition. He watched and listened with intense anxiety. In less than half an hour he heard, at the distance of a mile or more from the camp, a most dismal funeral howl of hundreds of human voices, which was responded to by an innumerable multitude stationed in the reverberating forest. This arose from the party just returned from Medfield, and was repeated as many times as they had lost warriors in the assault. To these horrible howlings succeeded the triumphant yells of the savages, according to the numbers they had butchered and brought away captive; and these, too, were echoed from the rendezvous with astounding vociferation.

By the time the hideous noises had subsided, night overspread the dense forest, and no objects were visible excepting the gloomy light of the watch fires, which dimly shone among the towering evergreens. — A feast was speedily prepared with the spoils they had taken, and a large portion of the night was made hideous with noisy riot and reveling. Bran now matured his plan of operations for the morning. He determined to use that treachery, which, by savages, is called stratagem, and by civi­lized nations, policy in war. He resolved to appear among the enemy at sunrise, to declare himself a deadly foe to the white men, to enlist with those who desire their extermination, and to watch a favorable opportunity to desert with the object of his fondest affection.

At dawn of day he moved towards the camp, and at sunrise presented himself before it. The first object that met his eye was a lovely white female tied to a stake, surrounded with dry combustibles. At a short distance stood spectators of this horrid scene, a group of despairing heart broken captives. Around, in smaller and larger circles, the savages were dancing and shouting with the frenzied ferocity of demons. At the sight of Bran all became instantly still and silent. A chief approached and conducted him within the inmost circle of warriors, in the center of which the wretched victim was bound to the stake, ready to be sacrificed by lingering tortures to relentless cruelty. The victim was Lydia. Bran instantly knew her; but he was so disguised by dress and painting, that it was impossible for her to recognize him. As far as in his power he concealed and suppressed his agonizing sensation, and addressed the warrior chiefs, in their own language, to the following effect:

‘‘Brothers — I have been deceived, I thought the white men the children of the great and good spirit; but I have found them to be the spawn of Hobomok. Their religion is made of good and bad deeds, They say they love Indians, bot they only covet the land of Indians. I and all my tribe have been friends of white men; we are now their foes. The white men have made prisoners of my father, mother, brothers, sisters, friends. I hunger after revenge. I thirst for white men’s blood. I take hold of the same tomahawk with you.

Brothers — I know the young woman at the stake. Give her up to me. Let me be her torturer. Let her blood in part allay the burning thirst that is consuming my vitals. I know some of the captives. Let me torture them. It will increase their torment to know that it is inflicted by me,

Brothers — I have done. My heart is yours already. Will you accept my hand to help you to annihilate the white men?"

This talk was received with loud shouts of approbation, and Bran was adopted as a chief. Lydia was given up to his disposal. While he was releasing her from the stake, he informed her who he was, and what was his object, and how she must conduct herself. He told her he must appear to treat her with severity, in presence of the Indians, and that she must quietly submit, the better to conceal their intention to desert. Having unbound her, he carried her fainting to a wigwam, which was appropriated to his use, spread his blanket on ground, placed her upon it and administered cordials and other refreshments, which he had brought with him, and which soon revived her. He now learned that the cause of her sentence to torture was her endeavoring to escape from captivity; that the rest of the prisoners were forced to be spectators of sacrifice, to deter them from a similar attempt.

Bran’s next object was to get Lydia’s uncle and aunt into his possession. For this purpose he had invited to his wigwam, the three Indians who had captured Lydia and her relatives, and consequently claimed them as their property. Here after telling them in her hearing, how he meant to torture her and her relations if he could gain possession of them, he made a handsome present in money to her late master, and the still more grateful donation of a generous dram of occapee; offering at the same time, to trade with the other two on the same conditions. His proposal was eagerly accepted, and the captives delivered into his custody. He would gladly have purchased more of them, but he feared that, by attempting too much, he should meet with a disastrous disappointment.

The three Indians having retired, well satisfied with his treatment of themselves and the prisoners, he gave the latter brief directions how to behave, and then invited the principal chiefs to a council of war. He told them that the white men knew where they were, and that on the next day a numerous and powerful army would attack them. He advised them, therefore, to send off towards the Connecticut river, the old men, women and children, and that the stout and brave warriors should remain where they now were to give the Englishmen battle. His plan was approved, and preparations immediately made to carry it into execution,

It was proposed that small guards should be placed on all sides of the camp and that the main body should sleep on their arms. As Bran’s wigwam was one of the outermost, and barricaded with logs, it was designated as one of the guard houses, and his company was appointed as one of the guards. At dark, Bran planted his sentinel, in a line with the guard house, on each side of it, at a considerable distance from it and from each other, promising to relieve them at midnight, by those who were to sleep at his quarters till that time. A death-like silence now prevailed throughout the camp, when Bran drew forth his flask of occapee, having previously infused into it a strong decoction of soporific herbs, and treated his joyous soldiers to a dram, which speedily laid them asleep for the night. They might now have easily destroyed the sleeping foemen; but, knowing that death would be avenged by the destruction of at least an equal number of their captive countrymen, they permitted them to sleep unmolested.

The desired hour of escape had now arrived. No time was lost. Bran slung his pack, replenished with provisions, and seized his trusty rifle. The uncle did the same with the supplied pack, and the best rifle and accoutrements belonging to the Indians. The aunt and niece took each a brace of pistols and suitable ammunition, which the Indians had recently plundered from the English. Bran moved forward, Lydia and aunt followed rank entire, and her uncle brought up the rear. The homeward march was rapid, being quickened by the most animating and appalling fear.

Daylight found them among the ruins of Lancaster. Here they secreted themselves among the rubbish in the cellar of a house that had been demolished, with most of the buildings in that town, but a few weeks before. As it happened, however, their fear of being pursued was groundless; for so soon as the Indians discovered that Bran had deserted with his white associates, and that their companions in arms were in a sleep from which they could not rouse them, they were struck with a panic. They concluded that he was a sorcerer and that it would be in vain to pursue him. Fearing also that an English army might be on the way to meet them, they hastily decamped, leaving the sleeping guard, should they ever chance to wake, to follow them and explain the mystery of their enchantment,

Bran and his companions lay concealed the whole of the day, and at night set forward with renewed vigor and alacrity. They travelled all night; and the next morning the sun rose upon them in the hospitable township of Concord. The worthy inhabitants of this place welcomed them with hearty congratulations, and furnished them with horses and escort for the remainder of their journey. About noon the parents of Lydia had the inexpressible happiness of embracing their daughter and brother and sister, and of most heartily thanking their deliverer; who, having scoured the paint from his countenance, appeared about as light colored and comely, in their eyes, as many of their sun-burnt countrymen. He now demanded the release of 'praying Indians' from their cruel confinement, declaring that they were all as ready as himself to be serviceable to the English; and by the kind co-operation of Eliot and Gookin, they were soon restored to their dwellings.

The reader, especially the youthful reader, is, no doubt, anxious to know if this second Othello was finally married to Desdemona, whom he had twice rescued from the jaws of death. He was — and by 'that holy man of God, the Apostle Eliot;' and, so far as my information extends, they lived and died as virtuously, piously and happily, as most married couples whose complexion is the same.




[A. Richard Miller, 2004: Jill and I transcribed this wonderful, 1840's-perspective story from Historical collections of the Historical, Natural History and Library Society, v.II (1909-10; pp.64-73), copies of which reside in the Natick Morse Institute Library. Minister John Eliot, the Natick Praying Indians, and King Philip's War were all real. Philip's Indians raided Medfield on February 21, 1676, leaving 17 Medfielders dead and 32 homes destroyed. William Bigelow was one of the many historians who kept these facts alive despite the vague spellings and perspectives of early colonial records. Is Bigelow's story (from about 1840) about Lydia and Bran equally factual? The following entry appears in
Natick Deaths To The Year 1850 - Indians: BRAND, Peter, Dr., Mar. 9, 1754. Indian. (Church Record). If this is Bran, he lived to be about 100 years of age.]
[A. Richard Miller, 2010: I discovered and added the very similar legend entitled, Pokepsie, by Charles M. Skinner in 1896.