The “Unredeemed Captive” Comes to Mansfield

Historical Article Series April 12, 2020 > The “Unredeemed Captive” Comes to Mansfield

From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 41, No. 3, May 2005 

Unredeemed Captive
Unredeemed Captive

Deerfield, Massachusetts has an interesting historical connection to Mansfield. On February 29, 1704, the frontier outpost was attacked by a large group of French soldiers and their Native American allies. Fifty-six of Deerfield’s settlers were killed and more than 100 were taken captive and force-marched to Canada. Among the captives were the Reverend John Williams, his wife and five of their children. Over the next seven weeks, 21 prisoners died or were killed on the trail, including Mrs. Williams. The others were held as hostages at various locations throughout New France [Quebec] and were the subject of intense bargaining between the French and the British. After more than two and a half years in captivity, a deal was struck and the prisoners were released. However a few of the captives chose to remain in Canada with French or Native families. Among them was the William’s youngest daughter, Eunice, who was seven years old at the time of her capture. For years the Williams family sought her return, but Eunice remained with her adoptive Native family and assimilated their lifestyle. She converted to Catholicism and later married a Mohawk Indian. She is the subject of John Demos’ book, The Unredeemed Captive, published in 1994. 

Eleazer, the eldest son of Rev. John Williams, was attending Harvard at the time of the Deerfield attack and thus escaped capture. He became Mansfield’s first minister in 1710 and served until his death in 1742. 

In 1741 Eunice, along with her Indian husband and children, came to Mansfield to visit her brother Eleazer and her sister Esther. Esther had married the Reverend Joseph Meacham of Coventry. The arrival of Eunice and her Indian family created a sensation in the area. Reverend Solomon Williams, a cousin and pastor at Lebanon, preached a sermon at the Mansfield meetinghouse (now First Church of Christ in Mansfield Center) that attracted a crowd from as far as twenty miles away. When the church overflowed, the windows were opened so that the people outside could hear. In his famous sermon, later published in Boston, Rev. Solomon Williams called for a “revival of Religion” and cited the return of the “unredeemed captive” as a sign of Divine providence. 

Eunice’s return, however, was brief. After her long absence and immersion in Native culture, she must have had little left in common with her siblings. She and her Indian family soon departed for Canada and never again came to Connecticut. Her visits with family members in Massachusetts were likewise brief. Eunice continued to live with her adoptive tribe in Canada until her death at the age of 90. 

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