Wednesday, June 22, 2011

held captive for 20 years

My ancestor William Custer and his wife (whose name was probably Mary) lived in the Greenbrier River area of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in the 1750's and 1760's.  The area is today along the border between Virginia and West Virginia, and at the time was on the frontier of the American colonies.  It was a dangerous time to be living in that area, as it was frequently the site of wars and skirmishes.  The French and Indian War of 1754-1763 was fought mainly in frontier regions of the British colonies.   It was followed shortly by another armed conflict, Pontiac's War (1763-1765), which was waged between the British and Native American tribes unhappy under British rule.  One of the hallmarks of the war was frequent Native American raids of frontier settlements, in which they would kill or capture British settlers. 

William Custer was at the time fighting in the militia to protect his colony and his family.  His wife (probably named Mary) was left at home to care for their six small children.  Sometime during that time period, Mrs. Custer had traveled by herself to warp [weave] a piece of cloth at a neighbor's house.  On her way home, she was kidnapped by a group of raiding Indians and was carried away.  Apparently, they passed so near her cabin that she could hear her baby crying in his cradle.  She was carried all the way to Canada, where she was held captive for a long time.  Most sources indicate that she was held captive in Canada for about 20 years, apparently with a variety of other people who had been kidnapped in the British colonies.  Eventually, Mrs. Custer and a group of other captives were sold as slaves to a French doctor, who promptly released them in Montreal.  This was in about 1783.

Mrs. Custer then began the more than 800-mile journey from Canada to her old home in Virginia.  Meanwhile, her family back at home was somehow notified of her release.  William Custer then left his children at home and went by himself north to meet her.  He apparently died not long after beginning his journey (apparently of natural causes).  Mrs. Custer then arrived back at home to find her children were fully grown and that her husband had recently left to find her.  She then backtracked north to find him, eventually arriving at a settlement where a funeral was in process.  After telling her that they were indeed burying a William Custer from Virginia, she was allowed one last look at his face.  She then returned to her home in Virginia and spent the rest of her life living with the family of her oldest child Arnold Custer.  She later moved with the family to Kentucky in the late 1780's, and died at an unknown date.

None of the above is corroborated by contemporary records.  But, given the historical realities of the area and the era, the story is mostly plausible.  The story has been handed down in the family for many generations and has been recorded (with slight changes in details) in different branches of the family.  Because of that, although some of the story is likely embellished, much of it is likely true.

My descent from William Custer and his wife:
William Custer md. probably Mary
- Arnold Custer md. Elizabeth Scholl
-- James Custer md. Catherine Ross
--- Mary Custer md. Charles Custer
---- John Custer md. Elizabeth Taylor
----- Louise Custer md. Odin Wadleigh
------ Paul Wadleigh md. Bettye Brown
------- Randy Wadleigh md. Barbara Plymale
-------- Ryan Wadleigh

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