James Trabue


Here's the full account of James Trabue's capture and escape.

James Sellars

The Captivity and Escape of James Trabue

By Daniel Trabue

"Westward into Kentucky," From Daniel Trabues narrative found in the Draper Manuscript collection, 57J:51-63.

The land office was opened this spring at Wilson's Station for entering land warrents. James Trabue and I went their to make some entries, but their was so many people their we had to cast lots. And according to lot he (James Trabue) made some few entries, and it would be several days before he could make any more. And it would be several days before I could make my entries as my warrents was not on the first day.

So we went home and James Trabue told me he would make my entries for me when he made his, if I would stay at home and attend to howing our corn planted. I agreed to it and gave him my warrents and a memorandum where my land was to be laid. It was 2,000 acres and choice land. James Trabue said he would go to licking on his commessary business. He was very much [needed] their and could be back to Wilson's Station in time to lay our warrents.

So he went to Licking and got Ruddle's Station at night. And when morning [June 24, 1780] came their fort was surrounded by Indians; and Col. Byrd, a british officer from Detroyt, soon arrived with a cannon. He (Byrd) sent in a flag to the fort, demanding them to surrender to him as prisoners of war, etc., to which they refused. The cannon was twise fired. Done no damage except knocked one cabin log so it was moved in about six inches.

Capt. Ruddle insisted it would be best to cappitulate. Capt. Hinkston and James Trabue insisted to defend the fort. At length Capt. Ruddle got a majority on his side and petitioned Col. Byrd to capitula[te]. The flag was sent back and forward several times before they agreed and the articles was sighned and agreed to. James Trabue was the man that did wright in behalf of Ruddle and the people in the fort. The terms of cappitulation was that Col. Byrd and his white soldiers should protect the people that was in the fort and march thim to Detroyt as prisoners, and that the Indians should have nothing to do with them, that the peoples cloathing and papers should be sicure to themselves with some little exceptions.

The fort gate was opined. The Indeans came rushing in and plundered the people, and they evin striped their cloaths of[f] them and dividing the prisoners among the indians. In a few minuts the man did not know where his wife or child was, nor the wife know where her husband or either of her children was, no the children where ther parrents or brothers and sisters weare, all contrary to the cappitulation. Nor they had no chance of seeing Col. Byrd, as the Indians kept them to themselves. They went and took Martain's station also.

Capt. Hinkston made his escape from them and came home and told the knews. The Indians was troblsome in many places. This was Meloncholy knews to me, my land warrents gone that had cost me a great deal, but that did not distress me like the loss of my brother.

Col. [George] R. Clark proposed to go a campaighn against the Indians. It was agreed upon. Preparation was made. The day set for our march. I was to go as commisary for Col. Ben Logan's Redgment.

(Narrative continues with Trabue describing his trip to eastern Virginia)

When I got home to Virginia, in a few days my brother James got home and their was great joy for him but lementation for bro. John. The account that James gave of the surrender of Riddle's fort was that the british had agreed to pertect the whites from the Indians, as he wrote the capitulation himself. But as soon as the fort gates was opened, they was all divided and subdivided like a drove of sheep or hogs amongst the different tribes of Indians. Familys was divided, the husband from his wife and children, etc.

One Indian sized James Trabue and claimed him as his prisoner. Their was dreadfull puling and halling. And although one Indian claimed him and had him by the hand, a nother Indian run up to him and snatched the hat from off his head, which was a valuable beaver hat. My brother said when he lost his hat he was alarmed. He immediately puled out his wach and gave it to the indian that claimed him. As he could speak a little broken Inglish he told the Indian he might have it, and handed him his pockit book and told him he must return that again. The Indian said he would. He also gave the Indian silver buckils and some other valuable things and told the Indian to keep them also. He was in hops as he was generous to the Indian he would be to him and let him keep his cloaths and return him his pockit book. But the other Indian that had no prisoner pulled of[f] all his cloaths and gave him one of their raggad lousey shirts to put on that did not keep the sun from burning his skin.

He told how they killed old Mistress Barger, an old Duch woman who we was aquainted with. As one company of Indi[ans] marched along, this old woman behind: one Indian behind her he would jump up and wave his Tomerhock and cut a number of capers and then killed her. The blow came when this old lady was not expecting it. They finished her and skelped her and then raised a dreadfull yell. My brother said he often looked behind to see if they was cuting capers behind him.

They took him to Detoyt and sold him to the british. The men was mostly took to Detroyt and some of the woman, but the children was mostly kept with the Indians. My brother with many others was taken to Montreal.

When at Detroit he called on his Indian for his pockit book,promissing him something elce, and he did give some other little present perhap a loaf of bread, and got his pockit book again with the most of his papers. He had paper continental mony in his pockit book. It was all gone but his land warrents was all safe. He fetched them home with him.

When he first got to Montreal he was informed by the people that he could git cloathing for labour in making fortyfications. He refused to work for 2 or 3 days as he understood that some kind of work was much better price than others. After he had viewed the different kind of work he informed the commander he wuld work with the stone masons. They askid him if he was a mason. He answered he was a bricklayer but he thought he could work stone.

He went to work with the masons and got his dollar per ady when common work was only 2/6. He soon got cloathing a plenty but pretended he was very fraid to be any indebt. These officers wood insest on these laboursers to take up goods for their wages and was very willing for them to go alittle in debt. He passed as a stone mason and after a while they put him to brick laying and he satisyed them at that also. He says he never worked at either before, but so it was he got his $1 per day.

He made himself very fermiler with the people their and got hold of their Maps and examined into the Geographia of the country. He got to beleave he could make his escape. He communicated this to some of the prisoners and 7 of them agreed to embark in the Venture. He told these 7 Men to make ready, that the first Dark rainey night they would start, and try if posible to procure a Guns and ammunition, etc. They generally Drawed several Days' provision at a time and they saved and laid by such as they thought would Do for their Jurney.

A few Days previous to their Departure James Trabue went to their stoore to git some articles. He looked at some of their very best superfine broad cloath. He told them when he got them enough in his debt he must have a coate of that piece. They told him to take it now. It was cut off. He also took up 2 fine lineng shirts, breeches, and stockins, and Cravets, also trimmings. He had them all tyed up in a large handkerchief and took them to his logging, Determined to cheat them if he could as they and thir alleys - the Indians - had cheated him so much. He was in their debt now about 75 dollars.

Alexander Noel was their a prisoner, told James Trabue he could not venter the risk of an escape, but if he (J. Trabue) could git home safe to write to his father and mother in Essix county in Virginia about him. A number of the prisoners said the same, for him to write.

The first dark rainey night they got all together. They had got no gun. They had flints and spunk. They concluded to go to the river to the centenal that was at the boats, and they would take the centenal with his gun and cartridge box. This Montreal was in an island. When they all got near the river it was agreed that a duchman - one of their company - should go to the centry and be talking with him. This centry man was a Hession, and this Duchman could talk with him. And while the Duch man was to be a talking to him he was to take hold of him and the rest of the men was to lay hold and carry him with them. So this duchman went and viewed the centry man and came back to the men and told them that this centry man was some little distance from the boats, that he was putting some planks over an old frame to keep the rain off him.

They went to the boats, took one boat, got in her and roeed her over. When they got nearly over the river thet run aground and could not git her off. They thought they was discovered as they saw a number of candles a passing about the landing and garrison. They waded to shore. The water before the got out was up to their brests; however, they all got over safe and they bid a due to Montreal.

They went on some distance that dark night and slept some little. When morning came they then started, one man to steer the way and where ever he put his foot they all was to go in the same track. The man that was behind had a turkey's foot and a deer's foot. If the least sighn was made this hindmost man was to either to make a deer's track or turkey's track. They knew they would be followed and they must be very carefull so that they could not be tracked. They kept along on poor rocky ridges and putting their feet on rocks and stones and the rest to put their feet on the same tracks.

James Trabue went a head. He had a pockit compas. He would use it at times. He went along the poor ridges, and when he would git to water courses they would keep in the water for miles a time. He was on a poor clift and a ceder tree that reached from a brook and then in the water for some distance and then keep up some poore pint [point] and all the men following him correctly, so it was impossible for the Indians to trail them.

One evining after sun set they came near to an Indian camp where their was a large army of Indians encamped. The tomerhocks a cuting wood and their horse bells made great noise. They crept off to a hideing place to consult what to do.

James Trabue told them these horses they had was horses they had taken from the white people from the settlement before them, and it was the best way for them for every man to take a good horse and take the Indian's back track. These horses would incline to go to their home. They could go a great distance before day. The men opposed this plan.

They then lay in ambush until the Indians was gone. The next morning they was afraid to keep the Indians' trail for fear of meeting indians behind the main army. They, however, kept the course of the trail and when they would strike it would leave it again. They was very careful of making any sighn so that they could not be followed.

When they left Montreal the understanding was each man was to have 10 days' provision, and if they had have eaten as much as they could they might have eat it in 5 days. However, on the 7 day they had not one mouthfull to eat and no gun to kill anything.

They could strike fire and would go in some hollow and make up a fire sometimes as the weather was cold. It was in October or November. They all had good blankits. When they thought their was danger they made no fire.

As they had to take so much pains in not making sighn it took them longer than they expected to reach the settlement. The settlement they first struck was tyconderouge, which settlement had been broak up by these Indians they meet. They had been 5 days now without eating any thing. They made deligent serch for something to eat but the Indians had destroyed everything. At one place they did find a few potatoes but not as many as one man could eat.

And in going about 40 miles further they came to where white people lived which took them about one and a half days where they got a plenty to eat. So they ware 13 1/2 days from Montreal to the settlement where they got something to eat. They suffered much for provision. If they could have found in this broken up settlement horse, cow, dog, or cat they would have eat it but found none. Every particle of corn, etc., was swept clean by these savages, their horses taken away and cattle and hogs destroyed and some of the people killed but the most of them fled.

These 8 prisoners all got safley landed in a christian country again which fully compansated them for all their difficulties they had underwent. These 8 men went to the governor of New York or some General officer in that country and [he] gave them orders to draw provision at the different publik stores as they went home.

James Trabue could have got a good horse and saddle for his fine suite of cloath and he could have road home, but he concluded he wood walk home and weare his fine cloaths. He got them made up and he was the finest dressed man in the country as their had been no importation for some time.

James Trabue gave account of several prisoners who we thought was killed. He wrote letters to their people. He wrote a letter to old Mr. Noel in Essix County, Virginia, which was the first information of Alexander Noel being alive.

This Alexander Noel was living He with several others was a going to 1780 and crossing Kentucky River Just belowe Frankfurt at Lee's town the Indians fired on them and took Alexander Noel Prisoner and took him to their towns.

This same Mr. Noel says that after James Trabue and these other men run away the british Officers got 20 Indians to persue them an promised the $60 for each prisoner they would ketch.. Mr. Noel said his heart aked for these men. These Indians and the officers too seemed to make sure of suckcess, but after 12 or 15 days they returned and said they could not trail them. They could not see which way they went after a few miles.

(Narrative continues with incidents relating to Mr. Noels captivity.)

James Trabue returned to Kentucky that same winter [1780-81], told the people in Kentucky of several men that was alive - one man in perticular that told him he made no doubt that his wife thought he was dead. The circum[stance] was, he said, a little company of them was out a hunting and in the night the Indians fired on them. And as he run off an Indian fired at him and as the gun fired his foot caught in a grapevine and he fell. And the Indians jumped on him and made a prisoner of him. And he said their weas one of his company that was close by at the time that would say he was killed and that he had a right to think so.

When James Trabue told Col. Logan that circumstance Logan said this man's wife thought he was dead, and she was to be married the next day to a nother man. And he (Logan) said he would go and inform her of it and did go and gave her the information about 2 hours before she was to be married. She then declined it, and after that her husband came to her and her children again.