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SAWTELLE, JEMIMA (Phipps; Howe; Tute), captive; b. c. 1723, daughter of Josiah Sawtelle and Lydia Parker; d. 7 March 1805 in Vernon, Vt.

Jemima Sawtelle was a young woman in her early twenties when on 5 July 1745 her first husband, William Phipps, was killed at Great Meadow (Putney, Vt) in a skirmish with Indian allies of the French, then at war with the British. Two years later the Indians carried off her younger brother Jonathan to Montreal (Que.). Jemima’s family misfortunes had only begun, however. The British and French were engaged in unofficial war in 1755 when, a little before sunset on 27 June, 12 Indians descended on her second husband Caleb Howe, two young sons, and two companions, returning from the fields around Bridgman’s Fort (near Hinsdale, N.H.). Howe, the son of a former Indian captive, was mortally wounded, and his sons were captured. The Indians then sprang upon the unmanned fort, where the three wives and the remaining children were easily taken.

After plundering the fort, the Indians started their captives towards Canada. Jemima, accompanied by her seven children aged eleven years to six months, was the most burdened. During the nine-day trek to Fort Saint-Frédéric (near Crown Point, N.Y.), she was surprised – as were many American prisoners – by the kind treatment accorded by the Indians. From Fort Saint-Frédéric some of the captives, including Submit Phipps, Jemima’s younger daughter, were taken to Montreal “with a view of selling them to the French,” but the market was dull; consequently Submit was given to Governor Pierre de Rigaud* de Vaudreuil de Cavagnial.

All the captives except Submit were then moved via Fort Saint-Jean (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) to the Abenaki village of Saint-François-de-Sales (Odanak), where Jemima and her remaining children were each adopted by separate families; she was allowed, she related later, to keep the baby “for the sake of saving them the trouble of looking after it, and of maintaining it with my milk.” When winter set in, Jemima, fearing she could not survive it, persuaded her Indian “mother” to take her to Montreal and sell her and her baby there. No buyers were found, and one lady exclaimed: “Damn it, I will not buy a woman that has a child to look after.” The group returned to Saint-François-de-Sales, but the Indian mother had contracted smallpox, from which she soon died. Her daughter and son-in-law became Jemima’s family.

With this couple Jemima suffered considerable physical hardship, to which was added mental anguish over the fate of her scattered children. In the winter of 1755–56 she and some of her children were taken separately by their families to hunt around Missisquoi Bay at the northern end of Lake Champlain. Her infant died there, but by chance Jemima was reunited briefly with her two youngest sons, Caleb and Squire. At Fort Saint-Jean in the spring, she was suddenly sold by her Indian master “in a drunken frolic” to a French gentleman, Joachim de Sacépée (Saccapee). Her new situation, although “perfect freedom, of what it had been among the barbarous Indians,” was a mixed blessing. She was now able to assist English prisoners who passed through Fort Saint-Jean, but she needed “a large stock of prudence” in dealing with “the good old man” and “a warm and resolute son” both of whom, “at the same time, and under the same roof, became . . . excessively fond of my company.” Fortunately, Vaudreuil heard of her predicament, immediately ordered the son, then an officer in the French army, “from the field of Venus to the field of Mars,” and warned the father to mind his manners. From this ameliorated situation Jemima and three of her sons were redeemed in November 1758 for 2,600 livres (and 170 livres sundry expenses) by Colonel Peter Schuyler*, and they probably returned to New Hampshire. Her other three children, Moses Howe and Submit and Mary Phipps, remained in Canada. The girls were placed by Vaudreuil’s wife, Jeanne-Charlotte de Fleury Deschambault, with the Ursulines at Quebec; there they met another former captive, Esther Wheelwright*, named de l’Enfant-Jésus, and were converted to Catholicism. Some time after June 1759 Mme de Vaudreuil took the girls with her to Montreal, where she placed them in the convent of the Congregation of Notre-Dame.

After the conquest of Montreal in 1760, Jemima returned to Canada to reclaim her three remaining children. Mary had already been taken to France by Vaudreuil, but Jemima located Moses and Submit. The latter, who was about to depart for France, was persuaded only by an order from the governor of Montreal, Thomas Gage*, to leave the Congregation of Notre-Dame and return with her mother to New England.

The indomitable Jemima Sawtelle, having outlived her third husband, Amos Tute, and both children of their marriage, died on 7 March 1805 at the age of 82, and was buried at Vernon in a cemetery looking over the Connecticut River to Hinsdale, near where she had been taken prisoner 50 years before.

James Axtell

[Jemima Sawtelle told her story to the Reverend Bunker Gay of Hinsdale, N.H., who recounted it to Jeremy Belknap in a letter. Belknap included Gay’s letter in his work The history of New-Hampshire (3v., Philadelphia and Boston, 178492), 3: 37088. Subsequently Gay himself published the letter under the title A genuine and correct account of the captivity, sufferings & deliverance of Mrs. Jemina Howe, of Hinsdale, in New-Hampshire . . . (Boston, 1792). It was reprinted in a number of other works, but appeared in most accurate form in Indian captivities: being a collection of the most remarkable narratives of persons taken captive by the North American Indians. . . , ed. Samuel G. Drake (Boston, 1839), 15665. The romanticized version of Jemima Sawtelle’s adventures presented by David Humphreys in An essay on the life of the Honorable Major-General Israel Putnam . . . (Hartford, Conn., 1788; repr. New York and London, 1977), 74, is largely fictional. Emma Lewis Coleman, New England captives carried to Canada between 1677 and 1760 during the French and Indian wars (2v., Portland, Maine, 1925), 2: 180, 198, 31421, contains the known biographical facts concerning Jemima Sawtelle.

Her life was the inspiration for Marguerite Allis’s Not without peril, a novel . . . founded on the life and adventures of Jemima Sartwell, one of the first settlers in Vermont (New York, 1941), and for the narrative poem written by Angela Marco [A. L. Mearkle], Fair captive, a colonial story (Battleboro, Vt., 1937).  j.a.]

Arch. du monastère des ursulines (Québec), Livre des entrées et sorties des pensionnaires, 175657. PRO, ADM 1/3818: f.10. Benjamin Doolittle, A short narrative of mischief done by the French and Indian enemy, on the western frontiers of the province of Massachusetts-Bay . . . (Boston, 1750; repr. New York, 1909), 56. Boston Weekly News-letter, 4 July 1755. The affecting history of Mrs. Howe . . . (London, [1815]; repr. New York and London, 1977).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

James Axtell, “SAWTELLE, JEMIMA,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed August 2, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sawtelle_jemima_5E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sawtelle_jemima_5E.html
Author of Article: James Axtell
Title of Article: SAWTELLE, JEMIMA
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1983
Year of revision: 1983
Access Date: August 2, 2014