Historical Society of Southwest Virginia


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By Luther F. Addington


     Mrs. Andrew Davidson in the early spring of 1791 was gathering sugar water from sugar trees near her home on the headwaters of East River, a few miles east of the present site of Bluefield, West Virginia, when she saw Indians approaching. Their presence filled her with sudden fear for she had no gun with which to defend herself. Besides, her husband had just left on a trip to Smithfield, now Blacksburg, Virginia, on a business trip.

     Mrs. Davidson's three small children, two little girls and a boy, were at the cabin with two Broomfield orphans whom she had taken to rear. Looking back at the house she could see part of them playing in the yard, happy, unmindful of the danger which lurked about them.

     The woman stood beside a big, gray-barked maple tree into which cedar spiles had been driven. The spiles were dripping water into a wooden trough. She set down a wooden pail containing sugar water which she meant to carry to the house and pour into one of the three big iron kettles where the water would be boiled, that is "stirred-off."

     A stir-off was done by boiling the water first in the biggest kettle and then pouring the boiled-down water into the next biggest while fresh water was poured into the biggest one. When the second kettle was boiled low, the contents were poured into the smallest one where it was again boiled, this time into a syrup so thick that when it was poured into cups it hardened into a brownish sugar cake. Tree sugar meant much to the family, both as a table food and as a product
for sale.

     The savages came close, stood about her, jabbering, while she stood trembling, not knowing whether to try to get to her children or not.
     "Come," one said in English. He pointed northward, and she knew what he meant. They would take her to their town on the Ohio River as other settlers had been taken.

     Leaving the water pail, she started walking slowly toward the house. This the savages did not seem to mind; she knew that they meant to ransack the house anyhow.

     When she arrived at the house the children gathered about her, clinging to her linsey dress, and staring at the savages. Again the English-speaking Indian pointed and said, "We go."

     "We can't go," Mrs. Davidson said. "The children are too small, and I'm not able." She was expecting another baby soon.

     While she and the children stood there, some of the Indians went inside the house; soon theycame out with such articles as they could carry; pots, pans, blankets, clothing. The children began to cry. They clung to the trembling mother, knowing that something bad was happening.

     Presently some of the Indians put fire to the building. The blaze licked up, roared and cracked. Moment by moment the blaze leaped higher, came out through the roof, eating it away.

     "Now, go!" the leader bade the woman and the children. He prodded her with a stick. Then, her head down, she started walking, the children running around her, screaming.

     The party moved out of the valley, going westward, through West Virginia. Prod her as much as they would, Mrs. Davidson could not walk fast. Sweat beaded on her brow. Her lips got dry. No one would come in pursuit for no family lived near her cabin. The closest neighbors would not know she and the children were gone. It perhaps would be when a passer-by saw the burned-down house that news of the raid would spread. Then it'd be too late for rescue party to overtake them.

     The further they went through the mountains, the worse Mrs. Davidson felt. By the time they reached what is now Logan, West Virginia, she had to stop. And, while the party waited, the woman gave birth to a premature baby. Two hours after the birth, the Indians compelled her to continue the journey. In her weak condition she stumbled onward, carrying the newly born one.

     This child, the Indians decided, was a weak one and was nothing more than a nuisance, so on the second day out they drowned it in a creek and left the body. After this episode they seemed to sympathize with Mrs. Davidson in her anguish and made a point to be kinder to her.

     She was hopeful that this change in attitude would mean fair treatment when they got to their homes on the Ohio. Reach the Ohio they did, after a long and wearisome struggle. Mrs. Davidson and the children, as well, were so hungry they became ill. But a little rest, a little food would make them all feel better. Maybe soon they would get both.

     But her hope failed to come true, for when they reached the towns, the two little girls were tied to a tree and shot to death in the presence of their mother.

     Later, her son was given to an old squaw for adoption. One day the squaw took the boy with her to a canoe, bade him get in and hold to the gunnels while she paddled. The boy was scared, but he knew of nothing else to do but obey.
     "We go for good ride," said the squaw.

     The canoe was shoved from the bank, and the squaw began to wield the oar. Soon she had the boat out into the middle of the stream where a swift current caught it and swirled it around. Scared, the boy leaped up, topped overboard and, not being able to swim, sank. The squaw was not able to recover him, and he washed down into deep water and drowned.

     Mrs. Davidson was soon sold to a Frenchman in Canada; and, then, she parted with the two Broomfield boys, whom she never heard of again.

     Two years after her disappearance Andrew Davidson, hearing his wife was with the Shawnees north of the Ohio River, went there in quest of her. But Indians who knew where she was wouldn't tell him, or he didn't chance to talk with those who did know. So, he returned to the settlement and brooded through another year; then, he went again to the Shawnee towns.

     This time an old chief told him that his wife had been sold to a Frenchman in Canada. This same Indian was good enough to go with him on the northern trail and take him to the village where his wife was supposed to be.

     Upon arriving at a French settlement, Andrew stopped at the home of a wealthy French farmer to get something to eat.

     When he entered the house he noticed a woman who bowed to him and went on about her work. When he sat down at a table to eat, the same woman passed him in the room. He had taken but a few bites when he heard the woman say to her mistress, "I know that man."
     In broken English the mistress of the house said, "Well, who is it?"
     The other woman replied, "It's my husband." Then the woman ran to Andrew and fairly shouted. "Andrew! I'm your wife. Know me?"

     Andrew got up from the table, stared at the woman a moment, wondering really if she was his wife. Yet, it must be. There was some resemblance. When he'd last seen her, she looked young; her hair was black. But, now it was white. She looked old, care-worn, wretched.

     Andrew took her into his arms, and she cried as she pressed her face to his breast.
     "Rebecca!" whispered Andrew. "My own dear Rebecca!"
     After a while, she looked into Andrew's face, smiled and said, "You look well, Andrew."
     "But I've suffered, Rebecca. And you, how you must have suffered!"

     The French farmer came to the house and without protest gave up Rebecca to her husband. And the next day they started on the long journey southward. They returned to the vicinity of their former home and built a house at the end of Abb's Valley. Here they reared another family, and many of their descendants are now living in the same valley.

SOURCES: Bickley and Pendleton





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