Rebecca Gilbert is my favorite ancestor to research. I feel close to her, not because we have any similarities, but because she is the first ancestor of mine who had a story that I could read. All I had in the beginning of my research was a pedigree chart from my grandmother and a handful of notes. One day, after Sunday lunch, my grandpa told me he had a book about my sixth great grandmother, Rebecca Gilbert. The book was Captured by the Indians: The Seldom Told Stories of Horatio Jones and the Benjamin Gilbert Family by George Henry Harris and William Walton (2003). He lent it to me and, as I read and learned about what she had gone through, she became real to me. She was no longer just a name on a pedigree chart. I wanted to learn more about her, but I wasn’t entirely sure where to start.
A few months later, I was helping a patron at work who wanted to research Native American ancestry. It was then that I noticed a smallish, red bound book with gilt lettering on the spine, which read, “Gilbert Narrative.” When the patron had finished, I took my break and went back for the book. The book was The Captivity and Sufferings of Benjamin Gilbert and His Family, 1780-83 by William Walton and Frank H. Severance (1904). This one included a copy of the original text, plus an illustration of Benjamin being led off by Indians, a photograph of the Gilbert homestead in Byberry, the ancestry of Benjamin Gilbert, memoirs of the surviving captives, a family tree for Benjamin’s children, and historical notes. It should have contained a map of their travels, but it had long since been torn out.
Suddenly, I had more information about my sixth great grandmother. It had been right under my nose for two years. I spent my breaks over the next week reading this book and writing things down. This reprint also included a bibliography of all related publications. Since this book differed so much from the one my grandfather had shown me, I wondered what other editions might reveal. I began my search for these other books. Luckily, Internet Archive had digitized some of them. They have recently added the original as well.
- 1784 – William Walton’s first edition
- 1785 – William Walton’s first edition in England
- 1848 – William Walton’s third edition
- 1904 – Facsimile copy of William Walton’s first edition with introduction and notes by Frank H. Severance
Each one has something to add to the story, whether for the best or not. Before I begin the story I should note that the family were Quakers and they never used the names of the days of the week or the months of the year since most of those names were derived from the names of pagan gods. They also had an old and new style of dating, which can be confusing at times. I’m writing the dates here exactly as they appear in the text.
The basic story of the Gilbert family is that the family were surprised at about sunrise on the 25th day of the 4th month, 1780 by a party of eleven Indians. These Indians were Rowland Monteur and John Monteur (Mohawk); Samuel Harris, John Huston, and John Huston, Jr. (Cayuga); John Fox (Delaware); and five unnamed Seneca. They raided and burned all of the buildings on the property. They took captive fifteen people: Benjamin Gilbert and his wife, Elizabeth; their children, Joseph, Jesse, Rebecca, Abner, and Elizabeth; Jesse’s wife, Sarah; Elizabeth’s sons from a previous marriage, Thomas and Benjamin Peart; Benjamin Peart’s wife, Elizabeth, and their daughter, Elizabeth; Benjamin Gilbert’s nephew, Benjamin Gilbert; Abigail Dodson, a neighbor’s daughter; and Andrew Harrigar, a hired hand.
The Indians bound their hands and forced the captives to walk northward toward Fort Niagara. The journey was difficult, with little rest and not much to eat. Andrew Harrigar managed to escape on the tenth day. On the 24th day of the 5th month, Colonel Guy Johnson and Colonel Butler secured the release of Benjamin and Elizabeth Gilbert and their son, Jesse. The rest of the captives were given over to various Indian families. Rebecca and her cousin, Benjamin, were given to Rowland Monteur and his wife, who was the daughter of the Seneca Chief Siangorochti (Sayenqueraghta) and a Cayuga mother of high rank. They lived with the Seneca on Buffalo Creek (Buffalo River), about four miles from Fort Erie. They were adopted into the family of Siangorochti as replacements for family members that had been killed. The story, according to William Walton, another of Rebecca’s cousins, is that Benjamin was happy in his new life while Rebecca suffered much and only wanted to get back home.
Another account, given by Rebecca’s fourth great grandson, Everitt Kirk Harris, states that “she was reluctant to leave her adopted relatives and customs.” This account was passed down through the family.
Regardless of the conditions, there are some facts. Benjamin Gilbert, Rebecca’s father, died on the 8th day of the 6th month, 1780. Her adopted father, Rowland Monteur, died in September of 1781 (according to Severance’s notes). Rebecca and Benjamin were released on the 1st day of the 6th month, 1782, and sailed for Montreal two days later. They were the last two members of the Gilbert family to be released. The entire surviving Gilbert family arrived in Byberry, Pennsylvania on the 28th day of the 9th month, 1782.
Walton’s third edition gives a synopsis of Rebecca’s life after returning home.
Rebecca’s will names only nine children: Elizabeth, William, Joseph, Rachel, Rebecca, Hannah, Charles, George, and John.
I feel as though I have a complete story for Rebecca. I am, however, left with a question. Why are only nine of Rebecca’s eleven children named in her will? Only three possible reasons come immediately to mind. Either the person who wrote the synopsis was incorrect and there were only nine children, the other two children died without heirs before the date of the will, or Rebecca did not count them as her children for some reason. Even though I have a fairly complete story for Rebecca, I continue to look for information. One item on my bucket list is to follow the path that Rebecca and her family followed. At the very least, I want to see the monument in The Seneca Indian Park in Buffalo, New York. I found an image of the plaque recently.