The Capture


Click here for information pointing to Ft. Ann, New York as the site of Israel Putnam's capture.


On the morning of August 8th, 1758 during the French and Indian War, the English decamped, not aware that four hundred and fifty French and Indians lay in a dense growth of thickets, preparing to surprise them.

"We began our march," Rogers writes, "Major Putnam with a party of Provincials marching in the front, my Rangers in the rear, Capt. Dalzell with the regulars in the centre, the other officers suitably disposed among the men, being in number 530, exclusive of officers, a number having by leave returned home the day before."


Putnam, at the head of the long and narrow line, and with the Connecticut men under his immediate command, had proceeded three-fourths of a mile, and was just emerging from the thicket-growth to enter the forest beyond, when yells and whoops rent the air, and the enemy began a furious onslaught. The surprised but undaunted Major halted, returned the fire, and passed the word for the other divisions to advance to his support. "I brought my people into as good order as possible," says Rogers, who was some distance behind," Capt. Dalzell ill the centre, and the rangers on the right, with Col. Partridge's light infantry; on the left was Capt. Gidding's, of the Boston troops, with his people."

Putnam captured

Meanwhile, a large and powerful Caughnawaga chief had sprung upon the brave leader at the front. In the fierce hand-to-hand fight, Putnam pressed the muzzle of his gun against his assailant's breast, but the weapon missed fire. With a loud war-whoop, the Indian warrior clutched his defenseless victim, and, brandishing his hatchet over him, compelled him to surrender. Putnam was dragged back into the forest and lashed fast to a tree. Then his captor returned to the battle. The Connecticut men, deprived of the inspiring presence of their principal officer, had retreated among the thickets in confusion, but were soon reinforced by the men who had pressed their way through the bushes and briery undergrowth from the rear. Having quickly rallied with this aid, they checked the advancing enemy. Indeed, they succeeded in forcing them back beyond the spot where the action had begun. Owing to this change of battleground, the tree to which Putnam was tied was directly between the fires of the combatants. The account by Humphreys of the prisoner's perilous experiences is of special interest, not only because he had the facts from Putnam himself, but also because, as the historian Parkman says, he seems to give the story with substantial correctness. His version - the earliest that we have - must be the basis of any other account. Humphreys describes Putnam's helplessness during the battle thus :

Putnam Tied to Tree

"The balls flew incessantly from either side, many struck the tree, while some passed through the sleeves and skirts of his coat. In this state of jeopardy, unable to move his body, or to stir his limbs, or even to incline his head, he remained more than an hour. So equally balanced, and so obstinate was the fight! At one moment, while the battle swerved in favour of the enemy, a young savage chose an odd way of discovering his humour. He found Putnam bound. He might have dispatched him at a blow. But he loved better to excite the terrors of the prisoner, by hurling a tomahawk at his bead, or rather it should seem that his object was to see how near he could throw it without touching him - the weapon struck in the tree a number of times at hair's breadth distance from the mark. When the Indian had finished his amusement, a French officer (a much more inveterate savage by nature, though descended from so humane and polished a nation) perceiving Putnam, came up to him, and, leveling a fuse within a foot of his breast, attempted to discharge it - it missed fire. Ineffectually did the intended victim solicit the treatment due to his situation by repeating that he was a prisoner of war. The degenerate Frenchman did not understand the language honour or of nature: deaf to their voice, and dead to sensibility, he violently, and repeatedly, pushed the muzzle of his gun against Putnam's ribs, and finally gave him a cruel blow on the jaw with the butt-end of his piece. After this dastardly deed he left him."

Our thanks to Al who provided this map and the photographs of the Israel Putnam plaque in Crown Point, N.Y.

Battle Rages On

In the battle that raged not far away, the scene of which had again shifted, the English were still making an heroic resistance. Some of them fought in open view; others fired from behind trees. At last the Canadians gave way, sixty of them deserting Marin at a critical moment. "This somewhat astonished the Indians," according to the French account of the battle, "and prevented that brave officer from deriving all the advantage from the circumstance." Having found that more of his men were leaving him and that "the English were too numerous to be forced," Marin ordered his wounded to be removed and withdrew all his force. The battle had lasted almost two hours. Forty-nine of the English had been killed. It was reported soon afterwards that the enemy lost more than twice that number. The English buried all their own dead and made litters of branches with which to carry their wounded comrades. Then they resumed the march southward which had been tragically interrupted, and reached Fort Edward the next day.

Putnam in the meantime was faring ill in the hands of savages. For his adventures in captivity, Humphreys again is the authority. This is the story of what happened at the close of the battle, as he recorded it from the hero's own narration:

"As they [tbe enemy] were retiring, Putnam was untied by the Indian who had made him prisoner, and whom he afterwards called master. Having been conducted for some distance from the place of action, he was stripped of his coat, vest, stockings and shoes; loaded with as many of the packs of the wounded as could be piled upon him; strongly pinioned, an his wrists tied as closely together as they could be pulled with a cord, After he had marched through no pleasant paths in this painful manner, for many a tedious mile, the party (who were excessively fatigued) halted to breathe. His hands were now immoderately swelled from the tightness of the ligature; and the pain had become intolerable. His feet were so much scratched, that the blood dropped fast from them. Exhausted with bearing a burden above his strength, and frantic with torments exquisite beyond endurance, he entreated the Irish interpreter to implore, as the last and only grace he desired of the savages, that they would knock him on the head and take his scalp at once, or loose his hands. A French officer, instant interposing, ordered his hands to be unbound and some of the packs to be taken off. By this time the Indian wbo captured him and who had been absent witb the wounded, coming up gave him a pair of moccasins, and expressed great indignation at the unworthy treatment his prisoner had suffered. That savage chief again returned to the care of the wounded, and the Indians, about two hundred in number, went before the rest of the party to the place where the whole were that night to encamp. They took with them Major Putnam, on whom, besides innumerable other outrages, they had the barbarity to inflict a deep wound with a tomahawk, in the left cheek."

The mark of this blow Putnan is said to have borne through life. "A deep scar on the cheek of that veteran warrior," says Abiel Holmes in his Annals of America, in referring to this incident, "is well remembered by the writer, who believes it was the wound inflicted by the tomahawk."

Now comes the most tragic scene of the day in Putnam's eventful captivity. We can easily imagine the absorbing interest with which Humphreys listened to the tale of "horror." He has given us this description of what the Indians planned for their victim:

Enemy tries to Burn Putnam Alive

"It was determined to roast him alive. For this purpose they led him into a dark forest, stripped him naked, bound him to a tree, and piled dry brush, with other fuel, at a small distance, in a circle round him. They accompanied their labours, as if for his funeral dirge, with screams and sounds inimitable but by savage voices. Then they set the piles on fire. A sudden sbower damped the rising flame. Still they strove to kindle it, until, at last, the blaze ran fiercely round the circle. Major Putnam soon began to feel the scorching heat. His hands were so tied that he could move his body. He often shifted sides as the fire approached. This sight, at the very idea of which all but savages must shudder, afforded the highest diversion to his inhuman tormentors, who demonstrated the delirium of their joy by correspondent yells, dances, and gesticulations. He saw clearly that his final bour was inevitably come. He summoned all his resolution and composed his mind, as far as the circumstances could admit, to bid an eternal farewell to all he held most dear. To quit the world would scarcely have cost a single pang but for the idea of home, for the remembrance of domestic endearments, of the affectionate partner of his soul, and of their beloved offspring."

According to tradition this is the tree to which Israel Putnam was tied

Unexpected deliverance came to Putnam in his torturous and dire situation, for - to continue the early narrative - "a French officer rushed through the crowd, opened a way by scattering the burning brands and unbound the victim. It was Molang [Marin] himself - to whom a savage, unwilling to see another human sacrifice immolated, had run and communicated the tidings. That commandant spurned and severely reprimanded the barbarians, whose nocturnal powwas and hellish orgies he suddenly ended. Putnam did not want for feeling or gratitude. The French commander, fearing to trust him alone with them, remained until he could deliver him in safety into the hands of his master."

The above article is taken from the book Israel Putnam, Pioneer, Ranger, and Major-General by William Farrand Livingston, The Knickerbocker Press, 1901.

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