Putnam's Capture

On the morning of August 8th, 1758, 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:

Traditionally, the tree to which Putnam was tied.

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."

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, Humphrey 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 [the 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 who captured him and who had been absent with

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 Putnam 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


Now comes the most tragic scene of the day in Putnam's

eventful captivity. We can easily imagine the absorbing interest

with which Humphrey 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 shower 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 hour

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."

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.

Email: oldwolfputnam@gmail.com