Shadow soldiers: Mary Hoople: a pair of pioneer siblings were separated after their abduction by Delaware and Seneca warriors in 1780. More than 70 years passed before they were reunited. During the intervening years, the brother saw action in the War of 1812 and the sister became legendary for her compassion towards the enemy.
In his 101st year, Jacob Sheets, tearfully exchanged war stories with the nephew he hadn't seen in more than 70 years. His recent blindness kept him from seeing John Whitmore's bittersweet expression during their emotional exchange that took place near Hoople Creek by the St. Lawrence River in 1851.
Sheets told Whitmore of the North American Wars of Empire during which he had served in the King's Royal Regiment of New York in the Grenadier Company, led by the regiment's commander himself, Sir John Johnson. Whitmore spoke of his days as a captain in the 1st Lincoln Regiment, active at the siege of Fort Niagara in the War of 1812 and in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.
Also present at the poignant reunion was John's older sister, Mary Hoople, with whom he had been abducted seven decades earlier. In 1780 a murderous raiding party attacked the family's homestead near the Susquehanna River on the Pennsylvania frontier. Their uncle Jacob had visited them in the year before the Whitmore massacre, and the three had not been together since.
During this 1779 visit Mary met the man who would later become her husband, Henry Hoople. The young man had travelled with Jacob Sheets from the New York colony to the doomed Whitmore family's Pennsylvania homestead. Their first encounter was said to be transfixing for both.
Mary and John's maternal relatives were of German origin and emigrated to Virginia and later Pennsylvania via New Jersey. According to Elizabeth Hoople, one of Mary's descendants, the family had previously experienced an Indian attack generations earlier in the Shenandoah Valley. Mary's great-grandmother had wielded a tomahawk to protect her children from a raiding party after her valorous husband had been killed.
Mary and John's father, Peter Whitmore, was descended from Cromwellian soldiers who had fled England for the Netherlands and then immigrated to America once Charles II accepted the English crown. A stalwart and hardy pioneer, Peter could not have been prepared for the tragedy that befell his family on Easter Sunday 1780 when a party of Seneca, Delaware, and Oneida warriors descended on their cabin aided by several American rebels and one Metis trader.
Peter was shot dead in his bed; his wife was killed and her scalp removed by hatchet. Philip, the eldest son, was tomahawked as he looked tip from the fireplace he had been stoking. Of the remaining five children scattered into the woods, four were caught. Mary, John were caught, and the eldest girl, Sarah, was captured with the youngest sibling, an infant, held protectively in her arms; their brother Jake never emerged from the forest. The children were placed under guard as their homestead was looted and burned. The natives killed the baby by swinging her against a tree.
The remaining three Whitmore children were placed on horseback and taken away by their captors. Two days later the children were divided between the Seneca and the Delaware: Sarah with the former, and Mary and John with the latter. Mary later recalled that she had considered an escape attempt with her younger brother but wisely recognized the gruff and grimacing native warriors to be a safer alternative to the bears and cougars of the forest. By the third day the two children and their captors had reached a Delaware camp on the Allegheny River. They never saw Sarah again.
Upon their arrival at the camp, 11-year-old Mary and 7-year-old John were adorned in wampum beadwork, placed at the front of a procession, and displayed as prizes by their abductors. They were separated and placed in different lodges until that evening, when they were forced to witness a frightening sight: a war party in which warriors danced in full paint and ceremonial clothing, and stomped in circles around the campfire shooting their firearms and waving their hatchets.
Their war paint was predominantly black as the symbol of grief, evil and death, and was contrasted with red, symbolizing blood. The older warriors wore their black coarse hair long to their shoulders; younger man would have plucked their own scalps to fine scalp-locks, topped with eagle feathers and held upright by animal grease. The two white children thought it odd the native men had no beards since their facial hair had been plucked out at the roots with mussel shells serving as tweezers. Smooth faces were easier to paint, with black shale and wood ashes used for the darker shades and red or yellow clay for the lighter.
Mary's and John's assimilation had begun. Most of the village inhabitants lived in round birch-bark wigwams with domed roofs topped with gaping holes that served as chimneys for indoor open pit fires. All slept ill sapling beds and sat on benches made of skin-covered branches. The odoriferous, stale smell of bear grease was inescapable as the huts and wigwams had no windows or air circulation--only a single doorway covered with animal skin. Eventually after receiving relentless insect bites, the white children realized that the Delaware wore bear grease as bug repellent.
Their homespun pioneer clothes were replaced by bearskin garments in the winter and doeskin ill the summer. Like the rest of the villagers, they were shod in deerskin moccasins decorated with coloured beads or porcupine quills.
Over time, Mary saw less of John as his days were spent with the men in preparation for his graduation to the hunters' ranks. Mary had begun bonding with her Delaware mother and joined her in making jewellery from stone, shells, animal teeth and claws. More important, her adoptive mother was a medicine woman who taught the young girl how to make healing balms and salves. Mary's initiation to the practice was to tend to her brother John who, along with the other Delaware boys, was inducted to the tribe in a ceremony during which his forearms were burned over a fire.
Mary quickly put her hatred for her captors aside and began caring for her tribe as if they were her family. In order to make her bowls of soothing lotions, she foraged--sometimes for weeks--looking for roots and herbs, and tile curious red flowers used to cure typhoid, "the white man's fever."
After a medicine gathering trip in 1784, Mary returned to discover her brother gone; he had been rescued by a British officer. The boy could no longer speak English (or German) and could not convey to the officer that his sister lived in the camp too. Also present at the rescue was the same Metis who had participated in the Whitmore massacre: De Coignee. The disreputable tracker and Delaware spy had sold his knowledge of the boy's whereabouts to the British while withholding his information regarding Mary. His lustful and unseemly presence in the first half of Mary's life was bothersome to her. The Whitmore women were known for their attractiveness and De Coignee pursued Mary relentlessly, even cajoling the natives in an attempt to force her to marry him at the age of 16.
Despite the signing of the Treaty of Paris the previous year, the American Revolutionary War had not ended and hostilities continued along the Niagara frontier and northwest on the Great Lakes at forts Detroit and Michilimackinac. The British held onto several possessions ill response to the United States' reneging on aspects of the negotiated settlement. The occupants of the forts were usually British military and English, French and German settlers who suffered no shortages of food and comforts when compared to the native tribes. With every spring the Delaware found their hunting grounds diminished thanks to white migration, and were forced to move further west in search of food.
Mary's adoptive family agreed to travel to Fort Detroit to help the despondent teenager locate her brother and, more importantly, to avoid starvation. Faced with no other alternative, the family agreed to sell Mary in return for food. At the age of 18, Mary was purchased by a family of French settlers for "twelve moons" of servitude within the protective walls of Fort Detroit. For almost a year, Mary served the family of Rend Chauvin with dedication and often helped nurse war-wounded and sick soldiers as well as settlers back to good health. The fort's 12-foot stockade seemed confining to Mary as she pined not only for her brother but for the spacious forests and hunting grounds in which she had come of age.
She befriended Captain Thomas McKee, son of Colonel McKee, the unsympathetic, austere but gentlemanly commander of Fort Detroit who rebuffed Mary's requests for assistance in tracking down her missing brother. McKee knew thousands of whites had been embedded among the frontier tribes and that a search for one freed boy among the many villages and torts would be futile.
The colonel's attitude quickly changed after Mary reported the presence of De Coignee in the fort. She revealed to McKee that the Metis had been involved in the murder of her parents and that he was known to be a native spy. McKee ordered him arrested but De Coignee managed to escape.
As the end of Mary's year of servitude approached, a Lutheran pastor arrived at Fort Detroit and made inquiries about a white child named 'Mary Whitmoyer.' Jacob Sheets had sent the pastor to search among the forts of lakes Eric and Ontario for his nieces and nephew. Sheets resided along the north shore of the St. Lawrence on land grants he had received for his service to the 'Royal Greens', the King's Royal Regiment of New York.
In return for Mary's loyalty and for nursing his wife through a serious illness, Chauvin relieved her of her last month's servitude. With winter approaching and ice closing up the lake harbours, Mary hurried the pastor to prepare for the 500-mile eastward journey. The pastor had secured a large canoe with a crew of voyageurs who were headed east to Montreal. With Mary on board, they paddled down the Detroit River to Lake Eric, portaged around Niagara Falls to Lake Ontario, and headed cast down the St. Lawrence. Unbeknownst to Mary, when they bypassed Fort Niagara en route to Long Sault, they also passed by her younger brother who resided inside the fort as the adoptive son of a Canadian officer, Captain Daniel Servos of Butler's Rangers.
Within weeks Mary was reunited with Jacob Sheets (nee Schultz), and began to relearn the German language her mother had taught her as a child. In the years ahead, she served as the doctor in Long Sault and used her aboriginal medicines to revive pioneer families who suffered through summers of drought and winters of starvation. Meanwhile, John remained in the Niagara region, married the captain's daughter and created a homestead on the shores of Lake Ontario a few miles west of Newark (Niagaraon-the-Lake).
Mary often cried at the thought of her sister Sarah, who had been taken away by the Seneca after their abduction. Like Mary, Sarah was considered attractive and was sought-after as a bride. She had been raised Mohawk and spent much of her time in the Genesee Valley of the New York colony and sought to avoid the affections of a determined chief. Had they married, she would never have returned to the white settler community.
Sarah met the well-regarded Horatio Jones, who had been a white captive of the Seneca nation. As the tribe's English interpreter, he had proved so valuable that he was voted a tribal chief. Sarah sought him out, fell in love and married him. Jones was the son of a New York blacksmith and considered a formidable frontiersman, and was included with Mary in the prisoner exchange with the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix. They were married in a Christian ceremony on the eve of 1785. Their eldest son was the first white child born in the western half of the New York colony. Sarah gave birth to three more sons and Jones became the United States government's interpreter with the Seneca nation. Sarah died in 1791 and Jones raised his four boys in the large estate he built on the American side of Niagara.
During the War of 1812, the widower Jones' two youngest sons joined the New York militia and were among the American troops who occupied Newark in 1813. They travelled by boat one evening to visit the man they understood to be their uncle, John Whitmore. They were unaware that the British had moved into a position between Whitmore's homestead and Newark. Whitmore saw them come ashore and, once he realized who they were, became horrified that the boys might be caught behind enemy lines and shot as spies.
With the help of a fellow officer, Whitmore jettisoned the young men back behind their own lines by boat. The two died a week later when the British attacked Fort Niagara with the help of Indian allies who killed and scalped both boys.
In yet another caprice of fate that befell the Whitmores, John was made aware that the Metis De Coignee was to travel near his Lake Ontario farm. Armed with his musket and tomahawk, he lay in wait for the Indian spy with every intention of avenging his family's murder. The opportunity arose as the Metis walked the Lake Road past his hiding place, but John demurred and chose to adhere to his Christian beliefs and let him live rather than take a shot.
The War of 1812 also came to Mary's doorstep in Long Sault. She had married Henry Hoople, the young man she had met decades earlier when he visited the Whitmore homestead with her uncle Jacob the year before the massacre. The couple lived beside Hoople's Creek near the St. Lawrence and later built a homestead set back from the water and further into the woods. They raised a large family of boys, many of whom would join their father in the Loyalist militia.
On November 19, 1813, U.S. General James Wilkinson's soldiers came down the river in the direction of Hoople Creek. Wilkinson had crossed to the north bank of the St. Lawrence, determined to head downriver to take Montreal. He sent his cavalry troops ahead to Cornwall to seize supplies just as the local militia was mustered.
The Loyalists set up an ambush across the creek from the house of Henry Hoople's brother. Mary had been secreted there and was unable to leave before the Americans set up cannons in the front yard. A blazing gun battle ensued but the Americans were overwhelmed and began their retreat.
Left behind was a wounded young American soldier who was no older than Mary's sons. She emerged from the house and began to attend to his wounds on the property, that had been a battlefield only moments earlier.
The next day Wilkinson's troops went down in defeat in the Battle of Chrysler's Farm.
Over the coming months, Mary restored the soldier to good health and he was returned home after the war. When word of her bravery and her compassion for the American soldier was received in Washington, Mary was awarded a large sum of money and received a special commendation from the U.S. President James Madison.
Almost four decades later, one of her sons, who had become a prosperous merchant in New York City, overheard a story while in Toronto on business: an elderly man by the name of John Whitmore had been abducted by the Delaware as a child and was now living on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Mary's son located John and organized his steamboat trip in 1851 that took him from Niagara to Long Sault to meet with his lost uncle Jacob and sister Mary in 1851.
Two years after their poignant reunion, John Whitmore died at the age of 77; Mary died in 1862 at the age of 91. The fate of their brother lake, who ran into the woods the day of the Whitmore massacre, is unknown to this day.
In commemoration of two significant Canadian anniversaries--Quebec City's 400th and the St. Lawrence Seaway's 50th--this is the second in a series detailing the rich military history of those "shadow soldiers" who played a part in the development of Canada along the St. Lawrence corridor. Mark Jodoin is an Ottawa-based executive, writer and president of the Rideau Township Historical Society.
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|Title Annotation:||THE FIGHT FOR CANADA|
|Publication:||Esprit de Corps|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2008|
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