Printer Friendly

The Rideau warriors the Eastmans: the Eastmans defended themselves and the Crown in North America for 400 years. The northern line of this heroic and hardy family survived Indian massacres, rebel jails and the Wars of Empire to eventually settle on the Rideau.

Few massacres were as horrifying as the Indian and French raid on the English settlement of Deerfield, Massachusetts, in 1704.

Though of no strategic importance, the village was burned by the combined forces of the Marquis de Vaudreuil of New France and his allies, the Caughnawaga Indians of the St. Lawrence. Forty-eight white men, women and children were killed in the raid by tomahawk, hatchet or sword. Forty-one homes were destroyed and over 100 captives were forced on an arduous 300-mile winter march to French Canada.

Famously among them was seven-year-old Eunice Williams, the tiny daughter of the Deerfield minister who was befriended and carried to Montreal by a sympathetic Mohawk warrior. His kindness permitted Eunice to straggle to the native mission at Canaghnawaga (Kahnawake) where the tribe educated her and, as colonial fate would have it, she eventually married the very native who saved her.

Doing his best to help her and the remaining survivors in the Williams family was Joseph Eastman. He had been training for the ministry and living in Deerfield with the reverend, his wife, their daughter Eunice and her siblings. Bound as captives, Joseph Eastman and Reverend Williams were often powerless to defend the women and children who survived the initial attack. The reverend's wife, who had recently given birth, collapsed in a stream on the second day of the forced march, exhausted from struggling through the three-foot snow. She was finished off by a blow from an Indian hatchet while Eastman and Williams were forced to stand by and watch. Two years later the Williams were ransomed back to the Americans though without Eunice. Jonathan Eastman survived his three years of captivity and returned to Massachusetts where he abandoned the ministry and resumed farming.

As steadfast Loyalists, Eastman and his descendants were destined to be caught in the ongoing North American Wars of Empire. Farmers by inclination but combatants when necessary, they repeatedly fought for the Crown in the French and Indian War, the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. One of Joseph Eastman's descendants, Benjamin, fought as a Loyalist during the American Revolutionary War. After escaping to Canada, he encouraged his sons, Samuel and John, to pioneer the Rideau where the family's northernmost line has since lived peaceably for nearly two centuries.

Ten generations before settling in Canada, patriarch Roger Eastman was born in 1540 in the English town of Wiltshire by the Salisbury Plain near the legendary site of Stonehedge. He was well established as was his son Nicholas, who came to befriend Sir Walter Raleigh, the innovator and adventurer who established the first English settlement in America in 1584. Roger himself was a descendant of Geoffery Easterly, who was born in 1273 and became a merchant seamen in the Hanseatic League which dominated trade in northern Europe for centuries.

Roger's son Nicholas allowed his own son (also named Roger) to leave Britain via Southampton in 1638 onboard the Confidence, a vessel similar to the Mayflower that had first sailed to America in the previous decade. With his arrival in Massachusetts, Roger began the family transition from merchant sailors to builders, farmers and soldiers. Roger was the first settler and ancestor to the thousands of Eastmans now living in the United States and Canada.

Inescapably, the colonial Eastmans found themselves at the centre of wars between the French of New France, Dutch of New Amsterdam, English of New England, and the aboriginal nations of the inland Iroquois and the coastal Atlantic. It was during this period--the late 1600s and early 1700s--that the terror tactic of taking scalps was first introduced to native North Americans by the European antagonists.

Anxious to eradicate troops and settlers of opposing nations, the Europeans paid Indians to harvest scalps as a means of counting enemy casualties. The Indians also developed the custom of keeping surviving colonists alive long enough for distressed families to pay ransoms for their release. (Eunice Williams was not put up for ransom; though she had three encounters with her white family over her lifetime, she chose to stay with her adopted Iroquois.)

Europeans sometimes held the captives for prisoner exchanges rather than ransoming them. More often than not the embattled settlers were simply killed in the attacks, their scalps taken, and survivors enslaved. In a rare reversal, a Massachusetts mother and daughter survived a massacre, armed themselves with knives, and dispatched their 10 Indian guards while they slept.

The deciduous forests that covered New England 300 years ago was dangerous territory for settlers. Those lucky enough to lived past childhood occasionally found life to be fortuitous and the Eastmans were no exception. Roger's son Nathaniel saw his daughter Susanna captured twice only to escape each time and live to her 100th year. Roger's eldest son, John, fathered the line that gave America one its most revered statesman--senator and orator Daniel Webster. With so many of his forbearers killed in racial conflict, Webster eloquently championed the cause of compromise and was credited with having delayed the start of the Civil War. He was also chosen as one of the top five members in the history of the American Congress.

Roger's fourth son, Thomas, began farming a short distance from his father's settlement in Salisbury, which was named for their ancestral home in England. Thomas later renamed it to Haverhill to reflect their new surroundings. He and several other Eastmans signed an oath of allegiance and served in Captain Benjamin Lovett's company during the great Indian war of 1675 and 1676 known as King Philip's War.

Philip was not a king in the European sense but instead was a notorious grand tribal chief of the Wampanoag Confederacy of Indians. Philip reveled in his mock coronation as his cunning and political savvy was equal to any monarch's. His brutality was also of a kingly scale but instead of racks and iron maidens he used scalping and razing to terrorize the valleys of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Thomas Eastman survived King Philip's attack on Haverhill only to be ambushed in an Indian raid 10 years later. The marauders murdered him, his daughter and grandchild, but his son Jonathan managed to outlive the attack.

Jonathan's life in Haverhill seemed destined to mimic his father's hard luck. Once the New England town had sufficiently recovered from the Indian raids, town eiders built four brick-walled garrisons equipped with small lead-set windows thought to be immune to the natives. He placed his wife Hannah and their infant with a female nurse and a male sentinel who stood guard behind the locked doors of one of the garrisons. Jonathan ventured out only to return a few days later to find the garrison in flames, his daughter murdered, and Hannah kidnapped and forced into 18 months of slavery as an agrarian labourer in Vermont after which she was taken north to Trois-Rivieres to be held for ransom.

While held in captivity, Hannah befriended a French woman who lived adjacent to the Indian settlement and together they managed her escape. The Indians were furious with the loss of a potentially lucrative prize and searched for her in vain. For three years the New Englander was able to live freely though deeply grieved at the death of her daughter and loss of her husband. One day through her window she saw the shadow of man of considerable measure. Noted family biographer Wynne Eastman uncovered a description of Hannah's statuesque visitor: "He was fully six feet four inches in height, and of powerful frame ... broad shouldered, deep-chested with a strong, serious face. His flannel shirt was buttoned loosely at the throat, he wore woolen stockings and thick leather shoes and a broad brimmed fur hat." She recognized the imposing figure to be her husband Jonathan Eastman, who had tracked her north in order to bring her back home to Massachusetts.

The reunited couple parented many children, some of whom settled along the very path Hannah had followed on her forced march to Vermont. Their youngest son Peter, who had originated the Rideau line of Eastmans, had maternal roots entangled in one of the epic events of the 17th century: the regicide of Charles the First of England.

Oliver Cromwell oversaw Charles' execution but when his son's reign ended, the Royalists restored the monarchy under Charles the Second. The Cromwell supporters who had signed Charles' father's death warrant became marked men themselves: many were hanged, others left England to become fugitives in New England, secretly hidden by settlers in the town of Hadley, Massachusetts.

Notable among them was English ex-patriot Major-Gem William Goffe, an impressive figure with a long record of military service, a long white beard and even longer hair. So determined was the British monarch to extract revenge that he dispatched a warship to pursue Goffe and others to the colonies. Goffe was renowned for his bravery in Britain but unknown to New Englanders while in hiding. He emerged from his forest lair on only one occasion in 1775, when he spotted Indian raiders stealthily descending a nearby mountain in preparation for an attack. The old commander called upon settlers to follow him with their muskets. As the story was retold to Whigge Eastman: "He put himself at their head, rallied them and led them to encounter the enemy, who were by this means repulsed." Goffe mysteriously returned into hiding, not to be seen again. Though doubted by historians, his heroism was undisputed by several Eastmans under oath, including Peter Eastman and his family who were among those saved by Goffe's charge.

Not all of Peter's relatives and descendants were pastoral and some were outright aggressors. Ebenezer Eastman took revenge on the French by helping decimate Port Royal in the Caribbean. Upon his return, he captained the only ship to survive a violent storm on the St. Lawrence in which a thousand men were shipwrecked and drowned. Undeterred, he later campaigned in the siege of the fortress at Louisburg. A century later his descendant, Seth Eastman, became a U.S. army general and married a full-blooded Sioux Indian, who was said to be the inspiration of Longfellow's Hiawatha. Others of the Peter Eastman line were more industrious than combative. George Eastman, the inventor of photographic film and founder of Eastman Kodak, was the most renowned.

That the Rideau Eastmans survive to this day is testimony to the iron constitution and longevity of Peter Eastman's lineage. He and his wife Mehetable incurred the scalping, burning and shooting of dozens of sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents dating back to the original raid on Deerfield. Many Eastmans who survived childhood lived well into their nineties. Against terrible odds, Peter's descendants sought out new territories just as he had, including three who fled to Canada, specifically to the St. Lawrence and Rideau River corridors, after the American Revolutionary War.

One of the three, Benjamin, was listed on land rolls of the mid-1700s as a 'cord-wainer (lumberman) and shoemaker,' but was in fact a fierce fighter and Loyalist soldier. He had lived peaceably among the friendly natives in New Jersey, but chose to enlist in the British army when Marquis dc Montcalm and his native allies began their assaults. Benjamin survived the siege at Fort William Henry on Lake George, New York in 1757, the battle of the French Indian War extolled by James Fenimore Cooper in "The Last of the Mohicans." The British surrendered the fort and were subjected to a forced march to Fort Edward. Despite warnings from Montcalm not to do so, British officers distributed liquor to the Indians in an attempt to befriend them in hopes of escaping. Instead, the Indians turned on them in a rampage and murdered hundreds of the captives.

Benjamin persevered and eventually sought his discharge in the hope he had seen the last of war. But 20 years later he was forced to flee Connecticut for Vermont "to escape the continuous and unbearable abuse" of neighbouring rebels at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. His family was displaced and his wife and young children left destitute when rebels confiscated their livestock, furniture and property. Subdued while fighting, he was jailed in Albany as a Tory loyalist. He was eventually forced to sign an oath of allegiance to have any hopes of rescuing his family. Once freed, he encouraged his sons Nathan and Benjamin to resist the rebels just as he had done.

The two boys organized local Vermonters in preparation for the arrival of the British army assembled to the north by General John Burgoyne. Like their father, they were captured, jailed and forced to sign the oath in order to secure their freedom. Afterwards, they hesitated little in signing-up with the King's Loyal Rangers in a companion regiment to that of Ensign Roger Stevens and Colonel Stephen Burritt, the first and second settlers of the Rideau, respectively.

The Rangers provided Captain Justus Sherwood with many frontier spies and scouts, as well the advance corps for General Burgoyne's attack on Vermont and New York under adventurer Lt.-Col. John Peters. Benjamin Eastman saw action with Peters in the Battles of Hubbardton and Bennington and the eventual British defeat in the Battle of Saratoga. He was among the mere 94 men of the regiment of 600 who survived. Benjamin made his way to upstate New York and then fled into Canada, where he lived peacefully until the age of 94.

Incredibly, the family was not done with combat as David Eastman, Benjamin's nephew, fought in the War of 1812 and lost his right leg in battle. Benjamin fathered two sons, Samuel and John, who with their families established two towns and one hamlet in the Rideau corridor: North Gower, Wellington (Kars), and Carsonby.

John is buried in the Anglican cemetery in Kars on land he donated to the church. His sons were contracted to build mills, churches and municipal structures, including the North Gower Town Hall, which is the present-day home of the Rideau Township Archives branch of the Ottawa Archives.

The Town Hall is located just south of Carsonby, where Peter Eastman, named for his plucky colonial ancestor, farms to this day.

In commemoration of the Rideau Canal's 175th anniversary, this is the fourth in a series detailing the rich military history of those who settled the Rideau Corridor. Mark Jodoin is an Ottawa-based executive, writer and President of the Rideau Township Historical Society.

Additional research for this article was provided by Rideau historian Coral Lindsay and Eastman Family biographers, including Wynne Eastman.
COPYRIGHT 2007 S.R. Taylor Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Jodoin, Mark
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Mar 1, 2007
Previous Article:General Rick Hillier: straight from the top.
Next Article:So you think you know your military history? Well, think again!

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters