Document:Connelley's Description of the Capture of William Walker, 1777



Walker Tapestry
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Original Source: This sketch is taken from Governor Walker's account of his father, in the William Walker Correspondence in the Draper Manuscript Collection in the Library of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.
Intermediate Source:Source:Connelley, 1899


Indian Captivity Stories of the Walker Family
Indian Captivity Stories of the Cowan Family


The subject of this brief sketch was born in 1770, in or near Green Brier, some of his relatives say, Rockbridge County, Va.[1]The attack occurred in Washington County, Virginia. He was captured by a war party of the Delawares in the early part of the summer of 1781, being then eleven years of age.[2] There was in the neighborhood a small stockade or temporary fort, to which the inhabitants fled for safety whenever an alarm was raised. [3] The settlers, at the time this attack was made, were entirely off their guard; nothing calculated to excite their alarm had occurred for a long time, and all, old and young, male and female, were busily engaged in their fields. Young Walker and (I think) his Uncle[4] were ploughing corn, the former riding the horse and the other holding the plough. When coming out at the ends of the rows and in the act of turning they were fired upon from behind the fence, wounding the man in both arms. The lad sprang from the horse and both fled towards the fort. He was captured before getting out of the field and the wounded man overtaken and killed within a few yards of the Fort. No attack was made upon the Fort, tho' there were only a few women and children in it. The invading party commenced a rapid retreat and after traveling four or five miles halted in a thick wood, from which a reconnoitering party returned to the invaded district. In the afternoon the party returned to the place of rendezvous laden with plunder and accompanied by another party of Delawares which the prisoner had not seen before, and to their mutual astonishment Aunt and nephew here met. Mrs. Cowan was captured in another part of the neighborhood by this second party. [5]This was a distinct party, tho' they moved and travelled together. These two were the only prisoners they took.
Houston's Fort is shown by the black circle 19;  Moore's Fort and Cowan's Fort are shown by blue circles 13 and 14.  Click image for expanded view of map. For a list of the other forts shown above see List of Forts of Southwest Virginia
Houston's Fort is shown by the black circle 19; Moore's Fort and Cowan's Fort are shown by blue circles 13 and 14. Click image for expanded view of map. For a list of the other forts shown above see List of Forts of Southwest Virginia

Then commenced the return march, which was attended with much fatigue and suffering, and to add to their distress, notwithstanding the country abounded with game, yet the warriors were singularly unfortunate in their bye hunts. They travelled [sic] several days on a very small allowance of dried meat, still urging their way as fast as they could consistently with the power of endurance of the prisoners; still fearing a pursuit and rescue. To their great joy the warriors killed a fat Buffalo just as they were camping.

During their march to the Ohio River he availed himself of the opportunity of breaking to his aunt his intended attempt at an escape; but she promptly interposed her objections to so rash an act, which could not be otherwise than a failure, and which would, in all probability, bring upon them fatal consequences; pointing out to him the impossibility of successfully eluding pursuit and recapture, and the certainty of his perishing from hunger, even if he eluded recapture. Crossing the Ohio all hope of a rescue died within them. They ejaculated a long farewell to home, family, and dear friends; their hearts sickened and sank within them; but their cup of anguish was not yet full, for here the two parties separated. The Aunt and nephew bade adieu to each other. It was the last sad adieu--they never met again.

The party having the young captive proceeded direct to the Indian settlements on the Sciota, where, resting a few days, proceeded to their villages on the Whetstone, now Delaware, Ohio, where he underwent the discipline of running the gauntlet; out of which, as he frequently stated, he came with very little bodily injury. He was then adopted into, as he said, 'a very good family and treated with kindness.' The clan to which he belonged seemed more inclined to the chase and other peaceful pursuits than 'following the war path.' How long he remained with his adopted relatives I am unable to determine,--four or five years, at least. While his party attended a council at Detroit, the subject under Consideration being the treaty concluded at Fort McIntosh the winter before, these Delawares there met with a large body of Wyandotts, among which was an adopted white man named Adam Brown, who, when a man grown, had been captured by the Wyandotts in Dunmore's war in Greenbrier County, adopted and was married, was influential and respected by the tribe. The youth attracted his attention and a conversation in English ensued, the latter not having entirely forgotten his native language. Brown, finding out where he was from, and knowing his family, determined upon ransoming him. Negotiations for this purpose were opened, but here an almost insurmountable obstacle presented itself. It was contrary to Indian customs and usages to sell an adopted person on account of the reputed ties of relationship. This, with the unwillingness of the family into which he was adopted to part with him, rendered the project a hopeless one. The influence of the Wyandott Chiefs and that of the Military Commandant were invoked. An official speech to be delivered to the Delawares by Skan-ho-nint (One bark canoe), was agreed upon. If this proved unavailing, the attempt was to be abandoned as fruitless.

The points taken may be thus briefly stated:
We Wyandotts are your uncles and you Delawares are our nephews. This you admit. Where, then, would be the violation of our law and custom if, all parties being agreed, an adopted nephew should choose to reside in the family of his uncle? This would be only an interchange of those social amenities which are proper among relations; there would be no purchase in the case; your uncle would be loath, indeed, to insult his nephews by an offer to purchase their adopted son. Our father, the Commander, who joins with us, promises, as an earnest of his good will towards his Delaware children for their compliance with his and your uncle's wishes, to make your hearts glad (with Rum) and bestow upon you, and especially upon the immediate family of the youth, valuable presents out of the King's Store house, such as Blankets, Cloths, guns, ammunition, &c.

(Here the Com'dt confirmed the promise.) After the delivery of the speech, time for deliberation was asked for and granted. Whether the argument was deemed conclusive against the objections, or the promised presents acted as a salve to their consciences, it is sufficient to state that the Delawares acceded to the proposition and next day the transfer was duly made. The subject of these negotiations knew but little about the details of these doings beyond the transfer, and being content to remain with his newly formed acquaintances, gave himself but little concern about them."


  1. William was probably born in North Carolina, where his parents were living from about 1756-1770. The identification of Greenbriar County as his place of birth seems to be based on thinking of another captive, Adam Brown, who would later befriend William. Adam was captured in the Greenbriar area, and mistakenly believed he knew Williams parents.
  2. Other sources make it clear that the event occurred in 1777. This is one of the factors that make it difficult to gauge Williams DOB. If he was 11 years of age in 1781, then he'd have been born in 1770. But perhaps he was 11 years of age in 1777, in which case he would have been born in 1767.
  3. This was undoubtedly "Houston's Fort" on Moccasin Creek, where his father had settled about 1771.
  4. From Mrs.Scott's testimony we know that one of William's uncles (Person:Samuel Walker (49)) was killed in 1777. Another Uncle, Person:Samuel Cowan (1), husband of Person:Ann Walker (39), his father's sister, had been killed the previous year at this same fort. Samuel's estate was probated in 1778, which allows us to conclude that William was captured in 1777, not 1781,
  5. Ann Walker Cowan was captured while "going from Cowan's Fort to Moore's Fort in Castle's Woods. Houston's Fort was 22 miles from Moore's Fort and Cowan's Fort.