Thursday, July 28, 2011

Native American Ancestors, sort of?

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Many American families have some sort of version of a story of Indian ancestry, and sometimes it really doesn't seem possible or logical. The family history doesn't add up, or DNA just doesn't show that direction.

But consider this--many of our families or their friends may have had an Indian "adoption," often a kidnapping of a colonial  American child who might be returned or rescued years later. In the meantime, the child learned Native American language and customs, which could be integrated into the family history later. So the great great grandma or great great uncle may have been temporarily Indian, learning language and customs that the family would learn later. Even if it wasn't a direct ancestor who had this experience, it may have or been a neighbor or friend, and still have had an impact on the family.

One example of an adoption occured in the Schell family of Herkimer County, New York. Young twins Henry and Marks Christian Schell were kidnapped by Native Americans during American and British hostilities in 1782 at age 11.They learned the native language of their captors, and learned their customs. They later came under the care of a British captain, and years later they were returned to  their family in Herkimer.  The twins remained friendly with Native Americans for the rest of their lives, and surely shared with  their own families stories of their years with the adoptive Native American families.

Just a few examples of colonists who were kidnapped and then returned (or chose not to return) to their families:
Mary Jemison (see an online story at
Eunice Williams (see the wiki bio at
The Shell/Schell twins (see the short bio written by a descendant of one twin at

This post was commented on by IndianCountry  And was posted at SNI Talks ( a blog devoted to the Seneca Nation):
Additional information on the captivity experience (addendum Aug 25, 2011): In his own words and quaint spelling, Moses Van Campen, who was taken captive by Native Americans during the Revolutionary war, said that “I was nurtured in the school of the rifle and the tomahawk.” Van Campen lived from 1757 to 1849. He was born in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, but grew up  in Northampton County, Pennsylvania.  As he grew up he spent a good deal of time with Native Americans, as was natural in that place and time. However, his family was attacked by Native Americans in 1780. He was taken prisoner, but escaped within a week that first time. He is taken prisoner a second time by Seneca Indians in 1782 at Bald Eagle Creek in Pennsylvania.  After running the gauntlet, he was treated very well, and when he returned to his own community, he did not forget the Native American ways that he had learned as a child and as a captive. He remained friends with the Native Americans, and integrated their ways into his own life knowledge and experience.

Several sources for this information include: a story from the Andover News of 1928 as reproduced online:

And the website: Moses

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is funny, but many of us would like to know the stories behind our family's pasts. My mother who is now almost 80 has told us stories about how her father, Sullivan, now deceased, would refer to his ex-mother in law as the squaw-it was a nasty divorce, so it was not in a positive manner. However, as the story goes, my great grandmother was a Native American/Iroquois Nation-who married a white Canadian trapper named Smith. When he died, she remarried and her new husband, a widower, Baker, did not want her three daughters, as he had three sons of his own. My grandmother and her two sisters were sent to an orphanage. Somewhere along the way, they all ended up in the Boston area. At 15 my grandmother married my 26 year old grandfather and had my mother.
Any Native American trace was lost along the way. I have found myself interested in the N.A. culture my whole life and have supported N.A. charities since I was in my 20's; I am now in my 50's. My sister did her student teaching on a reservation in upstate NY many years ago. So much of history is lost along the way.