A Kingston, New Hampshire boy of 18 was working in the fields with his young cousins on May 16, 1724. They were surprised by five Indians from Canada lurking in the bushes and before they could react they were carried away. Little did Peter Colcord or his captors understand the consequences that would follow.
They traveled to Pigwacket, now known as Fryeburg, Maine. From there they continued on for a day’s march to the northeast, stopping at another Indian village on the banks of the Androscoggin River. Peter’s captors “gave him to a Sagamore’s squah” in that village and carried his young cousins on to Canada where they were later ransomed by their father, Ebenezer Stevens.
Peter Colcord lived among the Indian women and children for nearly six months learning their habits and perhaps even earning their trust. On the 6th of November, 15 or 16 men traveled two days’ march down the Saco River, leaving the women behind to shell the corn. When the harvest was secured, the women, children and Peter joined the men.
The following day Colcord was taken in a canoe by one of the Indian men up the Saco River to hunt geese. At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon his captor got out of the canoe and went onshore to hunt. Just as he was about to disappear further into the bushes, the Indian suggested that the boy might entertain himself by eating some cranberries along the river.
Left alone in the canoe, Peter started paddling downriver with all his might. About an hour before sunset he reached the Indian camp and hid himself until dark. He paddled all through the night and when the sun was about two hours high he left the canoe and started on foot through the woods. The next morning he reached the town of Wells.
Samuel Wheelwright, captain of the militia there, eagerly listened to the boy tell about the habits and the settlements of the Pigwacket Indians. His story was reported to the acting governor and a few weeks later published in the American Weekly Mercury.
” Colcord says the Indians go from that settlement frequently to Canada and back again in about 20 days when the rivers are high and that the Canada Indians very frequently pass forth and back through that place, and that those settled there are Pickwaket Indians about 7 or 8 families who are very much inclined to peace, and very seldom come out against the English. A Squah told him that the French Indians said they were not forward for war against the English but that they were obliged to do it by the French Governor, who tells them he would have them kill as many of the English as they can and also destroy their cattle.”
While Peter had been living with the Indians, Captains Johnson Harmon and Jeremiah Moulton, both of York, led 200 rangers to the Indian village of Norridgewock on the Kennebec River. French missionary Father Rale and a leading Indian chief were killed on Aug. 22, 1724 as were some two dozen women and children.
With the Indian war raging, the information Colcord provided was regarded by the colonists as very useful indeed. Within two weeks of his escape he was recognized by the government for his “Ingenuity and Courage” in making his escape and his “account of their Settlement and proceedings which may be of advantage to the Government hereafter.” On November 27th it was voted to award Colcord a sum of 10 pounds. By then the young Colcord had already signed up to pilot Samuel Wheelwright’s expedition against the Pigwacket Indians.
Capt. Wheelwright kept a journal of the expedition. He might have later wished he hadn’t. His entry of November 20, 1724 reads, “I received orders from his Honor the Lieut. Governor to collect 50 of the posted men at York, Wells and Arundel, with Lieut. Allison Brown of Arundel as my Second, Mr. Stephen Harding and Peter Colcord as Pilots, to go to Pigwacket in search after the Indians.”
The next several days were spent preparing the apparently reluctant soldiers to fight the Indians. They finally set out on the 25th but only covered eight miles that day “by reason of the snow on the bushes.” Three men were sent home sick the next day. On the 27th, four more men went home and 12 more on the following day. Even accounting for illness and the snow, which was not unusual in Maine in late November, the soldiers were moving at a snail’s pace.
On December 1st, when the militia was finally just 10 miles from their destination, Wheelwright was unable to coax his men forward, “some being sick, some lame, and some dead-hearted.” He called his officers together for a conference and contrary to Wheelwright’s inclination, it was decided they would head for home. Illness and snow were far less troublesome on the way back. They made the distance in two days.
Pigwacket was not saved, however. The General Assembly in Boston had raised the bounty on Indian scalps to 100 pounds apiece and there were plenty of Englishmen ready to volunteer to collect. Captain John Lovewell, having learned of the location of Pigwacket, petitioned the government to allow him to lead a company of volunteers on a scalp hunting expedition. In May of 1725 Pigwacket was attacked. There were many casualties on both sides. Neither Lovewell nor Chief Paugus survived the eight hour bloodbath. The Indians that did survive left their villages in Oxford County for the relative safety of Quebec.