One of my favorite books of historical fiction is Conrad Richter’s “The Light in the Forest.” It’s the story of a teenage white boy who lived with the Lenni Lenape, also called the Delaware Indians, since earliest memory but was forced to return to his white family, of which he has no memory. The book is a social tale of white versus Indian values, showing each group through its own eyes and through the eyes of the opposite side.
The catalyst of True Son being ripped against his will from his adopted Indian family is the council with Indians held by Col. Henry Bouquet, a Swiss mercenary soldier working for the British army, in 1764 near what is now Coshocton. The meeting was the culmination of a campaign through eastern Ohio as the British commander in the east finally awoke to the reality of Indian uprisings against whites across the northwest frontier, mainly Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and Indiana.
Henry Howe in “Historical Collections of Ohio,” published in 1904, furnishes some details on the travels of the British Army through our part of Ohio. Howe’s original source is “An Historical Account of the Expedition Against the Ohio Indians in the year 1764” by William Smith, provost of the College of Philadelphia, rewritten in Gramam’s “History of Coshocton County” using modern geography.
“Gen. Gage directed Col. Henry Bouquet to organize a corps of 1,500 men and to enter the country of the Delawares and the Shawnees, at the same time that Gen. Bradstreet was engaged in chastising the Wyandots and Ottawas, of Lake Erie, who were still investing Detroit.”
Bouquet mustered 500 regulars, most of them Highlanders of the 42nd and 60th regiments; Pennsylvania furnished 1,000 militia; and Virginia a corps of volunteers. Preparations began in spring, but difficulties delayed the march. The expedition departed Carlisle, Pa., with a long train of pack horses and droves of sheep on Aug. 5 and Fort Pitt on Oct. 3.
Following the Ohio River at times and traveling cross country at others, ax companies cutting two parallel paths in the trackless forest, the expedition in southern Columbiana County followed the Great Trail, which ran from Pittsburgh to Sandusky and Detroit, striking the Tuscarawas River near the Indian town of the same name, at present Bolivar, on Oct. 13. They rested on Oct. 14 and on Oct. 15 moved down the Tuscarawas two miles and encamped about a week.
A bower was built, and six chiefs came and seated themselves and commenced smoking. Bouquet said he would make peace on one condition, that the Indians should give up all prisoners within 10 days.
The army resumed its march Oct. 22; camped nine miles downstream, within a few miles of the east line of Coshocton County; entered Coshocton County on Oct. 23; marched 16 miles; camped seven miles east of present Coshocton; remained until Oct. 25; continued another six miles; and camped within a mile of the forks of the Muskingum. Soldiers built four redoubts, storehouses, a mess house, ovens and other buildings, and their white tents were scattered up and down the banks of the river.
Allan Eckert, in “The Conquerors,” describes the return of the captives:
“In singles or small groups, by the tens or by the scores, they were led to this place by the returning Indian parties and turned over to Bouquet’s army. Day by day these parties came, meekly and submissively handing over all their prisoners, including even those who had no desire to return, who wept and screamed and fought against such liberation — those who had become adopted into the tribes, and become part of them, had been brought up through childhood in them, had married in them, had children in them. There were as many tears of anguish shed as there were tears of joyful reunion. In some cases the released prisoners had to be physically restrained from running away to rejoin their adopted people.”
These accounts give no indication of the captives after they were released, and that’s where Richter’s account comes into play. It shows True Son traveling against his will to his parents’ home in Pennsylvania, his struggles against what he considers his white captors, and his attempts to return to the Lenni Lenape in Ohio. “The Light in the Forest” shows that both sides committed atrocities and that good instead of hate can be found in other cultures if we look.
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