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The Discovery of Harvey's Lake

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Benjamin Harvey's
Discovery of the Lake

Chapter 5



Harvey's Son, Elisha, Sold for Rum

Shortly after Benjamin Harvey was released on parole at Fort Niagara, Elisha Harvey, George P. Ransom and young Frisbie of the Plymouth party of prisoners were removed to Montreal, Canada. From there Ransom, known to be a Continental soldier, was sent to a prisoner’ island, forty-five miles up the St. Lawrence River, where there were 167 Americans captives, guarded by Loyalist refugees, who belonged to Sir John Johnson’s regiment.

About the time of the arrival of Elisha Harvey and his comrades at Montreal, the British authorities there settled, according to custom, for the services of the Indians who had aided to capture the Plymouth people and convey them prisoners to Fort Niagara. The old Seneca chief, who had been a member of the marauding party, determined, however, that instead of accepting a money consideration for his services, he would take possession of Elisha Harvey. This was in accordance with a custom which, a this period was much in vogue among the Indian allies of the British and was unquestionably recognized and countenanced by the latter.

In the latter years of the Revolutionary War many of the Six Nation Indians, who, as allies of the British, went out on the warpath in the winter and spring months, spent the summer and autumn in the western and northwestern regions of British-American territory shooting and trapping fur-bearing animals. In 1665 a Jesuit mission was founded on the shore of Green Bay, in what is now Wisconsin, and French fur –traders soon established in that locality a trading-post, which continued to prosper for many years. Upon the conquest of Canada in 1763 the Wisconsin region passed under British control, which lasted practically until 1815.  

Immediately upon gaining possession of Elisha Harvey, the Seneca chief set out with a large party of Indian hunters and trappers for Green Bay, distant more than 700 miles west by south from Montreal. Of course, the young American prisoner was compelled to accompany the party, and to bear more than his share of the tolls and hardships incident to the expedition. Starvation and plenty alternated. Then, too, the fur trade often meant fighting with hostile Indians and out maneuvering rivals. Many natural obstacles had to be met and overcome also.

An Indian would kill 600 beavers in a season, but owing to difficulties of carriage he could dispose of only one-sixth of them. When sold for money to Europeans beaver skins brought 6s 2d per pound; wolf skins; 15s; bear skins, 16s; and deer skins, 2s. 2d. per pound. A current account of the standard of barter shows that one and a half pounds of gunpowder, or twenty fish-hooks, or a pair of shoes, or a blue and white shirt could be exchanged with an Indian for one beaver skin. Blackfeet Indians would exchange a women for one gun but for a horse ten guns were demanded.

All these things and much more Elisha Harvey learned before he got back to the habitation of civilized men, which was not until the close of the year 1781. The expedition had been a very successful one and when the party returned to Montreal the Indians had a large quantity of furs and pelts which they soon sold, “but, “ says Colonel Wright in his “Historical Sketches of Plymouth”, “in the course of  a month they had used up the proceeds in riot and dissipation. Our Seneca brave then began casting about for a market for his prisoner, which he found became necessary, as he had not the means of subsistence for himself, much less for poor Harvey. He finally stumbled on a Scotchman, who was a small dealer in Indian commodities, and, after a half day’s bartering and talk, in which the good qualities of Harvey were highly extolled by the old chief, they at last settled upon the price to be paid for Elisha, which was a half a barrel of rum.

“He now went behind the counter of his new master, and was duly installed in the mysteries and secrets of an Indian trader. Among the first lessons he learned the important fact that the hand weighted two pounds and the foot four! Under this system of avoirdupois there never occurred and fractions. The weight always came out in even pounds. Our prisoner became a great favorite with his new master, who was a bachelor, and promised to make him the heir of his estate if he would assume his name and become his child by adoption. Elisha openly favored the idea, but his secret thoughts were centered on old Shawnee.”



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