A Miller's Tale of Captivity, Ransom, and Remembrance, 1758-1811


Richard Bard, or Baird, (1736–99) was one of 1,054 captives and prisoners of war taken in Pennsylvania during a generation of Anglo-French and Indian conflict (1744–65). Of course, captives were not chosen for their ability to write, and only twenty-seven of them left depositions, accounts, or memoirs of their experiences. Two narratives that were not printed until two generations after their authors’ captivities, those of Mary Jemison and James Smith, have rightly become classics of early American literature and major sources for understanding life among the Indians of the upper Ohio Valley. Richard Bard’s captivity has not received such attention, even though his account is inherently interesting, was promptly reported, and is uniquely revealing in other ways. First, Richard’s private ransom of his wife, Ketty (Katherine, née Poe, 1737–1811), directly from the Delawares was the only successful negotiation of that sort during the uneasy truce of 1759–62. Second, Richard’s story evolved rapidly through the three separate parts or versions he offered to different audiences and the long poem he wrote two years later. Third, Richard’s son assembled a family remembrance of his parents’ captivity and his mother’s ransom half a century later. These various accounts hint at some of the factors that shaped and reshaped captivity narratives, those early American literary icons.