Israel, Wildcat, Jemima 1736–1778

The work of a curious fellow
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In march of 1736 Israel Jones turned 21. He had been agitating for years to follow in his father’s footsteps and try his luck beyond frontier. For his birthday his parents gave him their blessing. He had often heard from his father stories of he natives and how they lived. Thomas stressed in his stories that the natives were much like the English. There were good, bad and indifferent people among them.

“You will meet people smarter than you are and people less smart.”, Thomas told him. “You will meet heroes and villains, saints and sinners, but never forget they have lived a different sort of life than your people have. For a variety of reasons many of them have suffered through hard times for generations.”

“My experience among them is now nearly thirty years old. You will be dealing with a whole new generation of the tribes you may find. I went among them with nearly nothing but the clothes on my back. I still think that is the way to make your first trip. Then you might come back and transport your goods to your chosen location.”

So Israel fitted himself out with travelling gear similar to that his father used when he entered the wilderness thirty-three years earlier. Thomas traveled with him on horseback to Danbury where Israel planned to head west through the hills, well to the south of his father’s trip.

On the first day of May, 1736 Israel parted from Thomas who headed back to Enfield with the horses. He walked through the farms and villages east of the Hudson River and arrived at the east bank of the river about noon on his second day. There was no obvious way of getting across so he began to walk upstream.

There he found two men sitting in the shade on the river bank near a small pier.

“Hello”, Israel said.

The two men, possibly father and son, turned his way and raised their hands in greeting.

“Where might I find a way to get across?”, Israel asked.

“There is a sloop due anytime now bound for West Point. She’ll stop here if anyone is waiting”, one of the men said.

“What does it cost?”, asked Israel.

Looking at Israel’s clothes and walking stick the older man asked, “How much you got?”

Israel sighed and looked glum, thinking he had shed his money too soon.

“None”, he said.

“What you got to trade?”

Israel opened his bag and began laying things out. He had some dried fruit, beef jerky and hard tack. He left his twine, flint and tinder in the bag.

“Where are you going traveling so light?”

“I plan to walk west as far as I can in eighty days and scout out homestead sites. Its best to travel through native country without anything valuable.”

“So you have done this before?”

“No. My father did it about 35 years ago. and lived with the natives on the shore of a great lake for about three years.”

“Why did he come back?”

“He couldn’t forget my mother.”

“Well, that will turn a man around won’t it?”

He turned to the younger man and said, “Jem, do think we could afford to finance this young man’s way across the river?”

“Pa you are a terrible old villain. You know Billy will take him to West Point when he picks us up.”

So Israel caught a ride with two carpenters who were working at a construction project on the west side of the river. He walked north along the river past a series of ridges that looked like hard walking then headed west.

He followed the path of least resistance, making good as much westing as he could within the restraints of the terrain. By the end of the third day out of West Point he noticed that he had not seen farms or villages for a while. He used the tricks he had learned from his father to find food. Except for a half day rain the weather was favorable.

His first encounter with natives was on the eighth of May. In the morning he was walking along a well used trail when a group of four native men came loping along from behind him. The stopped when they got to Israel and began talking among themselves. One of then was the biggest man Israel had ever seen. Israel at five foot nine was on the tall side for Englishman. The native was a head and a half taller and twice as broad shouldered as Israel.

Israel laid down his walking stick and walked up to this big man and raising himself to his full height placed his hand on top of his own head and extended it at that level to nearly touch the native’s chest. Then he raised that hand slowly to the height of the big man’s crown. Shaking his head and sighing loudly Israel backed up a few steps, Pulled of his knit cap and performed an elaborate bow to the tall native and sat on the ground by his walking stick.

The astounded men began to laugh and one of them mimicked Israel’s actions with the big man, provoking more laughter. Then they gathered themselves and continued along the trail at an easy jog.

His next encounter was less cheerful. on May 13, while he was sitting on the bank of a stream during his mid-day rest stop, without any warning he was seized from behind by two men who dragged him to his feet. They bound his hands and with a rope around his neck led him along behind them all the rest of that day and about half the next to an encampment where a half dozen men were sitting around a fire.

The men in the camp saw Israel and immediately began to quarrel with his captors. Eventually they settled down and began to pass bottles of rum around. As darkness approached one of the clearly drunken men dragged Israel into the firelight and began slapping him around. Another shook out his bag and threw the contents and the bag into the fire. A blow to the head from a club put an end to the torment for Israel.

The next thing Israel was aware of was daylight and a terrible thirst. He set up and was immediately sick. In a few moments he noticed he was naked with none of his possessions in sight. His first need was for water so he began to crawl downhill. Soon he came to a small stream and drank slowly. Then he found a stick he could use to support himself while he walked unsteadily.

Israel looked around and found himself surrounded by wilderness without sign of trail or any habitation. He walked slowly downstream hoping to eventually arrive at some sort of civilization. That night he rested but shivered until daylight.

The next day he found a tree with a pile of droppings under it. Looking up he saw several porcupine resting among the branches. By throwing sticks at them he caused the colony to abandon the tree and clubbed several of the slow moving creatures to death.

He skinned them with a sharp rock and cut strips of the meat to dry into jerky. From the skins he fashioned some crude clothing held together with vines. Living on berries and the porcupine jerky he walked east and south trying to find any sort of civilization. Finally he was too weak and sick to go on so lay down to die in a sunny clearing where he could see the sky. Drifting in and out of consciousness, he woke at one point to see a female native looking down at him.

The next thing Israel knew, he was lashed to a pair of poles and being dragged over the ground. Next time he woke up he was in a large wigwam with natives of all ages and both sexes arguing and pointing at him. Finally a young man steped forward and prodded Israel with his toe. Israel startled the assembly by sitting up and asking for water.

Native House
Native House

A young woman pointed at him and spoke sharply to the group, again pointing at Israel and then to herself in an unmistakable gesture indicating possession. Sort of an “I found him… He is alive… I get to keep him”, sign. An elder stepped forward and evidently agreed with the woman in an “OK, but you have to take care of him”, speech. That seemed to settle the argument and the woman brought Israel some water in a tin cup.

In a few days Israel was up and about since the only thing wrong with him was starvation and exhaustion. His makeshift clothing was replaced with buckskins and he learned some of the rudiments of the native language. In a few weeks he was speaking reasonable Algonquin – the Lenni Lenape dialect.

His rescuer was a woman of about 25 summers whose name translated to Wildcat. Wildcat and her people were a sub group of the Delaware nation. They had recently migrated northwest from east central Pennsylvania under pressure from English settlement spreading up the Delaware River.

Wildcat made no secret of the fact that she was looking for a husband. Wildcat’s clan, made up of her grandmother, the grandmother’s female descendants and their husbands and children, were anxious that she would marry. There is a role in the clan for spinsters but Wildcat lived up to her name with a fearsome temper and warrior-like self confidence so the clan hoped that a husband for Wildcat would bring them a measure of tranquility.

Of course any husband for Wildcat must come from another clan. Aside from her difficult personality, Wildcat was hindered the sparse supply of nearby clans. Enormous upheavals in native life resulted from the immigration from Europe. The introduction of guns and germs by the Europeans resulted, in a single generation between 1658 and 1683, in the loss of over 70% of the Delaware nation population.

Before this trip Israel’s only previous experience with the natives was a general awareness of their existence and a few glimpses of the Europeanized individuals that lived in and around the settlements along the Connecticut River. He had not completely thought out what he would do on the western frontier when he got there but marriage to a Lenni-Lenape woman had never crossed his mind.

Given his present circumstance, his lack of romantic attachments back in Enfield and his debt to Wildcat, Israel expressed his willingness to marry. It was a hasty decision probably influenced by the physical attractiveness of the tall, athletic young woman. In any event, they shook hands on it, which was the only marriage ceremony the Lenape used. The wedding took place in the fall of 1736.

Israel, whose native name translated to Odd Fellow took his place among the men of the clan. His easygoing nature and the tolerance of the Lenni-Lenape for the surprises that life handed them helped the transition. In time he and Ironman, one of Wildcat’s brothers-in-law, named for his skill in fashioning and repairing metal objects, became best friends. Israel became a skillful hunter and wood carver.

Israel and Wildcat set up housekeeping in the wigwam shared by the entire clan. In fact her marriage moderated Wildcat’s dominating behavior toward the clan members, or at least redirected some of it toward Israel. In any event the white man and native woman came to love one another.

Time slipped away, as it will in fairly comfortable circumstances. They had been together nearly two years when Wildcat announced that she would make a baby. In due course she delivered a fair-skinned blue-eyed boy. In the spring of 1741 another child, a dark-skinned girl came along.

In addition to his hunting and wood carving Israel brought to the clan an ability to communicate with and understand the Europeans, raising his clan’s status among the Lenni-Lenape. People traveled great distances to speak with Odd Fellow about the mysterious dealings of the white people.

In the fall of 1742 another weakened white man was brought to the wigwam where he promptly died. Israel’s daughter was the first clan member to die from the disease, followed shortly by Wildcat, their son and 8 other members of the 21 person clan. Several other clan members including Israel became severely ill but survived. For the winter months the survivors hung on as a group but in the spring they scattered to seek adoption into other clans of the Lenni-Lenape. Israel began walking alone to the East.

Eventually he came to the banks of the Susquehanna and traveled downstream to a settlement. His buckskins were unusual but not outlandish dress for a white man from the mountains. He stopped for a time, working as a day laborer to accumulate a little cash. In early June he caught a ride in a river trade boat down to Chesapeake Bay and from Maryland a coastwise trader brought him to the port of New London. From there he walked back to Enfield arriving in early September of 1743.

Thomas and Mary had received no word from Israel in over seven years. They were overjoyed to find him alive and in good health. All he ever told them about those years was that he had gone west and been happy. Thomas had retired from the day to day operation of the breeding farm and Israel joined his brothers in running the farm. In May of 1744 he delivered a colt to William Clark of Lebanon, CT.

William’s daughter Jemima was only 18 and Israel was a well worn 29 but they immediately connected. Israel made frequent trips to the Clark house and he and Jemima were engaged in August. On November 8, 1744 Israel’s mother Mary died. Jemima made the trip to Enfield to attend the funeral with Israel and he returned with her to Lebanon where they were married 11/29/1744.

Israel and Jemima built a house in Enfield and began raising horses and children.
Samuel Jones 1/31/1745, Enfield, CT died 9/4/1747
Mary Jones 10/25/1747, Enfield, CT
Samuel Jones 7/31/1749, Enfield, CT
Thomas Jones 6/6/1751, Enfield, CT
Israel Jones 9/2/1753, Enfield, CT
Jemima Jones 6/5/1755, Enfield, CT
Submit Jones 10/18/1757, Enfield, CT
William Jones 5/9/1760, Enfield, CT
Isaac Jones 4/25/1764, Enfield, CT

While Jemima was pregnant with their second child their first child Samuel died of the whooping cough. The dead child’s namesake was born in July, 1749. He was a willful and disobedient child and a source of continuing heartache to his parents. Other than these sad circumstances Israel and Jemima lived happily to the end of their days.

One day in August of 1770 Jemima was surprised by a native at the door. His only word was “Israel”. She summoned her husband and was astounded to see the two men embrace and begin an animated conversation in Algonquin. Odd Fellow and Ironman were reunited. After the visit, Israel told the whole story of his lost seven years.

In June of 1778 Jemima died under a physicians care in East Hartford. In December Israel passed away peacefully at their home in Enfield.

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