07 August 2006

Major Israeel Putnam


THE life of this patriot and hero has been portrayed by the able and impartial hand of the late General David Humphreys, and a brief sketch, chiefly from that work, must suffice for the present purpose. General Putnam was born at Salem, Massachusetts, on the 7th day of January, 1718. Putnam was appointed to the command of a company of rangers, and was distinguished for his active services as a partizan officer. In 1757, he was promoted to a majority, and being in a warm and close engagement with a party of French and savages, be had discharged his fuzee several times, when at length it missed fire while the muzzle was pressed against the breast of a large and well-proportioned Indian. This adversary, with a tremendous war-whoop, sprang forward with his lifted hatchet, and compelled him to surrender; and having bound him fast to a tree returned to the battle. For a considerable time the tree to which Major Putnam was tied was directly between the fires of the two parties, than which no conceivable situation could be more deplorable. The balls flew incessantly from each side, many struck the tree, while some passed through the sleeves and skirts of his coat. In this state of jeopardy, unable to move his body, to stir his limbs, or even to incline his head, he remained more than an hour-so equally balanced and so obstinate was the fight! At one moment, while the battle swerved, in favor of the enemy, a young savage, chose an odd way of discovering his humor. He found Putnam bound. He might have despatched him at a blow. But he loved better to excite the terrors of the prisoner by hurling a tomahawk at his head, or rather it should seem his object was to see how near he could throw it without touching him. The weapon struck in the tree a number of times at a hair's-breadth from the mark. When the Indian had finished his amusement, a French bas-officer, a much more inveterate savage by nature, though descended from so humane and polished a nation, perceiving Putnam, came to him, and, levelling a fuzee within a foot of his breast, attempted to discharge it - it missed fire. Ineffectually did the intended victim solicit the treatment due to his situation, by repeating that he was a prisoner of war. The degenerate Frenchman did not understand the language of honor or of nature; deaf to their voice, and dead to sensibility, he violently and repeatedly pushed the muzzle of his gun against Putnam's rib's, and finally gave him a cruel blow on the jaw with the butt-end of his piece. After this dastardly deed he left him.

Having been conducted to some distance from the place of action, be was stripped of his coat, vest, stockings and shoes; loaded with as many of the packs of the wounded as could be piled on him, strongly pinioned and his wrists tied as closely together as they could be pulled with a cord. After he had marched through no pleasant paths, in this painful manner, for many a tedious mile, the party, who were excessively fatigued, halted to breathe. His bands were now immoderately swelled from the tightness of the ligature, and the pain had become intolerable. His feet were so much scratched, that the blood dropped fast from them. Exhausted with bearing a burden above his strength, and frantic with torments exquisite beyond endurance, he intreated the Irish interpreter to implore, as the last and only grace he desired of the savages, that they would knock him on the head, and take his scalp at once, or loose his hands. A French officer, instantly interposing, ordered his hands to be unbound, and some of the packs to be taken off.

That savage chief again returned, to the care of the wounded, and the Indians, about two hundred in number, went before the rest of the party to the place where the whole were that night to encamp. They took with them Major Putnam, on whom, besides innumerable other outrages, they had the barbarity to inflict a deep wound withthe tomahawk in the left cheek. His sufferings were in this place to be consummated. A scene of horror, infinitely greater than had ever met his eyes before, was now preparing. It was determined to roast him alive. For this purpose they led him into a dark forest, stripped him naked, bound him to a tree, and piled dry brush, with other fuel, at a small distance, in a circle round him. They accompanied their labors, as if for his funeral dirge, with screams and sounds, inimitable but by savage voices. Then they set the piles on fire. A sudden shower damped the rising flame. Still they strove to kindle it; at last the blaze ran fiercely round the circle. Major Putnam soon began to feel the scorching beat. His hands were so tied that he could move his body. He often shifted sides as the fire approached. This sight, at the very idea of which all but savages must shudder, afforded the highest diversion to his inhuman tormentors, who demonstrated the delirium of their joy by corresponding yells, dances and gesticulations. He saw clearly that his final hour was inevitaby come.

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