Eleazer Williams, Mohawk Between Two Worlds

 

By

Robert L. Hall

 

Not to be cited or quoted without written permission.
All rights reserved by Robert L Hall.

 

THE KING WITHOUT A CROWN premiered in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 1937. I do not believe that any other motion picture had premiered in Green Bay before or has since. It was only a historical 'short', one of a series of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer films created to intrigue the public with alternative interpretations of history. Today we argue over such topics as the 'one man' versus the 'conspiracy' theory of the assassination of President Kennedy. Then it was, "Did the real assassin of President Lincoln die in the burning barn or someone else?" and, "Did the little prince, the dauphin, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, really die while under house arrest, or was he spirited away to America and raised among the Mohawk Indians of Canada, later to become an Episcopal missionary to the Oneidas?"
        The King Without a Crown premiered in Green Bay, and after an introduction set in Revolutionary France the scenes shifted to a little frontier town in Wisconsin, a Green Bay I had never known, with rutted dirt streets, false front stores, and hitching posts. I was ten years old, accompanied to the theater by my grandmother, who was inclined to believe that there might be something in the story that Priest Williams had indeed been the rightful heir to the throne of France, the Lost Dauphin. Her grandfather Bennett, as a six-year-old Stockbridge boy with his family, had followed Williams and the New York Indians west to Wisconsin in 1829, migrating with some of the Stockbridges who left New York State to resettle near Kaukauna, just south of the Oneidas. I could not have guessed then, in 1937, that ten years after seeing the movie I would know Eleazer Williams closely, too--that I would be assisting in preparing Eleazer Williams bones for reburial at Oneida, Wisconsin--touching history with my own hands.
        The story of Eleazer Williams began no less dramatically than it ended. 1704 was a leap year. At daybreak on February 29 of that year, leap year day, the young girl who would become Williams' great grandmother, Eunice Williams, was taken captive with her family and 110 others during the destructive raid against the Massachusetts frontier settlement of Deerfield. This was during the period of Queen Anne's War (1702-1713), one of the several military contests between New France and New England which expressed itself in surprise French and Indian strikes against Puritan English settlements.
        The Deerfield raiding party included fifty Canadians and 200 Indians--Abenakis and Caughnawaga Mohawks--led by Major Hertel de Rouville. The attack entered the history books as the Deerfield Massacre because of the near completeness of the action. Some fifty-three settlers were killed and seventeen houses burned. Most of the captives were eventually ransomed and repatriated to New England, but Eunice Williams was not one of those. She chose to stay with the Indians in Catholic Canada. For her Puritan minister father and others of the same faith Eunice Williams became the Unredeemed Captive--unredeemed in body and unredeemed in soul.
         Eunice Williams' father, John, saw their capture in 1704 as a divine rebuke and interpreted his release nearly three years later as an example of divine mercy. 1 It was common in the New England of that day to read supernatural control into the minutest day-to-day events of life, and in that sense the New Englanders had much in common with the Indians that lived among and around them. The New Englanders would not have appreciated such a comparison, of course, because they thought of the unchristianized Indians as worshippers of devils. William Hubbard, for one, saw misfortunes in Indian relations as punishment inflicted upon the English by "God [who] hath been provoked to let loose the rage of the heathens against us" when the New Englanders neglected their religion.2 By the same token, the Puritans saw the deaths of thousands of Indians from disease as manifestations of the divine will of the Puritans' God. Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony reasoned, "if God were not pleased with our inheriting these parts, why did he drive out the native before? and why dothe he still make roome for us, by deminishinge [the Indians] as we increase?"3
         For Indians and Puritans alike, events did not just happen or evolve through chains of impersonal circumstance; they were willed, as these words of John Williams indicate:

On the twenty-ninth of February, 1703/4, not long before break of day, the enemy came in like a flood upon us.... They came to my house in the beginning of the onset and, by their violent endeavors to break open doors and windows with axes and hatchets, awakened me out of my sleep; on which I leaped out of bed, and running toward the door, perceived the enemy making their entrance into the house. I called to awaken two soldiers in the chamber and returned toward my bedside for my arms. The enemy immediately brake into the room, I judge to the number of twenty, with painted faces and hideous acclamations.... Taking down my pistol, I cocked it and put it to the breast of the first Indian who came up, but my pistol missing fire, I was seized by three Indians who disarmed me and bound me.... My pistol missing fire was an occasion of my life's being preserved, since which I have also found it profitable to be crossed in my own will. The judgment of God did not long slumber against one of the three which took me, who was a captain [chief], for by sunrising he received a mortal shot... 4

[March 8, en route to Canada] we were made to scatter one from another into smaller companies, and one of my children [was] carried away with Indians belonging to the Eastern parts [Abenakis]. At night my master came to me with my pistol in his hand, and put it to my breast, and said, "Now I will kill you, for," said he, "at your house you would have killed me with it if you could." But by the grace of God I was not much daunted, and whatever his intention might be, God prevented my death.5
         John Williams' life was first saved, he believed, because his god intervened to cause his pistol to misfire, crossing Williams' intention to shoot his attacker. God again interceded on Williams' behalf on the ninth day when he caused his captor to change his mind about killing his prisoner. Williams' wife Eunice was tomahawked and killed on the second day of travel after she had completely drenched herself in icy water by falling while crossing a river. She had also been failing in her strength from having given birth just two weeks earlier and had become a liability. Williams appears to have believed her death to be a divine reproach to himself mediated by his Indian captors 6 As harsh as the conditions of the forced march to Canada were, traveling through deep snow and frozen streams in winter, Williams admitted that at least a day never passed that his captors did not provide him with food, although others were not nearly as fortunate. Not very surprisingly, Williams attributed his own fortune to the "goodness of God" and not to the goodness nor even the self interest of his Indian captors.
        Eight weeks after his capture John Williams arrived in Montreal, where Governor Vaudreuil purchased his release from his two Indian owners and set him up with his own quarters and fed him at his own table. The French governor explained that Williams was now a hostage for the release of the privateer captain Pierre Maisonnat captured by the English in 1702. Williams would be released when the English returned the privateer, or 'pirate' as the New Englanders preferred to think of him. Williams was someone to bargain for, being the minister of the Deerfield congregation. The exchange was made in 1706 and Williams went back to Massachusetts.7
         Four of John Williams family that had not died during the original raid on Deerfield or on the trail to Canada were redeemed from captivity among the French and Indians, all, that is, except the youngest daughter, seven-year-old Eunice. Not even the intercession of Governor Vaudreuil could convince her Indian captors to set her free. She was being held at the Iroquois town of Caughnawaga in Quebec, across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal. 8 At first she resisted the attempts to convert her to Catholicism, but by the time peace was negotiated between England and France in 1713 she had been in Canada nine years, had accepted the Roman faith, been baptized Margaret, and was married to a Mohawk Indian of Caughnawaga. 9 Caughnawaga was also a mission of the Jesuits fathers and the Caughnawagas were regarded as praying Indians.
         Eunice Williams' Indian husband took the name Williams himself and passed the name on to their children John, Catherine, and Sarah. Eunice died in 1786 at age 90. Only Sarah had children, but who her husband was, no one may ever be able to really say. Sarah's son Thomas Williams was the father of Eleazer Williams, and although Eleazer wrote a biography of his father, who became a well known St. Regis Mohawk chief, Eleazer left an equivocal record of who Thomas Williams' father was. Eleazer seemed to be driven to emphasize a European identity at the expense of his Indian identity, even to the point of creating impossibly contradictory backgrounds. While at one point in his life he merely created a grandfather Williams who was an English surgeon, at a later time he claimed a French grandfather of royal lineage and completely disavowed a blood relationship even to the Williams family of Deerfield, Massachusetts. His actual grandfather Williams was probably a Caughnawaga Indian who took his wife's English name as his own, as had Eunice Williams' Indian husband years earlier.
         The Williams clan in Massachusetts never gave up trying to obtain Eunice's return, and after her, that of her children, until finally in 1800 Eleazer and a brother were allowed to travel to Massachusetts for English schooling. This was not just a friendly gesture between related families. The children's expenses were paid by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and the State of Massachusetts. Giving these children a Protestant upbringing in New England " was in an important sense the fulfillment of a mission: having failed to reclaim Eunice, the righteous succeeded at least in redeeming her posterity." 10
         The most perceptive analysis of Eleazer Williams' character which I have found is that of Geoffrey Buerger.11 Buerger sees Eleazer, on the one hand, relishing the attention given to him as a descendent of the very famous Eunice Williams and, on the other hand, seeking to relegate to the background his Indian ancestry. After all, Eunice Williams had been the great niece of Increase Mather, minister of the North Church, Boston, and president of Harvard College, and she was a cousin of Cotton Mather, one of the most famous of New England minister-authors who was also involved importantly in the founding of Yale College. As an Indian Eleazer Williams was little more than a family curiosity.
         Not without some grounds for believing so, Eleazer apparently saw himself on the road to a career in the Congregational ministry. First Yale, perhaps, or Harvard. Then finally a pulpit where he could exhort the elite of New England society to greater piety. Instead, he discovered in 1807, when he arrived at the institution of higher learning that he had been sent to after seven years of preparation, that it was a charity school for Indians. Buerger sees this as a critical event in Williams' life. Williams remained there, at Moor's Charity School in New Hampshire, for a single week, then returned to Massachusetts. During his stay at Moor's Eleazer must have come to realize, Buerger feels, just what his New England patrons really thought of him--that he would always remain a rehabilitated savage in their minds no matter what level of education or repetoire of social graces he might acquire.12 If he was to satisfy the great expectations he had for himself, he could not depend upon others to create opportunities for him.
        In 1811, four years after leaving Moor's, we find Eleazer on his way to the Caughnawaga Reserve in Canada where his family lived. In 1812 war was declared between the United States and Great Britain. During the war Eleazer was employed in what we would now call 'undercover operations', collecting information on British troop movements through his Indian contacts, and he also apparently served in a ranger unit. For this activity he was commended by his officers.13 He received a slight wound during the Battle of Plattsburg for which he was refused a pension in 1851 for want of evidence of actual disability.
         There is nothing in any official records of the war to substantiate Williams' more glorifying claims, although secondary historical sources did sometimes uncritically repeat his claims as fact. If we are to believe Williams, at age twenty-five he was a colonel in the American army, served as Superintendent General of Indian Affairs for the northern border area, commanded an artillery battery which figured importantly in the Battle of Plattsburg in New York (when he was not commanding a company of scouts or rangers in the same battle), and conceived a trick which helped turn the tide of that battle in favor of the United States.14
         In preparing his Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812 Benson Lossing interviewed Eleazer Williams in Hogansburg, New York, on the St. Regis Indian Reservation. That was in 1855 at a time when Williams had already become nationally known as a claimant to the throne of France. Lossing was one of those who was inclined to accept the idea that Williams was actually Louis XVII.15 If he had been willing to see Williams' alleged royal connections only as a pose, Lossing might also have looked twice at the undocumentable aspects of Williams' war record. Lossing, for instance, printed as gospel the following fabricated story, which gives more credit to Williams for the hasty retreat of the British land forces at the Battle of Plattsburg in 1814 than to Commodore Thomas Macdonough and his thorough defeat of the British fleet on Plattsburg Bay on the same day:

The late Reverend Eleazer Williams . . . who was in the military service of the United States at Plattsburg as commander of the Secret Corps of Observation, informed me that Sir George [Prevost] naturally timid, was intensely alarmed by a clever trick arranged by Williams. Colonel Fassett, of Vermont, came over from Burlington on Friday before the battle, and assured [American Gen. Alexander] Macomb that the Vermont militia would cross the lake to aid him in spite of Governor Chittenden. Williams suggested to the general after Fassett left that a letter from that officer, declaring that a heavy body of the militia were about to cross the lake, sent so as to fall into the hands of Prevost, would have a salutary effect. Macomb directed Williams to carry out the plan. He went over to Burlington, and received from Fassett a letter to Macomb, in which he said that Chittenden was marching with ten thousand men for St. Albans; that five thousand more were marching from St. Lawrence County; and that four thousand from Washington County were in motion. This letter was placed in the hands of a shrewd Irish woman on Cumberland Head, who took it to Prevost. The alarmed Baronet immediately ordered the flight spoken of in the text, and at a little past midnight his whole army was on the wing. 16
         Williams says that he was too modest at the time to make generally known his role in the success of the United States at Plattsburg and then he immodestly admits that although "the plan involved danger and difficulty" it was trusted to a "judicious and sagacious" hand--his own.17 That was in 1852 when he gave the manuscript of his biography of his father to Franklin B. Hough, who published it in 1859. The account of Eleazer Williams' role in the Battle of Plattsburg based on Williams' diary, given in Hanson's The Lost Prince published in 1854, makes no mention of the clever stratagem at all! 18
         How would a historical novelist reconcile the idea of this ruse with Williams' reputation for deception? Did Williams really deceive the British or did he only deceive Benson Lossing as a historian of the battle? The story of the battles on land and on water at Plattsburg was translated by Charles Muller into a novel called The Proudest Day: Macdonough on Lake Champlain in which Muller had to confront the possibility that there was a trick actually played against the British of which no other record existed except the self aggrandizing statement of Williams after half a century of modest silence. Muller hedged, accepting the idea that there might have been a strategic trick played on the British but attributing the idea to the hero of the subtitle:
With word that Vermont volunteers had begun to trickle into Plattsburg, the Commodore [Macdonough] broached to Alex Macomb and Lazare Williams an idea for harassing Prevost at the most appropriate moment.
         "Let's give him a dose of the same medicine Brock gave Hull before he surrendered," the Commodore suggested. "You told us, Lazare, how Brock let Hull intercept a faked message that frightened him with news of Indians en route to Brock's support. Why don't we let Prevost capture a letter to General Macomb announcing twenty thousand Vermont and New Hampshire troops racing to his support?"
        They agreed it might help, at a psychological moment, and Aze Bellamy went forthwith to Waterbury to request Mercy Cobb, as a patriotic woman unknown to the British, to stand by at Betsy Boyd's house in Burlington ready to carry a prepared letter when Eleazer Williams deemed the time right for it to fall into Prevost's hands19
         Muller was willing to handle more directly the question of Williams' Indian ancestry, saying in dialogue, "though unable to see beneath the table, the Lieutenant felt certain that Eleazer Williams' feet--small as his hands, no doubt--inevitably toed in. Unquestionably, this man had much, if not all, Indian blood."20 I infer from this that Muller's homework on Williams had been extensive enough to discover another little gem of Indian stereotyping, provided by Albert Ellis, who observed that Williams, "always made an effort in walking, to turn out his toes; but forgetting it, he would, Indian-like, immediately turn them in."21
         The most telling evidence against Williams' claim to royal blood was provided by his own mother Mary Ann Williams, Konantewanteta in Mohawk. She was interviewed in the fall of 1851 and was asked whether Eleazer was her own child or merely a child brought to her for care and adopted. The popular belief of French royalists was that the little dauphin did not actually die in prison but was transported in secrecy to America to be raised far from harm. Konantewanteta and two aged friends were asked to confirm or deny the story of adoption.
One and all vehemently denounced the tale as a lie, while the little old mother bursting into tears exclaimed that she knew Eleazer had been a bad man but she did not know before that he was bad enough to deny his own mother.22
         In the November following the Battle of Plattsburg Williams renewed his acquaintances at Oneida Castle, seat of the Oneida tribe of the Iroquois Six Nations in New York. The following year he definitively broke all denominational ties to his Puritan/Congreational forebears, living relatives, and sponsors. May 21, 1815, he was confirmed into the Episcopal Church, the American counterpart of the Anglican Church or Church of England. In 1816 he was once more among the Oneidas, but this time as a religious teacher, lay reader, and catechist, sponsored by John Henry Hobart, Bishop of the Diocese of New York. Oneida was closely related to Williams' native Mohawk language and he quickly became a fluent speaker. This fluency, combined with his personal charm and persuasiveness, rapidly produced dramatic results among the Oneidas.
         At the time of Williams' arrival among the Oneidas the tribe was divided into a Christian Party or faction and a so-called Pagan Party, which was the faction of unconverted Oneidas. The already converted Oneidas were eager to renew their relations to the church and flocked to his services. Within a year the power of Williams' words had touched the unconverted Oneidas and they wrote to Governor De Witt Clinton declaring that they wished no longer to remain known as the Pagan Party, that they had abandoned their traditional tribal sacrifices, that they were ready to "take the Christian's God to be our God and our only hope of salvation," and that in all subsequent communications from the governor they wished to be addressed as the Second Christian Party of the Oneida Indians.23 The letter was signed by ten or twelve chiefs and prominent men and dated January 25, 1817. According to Williams' associate Albert G. Ellis, four-fifths of the Oneidas were nonchristian at the time of Williams arrival:
Assuming a tone of authority, and demanding of them to listen to a message to them from the Great Spirit, [Williams] assembled them in the open air, and challenged them either to obey or refute the Gospel. In a few weeks the Pagan party made a formal renunciation of paganism.24
         At this time and for over thirty years the Indians who formerly resided at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, had been living in New York as neighbors of the Oneidas and at the invitation of the Oneidas. The pastor of the Stockbridge Indians at New Stockbridge was John Sergeant, son of the original minister to the Stockbridges in the Housatonic valley of Massachusetts. The move to New York had only temporarily improved the relations of the Indians with their white neighbors. In New York the Stockbridges and the Oneidas alike were adapting successfully to white ways but were surrounded by merchants, traders, and land speculators causing problems for the Indians and eager to acquire from the Indians the little land that they had left. The solution which was reluctantly agreed upon after much debate, for not only the Oneidas and Stockbridges but also for the Munsees and Brothertowns, then of the same location, was migration westward to new reservations in Wisconsin.
        As early as 1818 Williams had begun to cautiously mention the possibility of a move of all of the Indians of New York state, many from Canada, and the Senecas then at Sandusky, to the vicinity of Green Bay, Wisconsin, there to reorganize themselves into a grand confederacy of Indian nations with a government in which the role of the church would, of course, be prominent.25
The dream of Mr. Williams . . . was that all the remains of the Indian race in the territories of the United States, should be there gathered [in Wisconsin] into one vast community, where the savage tribes might be won over to civilization and Christianity, by intercourse with their already civilized brethren. 26
        The multiple forces acting for and against the idea of migration are hard to describe briefly. Involved were not only the many factions among the Indians in New York and their white neighbors but also among the Menominee and Winnebago Indians then living in Wisconsin and their white neighbors, not to mention the territorial government, the Federal government in Washington, and the land companies that would profit. Williams associated himself with the factions favoring the move. As Buerger has nicely phrased it, "If he did not himself create the wave of migration, he rode its crest."27
        Following negotiations that allowed to the New York Indians a small tract of land near Green Bay, Eleazer Williams established his residence at Green Bay in September of 1822. In 1823 about 150 Oneidas of the First Christian Party and an equal number of Stockbridges moved to the new home. Others followed in later years.
         In 1823 Williams married Madeleine Jourdain, later known as Mary.28 Miss Jourdain was engaged to be married to another man whose misfortune it was to be temporarily away on business when Williams came calling on the Jourdain father and mother. Williams asked for their daughter's hand in marriage and it was given. The bride to be was only fourteen years old at the time. The customs of the day and the area were such that Miss Jourdain did not hear of her forthcoming wedding until she was told by her sister that she "need not go to school that day, as she was to be married to Priest Williams in the evening!"29
         Eleazer Williams was lucky in several respects. His bride has been described as the belle of the Fox River valley. and she came to the marriage with 4800 acres of land as well--later known as the Williams Tract. Part of this tract was later included within a Lost Dauphin State Park along with a reconstruction of the log cabin home of Eleazer Williams and his family.30 Her father was Joseph Jourdain, a blacksmith and an important man in the community. Her mother was the granddaughter of a Menominee chief.
         Williams being Williams, it was not sufficient that he reconstructed his own genealogy, he constructed a set of new relations for his wife as well. To the author of the Williams family genealogy he described his wife as "a distant relative of the king of France from whom he has been honored with several splendid gifts and honors, among the rest a golden cross and star," and he described her also as a relative of the Prince de Joinville.31 When interviewed by Stephan Williams in 1846 Eleazer explained that his son John was away on a visit to the King of France at the request of the king. That was on the eve of the story that gave Eleazer notoriety as the Lost Dauphin.
        Eleazer was ordained a deacon by Bishop Hobart in 1826. By1832, however, his association with the Oneidas was dissolved at their request. Williams had neglected his flock, seldom visiting them at their location on Duck Creek west of Green Bay and discouraging them from receiving the attention of pastors of other denominations.32 By 1842 Bishop Jackson Kemper forbade Williams from representing the Episcopal Church in any capacity in Wisconsin. 33 He lived on his wife's land on the bank of the Fox River and at this time he must have come increasingly to find amused comfort in his deceptions. At a time when the few Indians and whites who knew him well were no longer willing to accept him for what he was, Williams found that there was a greater number of whites who barely knew him who were willing to accept him for what he was not. Already by 1839 he is said to have confided to George Haskins, editor of the Buffalo [NY] Express, that he was the real lost prince of France and related to him many of the details that appeared in later stories, such as the amnesia of his childhood. 34 Two years later an opportunity arose that Williams could hardly pass up.
        In 1841 the Prince de Joinville, third son of Louis Philippe, King of France under the reestablished monarchy, was touring Canada and the United States. He was especially interested in retracing the water routes that had figured importantly in the history of colonial New France, and his travels were to take him to Green Bay! Williams was in New York at the time and learned of the prince's plans. When the prince's steamer arrived at Mackinac, at the head of Lake Michigan, Williams was already there and boarded the Columbia for the rest of the trip to Green Bay. When the prince asked Captain Shook for the names of any individuals knowledgeable about the Indians of the Green Bay area, who better could the captain suggest than Eleazer Williams, who just happened to be aboard, and he introduced them.35
        The above details of the prince's inquiry and introduction to Williams were related to Morgan L. Martin, a prominent citizen of Green Bay, by Captain Shook. Williams himself entered a different story in his journal. According to Williams, he took passage on the ship when he heard that the prince was inquiring about an Eleazer Williams of Green Bay, and the captain subsequently introduced them:
I was sitting at the time on a barrel. The prince not only started with evident and involuntary surprise when he saw me but there was a great agitation in his face and manner--a slight paleness and quivering of the lip. . . 36
         One may assume that Williams intended others to believe that the prince was startled by Williams' facial resemblance to the royal lineage. It was a practice of Williams to make statements or create situations from which others could draw conclusions that Williams only implied by word or action. On two separate occasions in different homes Williams feigned his dismay at seeing in a book the face of the dauphin's jailer Simon who had been so cruel to the little dauphin in the Temple, the priory of the Knights of Malta where the French royal family was imprisoned. Both times Williams led his audience to believe that he did not know who the person was.
I saw Williams sitting upright and stiff in his chair, his eyes fixed and wide open, his hands clenched on the table, his whole frame shaking and trembling as if paralysis had seized him.... Pointing to the wood-cut he said, "That image has haunted me day and night, as long as I can remember. 'Tis the horrid vision of my dreams; what is it? Who is it?" 37
And six years later . . .
Good God, I know that face. it has haunted me through life....38
         In any case, Williams said that the next day the Prince de Joinville told him in hushed confidence that he, Williams, was the heir to the throne of France--a revelation that left Williams, Williams said, overcome with emotion. Williams said his surprise changed to indignation when the prince then took out a parchment engrossed in French and English and stamped with the royal seals, and asked Williams to sign it to declare his abdication from the throne of France in exchange for certain entitlements and considerations. Williams went on to say that after several hours contemplating the document he told the prince that he, Williams, though in poverty and exile, could not "barter away the rights pertaining to him by his birth and sacrifice the interests of his family, " after which the prince reportedly accused Williams of ingratitude. Reacting quickly to Joinville's loud tones Williams says that he put the prince in his place and the prince afterward assumed a properly respectful attitude toward Williams.39
         Williams' fantasy of his confrontation with the Prince de Joinville falls into a class with another incident. In enlarging the importance of his activities in the War of 1812 Williams created a dialogue between himself and Sir John Johnson in which, as Geoffrey Buerger perceptively notes, Williams not only gave himself the leading role on the American side but also "imagined himself dealing with a British baronet on terms of easy equality."40 Writing in the third person, Williams informed his readers that Sir John said "Williams argued like a young lion" in seeking the neutrality of Indian tribes during the war.
         In this reported--or purported--conversation Williams took the side of civilization and humanity against that of "the ruthless savages of the wilderness, whose tender mercies are to be manifested by the tomahawk and the scalping knife."41 His long-time friend Albert G. Ellis tells us that he was once in a room where Williams was shaving. Ellis says that after admiring himself in the mirror Williams said, "See . . . is this the face of a savage? How much Indian blood is there? We will see. . . in time whether the Indian or the white man prevails in this face."42 Williams was clearly sensitive about being perceived as an Indian, but Ellis adds also that he believes Williams never conceived the idea of pretending to be the dauphin "until after his fall from the dizzy height he had soared to in his dreams, as despot of an Indian empire."43
         As far back as his stay in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1807, Williams is said to have at least played at the idea of being a French nobleman. A companion of that time says that Williams "wore a tinsel badge or star on his left breast and styled himself Count de Lorraine."44 The definitive illusion apparently did not take shape until 1847 or early 1848. At that time Col. Henry Eastman, a lawyer in Green Bay, for amusement wrote a fictional story about the fate of the Bourbon royal family in which he inserted Eleazer Williams as the Lost Dauphin, rightful heir to the throne of France, living in a humble log cabin on the banks of the Fox River.45 Since Green Bay as la Baye was settled a century earlier from French speaking Canada there were any number of models for the role of Lost Dauphin in the community--many also living in humble log cabins on the banks of the Fox River--and even better models than Williams, since Eleazer's first language was Mohawk and his command of the French language was so deficient that his wife, the former Madeleine Jourdain, suggested he not even try to speak it.46
         I find it hard to imagine Eastman choosing Williams for the part of the Lost Dauphin unless the idea had been at least subliminally furnished him by Williams. In any case, finding that Williams was flattered by his part in the story Eastman allowed Williams to have the manuscript for reading, he tells us, and then forgot about it until 1853 when
you were none of you so much astonished as I when I went into Burley Follett's book store at Green Bay, one day in 1853, and bought a number of Putnam's Magazine, containing a startling discovery of the mislaid Dauphin, in my own language....47
         The story in Putnam's Magazine was written by the Rev. John Hanson, who had met Williams by accident on a train in 1851 after reading a news item in a New York newspaper identifying Eleazer Williams as the Lost Dauphin. Hanson was much taken by the story and by Williams and soon produced the article which appeared in the February, 1853, number of Putnam's Magazine with the title "Have we a Bourbon among us?"48 Hanson followed this up in 1854 with the full blown story in a book entitled The Lost Prince.49 The theme struck the public's imagination. Putnam's is said to have added 20,000 names to its list of subscribers after the appearance of the article in 1853.50 The story was adapted to other popular forms, one of them a novel called Lazarre by Mary Hartwell Catherwood in which we find a scene in which Eleazer Williams is haunted bv images in a book:
I got near enough without taking fright to see a book spread open on the blanket, showing two illuminated pages. Something parted in me. I saw my mother, as I had seen her in some past life:-not Marianne the Mohawk, wife of Thomas Williams, but a fair oval-faced mother with arched brows. I saw even her pointed waist and puffed skirts, and the lace around her open neck....
        I dropped on my knees and stretched my arms above my head, crying aloud as women cry with gasps and chokings in sudden bereavement. Nebulous memories twisted all around me and I could grasp nothing. I raged for what had been mine--for some high estate out of which I had fallen into degradation.... 51
         After the appearance of The Lost Prince Williams happened to meet an old Green Bay friend who had read it, Charles Robinson. Williams asked Robinson what he thought of the book. Robinson replied, "It is admirably written . . . but I don't believe a word of it." Williams immediately erupted into laughter and came back with, "Nor do I either."52
         Eleazer Williams died August 28, 1858, in Hogansburg, New York, on the St. Regis Indian Reservation. Sunday, June 1, 1947, almost a century later, his bones were reburied at Oneida, Wisconsin. They arrived in the small wooden box into which they had been put as they were exhumed in New York. Earl Wright, Director of the Neville Public Museum of Green Bay, was allowed to take the bones from the small box, rearticulate them in correct anatomical order in a large roughbox, and photograph them.53 I had been invited by Wright to help him in these activities, scraping and brushing the still damp clay of the years from the bones of the man Eleazer Williams. Separating the myth of Eleazer Williams from the man will never be as easy. At the site of Lost Dauphin State Park near De Pere the State of Wisconsin has erected an official marker cast in metal which honors both the man and the myth, saying:
In 1822 Williams led a delegation of New York Indians to the Fox River Valley, hoping to set up an Indian Empire in the West.... In 1841 the French Prince de Joinville visited Williams at Green Bay, giving rise to the belief he might be the 'Lost Dauphin', son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. This story gained wide publicity in 1853 through the book The Lost Prince by John H. Hanson. Williams had scars like those borne by little Louis XVII. Was he the Lost Dauphin?
NOTES
Robert Hall is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Adjunct Curator of Midwestern and Plains Archaeology at the Field Museum, Chicago. He is an eighth generation native of Green Bay and a 1945 graduate of East High School. He received his doctorate in anthropology from the University of Wisconsin--Madison in 1960. [Return to Top]

1. Williams 1981, 169. The story of the Deerfield raid is summarized by Francis Parkman (1983, II, 373-398).

2. Wertenbaker 1947, 256; Hubbard 1677, 76.

3. Vaughan 1965, 104; Winthrop 1908, I, 118.

4. Williams 1981, 172. At the time of the Deerfield Massacre the Protestant English had not yet adopted the calendar reforms of Pope Gregory and the English year still began on March 25 rather than on January 1. February 29 fell in the year 1703 in the old style calendar and 1704 in the new style, hence February 29, 1703/4.

5. Williams 1981, 178.

6. Williams 1981, 176.

7. Williams 1981, 190.

8. Caughnawaga was originally the name of a Mohawk town in the Mohawk valley of New York and was later applied to the settlement near Montreal. Many different Iroquoian tribes came to be present at the Canadian Caughnawage, but the Mohawk were especially numerous (Fenton and Tooker 1978, 469-471).

9. Wight 1896, 137-138.

10. Buerger 1989, 117.

11. Buerger 1989.

12. Buerger 1989, 118-119.

13. Ellis 1856, 418; Wight 1896, 158 and 158n.

14. Buerger 1989, 120; Williams 1859.

15. Lossing 1869, 377n.

16. Lossing 1869, 875n.

17. Williams 1859, 81.

18. Hanson 1854, 266-267.

19. Muller 1960, 294-295.

20. Muller 1960, 50.

21. Ellis 1879, 357.

22. Wight 1896, 148. The interview with Eleazer Williams' mother came about because of the presence on the Caughnawaga Reserve in the fall of 1851 of a Mr. Parkman, who was investigating local records for the light they might shed on the stories then current about Williams as the Lost Dauphin. Conceivably this was the historian Francis Parkman.

23. Bloomfield 1909, 146-147.

24. Ellis 1856, 420.

25. Ellis 1856, 421.

26. Hanson 1854, 297.

27. Buerger 1989, 127.

28. In 1824 Madeleine Jourdain Williams was baptized by Bishop Hobart in New York and christened Mary Hobart Williams (Wight 1896, 173). She died in her cabin in the Town of Lawrence, Brown County, July 21, 1886. A small personal diary she kept may be found in the regional archives of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin located in the library of the University of Wisconsin--Green Bay. In it she noted such things as the beginning of the maple sugar camps as each winter came to a close.

29. Draper 1879, 367n-368n. See also Ellis 1876, 227228 for a description of the courtship of Eleazer Williams.

30. Hanson (1854, 300, 323) gives Williams' affirmation that the land was owned by his wife prior to marriage but does not explain why Williams' wife, a young daughter in a large family, should have had so much land in her own right. Mrs. Williams' family apparently had rights of some kind to the land prior to the marriage because of their Menominee connection, but that part known as the Williams Tract was formally deeded over to Mrs. Williams herself by the Menominees on August 22, 1825, over two years after her marriage to Eleazer on March 3, 1823.
         Before the Williams log cabin was reconstructed the location and dimensions of the cabin were determined by archaeological excavation by Warren L. Wittry, then of the Museum of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

31. Wight 1896,172; Williams 1847,96. Joseph Jourdain (1780-1866), a blacksmith born in Three Rivers, Canada, came to Green Bay in 1798. In 1803 he married Marguerite Gravelle whose father was Michel Gravelle, a Canadian voyageur, and whose mother was the daughter of a Menominee chief. Joseph and Marguerite Jourdain had eight children, of whom Madeleine (later Mary) married Eleazer Williams. See Wisconsin Historical Collections 3:253; 8:340n, 367n; 20:100n.

32. Wight 1896, 175-176.

33. Buerger 1989, 131.

34. Draper 1879, 362.

35. Draper 1879, 362-363. Wight (1896, 178), citing other sources, calls the boat the Columbus.

36. Wight 1896, 179, citing Williams' Journal.

37. Wight 1896, 188.

38. Wight 1896, 188.

39. Wight 1896, 180-181, citing Williams' Journal.

40. Buerger 1989, 121.

41. Buerger 1989, 120 citing Williams 1859, 67-68

42. Ellis 1879, 346-347.

43. Ellis 1879, 347.

44. Wight 1896, 155.

45. Smith 1872, 337-342.

46. Ellis 1879, 349. Although in 1824 Williams gave his year of birth as 1792 (Wis. Hist. Colls. 6:341n), which would have made him seven years younger than the dauphin (who was born March 27, 1785), by the 1850s Williams was giving his birth year as 1784 to 1786, which was more consistent with his pretensions at the time. Williams (1859, 54) wrote that he was fourteen to fifteen years old in the year 1800, which would put his birth in the year 1785 or 1786, while in the Federal census of 1850 the Williams family was enumerated on August 28 with Eleazer putting his age down as 66 and his birth in Canada. That made 1784 his birth year. In 1800 Eleazer's father indicated Eleazer's birthday was in May of 1788 (Wight 1896, 151).

47. Smith 1872, 338.

48. Buerger 1989, 132.

49. Hanson 1854.

50. Wight 1896, 190.

51. Catherwood 1901, 30.

52. Draper 1879, 367; emphasis added.

53. The negatives were 4" x 5" in size made with a press type camera. I have not seen the photographs since 1947. I was not present at the actual reburying of the bones, but I have been given to believe by someone who was present that the bones may have been reburied in the small box, which had a volume of no more than three cubic feet, and not in the large roughbox, which had a volume of around twenty cubic feet.

 

article added 7/23/98

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