Maconaquah

The name of Frances Slocum is a commonly recognized one, as many Hoosiers have heard of her abduction by the Delaware and life among the Miami of Indiana. Born in March 1773 and named Frances Slocum, Maconaquah was captured by Delaware warriors attacking her parents’ farm in the Wyoming valley in Pennsylvania on November 2, 1778. She was adopted and raised by a Delaware family, which eventually made their way to Kekionga, or present-day Fort Wayne. She first married a Delaware man and later married a Miami chief named Shepancanah, with whom she had four children. She lived among the Miami on the Mississinewa River with her family, where she was ‘discovered’ by George Ewing. Ewing’s letter to the Lancaster, Pennsylvania postmaster inquiring about Maconaquah’s white relatives was published in 1837 and seen by her brother, Joseph Slocum. Her siblings traveled to visit Maconaquah and verify whether she was their sister the same year. Despite her siblings’ attempts to convince her to move, Maconaquah lived the rest of her life on the Mississinewa until her death on March 9, 1847, when she was buried next to her husband and two sons. She was survived by her two daughters.

Maconaquah’s story was published widely in Pennsylvania, where her birth family lived, and in Indiana after she was ‘discovered’ to be residing along the Mississinewa River in 1835 by George W. Ewing and her family later identified her as their ‘Lost Sister’ in a visit to her home in 1837. However, the story of the abduction of, search for, and finding of Frances Slocum was also published in newspapers across the country, including in Maryland, Washington DC, New York, California, Missouri, Kansas, and Wisconsin. The story even made its way into an 1859 newspaper in London, England, over ten years after her death.

 

The Frances Slocum Monument, Credit: Sarah Stierch / CC-BY-2.0

Yet while many of these accounts convey the feelings of her family during and after their quest to find their long lost sibling, no newspapers seem to have considered Frances’ perspective or captured her personality in any way. Papers have yet to be located which provide Maconaquah’s own account of her history and life among the Miami. For instance, although she was born as Frances Slocum, the woman titled the “Lost Sister of Wyoming”, after the valley where her family lived, went by the name Maconaquah among the Miami. She was raised by a Delaware family, married a Miami chief, and had four children, two of which lived into adulthood. By the time her birth family visited her home in 1837, Maconaquah only spoke the Miami language and needed a translator to communicate with her siblings, nieces, and nephews.

While researching Frances Slocum for a marker review I came across two accounts of George Winter’s visit to Maconaquah’s home, which provided insight into Maconaquah’s life. George Winter was an English-born artist that moved to Indiana and created several paintings of the Miami and Potawatomi which provide details regarding the visible culture of both tribes. George Winter was commissioned by Maconaquah’s birth family to create a portrait of Maconaquah. He traveled to her home in the autumn of 1839 to sketch the Miami woman and wrote a memorandum of his journey and experiences. Winter wrote that when he entered Maconaquah’s cabin he “was an object of curiosity to the family,” particularly to the children. Through an interpreter, a man rebuilding Maconaquah’s chimney, Winter explained why he was there. Maconaquah replied that she only agreed to the portrait for her brother’s sake and did not personally want it done. She said that “[t]he Miamis saw no good in it.” The next day Maconaquah changed her mind about having the portrait made. In a letter dated October 14, 1839, which Winter wrote to Joseph Slocum, he explained that one of Maconaquah’s objections to the portrait was the belief that Winter was tricking her and would charge her for his services. After speaking to her, again through the interpreter, about breaking her word to her brother and promising that he would not charge her for the portrait, Maconaquah again agreed to sit for the picture. Winter described Maconaquah’s appearance at the time he sketched her.

 

“Frances Slocum,” portrait, Box 48, Folder 2, W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, accessed Indiana Historical Society Digital Image Collection, http://images.indianahistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/dc010/id/64

Frances Slocum presented a very singular picturesque appearance. Her toute en semble was unique. She was dressed in a red calico “skirt,” figured with large showy yellow and green folded within the upper part of a “meta-coshee,” or petticoat of black cloth of excellent quality. Her nether limbs were clothed with fady-red leggings, “winged” with green ribbons, and her feet were moccasinless. Kick-ke-se-qua, her daughter, who seemed not to be without some pride for her mother’s appearing to the best advantage, placed a black silk shawl over her shoulders, pinning it in front.

After Winter was done sketching he showed the picture to the family.

Frances looked upon her likeness with complacency. Kick-ke-se-qua eyed it approvingly yet suspiciously – it was a mystery. The widowed daughter, O-son-wa-pak-sin-qua, would not look at it, but turned away from it abruptly when I presented it to her for her inspection as though some evil surrounded it.

Winter then went outside to sketch the surroundings, including Maconaquah’s home. However, as he prepared to sketch he noticed that Maconaquah, her daughters, and her grandchildren were talking on the porch and regarding him warily. Suspecting that they did not want him rendering their home, Winter hurriedly sketched “the important points of the interesting scene.” As he was doing this, Maconaquah approached him and began to speak with him.

She addressed me in the Miami language, which was not comprehensible to me; but her manner of gesticulation was so striking and clear, that it would have been dullness of intellect that could not have understood the desired communication of the wish. I knew by an intuition that there were objections to my proceeding with the sketch. I still worked away, affecting not to comprehend her desires. At last she said in English very emphatically, ‘no good, no good!’

My portfolio I turned downwards, and appealingly gazed at her. She signified by a nod, and a pleasant smile that she was gratified.

On returning to the cabin with the Captive, all the family excepting Kick-ke-se-qua had disappeared. She, however, exclaimed disturbedly, ‘No good! No good house!’

Although not told from Maconaquah’s perspective, Winter’s account gives some insight into her life and her beliefs. While Winter’s writing is clearly biased by his personal view of American Indians, a viewpoint that was common at the time, he does offer information about Maconaquah which, when removed from Winter’s suppositions regarding her motives or thoughts, is incredibly useful. This is also one of very few accounts of Maconaquah which does not come from a member of her birth family. Rather than seeing a young white girl captured and reunited with her family late in life, Winter’s visit and his account of the experience helps to create a better idea of who Maconaquah was when her birth family found her among the Miami, among whom she chose to stay for the remainder of her life.

More information on the history of Maconaquah is available in the review of the Frances Slocum marker.

Sources:

Winter, George. The Journals and Indian Paintings of George Winter. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1948.

George Winter to J. Slocum, Logansport, October 14, 1839. George Winter Collection. Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries. http://e-archives.lib.purdue.edu/cdm/ref/collection/gwinter/id/687