Living History : Four Captives in the 1700s


[Update: This project was discontinued]

During King George’s War (1744-1748), a remarkable literary coincidence happened. Four British captives held together in French Canada kept journals of their captivity that were later published. Three of the journals—those of schooner captain William Pote, the Reverend John Norton, and a man named Nehemiah How—are available free online. The fourth, by a writer who never names himself, I stumbled upon in a used book store in Old Town Alexandria.

Reading the journals in parallel was fascinating, particularly as the writers have individual quirks and vividly distinct personalities that show in their different takes on the same events. For example, Pote is grumpy and sarcastic while How is a pious positive thinker. It’s fun to look into the minds of these real people from hundreds of years ago.

So, as a sort of “living history” project, I decided to publish all four journal entries side-by-side in real time, 270 years after the events they chronicle. There are nearly a year of  entries up now, and so far three of the captives (Pote, How, and the Unknown) have started writing. Norton’s journal will start in August.

If you’re a fan of early modern history or colonial North America, or you just like a good tale, start at the beginning with the capture of Captain Pote. Or, check out these neat tidbits:

  • Getting beaten by scalps taken from other British prisoners.
  • Being nicknamed “toy” as a form of humiliation.
  • Christmas bringing out differences in personalities.

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