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Sarah Belden Burt

March 15, 1681 – June 1749

Sarah Belden* was born in Hatfield, Hampshire County, Massachusetts Bay Colony, the 7th of Daniel and Elizabeth (Foote) Belden 14 children.  In 1686, the Beldens moved 30 miles upriver to Deerfield, which sits on the confluence of Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers.  The area occupies a large fertile portion of the Connecticut River Valley.  However, because it was the farthest western settlement in Massachusetts, its location and remoteness made it very venerable to attacks from the French and their native allies during a series of wars with England that lasted almost 55 years..   

On Sept. 16, 1696, the Belden farm was raided by the Mohawks, allies of the French.  The farm was outside of the town’s fortification and the family was on their way to service.  During the attack, Sarah’s mother, two brothers (Daniel 16yrs, John 4yrs) and infant sister Thankful were killed.  Her sister Abigail (6yrs) was shot and her brother Samuel (9yrs) was gravely wounded with a tomahawk to the head and left for dead.  Both miraculously survived.  Sarah managed to escape by hiding in the barn behind the drying tobacco leaves.  Her father, brother Nathaniel (21yrs), and sister Hester (13yrs) were taken captive and force marched 300 miles to Canada.   Hester and her father were given to the Indians.  Nathaniel was placed at the convent and later her father was sold to the Jesuits.  Both men were tortured.  They remained in servitude for two years until the French learned of the Treaty of Ryswick ending King William’s War (1688-1697).  Consequentially, all three were able to return to Deerfield.  However, the treaty just returned the borders back to their original location, thus opening the way for Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713). 

On October 19, 1702, Sarah (21yrs) married Benjamin Burt (22 yrs), a farmer and blacksmith.  They made their home in Deerfield.  In the early, morning dawn of Feb. 29, 1704, Deerfield was attacked by a contingency of 200 French and 142 natives from three different tribes.  Their sole purpose was to spread terror and take captives.   With the snow harden enough to walk on and so deep that it reached the top of the town’s fortifications, the surprise attack was swift and brutal.  Within a short time, 53 colonists were killed; mainly children, 109 captives taken, and 40% of the houses were burned.  The poorly clad captives were force marched northward through the bitter cold wilderness.  They were warned, recapture after escaping would result in tortured and then death. Those that couldn't’t keep up were slain.  This was mainly the elderly, including Sarah’s step-mother, children and pregnant women.  Provisions were not adequate and some starved to death.  Only 89 made it to Canada.

As they traveled northward, the captives were divided into three groups.  Unfortunately, Sarah, who was 8 months pregnant, and Benjamin had to endure the longest trek.  They arrived in Chamble, about 18 miles from Montreal on March 25.  They had endured 25 days with little food in the wilderness and cold.  In Chamble, they were handed over to the French for servitude at the convent and Jesuit Academy.  On April 14, Sarah gave birth to her first child, a son, Christopher. 

The town of Deerfield sent Ensign John Sheldon four times to Canada to negotiate the captive’s release.  Finally, on May 30, 1706 he secured freedom via ransom for 40 of them, including the three Burts.  They traveled down the St. Lawrence River and then by sea to Boston.   While at sea, Sarah gave birth to her second child, a son, whom they named Seaborne.  They arrived in Boston on August 2, 1706 and returned to Deerfield shortly afterward.

Even though Sarah’s father was still a resident, the memories were haunting.  Between 1690 and 1707, Sarah and Benjamin had lost 18 relatives to the border wars, not including those who were severely wounded or carried into captivity.  They decided a safer home was necessary.  They moved to Stamford, CT where Sarah had relatives, including her sister Hester, who could relate to the suffering they endured as captives.  From Stamford they moved to nearby Norwalk.  In 1708, Benjamin was invited to join the original Ridgefield proprietors.  As the first blacksmith, he was given a choice selection of land.  In Ridgefield, there was no fear from French or Indian attacks.  There they prospered and had 9 more children.  Sarah died in Ridgefield in June 1749.  Benjamin followed 10 years later on May 20, 1759.  He is buried in Titicus Cemetery.  It is unclear where Sarah is resting today.  What is clear is that wartime frontier survival was only for the luckest and the strongest of the strong.

*(Also spelled Beldon, or Belding)

Footnote:  Unfortunately, many people were taken captive during the six conflicts that make up the French and Indian Wars (1688 -1763).   Survivors’ return was never guaranteed especially young children and youth as they often assimilated into the native tribes.  Depicted as slaves, the fact is many stayed because life was so similar among the Indians as it was on the remote frontier.  Many established relationships to replace the ones they were torn from.


 

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