On a hot August day in 1704, the Rice boys were working with their fathers to spread flax in a field in what is now Westborough, Mass. Suddenly a party of about 10 Indians rushed down from the wooded hill nearby and seized five of the Rice boys.
The Indians bashed 5-year-old Nahor Rice’s brains out on a rock. They carried off four others, aged 7 to 10, while everyone else escaped to the garrison house of Thomas Rice.
Queen Anne’s War had broken out, one of the French and Indian wars fought over domination of North America. During the war, French and Indians raided frontier towns in New England. Six months before Indians captured the Rice boys, the raid on Deerfield, Mass., left 47 dead and 112 captured. The Indians marched the captives through the snow to Canada.
The Rice boys mirrored the fate of the Deerfield captives. Some were ransomed, or redeemed, through the efforts of their families and Dutch traders. Others, like 7-year-old Eunice Williams, assimilated with the Indians and refused to return to their homes.
The Thomas Rice Boys
Asher Rice, 10, and his brother Adonijah, 8, were sons of Thomas Rice.
Silas, 9, and Timothy, 7, were the sons of Edmund Rice, a second cousin of Thomas Rice.
The Indians took the Rice boys to Kahnawake territory, a mission in Canada where the Jesuits had converted the Iroquois to Catholicism.
The Rice family tried desperately to redeem their boys. They enlisted the help of a Col. Lydius, a Dutch merchant in Albany.
Thomas sold his home to pay for his sons’ ransom. Asher, the oldest, had the hardest time assimilating with the Indians. Four years after his capture, Asher returned home, ‘so broken by the shock he had received at the time of his seizure that he never fully recovered from it.’
He developed eccentricities. Wrote Westborough historian Herman Packard De Forest,
“He spent a great deal of effort in making a gristmill on a new plan, so that the upper stone should be fixed, while the lower one revolved. This, he insisted, was the only natural way, for in the human mouth, which was evidently the original corn-mill, it was the lower jaw that did the work.”
Asher Rice retained some of the habits he picked up during his four years in captivity, but he dreaded the return of the Indians. Throughout his life he built stockades, long after the danger had passed. His father built him a house in 1720, and he married and had a son.
His brother Adonijah was never redeemed, but he did leave the Indians at some point. Adonijah was given the Indian name Asaundugooton. He married a French woman, then a Dutch woman, and owned a farm near Montreal.
The Edmund Rice Boys
Silas and Timothy grew up with the Indians and completely forgot how to speak English. Their father tried to redeem the boys, traveling to Canada in 1707. He met with no success. The boys preferred to stay with their Indian families.
Edmund Rice died in 1726, the same year he wrote a will that said, “if Almighty Power should work that deliverance for my two sons Silas and Timothy out of their captivity, which we indeed of ourselves can have little prospect of, and bring them home, they shall receive five pounds each.”
Timothy was adopted by a Kahnawake chief who had been converted to Catholicism.
Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, a Westborough minister, recorded Timothy’s history in 1769.
“Timothy had much recommended himself to the Indians by his own superior talents; his penetration, courage, strength & warlike spirit; for which he was much celebrated,” wrote Parkman.
His name was Oughtzorongoughton.
The youngest of the Rice boys, Timothy, became a Kahnawake clan chief and married an Indian woman, Catherine Osennenhawe. They had at least one son, named Pierre.
Eventually, in 1740, Timothy returned to his home in Westborough with an interpreter, a Mr. Tarbell, who had also been captured by Indians from Groton, Mass.
“They arrived here Sept. 15th. They view’d the house where Mr. Rice dwelt, & the Place from whence the children above spoke of, were captivated; of both which he retained a clear Remembrance; as he did likewise of Several elderly persons who were then living,” wrote DeForest.
Massachusetts Gov. Jonathan Belcher sent for Tarbell and Rice, and they visited him in Boston.
Later when the American Revolution broke out, Timothy was said to be influential in keeping the Indians from joining the English during the American Revolution. He died at the age of 80 in 1777.
Silas Rice married an Indian girl named Marie Tsiakohawi; he was called Jacques Tannahorens. They had five children. A granddaughter married the grandson of Eunice Williams.
According to one source, in 1900 Silas had at least 1,350 descendants, a large portion of all the Iroquois in Canada and the United States.
This story about the Rice boys was updated in 2022. The image of the historic marker: By Innapoy – I took this photo, CC BY 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28895668