Wolverhampton BTW

Susannah Johnson

Johnson, Susannah née Willard, later Hastings, 1730—1810

by Benjamin Colbert

Susannah Willard was born on 20 February 1730 in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, the daughter of Moses Willard and Susanna Willard, née Hastings (1710-97). She married James Johnson on 15 June 1747, and by 1749 had settled at Charlestown, New Hampshire.

On 30 August 1754, pregnant with her fourth child, Susannah Johnson and her family were abducted by Abenaki Indian raiders and taken to Saint-François-du-Lac, Canada, a gruelling 100-mile walk in difficult conditions. Allied to the French during the Seven Years War, the Abenaki separated and then ransomed the family to investors. Save for their son, Sylvanus, who was adopted by an Abenaki family, the Johnsons were reunited in Montreal where the merchant René de Couagne had bought their ransom. Hoping to recoup a profit, de Couagne allowed James J. to return to New Hampshire to raise money, but Johnson returned with bills of exchange between Albany and Montreal, unpayable in the context of the War. The family’s status soon changed to that of prisoners of War and (save their eldest daughter who remained in Montreal) they remained as such in Québec until autumn 1757, when the family (save James J., initially) were released in a prisoner exchange with the English.

Susannah J. and her remaining family sailed for Plymouth, England, but returned within eight weeks; they were reunited with James J. in January 1758. He soon accepted a commission in the army, and in July of that year was killed in the Battle of Ticonderoga. It was not until 1760 that the remaining family were reunited, including their eldest son (who spoke only Abenaki) and eldest daughter (who spoke only French). In 1762, Susannah J. married John Hastings, Jr. and raised seven more children.

The story of her captivity recorded some 40+ years after the events themselves was based, according to her preface to the second American edition (1807), on her memories as well as notes taken by her and her husband at the time. She dictated these recollections to John C. Chamberlain, who acted as the volume’s anonymous editor. She died on 27 November 1810 in Langdon, New Hampshire.


Fyson, Donald. ‘Prisoners, Students and Thinkers: Susannah Willard Johnson’. Morrin Centre Culturel. Web. 3 Nov. 2017.

Steele, Ian K. ‘Chapter 14: Susannah Johnson: Captive’. The Human Tradition in Colonial America. Ed. Steele and Nancy L. Roden. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, Inc., 1999. 257–71. Print.


Title Published
The Captive American 1797

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