November 1, 2015

Remembering Frances Slocum

Two of the contemporary quilts displayed at Indiana State Museum as part of the 19 Stars exhibit were conceived and made by internationally-known fabric artist Penny Sisto.  Penny was born in the Orkney Islands north of Scotland and, while working for the British Ministry of Overseas Development, served as midwife and clinic assistant in health facilities for the Maasai, LuBukusu and Kikuyu tribes in East Africa.  Here she learned to add beading and collage methods to the needlework skills of embroidery, applique, and quilting she had learned from her grandmother.

Penny Sisto.  Our thanks to Penny for permission to use this photograph.
Penny's studio is in Floyds Knobs, Indiana, where she makes figural art quilts, many related to social justice issues.  When Indiana State Museum decided to display quilts in celebration of the Indiana Bicentennial, Penny offered two of her remarkable quilts based on Indiana history and the real-life story of Frances Slocum.
There are several early accounts of the story of Frances Slocum as well as more recent books and blog posts concerning her life.  These accounts differ on some points but the basic story is provided here.  Frances was one of ten children born to Jonathan and Ruth Tripp Slocum, a Quaker couple residing in Warwick, Rhode Island, until they left for the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania in 1777.  Here they found British troops and Native American tribes engaged in the Revolutionary War against Americans.  Other families fled the area in July 1778 when the Battle of Wyoming erupted and the British forces, in alliance with Seneca warriors, destroyed a fort near Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, where the Slocums lived.  Over 300 settlers were killed during this battle and its aftermath.  Believing that their non-combative Quaker faith and friendly relations with local Native Americans would protect them, the Slocums remained where they were.  Later that fall, their homestead was attacked by three Delaware tribesmen while the men of the family were away and Frances, then age five, was abducted while her mother looked on in horror.
"The Capture of  Frances Slocum", a print appearing in the late 1860s in tabloid
accounts of the abduction.
By one account, Frances was traded to a childless Miami couple for animal pelts shortly after her kidnapping.  This couple adopted her as their own child and cared for her as she grew into a beautiful young woman with distinctive auburn hair.  They named her Maconaquah, Miami for Little Bear, and Frances easily assumed their customs and language.  She married a Delaware man named Tuck Horse in 1790 but the marriage was an unhappy one marked by domestic violence, prompting her to leave Tuck Horse and return to her adoptive parents.
Some time later, Maconaquah was walking through the forest and came upon a man who had been injured in battle.  He was a Miami warrior named Shepcoconah and Maconaquah led him home where she and her adoptive parents nursed him to health.  Once able, Shepcoconah helped Maconaquah's father provide meat and other game for the family.  Before her father died, he gave Maconaquah to Shepcoconah to be his wife.
Shepcoconah moved the family to Indiana after the War of 1812.  There they lived on the banks of the Mississinnewa River near Peru.  Shepcoconah became Chief of the Miami but gradually lost his hearing and stepped down as Chief.  During this time, he and Maconaquah had four children; two daughters who survived to adulthood and two sons who did not.
After foregoing his chiefdom, Shepcoconah moved the family farther up river about nine miles above Peru, Indiana.  Here he built a large log house for them as well as a trading post.  Soon a settlement of both whites and Native Americans grew up around the house and trading post - a settlement called Deaf Man's Village with a population of 1,154 by 1830.
Deaf Man's Village.  Watercolor by George Winter, 1839.  Courtesy of the
Tippecanoe County Historical Association, Lafayette, Indiana.
In 1835, an Indian trader named Colonel George Ewing, who spoke fluent Miami, encountered the light-skinned Maconaquah while at the trading post and inquired about her background.  She revealed to him that she was white, having been abducted fifty-seven years before by Delaware warriors.
Picture of Frances Slocum, signed Jennie Brownscombe, from the book Frances Slocum; The Lost
Sister of Wyoming by Martha Bennett Phelps, 1916.  Source of image: Creative Commons,
Ewing sent a letter recounting his meeting with Maconaquah to the postmaster of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who was also the publisher of the local newspaper, The Lancaster Intelligencer.  Nothing was done with the letter until August 1837 when a new owner of the newspaper came across it and published this part of Ewing's letter:  "There is now living in this place among the Miami Tribe of Indians, an aged white woman who, a few days ago told me that she was taken away from her father's house on or near the Susquehanna River when she was very young.  She says her father's name was Slocum, that he was a Quaker and wore a large-brimmed hat."
The Slocum family had unsuccessfully searched for Frances from the day she was abducted.  When they got word of the letter, they began corresponding with Colonel Ewing and two of Frances's brothers and one of her sisters made a trip to Deaf Man's Village to try to identify their sister.  Her identity was confirmed by an injury to one of her fingers inflicted by one of her brothers with a hammer when they were children.  A second meeting took place while they were there. This one was in Peru with Maconaquah traveling to her family bearing a haunch of venison as a gift.  They tried to convince her to return with them to Pennsylvania but she refused, preferring to live among the people, customs, and language of her childhood and maturity. 
A treaty between the Miami and the U.S. Government enacted in 1840 threatened to cause the forced removal of Maconaquah, her family, and other tribal members to Kansas.  She appealed this provision, requesting permission for her family to stay.  Her case was argued by John Quincy Adams before Congress and she and her heirs were granted by law the land where they lived in the amount of one square mile (640 acres).  Maconaquah died at her home on March 9, 1847.  She was seventy-four years old and was buried next to the log cabin where her husband and two sons were buried.  In 1900, both her white and Native American descendants erected a monument to her and her husband on the site.
The grave of Frances Slocum, Slocum Cemetery, Somerset, Indiana.  Author: Sarah Stierch. 
Source of image: Creative Commons.
The story of Maconaquah inspired Penny Sisto to make two quilts related to Frances and her life.  The first, titled Frances Slocum's Landscape, is shown below.
Frances Slocum's Landscape.  Maker: Penny Sisto.  Photograph by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
Use of photograph courtesy of Penny Sisto and Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Penny shared this about the work by email:  "The portrait quilt shows Frances Slocum as an older woman who stands strong in her Journey.  She is steadfast and yet in her eyes a great sorrow hides.  She is a woman who has had to find her own place in the universe.  I show her in 'see spirit' as a white Crane - graceful, still, and a good hunter/provider."  (By "see spirit", Penny means that when she visualizes Frances's Medicine Spirit, she sees her as a White Crane.)
The second quilt, titled Frances Slocum's Totem, captures the child's memories of her abduction.
Frances Slocum's Totem.  Maker: Penny Sisto. Photograph by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
Use of photograph courtesy of Penny Sisto and Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis, Indiana.
In Penny's words:  "The totem quilt shows the child Frances Slocum remembering her kidnapping as a child would, in a series of vignettes - the men on horseback, bright flashes of color and faces against the moon lit sky.  Her adopted Grandmother speaking to her about the snowy white Medicine deer, the visions she saw in the tipi by the fire, Grandmother morphing to Sacred Bear, Leaping Salmon in the rivers.  The memories stack one atop the other forming a totem."
We are grateful to Penny for sharing her thoughts and for helping us introduce you to her remarkable quilts.
Sources: Public Member Trees, Stauton/Stanton Family Tree, accessed 10/25/2015.
Cottman, George S.  "Sketch of Frances Slocum" in The Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1905.
McKinney, Helen E.  "Frances Slocum: White Woman In a Native American Culture" in Pioneer Times USA, An Online Journal of Living History, at
Personal correspondence with Penny Sisto.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2015.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for using my photograph of Slocum's grave! Great blog post!