History Mystery #13: Enemy in the Fort

Author: Sarah Masters Buckey

Illustrators: Greg Dearth and Douglas Fryer

Publishing Year: 2001

Setting:  western New Hampshire, 1754


One spring night in 1752, ten-year-old Rebecca Percy wakes up with a start. There are strange noises outside, and the family dog is pacing worriedly. Her parents tell her that a band of Abenakis is outside, and hide her and her younger sister Selinda (and some engraved spoons, the family's most valuable possessions) in the cellar, its door concealed by a rug. Her parents keep baby Benjamin with them, as his crying would give away the hiding spot. Rebecca hears scuffling and bits of conversation--enough to understand that her parents and baby brother are being taken captive. As soon as it's quiet, she leads her sister out of the cellar and into the woods--she knows the Abenakis will be back soon to burn the house to the ground.

Two years later, Rebecca and Selinda have heard nothing of their parents' or brother's well-being, They live with an elderly widow in a fort about a quarter mile from their old house. Mrs. Tyler does sewing for the people in the fort. Selinda has learned a lot from her, unable to do physically demanding work due to a broken leg that never healed right. Although lately Mrs. Tyler has been unable to do much sewing, having been laid low by a lingering illness. Selinda was hired out to another settler family as a servant...and now that family is talking of moving to Connecticut, and insists that Selinda is indentured to them and must come along. The sisters won't even have each other unless they can figure out a way to keep Selinda in New Hampshire.

Before any plans can be made, the man in charge of the fort, a Captain Stevens (a real person), raised by Abenakis and now responsible for much of the interaction between that tribe and the English settlers, comes with news. It's not the news Rebecca wanted--nothing about her family--but he does have with him Isaac, who was taken captive and then adopted by some Abenakis eight years ago. His parents were killed, but his aunt and uncle are eager to take him in. However, he remembers little of non-Abenaki life and doesn't seem too happy about his circumstances. Rebecca is surprised when Mrs. Tyler volunteers to take him in until his aunt and uncle arrive--he's nearly a "savage" himself (although Mrs. Tyler did lose a son about Isaac's age some time ago, so it's not totally out of the blue). Captain Stevens reminds Rebecca that she should treat him as she would hope her parents and brother have been treated, and she at least goes through the motions; Selinda is more into the idea. Captain Stevens, the only other person who knows about the spoons, also advises Rebecca that it is legal for Selinda to be taken away, but they might be able to buy out the remainder of her contract, and it might take the selling of the spoons. The sisters ponder this as they go to bed.

That night, Selinda has a night terror about the raid two years ago. She has them sometimes, though they've been less frequent (Rebecca also reflects how Selinda was nearly catatonic for two months after the raid). Her screams wake Isaac, who comes up the sisters' loft to ask what's wrong. Rebecca tells him not to worry; she'll take care of her sister. After Selinda is calmed down, Rebecca realizes something: supposedly Isaac had forgotten English. Why is he hiding the fact that he knows the language?

The next day though, it seems he only knows a few phrases, "What's wrong?" being one of them. Rebecca grudgingly admits that Isaac is helpful; he's faster at chopping firewood than either Rebecca or Selinda. And he found some wild honey when a soldier took him to the river for a "proper" bath (Captain Stevens's orders). Doesn't hurt that he's easy on the eyes when he's cleaned up. Plus he whittled Selinda a walking stick that makes it much easier for her get around. Of course, he also gets in a fight with the snobby son of the family Selinda is indentured too--though to be fair, the other boy started it. And the other boy pulled a knife on Isaac, which Rebecca knocked away.

The next day, the boy comes with a fort guard to search Mrs. Tyler's house. He says Isaac stole his knife. Rebecca protests, but they house gets torn apart anyway. No knife is found...but the spoons are missing. Rebecca and Selinda are desperate to find them--the handful of things they've scrounged up to sell only add up to a third of what Selinda's contract costs. Rebecca remembers that Isaac overheard her talking about the spoons with Captain Stevens. Maybe he's the thief.

Then Rebecca's friend and her family are attacked and taken captive. Rebecca lashes out at Isaac, who it turns out does understand English. He's able to speak it haltingly, too, and point out the crimes the settlers have committed against the native peoples. Rebecca can't quite accept that the "savages" aren't really savage, and when she sees Isaac slipping out of the fort, she follows him. He has the missing knife, but only because the other boy planted it on his bed to frame him. He doesn't have the spoons, and swears so on his (adoptive)  family. Rebecca believes him. Isaac's been collecting things like food and the knife to prepare to run away to rejoin his adopted family. Rebecca sees how kind the Abenakis have been to him--she can only hope they've done the same with her parents and brother. He leaves, and Rebecca promises not to tell.

As she heads back to the fort, she sees the peddler that she was planning to sell the spoons to. He's been acting suspicious and he finally admits that he stole the spoons and traded them for alcohol. She demands he pay her the previously-agreed-upon amount and he angrily counts out some coins and throw them to her, then continues away from the fort on his horse. Rebecca is devastated to see that the "coins" are just worthless buttons. How is she supposed to get the rest of the money needed when her sister will be forced to leave at dawn in a few hours? Some blackberry bushes catch her and she gets an idea: Selinda is allergic to blackberries. When the family she's indentured to comes to get her the next morning, they find Selinda broken out in a rash and swollen. Rebecca says she hopes it's not smallpox, and won't they accept the amount they've raised to buy out the contract? Horrified at the supposed illness, they accept and make a hasty retreat.

A month or so later, Captain Stevens brings news. The New Hampshire governor is negotiating with the French for some prisoners held in Canada. Among them is a Josiah Percy with his wife and young son--as soon as a ransom is agreed upon, Rebecca and Selinda will be reunited with the rest of their family!

A Peek into the Past

When European settlers arrived in North America, they took over land that had been used by various Native American tribes. Understandably, most of the original inhabitants of the land weren't pleased. Some tribes conducted raids on European settlements, killing or capturing the people there (the French often goaded them on, eager to thwart the English, with whom they rarely got along well). Some young captives were adopted by the Native American tribes, and raised with as much love and devotion as a biological child would have been. Some refused to return to the settlements when given the opportunity, but others did, and became something of ambassadors between the two cultures.


Dedicated to Jay.

Isaac gets in trouble for crossing himself at a church service--the French (who tend to be Catholic) aren't well-liked by the English settlers (who tend to be Protestant). The French and English didn't get along very well at this time in history, and neither did Catholics and Protestants.

At the end of the book, Captain Stevens explains to Rebecca how Isaac could have come to love his adoptive family so much as to escape back to them, and also promises to try to apprehend the peddler and make him pay for the spoons.

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