I am blessed with some very detail-oriented ancestors. Thomas Tarbell, born in Groton, Massachusetts in 1667, grew up to be a town clerk for Groton. He recorded the births, deaths and marriages of its citizens, making documentation of my Tarbell line very easy, as the records were preserved for all of posterity. Thomas married Elizabeth (maiden name either Woods or Blood, that is unclear.) in 1686 in Groton and together they had 10 children, my 6th great grandfather, William, among them. William and his sibling’s births are documented in the Groton town records by their father, who spelled his wife’s name “Elezabeth”. Here is the story of three of their children, Sara, born 1693, John, born 1695, and Zachariah, born 1699, and what happened to them in Groton in 1707.
The Tarbell Story
By Rudy Bixby
Wednesday, November 14, 1979
Times-Free Press – East Pepperell, Mass. 01437
“Did you ever see a man walking calmly across a steel girder, ten stories up, or doing the same thing on a bridge girder, four or five hundred feet above a river? If you ever have, you probably wondered what sort of a man that he was. Possibly, you may have seen such a man on the ground and have been surprised that he was an Indian. If you happened to hear him called by name, you might have been more surprised to hear the name Tarbell. Well, you might think that it had nothing to do with the Tarbells of Groton and you would be very wrong! The Indian, named Tarbell, would be able to trace his ancestors back to a man named Thomas Tarbell who lived in Groton, almost three hundred years ago.
Thomas Tarbell III, was the son and grandson of original proprietors of Groton and once served as Town Clerk. His wife was the daughter of Richard and Isabel Blood and was named Elizabeth. They had ten children, born between the years 1687 and 1707. The family homestead was on Farmers Row, the present site of the James Lawrence estate.
In the early Summer of 1707, the inhabitants of Groton were beginning to feel reasonably safe from Indian attacks. The local Indians had been killed off or pacified during King Philip’s War, and King William’s War, between the French and British, which had seen an invasion by Indians from Canada, was some five years past. There were rumors that some settlers had been attacked recently but the Tarbell family didn’t feel that they were in any immediate danger. How wrong they were!
It was early evening, June 20th, three of the Tarbell children, Sarah, John and Zachariah were playing in the branches of a cherry tree behind the house when a band of Caughnawaga Indians suddenly surrounded the tree. Cautioning the children to be quiet, Indians and prisoners vanished into the nearby forest. At that time, Sarah was thirteen, John was eleven, and Zachariah was six or seven. Sarah never saw her home or family again.
Traveling swiftly, the Indians returned with their prisoners to the Indian village of Caughnawaga near the city of Montreal. Sarah was soon bought by the French and placed in a convent. In all probability, Sarah met her cousin, Lydia Longley, who had been captured by the Indians, eleven years previously. Lydia had become a nun and, no doubt, influenced her cousin to do likewise. She joined the Congregation of Notre Dame at Lachine.
And what of the two boys? They soon became as Indian as their captors. Reaching manhood, they married daughters of Indian chiefs and, later, moved up the St. Lawrence to found the Indian town of St. Regis.
Some thirty years later, John and Zachariah returned to visit relatives in Groton. Dressed as Indian chiefs and speaking haltingly in English, they attracted much attention. No amount of pleading could induce them to return permanently. Governor Belcher, the Governor of Massachusetts, made an impassionate speech before the General Court, pleading with that body to give the two Tarbells some sort of an inducement to stay in their native town. The worthy gentleman was much distressed over the fact that the two had embraced Catholicism. The free life of the forest proved too much of a magnet to the Tarbells and they returned to their squaws and families.
In the year 1744, Governor Hutchinson of Massachusetts was in Albany, New York, and his attention was called to a band of Indians who had come down from Canada to trade. Two of the “Indians” turned out to be the Tarbell brothers, one of whom was said to be the wealthiest of the Caughnawaga tribe.
Sometime during the next century, Dr. Samuel Green visited the village of St. Regis and talked to the parish priest. He was informed that some forty persons carried the name of Tarbell in the village and that they were among the most prominent. Strange to say, the given names of these Tarbell descendants corresponded to names of their distant cousins in Groton.
When Thomas Tarbell III, died, he left the three missing children an equal share in his property but with the condition that they return to Groton to live. The condition was never fulfilled.
One must wonder if the three Tarbells ever regretted their choices and what would have been their lot if they had returned to live in Groton.
And how did the Tarbells become involved in the dangerous trade of building high structural steel buildings and bridges? When the first suspension bridge was built across the St. Lawrence at Quebec, the engineers were astonished by the lack of fear of height displayed by a group of Indians, among whom were some of the Tarbells. The word soon spread and Indians soon became much in demand.
Of all the stories about captured children of New England, surely the story of the Tarbell children is the most interesting.”
William, my 6th great grandfather, was about 18 when this happened. He married and had a son James who married and had a son Asa who married and had a daughter Sarah who married Laban Lewis and was the mother of Calista Lewis who married Bernard Wilder and was the mother of Eva Belle Wilder who married Isaac Lemon and was the mother of Russell Tiffen Lemon, my grandfather.
*Story taken from SBC Watch: http://sbcwatch.blogspot.com/2010/07/tarbell-story.html