Mrs. Campbell was a distinguished representative of the female actors in the Revolutionary drama in the section of country where she lived. Prominent in position and character, her influence was decided; and in the extraordinary trials through which she was called to pass, her firmness and fortitude, her intrepid bearing under sufferings that would have crushed an inferior nature, her energy, constancy, and disinterested patriotism render her example a bright and useful one, and entitle her to a conspicuous place among those to whom her country pays the willing tribute of honor and gratitude.
Jane Cannon was born on the first day of January, 1743, in the county of Antrim, Ireland, almost within hearing of the ocean as it beat around the Giant's Causeway. Her early years were spent upon this coast; and it was perhaps her familiarity with nature in the wild and sublime scenery of this romantic region, that nourished the spirit of independence, and the strength of character, so strikingly displayed by her in after life, amid far distant scenes. The permanency of the impressions received in childhood is shown by her frequent recurrence, towards the close of a protracted life, to these juvenile associations, to her school and her youthful companions, and the customs and manners of that day. At the age of ten she left Ireland with her family, her father - Captain Matthew Cannon, who was a sea-faring man, having determined to emigrate to the North American Colonies. His first settlement was at New Castle, in the present State of Delaware, where he remained for ten or eleven years engaged in agricultural pursuits. He then, with his family, penetrated the wilderness to the central part of the State of New York, and fixed his home in the extreme frontier settlement, within the limits of the present county of Otsego, and about seven miles from the village of Cherry Valley. A year after the removal of the family to this new abode, Jane Cannon was married to Samuel Campbell, a son of one of the first settlers of Cherry Valley, a young man twenty-five years of age, and already distinguished for his energy of character and bold spirit of enterprise. At the very commencement of the Revolutionary war, the father and the husband of Mrs. Campbell embraced the quarrel of the Colonies with great ardor. They were both on the committee of safety; both at an early period pledged themselves to the achievement of national independence, and in the long and bloody warfare on the frontier, both were actively engaged. Both also lost every thing, save life and honor, in the contest. Mr. Campbell was early chosen to the command of the militia in that region; and at the general request converted his own house into a garrison, where for two years, and until a fort was erected in the settlement, the inhabitants of that exposed frontier were gathered for protection. In all his patriotic efforts, he not only had the sympathy of his wife, but found her a zealous and efficient co-operator. Her feelings were ardently enlisted in behalf of her adopted country, and she was ready to give her own exertions to the cause, as well as to urge forward those who had risen against the oppressor.
In August, 1777, Colonel Campbell, with his regiment, was engaged in the disastrous battle of Oriskany, the bloodiest, in proportion to the number engaged, of any of the battles of the Revolution. His brother was killed by his side; and he himself narrowly escaped. In the July following, occurred the massacre at Wyoming; and in November, 1778, a part of the same force, composed principally of Indians and tories, invaded and utterly destroyed the settlement at Cherry Valley. The dreadful tragedy here enacted, says Dunlap, "next to the destruction of Wyoming, stands out in history as conspicuous for atrocity." The horrors of the massacre, and the flight, indeed likened the scene to that: "Whose baptism was the weight of blood that flows From kindred hearts."
Some extraordinary instances of individual suffering are recorded. One young girl, Jane Wells, was barbarously murdered by an Indian near a pile of wood, behind which she had endeavored to screen herself. The wife of Colonel Clyde fled with her children into the woods, where she lay concealed under a large log during a cold rainy day and night, hearing the yells of the savages as they triumphed in their work of death, and seeing them pass so near that one of them trailed his gun upon the log that covered her. Colonel Campbell was absent from home at the time; but the father of Mrs. Campbell, who was in her house, attempted almost single-handed to oppose the advance of the enemy, and notwithstanding that resistance was madness, the brave old man refused to yield till he was wounded and overpowered. Imagination alone can depict the terror and anguish of the mother trembling for her children in the midst of this scene of strife and carnage, the shrieks of slaughtered victims, and the yells of their savage foes. They were dragged away as prisoners by the triumphant Indians, and the house was presently in flames. The husband and father, who had hastened homeward on the alarm of a cannon fired at the fort, arrived only in time to witness the destruction of his property, and was unable to learn what had become of his wife and children.
Leaving the settlement a scene of desolation, the enemy took their departure the same night, with their prisoners, of whom there were between thirty and forty. That night of wretchedness was passed in a valley about two miles south of the fort. A large fire was kindled, around which they were collected, with no shelter, not even in most cases an outer garment, to protect them from the storm. There might be seen the old and infirm, and the middle-aged of both sexes, and shivering childhood, houseless but for a mother's arms, couchless but for a mother's breast. Around them at a short distance on every side gleamed the watchfires of the savages, who were engaged in examining and distributing their plunder. Along up the valley they caught occasional glimpses of the ruins of their dwellings, as some sudden gust of wind, or falling timber, awoke into new life the decaying flame.
The prominent position and services of Colonel Campbell had rendered him peculiarly obnoxious to the enemy. It was well known that his wife had constantly aided his and her father's movements, and that her determined character and excellent judgment had not only been of service to them, but to the friends of liberty in that region. Hence both the husband and wife were marked objects of vengeance. Mrs. Campbell and her children were considered important captives, and while most of the other women and little ones were released, after the detention of a day or two, and permitted to return to their homes, to them no such mercy was extended. Mrs. Campbell was informed that she and her children must accompany their captors to the land of the Senecas. On the second day after the captivity her mother was killed by her side. The aged and infirm lady was unable to keep pace with the rest; and her daughter was aiding her faltering steps, and encouraging her to exert her utmost strength, when the savage struck her down with his tomahawk. Not a moment was Mrs. Campbell suffered to linger, to close the dying eyes, or receive the last sigh, of her murdered parent; the same Indian drove her on with his uplifted and bloody weapon, threatening her with a similar fate, should her speed slacken. She carried in her arms an infant eighteen months old; and for the sake of her helpless little ones, dragged on her weary steps in spite of failing strength, at the bidding of her inhuman tormentors.
This arduous, long, and melancholy journey was commenced on the 11 th of November. Mrs. Campbell was taken down the valley of the Susquehanna to its junction with the Tioga, and thence into the Western part of New York, to the Indian Castle, the capital of the Seneca nation, near the site of the present beautiful village of Geneva. The whole region was then an unbroken wilderness, with here and there an Indian settlement, and the journey was performed by Mrs. Campbell partly on foot, with her babe in her arms. Her other children were separated from her on the way, being given to Indians of different tribes; and on her arrival at the village, her infant also - the last link which visibly bound her to home and family and civilization - was taken from her. This, to the mother's heart, was the severest trial; and she often spoke of it in after years as the most cruel of all her sufferings. The helpless babe clung to her when torn away by savage hands, and she could hear its piercing cries till they were lost in the distance. Long and dreary was the winter that followed. In one respect Mrs. Campbell was fortunate. She was placed in an Indian family, composed of females, with the exception of one aged man, and with the tact which always distinguished her she began at once to make herself useful; thus early securing the confidence and even the admiration of these daughters of the forest. She taught them some of the arts of civilized life, and made garments not only for the family to which she belonged, but for those in the neighborhood, who sent corn and venison in return. In acknowledgment of these services, care and protection were extended to her; she was allowed the command of her own time, and freedom from restraint, and was permitted to abstain from her usual avocations on the sacred day of rest.
One day an Indian who came to the house, observing her cap, promised to give her one; and inviting her to his cabin, pulled from behind a beam a cap of a smoky color, and handed it to her, saying he had taken it from the head of a woman at Cherry Valley. Mrs. Campbell recognized it as having belonged to the unfortunate Jane Wells. It had a cut in the crown made by the tomahawk, and was spotted with blood. She shrank with horror from the murderer of her friend. Returning to her cabin, she tore off the lace border, from which, however, she could not wash the stains of blood, and laid it away, to give to the friends of the murdered girl, should any have escaped the massacre. In the midst of her own sorrows she lost not her sympathy with the woes of others.
The proposed exchange of Mrs. Campbell and her children for the wife and sons of Colonel John Butler - the noted partisan leader - being agreed upon by Governor Clinton and General Schuyler, early in the spring Colonel Campbell dispatched an Indian messenger to Colonel Butler at Fort Niagara. Butler came soon after to the village of Canadaseago, to confer with the Indian council on the subject of giving up their prisoners. The families who adopted captives in the place of deceased relatives were always unwilling to part with them; and Butler had some difficulty in obtaining their assent. It was necessary also to procure the consent of a family in the Genesee village, with whom Mrs. Campbell was to have been placed in the spring. They were kinsfolk of the king of the Senecas; and it is no small evidence of the esteem Mrs. Campbell had won from the Indians, that he volunteered to go himself, and persuade them to yield their claim. Though aged, the kind-hearted savage performed the journey on foot; and returning, informed Mrs. Campbell that she was free, bade her farewell, and promised to come and visit her when the war was over. In June, 1779, she was sent to Fort Niagara, where many persons took refuge - preparation being made for an expected attack by General Sullivan. Among them came Katrine Montour, a fury who had figured in the horrors of Wyoming. One of her sons having taken prisoner in Cherry Valley the father of Mrs. Campbell, and brought him to the Indian country, it may be conceived what were the feelings of the captive on hearing her reproach the savage for not having killed him at once, to avoid the incumbrance of an old and feeble man!
Mrs. Campbell was detained a year as a prisoner in the fort; but had the solace of her children, all except one of whom Butler obtained from the Indians and restored to her. She associated freely, too, with the wives of the officers of the garrison. In the summer of 1780 she received the first letter from her husband, sent by a friendly Oneida Indian. In June, she was sent to Montreal, where she recovered her missing child - a boy seven years old, whom she had not seen since the day after the massacre at Cherry Valley. He had been with a branch of the Mohawk tribe, and had forgotten his native tongue, though he remembered his mother, whom, in the joy of seeing her, he addressed in the Indian Ianguage.
At Montreal the exchange of prisoners was effected. In the fall, Mrs. Campbell and her children reached Albany, escorted into that city by a detachment of troops under the command of Colonel Ethan Allen. Here Colonel Campbell awaited their arrival, and the trials of a two years' captivity were almost forgotten in the joy of restoration. They remained there till the close of the war, and in 1783, returned to Cherry Valley, and literally began the world anew. Their lands had gone to waste, and were overgrown with underbrush; all besides was destroyed; and with no shelter save a small log-cabin hastily put up, they felt for a time that their lot had been a hard one. But the consciousness of having performed the duty of patriots sustained them under misfortune. By the close of the following summer a more comfortable loghouse was erected on the ruins of their former residence, and the farm began to assume the aspect of cultivation. Here General Washington was received and entertained on his visit to Cherry Valley, accompanied by Governor George Clinton and other distinguished officers. It was on this occasion that Mrs. Campbell presented her sons to Washington, and told him she would train them up to the service of their country, should that country ever need their services.
From this time Mrs. Campbell was eminently blessed in all things temporal; being permitted in old age to see around her a large and prosperous family. Her oldest son was the Hon. William Campbell, late Surveyor general of the State of New York. Her second son, James S. Campbell, though educated as a farmer - inheriting the "old homestead" - was for many years a magistrate, and one of the judges of the Court of Common Pleas in Otsego; while the youngest son, the late Robert Campbell, of Cooperstown, an able and eminent lawyer, enjoyed in a high degree the confidence of the people of that county. Colonel Campbell, after an active life, died in 1824, at the age of eighty-six. His wife lived, in the enjoyment of almost uninterrupted health, to the age of ninety-three, and died in 1836 - the last survivor of the Revolutionary women in the region of the head waters of the Susquehanna. All her children but two have followed her to the grave.
Mrs. Campbell's latter days - to the close of a life marked with so much of action, enterprise and stirring incident - were days of industry. Like the Roman matron, she bore the distaff in her hand, and sat with her maidens around her; and her characteristic energy was infused into every thing she did. Yet she was in every sense of the term a lady: scrupulously neat in her apparel, combining dignity with affable and pleasing manners - the expression of real kindness of heart; and with a mind naturally vigorous and clear improved by reading, and still more by observation and society, and conversation enriched by the stores she had gathered in her experience, she was well fitted to shine in any sphere of life. For many years before her death she was designated throughout the country, as "old Lady Campbell." Her memory unimpaired, she was a living chronicler of days gone by; the peculiar circumstances in which she was placed during the war having brought her into personal acquaintance with almost all the prominent men engaged on both sides.
The feminine and domestic virtues that adorned her character, rendering her beloved in every relation - especially by those towards whom she so faithfully discharged her duties - were brightened by her unaffected piety. It was the power of Christian principle that sustained her through all her wanderings and trials, and in her lonely captivity among a barbarous people. It was this which cheered her closing days of existence, and supported her when, almost on the verge of a century - having survived the companions who had commenced life with her, surrounded by her children, and her descendants to the fourth generation - she passed calmly to her rest.