Killed Her There. Killed Her Infant. Burned Her Home. And Still the Pioneer Women Kept Coming.

by Heather Frey Blanton


Recently I’ve been researching a nameless pioneer woman who was murdered, along with her infant, on the Pennsylvania frontier. What I find so fascinating about her story is not only her willingness to attempt to wrestle a dream from the savage land, but that thousands of women ignored her fate and fearlessly followed in her footsteps.

Sometime between 1750 and 1760, Nathaniel Carter moved his wife and four young children to the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania. Records indicate they were the first white family to penetrate this far into an area controlled by Seneca, Delaware, and Cherokee Indians. While we know his name, even the names and ages of his children (Sarah, 11; Elizabeth, 8; Nathaniel Jr., 6), I have not been able to find out her name or that of her infant.

Imagine, a baby at your breast, young children holding on to your apron strings, and you follow your husband into the hostile wilderness along the remote Wallenpaupack Creek in the middle of the French-Indian War. At night, did her fear drown out the chirping crickets and hooting owls? Did motion in the brush send her into a panic? Did she see an Indian behind every bush?

We know that this family not only harvested their own logs for their cabin, but they built/made/grew everything they needed to survive. They even managed to befriend a small tribe of Indians known as the Paupacken, a branch of the Delaware. Their future was bright. As a family, they had grabbed hold of what would become known as The American Dream—determining their own destiny, bowing to no man or king. The frontier was their golden landscape. Surely, Mrs. Carter was filled with hope and optimism. Perhaps even a sense of peace settled on her as she watched her children play in the bones of cornstalks that fall.

No one knows exactly when the attack happened, since it was years before more settlers ventured into this area, but in November of some year now forgotten, the Carter family farm was raided by the Cherokee. Nathaniel had gone hunting. Mrs. Carter was there alone that day. No one can imagine the way her blood froze and fear sliced through her when she heard the war cries and looked up to see painted savages sprinting from the woods.

Nathaniel returned home and found his wife hacked to death with a hatchet, his young baby brutally dashed upon the rocks. His two daughters and son had been kidnapped. His house was in flames and his cattle had been stampeded into the forest.

Everything a man could hold on to had been taken from Nathaniel Carter in that lonely clearing.

And still the settlers doggedly marched forth into the American wilderness. Women trudged along beside the wagons, toddlers in tow, men cutting roads as they went. Did these hardy ladies watch the shadows in the forest, wondering if they, too, might meet the same fate as the Carter family? Resilient, defiant, they marched on, the land of dreams beckoning to them, their loyalty to their husbands overriding their fear.

If you’d like to know a little more about the Carters, I urge you to enjoy this wonderful song by a great bluegrass band, Kickin’ Grass!


About Heather Frey Blanton

"I believe Christian fiction should be messy and gritty, because the human condition is ... and God loves us anyway." -- Heather Blanton

Posted on December 10, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Hi. I was just wondering why you are researching this family? Are you a descendant? I am, so if you are – please contact me. I hope you write more about your research into this family. Thanks.

    • Linda, I am not a descendant. I just have a burning desire to remind American women that God gave our female ancestors a special dose of grit and determination. I found out about the Carter family when I saw the band Kickin’ Grass perform. I fell in love with their music and bought a CD. The Ghost of Nathaniel Carter was written in a such a heart-rending way, I just had to learn about them. So often the men get the credit for settling America. But you know what you say, Behind every great man… Please, please feel free to share on this blog any information you find out about the Carters, especially the women. Thank you for reading!

  2. Hi Heather. Thanks for your response – and sorry for my late reply (I just now saw this as I was picking up on my research again – not sure how I missed it). Thank you for permission to share and I want to say thank you for writing about it. In all the turmoil that happened then and has since happened throughout the generations of my family’s story, you have reminded me to keep the Carter’s (the senior Carters to whom you refer to here) in my heart. Little Nathaniel married a Cherokee and we have descended with Cherokee blood, so I have studied much from that point on and looked at it through the eyes of the Cherokee (because they did suffer much during those turbulent years). In fact, I am the first blooded one in our family (after seven generations) to be back in Tennessee where it all began. Thank you for bringing to my attention to see through the eyes of Nathaniel’s parents as well. It humbles me that you have taken the time to honor my ancestor and pushes me to learn more. God bless you! :0)

  3. For some reason, Linda, this story haunts me. Someday, I would like to write the tale down in a novel format. Please keep in touch. Your research may come in handy! And I’m sure the Carters would be proud of their descendants!

  4. Hi Heather: I am a descendant of the eight year old child, Mary Elizabeth Carter, who married Benjamin Oviatt and lived in Goshen, Connecticut. Most of their children moved to Summit County, Ohio in the early 1800s. Nathaniel’s wife’s name was Sarah Bennett in case you haven’t found it out yet. They are mentioned in a book called, “The History of Cornwall” which is located in NW Connecticut. Thanks for the blog – did not know about the song! It’s wonderful!

    • Oh, that’s awesome to know, Lynn. Thanks for reaching out. I’d like to write this story, but I’m waiting on a way to figure a happy ending. The story isn’t so much a fairy tale. LOL!

    • Hi Heather. I am still here if you need any of my research. Just got a notification on the new post so it brought me back here. Hope you can write the story. I suggest possibly reading other stories of a similar nature and see how those authors wove happy endings together. The fact that two of the four children who survived have been written about in history books and did quite well in their lives is happy in and of itself. I am referring to Lynn’s ancestor and mine. I know the oldest girl who was also captured did not fare well and I have no information on the eldset daughter who did not travel with them. But as far as a happy ending goes – well, we are here (so the line went on). Keep in touch – I filled in my contact info. Would love to read the story when you write it.

      • Can you recommend any of those books?

      • I will look through my library and see what I think would work in this way. So give me a few days on that because nothing comes to mind right off the top of my head.Of course it is late and I am tired so no surprise there Lol. A theme of resilience comes to mind though. The children did well despite the tragedy and that says something about their upbringing I would think. Which, in turn, could reveal something of the family strength of the Carter’s. I will get back with you on what books may help give you some ideas. Have a great night.

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