Column
May 17, 2017

Undercover of the night

By Dom Cioffi

A high-profile kidnapping case captured the country’s attention over the last few months. It involved a 50-year-old Tennessee teacher who left his wife and children (and grandchildren!) to run away with his 15-year-old student.

It took authorities over a month to track the couple down in a remote California forest, thwarting his attempts at relocating the duo to Mexico.

On the surface it looks as if the teen went willingly, but child psychologists who specialize in these situations are convinced that the girl was manipulated and brainwashed over a long period of time. It’s a sad, complicated affair that has ruined and will continue to ruin the lives of both families.

Kidnapping has been around since the dawn of mankind and will undoubtedly stick around as long as humans feel the need to manipulate one another.

The earliest recorded kidnapping in the the United States occurred in 1754 in Charlestown, N.H. (ironically, only a short drive from the Green Mountains of Killington). The incident involved Susannah Willard Johnson and her family as well as a couple neighbors.

At the time, the French and Indian War had just broken out so tensions were high. Charlestown was a very remote northern enclave that had few inhabitants. Life was difficult for the colonists who lived there, due to the tough winters and constant threat of Indian attacks.

On the night of Aug. 29, 1754, Susannah and her family gathered together with some neighbors for a celebration that lasted into the night. They were feeling joyous since they had just received word that any threat of the war reaching them would be delayed until the following spring.

However, in the early morning hours of Aug. 30, while the Johnsons were asleep, an armed Abenaki party raided the enclave, abducting Susannah, her husband, her sister, her three children, and two neighbors. The Indians stole all the food available and then set fire to the Johnsons’ home.

Over the course of the next few weeks, the family was marched through the wilderness of northern New England and into Quebec. During this time, Susannah, who was nine months pregnant, gave birth to another daughter. Luckily, the Indians took pity on her, allowing her to ride horseback while the others were forced to walk.

Once they reached the Indian village in Quebec, the family was sold into slavery one by one. Eventually, only Susannah and her infant daughter and youngest son were left. Soon Susannah and her daughter were also sold as slaves, leaving behind her son, who had been inducted into the Abenaki tribe as a member.

Susannah’s husband was eventually allowed to travel back to New England for two months in order to obtain ransom money. Unfortunately, he could not make it back in time so upon his return he was thrown into jail along with several other family members. They remained imprisoned for the next two years.

Finally, in June of 1757, Susannah’s petition to the governor of Quebec allowed for the family’s release. They were traded to the English in return for valuable French prisoners. By December of 1757, the family (except for Susannah’s husband, who was forced to serve out his entire prisoner term) were finally back in their home country, having been held captive for a little over three years.

Forty-two years after the kidnappings, Susannah decided to write an account of their ordeal, referencing surviving letters, notes and a diary, as well the memories of her family and fellow captives. A local Charlestown lawyer ghost-wrote the publication.

Titled “A Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. Johnson,” the book was published in 1796 in Walpole, N.H. A second edition, expanded and revised by Johnson herself, was published in 1807 and printed by Alden Spooner in Windsor, Vt.

This week’s film, “Snatched,” also features a kidnapping, although this one was far less intriguing than Susannah Johnson’s.

Starring Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer, “Snatched” chronicles the ridiculous abduction of a mother and daughter while they vacation at an exotic getaway in South America.

While Schumer is arguably the funniest woman around right now and Hawn has all the chops to deliver top rate comedy, neither can survive the flimsy storyline they were forced to follow. In the end, the writers failed the duo, forcing them to deliver antics that were far less than comedic.

Check this one out if you’re a fan of either actress, just don’t be surprised if you walk out with few laughs under your belt.

A cloistered “C-” for “Snatched.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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