Tom Quick: First came the legend, then the propaganda

True or not, long-ago tales rallied Indian fighters in the West while serving as popular entertainment

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The death of Canope

After the end of the French and Indian War, some Lenape who had left the Delaware Valley ventured to return.
W.W. Munsell in “The Death of Canope: The History of Delaware County,” wrote that Lenape Indians called Ben Shanks and Canope returned to their old hunting and fishing grounds. They stopped at the home of John Ross, who warned it wouldn’t be safe for them to proceed further, since many whites would not hesitate to kill them even though the war was over. But they thought they’d be safe and proceeded to Handsome Eddy to hunt and fish.
Ben Haines, a white settler, offered use of his cabin to Ben Shanks and Canope on the pretext of friendship and protection. He told them he was going to Minisink to buy supplies, but instead went to tell Tom about their return.
Haines returned to his cabin. Later Quick and an accomplice, Cabe Shiner, arrived, claiming they were going on an upriver journey. After a shared breakfast, Quick and Shiner left and set up an ambush. Shanks escaped, but Canope was shot. The wounded man sought protection from Haines, who “beat out his brains and tumbled the body into the river.”

By Ginny Privitar

— It's hard to tell fact from fiction in the case of Tom Quick. Known as “Avenger of the Delaware” and “Indian Slayer," he was famous — or infamous — for a massacre of native Americans in retribution for his father’s death at their hands. It's probable he killed some of them, but no hard documentation exists to say for sure. Much of his story is hearsay, the stuff of pulp fiction popular 50 years after his death. The tale was likely much embellished by Quick himself in an age when storytelling was entertainment.

Tom Quick Jr., born in 1734, was reputedly the first white child born in Milford. He lived through the horrors of the French the Indian Wars (1756-1763), a turning point in the lives of native Americans and settlers on what was then the frontier.

Tom Jr. was the youngest (or next to youngest) of 10 children born to Thomas Quick and Margriete Decker/Dekker. His father, Thomas Quick Sr., was orphaned as a boy and in 1702 started a seven-year apprenticeship to shipwright John King. The contract stated that Thomas be taught reading, writing, and math, and would receive a number of tools at the end of the seven years. His marriage to Margriete (Dekker/Decker) on Dec. 22, 1713, is recorded in Kingston, N.Y.

A family is butchered

Tom told his nephew Jacob Quick that he'd once come across a family canoeing on the Delaware, near Butler’s Rift. At gunpoint he ordered them to shore, where he killed them all, including the children.
He was said to have hesitated at killing the youngest, then changed his mind and bashed the child in the head. When asked why, he replied, “Nits make lice.”
Tom also told his nephew that he'd killed an Indian he found asleep at Showers Tavern in Lumberland, on the New York side of the Delaware.

The killing of Muswink

According to “Hawk’s Nest," written in 1892 by James Martin Allerton, some men were assembled at Decker’s tavern in present-day Sullivan County (on Route 209 about three-quarters of a mile northeast of Port Jervis) when Muswink appeared. Tom Quick entered a while later.
Muswink began to tell of the part he took in Thomas Sr.’s death. He was pantomiming the grimaces the old man had made “when I jerked his scalp off," then displayed the silver adornments he had torn from his body.
Tom could not control his rage. He grabbed a gun and marched Muswink out of the tavern and down the road that leads from Cuddebackville to Carpenter’s Point. Tom shot him dead and returned to the tavern.

A promising beginning
At some point the Quicks left New York and lived for a while in Shippekonk, Sussex, in New Jersey. In 1733 Quick Sr. settled with his growing family in Milford, then known as Upper Smithfield. He built a log cabin, sawmill and grist mill on the banks of the Van De Mark creek. The following year, Tom Jr. was born.

Thomas Sr. is said to have been on friendly terms with the Lenni Lenape Indians for 20 years, even welcoming them in his home. Tom Jr. grew up with Lenni Lenape playmates and learned their language. Together they went hunting, fishing and exploring for miles around.

Over time, more white people came to the Delaware Valley, settling on native land. Tensions grew. The French and Indian War loomed. Both the French and the British used the Lenape as pawns, with most fighting on the side of the French. White settlers were caught in the middle, and there were atrocities on both sides.

The turning point

In the winter of 1756, Thomas Sr., Tom Jr., and another relative, and possibly a son-in-law of Thomas', Solomon Decker/Dekker, were near the river, foraging for hoop poles, when they were shot at by Indians. Thomas Sr. was hit. When his family tried to drag him to safety across the frozen river, Thomas Sr., mortally wounded, urged them to run for their lives. They did, and upon reaching safety saw to their horror the Indians overtake Thomas Sr. They scalped him and robbed him of silver buttons, or perhaps buckles, from his clothing. An Indian named Mus(k)wink, also known as Modeline, took part and later claimed to be the one who scalped him.

Tom Jr., 22 at the time, was traumatized. He vowed to kill as many Indians as he could: “To kill all, to spare none.” Over time, this loner, who never married, would do just that, roaming on both sides of the Delaware.

Tom’s exploits were mostly recounted by Tom himself. He claimed to have killed nearly 100 natives — men, women and children. He killed with a vengeance that to modern people seems pathological, but many believe the number he gave to be exaggerated. The white settlers considered Tom a hero, protecting them by eliminating a hostile enemy. Eventually, however, even some whites began to see Tom’s actions as excessive.

A different time, a different sensibility

In August 1889, William Bross, a descendant of Tom’s brother Jacobus, erected The Settlers Monument (widely known as the Tom Quick monument) on Sarah Street in Milford. Bross was a former Milford resident, one-time principal of the Chester Academy in Chester, N.Y., and Lieutenant Governor of Illinois from 1865-69. Quick’s remains were transferred there from his burial place in Matamoras.

According to historian George Fluhr, the monument and the celebration that attended its dedication were more of a rallying symbol to support the troops that were still fighting Indians on the Western frontier. Tales of Quick’s deeds had for years fired the imaginations of volunteer would-be Indian fighters

In 1997 the monument was attacked by someone with a sledgehammer. It was rebuilt, but not re-erected, due to protests from some, including native American groups.

Why did Tom Quick commit his crimes? His niece and Bross’ ancestor, Maggie Quick, later recalled something Tom’s mother had said: the death of his father had turned his head.

In his old age, Tom went to live at the house of Jacobus Rosencranz/Rosencrance, in or near present-day Matamoras, where he died in 1796. He was buried on the farm of his friend in Rose Cemetery.

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