The Disappearance—and Mysterious Reappearance—of Matthew Brayton

Here’s a 19th century mystery concerning a certain Matthew Brayton, who disappeared as a small boy, was held an Indian captive for 34 years, then one day reappeared.

But, was it really him?

An Indian Captive Reclaimed after Thirty-five Years’ Absence, Evening Post newspaper article 3 December 1859

Evening Post (New York City, New York), 3 December 1859, page 1

This is a gripping story about a young boy being kidnapped and then returning home as an adult. You will want to read all of An Indian Captive Reclaimed after Thirty-five Years’ Absence – Incidents of his Life in the Evening Post (New York City, New York), 3 December 1859, page 1.

On 20 September 1825 Matthew Brayton set off from home to gather the family’s cows. He was about eight years old—and wouldn’t be heard from again for 34 years. Kidnapped by the Indians, he was one of thousands of Indian captives in America from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Imagine his family’s joy when he finally turned up again!

A great, heartwarming story of a missing boy finally returned home, except—it apparently isn’t true.

Digging deeper into genealogy records we find Matthew Brayton’s obituary and even his photograph—and the true story comes to light.

Mathew Brayton obituary, Salem Register newspaper article 23 February 1863

Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 23 February 1863, page 2

Matthew Brayton’s old obituary, printed in the Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 23 February 1863, page 2, gives us the rest of the story.

After returning from his long Indian captivity, Matthew Brayton lived with his supposed father, Elijah Brayton, for the next nine months. Then in June 1860 he told his “father” that he really wasn’t Matthew Brayton at all. Was this a 19th century scam? Perhaps—but Matthew Brayton didn’t give any further details of why he had lied about who he was.

Perhaps he simply didn’t want to “manage the farm that Mr. Brayton had promised to give him.” After telling the Braytons the truth, Matthew left their farm and joined the 4th Michigan Cavalry as “Matthew Brayton.” He died a few years later in 1863 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Here is a photograph of him in uniform.

photo of Mathew Brayton in Civil War uniform

Credit: Find-A-Grave

Genealogy Search Tip: Just because something is in print doesn’t make it true.

Don’t stop at the first story you find about your ancestor. Keep digging and make sure you uncover all of the facts.

Find the stories of your family’s history. Document them, preserve them and pass them down.

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Written by Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp is the Director of Genealogy Products at GenealogyBank. Tom Kemp is an internationally known librarian and archivist – he is the author of over 35 genealogy books and hundreds of articles about genealogy and family history.

He previously served as the Chair of the National Council of Library & Information Associations (Washington, DC) and as Library Director of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

An active genealogist, he has been working on his own family history for 47 years. With the rapidly growing online archives at GenealogyBank – it is a great day for genealogy!

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2 thoughts on “The Disappearance—and Mysterious Reappearance—of Matthew Brayton

  1. Mathew Brayton was my Great, Great Grandfather on my grandmother Jesse Brayton’s side of the family. My father was Ralph Brayton Spencer. I have the gun that Mathew carried during the civil war. I hold the true story of what was Mathew’s real life with the Indians. My Great Great grandmother was the Sioux Indian that Mathew married.

    Thank you.

  2. Rick – that is terrific.
    I hope that you will take multiple closeup photos of the gun and put a copy of them along with his story and any other items that your family has online. Get the story and illustrating photos on multiple sites to insure that his story won’t be lost to the family in the future.

    If you will send it to us here I will upload them as part of this blog story. Send them to me at: TKemp@NewsBank.com

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