COLONIAL PENNSYLVANIA FRONTIER
Conflicts at the Ohio Border
--with the Shawnee, Delaware, Mingoes, Wyandottes
--and the Virginians
- Western Frontier
- Pontiac Rebellion
- Dunmore's War
- Border Dispute
- Massacre of the Moravian Indians
- Crawford's Campaign
Bald Eagle and the Moravian Christian Indians
Great Island sat in a pocket of persistent fog surrounded by high ridges where Bald Eagle Creek flowed into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. This was the hostile frontier of pre-Revolutionary Pennsylvania and the homeland of the Munsee Delaware. Two legends weave through their history.
The whites who settled on that creek named it for the aging Chief Woapalanne--Bald Eagle. The old chief frequently traveled to the distant hunting lands of the Monongahela River. After the Pontiac Rebellion Virginians poured across the western lands, cleared the forests, planted crops and raided the nearest Mingo and Delaware villages. In spite of the danger Woapalanne continued to hunt there, returning in winter to his home on the Susquehanna.
During those days Moravian missionaries were afoot and convertd several hundred Munsee Delaware to the Christian religion. Their angry tribal leaders thenbanished them. These refugees, known to whites as the Moravian Christian Indians, passed through the fogs of Great Island in the spring of 1772. Some of the somber caravan of over 200 souls drove cattle along the banks and carried their household goods on their backs like pack animals. Others paddled canoes up the river. A large church bell sat in the middle of the first canoe paddled by the United Brethren Missionary, Zeisberger. His congregation in deerskin clothing would follow him through the mountains to the place where the Allegheny River met the Monongahela to form the mighty Ohio. They would leave the last white settlements behind and proceed down the Ohio to the Muskingum and take refuge on the distant Tuscarawas River.
The next year old Chief Bald Eagle also walked to the Ohio, as he did every hunting season, turning upstream when he reached the Monongahela. He never returned--at least not alive--for three mean-spirited settlers murdered him, stuck a piece of johnnycake in his mouth and set him afloat in a canoe down the river. Some say his ghost returned to Bald Eagle Creek four years later. Note
This above act of brutality on the part of the settlers against a revered native leader represented a common hostility shared--not by all--but perhaps by a majority. Such hostile attitudes resulted from the British strategy that played the Indian against the settler. The primary foes of the settlers in far western Pennsylvania were British armed Wyandotte, Delaware and Shawnee.
Legal colonial settlement of Pennsylvania had been confined to the country east of the Susquehanna until after the French and Indian War. Land in western Pennsylvania was not ceded to the Commonwealth until after the uprising known as the Pontiac Rebellion had been put down. Nevertheless it is said that 20,000 whites lived illegally in the Pennsylvania-[West]Virginia border region. ref 3
Under the terms of the Treaty of Fort Stanwyx wealthy Virginia farmers migrated into the wild and beautiful mountains of the Monongahela River to get a share of the land. One of the new arrivals was a surveyor friend of George Washington named William Crawford. At the same time Irish and German immigrants filed over the Alleghenies from eastern Pennsylvania with the same intent. Both Pennsylvanians and Virginians claimed the land.
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Ten years later two events signalled renewed conflict with the Indians. Capt. Michael Cresap attacked an encampment at Captina Creek and then Daniel Greathouse led thirty armed settlers to Yellow Creek where they plied a party of Mingoes with alcohol and then massacred them.
At that time a Moravian Christian Indian named "Logan" lived in this region. He had not participated in the French and Indian Wars and lived a life of mutual respect with the white men of Pennsylvania. All that changed the day he learned his family had just been murdered by the whites. He led his people in war against Governor Dunmore of Virginia. In 1774 a frontier militia was formed which included the adventuresome George Rogers Clarke and the infamous Simon Girty. Dunmore seized the opportunity to move for possession of the forbidden lands in Kentucky along the Ohio River.
In addition to his war against the Indians, the Governor also waged a campaign against the Pennsylvanians for possession of the disputed border land.
For the land in Ohio the Governor hired Daniel Boone to reconnoiter 800 miles of wild forest land all the way to the Falls of the Ohio (now Louisville) in the spring of 1775. On his return the Governor gave Boone command of three garrisons. He then marched 1000 Virginians toward Pittsburgh. Colonel Andrew Lewis took another 1100 up the Kanawha from western Virginia to the Ohio.
Defeating Shawnee Chief Cornstalk at Point Pleasant in October, the troops moved on to the Scioto River. There they forced the Chief to sign a peace treaty giving the settlers the right to travel on the Ohio while still rserving the land to its north to the tribes. George Rogers Clark continued west.
Just then news arrived that rebels in Massachusetts had risen up against King George. Then and there Dunmore and his forces declared their allegiance to their King.
Virginians on the Monongahela however took the side of the Patriots. By the time the British surrendered at Yorktown, the boundary controversy between Virginia and Pennsylvania had been resolved in favor of Pennsylvania.
Massacre of the Moravian Christians
Hostilities between the Monongahela settlers and the Delaware, Mingo, and Shawnee continued to escalate. In 1782 a contingent of U.S. forces raided the Moravian Christian Indian settlements on the Tuscarawas River and massacred two entire villages. Members of a third village escaped west to the distant Delaware village at Sandusky.
The remnants of the Moravians removed to Ontario, Canada in 1791. See "Moravian Missions Among American Indians," an archive on microfilm at the Billy Graham Center. Check online for access to genealogical records.
William Crawford's Campaign
Colonel William Crawford led 600 of his neighbors on a killing expedition to Sandusky to destroy the remaining Moravian Christians. The mission ended in utter failure. The final bloody battle took place on the Olentangy River in Ohio. The Delaware burned Crawford at the stake. (Ref 4 below). One of his troops, Isaac Newkirk later claimed to have buried Crawford's charred bones and to have returned the following year to retrieve them for the Colonel's widow.
Some names of men who accompanied Crawford on his expedition can be found online at a transcription of Boyd Cumrine, History of Washington County, Pennsylvania. See also "OhioHistorycentral.org" the web pages of the Ohio Historical Society.
1 John Blair Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties, Pennsylvania , Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883; rpt. [State College, Pennsylvania] Center County Historical Society, 1975.
2 Military History of Ohio. New YOrk: Hardesty Publishers, 1889. p. 112.
3 Alexander Scott Withers, Chronicles of Border Warfare,Cincinnati: R. Clarke Co., 1895, pp. 135-136.
4 C. W. Butterfield, The Expedition Against Sandusky Under Col. William Crawford in 1782, n.p. Robert Clarke & Co., 1873., p 62-67. See also John E. Hopley, History of Crawford County, Ohio, Vol 1,Chicago: Richmond-Arnold Publishing Co.; rpt. Evansville, IL: Whipporwill Publishers, n.d., p. 44.
Note: From: Marilou West Ficklin, Showdown at Truckee, Reno: Western Book Journal Press, 1997.