In 1774, frontiersman James Harrod led a surveying party from western Pennsylvania to the region south of the Ohio River known as Kentucky. The group laid out a small fort, started their first buildings, and staked out claims to larger farms beyond the town’s walls but left the area with the start of Dunmore’s War between Virginia and the Shawnee Native Americans living north of the Ohio.
Harrod returned in the spring of 1775 with a group of settlers. Greater numbers made a larger fort and town necessary. Harrod’s return to the area coincided with the outbreak of the American Revolution, which quickly led renewal of intense fighting between Native Americans and whites living on the American frontier. British support for the Native Americans, particularly after 1777, made Kentucky an extraordinarily dangerous place to live. Together with Boonesborough and Logan’s Station, Harrodstown, also known as Harrodsburg, constituted the bulk of white settlement in Kentucky during the war’s early years.
“[T]he poor Kentucky people, who have these twelve months past been confined to three forts, on which the Indians made several fruitless attempts. They [the Indians] have left us almost without horses sufficient to supply the stations, as we are obliged to get all our provisions out of the woods. Our corn the Indians have burned all they could find the past summer, as it was in cribs at different plantations some distance from the garrisons, & no horses to bring it in on. At this time we have not more than two months bread,–near 200 women & children; not able to send them to the inhabitants; many of those families are left desolate, widows with small children destitute of necessary clothing.”
Despite continuing violence on the frontier, the prospect of land and escaping the war in the east led immigration into Kentucky to outpace population outflows while military success under George Rogers Clark ensured that the frontier settlements survived and increased.
Harrodsburg became the capital of Kentucky County when Virginia asserted ownership of the area and is still the seat of Mercer County. To commemorate Kentucky’s frontier history, the state established Old Fort Harrod State Park, which encompasses a recreated fortified town complete with period buildings, furnishings, and crops. Living historians and artisans demonstrate the 18th century skills needed to survive and flourish far from the eastern seaboard. Several exhibits help explain the frontier experience before, during, and after the American Revolution. Additionally, the park incorporates several later buildings as a museum of local history and monuments to George Rogers Clark and Abraham Lincoln’s family.
We are happy to welcome Kate Egner Gruber to our Third Annual Symposium on the American Revolution, co-hosted with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, The Lyceum and Emerging Revolutionary War. This year’s theme is “The World Turned Upside: The American Revolution’s Impact on a Global Scale. We asked Kate to answer a few questions about their talk and their passion for history.
Kate Egner Gruber is the acting director of curatorial services for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, where she works with a team to grow the collection and broaden the interpretation of early American history at Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Kate is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington’s Historic Preservation program, where she focused on archaeology and material culture, and holds her masters degree in early American history from the College of William and Mary.
What first attracted you to the study of early American history? What keeps you involved in the study of this history? Do you find these things are the same or different?
I never know how to answer this question. The past has always been a presence in my life—whether I was digging up holes in my mom’s backyard looking for buried treasure (sorry, Mom), enthralled with the stories behind the old things in my grandmother’s upstairs room, or lost in my imagination about the landscape I called home.
I like to say that history doesn’t change—but our relationship to it does. This is what keeps me involved in the study of history of today. There’s always something new to learn, new perspectives to consider, new lenses through which to view the past. This is what keeps me motivated and eager to keep diving in.
Why do you think it is important for us to study the Revolutionary Era?
What we learn about the past helps us better understand our present and create a more perfect union for the future.
What do you think was the most significant foreign impact on the American Revolution?
As someone who studies both 17th and 18th century history, my perspective on this question is flipped—I think the most significant impact on the American Revolution was the colonies’ shared 17th history in the growing English and (later) British empire.
What are some of the important lessons of the American Revolution do you think are still relevant today?
From England’s Glorious Revolution to America’s Glorious Cause, we’re still negotiating our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—or in the words of John Locke, life, liberty, and property!
What was it about the American Revolution that elicited such global interest?
Some of the founders saw their American Revolution through the lens of the English Civil Wars and Glorious Revolution, all of which had global consequences. The American Revolution isn’t just American history—it’s world history!
Join us for our Third annual Emerging Revolutionary War Symposium on September 24, 2022. Emerging Revolutionary War is excited to continue our partnership with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and The Lyceum of Alexandria, VA to bring to you a day-long Symposium focusing on the American Revolution.
On the afternoon of June 4, 1782 in the grasslands of western Ohio, a Pennsylvania volunteer named Francis Dunlavy spent a portion of his time trying to shoot a Native American he later called “Big Captain Johnny.” For his part, the Indian attempted with equal passion to kill Dunlavy. At some point, they worked themselves into a position on opposite sides of a recently fallen tree at the edge of a wood that adorned a modest, but noticeable rise that could pass for a hill in the surrounding plain. Even dropped on its side, the tree still held a full canopy of leaves, and the two combatants stalked each other around it. Eventually, “Big Captain Johnny” saw his opening. He was close enough to rise and hurl tomahawks at Dunlavy. Fortunately, he missed and Dunlavy survived to relate the tale to his friends and family. In 1872, more than 30 years after Dunlavy passed, his family related the tale to C.W. Butterfield, who wrote the first history of the Crawford Campaign. Before telling the story again, I wanted to confirm it. That meant searching for Francis Dunlavy and Captain Johnny anywhere, and everywhere, they might have left footprints in history.
During the winter encampment at Valley Forge, as thousands of men huddled around drafty wooden cabins, with dwindling supplies, and battled boredom and disease, a relief effort was organized hundreds of miles away.
George Washington, ensconced at the Potts House in the heart of the Valley Forge encampment, was very aware of the dire straights that his forces were exposed to. Throughout the winter he sent missives, directly and through intermediaries, discreetly asking for more aid, for supplies, for changes to military bureaucracy. He even consented to a delegation of congressmen to visit Valley Forge and see first-hand the situation in the winter of 1777-1778.
In a proverbial sense, he did not leave any stone unturned to try and ease the plight of his forces or continue to stay abreast of British designs, less than twenty-miles away in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
After hearing of the contributions of the Oneidas and Tuscaroras at the Battle of Oriskany in New York, Washington sent a letter of invitation for the Native Americans to visit his army. Approximately 50 warriors along with supplies made the few hundred mile journey from upstate New York to eastern Pennsylvania. They left their villages on April 25 and arrived on May 15,1778 in Valley Forge. The leaders of the Oneida party dined with Washington. Five days later some of the warriors participated in the engagement at Barren Hill under the Marquis de Lafayette. Six of the warriors gave their life in service to their ally.
In 2007 historian Joseph T. Glatthaar published a book about the Oneidas and their contributions to the American victory in the war. The title, in part, is Forgotten Allies. A fitting testament to the service and sacrifice this tribe underwent in their partnership with the fledgling American nation.
If the Oneidas were the “forgotten allies” than in the winter encampment at Valley Forge there was a forgotten woman that tramped south with her fellow Oneidas. Her name was Polly Cooper.
Along with the warriors, whom Washington wanted to serve as scouts, the Oneidas brought much needed supplies, including bushels of white corn. While the leaders dined at the Potts House, Cooper established a de-facto cooking show. She handed out the white corn to the soldiers and taught them how to use husks to make soup and ground grain to make it palatable.
This much needed food sources, along with an improved supply chain under quartermaster Nathanael Greene rounded out the bleak winter with the glimmer of hope for better supplies in the upcoming campaign season.
The Oneida, including Polly Cooper for her services, refused any and all payment. Friends help friends in need is what the Oneida told Washington and his officers. However, a tradition exists in the history of the Oneida nation. That story, passed down orally from generation to generation, highlights that Marth Washington, in her gratitude for what Polly Cooper did for the rank-and-file of the Continental army, presented the Oneida heroine with a shawl and bonnet.
Another account reads that Cooper was gifted a black shawl that she saw for sale in a store window. The Continental Congress appropriated the money for the clothing item and gifted it as their thanks to her. This shawl is still in the ownership of her descendants and has been loaned to the Oneida cultural center from time to time.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness made their way into the American revolutionary project most explicitly in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. So, I hope you’ll forgive my taking of liberties in reviewing a book that starts in the Revolutionary War Era and peaks during the Madison administration. Peter Cozzens’ new book, Tecumseh and the Prophet (Alfred A. Knopf, 2020), is a dual biography of the legendary Shawnee leader and his younger brother, Tenskwatawa, aka “the Prophet,” whose mid-life inspiration reawakened nativist aspirations among the Native American nations living in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. Together, the two sought to build a pan-Indian movement to resist the growth of the young American nation into the Midwest in the country’s first decades.
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Gabe Neville.
In his first book, Anatomy of a Massacre: The Destruction of Gnadenhutten, 1782, Eric Sterner has taken on a difficult subject. Racial violence is something many writers would shy away from while others might delight in the chance to condemn the perpetrators. Mr. Sterner, laudably, does neither. Instead, he seeks to understand what happened.
It is worth noting that the first known massacre of Indians by white men in what is now the United States occurred long before the events in the book. It happened near Jamestown, Virginia in 1610 when Virginia’s governor, Thomas West, 3rd Baron de la Warr, ordered an attack on the Paspahegh Band of Powhatans. Seventy men attacked the village, killing between 65 and 75 Paspaheghs and kidnapping the village leader’s wife and children. Rowing away, the colonists decided to kill the children, “w[hi]ch was effected by Throweinge them overboard and shoteinge owtt their Braynes in the water.” Three centuries of violence ensued.
Lord de la Warr’s name appears frequently in Mr. Sterner’s story. His name was given to the Delaware River, which in turn lent its name to the Lenape people who have long been known to English speakers as the Delaware Tribe. Mr. Sterner has provided the definitive account of the worst atrocity of the Revolutionary War. In 1782 more than eighty white settlers clubbed, killed, and scalped ninety-six peaceful, Christian Indians as they prayed and sang hymns. The attack on the Moravian mission town of Gnadenhutten (Ohio) was intended as both a punitive and preemptive strike, conducted by settlers whose families and farms had been targeted by other Indians acting as proxies of the British. It is a horrific story that has defied understanding until now.
Histories of conflict between Native and European Americans have often served us poorly, reducing one or both sides to caricatures. Earlier histories, written by white men, put a finger on the scale of historical interpretation such that Indian atrocities were called “massacres” while white atrocities were called “battles” or “raids.” In the last half of the 20th century, the finger moved to the other side of the scale. Territorial expansion, the introduction of Old World diseases, missionary activity, the presumption of Manifest Destiny, and acts of violence large and small were braided together into a narrative of premeditated genocide.
These approaches reveal the eras and ideologies of their writers. More problematic is both schools tendency to gloss over of the complexity of frontier culture. The Gnadenhutten Massacre is not a cowboys-and-Indians story of “white” and “red” men exchanging bullets and arrows. It is far more complicated than that, with many of its actors desiring little more than their own survival. Though never stated, Mr. Sterner’s approach seems inspired by the axiom: “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.” The original expression, appropriately enough, referred to walking “a mile in his moccasins.”
The people in Mr. Sterner’s story can certainly be categorized as “whites” and “Indians,” and for narrative purposes two of the book’s chapters align with these groupings. Still, though racism is an important element of the story, there is plenty to suggest that skin color was not the only matter at issue. The two most prominent white characters –John Heckewelder and David Zeisberger—were Moravian missionaries who lived for decades among the Indians and were wholly dedicated to their welfare. Other whites, British agents, were Indian allies. The killers at Gnadenhutten were white, but acted independently and in defiance of government authority. On the Native American side, the Delaware, Shawnee, Wyandot, and Iroquois tribes were distinct political entities with different alliances, histories, and leaders. Even within these tribes, individual bands (what the author calls “phratries”) disagreed with each other, sometimes sharply, on military and political questions. Some were allied with the British and some with the Americans. The victims at Gnadenhutten were—though Indians—also pious, hymn-singing Christians. The white perpetrators behaved in a decidedly un-Christian manner despite their heritage. History, it turns out, was just as full of contradictions as the present is.
European-American settlers could indeed be brutal, as the events at Gnadenhutten show. Indians could also be ruthless. The first known massacre perpetrated by North American Indians was committed long before Europeans arrived on the continent. The tactic later employed by American armies of destroying villages and burning crops was first used by Indians against the colonists around Jamestown in 1622. Further complexity is found in the fact that even the line between “whites” and “Indians” was sometimes blurred. The Indian victims of the Gnadenhutten Massacre were Christians who dressed and lived much as Europeans did. Conversely, Indian armies—notably at the 1774 Battle of Point Pleasant—sometimes had white warriors among them. These were typically men who had been kidnapped as children and adopted into Indian society.
Mr. Sterner takes a dispassionate, investigatory approach to his work. It is refreshingly free of grand economic or social theories. He seeks to comprehend the events as those involved comprehended them and shows little interest in passing judgment. Instead, he seeks to “walk” a mile in their shoes and moccasins. In doing so, he respectfully refers to Natives by the Indian names, uncynically takes the faith of the Moravians at face value, and justly illustrates the terrors experienced by settlers on the frontier. Each of these groups is examined in its own chapter. Then, in his fourth and final chapter, Mr. Sterner tells us what happened at Gnadenhutten. By then the reader is left struggling to reconcile his or her outrage with the realization that what happened was likely inevitable.
The chance to experience this tension between the world that was and the world that ought to have been is a gift to Mr. Sterner’s readers. Conceiving of a world as it ought to have been is easy. Understanding it as it actually was is much harder. Period accounts indicate that even the perpetrators of the massacre wrestled with this tension in real time. One of them, after executing a dozen Moravian Indians, “sat down and cried because he found in it no satisfaction for his murdered wife and children.” Another whose family had been killed by Indians sat down by the river bank and burst into tears, crying, “You know I couldn’t help it!”
Anatomy of a Massacre could have had an epilogue. Shortly after the events at Gnadenhutten, Col. William Crawford was captured and cruelly tortured to death by Delaware tribesmen as payback for the massacre. Crawford had played no part in the earlier atrocity, but men under his command had. Mr. Sterner has written about Crawford’s death for Emerging Revolutionary War and no doubt made a considered decision to let the Gnadenhutten story stand on its own.
The last “massacre” of American Indians occurred in 1911 in Nevada, when state police killed eight members of Mike Daggett’s Band of Shoshones, whom they were pursuing for horse theft and murder. This “Battle of Kelly Creek” occurred three hundred and one years after the massacre of the Paspahegh Band of Powhatans near Jamestown and closed the book on three centuries of racial violence between Native and European Americans. It is a cringe-inducing history, to be sure.
Mr. Sterner’s book suggests two lessons. First is that we should not blame atrocities so much on the perpetrators’ culture and demographics but rather on the killers themselves and on human nature. Culture matters, but people in every culture will do terrible things in terrible circumstances. Second is that we cannot substitute a cartoonish caricature of history for the nuanced reality of what really happened. The consequence of dumbed-down history is not a partial understanding but rather a false understanding. The Moravian Indians and missionaries lived in villages that were both physically and figuratively between two cultures. Though neutral, family and social ties to the war’s combatants remained and neither side could accept or understand them as a unique group. That led the Wyandots and British-allied Delaware to forcibly relocate them, and it motivated the settlers led by David Williamson to kill them.
An analogous refusal to understand the past for what it really was does a different kind of “violence” to history. Mr. Sterner’s book provides hope that historians can in fact focus on real history, avoiding the polemics and theorizing that characterizes so much academic writing. Like Glenn Williams, author of Dunmore’s War, Mr. Sterner seeks to trace the course of events and to understand the subjects of his work as they understood themselves. It’s good history.
 George Percy, “’A Trewe Relaycon:’ Virginia from 1609 to 1612,” Tyler’s Quarterly, 3 (1921-1922): 259-282, 272. “Weroance” was a title for a “sub-chief” or a village leader.
 Eric Sterner, Anatomy of a Massacre: The Destruction of Gnadenhutten, 1782 (Yardley, Pa: Westholme, 2020), 148.
If you are from a certain geographical area of the United States the title of this post is a saying you have heard numerous times. Heck, you may even use it yourself. I’ll admit that I have found usage of this American style vernacular a few instances in my lifetime.
Did you know that there is one version that connects the popular saying to a figure in American history and has its origin dating back into the 18th century?
While reading a history of Osceola, I came across the mention of Benjamin Hawkins and as many of you know, did some internet research, consulted other books on the Seminoles, Creeks, and other Native Americans and the research took off from there. This is just a brief overview of Hawkins and his possible, albeit tenuous, connection to this saying.
A possible first mention of the saying above is attributed to Hawkins, whose name probably does not ring a bell for a large segment of people, historians included. Hawkins, born in North Carolina on August 15, 1754 into a family of six, was a gifted individual who attended the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton University with an aptitude for linguistics, which apparently including learning Native American dialects.
Gnadenhutten. Pronounced with a silent “G” does not smoothly roll of the tongue. Nor is it a historical event that most people are aware of. Cue Eric Stener, historian with Emerging Revolutionary War, contributing historian to both the Journal of the American Revolution and Emerging Civil War while conducting a career in government and public policy, specializing on national security and aerospace.
And now specializing on the Massacre at Gnadenhutten. His latest publication, part of the Journal of American Revolution Books is a November 2020 release that examines the March 8, 1872 massacre of peaceful Native Americans under the tutelage of missionaries from the Church of the United Brethren. Conducted by western settlers, the atrocity caught the attention of revolutionaries such as Benjamin Franklin who wrote, “the abominable Murders committed by some of the frontier People on the poor Moravian Indians, has given me infinite Pain and Vexation.”
Although “ample incidents of good and evil on March 8, that summation does not explain what brought murderers and victims together on the banks of the Muskingum River in today’s Ohio.”
For that reason we turn to the next “Rev War Revelry” this Sunday, at 7 p.m. EST on our Facebook page as we discuss his latest work with author Eric Sterner. For more information or to purchase your copy of his book, click here.
We look forward to you joining us this Sunday for the next historian happy hour!
The Revolutionary War has more than its share of adventurers, rogues, soldiers-of-fortune, and risk-takers. Augustin Mottin De La Balme combined all these characteristics in his person. In November 1780, they brought the Frenchman and his soldiers to a horrible end outside the Miami Village of Kekionga, near the confluence of the Saint Joseph, Saint Mary’s, and Maumee Rivers in modern Fort Wayne, Indiana.
La Balme was born in France in 1736, entered the Gendarmerie in 1757, served in the seven Years War, gained experience in the cavalry, received an army appointment in 1763, and retired with a pension in 1773. He wrote several books on cavalry training and tactics, but finding his fortunes stalled, left for America in 1777 with a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin, just one more French officer seeking rank, advancement, and his fortune in the war against Great Britain.[i] Major General William Heath, who met him in Boston, wrote Washington, “We swarm with French Officers at this Place, Two arrived in the Ship on Sunday at this Place They are much Superior to any that I have as yet Seen, One is an Engineer The other a Captain of Cavalry, They are Gentlemen of Education, Sense and Genius, The Captain has with him Two Treatises on the Discipline and management of the Horse, written by himself, and much Approved by all the Generals in the French Service.”[ii] Despite a glut of would-be foreign officers, La Balme received a commission as a Lieutenant Colonel and then Colonel and Inspector General of Cavalry. Dissatisfied with the appointment, he resigned, focused his attention on mobilizing Frenchmen still living in North America, and kept petitioning Congress to find useful work for him. Eventually, Congress tried to pay him off and send him home, but the French officer stayed, trying his hand at various schemes to contribute, including mobilizing Indians in Maine to attack the British. That short-lived campaign accomplished nothing, but resulted in La Balme’s capture and eventual escape.[iii]
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Joshua Shepherd
For most history enthusiasts, a visit to a battlefield is simply a diversion that very often takes place during an annual vacation. But the pleasant surroundings of America’s historic parks belie the terrifying sights that greeted a battlefield’s first visitors.
On December 24, 1793, a detachment of American troops under the command of Major Henry Burbeck arrived at an insignificant knoll deep in the wilderness of present-day Ohio. Tasked with constructing a timber fortification on the site, the troops first had to attend to the unenviable task of clearing the remains of over six hundred men who had been killed there two years earlier. Burbeck reported that the battlefield “had a very melancholy appearance – nearly in the space of 350 yards lay 500 skull bones – 300 of which we buried.” Most of the skulls, it was reported, appeared to have been smashed by tomahawk blows.