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.Continue reading “￼Down the Rabbit Hole with Three Captains Johnny”
In the summer of 1780, Captain Henry Bird crossed the Ohio River with some 800 Native Americans from various British-allied tribes and two companies of soldiers from Detroit (roughly 50 Canadians and Tories and a mixed group of regulars from the 8th and 47th regiments) to invade Kentucky. More importantly, he brought two pieces of artillery, a three pounder and a six pounder. It was one of the largest and most substantial attacks into Kentucky during the American Revolution.
Bird’s goal was the Falls of the Ohio (today’s Louisville), which was critical to the American war effort on the frontier due to its critical position on the Ohio River. Bird rendezvoused with the great bulk of the Native Americans at the confluence of the Great Miami and Ohio Rivers, (west of today’s Cincinnati) to discover that they had other plans. Attacking fortified areas was less appealing than raiding small settlements and isolated farms, where the Indians might secure booty and terrorize the locals into abandoning Kentucky. Constituting the vast majority of the army, the Native Americans won out.Continue reading “Review: Russell Mahan, The Kentucky Kidnappings and Death March: The Revolutionary War at Ruddell’s Fort and Martin’s Station, Kindle ed. (West Haven, UT: Historical Enterprises, 2020).”
Multiple tomes grace bookshelves in libraries, book stores, and personal residences that depict various aspects of George Washington’s life and legacy. Historian Colin G. Calloway’s “The Indian World of George Washington” deserves a space on that bookshelf.
Long overdue, this volume about Washington fills a void, as “nothing was more central than the relationship between the first president and the first Americans” (pg. 4). From his first appearances in the greater colonial world in the early 1750s to the last years of his presidency, “a thick Indian strand runs through the life of George Washington as surely as it runs through the history of early America” (pg. 4).Continue reading “Book Review: The Indian World of George Washington by Colin G. Calloway”
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Jon-Erik Gilot. A short bio is attached at the bottom of this post.
Though perhaps more widely known as the birthplace of West Virginia during the Civil War, Wheeling and its environs retains several significant sites associated with the Revolutionary War. The name itself is translated from the Delaware language meaning “place of the skull,” legend having that the severed head of a white settler was placed on a pole by local Native Americans as a warning to others to stay away.
Wheeling was founded in 1769 by Colonel Ebenezer Zane and his brothers Jonathan and Silas. Five years later in 1774 Fort Henry (originally called Fort Fincastle) was built overlooking the Ohio River to protect the growing numbers of settlers from attack. The fort was twice attacked during the Revolutionary War, first in 1777 and again on September 11 – 13, 1782, when a force of British loyalists (Butler’s Rangers) and Native Americans (under the command of outlaw Simon Girty) attacked the fort’s 47 defenders. The fort was besieged over two days, culminating in Betty Zane’s heroic run for gunpowder in a nearby cabin. The British and natives broke off the battle with the arrival of Virginia militia reinforcements. Fort Henry is acknowledged as one of the final battles of the Revolutionary War.Continue reading “ERW Weekender: Wheeling”
Before Americans began relying on a local groundhog to predict the weather, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania had a legend attached to it.
In 1772, Native Americans converted to Christianity under the tutelage of missionaries from the Church of the United Brethren (known as Moravians for their European roots) began migrating from the Susquehanna River and Wyoming Valleys in Pennsylvania to the Muskingum River Valley in modern Ohio. The exodus, which lasted much of the year, passed through many places, including a small, abandoned Indian village on Mahoning Creek northeast of Pittsburgh known as “Ponks Uteney,” which the missionaries understood to mean “habitation of the sand fly.” One missionary recalled, “not a moment’s rest was to be expected at this place, otherwise than by kindling fires throughout the camp, and sitting in the smoke.” The refugees from the east hurried through the area, despite a wealth of game.
Sand flies, or gnats, were legion on the frontier, but Ponks Uteney’s insect inhabitants had become legendary by 1772, which of course required an explanation. The missionaries were told that in the 1740s an old Indian hermit and shaman lived there on a rock. Being a magician, from time to time he would magically appear to travelers and hunters passing by and scare or murder them. Fed up with the harassment and danger, a local Indian chief surprised the shaman and killed him. From there, oral history turns to mythmaking. Some storytellers had it that the chief then burned the shaman’s body to ash, which he threw into the air to dispel the shaman’s magical powers. Caught by the breeze, the ashes turned into “Ponksak” (sand flies) so they could continue the shaman’s habit of pestering anyone passing through.
The migrants survived the Ponksak and eventually arrived at their new homes on the eastern branch of the Muskingum River, known today as the Tuscarawas. While their new communities flourished, the American Revolution plunged the frontier into war, which many of the people who had braved the plague of sand flies would not survive.
 John Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Delaware and Mohegan Indians, (Philadelphia: McCarty & Davis, 1820), 121.
“By no means comparable with the feats of a similar character” and “performed an act of daring” and “nay, desperate horsemanship” and “seldom been equaled by man or beast.” All these describe the amazing escape of Major Samuel McColloch in September 1777 during the attack on Fort Henry around where present-day Wheeling, West Virginia.
I first encountered this amazing, daring, and crazy eluding of capture when I took my own, well not as risky, but still a leap, moving to Wheeling to attend university there. Parents were 3,000 miles away in England and I was attempting to juggle basketball, studies, getting re-acclimated to life in the United States, and unknowingly, a left knee that was about to explode. Being a history major, this was one of the first accounts learned in a freshman year seminar class about local history to inspire the incoming students to explore the area outside of campus.
Fort Henry, built in 1774, was originally named Fort Fincastle, one of the titles of Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia. When the colonies revolted, the fortification was renamed in honor of Patrick Henry.Continue reading “McColloch’s Leap”
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Gabriel Neville
Most of the enlisted men of the Revolutionary War are faceless and forgotten—just names on lists. Biographies and painted portraits are honors that were reserved for officers. Even so, it is possible to trace the lives of some common soldiers using original sources. Many of them applied for pensions after 1818, which required them to provide (usually brief) narratives of their service. Some gave similar attestations when they applied for military bounty land. A small number left detailed accounts of their experiences in interviews, letters, or diaries. Finally, and very rarely, we have photographs taken in the last years of some veterans’ lives. Virginian John Cuppy may be the only Revolutionary War soldier to leave us an artifact in each of these categories.
Cuppy was born near Morristown, New Jersey on March 11, 1761. While still an infant, he was brought to Hampshire County, Virginia by his German parents. Their new home was on the South Branch of the Potomac River near the town of Romney, which is now in West Virginia. About forty miles west of the Shenandoah Valley, this was the very edged of settled Virginia territory. John was just fourteen years old when the war began—too young to be a candidate for service when Hampshire was directed to raise a rifle company in July of 1775. He was still too young when Dutch-descended Capt. Abel Westfall recruited a company there that winter for Col. Peter Muhlenberg’s new 8th Virginia Regiment.Continue reading “A Portrait of John Cuppy”
St. Louis, Missouri is considered the gateway to the west for the United States beginning in the 19th century. In the 18th century, St. Louis was not on the radar of many in the burgeoning United States.
However, the westernmost engagement of the American Revolution unfolded in the town of St. Louis, crushing British designs to conquer the territory from the Spanish, who were allied with the French and thus the United States.
On May 26, 1780, a hodgepodge force of 300 townsfolk, free and enslaved blacks, French settlers, and Spanish soldiers rallied to defend their town from the advance of a combined British and Native American force. Continue reading “Battle of Fort San Carlos – Westernmost Battle of the American Revolution”
In the summer of 1778, Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers Clark of the Virginia militia launched one of the most daring American military operations of the Revolutionary War when he invaded the “Illinois country” and captured Cahokia and Kaskaskia in modern-day Illinois and Vincennes in southern Indiana, effectively neutralizing British power on the Illinois, Wabash, and Mississippi Rivers. Henry Hamilton, Lieutenant Governor of Quebec and Britain’s Superintendent for Indian Affairs in Detroit, could not allow such audacity to succeed, lest Britain’s influence with the western Indian nations wane. Learning of Fort Sackville’s fall at Vincennes on the Wabash River, he set out to recapture it.
Over the summer, I took a family excursion to several Revolutionary War sites in Ohio, some of which I recently wrote about. In particular, I wanted to trace the experience of several Moravian missionaries and their congregations in the no-man’s land of the frontier. Traveling a back road along the Tuscarawas River between the villages of Gnadenhutten and New Schoenbrunn, we stumbled across the graves of David Zeisberger (1721-1808) and several notable missionaries at the crossroads of Goshen.