The Crawford Campaign, 1782: Captivity, Torture, and Execution

One of the few historical markers denoting the campaign.  The other side of the security fence at the left is home to the county landfill.  Tymochtee Creek is to the right.  (Author Photo)

(part five of five)

For those men separated from the retreating main body in the pell-mell retreat, Crawford’s expedition had become a nightmare, beginning with the panic on the night of June 5.  James Paul remembered being shaken awake with word that the men were leaving and attempting to retrieve his horse in the dark before finding it had already slipped its bridle and wandered away.

“I groped about in the dark and discovered two other horses tied to the same sapling and my horse standing at their tails.  This revived my drooping spirits.  On finding my horse standing quiet, I bridled him and mounted, and about the same time a number of other horses were mounted by their owners, and all put out from the camp ground together, amounting in all to nine in number, and we made as much haste to get away as we could, considering the darkness of the road, and no roads but open woods to ride through, and no one to guide us.”  Paul and his fellows realized Colonel Williamson, now leading the main body, was retreating on a longer route home, “leaving us nine and many other stragglers behind to take care of themselves as best they could, and to steer their own course homeward, and, as it turned out afterward, but few of these stragglers ever got home.”[1]

Paul and his group eventually became mired in a swamp and had to abandon their horses, making their way on foot, pursed by Native American warriors who forced them to scatter.  After sleeping in hollow logs and under rocks, going without food other than a blackbird and occasional handful of berries, Paul eventually made his way back across the Ohio alone near Wheeling, arriving at a small fort where settlers had taken refuge against renewed Indian raids.[2]

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The Crawford Campaign, 1782: Battle on the Sandusky

(part three of five)

The Battle Monument.  “Battle Island” is likely on a slight rise through the pines.  (Author Photo)

The expedition continued through thick forest until June 4, when it finally came upon a Wyandot town on the upper Sandusky after noon.    It was abandoned to the surprise of Crawford’s guides.[i]  (The Wyandot shifted from “Upper Sandusky,” which became known as “old town” and was above the modern town of Upper Sandusky to a new town of “Upper Sandusky,” which became known as Half-King’s town and was below the modern town of Upper Sandusky.)  At this point, several men expressed their desire to return to the Ohio, complaining they were down to five days provisions.[ii]  Crawford sent a reconnaissance party of about 40 men under Major Rose to the north, where the woods opened up into a gentle plain.  Dr. Knight recalled, “there are a great many extensive plains in that country; The woods in general grow very thin, and free from brush and underwood; so that light horsemen may advance a considerable distance before an army without being much exposed to the enemy.”[iii]  Indeed, northwestern Ohio was a gently rolling plain flattened by glaciers over a million years ago and covered in 1782 with knee- to waist-high grass, interrupted by an occasional grove of trees.  The terrain rolls with small, gentle gulleys and hills rising in quick succession.  The combination limited one’s ability to see great distances.  It was perfect for the mounted force Crawford led, theoretically capable of moving quickly.  But, the slow pace of the advance, the difficulty of terrain, poor availability of forage in the woods, and quality of the horses had worn the mounts out.[iv]

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The Crawford Campaign, 1782: Birth of an Expedition

(part two of five)

Wiliam Crawford at 40 (Wikimedia Commons)
Colonel William Crawford (Wikimedia Commons)

In April, 1782 local leaders, in particular David Williamson, petitioned Irvine to lead a punitive raid to the Sandusky River aimed at the Wyandot and Hopocan’s Delaware.[i]  While he could provide no material support or leadership, Irvine approved the attack and laid down several conditions: that the expedition operate under laws governing the militia, that their purpose not extend beyond protecting the border, that the force assembled be large enough to accomplish the task, that the raiders equip and sustain themselves on horseback at their own expense, and that the expedition conduct the raid on behalf the United States with an eye toward bringing honor to the United States.  Perhaps he had the brutality of the Gnadenhutten raid in mind and sought to avoid a repeat.[ii]

This Sandusky raid did not reflect Irvine’s strategy of either reducing Detroit or bringing the tribes to battle; it was simply another American raid on Indian towns, which would likely be abandoned by the time the expedition arrived.  Irvine informed Washington that the expedition was going forward and did not seek permission.  Indeed, he may not have had the power to stop it given the restlessness of the local population on the frontier.  Rather that departing in early August, this raid would leave in late May, before the summer heat dried out the countryside.  Speed and surprise would be important, perhaps explaining Irvine’s requirement that every man be mounted, that the expedition dispense with artillery, and that it limit baggage and supplies to 30 days’ worth.[iii]  Irvine wrote Washington, “If their number exceeds three hundred, I am of opinion they may succeed, as their march will be so rapid they will probably in a great degree effect a surprise.”[iv]  But, it would be a risky enterprise.  Continue reading “The Crawford Campaign, 1782: Birth of an Expedition”

The Crawford Campaign, 1782: American Strategy in Ohio, 1781-1782

General William Irvine
General William Irvine (Wikimedia Commons)

(part one of five)

War on the American frontier was generally brutal, but few incidents inflamed American passions in the country’s early history as much as the torture and execution of Colonel William Crawford in June 1782 in Northwestern Ohio.  Crawford’s death marked the emotional climax of another patriot attempt to neutralize British power at Detroit, generally exercised through Native American proxies who had their own reasons for fighting the Americans, and halt the raids against American settlers on the frontier.  The Huron and Wyandot who lived about the Sandusky River, and the Shawnee to their South on the Scioto and Miami Rivers, both occasionally aided by various clans of the Delaware and Mingo tribes, were particularly troublesome in the Ohio River valley.  Colonel Crawford’s campaign, which resulted in his death, was meant to punish the tribes for past raids to forestall future raids.

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Burning Colonel Crawford

Last year I came across Dr. John Knight’s account of the torture and execution of Colonel William Crawford by members of the Delaware Indian tribe in 1782.  It was a vicious execution, but not unheard of in the wars on the American frontier, where violence and brutality from both sides were common.

Wiliam Crawford at 40 (Wikimedia Commons)
Crawford at about 40, twenty years before his execution (Wikimedia Commons)

Born in 1722, Crawford was a long-time business partner of George Washington, particularly in the acquisition of land in the Ohio River valley.  A veteran of frontier conflicts, during the Revolution he had served as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 5th Virginia Regiment, commanded the 7th Virginia in the east, and then returned to the Pittsburgh area to raise the 13th Virginia.  Sidelined during the war’s last years, he commanded local Pennsylvania militia and was largely retired by 1782.  For years, settlers in the Ohio Valley had agitated for punitive raid against the Ohio Tribes along the Sandusky River in today’s northwestern Ohio.  Their goal was to retaliate for Indian raids across the Ohio and spoil future raids.  By the spring of 1782, they could not be restrained.  After the militia massacred defenseless Christian Indians at Gnadenhutten in March, Brigadier General William Irvine, the Continental Commander at Pittsburgh, arranged for Colonel Crawford to lead the inevitable militia expedition, likely in hopes that Crawford could prevent a repeat.  (Crawford had taken no part in the Gnadenhutten Massacre).

Continue reading “Burning Colonel Crawford”