Saturday, January 15, 2022

New Narrative #23: The Ohio Country, the Shawnee, Lord Dunmore, and the 1776 Western Front

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[Graphic: Death of Chief Cornstalk]
We ended Narrative #22 with the beginnings of a multi-tribal and multinational conflict over ‘the Ohio Country,’ later to be widened and renamed ‘the Northwest Territories.’ Most of the stories we learned of the American Revolution ignore or downplay this dimension, in favor of all the battles along the Eastern Seaboard or the Upper Hudson Valley. They were compelling tales, but they were never the complete picture. For that, we need to step back a bit.
Before the arrival of the bearded and smelly people of the ‘Great Canoes’ to Turtle Island, we learned of one Native people, the Lenape (aka Delawares). They were considered an ancient people from the west who move steadily eastward until they met the Atlantic Ocean. They made the bay areas their home, calling themselves ‘the people of the dawn,’ meaning they saw the Sun rise before any others. But they were not the only peoples in motion. Behind them was another Algonquin-speaking people known as the Shawnee. Their name among the Algonquins was a dual mixture of ‘people of the south wind’ and ‘people of the thaw and better weather.’ When you consider that most Algonquins were centered in what is now Canada, the meaning of ‘Shawnee’ makes sense. There is debate over where the Shawnee came from, but let’s take their word for it. They considered the Lenape their ‘grandfathers,’ meaning an older connection in whose footsteps they followed.
If the Lenape settled on the shore of the rising Sun, their Shawnee ‘grandchildren’ seemed a restless bunch, moving about far and wide—from what is now Illinois in the west, to northern Georgia in the south and Pennsylvania in the east. But their trails always seemed to end in the ‘Ohio Country’, stretching from its upper forks and ‘Logstown’, down the Ohio Valley and its Indiana and Kentucky tributaries to the Mississippi. Many smaller tribes, such as the Miami and the Mingo (Seneca) , also saw this area as home, but none were quite as powerful as the Shawnee.
We need to understand these lessor-known peoples and territories to make full sense of the ‘American Revolution,’ or more properly, the American War of Independence from Great Britain. First, we need to set aside the ‘one-front’ concept of the war as conflict on the Atlantic seaboard. It was really a two or even three-front war, engaged in the West with Native peoples, who had allied themselves with the British, but were mainly fighting for their own homelands as well. Slave revolts were an internal front.
We covered the revolutionary ‘motley’ class struggle component in New England with our account of the multiracial rebellion of dockworkers and sailors in Boston against the UK naval brass. But the colonies in the south also faced risings of the enslaved, often instigated by the Brits. The UK had recently abolished slavery on its own soil, while hypocritically still profiting from its widespread practice in the colonies throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere.
A good starting point is Lord Dunmore’s War, around 1774. John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, was Virginia’s governor at the time. According to Wikipedia:
“In September 1773, a then-obscure hunter named Daniel Boone led a group of about 50 emigrants in the first attempt by white colonists to establish a settlement in Kentucky County, Virginia. On October 9, 1773, Boone's oldest son James, age 16, and a small group of men and boys who were retrieving supplies were attacked by a band of Delawares, Shawnees, and Cherokees. They had decided "to send a message of their opposition to settlement…" James Boone and Henry Russell, a teenage son of future Revolutionary War officer William Russell, were captured and tortured to death. The brutality of the killings shocked the settlers along the frontier, and Boone's party abandoned their expedition. By December, the incident had been reported in Baltimore and Philadelphia newspapers. The deaths among Boone's party were among the first events in Lord Dunmore's War.”
Settler ‘Ranger’ militias made it their business to slaughter Native peoples at will. One was Captain Michael Cresap who, in the Pike’s Creek Massacre killed the family of the Mingo Chief Logan. The Mingo were relatively peaceful, but Cresap’s crew didn’t care. They simply wanted to kill or drive away the Natives from the Ohio, West Virginia and Western PA area. Lord Dunmore sent his militia to aid Cresap and others, gathering around an area called ‘Point Pleasant', near what is today Wheeling, Steubenville, and Beaver, PA. On hearing of the murders, Logan made a famous statement, recorded on a monument in the area today:
“I appeal to any white man to say, if ever he entered Logan's cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat; if ever he came cold and naked, and he clothed him not. During the course of the last long and bloody war, Logan remained idle in his cabin, an advocate for peace. Such was my love for the whites, that my countrymen pointed as they passed, and said, Logan is the friend of the white men. I have even thought to live with you but for the injuries of one man. Col. Cresap, the last spring, in cold blood, and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not sparing even my women and children. There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature. This has called on me for revenge. I have sought it: I have killed many: I have fully glutted my vengeance. For my country, I rejoice at the beams of peace. But do not harbor a thought that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. He will not turn on his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one.”
Here a Shawnee chief named Cornstalk entered the picture. He had been an advocate of neutrality in the rising conflict between the Brits and the Americans, but tilted toward the British. He had also taken part in Pontiac’s rebellion in defense of the Ohio country homeland earlier. With other Native leaders, Cornstalk went to Fort Randolph in 1777 to negotiate a peace. They were murdered while preparing to talk.
The consequences were severe, and the Shawnee dropped their neutrality. Virginia, now under the new American governor Patrick Henry, found a Shawnee-led resistance on his western front. The absconding Lord Dunmore offered a last-minute deal to Virginia’s slaves: if they rebelled and joined his ‘Ethiopian Regiment’ they would be emancipated. Thousands did so, and we know that a few made it to free status in Nova Scotia and the UK itself. Some were returned to Africa.
During the revolution, the Shawnee captured a number of settlers in the region, including Daniel Boone, but took them to Detroit and sold them to the British. Among these were my own third GGrandfather, George Baker, captured with his wife Elizabeth Nicholson and five children at the Baker Blockhouse on Raccoon Creek, near the Ohio River in Western PA, a few miles downriver from the old Logstown. After their release by the British later, they issued a statement asserting they had been treated well and with civility by their Shawnee captors, and had no ill will on that account. They returned to what is now Beaver County and rebuilt their homestead. Eventually, they had a granddaughter, Amanda Baker, who married a young farmer known for his apple orchards, William Hamilton Davidson. A monument marks the old Baker homestead and burial grounds today just west of the Center Exit on I-376. Artifacts are kept in a Museum at Penn State Beaver. They were clearly settlers on lands taken militarily, but so far as I have been able to determine, none of my family were ‘rangers’ or engaged in any killings of the Native peoples.
The battles of the new White Slave Republic on its western frontiers, however, were now defined and the conflicts over what it now called its ‘Northwest Territories’ were far from over. More to Come

Talmadge Wright, Ivan Handler and 22 others
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New Narratives #22: Aliquippa, Logstown, the Mingo and the Ohio Country.

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[Painting: Cornplanter of the Seneca]
Nearly all of us who grew up here in Aliquippa, Beaver County, Western PA are familiar with Logstown and Aliquippa, the Native American matriarch who is our town’s namesake. Most things we think we know about them, however, are either slightly mistaken or entirely wrong. But that doesn’t make them less important in our ongoing wider tale.
We can start with Logstown. Many of us knew it as part of the town of Aliquippa, on its northern edge. That’s true, but it's not the real and far more important Logstown, which was directly across the Ohio River on a flat between what is now the towns of Baden and Ambridge. By 1750 or so, it was a major Native settlement with a unique history with no single source of population. It was founded by mixed peoples fleeing westward to escape the diseases of the Europeans, and its peoples included the Shawnee, the Lenape and the Mingo, or Seneca, a subset of the Haudenosaunee, or ‘Six Nations.’ All saw the area as their 'hunting grounds.' Game was plentiful due to 'salt licks' in the region.
The French also had a hand in building the town, viewing it as a convenient trading center. Naturally, it wasn’t called Logstown, a later English name, but ChininguĂ©, itself a corrupted French version of ‘Shenango,’ a nearby Native-named river to the north. For the times, it was large, with 50 to 100 structures, depending on the time of the counting, and perhaps 500 inhabitants at most. It had extensive nearby crops of corn, squash beans, and berries.
But Logstown was also a diplomatic post of sorts, where the French, English, and Americans, as well as six or so tribal groupings, negotiated and made deals. Detroit’s commander of ‘New France,’ Pierre Joseph CĂ©loron de Blainville, visited there, as did George Croghan, an Irish fur trader, and Andrew Montour, a Metis interpreter, and George Washington. Washington also met with Aliquippa, the strong Mingo-Seneca matriarch, but her tribe lived a few miles further upriver near what is now McKee’s Rocks.
Washington, as is well known, had his eyes on grabbing ‘the Ohio country,’ the term of the time for all of the lands in Western PA and Ohio situated on the southern and western banks of the Ohio River. The ‘Six Nations’ had supposedly ‘ceded’ them to the British, much to the anger of both the Shawnee, the French and other Native people.
'Queen' Aliquippa was partial to the British but decided to avoid the conflict by moving eastward to central PA, where she died. Serving later under General Braddock, Washington was trounced by the French, the Shawnee, and the Mingo-Seneca under the war chief Guyasuta. The British had made an effort to build 'Fort King George' at the ‘Forks of the Ohio,’ but the French trashed it and built Fort Duquesne.
In a few years, Logstown would be abandoned, but Washington would be back and defeat the French at their new fort, and build Fort Pitt. Guyasuta had met Washington before, calling him ‘the tall hunter,’ and later worked with him against the French. According to Wikipedia, ‘Guyasuta was a major player in Pontiac's Rebellion—indeed, some historians once referred to that war as the Pontiac-Guyasuta War.' The main consistency was his skill at playing one group of Europeans against another.
In the end, Guyasuta saw the independence-seeking ‘Americans’ as more land-hungry and hence more dangerous. In his last years, he aimed at keeping ‘the Ohio Country’ as an independent native homeland, but that battle would have to be taken up by his young nephew, Cornplanter.
Cornplanter called the new American government the ‘Thirteen Fires’ and signed the Treaty of Fort Stanwix with it in Rome, NY, 1784, ostensibly for peaceful co-habitation of lands west of the Alleghenies. But it was soon clear the Americans had other ideas that did not include any sharing.
‘The Six Nations council at Buffalo Creek,’ states Wikipedia, ‘refused to ratify the treaty, denying that their delegates had the power to give away such large tracts of land and asked the Americans for return of the deeds and promised to indemnify them for any presents they had given. The general Indian confederacy also disavowed the treaty because most of the Six Nations did not live in the Ohio territory. ‘
The Ohio Country's native peoples, including the Shawnee, the Mingo, the Lenape, and several other tribes, also rejected the treaty. The stage was being set for much longer and wider battles.
So how did Aliquippa get its name? Until 1900, only a small and sleepy hamlet named ‘Woodlawn’ was there, but as the name suggests, it had a wide pleasant place on the riverfront, which local entrepreneurs turned into an amusement and picnic grounds they named ‘Aliquippa Park.’ When Mr. Jones and Mr. Laughlin decided to build the world’s largest steel mill and adjoining town there, ‘Aliquippa’ seemed more suited. More to come on the ‘Ohio Country’.

Talmadge Wright, Ivan Handler and 54 others
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Monday, December 27, 2021

NEW NARRATIVE #21: Impressment of Seamen, Class Insurgency and the Knowles Riot in Boston



[Graphic: Boston riot of 1747]
In November 1747, a large insurgency of Boston-based sailors, slaves, and other workers, of English, African and other backgrounds, arose together, seized the city, and held British naval officers hostage for three days. They were demanding the freedom of dozens of their comrades ‘press ganged’ into captivity as would-be sailors on a British warship.
‘No taxation without representation!’ was the major rallying cry we all learned about in school for the 1776 American War of Independence against Britain. I always thought it rather wimpy, something that belonged farther down among a list of outrages or other causes. First, you had to be wealthy enough to pay significant taxes, and second, any of the upper crust sent off to sit in parliament in London was not likely to have matters of the majority--the exploited, the enslaved, and the expropriated—foremost among their concerns.
But what did fire me up as a young student was the stories of the impressment of sailors and their resistance. Perhaps it was because my father was a sailor in WW2 and would tell us stories of his challenges a sea. ‘Impressment,’ moreover, was an odd word, so archaic you had to look it up, along with ‘press gang’ that went with it.
So I dug into it, and the more I learned, the more outrage I could feel. For starters, seamen of any sort in the Atlantic in these years had a hard and dangerous life. They were ‘motley crews’ made up of all nationalities and skin colors, free and escaped slaves. and Native peoples too. They were captured or ‘pressed’ into the ships in what amounted to kidnapping outside the law. Their rations were so poor as to leave them diseased before reaching a port. Captains were permitted to whip them, so long as they avoided the limit of mutiny. And they were paid little, and sometimes not at all. They had at times to wait a year for their pay, and were dead or long gone elsewhere. Once in port, they often tried to escape, and any new targets of ‘press gangs’ often resisted.
Charles Knowles was ‘Admiral’ of the British warship being repaired not far from Boston. His crew was hanging out in town or nearby, and a good number decided to seek other livelihoods as best as they could. The Admiral needed to fill out his crew, so if you were a young laborer of any sort anywhere near the docks, you were a target for kidnapping and made to be a sailor. even if you had never been to sea. The ‘press gangs,’ moreover, killed two laborers who resisted.
So this time, the young men had enough of it. They rebelled and seized several British officers as hostages of their own, demanding the release of those ‘impressed.’ The streets were in turmoil for three days, and the history books call it ‘Knowles Riot,’ after the Admiral. It would be better described as a ‘motley’ class revolt of sailors, laborers, and slaves against their British overlords and any local appeasers.
‘Town officials,’ states Wikipedia, ‘claimed that “the said Riotous Tumultuous Assembly consisted of Foreign Seamen, Servants, Negros & other Persons of mean & vile condition." Some historians believe this was an effort to deflect blame, while others treat it as fact. Hutchinson estimated the crowd's size at "several thousand," remarkable in a city with a population of just 16,000. In addition to sailors and other maritime workers, the crowd likely included most of Boston's militia, as well as some middle-class shopkeepers and merchants, women, and others whose lives were affected by impressment.’
In the end, a bargain was struck, and the hostages were freed and returned to their ship, while the ‘impressed’ Boston residents were also set free. Eleven men were arrested, three were fined and the rest were let go.
One young Bostonian, a budding journalist named Sam Adams, was quite impressed with the entire event. He wrote up an early pamphlet of his own on the matter, fearful of signing it with his own name, using ‘Amicus Patrie’ instead. Using the ideas of John Locke, he argued: "For when they are suddenly attack'd, without the least Warning, and by they know not whom; I think they are treated as in a State of Nature, and have a natural Right, to treat their Oppressors, as under such Circumstances."
What the slaves and free Blacks had to say, however, is unknown. There was no one recording it. Nor do we know the future of all these insurgents as to whether they became ‘settlers’ set against the Native people to their West. Several accounts state that a good number of them were ‘Scotch,’ which could have meant either immigrants from Scotland or the Ulster ‘Scots-Irish.’ In either case, they were likely, if they lived, to have become settlers and dispersers of Native peoples, a life with new contradictions. More to come.
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