History of Ohio: 18th Century



We have seen with what an affluent stream emigration flowed into the Ohio region after the organization of the Northwestern Territory in 1787. General Arthur St. Clair, a worthy officer of the Continental Army, was appointed its governor. He soon found serious trouble brewing there. The British, in violation of the treaty of 1783, still held Detroit and other Western posts, and British traders were jealous of the hardy settlers who were gathering in communities north of the Ohio. British agents, instigated by Sir John Johnson, the former Indian agent in the Mohawk Valley, and Guy Carleton (then Lord Dorchester), again governor of Canada, were inciting the savages to make war on the settlers. These well-established facts gave reasons for a prevalent belief that the British government yet hoped for an opportunity to bring back the young republic to a state of colonial dependence. The fostered discontents of the Indians were developed into open hostilities, in the spring of 1790, and attempts at pacific arrangements were fruitless.

In September, 1790, General Harmer led more than a thousand troops, regulars and volunteers, from Fort Washington (now Cincinnati) into the Indian country around the headwaters of the Maumee River, to chastise the savages as Sullivan had scourged the Senecas in 1779. Instead of humbling them by spreading desolation over their fair land, Harmer, in two battles near the present village of Fort Wayne, Indiana, was defeated with considerable loss, and abandoned the enterprise. In May the following year, General Scott of Kentucky, with eight hundred men, penetrated the Wabash country almost to the site of the present town of Lafayette, Indiana, and destroyed several villages. At the beginning of August, General Wilkinson, with more than five hundred men, pushed into the same region, and pressing on to the Tippecanoe and the prairies, destroyed some Kickapoo villages, and then made his way to the Falls of the Ohio, near Louisville. But the Indians, instead of being humbled by these scourges, were urged thereby, and the false representations of British emissaries, to fight desperately for their country and lives.

Congress now prepared to plant fortifications in the heart of the Indian country; and in September, 1791, two thousand troops were gathered at Fort Washington and marched northward under the immediate command of General Butler, accompanied by General St. Clair as chief. Twenty miles from Fort Washington, they built Fort Hamilton, on the Miami River. Forty-two miles further on they built Fort Jefferson; and when they moved from there, late in October, there were evidences that dusky scouts were hovering on their flanks.

At length the little army of invaders halted and encamped on the borders of a tributary of the Upper Wabash, in Darke County, Ohio, near the Indiana line, a hundred miles from Cincinnati. The wearied soldiers went to rest early, unsuspicious of much danger near. All night long the sentinels fired upon prowling Indians; and before sunrise on the morning of the 4th of November, 1791, while the army were preparing for breakfast, they were surprised by the horrid yells of a body of savages, who fell upon them with great fury. The troops made a gallant defence, but the slaughter among them was dreadful. General Butler was killed, and most of his officers were slain or wounded. The smitten army fled in confusion. It was with great difficulty that St. Clair, who was tortured with gout, after having three horses killed under him, escaped on a pack-horse. That evening Adjutant-General Winthrop Sargent wrote in his diary: "The troops have all been defeated; and though it is impossible, at this time, to ascertain our loss, yet there can be no manner of doubt that more than half the army are either killed or wounded." Among the fugitives were more than a hundred feminine camp-followers--wives of the soldiers. One of them was so fleet of foot that she kept ahead of the flying army. Her long, red hair streaming behind her, was the oriflamme that the soldiers followed in their flight back to Fort Washington.

This defeat spread dismay over the frontiers, and hot indignation throughout the land. Washington was powerfully moved by wrath, of his control of his emotions, and for a few minutes he was swayed by a tempest of anger. He paced the room in a rage. "It was awful," wrote Mr. Lear, his private secretary, who was present. "More than once he threw his hands up as he hurled imprecations upon St. Clair. `O God! O God!' he exclaimed, `he is worse than a murdered! How can be he answer it to his country? The blood of the slain is upon him--the curses of widows and orphans--the curse of Heaven!'" His wrath soon subsided. "This must not go beyond this room," he said; and in a low tone, as if speaking to himself, he continued--"St. Clair shall have justice. I will hear him without prejudice--he shall have full justice." And when, awhile afterward, the veteran soldier, bowed with infirmities and the burden of public obloquy, sought the presence of his old commander, Washington extended his hand and gave him a gracious reception. "Poor old St. Clair," said Custis, who was present, "hobbled up to his chief, seized the offered hand in both of his, and gave vent to his feelings in copious sobs and tears."

Fortunately for the frontier settlers, the Indians did not follow up the advantage they had gained, and hostilities ceased for awhile. Commissioners were appointed to treat with hostile tribes, but through the interference of British officials, the negotiations were fruitless. In the meantime General Anthony Wayne, the bold soldier of the war for independence, had been appointed St. Clair's successor in military command. Apprehending that the failure of the negotiations would be immediately followed by hostilities against the frontier settlements, Wayne marched into the Indian country with a competent force in the autumn of 1793. He spent the winter at Greenville, not far from the place of St. Clair's defeat, where he built a stockade and gave it the significant name of Fort Recovery. The following summer he pushed forward to the Maumee River, and at its junction with the Au Glaize, he built Fort Defiance. On the St. Mary's he had erected Fort Adams as an intermediate post; and in August he pushed down the Maumee with about three thousand men, and encamped within a short distance of a British military post at the foot of the Maumee Rapids called Fort Miami.

With ample force to destroy the savage power in spite of their British allies, and to desolate their country, Wayne offered the Indians peace and tranquillity if they would lay down the hatchet and musket. They madly refused, and sought to gain time by craftiness. "Stay where you are ten days," they said, "and we will treat with you; if you advance, we will give you battle." Wayne did advance to the head of the Maumee Rapids; and at a place called The Fallen Timbers, not far above the present Maumee city, he attacked and defeated the savages on the 20th of August, 1794. By the side of almost every dead warrior of the forest, lay a musket and bayonet from British armories. Wayne then laid waste the country, and at the middle of September he moved up the Maumee to the junction of the St. Mary's and St. Joseph's that form that stream, and built a strong fortification there which was named Fort Wayne. The little army went into winter-quarters at Grenville. The next summer the sachems and warriors of the Western tribes, about eleven hundred in all (representing twelve cantons), met (August 3, 1795) commissioners of the United States there, formed a treaty of peace and ceded to our government about twenty-five thousand square miles of territory in the present States of Michigan and Indiana, besides sixteen separate tracts, including lands and forts. In consideration of these cessions, the Indians received goods from the United States of the value of $20,000, as presents, and were promised an annual allowance valued at nearly $10,000, to be equally distributed among all the tribes who were parties to the treaty. These were the Chippewas, Ottawas, Pottawatomies, Wyandots, Delawares, Shawnoese, Miamis and Kickapoos, who then occupied the ceded lands.

At the close of the council, on the 20th, Wayne said to the Indians: "Brothers, I now fervently pray to the Great Spirit that the peace now established may be permanent, and that it will hold us together in the bonds of friendship until time shall be no more. I also pray that the Great Spirit above may enlighten your minds, and open your eyes to your true happiness, that your children may learn to cultivate the earth and enjoy the fruits of peace and industry."

By a special treaty made with Great Britain at about that time, the Western military posts were soon afterward evacuated by the British. The security which this action and the treaty with the Indians at Greenville gave, there was very little more trouble with the savages in the Northwest until just before the breaking out of the war of 1812-15; and an immense impetus was given to emigration into that region. The country northwest of the Ohio was now rapidly filled with a hardy population.





Return to Our Country, Vol II