Chapter III
William Wilson's Indian Tour


The men of the border did not feel themselves in danger from the British armies landed on the Atlantic coast, but from the beginning of the Revolution their homes and families were menaced by a more dreaded foe-the savage tribes of the wilderness. The quickly revealed plottings of Connolly at Ft. Pitt, to incite the Indians against the settlements, were believed to be a sample of what the British government would attempt on a general scale.

As early as July, 1795, the second Colonial Congress. initiated measures to secure the friendship of the savages. The frontier was divided into three Indian departments, of which the middle department included the tribes west. of Pennsylvania and Virginia, and three members of Congress, Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson, of Pennsylvania, and Patrick Henry, of Virginia, were appointed to hold a treaty with the Indians at Ft. Pitt.(1) This treaty was held in October, with a few chiefs of the Senecas, Delawares, Shawnees and Wyandots. Guyasuta was the principal Seneca chief in attendance, representing the Iroquois. dwelling in the Allegheny valley and in the Ohio country. As an Iroquois, he assumed to speak for the western tribes,. and thereby aroused White Eyes, the Delaware orator, to declare the absolute independence of the Delawares. The-council was not harmonious, but the chiefs protested their intentions to remain neutral, and Guyasuta promised to use his influence with the great council of the Iroquois in New York, to obtain a decision in favor of peace.(2)

The Indians remained quiet during 1775 and the following winter, but it was not long until the agents of the British government outbid the colonists for a savage alliance. The British were able to give the greater bribes and to impress the savages with the greater display of military force. Sir Guy Johnson and Colonel John Butler held a great council with the Iroquois at Ft. Niagara, in May, 1776, when an overwhelming majority of the Iroquois voted to accept the war hatchet and to fight for the king.(3) That was the beginning of the mischief on the border. The influence of the Six Nations soon made itself manifest among the western tribes.

The Westmoreland settlers apprehended the storm long before it broke. They observed an alteration in the manner of the Indians with whom they came in frequent contact. In February, 1776, settlers near Pittsburg sent a memorial to Congress, complaining that Indian hunters were encroaching on the lands of the white people.(4) Van Swearingen, a pioneer of the Monongahela valley and one of the Pennsylvania magistrates, although a Virginian, raised a company of young riflemen and established a patrol along the Allegheny river.(5)

The Indian commissioners, at the treaty in October, 1775, selected John Gibson as Indian agent for the Ohio tribes. Gibson had intimate relations with the savages and was peculiarly adapted to the work, but had not sufficient influence at Philadelphia to retain his office. After a short term, he was succeeded by Richard Butler, another Pittsburg trader. In the spring of 1776 Congress took direct control of the Indian agencies, and for the important post at Pittsburg chose George Morgan, a man of education, high family connections and considerable wealth. Morgan's home was at Princeton, N. J., his mercantile interests were in Philadelphia, and as agent of his own trading house he had traveled extensively in the Indian country, from the Allegheny to the Illinois. He arrived at Pittsburg about the first of May, 1776, and at once began to arrange for a more satisfactory treaty with the tribes. He sent agents, with pacific messages, into the Indian country, employing in this service William Wilson, Peter Long, Simon Girty and Joseph Nicholson.(6)

The mission of Wilson was the most important. He was an Indian trader and acquainted with the tribes between the Ohio river and Detroit. It was his duty to invite the Delaware, Shawnee and Wyandot chiefs to a council at Pittsburg some time in August or September. Early in June, he left Pittsburg, accompanied by Nicholson, and went on horseback to the Delaware towns on the Muskingum river. There his reception was hospitable and the chiefs of the Delawares accepted his invitation. He journeyed thence to the seats of the Shawnees on the Scioto, where he discovered many of the young warriors to be in a doubtful humor. The chief sachem, the Hardman, and the war chief, the Cornstalk, were inclined to peace and promised to attend the treaty, if possible; but they had received an invitation to take part in a great council with the British governor at Detroit, and must go there first. While Wilson was at the Shawnee towns, Morgan himself arrived there and endeavored to arrange a definite date for the treaty. The Shawnees, however, referred him to the Wyandots or Hurons, from whom the Shawnees had received permission to dwell in the Ohio country.

Before Morgan departed for Pittsburg, he gave to Wilson a large peace belt of wampum and a written message to deliver to the Wyandot chiefs. Wilson, Nicholson and the Cornstalk set out in company for the Wyandot towns on the Sandusky river, but advanced only as far as Pluggystown, on the upper Scioto. This place was inhabited by renegade Indians from various tribes, principally Iroquois. The chief, Pluggy, was a Mohawk, and his followers, called Mingoes, were horse thieves and murderers. Wilson learned that a band of these rascals had already been on a raid into Kentucky and had taken some prisoners. Pluggy's warriors formed a plot to seize Wilson and Nicholson and carry them to the British fort at Detroit. This was revealed by Cornstalk, who advised the white men to flee to the Delaware town of Coshocton. They were able to escape by night and placed themselves under the protection of old King Newcomer. That venerable sachem, believing it to be unsafe for Wilson to proceed to Sandusky, lest the Mingoes should waylay the trail, sent Killbuck, a noted war captain, to bear the American message to the Wyandot chiefs. In eleven days Killbuck returned, with word from the Wyandots that they wished to see Wilson himself, as an evidence of his good intentions, but that they could not give an answer to his invitation until they had consulted their great council beyond the lake. The chief seat of the Wyandot nation was in Canada, near Detroit, and the portion of the tribe dwelling south of Lake Erie was under the rule of a deputy chief, Dunquat, called the Half-King.

Wilson then determined to go to Sandusky and the Delaware council appointed Killbuck and two young warriors to escort him. The journey had barely begun when Killbuck fell ill and his place was taken by the celebrated White Eyes. Nicholson was no longer of the party, having gone to Pittsburg to carry a message to Morgan; but at a Delaware town on the Walhonding, Wilson was joined by John Montour, grandson of the famous Catherine Montour or Queen Esther. John was an Iroquois with an admixture of French blood, spoke English well, was master of several Indian languages and served Wilson faithfully!(7)

Before reaching Sandusky Wilson learned that the chief there had gone to the Detroit council, and he thereupon made up his mind to venture into the immediate neighborhood of the British post, in order that he might deliver his message to the chiefs of the Wyandot nation. It was the decision of a bold man. He found the Wyandots assembled on the eastern side of the Detroit river, on the site of Windsor. By most of the chiefs he was received with apparent friendliness, and on September 2 addressed them in council, presenting his peace belt and message from Morgan, and invited them to attend at Pittsburg in 25 days from that time. The delays to which he had been subjected had forced him to postpone the date for the intended treaty. Wilson's speech was supplemented by one from White Eyes. The Wyandots, in their reply, avowed their desire for peace, but did not commit themselves on the invitation. They promised a more definite answer in two days.

On the next morning the Wyandots betrayed Wilson's presence to the British lieutenant-governor in Detroit, Col. Henry Hamilton. They returned the belt to Wilson and advised him to explain his errand to the British commander. Wilson, White Eyes and Montour were compelled Ito go with the Wyandot chiefs to the great council house in Detroit, where they found themselves in the presence of Colonel Hamilton and an imposing assemblage of Indian sachems. Wilson frankly announced his purpose in coming to Detroit, and, in the presence of the lieutenant-governor, again presented the peace wampum and the written message to the Wyandot chief sachem. That personage passed the articles to Colonel Hamilton.

The British commander thus addressed the Indians: "Those people from whom you receive this message are enemies and traitors to my king, and before I would take one of them by the hand I would suffer my right hand to be cut off. When the great king is pleased to make peace with his rebellious children in this big island, I will then give my assistance in making peace between them and the Indians, and not before."

Hamilton thereupon tore the speech, cut the belt into pieces and scattered the fragments about the council house. He then harangued the Wyandots on a tomahawk or war belt, but as he spoke to the interpreter in French, Wilson did not understand. Hamilton chided Montour for aiding the Americans and unsparingly denounced White Eyes, whom he ordered to leave Detroit within twenty-four hours, as he valued his life. Hamilton, notwithstanding his anger, respected Wilson's character as an ambassador and gave him safe conduct through the Indian country. The trader returned to Ft. Pitt much discouraged by the outlook and reported to Morgan that many of the Wyandots were likely to go upon the warpath in a few weeks. The Mingoes or Ohio Iroquois were already committed to hostilities.'

In spite of Hamilton's opposition, Indians of four tribes did attend a council with the "rebels" at Ft. Pitt in the latter part of October. The Delawares were represented by all their ruling chiefs, the Wyandots by the Half-King, the Shawnees by the great Cornstalk and a few companions, and the distant Ottawas by one sachem. Costly presents were given by the commissioners, and effusive peace speeches were made by the savages; but only the Delawares were sincere. The commissioners were persuaded that an Indian war had been averted, but they were deceived. At the conclusion of the treaty, George Morgan wrote to the president of the Congress, "The cloud which threatened to break over this part of the country appears now to be entirely dissipated."' While the council was being held, Indian bands were raiding the Ohio river frontier, and early in the following year all the tribes represented at the treaty, except the Delawares, were on the warpath.

1 American Archives, Fourth Series, vol, 11., pp. 1879, 1883.

2 Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, vol. x., p. 266; American Archives, Fourth Series, vol. v., p. 815; Albach's Annals of the West, Pittsburg, 1868, p. 241; McKnight's Our Western Border, 1875, pp. 888, 890.

3 American Archives, Fourth Series, vol. vi., p. 764; Fifth Series, vol. 1., P. 867.

4 American Archives, Fourth Series, vol. v., p. 1654.

5 American Archives, Fourth Series, vol. vi., pp. 858-869.

6 Nicholson was the Interpreter who accompanied Washington on his voyage down the Ohio to the Kanawha, In the fall of 1770. During his youth he had been a prisoner among the Delawares.

7 John Montour was the owner of Montour's Island. now called Nevllle's, In the Ohio river below Pittsburg, and his name Is preserved by Montour Run, in Allegheny County, Pa.

8 Wilson's report to George Morgan is given In the American Archives, Fifth Series, vol. 11., pp. 514-518.

9 American Archives, Fifth Series, vol. iii., pp. 599-600.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 18-23: Old Westmoreland, A History of Western Pennsylvania During the Revolution by Edgar W. Hassler, J.R. Weldon & Co, Pittsburgh, 1900

Contributed by Nathan Zipfel for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (

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