Chapter XIX
The Destruction of Coshocton


Colonel Brodhead was never able to execute his design to lead a force against the Wyandot or the Shawnee towns in Ohio. He had expected to get help, for such an expedition, from the Delaware warriors at Coshocton, but in the spring of 1781 a change in the situation impelled him to strike the Delawares themselves. Until the beginning of that year the Delawares took no part, as a tribe, in the war against the frontier. The alliance with the United States, made by their three principal chiefs in the autumn of 1778, was outwardly observed for more than two years. The death of White Eyes had been followed by the election of Killbuck, a famous medicine man and warrior, to the office of chief sachem, and he proved himself to be an unswerving friend to the Americans. It was soon developed, however, that he represented a minority of his tribe. His influence was sufficient merely to delay the union of the Delawares with the other hostile nations.

Brodhead had nothing to give to the Indians; British agents from Detroit gave not only promises but presents. Envoys from the Senecas, the Wyandots, the Miamis and tribes farther to the west visited the Delaware towns often, threatening and persuading and using all savage arts to draw the chiefs and warriors into the league against the Americans. Raiding parties going homeward from the frontier flaunted their trophies in the Delaware villages and stirred the envy and ambition of the young bucks. The

Indian inclines to war rather than to peace. Captain Pipe became the leader of the war party and soon controlled the tribal council.

In February, 1781, during the absence of Killbuck at Fort Pitt, the council at Coshocton yielded to the pressure, voted to join the hostile league and permitted bands of warriors to go out against the Pennsylvania and Virginia border.

Killbuck feared to return to Coshocton, for threats had been boldly uttered against his life. He made his residence with the Moravians or United Brethren and their converted Indians at Salem, on the western bank of the Tuscarawas river, 14 miles below New Philadelphia. He even professed conversion to Christianity, was baptized and received a Christian name, William Henry, in honor of a distinguished citizen of Lancaster, Pa. Thereafter the Indian sachem, who held a commission from the United States Congress, was proud to call himself "Colonel Henry." He drew to Salem with him his own family, the family of White Eyes and a few other Delawares, including the war captains Big Cat and Nanowland. From Salem Chief Kilibuck wrote, by the hand of the Missionary Heckewelder, a long letter to Colonel Brodhead, informing him of the hostile acts of the council at Coshocton.(1)

This letter was accompanied by one from Heckewelder and both were carried to Fort Pitt by John Montour. :Heckewelder suggested an expedition against Coshocton, adding: "I trust that your honor will do all that lies in your power to prevent mislisting anybody belonging to our towns; and you may depend, sir, that in case any of your men should have occasion to come by any of our towns, they would meet with much kindness from our people."

Brodhead determined to attack Coshocton and punish the Delawares for their perfidy. Vigorous exertions by the Pennsylvania government had given him a supply of provisions, but his force of regulars at Fort Pitt had been reduced, from various causes, to about 200 men. To the officers of the border counties he sent a call for militia assistance, but this call was fruitless.(2) By the help of Colonel David Shepherd, of Wheeling, who was county lieutenant of Ohio county, Pa., Brodhead was able to secure a body of excellent volunteers. There were 134 of them, members of the Virginia militia, arranged in four companies, under Captains John Ogle, Benjamin Royce, Jacob Lefler and William Crawford.(3) These men were hardy young farmers and hunters from the settlements in Washington county and along the left bank of the Ohio. Most of them rode their own horses and joined in the raid under Colonel Shepherd's command.

Fort Henry, the stockade at Wheeling, was the place of assembly, and to that place Brodhead and his soldiers went down in boats during the first week in April. On Tuesday, April io, the little army, about 300 strong, was ferried over the Ohio river and took the Indian trail for the Muskingum river. John Montour, Nanowland and three other Delaware braves went with the Americans to fight their own tribesmen.

It was very desirable that the expedition should move rapidly, so that it, might take the Indian village by surprise; yet it was ten days before Brodhead's force appeared before Coshocton. The weather was bad, a great deal of rain fell and progress was difficult. The commander paused awhile, when he neared the Tuscarawas, for'a conference with Rev. John Heckewelder, the missionary among the Delawares. A messenger sent ahead had summoned the Moravian minister from his Huts of Grace on the Tuscarawas river, and he met Brodhead on the trail. Brodhead wished to know if any of the Christian Indians were in the hostile towns. Heckewelder said there was none. Brodhead wished the Moravians to prepare some corn and cattle for the soldiers against their return march. Heckewelder departed to see that it was done. Back to Gnadenhuetten and Salem the missionary bore the news that the Americans were in the

Indian country, and Chief Killbuck and his few warriors put on their paint and went forth to strike a blow for the American cause. Thus the forces of savagery were divided against themselves.

From the Ohio river to the forking of the Muskingum was hardly qo miles, and that this required ten days showed how bad the weather and the way must have been. Yet in spite of this slow toil, the Delawares were really taken by surprise. They had no expectation of such prompt action by the American commander and kept no scouts abroad in the rainy weather. Perhaps most important of all, some of their chief men were at Detroit, attending a great council of all the tribes of the northwest, with DePeyster, the British governor. This embassy probably included the Pipe, who had become chief sachem of the tribe in place of Killbuck, deposed, and the famous war chief called the Beloved. Buckongahelas or He-Who-Fulfils, the next chief in authority, was probably away with a raiding band, and thus Coshocton was without a head and unprepared even for defensive action.

On Friday, April 20, in the morning, while the rain was pouring, the American advance guard came upon three Indians in the woods, not more than a mile from Coshocton. One of the savages was captured, but the two others, of whom one was wounded, escaped to the town and gave the first alarm. The captured Indian said there were not many warriors at home, that a band of 4o had just returned from a raid on the settlements, with scalps and prisoners, but had crossed to the farther side of the river, a few miles above the town, to enjoy a drunken revel.

Brodhead hurried forward and dashed into the Delaware capital. But t5 warriors were there, who made as brave a resistance as they could, but every one of them was either shot down or tomahawked to death in the resistless rush of the Americans. The mounted volunteers were naturally first into the town and they neither accepted surrender by an Indian buck nor suffered any of the wounded to linger long in agony. No harm was done to the old

men, women or children, of whom more than a score were captured. These were removed, under guard, to a place outside the town, and the log cabins composing Coshocton were then given to the flames.

The colonel said, in his official report, that his men took "great quantities of peltry and other stores" and destroyed about 40 head of cattle. Doubtless there was a great feast on beef when the work of killing and burning was over, for the tired troops were not so well provisioned that they would let fresh meat go to waste.

Brodhead desired to cross the river and attack the drunken war party, but the stream was swollen to the tops of its banks and the Indians had all their canoes on the farther side. It was the high water which had prevented the escape of all the inhabitants of Coshocton. The commander then proposed to send a detail to the Moravian towns, up the Tuscarawas, to procure boats, but against this the volunteers protested. They said they had done enough, had suffered sorely from the weather, had almost worn out their horses and proposed to return home. As they were in no way subjected to military discipline. Colonel Brodhead could not help himself.

On the return journey, the Americans followed the Tuscarawas to Newcomer's Town, where they found about 30 friendly Delawares who had withdrawn from Coshocton, when war was voted. Colonel Brodhead says: "The troops experienced great kindness from the Moravian Indians and those at Newcomer's Town and obtained a sufficient supply of meat and corn to subsist the men and horses to the Ohio river."

If Brodhead was unable to strike the hostile band on the farther side of the river, that work was done by Chief Killbuck and his adherents. While the Americans rested at Newcomer's Town, Killbuck appeared in the camp and threw at the colonel's feet the fresh scalp of "one of the greatest villains" among the hostiles.

The expedition returned to Wheeling about the beginning of May, where the furs and other captured goods were sold at vendue, bringing the astonishing sum of 80,000 pounds. The furs were the product of a winter's hunting.(4)

Quite a different story of this expedition is to be found in the old histories. Its author was Rev. Joseph Doddridge, of Washington county, who gave it forth in his once popular "Notes on the Settlements and Indian Wars, etc." His story was copied almost word for word in Craig's "History of Pittsburg," and is adhered to in Howe's "Historical Collections of Ohio," revised as recently as 1890.(5)

Doddridge said that the raid took place in the summer of 1780, which was nearly a year out of the way, and that the force consisted of about Boo regulars and "militia." No militia responded as an organization to Brodhead's call, and that officer, in his report, was careful to refer to the Virginians who aided him as "volunteers." The whole force, said Brodhead, was "about 300 men."

Doddridge said: "The whole number of the Indians in the village . . . were made prisoners without firing a single shot. . . . A little after dark a council of war was held to determine on the fate of the warriors in custody. They were doomed to death, and, by order of the commander, they were bound, taken a little distance below the town and dispatched with tomahawks and spears and scalped."

This was a vicious accusation against Colonel Brodhead and is contradictory of the whole history of that strict disciplinarian and high-minded officer. The town was not taken without a shot. Brodhead's report said: "The troops behaved with great spirit, and although there was considerable firing between them and the Indians, I had not a man killed or wounded, and only one horse shot."

But Rev. Mr. Doddridge was only warming to his work. Here is his conclusion of the story: "Brodhead committed the care of the prisoners to the militia. They were about 20 in number. After marching about half a mile, the men commenced killing them. In a short time they were all dispatched, except a few women and children, who were spared and taken to Fort Pitt, and, after some time, were exchanged for an equal number of their prisoners."

The only truth in this statement consists in the number of the prisoners. It may be said that Colonel Brodhead would not be likely to mention so disgraceful an affair in his report, and that his silence is therefore no evidence that the prisoners were not butchered. But the story is disproved by the testimony of the enemy. A few days after Colonel Brodhead retired, the ruins of Coshocton were visited by twenty Wyandots, who learned from the released prisoners and other survivors the particulars of the American raid. These Wyandots quickly bore the news to Simon Girty, at Upper Sandusky, and he promptly sent a letter to Lieutenant Governor DePeyster at Detroit. Girty had reasons to hate Colonel Brodhead and would have reported that officer's conduct in the worst possible light. Yet Girty wrote that Brodhead had released the prisoners, including four warriors who had satisfied him that they had not engaged in hostilities against the frontier, and had even expressed regret to these Indian men that their tribesmen had been killed during the attack on the Indian town.(6)

Doddridge's book has still thousands of readers. Doubtless, it well describes the conditions of pioneer life in Western Pennsylvania, but as to historical events it is totally unreliable. At the time Brodhead destroyed Coshocton, Joseph Doddridge was about 12 years old, and he did not write his "Notes" until 40 years afterward. His only sources of information were the exaggerated yarns told by ignorant frontiersmen, beside the log cabin fires, into the ears of the wondering boy. Long years afterward he endeavored to recall and set down these stories heard in childhood, and many persons have considered the result history. The official report of Colonel Brodhead, kept among the archives at Harrisburg, was not made public until 1854, and other contemporary records, bearing on the Coshocton campaign, have come to light in later years.

As a result of the Coshocton campaign, the hostile Delawares migrated to the headwaters of the Sandusky and to other places farther westward, while the portion of the tribe adhering to Killbuck and the American moved to Pittsburg and erected their rude cabins on Smoky Island, at the northern side of the junction of the Allegheny and the Monongahela.

1 Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, vol. viii., pp. 7%-771.

2 Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, vol. ix., pp. 51, 52.

3 Washington-Irvine Correspondence, p. 62.

4 For Brodhead's Report, Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, vol. ix., p. 161.

5 Doddridge's Notes, p. 291; Howe's Historical Collections of Ohio, vol. i., P. 480; Western Annals, p. 880.

6 The Girtys, p. 128. See also Wieser's Westward Movement, p. 192.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 123-130: 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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