Chapter XXIV
Crawford's Expedition and Death


The disgraceful exploit of David Williamson, at Gnadenhuetten, whetted the Scotch appetite for Indian blood. Although many frontiersmen approved Williamson's butchery of women and children, they felt, after all, that it was hardly a glorious deed, and it did not satisfy them as being a real revenge on their savage foes. A general desire was expressed for a campaign against Indians whose hostility was beyond question, and it was agreed that the blow ought to fall on the Wyandot and Delaware towns along the Sandusky river. A successful raid into that nest of vipers might obliterate the stain and obscure the recollection of Gnadenhuetten. So a general call went throughout the Washington county border, from Pittsburg to the Cheat river, for volunteers to invade again the land of the Indians and strike the savage tribes in one of their chief dwelling places.

This was not a militia movement. It did not issue from the county lieutenant or from any man in authority. It came from the leading men in the several centers of settlement, and met with a hearty response.(1) Through hard experience the borderers had become convinced that they must be their own defenders, and that the best way to protect their homes, their women and children, was to carry the war into the Indian country. They no longer relied on the garrison at Fort Pitt. They knew that garrison to be too feeble and too miserably equipped to do any effective work. Moreover, the Scotch pioneers of Western Pennsylvania were by nature self-reliant. They were men of spunk, quite ready to do their own fighting in their own rough way.

The promoters of the movement requested General Irvine to lead them, but he declined to command a purely volunteer force and could spare no soldiers from his slender garrison. He was then asked to give to the expedition his approval and some little assistance. To this he agreed, requiring a pledge from the border leaders that they would furnish their own equipment and provisions, would conform to militia laws and regulations and would acknowledge their conquests as made in behalf of the United States. He furnished some gun-flints and a small supply of powder and detailed for the expedition Surgeon John Knight, of the Seventh Virginia, and one of his own aides, Lieutenant John Rose, a Russian nobleman, who served the American cause with singular fidelity, energy and ability.(2)

While the expedition was forming Indian ravages on the frontier became more virulent. The butchery on the Tuscarawas had stirred the savages to a fiercer hostility. Small war parties invaded Washington and Westmoreland counties and killed or captured many of the settlers in the immediate neighborhood of the companies of mustering yeomanry. Thomas Edgerton was captured on Harman's creek and John Stevenson near West Liberty. Five soldiers were ambushed in the woods near Ft. McIntosh; two were killed and the three others were taken to Lower Sandusky, where they successfully ran the gauntlet.(3) Two men were killed on the border of Washington county.(4) At Walthour's blockhouse, near Brush creek, in Westmoreland, a man of the name of Willard was killed and his daughter carried away and murdered in the woods.(5) On Sunday, May 12, Rev. John Corbly and his family, while walking to their meeting house on Muddy creek, in what is now Greene county, were attacked by savages. The preacher alone escaped without injury. The wife and three children were killed and scalped. Two daughters were scalped, but survived to endure years of suffering.(6)

The general muster was fixed for Monday, May 20, at Mingo Bottom, a beautiful level on the Ohio river, three miles below Steubenville. Edward Cook and James Marshel, the lieutenants of Westmoreland and Washington counties, had agreed that every man who joined this expedition, providing his own horse, gun and food, should be excused from two tours of militia duty. It was a cavalry force of Scotch farmers and their sons who trooped to the place of rendezvous during three or four days. By Friday 480 horsemen were assembled, who then proceeded to organize by electing officers.

Colonel William Crawford, who was at the time a regular officer of the Virginia line, was the principal candidate for the chief command, and, through the influence of General Irvine, was elected by five votes over David Williamson. The staff was chosen as follows: majors, David Williamson, Thomas Gaddis, John McClelland and John Brinton; brigade major, Daniel Leet. Major Rose served as adjutant, and the wilderness guides were Jonathan Zane, John Slover and Thomas Nicholson. Gaddis and McClelland were from Westmoreland county. The companies from the several communities attended under their own militia officers. Of some companies nearly all the members volunteered, while of others there were only ten or fifteen. In all, there were 18 companies, with the following captains: Josph Bane, John Beeson, John Biggs, Charles Bilderback, William Bruce, Timothy Downing, William Fife, John Hardin, John Hoagland, Andrew Hood, William Leet, Duncan McGeehan, John Miller, James Munn, Thomas Rankin, David Reed, Craig Ritchie and Ezekiel Ross.

The rolls of this expedition show that nearly all of its members were of Scotch descent. With them were a few Irishmen and an occasional German was represented on the lists.

It was on Saturday, May 25, that the expedition left the Ohio and followed the Indian trail toward the northwest. Almost from the beginning of the march the whites were watched by Indian spies, and swift runners bore the news to Sandusky and onward to Detroit. Crawford's expectation of success was based on a hope that he could surprise the Indian towns. This hope was not realized. The borderers were ten days riding to the Sandusky river, and in that time the savages had ample opportunity to prepare for battle. Their women and children were hurried away down the river, the warriors were summoned from the scattered villages and a body of British partisans came to their aid from Detroit. This force of white men consisted of a company of rangers under Lieutenant John Turney and Canadian volunteers commanded by Captain William Caldwell, somewhat exceeding zoo men. While Crawford was advancing leisurely his enemies were moving with remarkable celerity.

On the fourth day of their march the Pennsylvanians turned aside to visit the ruins of the Moravian town at Schoenbrun. They found little plunder there, but fed their horses on the standing corn. The entire distance traveled from the Ohio to Upper Sandusky was about 16o miles. The cavalcade reached the upper Indian town, on the Sandusky river, in the evening of Monday, June 3. The place was deserted and Colonel Crawford learned that the Indians had abundant warning of his approach. In view of this fact, Crawford advised a retirement(8), but a majority of the council decided to make another day's march, toward the principal Wyandot town. In the morning the command went forward, through the beautiful green plain on the west side of the Sandusky river, seeing no enemy until afternoon.

As they drew near to a large grove, standing like an island in the broad meadow, Crawford's men were saluted with a volley, and discovered the British and Indians darting among the trees. The Americans charged, drove their enemies from the covert and occupied the grove. The men dismounted, formed line along the northern side of the forest and for several hours exchanged a brisk fire with the British and Indians lying in the grass and bushes. Darkness closed the combat. In this first day's fight five Americans were killed and ig wounded, while the enemy lost six killed and 11 wounded. One of the wounded was Captain Caldwell, the British commander.

During the night the savages howled and hooted all about the grove, and occasional shots allowed the frontiersmen little rest. When day came the Indians lay at a distance and the opposing sides engaged in long-range fighting. A band of Shawnee warriors, 140 in number, joined the .foe in the afternoon. Their arrival was observed by the Americans, who were convinced that they were greatly outnumbered. As a matter of fact, however, the two forces were about equal. Toward evening the savages made a vigorous attack, but were repulsed. Crawford held another council of war and decided to retreat during the night. Watch fires were built along the edge of the grove, pickets were stationed in the shadows near them to discharge an occasional shot toward the enemy, and then, late in the night, the main body of Crawford's force began its silent retreat toward the Ohio.

Soon after the beginning of this night march one of the strange panics common in Indian warfare, seized upon the Scotch volunteers. On many occasions during the border wars bodies of ordinarily brave and well armed white men were affected by an unreasonable fear, especially during the night time, in the presence of savage foes, and fled away through the forest as if pursued by demons. This almost supernatural dread often turned victory into defeat. There is no other explanation for the unexpected retreats that followed many a good fight.

The silent retreat became a noisy one. Men called to one another. Some fired their guns into the darkness. Others left the ranks and ran away, like insane men, across the pathless prairie. Then the savages came upon them in the night and began to slay and scalp the straggling fugitives. Many of the whites were without horses. Some of the animals had been shot; others had been lost. The retreat led into swamps where horses stuck fast and were deserted. A few of the men, weary of long fighting, had fallen asleep in the grove and were left behind. They awoke to find themselves deserted, and in little bands they set out, with no idea of direction, to escape from the savage terror. They heard the firing of guns to the southward and that sound they avoided. Some of them were overtaken and killed; others made their way to their homes after remarkable escapes and excessive hardships. The Indians ranged widely over the level country and glutted themselves with blood.

Among the members of the expedition were three of Colonel Crawford's kinsmen, John Crawford, his only son; William Crawford, a nephew, and William Harrison, a son-in-law. Not one of these could Colonel Crawford find. He stood by the trail, as the long line passed, and called for his son. No answer came and the colonel fell to the rear. He became lost, but met with Dr. Knight and nine other men. They wandered for two days and were then captured by a band of Delawares.

Colonel Williamson and Lieutenant Rose kept the main body of the Americans together. When day returned the panic subsided and order was restored. On the Olentangy, in the southern part of what is now Crawford county, the Delawares and Shawnees viciously assailed the rear guard, but the men stood firm and the savages were driven off with loss. After that the Indians did not molest the main force, but scattered in search of the many stragglers. Colonel Williamson reached the Ohio, at Mingo Bottom, on June 12, with about 300 men, and he safely brought home 20 of the wounded. During the succeeding two weeks other members of the expedition reached the settlements, singly or in bands of three and four. Ultimately the number of the missing was very small. Indeed, the killed did not exceed fifty during the whole campaign, and it is safe to say that at least half of these were slain by the Indians after they were made prisoners. In revenge for the deed at Gnadenhuetten, all of the prisoners were doomed to die. They were divided among the several villages and put to death with every device of savage ingenuity. So far as known, only two of the captives escaped from their tormentors. These were Dr. Knight, the Virginia surgeon, and John Slover, one of the guides.

Colonel William Crawford was burned at the stake in the valley of Tymoochee creek, about five miles west of Upper Sandusky. His torture was inflicted chiefly by women and children. It endured during four hours, in the presence of Dr. Knight, Captain Matthew Elliott and Simon Girty. The miserable man was tied by a long rope to a pole, his body was shot full of powder, his ears were cut off, burning faggots were pressed against his skin, he was gashed with knives. When he, at length, fell unconscious, his scalp was torn off and burning embers were poured upon his bleeding head. He arose, then, to his feet, began to walk around the pole, groaned and fell dead. The savages heaped fire upon his body, and it was consumed to ashes. Thus perished a man who had performed a prominent but not always a creditable part in the development of the frontier. Because he was the friend and land agent of Washington, he has been the object of praise he did not deserve.(9)

Crawford's son John, after perilous trials, reached home in safety, but William Crawford the younger and William Harrison were put to death by the Shawnees. Their bodies were cut to pieces and hung on poles. Dr. Knight saw nine prisoners killed by squaws. One old woman cut off the head of John McKinley, and it was kicked about like a football. Among others who met death were Captains John Biggs and John Hoagland, Major John McClelland and Lieutenant Ashley. All the officers were tortured, while the captured private soldiers were killed in a plain and unornamental manner. The melancholy result of the expedition encouraged the savages and brought upon the frontiers a still greater visitation of desolation.10

1 Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, vol. ix., p. 540.

2 Washington-Irvine Correspondence, pp. 118 to 117. The real name of John Rose was Henri Gustave Rosenthal.

3 The Girtys, p. 141; Ft. Pitt, p. 240; Historical Collections of Ohio, vol. ii., p. 581.

4 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., p. 541.

5 Pa. Magazine of History and Biography, vol. i., pp. 46 to 48.

6 Historical Collections of Pennsylvania. p. 369.

7 Washington-Irvine Correspondence. p. 114.

8 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., p. 557.

9 Concerning the character of Crawford, see Washington-Irvine Correspondence, note to p. 115; Diary of David McClure, p. 108; St. Clair's letter to Gov. Penn, July 7d, 1774, In St. Clair Papers, vol. 1

10 By far the beat narrative of this expedition Is An Historical Account of the Expedition Against Sandusky, by C. W. Butterfield, Cincinnati, 1873. See also Roosevelt's Winning of the West, vol. ii.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 162-169: Old Westmoreland, A History of Western Pennsylvania During the Revolution by Edgar W. Hassler, J.R. Weldon & Co, Pittsburgh, 1900

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