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Henry VIII’s Wives Ranked

Posted by on Jan 15th, 2023 in Blog | 0 comments

Henry VIII feels, in many ways, like the Donald Trump of his time. In his youth, he was a rich, handsome, carefree young man about town who discarded wives as frequently as he changed his doublet.

In old age, he grew moody and cruel, yet still saw himself as a charming, attractive rogue. Everyone around him had to indulge him if they hoped to keep their heads on their shoulders.

He divorced two wives, beheaded two more, and another died giving birth to his only son. Only two wives outlived him. Of his six wives, some shine brighter than others. As an avid reader of historical fiction, I have some pretty strong – and admittedly only partially informed – opinions about that. And so, for entertainment purposes only, I give you Henry VIII’s Wives Ranked.

Worst: Anne Boleyn (Wife #2)

Since I am an Episcopalian, I suppose I should thank her. Henry founded the Church of England just so he could marry her.

The Boleyns were an ambitious family. Anne’s sister, Mary, was Henry’s mistress first – while married to a minor noble at his court. Anne came to court later and caused a sensation with her regal carriage, graceful dancing and fashionable French clothes. Contemporaries also noted her as intelligent and charming.

When Anne came to court in 1526, Henry had been married for seventeen years to Catherine of Aragon, and she had produced only one living child, a daughter. Henry had one acknowledged illegitimate son, and probably several others. But he needed a legitimate son to take the throne after him, and Catherine was getting past childbearing age.

Anne, an acknowledged master of the arts of seduction, saw her opportunity. She charmed and teased Henry sexually, while refusing consummation without a wedding ring. When it became clear that the Catholic Church would refuse to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine, Anne also became very interested in Protestantism.

Did I mention that she was Catherine’s lady-in-waiting and supposed friend?

Henry and Anne married in a secret ceremony on November 14, 1532, even before the official annulment of Henry’s Marriage to Catherine. Anne soon became pregnant. But, like Mary, she produced only a girl, the future Queen Elizabeth. Later, she had at least one miscarriage.

Anne was vain and a spendthrift, and her marriage to Henry looked like a Jerry Springer episode, a seesaw of bliss alternating with temper tantrums. As she continued to fail at producing an heir, Henry’s eye turned towards her lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour.

Rumors of Anne’s infidelity to Henry have followed her through the centuries. They may be untrue. Henry and his advisors certainly had an incentive to cook up an excuse to behead her.

But we know for sure that she broke up Henry’s marriage. And, I don’t care what church you belong to or what era you come from, it’s just wrong to steal another woman’s husband. When Henry had her beheaded so that he could marry Jane Seymour, Anne found out that “what goes around comes around.”

Second Worst: Catherine Howard (Wife #5)

Pretty little Kitty. Someone recently described her as “poor ditzy Kitty,” and that’s about right.

Like both Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, she apprenticed for the job of wife to Henry VIII by serving as lady-in-waiting to his current wife (Anne of Cleves at that time). She was also a cousin to both Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour.

Contemporaries described Kitty as pretty, frivolous and giddy. She loved both dancing and flirting, like any pretty teenage girl. She also showed the poor judgment often associated with pretty teenage girls.

In her mid-teens, she had an affair with a much older man, which may have been abusive. A few years later, she had another affair, with Francis Dereham, and may have exchanged betrothal vows with him.

The aging Henry became besotted with Kitty almost as soon as he laid eyes on her. As soon as he could dump Anne of Cleves, the two married. And almost as soon as they were married, Kitty apparently started a love affair with one of Henry’s courtiers, Thomas Culpepper.

By this time, Henry was fifty years old. First, he had no business marrying Kitty, who was about eighteen. Second, there’s nothing more fragile than the ego of an aging Lothario. In rage, Henry had his marriage to Kitty annulled on the basis that she had been betrothed to Dereham. He also had both Dereham and Culpepper executed, on the well-known principle that One Does Not Cuckold an Aging and Egotistical Autocrat.

Finally, on February 10, 1542, poor, ditzy Kitty also lost her head on basically the same principle.

History hasn’t treated Kitty kindly. One historian described her as a “juvenile delinquent,” another as “a stupid and oversexed adolescent.” The poor little thing probably was brainless and selfish, but she was also a child, so I feel a little sorry for her.

Reluctant Homewrecker: Jane Seymour (Wife #3)

Like both Anne and Kitty, Jane caught Henry’s eye when she served as lady-in-waiting to his current wife. But, unlike them, Jane was a reluctant homewrecker. Jane apparently didn’t make a play for Henry.  Even as he began to pursue her, she maintained her chastity until marriage. But her family had great interest in the political advantages of her relationship with Henry, and did what they could behind the scenes to get Boleyn out of the way.

Contemporaries described Jane as meek and gentle, and very skilled at needlework. She treated her step-daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, with kindness and played an especially significant role in reconciling Henry with young Mary.

Jane came from a big family, so Henry had reason to believe she would be fertile. And, on October 12, 1537 – after a labor lasting two days and three nights – Jane gave birth to a baby boy, the future King Edward VI. Twelve days later, she died.

Having given him his only legitimate son, Jane ranked as Henry’s favorite wife. When Henry died, he requested to be buried next to her.

Kept Her Head: Anne of Cleves (Wife #4)

Everyone knows that a king needs not just an heir, but also a spare. Although Henry apparently grieved Jane Seymour, negotiations for his next wife began almost immediately. This time, Henry allowed himself to be persuaded by political considerations rather than by his penis. His advisors wanted an alliance with William of Cleves, a Protestant leader in western Germany, and William had an eligible sister in Anne.

Like Jane Seymour, Anne was described as gentle and skilled at needlework. She could speak a little English, but could read and write only in German.

Henry and Anne had only seen portraits of each other before she arrived in England in December 1539. Their first meeting did not go well.

The aging Henry, still seeing himself as a charming young rogue, had come up with a “meet cute” scheme. He would, in disguise, approach his bride in her chamber with an embrace, a kiss and a “token.” Naturally startled, Anne did not react well to Henry’s little surprise. And, like the petulant overgrown boy that he was, Henry felt insulted.

The two married on January 6, 1540, but never consummated their union. Henry claimed that Anne wasn’t as pretty as her portrait made her look, and it seems that she was also naïve about sexual relations. Possibly, Henry suffered from intermittent impotence by this time.

Anne agreed to an annulment in July 1540, on the grounds of non-consummation. And she came out of the marriage in much better shape than any of her predecessors. Mainly, she still had her head. Henry allowed her to keep her dower lands, and gave her a generous settlement, including at least three homes. She remained friendly with Henry and with her two step-daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. A contemporary chronicler described her as “a ladie of right commendable regards, courteous, gentle, a good housekeeper and verie bountifull to her servants.”

Second Best: Catherine of Aragon (Wife #1)

Catherine’s parents were King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Castile, the same Ferdinand and Isabella who financed Columbus’s 1492 journey to the Americas. As a descendant of both of the first two wives of John of Gaunt, she herself had a distant claim to the English throne. Thus, her marriage into the upstart Tudor family strengthened their legitimacy.

She first married Henry’s older brother Arthur, but he died shortly after their wedding. Henry’s desire to marry his brother’s widow was complicated by a Church ban on such a marriage.

The marriage went forward in 1509 after Catherine swore -probably falsely – that her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated. Henry was only eighteen. Catherine was twenty-four.

By most accounts, Henry adored Catherine, and trusted her completely. He appointed her regent when he went on military campaigns. In one of the wars with Scotland, she rode north in armor – and several months pregnant! – to encourage troops in the Midlands.

One thing that the redoubtable Catherine could not do: provide a male heir. She had at least three stillbirths between 1510 and 1514. One son, Henry, may have lived for a few hours. She produced a daughter, the future Queen Mary, in 1516. Another pregnancy ended in a stillbirth in 1518. Catherine was only 33 at the time, but she had no further known pregnancies. By 1525, Henry’s eye had turned to Anne Boleyn.

I like Catherine because she fought for her marriage and for what she believed was right. “God never called me to a nunnery,” she said, “I am the King’s true and legitimate wife.” After Henry set her aside, he held her daughter basically hostage. Catherine and Mary longed for each other’s company, but Henry had banished them both from court to separate locations. He offered to allow them to reunite only if they would acknowledge Anne Boleyn as the true queen of England. They both refused.

Catherine’s final letter to Henry, as she knew she was dying in late 1535, is poignant:

” My most dear lord, king and husband,

The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles.

For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.
Katharine the Quene.”

Best and Last: Katherine Parr

Henry loved his Katherines; Parr was the third. And, in my opinion, she was Henry’s best wife.

By the time Katherine married Henry, he was well into his fifties. He was fat, suffered from both diabetes and gout, and had stinking sores on his leg from an old wound. He was cranky, mercurial, and hard to live with. Katherine didn’t want to marry him. She’d had two husbands already, and was probably already in love with her fourth husband, Thomas Seymour. But, if Henry wanted to marry you, you married him or you died.

Katherine spoke French, Latin, Italian and Spanish, in addition to English. She was a committed Protestant at a time when the country was still bitterly divided and Henry himself wavered back and forth. She wrote three books. Not some trashy memoir like you’d probably see today, but books of prayers and meditations. Her “Prayer for the King” is still in the English Book of Common Prayer. She may also have translated the Gospels into English.

Like Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, Katherine maintained loving relations with her step-daughters, the future Queens Mary and Elizabeth.

For her erudition, her kindness to her step-children and her endurance of Henry at his absolute worst, Katherine stands out to me as Henry’s most admirable wife.

Katherine Parr and Anne of Cleves were the only two wives to outlive Henry. Henry died on January 28, 1547, of complications of gout. Katherine died in childbirth on September 5, 1548. Anne died on July 16, 1557, probably of cancer.

Sources

Most of the historical facts in this post came from Wikipedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wives_of_Henry_VIII

But the stories of these fascinating queens are best brought to life in fiction. I especially enjoy Philippa Gregory’s series of books on the Tudor queens:

The Other Boleyn Girl

The Boleyn Inheritance

The Constant Princess

The Taming of the Queen

My Five-Star Reads of 2022

Posted by on Dec 30th, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

I had only a few five star reads this year, including an old childhood favorite, some unreliable narrators and, oddly, lots of orphans.

A Lantern in Her Hand

I started the year with a childhood favorite. I first read A Lantern in Her Hand in sixth grade, when I bought it from the TAB book catalog at school. I loved it so much that I re-read it every couple of years until I was about thirty, and it finally fell apart and had to be thrown away.

It is the story of Abbie Mackenzie Deal, who goes west with her new husband in the early 1870s, to claim a farmstead in Nebraska. Abbie loves to paint and sing, and dreamed of life as a painter or singer. She had a wealthy beau who could have provided her with the luxury of painting and singing lessons had she married him. But she fell in love with Will Deal and thereby chose a different life.

Aldrich wrote this book in 1928 for young people. Therefore, it presents that era’s romanticized view of the prairie pioneers. But I still loved it as much at age 66 as I did at 12. Abbie is such a strong female character. And I like the values that the book presents: loyalty to family, friends and community, hard work, sacrifice for the next generation. Those values are timeless.

Haven

Haven was five-star read for me, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Don’t pick it up if you like a lot of action. The story builds very slowly and quietly, and there’s lots of description of things like building a hut and hunting birds.

In seventh-century Ireland, a passionate scholar-priest, Artt, turns up at the monastery where young Trian and old Cormac are monks. Soon after his arrival, Artt has a dream in which he founds a monastery with Trian and Cormac. The monastery is to be located on an island previously innocent of human footprints. There, Artt and his two monks will make copies of the Bible and live ascetically.

The two monks feel honored to be chosen. But only the bare minimum of supplies will fit in their boat when they set off down the River Shannon towards the sea. They land on what what we today call Skellig Michael and begin their work. But Trian has a secret. And both Trian and Cormac begin to have doubts about Artt, to whom they have vowed perpetual obedience.

Donoghue does a great job of conveying the claustrophobic feeling of living on a small island. She also builds tension slowly and expertly, and vividly portrays the natural beauty and the desolation of the island and the hardships the three monks endure to make it habitable.

To me, this book was about the issue that finally prompted me to switch churches about a year ago. It’s about the tension between an abstract faith that scorns our life of flesh and a living faith that honors both the body and the soul. Donoghue doesn’t preach or extemporize at all in her novel. She simply tells a story that illustrates the logical consequences of a faith that scorns this earth and deems body and soul incompatible. Magnificent.

You Have a Friend in 10A

Short story collections are hit-or-miss for me. Usually I only like a few of the stories. But I liked every single story in this collection, and loved several of them.

Shipstead is great at coming up with interesting situations for a short story. Unrequited love lasting for years on an isolated Montana ranch. A young man who believes he is the son of his mother’s employer. A French colony on a small island which loses contact with the rest of the world during WWI, leading to horrifying consequences. These stories really keep the reader turning pages.

And her use of language is both economical and gorgeous, a hard feat to pull off. In just one example, she describes a man who “resembled a petrified log in both body and spirit.” From those few words, can’t you just imagine him perfectly?

My favorite story was “Acknowledgements,” in which a young aspiring writer takes a unique revenge on a female classmate in his MFA program. But, rather than exposing her, he exposes himself and has to face flaws in both his character and his writing.

The only bad thing I can say about this collection is that it made me feel like “Oh. I’m not a real writer. Real writers produce stories like THESE.”

Trust

Trust tells the life story of fictional financier Andrew Bevel from four different perspectives.

The first section is a novel based on the lives of Bevel and his wife Mildred, fictionalizing them as Benjamin and Helen Rask. The Rasks are both portrayed as intellectually and socially rather unusual.  In this version, Rask is a financial manipulator, and the cause of both the 1929 stock market crash and his own wife’s death.

The second section is Bevel’s unfinished and self-serving autobiography.

In the third section, the young woman Bevel hired to write his autobiography, Ida Partenza, tells her story. We see her first as a naïve young woman, desperate for a job. Later, we meet her as a mature writer who goes back and tries to learn the truth about Andrew and Mildred Bevel.

The fourth section consists of Mildred’s journals, hidden for decades and finally uncovered by Ida.

I don’t want to say much more, because I want to allow future readers the delight of uncovering the truth bit by bit.

Demon Copperhead

As Demon Copperhead opens, Damon (nicknamed Demon) is a little boy growing up in a trailer in rural southwestern Virginia. His father died before he was born, and his mom is a recovering (ish) addict raising Demon herself on her wages as a stock clerk in Wal Mart. They rent the trailer from the kindly Peggott family, who live nearby, and Demon’s best friend is “Maggot” (Matthew) Peggott, their grandson. Times are hard, Demon longs for a father, and he has to be preternaturally mature to keep his loving-but-disorganized mother on track. He is also secretly in love with both Maggot’s Aunt June and cousin Emmy.

Demon’s life gets a lot worse when mom finds “love” with a man named Stoner. Before very long, Demon finds himself in the foster-care system. He bounces from family to family, none of them anything like nurturing. He develops even more toughness and resilience in circumstances that are heartbreaking to read. Then he gets what looks like a break, but turns into the beginning of a downhill slide.

This book is very affecting and hard to put down. Kingsolver’s portrayal of rural life in Appalachia is poignant, both in its warmth and beauty and in its poverty and despair. Demon’s voice is authentic and engaging. And Aunt June is an absolutely wonderful character, one of those women whose tough love can sometimes change the world. Demon also finds allies in a foster sister, a coach, two dedicated teachers and one friend who manages to keep his soul through brutal years in foster care. But his journey is far from easy.

This Tender Land

Albert and Odie are orphaned brothers, the only white boys living in an Indian School in Minnesota in 1932. The school is run by the pitiless Thelma Brickman and her equally odious husband. Their rules are enforced by the vicious, predatory Mr. DiMarco.

The boys’ lives are made bearable by their loyalty to each other. Albert, the older, is a rule follower. Odie’s rebellious, trouble-making nature exasperates Albert, but the brothers always have each other’s backs. And they have friends in the mute Indian Mose, the kindly school handyman and caretaker Mr. Volz, and their teacher Cora Frost and her sweet little girl Emmy.

In the summer of 1932, tragedy claims Mrs. Frost, Odie feels he is the cause of a horrifying accident, and dark secrets emerge about the Brickmans. This combination of events causes Albert, Odie, Mose and little Emmy to flee the school together. Thus begins a river odyssey that will take the children from northwestern Minnesota all the way to St. Louis, Missouri. Albert and Odie hope to find relatives in St. Louis.

The joy of This Tender Land isn’t just the very sympathetic characters of the four children. It’s also the beautifully-rendered portrayal of Depression-era America. Along their way, the children meet a half-crazed farmer about to lose his land, an Indian who may or may not be their protector, and a travelling faith healer. They land for a while in a camp of displaced workers and farmers where Odie falls in love for the first time. The Brickmans have reason to want them dead or at least silenced, and pursue them at every stage. The boys will feud, protect Emmy, protect each other, and grow up fast.

Parts of this book are so brutal that they are hard to read. But the story, and the rendering of the landscape of the Mississippi River watershed, were beautiful enough to make this a 5-star read for me.

Books I Will Never Read

Posted by on Oct 19th, 2022 in Blog | 4 comments

Everybody who knows me knows that I am a voracious reader. I enjoy spiritual, sociological, political or scientific non-fiction. My real passion, though, is fiction, especially literary or historical fiction. But there are some fiction genres that I have learned to avoid. What follows is completely personal. Some readers may absolutely love a genre that I detest, and to that I say: Enjoy! But here are some types of fiction that I absolutely will not read and some others that I read very seldom

Top of my Never-Never-Never List

At the top of my list is any book about magical creatures. Vampires, witches, werewolves, zombies, zombie werewolves. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. I’ll grant that it takes a lot of imagination to write these books, so nothing against authors who write them. I just don’t want to read them. When I read fiction, I’m interested in human dilemmas. As soon as the main character is super-human in any way, you’ve lost me. All too often, too, authors take ridiculous liberties and the story doesn’t even have an internal logic. Or the author seems to think that as long as their book has a magical creature in it, it’s ipso facto interesting, and the writing is boring.

Case in point: A Discovery of Witches. Everybody I know assured me that I would love A Discovery of Witches, even though I usually hate books about witches. I got 100 pages into A Discovery of Witches and only discovered that it is very boring to read about a character who borrows from the library a book that she realizes is enchanted and returns it to the library anyway! Then she has a very lengthily-described and boring dinner with a vampire or something. Boring, boring, boring.

Next on my No-thanks List

I went through a phase twenty years ago or so of loving to read books about Amish people or people who lived in quaint little towns where nothing really interesting ever happens. These books are nice escapes for someone who enjoys very light reading. But I got bored with them very quickly. The characters are usually not very deep, and the problems are too easily solved. I think these books were an escape for me when I was working a very demanding job while still raising children. They were little fantasy worlds where I could imagine myself living simply and peacefully.

For me, this genre also includes “cozy mysteries,” usually featuring a charmingly eccentric little old lady and lots of tea.

Also No Thanks

Romance novels. I guess I’m just too old.

No Thanks With Exceptions

I went through a Christian fiction phase, too, but this genre features the worst of both supernatural fiction and cozy fiction. The characters in Christian fiction often have a dark side that needs healing by Christ. But they are generally otherwise very shallow. And their problems are generally solved by getting right with God, which is a good thing in real life, but a form of magic in fiction. The point of fiction is for people to solve their own problems.

I will note some exceptions in this category, though. One of the best books I ever read was Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I also recommend the Shiloh Legacy series (and its sequel Shiloh Autumn) by Bodie Thoene. These books feature well-developed characters of faith who work hard to solve the problems that face them. Redeeming Love is based on the Book of Hosea. And the Shiloh series contains some interesting social commentary.

Nope for a While: Science Fiction and Fantasy

I was a big science fiction fan in my teens and twenties. I remember devouring the Lord of the Rings and Dragonriders of Pern series, one right after the other. That was in the 1970s and I liked how women were allowed to be warriors in the Dragonriders series. One of the great things about science fiction is that it imagines worlds different from ours, yet the problems and their solutions are still human.

I got turned off on sci fi and fantasy because it started to seem to me that it was mostly about world-building and not so much about character and plot.

But, more recently, I’ve started to reconsider. I read the Scythe series a few years ago with my grandson, and recently I’ve read and enjoyed Cloud Cuckoo Land, Sea of Tranqulity and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. So, I guess I just needed to find literary sci fi. If anyone has any recommendations of good literary sci fi or fantasy, I’m definitely open to that.

If anyone disagrees with my gripes, that’s fine; feel free to comment. And feel free to enjoy your favored genre without any criticism from me. I love all my fellow readers, even if I don’t love all books.

Why I am Still Patriotic

Posted by on Sep 29th, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

Why I am Still Patriotic

For the past couple of years, I’ve chosen a word to summarize my focus for that year. In 2021, it was Patience. And, boy, did I need it that year, between lingering Covid and Al having some pretty serious surgery that involved a very long recovery.

This year, my theme is Hope. And, again, I find that I set myself an appropriate challenge. We have an important mid-term election coming up, and it seems that many people feel despair that our country can ever overcome the terrible divisiveness of the past five years. I admit that I’m not especially optimistic, at least over the short term. I don’t necessarily feel hopeful. But, similar to faith, I believe that hope is a verb more than a feeling. I believe that hope is in what we do. So, I will be canvassing for my preferred candidates every Saturday between now and the election.

Do I love doing that? No, I do not. The weather isn’t always agreeable, and people aren’t always happy to see you. But I will make myself do it because, in spite of the rancor of the past five years, I still love my country. One of my five-star books for 2021 was about the topic of patriotism, and I’m republishing my review here because I don’t have any better words to explain why I’m still patriotic, and why I’ll be out there canvassing regardless of weather, and regardless of slammed doors and argumentative rightists. God bless America!

My Review of Reclaiming Patriotism

My heart broke on November 8, 2016. I have always been patriotic, but I have struggled since 11/8/2016 to maintain my faith and pride in my country. 1/6/2021 didn’t help.

This book was like an elixir. Smith is a professor of Philosophy and Political Science at Yale, and his writing reflects that. He doesn’t just expound his own opinions at the reader. Referencing sources from Aristotle to the Federalist papers, he relies especially on Lincoln’s speeches and writings, in his defense of patriotism.

He defines patriotism as loyalty to one’s home country in the first chapter. Then he contrasts patriotism with both nationalism and cosmopolitanism. And, finally, in the last two chapters he describes what enlightened patriotism looks like and discusses the values and character of the United States, the things that we can love and take pride in.

This book took me a couple of weeks to read. It was both intellectually and emotionally dense for me. I had to read a little, and then ponder what I’d read before reading more. But it was well worth it.

In a nutshell, Smith’s argument is that you can recognize that your nation is flawed and still love it. You can respect that other people love their own countries, too, and still love you own. It isn’t even necessary to think, as many Americans do, that you live in the best country in the world. You can still love America because it is your own. Your home.

I thought about how the people of America gave me an education. I thought about how my family would have lost our home after my dad died, if the American people hadn’t sent us Social Security survivor’s benefits every month. My country has given me so much. This is my home. I enjoy French culture and language, but I don’t love France. I didn’t grow up in Paris or on the wide plains of the French countryside. Instead, I grew up in the hills and valleys of Appalachia, and there lies my heart.

But those affinities – “habits of the heart” as Smith calls them – aren’t the only reasons to love America. Smith mounts a full-throated defense of all that is good about our country, all that is worth loving. First and foremost, our dedication to the notion of the “equal moral dignity” of every human being. Have we always fully lived that principle? Obviously not. But, to an extent that no other nation can match, it is our creed. Smith also calls out our Constitution, which has managed to maintain rule of law for almost 250 years. He also points to our cultural, artistic, economic and scientific achievements. And I would add that we have also defeated tyranny twice in the past century. That’s a record to be proud of.

You can weep for our country’s flaws and errors. I certainly do. But this book reminded me that nations are like human beings: tragically flawed and gloriously noble both at the same time. It reminded me that I am not free to give up on our country any more that I am free to give up on the people I love. It gave me back my hope and pride

The Pressed Steel Car Strike

Posted by on Aug 20th, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

One of the bloodiest battles of the early twentieth century labor movement took place just a few miles from downtown Pittsburgh, in my old hometown of McKees Rocks.

Imagine earning only $122* for 110 hours of work over eleven days. You pay $400* a month to rent half of a small company-owned duplex. You have to buy all your groceries and supplies at inflated prices at a company store. On average, of the 6000 men working in your plant, one dies in an industrial accident every day. And your wife or daughter may be asked for sexual favors to help you keep your job or to forestall payment on your debt at the company store.  

These conditions led to The Pressed Steel Car Strike in 1909. It was the most significant labor dispute in the Pittsburgh area since the 1892 Homestead Strike, and a precursor to the Great Steel Strike of 1919.

*Note: all dollar amounts in this post adjusted to 2022 dollars

The P&LE and the Pressed Steel Car Company

The Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad started business in 1879, transporting coal, coke, iron ore, and limestone into Pittsburgh’s steel mills, and transporting the finished steel out. They located their 100-acre repair and maintenance center in McKees Rocks in 1888. The railroad employed thousands over the years, including one of my uncles. Immigrants flocked to the Rocks for the work opportunities. By 1920, the population of the town reached 14,702, 42% of which were immigrants. Between 1879 and 1920, many Italian and Slavic immigrants arrived, adding to the German and Irish populations already settled in the Rocks.

In 1899, in Joliet, IL, the Pressed Steel Co. and Fox Solid Press Steel Co merged to form The Pressed Steel Car Company. Run by Frank Norton Hoffstot, the company manufactured passenger and freight railroad cars.

At the time, it was the second-largest rail car producer in the United States. Locating a plant in McKees Rocks near the railroad hub and so much cheap labor seemed like a no-brainer.

Background of the Strike

By 1909, the plant employed 6000 men of sixteen different ethnicities, most of them foreign-born. But it had a reputation for brutal oppression. Workers called it “the last chance” and “the slaughterhouse.” The priest of St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in the Rocks said that “men are persecuted, robbed and slaughtered, and their wives are abused in a manner worse than death. . . all to obtain or retain positions that barely keep starvation from the door.”

Laborers worked under a “Baldwin contract,” a form of labor pooling. The company parceled out jobs in lots to foremen who contracted to get the work done for a set sum. The less the foremen paid the workers under them, the more they got to keep for themselves. So, the foremen had a strong incentive to race each other to the bottom of the pay scale. And workers couldn’t count on the size of their paychecks from one project to the next.

A newspaper reporter investigated the pooling scheme and found that one worker worked nine days, ten hours a day, and received pay of $89.53*. Before pooling, workers had averaged as much as $130* a day. But after pooling went into effect, average pay plummeted to $16* per day.

The strike begins

July 10, 1909, was a payday. Many workers noticed that their pay seemed especially scanty on that day, even less than the paltry amount they had bargained for. They demanded to speak to plant management. The managers refused. Violence erupted immediately.  The first fatality was an immigrant worker named Stephen Horvat. More deaths would follow.

The leaders of the strike were a former German metalworker and union leader, Hungarian veterans of railway strikes, and three Russians who had been involved labor strife in St. Petersburg in 1905.

Five thousand of the plant’s 6000 workers joined the strike. Three thousand more from the Standard Steel Car Company of Butler also went out on strike in solidarity. The carpenters’ union sent wagons of food, and the Pittsburgh Leader newspaper took up a collection. Sensing an opportunity, the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World, sometimes called the “Wobblies”) came to the aid of the strikers. Big Bill Haywood himself, leader of the IWW, even showed up.

The company wasted no time in hiring scabs. By the end of July, 100 new workers had been brought into the plant, On July 14, a riverboat pulled up to deliver more strikebreakers. The strikers fired on the boat, forcing it to retreat. When deputy sheriffs tried to intervene, a riot broke out, resulting in 100 injuries from rocks, clubs and bullets. A mob of 1000 strikers attacked fifty mounted officers and broke a state trooper’s leg. Law enforcement got orders to shoot to kill.

Escalating Violence

On July 23, the company established an “information bureau” where workers could state their grievances. But the strike, and the violence, continued into August. In mid-August, the company hired 450 more strikebreakers.  On August 19, strikers attacked streetcars bringing workers into the plant. On August 21, they shot at the company doctor, W. J. Davidson, as he approached the plant. Workers’ wives also joined the rioting. When state troopers and local deputy sheriffs arrived, the strikers attacked them, too.

By August 22, 200 state constables (whom the Slav workers called “Black Cossacks”) and 300 deputy sheriffs had been deployed to protect the strikebreakers. That day, when strikers again boarded a street car to turn back scabs, armed deputies confronted them and opened fire.

The next day, the rioting strikers killed the deputy sheriff, Harry Exley. On August 22 and 23, the bloodiest days of the strike, Exley, two state troopers, and at least ten strikers lost their lives.

The Strike Ends

The tide of the strike turned on a newspaper photograph and an ill-advised attack on company housing.

The workers’ housing stood near the plant, in the little neighborhood called Presston (also known as Hunky Town). The area remained rural enough that workers had gardens to supplement their diets.

During the strike, the company began to evict workers, who were neither working in the plant nor paying their rent. On August 21, a local newspaper published a photograph of one family’s eviction. The photo included the heartbreaking feature of a baby buggy loaded into the wagon of possessions being carted away, and it gained much outraged sympathy for the workers.

Then, on August 23, state troopers stormed Presston to facilitate the evictions, attacking both men and women.

The Strike’s Legacy

The work stoppages and the bad publicity forced the company to settle the strike on September 8. The pooling practice ended. Wages were increased. The company began to offer English classes to immigrant workers. They improved housing in Presston, built a playground and planted trees. For many years after, the company sponsored free annual festivities on Independence Day, with races, garden competitions and cash prizes.

Workers won a victory on September 8, 1909, part of the labor movement’s long progress towards decent pay and working conditions.

The community of Presston still stands, in the form of about 200 duplex houses on Ohio and Orchard Streets.

The Pressed Steel Car Company went on to contribute significantly to the World War Two industrial effort, designing and produced tanks, gun carriages and motor carriers. The company was bought by U.S. Steel in 1956.

The P&LE Railroad went out of business in 1992.

The McKees Rocks Bottoms, where the P&LE yard and the Pressed Steel Car plant stood, is still home to a small railyard and several industrial plants, including Tudi Mechanical Systems, Standard Forged Products, and McKees Rocks Forgings. An historical marker and small memorial live on a nearby corner. The memorial is adorned with ten small American flags: one for each of the workers’ lives lost on August 22, 1909.

Presston early 20th century

Presston today. The 1899 duplexes still stand.

Sources

Agreen, Bernadette Sulzer, and the McKees Rocks Historical Society. Images of America: McKees Rocks and Stowe Township. Charleston, SC: Acadia Publishing, 2009.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pressed_Steel_Car_strike_of_1909#:~:text=The%20Pressed%20Steel%20Car%20strike%20of%201909%2C%20also,private%20security%20agents%2C%20and%20the%20Pennsylvania%20State%20Police.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pressed_Steel_Car_Company

https://www.post-gazette.com/business/businessnews/2009/08/16/Pressed-Steel-Car-strike-in-McKees-Rocks-reaches-centennial-anniversary/stories/200908160200

Nemacolin’s Trail

Posted by on Jul 9th, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

The Old National Road is the gift that keeps on giving. This summer, Al and I realized that we’d given the Maryland section of the road short shrift, and we decided to return and do it justice.

Nemacolin

The section of National Road between Cumberland, MD, and Brownsville, PA, is also called Nemacolin’s Path or Nemacolin’s Trail. I was especially curious about Nemacolin’s contribution, because of my recent interest in the original natives of our area.

Nemacolin, of course, also has a very swanky resort in the Laurel Highlands named after him. He was born in 1715 near Brandywine Creek and a Swedish trading post that later became Fort Christina and, still later, Wilmington, Delaware.

His father was is variously named as either Checochinican or Leni Lenape, a chief of the Fish Clan of the Turtle tribe of the Delaware/Lenape nation.

The Delaware nation originally lived along the Delaware River in New Jersey. They spoke a form of Algonquin and were related to the Miami, Ottawa and Shawnee. The other Algonquin tribes called them “grandfathers” because they believed the Delaware were the most ancient Algonquin tribe. The tribe had moved west as the British encroached on New Jersey and Delaware.

By treaty with William Penn in 1726, the tribe ceded their land on both sides of the Brandywine. Thus, Nemacolin grew up near Shamokin, PA, in a village along the Susquehanna River. The Indians called Shamokin “Schahamokink” (“place of eels”). An Indian tribe called the Saponi had already settled there. The came from North Carolina or Virginia and spoke a Siouan language. Their name may have come from the Siouan word for black: “sapa”. Or it may have come from the name of a female goddess of their religion, Sepy. In the seventeenth century the English explorer John Lederer described them as “governed by an absolute Monarch; the People of a high stature, warlike and rich.”

Nemacolin and the National Road

Nemacolin and his family later moved south and west and lived for a while with the Cresap family. Thomas Cresap was born in 1702 in Skipton, Yorkshire. He later settled as a farmer and trader near Wills Creek in present-day Cumberland.

In 1750, Cresap was commissioned to improve the old Indian path through the Cumberland Narrows, across the Appalachian Mountains.

Cresap hired his friend Nemacolin and Nemacolin’s two sons to help with the stretch between Wills Creek and Redstone Creek (present-day Brownsville, PA). Christopher Gist oversaw their work, which crossed harsh, mountainous terrain.

Later during the French & Indian War, Gist led George Washington along the trail, which became part Braddock’s Trail, then Forbes Trail, and finally the National Road.  

Nemacolin lived to see the British increasingly encroach on his tribe’s land. The treaty of Easton in 1758 compelled the Delaware to move to the Ohio Territory. There, they fought with the Iroquois and were driven further west. Many lived along the Muskingum River in eastern Ohio, or along the Auglize River in the northwestern part of the state. Similar to Guyasuta’s Mingo, the Delaware tried to stay neutral in the American Revolution.

After the Revolution, the Delaware struggled against more white encroachment in the Ohio territory. They were part of the force defeated by General Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. They lost most of their land in the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, and the rest in 1829. Finally, they moved west of the Mississippi River.

Nemacolin eventually moved his tribe to a Shawnee town on Blennerhassett Island in the Ohio River. The island sits on a stretch of the river between West Virginia and Ohio, along Route 50. Nemacolin died there in 1767.

Our Drive Along Nemacolin’s Trail: Cumberland

We began at the official start of the road in Cumberland. Cumberland, Maryland, is a small, pretty city with lots of nineteenth-century architecture and much of historical interest. The people there are very friendly and helpful. When we had trouble locating the site of the National Road’s start, we stopped at a museum to see if we could find information there. The museum was closed, but the County Comptroller’s Office next door was open. The clerk there directed us to the railroad station across the street and told us we could leave our car parked in her office’s free parking lot. At the railroad station, we met a very knowledgeable local who took the time to point us to abundant historical resources. Again and again in our travels, we find people who love their hometowns and are eager to share them.

In addition to the starting point of the National Pike, Cumberland was home to George Washington’s headquarters during the French & Indian War. The building still stands.

The town is also home to both the old C&O Canal and several Civil War sites. We vowed to return and explore those at a future date.

Our Drive Along Nemacolin’s Trail: LaVale Tollhouse and Casselman Bridge

Along the drive to from Cumberland to Brownsville, we also explored another toll house, the LaVale Tollhouse. It looked very much like the ones we’d seen last year. But each toll house is different in what it provides. This one had a very nicely reproduced interior (see photos below). And we learned that the toll collectors were paid $200 per year, in addition to their free lodging in the toll house. The collectors had to be alert, because many people tried to avoid paying the toll. We learned, too, that the LaVale Tollhouse collected almost $10,000 in tolls in its first year of operation.

We also discovered the magnificent Casselman River Bridge, now surrounded by a pretty Maryland state park. This stone arch bridge, dating to 1813, remained in use until the rerouting of Route 40 in 1933. When it was constructed, it was the largest single-span stone arch bridge in the United States. Presidents James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, and Abraham Lincoln all crossed this massive, well-maintained stone bridge.

Nemacolin’s Trail ends at Brownsville, which we had visited last year. The improvements to this old Indian Trail between Wills Creek and Redstone Creek mark the true birth of the National Road, sixty years before its official start.

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemacolin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemacolin%27s_Path

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamokin,_Pennsylvania

https://www.ancestry.com/genealogy/records/nemacolin-native-american-24-2z6gyhz

https://www.ancestry.com/genealogy/records/nemacolin-native-american-24-2z6gyhz

https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Delaware_Indians

https://www.nps.gov/articles/a-long-legacy.htm#:~:text=In%20response%20to%20these%20tensions,expansion%20quickly%20nullified%20the%20agreement.

Guyasuta’s Final Chapter

Posted by on Jun 16th, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

Like smaller, weaker nations always and everywhere, the American Indians were blown in all directions by the hurricane of the American revolution. By 1778, only the Delaware and Oneida sided with the Americans. Across Iroquois country, Indian villages suffered attack by either the Americans or the British or Indians who sided with one or the other. The Indians near Fort Niagara were attacked so viciously that the very cold winter of 1779-80 left them close to starvation.

Ever the displomat, Guyasuta accompanied Cornplanter to the fort to plead with the British for help. It was their only hope. By this time, the Iroquois ability to hunt or wage war was so weak that they were reduced to begging.

Although offered only minimal help by his British allies, Guyasuta returned to the Ohio country in 1780 . He urged the Mingo people to remain loyal to the crown. Later in 1780, he led thirty Wyandot warriors in an attack on the Americans’ Fort McIntosh.

The Delaware and the Americans continued to attack Mingo villages. And Guyasuta became impatient with the British refusal to provide either protection or retribution. In the summer of 1782, he participated in a raid on the Patriot town of Hanna’s Town. The one-day fight destroyed thirty homes, dozens of acres of crops and 100 cattle. The town was never rebuilt. It was Guyasuta’s last battle.

In the 1782 Treaty of Paris that officially ended the war, the British signed over to the Americans all of their territory east of the Mississippi River. No one had consulted the Indians who lived there. They had no representative at the peace conference.

In 1784 and 1785, the Iroquois and the Mingo signed peace treaties with the United States, confirming the terms of the Treaty of Paris. But it was a mere formality. All was already lost. Once again, Guyasuta had backed the losing side.

The (Iroquois) Empire Strikes Back

The white men weren’t the only ones who broke treaty terms. Although the Indians had signed a peace treaty with the new United States, many young warriors refused to honor it. With the authority of the old Iroquois Confederacy weakened, bands of young warriors conducted freelance raids. Gradually, a new western confederacy of anti-treaty warriors emerged, supplied by British Canada. The frontier was still a dangerous place for isolated white settlers.

Against Guyasuta’s and Cornplanter’s objections, a former Mingo ally named Thayendanegea (also called Joseph Brant) assembled a force of 1500 warriors from the Wyandot, Shawnee, Delaware, Ottawa, Chippewa, Miami, Mingo, Creek and Cherokee tribes. Between 1786 and 1791, Thayendanegea’s army and their allies massacred 1500 settler families.

In 1791, President George Washington sent an army into the Ohio country led by Arthur St. Clair. But a near-bankrupt Congress could supply the army very poorly, and most of them were militia or 6-month draftees. Of the 2000 troops mustered, 600 deserted. The Miami general Little Turtle easily defeated St. Clair’s force.

Logstown: The Birthplace of the Professional United State Army

But Washington didn’t triumph in the Revolution by being a quitter. By the winter of 1792, Washington had selected General Anthony Wayne to lead the next attempt. Similar to Forbes in 1755, Wayne took a more methodical approach than his predecessor. From the 2500 soldiers remaining in the Continental Army and some new recruits from Pittsburgh, Wayne established the Legion of the United States.

He built a training camp at the abandoned site of Logstown (see this previous post), renaming it Legionville. Wayne spent the winter training and drilling his new army, which included Meriweather Lewis, William Clark and future president William Henry Harrison.

By this time, Guyasuta was about 70 years old. He had settled with two wives on a piece of fertile land along the Allegheny River near Pittsburgh.

Guyasuta visited the training camp twice. In his first visit during the winter, he asked for clothing and supplies. He also warned Wayne that the Western Confederacy was still on the warpath. His second visit took place in March of 1793. He pleaded with Wayne not to launch an attack on the Confederacy until all diplomacy was exhausted. But the Confederacy would settle for nothing less than a return to the 1768 treaty, which stipulated no white settlement west of the Ohio River. And the new United States would never agree to that.

Again like Forbes, Wayne built a string of forts between the fall of 1793 and the summer of 1794. Marching west, his Legion supplemented by 800 Kentucky militia, he burned every Indian village between present-day Fort Recovery Ohio and Defiance, Ohio, a distance of about 63 miles. The two towns still bear the names of the forts that Wayne built on their sites.

The Battle of Fallen Timbers

The Indians debated surrender, but decided to make one last stand. They chose a site near British Fort Miami, where they could still get supplies from the British and could retreat if needed. They thought this would be a good place to ambush Wayne’s army. On August 20, 1794, the forces of Little Turtle and Blue Jacket suffered defeat in the 80-minute Battle of Fallen Timbers. When they attempted to retreat to Fort Miami, they found it closed to them. Indian power in the Ohio country was finally completely beaten.

The peace treaty signed at Fort Greenville on August 3, 1795, ceded the Ohio river and most of the state of Ohio to the United States. In exchange, the Indians received a small annuity and a stipend of commodities.

Death of Guyasuta

Guyasuta had died just a few months earlier, in late 1794 or early 1795. He started his life in Logstown, a prosperous little town along the Ohio. And he ended it in another prosperous Ohio River town: the growing city of Pittsburgh. He had been a sachem, a warrior and a diplomat. In every war of his lifetime, he had the bad luck to choose the wrong side. His life as a representative of an empire in defeat tragically illustrates the fates of thousands of American Indians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

As a student in the Pittsburgh Public Schools in the 1960s and 1970s, I learned little about the fates of the original natives of our nation. They used to live here. Our white ancestors came and displaced them. Now they live on reservations in the west. The end. In this series about Guyasuta, I’ve tried to bring to life the people who were native to Western Pennsylvania before it was part of the United States. And I’ve tried to show parallels between them and other fallen nations. Nothing can ever do justice for the loss of their home. But they were the first Americans and it is right that we remember them.

If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend Brady J. Crytzer’s book, listed in my Sources.

Sources:

Crytzer, Brady J. Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, LCC, 2013.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Wayne

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Fallen_Timbers

Guyasuta and the American Revolution

Posted by on May 31st, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

Guyasuta was a signatory to the 1765 treaty between the Indians and the colonies of Pennsylvania and Virginia. The treaty allowed British forts in the Ohio Country, but no white settlers. He probably doubted from the start that the white settlers would respect the treaty’s terms. But I wonder if he expected to be betrayed by his Iroquois cousins.

Surprise! The White Men Break a Treaty

Eager white settlers, of course, continued to stream west into the Ohio Country. The Washington brothers, and other speculators, had succeeded in acquiring title to large tracts in what was ostensibly Indian country. So, the settlers were often squatters. By 1768, the 1765 treaty had become meaningless. Unsurprisingly, the Indians objected to the encroachments of the white settlers, and committed acts of violence. Then whites attacked Indians in retribution – very often, not the same Indians who had attacked them. By this time Guyasuta and Superintendent if Indian Affairs Johnson were actually allies. Both wanted to end the cycle of violence and retribution. Both had an interest in peace. But Johnson believed that the Mingo should fold back into the Iroquois Confederacy. He wanted only one Indian nation to deal with.

Colonial officials and Indians met again, this time at New York’s Fort Stanwix, to revise the boundaries of settlement. Present were Johnson, a few other colonial officials, and the leaders of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Notably absent: any representative of the Mingo, whom Johnson stubbornly saw as being represented by the Iroquois.

In the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the Iroquois allowed the opening of all of southwestern Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky to white settlement.

Most of the Mingo from the ceded territory migrated to Ohio. Others stayed, and the bloodshed on both sides continued. Somewhat ironically, in 1770, George Washington visited Guyasuta’s hunting camp near where the Hocking River flows into the Ohio. He was seeking to buy more land.

Lord Dunmore’s War

Meanwhile, the white colonists grew restive. The British victory in the French & Indian War came at a very high financial cost. Naturally, the British government felt that some of that cost should be borne by the colonists themselves. But the colonists objected to the 1764 sugar tax and the 1765 stamp tax. In 1767, they objected again to the Townsend Duties on lead, glass, paint and tea. In 1770, violence erupted between civilians and British soldiers. The incident became known as the Boston Massacre.

When a nation is bitterly divided internally, someone always comes up with the idea of distracting the feuding sides by creating an external enemy. In 1774, the person who came up with the distraction was John Murray, fourth Earl of Dunmore, and the colonial governor of Virginia.  

Indian versus settler violence had continued in West Virginia and Kentucky, both claimed by Virginia at that time. Lord Dunmore thought that a war against the Mingo and Shawnee would rally the colonials back to the mother country’s side. He also hoped to clear the Indians out of the area once and for all. And, even if he failed at both of those goals, a nice little war would weaken colonial military power.

Dunmore sent two columns toward the disputed territory. One column of 1000 colonials moved west from Virginia under Col. Andrew Lewis. Another 1000-man column moved south from Fort Pitt under Dunmore himself. Lewis was ambushed by 600 Ohioans under the Shawnee chief Cornstalk at Point Pleasant (or Tu-Endie-Wei, “point between the waters”). Despite being taken by surprise, the colonials won a victory because, by this time, they had learned to fight “Indian style.”

A New Treaty

Dunmore joined Lewis at Camp Charlotte, near modern-day Chillicothe, Ohio, to negotiate surrender terms with Cornstalk. The terms forced the Indians to turn over all the lands south of the Ohio river that they had won in the Treaty of Ft. Stanwix. In addition, Dunmore won Cornstalk’s promise that, in case of a war between the provincials and the mother country, the Mingo and Shawnee would remain neutral.

Guyasuta, now reconciled to the Iroquois nation, represented the nation in working out details of the peace treaty. He succeeded in negotiating the release of all prisoners from the Dunmore war, and affirmed the Indian promise of neutrality. Speaking for both the Iroquois and the Mingo, he vowed, “We will not suffer either the English or the Americans to march an army through our country.”

Not every Iroquois chief agreed with the neutrality position. Many young warriors wanted to take the British side should war break out between the white men. Guyasuta spent 1776 shuttling back and forth between the Indians and the white men at Forts Pitt and Niagara, trying to reassure the British army and maintain the neutral Indian position.  But 1776 was a fateful year, and fateful events generally require men and women to choose sides.

American Revolution and Indian Civil War

By 1777, neutrality had broken down. The Iroquois relied on British trade goods and believed that they would be more likely to lose their land if the Americans won. Also, in 1777 the British looked like a sure bet to win the war. Eventually even the champions of neutrality, Guyasuta and Cornplanter, sided with the British.

A Presbyterian minister named Samuel Kairland had lived among the Oneida and Tuscarora Indians for eight years and convinced them to take the American side. He assured them that the Americans would honor their land claims. These conflicting loyalties would soon lead to disaster for the Indians.

The Americans had occupied Fort Stanwix, forming an impediment to British General John Burgoyne’s goal of controlling the area between the St. Lawrence River and New York City. In August of 1777, Burgoyne sent a force under Lieutenant Colonel General Barry St. Leger to recapture the fort. St. Leger sent about 500 Seneca and Mohawk among his force to lay siege.

But their Oneida allies had warned the Americans of the coming attack, and they were prepared. A small army of Oneidas and Americans ambushed the besieging Mohawk and Seneca. A vicious hand-to-hand battle followed. One Seneca veteran later said, “The blood shed made a stream running down the sloping ground.”

The battle resulted in an official Iroquois civil war. Guyasuta and Cornplanter sent the bloody hatchet to the Oneida, and their allies attacked an Ottawa village. The Oneida attacked a Mohawk village in retaliation. Burgoyne’s campaign to gain control of the Mohawk valley had failed. But it had ignited a civil war that would fatally weaken the Iroquois nation.

Next time: Guyasuta’s life in the new American nations

Sources

Crytzer, Brady J. Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, LCC, 2013.

https://military-history.fandom.com/wiki/Siege_of_Fort_Stanwix

Guyasuta’s Wars

Posted by on May 16th, 2022 in Blog | 1 comment

The French and Indian War Does Not End Well for Guyasuta

In 1755, Guyasuta had every reason for confidence in his French allies. But after Braddock’s defeat at the Monongahela (see my previous post), British Secretary of State William Pitt appointed Brigadier General John Forbes to capture Fort Duquesne from the French.

Learning from the catastrophic failure of the Braddock expedition, Forbes took a very methodical approach. He ordered the construction of a series of forts between Carlisle and present-day Pittsburgh. He planned that the completion of the forts would culminate in the capture of the French stronghold at the forks of the Ohio.

Forbes’ plan wasn’t completely foolproof. When he sent Major James Grant on a reconnaissance mission to the French fort, Grant jumped the gun and attacked, with disastrous consequences. Earlier, the French had mounted a failed attack on the under-construction British fort at Ligonier. A loyal French ally, Guyasuta participated in both of these battles.

But, by the fall of 1758, the Mingo warriors clearly saw that Fort Duquesne would soon fall. Besides, it was hunting season. The Mingo abandoned their French allies. On November 24, 1758, George Washington planted the British flag at the site of what would soon become known as Pittsburgh.

By 1760, the French had lost their North American empire to the British. The British signed the Treaty of Easton with the Shawnee, Delaware and Iroquois, promising no white settlements in the Ohio Country.

The Mingo had backed the wrong side and had no promises from the British. They didn’t trust the Treaty of Easton (with good reason, as it turned out), and didn’t want to come back under Iroquois domination. Guyasuta looked west, to the Great Lakes tribes, for new allies.

Guyasuta Makes a Fruitless Trip to the Great Lakes

In 1760, diverse peoples populated the Midwest: French, British, Canadians, Dutch, Huron, Ojibwa, Ottawa and Miami all called the region home. The Indian tribes had been French allies in the war. So, Guyasuta had reason to think they might join with him in standing firm against British encroachment west.

Guyasuta and another Mingo sachem, Tahaiadoris, travelled to the Great Lakes area to pursue an alliance. He proposed that they join together to expel the British from Fort Detroit. Not only did the Great Lakes Indians rebuff the Mingo. They also reported the request to William Johnson, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for North America.

The Mingo were now without allies, and, what’s more, they’d made an enemy of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Guyasuta and Tahaiadoris returned to Western Pennsylvania defeated and empty-handed. But one Ottawa chief had listened sympathetically to their proposal. A few years later, he would set the frontier on fire.

Pontiac’s War

Pontiac was about Guyasuta’s age, born in 1725. Like Guyasuta, he was loyal to the French during the war, and he may have been present at the Battle of the Monongahela. In April of 1763, he decided to implement Guyasuta’s plan to besiege Fort Detroit. When the Ohioans heard of the siege, they blocked the Forbes Road, so that Fort Pitt could neither receive supplies from the east nor send troops to relieve Fort Detroit.

Pontiac’s War was less a coordinated war with Pontiac as a general than a cluster of attacks inspired by the same cause. In May, Forts Sandusky, St. Joseph, and Miami fell in rapid succession. In June, Forts Ouiatenot and Michilimachmace in the west surrendered, and Fort Venango fell to the Mingos.

Meanwhile, in early summer Guyasuta and the rest of the Mingo began to harass Fort Pitt. They’d fire on work parties cutting wheat near the fort or attack small outlying farmsteads. On July 28, the Indians’ casual siege of the fort turned into an assault by about four hundred Delaware, Shawnee, Wyandot and Mingo. The attack killed seven people in the fort and damaged the roofs of some of the buildings.

But on August 1, the Indians suddenly melted away. It turned out that they had a more urgent target.

The Battle of Bushy Run

The Indians had received word that Pennsylvania Governor General Amherst had sent five hundred Highlanders, Royal Americans and Rangers under Henry Bouquet to break the siege of Fort Pitt. Their forced march from Philadelphia in the summer heat took two months.

Guyasuta turned his force away from Fort Pitt, and met Bouquet’s army at Bushy Run on August 5. Local settlers were warned of the imminent battle and fled. Legend has it that one farm wife, Phoebe Byerly, fled with her three young children riding on the family’s cow.

The Indians secured a high spot near Bushy Run and forced Bouquet’s forces into retreat on the first day of battle. But, on August 6, Bouquet set a trap. He pretended to retreat further. The Indians fell for it, and Bouquet flanked them and won the day on more favorable ground.

The sieges were ended and the Forbes Road reopened, but the Indians were still on the warpath. Johnson, the Indian Affairs Superintendent, realized that he would have to negotiate. The resulting Proclamation of 1763 ordered white settlers off all the lands west of the Ohio that had been promised to the Indians in the 1760 Treaty of Easton. Nobody was happy with it. The white settlers felt cheated. Even the prisoner exchange was only partially successful; not all of the captive white people wanted to leave the Indian tribes that they’d lived with for up to a decade. As for the Mingo, they must have understood that the white settlers would continue to flow into the Ohio Country.

Next time: Guyasuta and the run-up to the American Revolution

Travel Recommendation

As part of my research for this post, Al and I travelled to Bushy Run Battlefield State Park and had an absolutely delightful day. The park is maintained by the State, but mostly staffed by a crew of friendly, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable volunteers. And don’t worry if you have trouble walking hilly battlefields: they offer free tours via golf cart! A very worthwhile stop for anyone interested in early American history. Hours and schedule of events are available on their website.

Sources

Crytzer, Brady J. Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, LCC, 2013.

Anderson, Niles. The Battle of Bushy Run. Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1975.

Guyasuta: early life

Posted by on Apr 25th, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

In his native language, his name meant “He stands up to the cross” or “He sets up the cross.” It’s sometimes rendered as Kiasutha, Kiasola or Kiashuta, but mostly commonly as Guyasuta.

Guyasuta was born around 1725 in the Genesee Valley of New York. His father was a sachem of the Seneca nation, one of the six nations that made up the mighty Iroquois Confederacy. 

The sachems of the Confederacy had an interest in Western Pennsylvania. Control of the Ohio River brought opportunities to trade with the French, as well as with their British allies. It also meant access to dwindling supplies of beaver. The Confederacy had defeated the native Algonquins and established a settlement at Logstown (see my previous post, also called Loggs Town, or Ciningue in French). In its time, it was the biggest, most prosperous town in the Ohio valley, home to councils and fur trading.

Guyasuta’s family migrated to Logstown, sometime before 1752. By then, the Delaware, Shawnee, Seneca and Cayuga Indians in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia had intermixed. They began to think of themselves as a separate people from the Iroquois. They called themselves Mingo or Ohioans.

Guyasuta meets Washington

In 1753, Guyasuta met George Washington for the first (but by no means the last) time. Washington called him “Tall Hunter” in his personal journals. Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddy had sent Washington to Western Pennsylvania to notify the French that the area was claimed by Great Britain and ask them to leave.

Because the Iroquois Confederacy was allied with the British, Washington came to Logstown and requested a guide to Fort LeBoeuf. The sachems selected Guyasuta, along with Half King, the Cayuga Jeskakake, and Kaghsiwaghtanuint another Seneca.

The background of this trip isn’t as well-understood as it should be. The Lieutenant Governor, Washington’s brother Augustine, and Washington himself had goals unrelated to statecraft. The three gentlemen had engaged in land speculation in the Ohio Country. It was very much in their own financial interests to win the disputed territory for Great Britain.

The Mingo also had interests of their own. Although officially allied with the British because of their membership in the Iroquois Confederacy, these Ohioan Indians chafed under Iroquois control. They saw the French as potential allies against their Iroquois masters. These mixed loyalties complicated their motivations, to say the least.  

As any Pennsylvania school child knows, Washington’s expedition to the French failed spectacularly. It led to the murder of Jumonville, Washington’s defeat at Fort Necessity, and the world’s first global war.

The French & Indian War Begins

We know, of course, that Washington was present at the Battle of the Monongahela, a disaster for the British. Guyasuta’s participation is less certain, but it seems likely. We do know that Guyasuta committed himself to the French side in the war. He hoped that a defeat for the British/Iroquois alliance would mean independence for the Mingo.

We also know that Guyasuta represented his people in alliance negotiations with the French. And we know that he spent the winter of 1755-6 in Montreal, making plans with his new allies.

In 1756, Guyasuta and his Mingo warriors attacked homesteads and trading posts all along the frontier. The attacks spread terror and convinced many British settlers to move back east. Said one, “Our tender infants hath their brains dashed out, our wives big with child hath their bellies ript open, those killed within their houses are mostly burnt with them. . . if thay flie into the woods or hideth in the hedges the murderers soon finds them and plunges their hatchets either into their brest or skill. . . their once sweet cheeks and lips now stained with dust and blood and their bosom filled with clotted gore.”

At this point, it looked like Guyasuta had backed the right side. The French seemed sure to win. But the tide was about to turn. . .

Coming in next month’s post: How did the end of the French & Indian War impact the Mingo people? And what was Guyasuta doing in the run-up to another historic conflict?

Sources

Crytzer, Brady J. Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, LCC, 2013.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guyasuta

Copyright 2014 Kathryn Bashaar | Design by | Adapted from PureType