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Guyasuta and the American Revolution

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


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


Guyasuta’s Wars

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.


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

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?


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



Like 21st-century Ukraine, the Mingo Indians in 18th-century Western Pennsylvania found themselves caught in the power politics of three imperial powers.

In the early 18th century, two powers dominated what is today the northeastern United States: the British and the Iroquois Confederacy. The Confederacy resulted from a series of bloody wars of conquest starting in the thirteenth century. The Seneca, Cayuga, Onandaga, Oneida and Mohawk nations made up the Confederacy.

In addition, French power loomed to the north, in Canada.

The British, the French, and the Iroquois all recognized the opportunities presented by the Ohio Valley. Some Indians from the Iroquois and Shawnee tribes migrated west in the early 18th century. They came for several reasons. The Iroquois wanted to stake a claim to the area. European immigrants were rapidly filling the northeast. And a smallpox epidemic in 1733 and a drought in 1741 drove many people west. They began to settle in what was then known as the Ohio Country, joining or displacing the native Algonquin and Delaware peoples. Today we call the area West Virginia, Ohio and western Pennsylvania,   

Some historians refer to these settlers as Ohioans or New Ohioans. They called themselves the Mingo. The Mingo came to see themselves as a separate people from the Iroquois Confederacy, and to resent the Confederacy’s power over them. They wanted to make their own rules, and trade freely with both the French and the other Indian tribes to their northwest.

Guyasuta and the Ohio Valley

In 1724, a baby was born in New York’s Genessee River Valley, the son of a Seneca chief. His family soon migrated to the Mingo village of Logstown beside the Beautiful River, the Ohio. The little Indian boy grew up in the forested hills of western Pennsylvania. He met George Washington more than once, figured as a warrior or diplomat in the most important events of 18th-century North America, often chose the losing side, and died brokenhearted. Today a statue of him with George Washington overlooks the city of Pittsburgh from Mount Washington.

His name was Guyasuta.

I was reading about him just as Al and I had participated in a Sunday School class about native Americans. Their history is early American history. But most of us know very little about it. It has been erased or ignored – “cancelled” in current parlance. I wanted to do my small part to remedy that by telling Guyasuta’s story in more depth.

So, watch this space for a series of posts on a man who tried to protect his people against three different imperial powers at a time when lives, fortunes and a whole continent were at stake.


Brady J. Crytzer. Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, LLC, 2016.