Guyasuta’s Final Chapter

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, 1894, 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: 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?

Sources

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

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


Guyasuta

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 status 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.

Sources

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

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

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


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