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On April 30, 1774, a posse of armed colonists murdered a group of unsuspecting Native-Americans in cold blood along the banks of the Ohio River in modern day Hancock County, West Virginia. The Yellow Creek Massacre, was so significant that Thomas Jefferson mentioned it in the only book he ever published, Notes on the State of Virginia. He called the killings “inhumane” and “indecent.”
Thirteen years after the book’s original publication, Jefferson expanded on the massacre in An appendix to the notes on Virginia relative to the murder of Logan’s family (1800). Although the massacre is not widely known, it influenced the direction of the Revolutionary War by pitting some Native-American tribes against the colonists.
After the French and Indian War, English colonists began to push further west. In 1768, the Cherokee tribe vacated all of the land east of the Ohio River when they signed the Treaty of Hard Labour, which was one of multiple treaties that shaped the early western boundary. All of these changes created tension between the Native-Americans and the colonists.
By 1774, tensions were rising along the Ohio River Valley. There were various tribes located along the Ohio River, but they were mostly Shawnees. There was another group of natives along the river: the Mingos. The tribe was a mixture of Iroquois, Seneca, Cayuga, Delaware, Shawnee and other groups. A major Mingo settlement was located in Ohio at the mouth of Yellow Creek which led into the Ohio River. Across the river, where Mountaineer Racetrack currently stands, was a small trading outpost occupied by English colonist Joshua Baker. According to firsthand accounts, the outpost was frequented by colonists and natives. the were looking to purchase rum off of Baker.
Even though the colonists and the natives could interact peacefully, there was still tension. Leading up to the massacre, there were multiple incidents of colonists clashing with the natives. A few days before the massacre, Michael Cresap killed two Native-Americans just north of Wheeling, West Virginia. According to first hand accounts, the colonist’s fears were exacerbated by the murder of two men who were canoeing down the Ohio River with goods. An unsigned diary entry written at Fort Redstone, and dated Oct. 1774, gives us insight into the mind of the colonists:
“The most recent murders committed by the Indians before the white people began to retaliate, were that of Captain Russell’s son, three more white men, and two of his negroes, on the fifteenth of October, 1773; that of a Dutch family on the Kenhawa, in June of the same year; and one Richard, in July following; and that of Mr. Hogg and three white men, on the Great Kenhawa, early in April 1774. “
Baker and the natives would have most likely been aware of these attacks. According to John Sappington, the only person directly involved with the massacre, the final straw for Baker was when a young native girl came to his house crying and saying that the other natives were planning to kill Baker and his family. Sappington stated,
“The evening before a squaw came over to Baker’s house, and by her crying seemed to be in great distress. The cause of her uneasiness being asked, she refused to tell; but getting Baker’s wife alone, she told her, that the Indians were going to kill her and all her family the next day, that she loved her, did not wish her to be killed and therefore told her what was intended, that she might save herself. In consequence of this information, Baker got a number of men to the amount of 21, to come to his house, and it was determined that the men should lie concealed in the back appartment; that if the Indians did come and behaved themselves peaceably, they should not be molested; but if not, the men were to shew themselves and act accordingly.”
Sappington’s testimony is important to understanding how the massacre was planned, but it does not necessarily tell the truth. As a historian, one should never assume that a single eye witness account will tell the whole story. Instead, one should gather the most reliable primary sources, and interpret them in the most objective way possible.
The next day, a group of natives crossed the Ohio River and visited Bakers outpost- four men and three squaws. A settler named Daniel Greathouse and a group of approximately 20 men hid nearby and waited for their moment to strike. As the socializing progressed, a few of the natives became intoxicated on Baker’s rum. At this point in the story, the details start to get blurry. Every account differed in some way, so I will just outline the common claims. At some point during the gathering, the natives supposedly provoked the colonists by mocking them. The twenty or so men, jumped out and brutally killed all of the natives, except for one child. The child was spared because the mother pleaded with the colonists. She told them that the child was half white, and that the father was a man by the name of Gibson. The colonists spared the child, and then ended the mother’s life. They were cold and calculated. Not only did they kill the natives, but they desecrated their bodies, disemboweled them and hung them from trees. The colonists then ran to the bank of the river and waited for the other natives to cross. As approximately 20 natives started crossing, the colonists sniped them out of their boats, one by one, until they retreated.
News of the massacre spread quickly, because the first group of natives killed were family members of the powerful Mingo Chief Logan. He was a well-known figure in the Ohio Valley at the time. He was known by many of the colonists because of his conversion to Christianity. However, when he heard the news of the massacre, Logan, along with a few other Shawnees and Mingos, sought revenge. For Logan and the natives, the massacre was a declaration of war. So began Lord Dunmore’s War.
John Murray, the 4th Earl of Dunmore and the Governor of Virginia, convinced his legislature to mobilize the state militia and suppress the natives. Dunmore commanded around 1,700 men, and pushed from Fort Pitt down the Ohio River. At the same time, Colonel Andrew Lewis commanded around 800 men down the Kanawha River and set up Camp Pleasant at the mouth of the River. On October 10th,1774, the biggest and final conflict of the war occurred. It was the Battle of Point Pleasant. Lewis and his men defeated the natives, and on October 19, 1774, the Treaty of Camp Charlotte officially ended Dunmore’s War. The defeat forever destroyed the power of the Shawnee and other natives living in the Ohio Valley. After the war, Logan gave a somber speech which expressed his sadness. The speech became known as Logan’s Lament. In the lament, Logan said,
“I appeal to any white man to say, if ever he entered Logan’s cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat: if ever he came cold and naked, and he cloathed him not. During the course of the last long and bloody war Logan remained idle in his cabin, an advocate for peace. Such was my love for the whites, that my countrymen pointed as they passed, and said, `Logan is the friend of white man.’ l had even thought to have lived with you, but for the injuries of one man. Colonel Cresap, the last spring, in cold blood, and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not even sparing my women and children. There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature. This called on me for revenge. I have sought it: I have killed many: I have fully glutted my vengeance: for my country I rejoice at the beams of peace. But do not harbour a thought that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. He will not turn on his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan?–Not one.”
Logan was under the assumption that Colonel Michael Cresap was responsible for the death of his family at Yellow Creek. However, based on the historical record, Cresap was not involved in the massacre. The responsibility fell on Daniel Greathouse and his men.. In any case, Cresap was responsible for the deaths of two natives near Wheeling, which makes him partially responsible for the tensions that arose in the valley. Six years later, in 1780, it was rumored that Logan had become an alcoholic. Allegedly, in a drunken stupor, Logan hit his wife and knocked her unconscious. He thought he had killed her, so he fled. During his attempted escape, he was captured by other natives, and supposedly killed by his nephew.
The legend of Logan’s death and the colonists description of the massacre are riddled with stereotypical myths about Native-Americans. The stories depict the natives as careless, drunken, violent, and primitive thinking savages. The Yellow Creek Massacre encapsulates the struggle of Native-Americans during colonization.