Native Americans Of The Eastern Ohio Country

Native Americans of the Iroquois tribe conduct
trade with European settlers in Pennsylvania.

When the Europeans arrived in North America, they encountered the Indians, who were the native inhabitants of the country. There were many Indian nations scattered across the continent, with histories that dated back over a thousand years.

In the Ohio Country, as the Europeans referred to the northern territories west of the Allegheny Mountains, organized Native American settlements began about 1000 BC. The tribes that occupied this part of the continent were centered near the Scioto and Ohio rivers, and their influence reached into present-day Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and New York.

The Monongahela Culture

Beginning about 1000 AD, a period in Ohio Country Native American history known as Fort Ancient, groups in the Middle Ohio Valley adopted an agrarian culture, with maize as their primary crop. These mound builders began settling in small, year-round settlements of no more than forty to fifty individuals.

By 1200, these small villages began to coalesce into larger settlements of up to 300 people. Settlements were rarely permanent, as the people commonly moved to a new location after one or two generations, when the natural resources surrounding the previous village were exhausted.

From 1400 to 1750 the formerly dispersed populations began to coalesce. Villages became much larger, with populations as high as 500. This was a time when warfare and intergroup strife increased, leading the tribes to consolidate their villages for better protection.

Fort Ancient Cultures
Map showing the locations of the tribal settlements during the Fort Ancient Culture.

To their northeast, in present-day Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio and West Virginia were the peoples of the Monongahela Culture, who inhabited the Monongahela River Valley from 1050 to 1635. They were maize agriculturalists and lived in well laid out palisaded villages with central oval plazas, some of which consisted of as many as 50-100 structures. They also traded with other groups who in turn traded with newly-arrived Europeans.

The Monongahela Culture disappeared some time during the 1620s or 1630s before having significant direct contact with Europeans. Most of the Monongahela were killed by, or assimilated into, either the Iroquois or the Delaware tribes during warfare, as these powerful tribes competed to control area hunting grounds for the fur trade.

The Iroquois Nations

At the time the first European traders and settlers appeared in the region around the fork of the Ohio, the primary occupants of the land were the confederation of the Five Nations, called the Iroquois. The other Indian nations in Ohio Country were the Delaware and the Shawnee.

The Five Nations were comprised of the Mohawks, the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas and the Senecas. In 1712, the Tuscaroras were admitted to the tribal union, and henceforth the confederacy of the Iroquois has been known as the Six Nations. The home of the Iroquois was in New York, but they were a very warlike people and their conquests extended from New York to the Carolinas, and from New England to the Mississippi.

Of the Six Nations, the Senecas were the most western in geographical position, with villages extending from the head waters of the Allegheny River some distance down the Ohio. To this nation belonged Queen Aliquippa, Tanacharison, Guyasuta and Cornplanter.

The Delaware Nation

The Delaware, or Lenape, another nation of Indians occupying this region of the country, were once the formidable enemies of the Iroquois. The Delaware were conquered by the Iroquois in 1617, and since then had been submissive in their dealings with the Iroquois Confederacy.

At the time of the Pennsylvania charter to William Penn, the Delaware occupied New Jersey, the valley of the Delaware River, and the entire basin of the Schuylkill. Subsequently they moved west to the Ohio Country. In 1753, Washington found Shingas, the war chief and ceremonial King of the Delaware, near McKee’s Rocks.

The Shawnee Nation

The Shawnee were described as a restless people, who were constantly engaged in war with some of their neighbors. The tribe originated in the South, near the Suwaney River in Florida. Around 1698, they first appeared in Pennsylvania, at Montour’s Island, six miles below Pittsburgh.

Some advanced to Conestoga and others settled on the head waters of the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers. In 1728, they moved west and settled near the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers. In 1732, of seven hundred warriors in the State of Pennsylvania, 350 were Shawnee. They had several villages within the limits of the present counties of Allegheny and Beaver.

Colonial North America - 1648.
Map showing colonial North America and the Indian Nations in 1648.

The Mingo Tribes

The Mingos were an independent group in the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy and were mostly made up of Senecas and Cayugas. The name Mingo derives from the Delaware Indian mingwe, meaning treacherous. The Mingos were noted for having a bad reputation and were sometimes referred to as Blue Mingos or Black Mingos for their misdeeds.

The people who became known as Mingos migrated to the Ohio Country in the mid-eighteenth century, part of a movement of various Native American tribes to a region that had been sparsely populated for decades but controlled as a hunting ground by the Iroquois.

These independant Iroquois bands were found scattered throughout Western Pennsylvania and Ohio. George Washington, in 1753, met Tanacharison, the Half-King of the Six Nations, at Logstown, a settlement along the Ohio River only a few miles west of the fork.

Over the years, the Shawnee, the Delaware, and the Mingo-Iroquois became closely associated with one another. These various nations, strangely mixed together and yet preserving their distinctive and separate organization, were dwelling here in peace when the white man first appeared among them.

The Beaver Wars - Iroquois Expansion

The Beaver Wars (1610-1701) were a series of conflicts fought in the mid-17th century in eastern North America. Encouraged and armed by their Dutch and English trading partners, the Iroquois sought to expand their territory and monopolize the fur trade, and the trade between European markets and the tribes of the western Great Lakes region.

The conflict pitted the nations of the Iroquois Confederation, led by the dominant Mohawk, against the French and French-backed Algonquin tribes. As the Iroquois swept westward, the Ohio Country was virtually emptied of Native people as refugees fled westward to escape the marauding warriors. Much of this region was later repopulated by Native peoples nominally subjected to the Six Nations.

Iroquois expansion during the Beaver Wars.
The expansion of the Iroquois Confederacy during the Beaver Wars.

Finally in 1698, the Iroquois began to see the English as becoming a greater threat than the French. The English had begun colonizing Pennsylvania in 1681. Expanding settlement there began to encroach on the southern border of the Iroquois territory. The French policy began to change towards the confederation. After nearly fifty years of warfare, they befriended the Iroquois in an effort to ensure their monopoly on the northern fur trade and help stop English expansion.

A peace treaty, the Great Peace of Montreal, was signed in 1701 by thirty-nine Indian chiefs and the French. In the treaty, the Iroquois agreed to stop marauding and to allow refugees to return east.

With the Dutch long removed from North America, and the English becoming as powerful as the French, the Iroquois came to see that they held the balance of power between the two European adversaries. The Iroquois used that position to their benefit for decades to come. Their society began to quickly change as the tribes began to focus on building up a strong nation, improving their farming technology, and educating their population.

The Ohio Country, which was nearer to the core of Iroquois territory, remained depopulated for decades, as the Iroquois controlled it by right of conquest as a hunting ground. The Lenape settled along the Allegheny River beginning in the 1720s. It was not until the 1740s and 1750s that the Shawnee returned to the southern and central areas of the region.

As the Europeans began to migrate into the Ohio Country, the French claimed the region by first discovery, and the English claimed the region under a charter by a distant king, strengthened by a treaty with the Iroquois.

The Native American Village of Logstown

The Native American settlement of Logstown was a multi-ethnic village located directly on the right bank of the Ohio River, about twenty miles downstream from the fork of the Ohio River, less than a mile north of present-day Ambridge. The original village was settled by Shawnees, possibly as early as 1725, on low-lying land on the north bank of the Ohio. The rich soil by the riverside was well-suited for cultivating maize.

In 1747, as part of their effort to claim the Ohio Valley, the French built thirty log cabins, some with stone chimneys, on a plateau above the original Logstown village. The French turned these cabins over to the Natives. Only eighteen miles downriver from present-day Pittsburgh, Logstown became an important trade and council site for both the French and the Natives, and ironically, the British.

Two years later, a French party led by Pierre-Joseph Celeron de Blainville visited Logstown on their way through the Ohio Country. The purpose of their expedition was to claim the territory as part of New France, the colonial domain of the French King.

French delegation led by Pierre-Joseph
Celeron de Blainville at Logstown - 1749.
French expedition led by Pierre-Joseph Celeron de Blainville visits Logstown in 1749.

The following year, in 1753, George Washington led an expedition north from Virginia, through the Ohio Country, to meet the French commander at Fort LeBoeuf. Along the way, Washington stopped at Logstown to meet with tribal leaders to solicit their support for British governance of the region. Seneca leaders like Tancharison and Guyasuta sided with the Great Britain and accompanied Washington north to the French fort with the message that the French were to immediately abandon their claim to the Ohio Country.

George Washington at Logstown - 1753.
George Washington meets with Tancharison the Half-King and tribal leaders at Logstown in 1753.

A few months later, following Washington's surrender to the French at Fort Necessity, in June 1754, fearing retribution from the victors, Logstown was burned to the ground by the Natives. The residents moved south to Great Meadows and the protection of the British. French forces under Louis Coulon de Villiers soon rebuilt the village. Logstown became a vital trading post for the French and their Indian allies.

When the army of General John Forbes invaded the Ohio Country on his march to Fort Duquesne, the Natives abandoned many of their neighboring villages. With the subsequent construction of Fort Pitt and the beginning of the new settlement of Pittsborough, the village of Logstown lost its prominence.

During Washington's final visit to Pittsburgh, on October 21, 1770, he visited the site of Logstown. By this time, none of the residents were Native American. In 1792, the settlement was taken over by the newly-formed Legion of the United States. Legionville, as it became known, was the first basic training facility for the United States Military. The site was vacated in 1793 after the troops left to fight in the Northwest Indian War.

Map of Native American Settlements - 1752.

Chartier's Town, Kittanning, Sawcunk and Shannopin's Town.

Some of the other Native American settlements near present-day Pittsburgh were Chartiers Town, a Shawnee village, and Kittanning, a Lenape (Delaware) and Shawnee village with 300-400 residents. Sawcunk, on the mouth of the Beaver River, was a Lenape settlement, and the principal residence of Shingas, the King of the Lenapes.

Shannopin's Town, a Seneca village on the east bank of the Allegheny nearest the fork of the Ohio, was the home of Queen Aliquippa, a well-respected Mingo Seneca leader. The town was deserted after 1749, with the Queen relocating her tribe to Great Meadows, where she sought the protection of the British.

The First Map Of Pittsburgh

When George Washington passed through the Ohio Country in 1753, on his way to Fort LeBoeuf to pass on Virginia Governor Dinwiddie's ultimatum that the French abandon the region, he kept a detailed journal of his discoveries, and also drew a map. Washington's hand drawn map shows his route from the upper Potomac River, over the mountains north to the Monongahela River basin and through to the Fork of the Ohio.

Map of Western Pennsylvania (the Ohio Country)
drawn by George Washington in 1753.
Map of the Ohio Country drawn by George Washington in 1753. Click on image to enlarge.

From there, his travels took him up the Allegheny River basin to French Creek and on to Fort LeBoeuf, where the French had just finished construction of their new stockade. The map shows many of the Indian settlements that were passed during his travels. The notes to the side show his views of the French intentions in the region and his recommendation for a British fort at the Fork of the Ohio.

Pittsborough and the surrounding villages as
drawn by General Forbes in 1758.

Five years later, in 1758, General John Forbes drew what is recognized as the first official map of Pittsborough and vicinity. The map was drawn in November 1758, only days after Forbes's army captured Fort Duquesne, at the Fork of the Ohio, from his French adversaries. Forbes gave birth to the settlement of Pittsborough. Three months later his map (shown above) appeared in an issue of Scot's Magazine in London.

Notable Tribal Leaders In Southwestern Pennsylvania

During the history of colonial North America, there have been many Indian tribal leaders that were influential in the struggles between the European powers vying for dominance on the continent. The Dutch, French and English all courted the allegiance of these leaders in an effort to counter the ambitions of the other competing powers.

The Natives did the same, courting the friendship of the European power that provided the most advantageous prospects for the continued prosperity of their people. In this game of chess, whichever country possessed the Indians as their ally became the dominant player in the colonization of the New World.

In the Ohio Country, during the struggles between France and England for control of the region, whichever nation was aligned with the Native tribes held the upper hand. These allegiances were tenuous at best, and often shifted as the tide of war turned in favor of one adversary or the other. In the end, treaties between the English and the Ohio Country natives spelled doom for the colony of New France and directly influenced the turn of events that brought about the birth of the City of Pittsburgh and the United States of America.

Queen Aliquippa - Mingo Seneca

By the 1740s, she was the leader of a band of Mingo Seneca living along the three rivers (the Ohio, Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers) near what is now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

By 1753, she and her band were living at the junction of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny Rivers near the present site of McKeesport, Pennsylvania.

George Washington wrote of his visit to Aliquippa in December 1753 stating:

"As we intended to take horse here (at Frazer's Cabin on the mouth of Turtle Creek), and it required some time to find them, I went up about three miles to the mouth of the Youghiogheny to visit Queen Aliquippa, who had expressed great concern that we passed her in going to Fort Le Boeuf. I made her a present of a match-coat and a bottle of rum, which latter was thought much the better present of the two."

Major George Washington meets with Mingo-Seneca
tribal leader Queen Aliquippa - 1753.
George Washington meets with Seneca tribal leader Queen Aliquippa in 1753.

Queen Aliquippa was a key ally of the British leading up to the French and Indian War. Aliquippa, her son Kanuksusy, and warriors from her band of Mingo Seneca traveled to Fort Necessity to assist George Washington and his Virginia militiamen, but did not take an active part in the battle that followed on July 3, 1754.

After the British defeat at the Battle of the Great Meadows and the evacuation of Fort Necessity, Aliquippa moved her band to the Aughwick Valley of Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania for safety. She died there on December 23, 1754.

Queen Aliquippa led American Indians through turbulent times. In her life, Aliquippa met with traders, diplomats and generals. If not for Queen Aliquippa, Pittsburghers today might be speaking French instead of English.

Tanacharison - Mingo Seneca

Tanacharison's was born about 1700 near what is now Buffalo, New York. As a child, he was taken captive by the French and later adopted into the Seneca tribe, one of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Tanacharison first appears in historical records in 1747, living in Logstown. He had emerged as a Mingo-Seneca leader at this time.

Tanacharison was known as Half-King, a ceremonial title bestowed upon him by the British. His role as an Iroquois leader was to conduct diplomacy with other tribes, and to act as spokesman to the British on their behalf.

In 1753, the French began the military occupation of the Ohio Country, driving out British traders and constructing a series of forts. British colonies, however, also claimed the Ohio Country. On behalf of the Governor of Virginia, George Washington travelled to the French outposts with the Governor's demand that the French vacate the Ohio Country. On his journey, Washington's party stopped at Logstown to ask Tanacharison to accompany them as a guide and spokesman for the Ohio Indians.

Tanacharison traveled with Washington to meet with the French commander of Fort Le Boeuf in what is now Waterford, Pennsylvania. The French refused to vacate, however, and to Washington's great consternation, tried to court Tanacharison as an ally. Although fond of their brandy, he remained a strong francophobe.

Tanacharison, the Half King.

It was Tanacharison that first requested that the British construct a "strong house" at the Fork of the Ohio. In early 1754, when Captain William Trent and his garrison of Virginia militia occupied the Fork of the Ohio, it was Tanacharison that placed the first log of the Ohio Company stockade called Fort Prince George. He railed against the French when they captured it.

During the Battle of Jumonville Glen, it was Tanacharison that provided Major Washington with intelligence on the French whereabouts, and after the battle, it was the Half-King that executed the French commander, Ensign Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, who was among the wounded. With the French words, "Tu n'es pas encore mort, mon père!" (Thou are not yet dead, my father), Tancharison sank his tomahawk in Jumonville's skull, washed his hands with the brains, and scalped him.

Although the British actions at the Battle of Jumonville Glen are considered the flashpoint of the French and Indian War, it was Tanacharison's gruesome act that fueled the French desire to evict the British from their lands once and for all.

After the battle, Tancharison and Queen Aliquippa moved their tribes to Great Meadows to live under the protection of the British. It was here, on October 4, 1754, that Tancharison died of pneumonia. Queen Aliquippa's death followed on December 23, 1754. With the loss of these two important British allies, the fate of the Ohio Country and its inhabitants seemed sealed. With the pro-British attitude of the Native Americans weakened by their death, the Native tribes in the region switched their allegiances to the French.

Guyasuta - Mingo Seneca

Guyasuta (1725–1794) was an important leader of the Mingo Seneca people in the second half of the eighteenth century. He playing a central role in the diplomacy and warfare of that era.

Guyasutha

Guyasuta served as a scout for George Washington on his mission to Fort LeBoef in 1753, athough he later played a role in defeating the Braddock Expedition in 1755. Guyasuta sided with the French in the French and Indian War, and was a major ally of Chief Pontiac during the Indian uprising in 1763 known as Pontiac's War.

The statue of George Washington and his Indian
guide Guyasuta in Grandview Overlook Park.
A statue of George Washington and Guyasuta in Grandview Overlook Park.

During the Revolutionary War, the flegling American government attempted to win Guyasuta to their cause, but like most Iroquois, he sided with the British. After the war, the aging Guyasuta, maternal uncle to Chief Cornplanter, worked to establish peaceful relations with the new United States of America.

Cornplanter - Mingo Seneca

Cornplanter (1730–1836) was a Seneca war chief during the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War. In the latter, the Seneca and three other Iroquois nations were allied with the British. After the war Cornplanter, like his uncle Guyasuta, worked to establish peaceful relations with the new United States of America. He helped gain Iroquois neutrality during the Northwest Indian War.

Cornplanter

Cornplanter worked to learn European-American ways and invited Quakers to establish schools in Seneca territory. The United States government granted Chief Cornplanter 1500 acres of former Seneca territory, along the upper Allegheny River, near New York's Allegany Reservation, in 1796, for "him and his heirs forever". The Cornplanter Tract constituted the only reserved native lands in the state of Pennsylvania. In 1965, the land was flooded by the Kinzua Dam, to create the Allegheny Reservoir.

Shingas the Terrible - Delaware (Lenape)

Shingas (1740–1763), was a tribal leader and noted war chief of the Delaware (Lenape) people in the Ohio Country. He was notorious for raiding white settlements and was called "Shingas the Terrible" by English colonialists.

In a treaty conference at Logstown in 1752 between the local tribes and the Virginian Ohio Company, Shingas was in attendance. Tanacharison, the Half-King of the Seneca tribe, was also present. Being related to the former King of the Delaware, Sasoonan, who died in 1747, Tanacharison introduced Shingas as the King of the Delaware, a title the British accepted.

Shingas was present with George Washington when he traveled to Fort LeBoeuf in 1753. During the French and Indian War, Shingas remained neutral at the onset, but after Braddock's Defeat reluctantly allied himself with the French. He then led devastating backwoods raids on white settlements deep into Virginia and Pennsylvania. The colonial governments responded by offering rewards to anyone who would kill him.

King Shingiss

In September 1756, 300 Pennsylvania militiamen launched a raid on Shingas settlement, Kittanning, located a few miles north of Fort Duquesne along the banks of the Allegheny River. The Kittanning Expedition was successful in destroying the village, but Shingas managed to escape unharmed.

As the French and Indian War turned in favor of the Great Britain, the true King of the Delaware, Shingas' brother Pisquetomen, made peace with British. Shingas kept a low profile and allowed Forbes' army to advance unmolested on Fort Duquesne in November 1758.

The British built Fort Pitt on the ruins of Fort Duquesne. This incited the local Delawares, contributing to the outbreak of Pontiac's Rebellion in 1763. During the Siege of Fort Pitt, Shingas and the Delawares participated in the fighting. Eventually, the siege failed, and the fort was relieved after holding out for three months.

After the rebellion ended, Shingas began to lose influence with the Delaware leaders. Shingas the Terrible died in 1764. It is possible that the war chief contracted smallpox from blankets distributed to the Delawares from Fort Pitt during the war.

Cornstalk - Shawnee

Cornstalk (1720 – 1777) was a prominent leader of the Shawnee nation just prior to the American Revolution. Cornstalk opposed European settlement west of the Alleghenies in his youth, but he later became an strong advocate for peace. He also proved to be a fierce war chief when provoked. His murder by American militiamen at Fort Randolph during a diplomatic visit, on November 10, 1777, outraged both American Indians and Virginians.

Born in present-day Pennsylvania, Cornstalk moved to the Ohio Country, near present day Chillicothe, Ohio, when expanding white settlement forced the Shawnee westward. Cornstalk is said to have remained neutral during the French and Indian War, and it is not known if he participated in Pontiac's Rebellion in 1763. He was, however, active in the peace negotiations in 1764 that ended the wide-spread Indian uprising.

Cornstalk

Cornstalk played a central role in Lord Dunmore's War of 1774, when Virginian settlers and land speculators moved into the lands south of the Ohio River. Although the Iroquois confederacy, who claimed ownership of the land, had agreed to cede the territory by treaty in 1768, the Shawnee objected to relinquishing their hunting grounds. Clashes soon took place, and Cornstalk tried unsuccessfully prevent escalation of the hostilities.

After failing diplomatically, Cornstalk turned to hostile action. With a force of 500 Shawnee and Mingo warriors, he attempted to block the Virginian invasion at the Battle of Point Pleasant, in present-day West Virginia. His attack, although ferociously made, was beaten back by the Virginians. The Shawnee retreated north of the Ohio River and Cornstalk reluctantly accepted it as the boundary of Shawnee lands in the Treaty of Camp Charlotte.

Cornstalk's commanding presence often impressed American colonials. A Virginia officer wrote from Camp Charlotte: "I have heard the first orators in Virginia, Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, but never have I heard one whose powers of delivery surpassed those of Cornstalk on that occasion."

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