In 1747 a group of Twightwee (Miami) Indians, lead by Memeska, came to the confluence
of the Great Miami River and Loramie Creek. Memeska brought his followers to this place
called Pickawillany, to be closer to his new friends the English. Memeska was coming to
Ohio from Kekionga (Fort Wayne) to put distance between himself and his former French
allies of the Great Lakes region. For many years the French had been the dominating
force in the Great Lakes fur trade. However, growing dissatisfaction with high prices,
poor quality, and short supplies of French goods led Memeska and others to look to the
English as a more reliable source of trade goods.
It was not long after the move to Pickawillany that a treaty of friendship between
Memeska’s Twightwee and the English was forged in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. On the
heels of that agreement came English traders, employed by Pennsylvanian George
Croghan, who began to establish a trading station next to the Pickawillany village.
Word spread quickly that English goods were now available at Pickawillany. This
brought rapid growth to the village. Indians, not only from the Ohio country, but also the
Great Lakes region and westward, came here to do business. In 1750, Christopher Gist,
an agent for Virginia’s Ohio Land Company, visited Pickawillany. Gist estimated that in
1750 this new village numbered upwards of 1200 individuals.
This activity was not lost on the French authorities who viewed Memeska (who they
called La Demoiselle) as a serious threat to their control of the Indian fur trade. Almost
from the moment Pickawillany was established, the French had begun planning how
best to remove this thorn from their side.
In 1749 French officials in Canada sent Pierre Joseph Celoron and a force of 265 men
into the Ohio Valley to reinforce French authority and strengthen their claim to the land.
Celoron and his forces traveled through the Ohio country, stopping at key points to
conduct ceremonies burying lead plates in the ground at the mouths of rivers draining
into the Ohio saying this is French land. This expedition received cool receptions at best,
from the Ohio Indians, so Celoron made quick work of each stop. Celoron was keenly
aware that even as he was reclaiming the land for his King, English influence was
On September 13, 1749, after a journey up the Great Miami River, Celoron and his men
arrived at Pickawillany. He held out hope of convincing Memeska to return to the French
fold. Just as Celoron was approaching the village, several English traders packed their
trade horses and left. Celoron found only two traders in the village. They were ordered to
leave, which they promptly did.
While Celoron was able to overawe the traders, Memeska was another story.
Pickawillany’s population and influence was growing, and Celoron knew he was not
strong enough to force a removal to Kekionga. Memeska did promise, “none but good
answers” for Celoron. The Frenchman recognized those promises to return to the old
homeland in the spring were merely procrastinations. He ended the council with this
warning for Memeska:
“Be faithful to your promise. You have assured him of this, because he is much stronger
than you, and if you be wanting it, fear the resentment of a father, who has only too much
reason to be angry with you, and has offered you the means of regaining his favor.”
Celoron, September, 1749
With that said, Celoron and his men left, knowing they had failed to accomplish their
mission. It was shortly after Celoron’s exit that George Croghan and his Pennsylvania
traders arrived at Pickawillany to officially establish the English trading post. Soon a
brisk trade business was flourishing near Memeska’s village. Because of his friendship
with the English traders Memeska was known as Old Briton to his new allies.
1750 and 1751 saw Pickawillany grow as both a village and a trading center. Traders
George Croghan, Andrew Montour, and Christopher Gist were all present at one time or
another and brought additional traders. They also helped Memeska improve and
strengthen his village.
Early in 1751 Celoron was ordered to employ force to revisit Pickawillany and bring
Memeska back to Kekionga. However, being unable to raise the needed men, he did not
leave the security of the French headquarters in Detroit.
In the autumn of 1751, a small French force did advance on Pickawillany, only to find
most of its residents away on the fall hunt. Even then the French were not strong
enough to mount an attack. They did seize some English traders and kill a Twightwee
man and woman.
French officials saw their position in Ohio rapidly deteriorating and determined to take
the necessary steps to stop this erosion of their control. In March, 1752 they put in
motion plans to organize a stronger raid on Memeska and his village.
On June 21, 1752 a force of about 250 Ottawa Indians and French militia led by Charles
Langlade attacked Pickawillany. Many of the Twightwee men were hunting, leaving
mostly women and children, and a few older men. Also present were Memeska and his
family. In addition, several English traders were working at their trading station. The
attack was so sudden that many of the women were captured as they worked in the
cornfields. Others fled to the village stockade in hopes of protecting themselves. Three
traders were cut off, and were forced to seek protection in one of the traders’ cabins near
the stockade. These traders quickly surrendered to the invaders without firing a shot in
their own defense. To save themselves, they told Langlade how few defenders were
inside the Twightwee stockade.
A siege of the stockade was laid down, and the defenders were informed if they would
surrender the traders and their goods, the attackers would leave Pickawillany. Inside the
stockade, with several defenders wounded and water supplies exhausted, the defenders
agreed to the terms they had been offered.
Neither side honored their agreement. Five of the seven traders in the stockade were
surrendered. Gunsmith Thomas Burney and trader Andrew McBryer were hidden and
later escaped to carry the news of the attack to the English at Lower Shawnee Town
(Portsmouth). One of the five surrendered traders had been wounded. As soon as he
was seized, he was stabbed to death, scalped, and his heart ripped from his chest and
eaten. Memeska, having taken refuge in the stockade, now faced a similar fate. The
French saw him as the cause of most of their problems in Ohio, and the primary agent for
the English. It was time to pay up. Before his remaining followers, including his wife and
son, he too was killed, boiled, and his body eaten. The surviving traders and their goods
were gathered and marched to Detroit. With this defeat, the Pickawillany thorn was at last
removed from the French side.
Following this defeat, the surviving Twightwee did move back to Kekionga and
Pickawillany was not occupied as a village site again. After the removal of the
Twightwee, the Shawnee eventually moved into the Miami Valley in the late 1750’s and
began establishing some of their villages in the region.
From the article A Window in Time by Andy Hite
For more information on the dig, visit: Ohio Archaeology Blog: The Search for
Objects excavated over the last four years by the students of
Hocking College and members of the Ohio Historical Society
will be on view for the first time at the Johnston Farm & Indian
Agency during the 2013 summer season. Also included in the
exhibit are objects belonging to 18th century Gunsmith Thomas
Burney on loan from the estate of the late Dr. Alvin B. Salisbury,
Jr., director of the now closed Museum of the Old Northwest
Frontier, Lockington, OH.
This new and permanent exhibit will open to the general public on
May 30, 2013 and is included in the price of general admission.
Be sure to watch for information regarding upcoming
archaeology field schools returning this year.
As more objects are found, more will be added!
|A HISTORY OF PICKAWILLANY