Ohio Country's Croghan

Ohio Country's Croghan 

A short biography posted 11/28/12 upon rejection by Ohio History for publication: "it fails to engage current scholarship and lacks historiographic perspective on the topic. It also relies on a narrow body of primary sources, namely only a published version of Croghan's journal." (See Critical Comments page for this email and those declining publication of the biogrpahy from the editors of the major Pennsylvania history journals and the minor one of Westmoreland County History Society, where it was first submitted when an article on Croghan was found unsuitable.)

Ohio Country's George Croghan


Recently, during an interview by a middle school history teacher studying Braddock's Campaign, purportedly for his quickly bored son's seventh-grade history project, I was asked if Braddock's disaster would have been averted if the General had deferred to George Croghan on Indian matters? It is tempting to speculate, and a generally accepted speculation is that Pontiac's Rebellion would not have happened if General Amherst had followed Croghan's advice, but it is not history and at best of short-term value in clarifying what happened in the past.

A final question from the video-operating teacher was for an assessment of Croghan's legacy, the single most important thing about him. Croghan is proof that anyone can become an Indian. Neither historians nor his biographers have taken seriously Croghan's claim to be an Indian, yet it is fundamental to understanding his story and its implications. Colin Woodard's interesting American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, for instance, does not have Ohio Country as one of its eleven regional cultures or credit people for knowing who they are: “Greater Appalachia’s people have long had a poor awareness of their cultural origins. One scholar of the Scots-Irish has called them 'the people with no name.’ When U.S. census takers ask Appalachian people what their nationality or ethnicity is, they almost always answer 'American’ or even 'Native American'” (Woodard, 8).

George Croghan organized and led Ohio Country's Indians for thirty years as one of them, even as he exaggerated his Irishness in letters and presumably speech to other British officials. The freedom to be both Irish, Indian, and, when the opportunity arose, American had been hard won on both sides of the Atlantic, but the Native American component is basic and Ohio remains the heartland of justice and liberty for all. Croghan's appraisal of Indians for the Lords of Trade in 1764 was common knowledge in America: “We know them now to be a very jealous people, and to have the highest notions of Liberty of any people on Earth, and a people, who will never Consider Consequences when they think their Liberty likely to be invaded, tho’ it may End in their Ruin” (White, 269).

Richard White says, “In writing this history of the pays d’un haut, I am practicing the ‘new Indian history” (White, xi), and although he frequently quotes Croghan, does not recognize him as central to the story or as an Indian sachem, falling into the tradition of assigning Croghan's role in history to others, most frequently William Johnson, Northern Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Aside from boating on Lake Erie to an Indian conference in Detroit, Croghan's nominal boss never set foot in Ohio Country or disputed Croghan's turf, signified by its separate designation, the Western Division of Indian Affairs (Hanna, 22).

Ohio history begins in a predominantly Seneca village at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River in today’s Cleveland with Croghan’s initiatives during King George’s War, 1744-1748 (Cave, 1). By coincidence, England’s declaration of war against France in March was Croghan’s first season as an independent, accredited, and licensed fur trader only three years after emigrating from Ireland to central Pennsylvania. Chances are he broke into the business on the southern shore of Lake Erie and was among the English traders Detroit wanted driven out in 1742, when the French opened trade with the recently settled Iroquois on what they called the White River (Wainwright, 6).

Consistent with Croghan’s lifelong francophobia, organizing genius, and later career is his leadership of a “militant little group, well-supplied with ammunition and ‘resolved to annihilate the French traders who were going to that quarter’” that was reported on the Cuyahoga River. This alarming news about the English traders reached Detroit in the early autumn of 1744. French discomfort spiked when the nearby Wyandots fell under Croghan’s influence that winter. Already a master of Iroquoian and Algonquian languages, further evidence of Croghan’s abilities and winters spent in the mixed Seneca village on the Cuyahoga, his friends were not about to surrender him when a Frenchman and “French” Indian arrived in April, 1745 to claim him as a prisoner and confiscate his property (Wainwright, 7).

This information is not considered important by most historians and is not news, Nicholas Wainwright published his Croghan biography in 1959. Wainwright concludes with Croghan fading away into the obscurity from which he came, a final obtuse misinterpretation, for Croghan always was and remains a reliable source of information about his time often quoted by contemporary authorities, given his due in the opinion of some, who reckon it by the number of Index citations. Considered at most a minor player by historians up until now, for the first time a biographer is hereby claiming that Croghan was the central figure on the frontier.

Significantly, Croghan is not found in recent biographies of George Washington, despite their intense rivalry for influence on the frontier. Discord between biography and history is especially relevant in Croghan's case. His story is fundamental to what happened in Ohio County from 1744 into the Revolution, yet even his other biographers do not draw this conclusion from the ample evidence they provide. Neither do contemporary histories of the period, thereby adding nothing new to Croghan scholarship. Since Wainwright, only Margaret Bothwell has anything significant to add. There are a number of important new interpretive facts to consider in the short biography that is the body of this article, but they are a little like the DNA confirmation of earlier proofs of evolution, interesting perhaps, but hardly necessary and equally irrelevant to the unreceptive.

Some fifteen years ago, at about age 55 and a writer of unpopular plays and poetry, I envisioned writing an historical novel about Braddock’s Campaign as the 250th anniversary approached. A seemingly minor discovery in doing the research was that George Washington’s Journal contained a discrepancy regarding the number of men he commanded during the Jumonville Glen engagement. Upon writing it up in 2002, the discrepancy turned out to be one of two untruths Washington maintained about the incident, but that discovery paled in comparison to the revelations found in Albert Vowiler’s George Croghan and the Westward Movement, 1741-1782.

Partly because I am a Western Pennsylvanian and so much of Croghan's story is local, it astounded me, and not simply because I had never heard of him. Croghan turned out to be not only the key figure in Braddock’s ill-fated expedition, but central to Ohio Country events during the previous ten years and for the next two decades as well. Reading Wainwright’s 1959 biography confirmed Croghan’s preeminence, providing incontrovertible evidence that he was the key figure on the frontier, yet neither Volwiler nor Wainwright say so. In fact, Wainwright in particular is blind to Croghan’s role in organizing the Ohio Confederation of Indians that Pennsylvania recognized as independent of the Six Nations, in promoting Virginia’s Ohio Country, and in sabotaging Pennsylvania’s effort to build a fort at the Forks of the Ohio, some of the new insights in my work.

Another discovery is that the dead hand of tradition is institutionalized and is suppressing the past, tradition that casts Croghan as an obscure scoundrel. Traditionally, Washington is the heroic focus of events in western Pennsylvania, which are supposed to begin in late 1753 with the twenty-one-year old’s mission to the French at Fort Le Boeuf. But Virginia's Ohio Company was only in Western Pennsylvania because Croghan's 1749 purchase of 200,000 acres from the Ohio Indians would be voided under Pennsylvania statutes. His was a betrayal of the Indians and his home state, Pennsylvania, as well as further evidence of extreme self-interest, yet he would spend the following three decades in dedicated public service with historic consequences.

Our national narrative has no place for Croghan, let alone at the center of Ohio Country events, and the result is a disconnected, confusing, illogical and false tale. Institutionalized tradition prefers this status quo. Thus, my histories have proven as unpopular as my plays and poetry, so in December, 2008 I self-published George Croghan’s Journal, April 1763 to September 1764 and Comments and George Croghan, A Reappraisal in May, 2009, later establishing the website to make them more available. There is also a Critical Comments page that records, among other responses to my work, the reasons government officials at every level gave for disallowing an historical marker about Croghan to be sited anywhere in Pittsburgh, including its Point, a state park whose prime directive is to preserve its history.

One of a handful of Croghan scholars living or dead, Alfred A. Cave's 2003 biography, “George Croghan and the Emergence of British Influence on the Ohio” found in Builders of Ohio makes two contributions to understanding Croghan's role in history: “The story of Anglo-American Ohio begins with George Croghan” (Cave, 1) and “Although he supported the patriot cause, Croghan’s enemies circulated unfounded rumors of his disloyalty. Arrested on a trumped-up charge of collusion with the British, he was forced to leave Croghan Hall, . .” (Cave, 12). Cave might have mentioned that the 'trumped-up charge” originated with military “enemies,” was in fact a coup d'etat and could have had only one source, George Washington. Tradition prevented him from seeing the obvious or saying so if he did.

Cave closely followed Wainwright's biography, excerpting his research, insights, and, unfortunately, Wainwright's misinterpretations. It is traditional to view Croghan's origins as “lowly,” but what little evidence there is runs counter to him being “Born in poverty in Ireland” or that he “was driven from his native land by the potato famine of 1741” (Cave, 1), something of an anachronism as well as unlikely. Croghan's protestantism, education, Dublin background, lifestyle, and rapid rise in the fur trade all suggest considerable resources and at least a middle-class background. His generosity and aristocratic disdain for prudence in financial matters are characteristic of the minor nobility of his day, as is Croghan's assurance in dealing with commanding generals and the Lords of Trade.

Tradition distorts Wainwright's and Cave's view of their subject, a perspective shared by their fellow historians, preventing them from drawing the conclusions that their facts point to and obscuring Croghan's central role in Ohio Country history.

Part of the problem is the scope and scale of Croghan's activities. “In 1747, he instigated an Indian uprising against the French,” is typical of the condensation required to fit Croghan's story into a reasonable format. His appointment to the Onondaga Council in 1746 and establishment of Pickawillany in 1749 receive no elaboration in Cave, but clearly need some (Cave, 2). Pickawillany's destruction, for instance, is a momentous event in Ohio and French and Indian War history, yet limited space prevents dwelling on it and even the major new assertions in the following story can easily be overlooked or dismissed in the necessarily curtailed presentation of them.

Croghan Biography

George Croghan was born about 1718 and educated in Dublin, Ireland, sailing to Philadelphia in 1741 (Hanna 5). His mother, probably widowed, married Thomas Ward and at some point they also emigrated. Cousin Thomas Smallman and half-brother Edward Ward were working for Croghan in 1745 (Wainwright, 12). A lifelong Anglican, in America Croghan affected a broad brogue and was master of ceremonies for Pittsburgh’s St. Patrick Day celebrations (O'Toole, 299). Other transformations included becoming a Pennsylvania frontiersman and fur trader, Six Nations’ sachem with a seat on the Onondaga Council in 1746 (Hanna, 1), Indian agent, land speculator, Pennsylvania justice of the peace, Virginia promoter, military officer, Pittsburgh’s chief judge and leading revolutionary, thus the region’s Founding Father.

Ohio Country's upper Ohio River and southern Lake Erie watersheds became significant in recorded history with Croghan’s activities during King George’s War, (1744-1748). Working from a Seneca village at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, today’s Cleveland, Ohio. Croghan’s success as a trader prompted the French at Fort Detroit in the fall of 1744 to send 35 Ottawas to plunder and kill the English on Lake Erie, but the “attack never materialized.” Heavy losses to Shawnee plunderers did occur in 1745, the year he and new partner William Trent bought Pennsborough properties near today’s Harrisburg as an eastern base and Pennsylvania had Croghan deliver a gift to the few Shawnees who remained loyal. Modest as this initial service as a go-between was, it grew exponentially along with his far-flung business and influence with the Indians, seen a year later with his appointment to the Six Nations’ Onondaga Council (Wainwright, 6-8).

Irish trader William Johnson, Warraghiyagey, “a man who undertakes great things" (Flexner, 40), preceded Croghan on the fifty member Iroquois governing body, which claimed the Ohio Valley by right of conquest during the seventeenth century Beaver Wars. Croghan follows Johnson in the dedication of 1775’s pre-Mormon History of the American Indians by James Adair, an Irish fur trader who had comparable influence among the Chickasaws, indicative of Irish cultural affinity with the natives and their desperation. Reliance on trade was absolute for native leaders and it was not unusual for immigrant Irishmen to enter the business, but the similar careers of Adair, Johnson, and Croghan exceeds the coincidental, particularly for Johnson and Croghan. During Croghan’s fifteen years as Johnson’s deputy Indian agent (1756-1771), his preeminence in Ohio Country only increased.

A generation of mainly Pennsylvania traders preceded Croghan to Ohio Country, at first supplying Delaware and Shawnee bands relocating around 1720 in river villages like Shawnee Town on the Youghiogheny, Kittanning and Shannopin’s Town on the Allegheny. The region attracted other tribes, the most numerous were Iroquois settlers known as Mingos, and in the 1740s the Onondaga Council sent viceroys to maintain control (Wainwright, 17).

Croghan was the primary organizer of the 1747 Indian revolt that threatened the French at Fort Detroit, sending Pennsylvania officials the news along with some wampum and a French scalp. The revolt failed and although the French and William Johnson put James Lowrey on an equal footing with Croghan in sparking it, the uprising and the important events that followed are linked by Croghan’s actions as beads are by thread (Wainwright, 15-36).

Concurrent with the French Indian conspiracy, a “council fire on the Ohio River, independent of the Iroquois confederacy,” was lit at Logstown, today’s Ambridge, Pennsylvania, and again it was Croghan reporting in June that “the Ohio Indians were operating independently of the Confederacy and were in desperate need of supplies” (Aquila, 194-201). His role in developing “Pennsylvania Indian policy was fundamental, and his responsibility for bringing the western Indians into the English interest was freely acknowledged in government circles” (Wainwright, 21). If he was shaping English policy, he was determining it for the Ohio Indians (Greenwood, Reappraisal, 3). The same organizational skill also made him the “King of the Traders” (Hanna, subtitle).

Conrad Weiser, Pennsylvania’s “interpreter and chief governmental adviser on Indian affairs,” approved Croghan’s suggestion that the western Indians be given a gift and, vouching for his integrity, recommended that Croghan deliver the Ł400 present. Before that could happen an Indian delegation from Logstown reached Lancaster and was told during a Philadelphia conference that Weiser would bring an even larger gift to them in the spring of 1748. Weiser objected to the break in Pennsylvania’s policy of treating with Indians solely through the Onondaga Council, but was overruled by that policy’s formulator, James Logan, “senior statesman and expert on Indian matters.” When other business delayed Weiser, Logan advised that Croghan be sent to Logstown with a letter of explanation and Ł300 gift (Wainwright, 16),

Croghan returned in June with a letter from the Ohio Indians announcing their imminent arrival in Lancaster with Twightwee (Miami) chiefs from the Wabash River who wanted to ally with the English (Wainwright, 20). The treaty was concluded in July with Croghan signing as a witness. Translating was Weiser and racially-mixed Andrew Montour, who soon became Croghan’s closest associate and nearly constant traveling companion until murdered in Pittsburgh in 1772 (Wainwright, 284). These three, William Trent, and Benjamin Franklin’s eighteen-year-old son William journeyed to Logstown for a conference at which Weiser notified the Indians that the war with France had ended (Wainwright, 21), canceling Pennsylvania’s plans to arm them. Britain’s new allies nearest the French were left vulnerable. Chief Nicholas burned his Sandusky village and led his Wyandots east to Kuskuskies on the the Mahoning River, while the Twightwee chief Croghan dubbed Old Briton (Anderson, 15) established Pickawillany on the Great Miami (Wainwright, 15), as French efforts to expel the English traders intensified.

Celeron’s 1749 expedition claiming the Ohio Valley for France reached Logstown early in August, but a more momentous event occurred there a few days earlier: Croghan’s purchase of three tracts of Iroquois land totaling 200,000 acres, exclusive of two square miles at the Forks of the Ohio for a British fort (Peyton, 25). August 2, 1749 begins the recorded history of Pittsburgh, its Point, its forts, and whether it would be part of Pennsylvania, Virginia, or the capital of a fourteenth colony, Vandalia (Volwiler, 273). Once the Revolution commenced, Pittsburgh seemed destined to be the capital of a fourteenth state with Croghan elected governor, a state largely realized in the creation of West Virginia during the Civil War and part of the ongoing dynamic unleashed by Croghan’s 1749 deeds.

Money for the purchase likely came from mortgages held by provincial secretary Richard Peters, who fell “under the spell of Trent and Croghan” at the 1748 Lancaster treaty, and although his patron Thomas Penn refused to lend money or approve a partnership, Peters advanced Croghan Ł1,000 against his Pennsborough tracts. Another sign of official favor was Croghan’s appointment as a justice of the peace in April, 1749. Trade languished, however, due to a locust plague and Trent’s summer-long bout of malaria, a recurring disease for Croghan as well. Still, “the future looked bright” despite mounting debts. Croghan spent the winter at Pickawillany where he oversaw the building of a stockade and wrote Peters that he would stop the local Indians from accepting an invitation to visit Ohio Company traders in Maryland, if Peters thought it “convenent,” evidence of Croghan’s power and loyalty to Pennsylvania, soon to shift to Virginia (Wainwright, 22-30).

On April 30, 1750 Croghan returned to Pennsborough with “the greatest quantity of skins ever heard of.” All the Pennsylvania traders had a phenomenal season traceable to Croghan’s diplomacy with western tribes who had formerly traded with the French. The result was an oversupply that collapsed the market when the skins reached London in 1751, but the consequences lay in an unanticipated future for Trent and Croghan, who entered “into a larger trade then ever.” A daughter, Susannah Croghan, was born in 1750 (Wainwright, 32-36).

Before learning that Virginia statutes permitted large land grants and Pennsylvania’s did not, Croghan aroused Pennsylvania proprietor Thomas Penn’s enthusiastic support for a fort at the Forks of the Ohio, then, late in 1750, he and Montour aided Christopher Gist’s scouting mission for Virginia’s Ohio Company. In the spring of 1751 they gained Ohio Indian approval for the Pennsylvania fort, but Montour denied it before Pennsylvania’s Assembly and “the colony defaulted its leadership in the West to Virginia’s Ohio Company.” Virginia received permission to build the fort at a June, 1752 conference, with Montour interpreting and Croghan on the Indian Council. At the same time French and Indians under Charles Langlade, who would lead the French Indians against Fort Necessity and Braddock, destroyed Pickawillany. Old Briton was cooked and eaten, leading Ohio Indians to question the meaning and value of English alliances (Wainwright, 37-50).

London’s fur and skin market did not recover in 1752. Among the traders who could not pay their creditors, Croghan and Trent faced debtor’s prison if they left Indian Country and Richard Peters foreclosed on the Pennsborough plantations, leaving them without an eastern terminus. To replace it Croghan bought 4,000 acres on Aughwick Creek 40 miles west of Carlisle from Mingo chiefs. One of them, Scarouady, made Croghan’s role as spokesman for the Ohio Confederation official at a conference in Carlisle in October, 1753. Afterward Croghan fell ill and nearly died (Wainwright, 46-56).

He recovered enough by Christmas to ride west on a mission for Pennsylvania’s Governor Hamilton (Wainwright, 58). During Croghan’s illness, Trent was ordered to build Ohio Company’s fort at the river’s Forks, a storehouse on the Monongahela, and a wagon road there from Will’s Creek, Maryland (Anderson, 58). Concurrently, George Washington was sent on his embassy to the French at Fort Le Boeuf. At John Frazer’s Turtle Creek trading post Croghan narrowly missed Gist and Washington returning from Fort Le Boeuf, detailing their mission and Ohio Indian despondency in his report to Governor Hamilton.

When half-brother Edward Ward surrendered the Ohio Company stockade to the French in April, Croghan was at Aughwick, but an urgent appeal for aid from Tanacharison, the Mingo chief the English called the Half King, hurried his return to Ohio Country (Hanna, 3-4). They met in the latter part of May, presumably at Half King’s camp on Chestnut Ridge, not far from the glen now called Jumonville for the wounded French ensign the Half King murdered there on the 28th. Instructed by Hamilton to buy flour for the Indians, Montour and Croghan were in Winchester, Virginia where Governor Dinwiddie engaged them to supply flour for Washington’s expedition and three days later, June 1, commissioned them captains to interpret and advise Washington on Indian matters. Edward Ward was to procure Washington’s flour, judged “a total failure” by some (Wainwright, 62-63).

Washington’s hungry soldier’s reached Christopher Gist’s plantation at the foot of Chestnut Ridge on June 18. A three day Indian conference alienated the region’s Shawnees and Delawares as well as the Half King and Indians in camp, who promptly left, followed by Croghan with orders “to bring them back.” He found them at Will’s Creek and convinced three warriors to return , but they were not present at the surrender of Fort Necessity early in July. Washington and Virginia’s authorities blamed Croghan for the “great calamity.” The charge was self-serving if true, Croghan had wrecked Thomas Penn’s plans to defend the frontier and made it possible for the Ohio Company to build its pitiful stockade. French control of Ohio Country ended British trade and influence there. Some 200 Indians at Wills Creek accompanied Croghan to Aughwick, where the Half King grew fatally sick and Queen Aliquippa died that winter (Wainwright, 64-78).

Braddock’s Campaign found Croghan in March, 1755 the leading commissioner blazing two new Pennsylvania roads ordered by the general, one down the Cumberland Valley to Wills Creek and one from Shippensburg to Ohio Country that would be finished three years later by General Forbes (Volwiler, 91-94). Braddock wanted Aughwick’s warriors and Croghan led forty with their families to Will’s Creek, where the general took him “and Montour into service” (Hanna, 6). Washington was Braddock’s aide-de-camp and the general repeated his mistake of alienating both the Ohio and Aughwick Indians, except for seven, after Scarouady’s son was killed by a British sentry, all Iroquois veterans of Jumonville Glen. Croghan, Montour, and the Indians were at the head of the column when it was attacked and escorted the wounded general off the field (Volwiler, 97-98).

Aughwick became a fortified town of displaced pro-British Indians promised sustenance by Pennsylvania and expecting it from Croghan, a generous man who was also a sachem. Supplies ran low and the Indians thought he was cheating them, distrust shared by the tightfisted Pennsylvania Assembly. Croghan had ridiculed the $1,000 French bounty for his scalp to impress Gist at Lower Shawnee Town in 1751, now he felt less secure, yet preferred his chances over debtor’s prison if he left Indian Country. Governor Hamilton received his “intelligance” of French plans, if less promptly than Croghan wished due to his reduced state. The “Six Nations had given the war hatchet” to the the Delawares and Shawnees, “and always accompanied them in their raiding parties against the English settlements” (Hanna, 7-9).

Hamilton’s successor, Governor Morris, found Croghan’s intelligence not “very material” in a June, 1756 letter to New York’s Governor Hardy, who “wanted a sample of Croghan’s handwriting,” as he was suspected of treason. Morris’ summary of Croghan’s career credits his influence with Indians to his speaking several of their languages “and being liberal, or rather, profuse,” in his gifts to them. Morris explained why the Assembly acted to free “him from arrest for ten years” and the captain’s commission he gave Croghan to defend “the Western Frontier, which he did in a very expeditious manner, but not so frugally as the Commissioners” wanted, disputes that led to Croghan's resignation after three months and removal to New York where “I hear he is now at Onondaga with Sir William Johnson” (Hanna, 10-11).

Pennsylvania’s Council “was not a little surprised at the appointment” of Johnson’s new deputy “to transact Indian Affairs for the Crown in that Province” when Croghan informed them on December 14, 1756, yet funded his frequent conferences (Hanna, 11). He spent the following winter and spring of 1758 at Fort Herkimer (Hanna, 18), New York’s Fort Shirley, as he had named Aughwick’s endangered stockade, and in July Captains Croghan and Montour led 100 Indians during General Abercromby’s bloody defeat at Fort Ticonderoga (Volwiler, 123). With fifteen Indian scouts, they were once more at the head of the column when Fort Duquesne was captured on November 25, 1758 (Wainwright, 151-152).

October’s Easton treaty and Croghan’s role in it, agreed Pennsylvania’s Assembly and Governor Denny, made possible General Forbes’ victory by depriving the French of their allies. Six Nations’ authority to make peace for the Delawares and Shawnees was reasserted by Nickus, a Mohawk chief, father-in-law of Croghan and grandfather of Catherine Croghan; Croghan gave “out that he himself was an Indian” (Hanna, 19).

Col. Henry Bouquet’s success in peacefully occupying French forts was due to Croghan’s diplomacy, as was Major Robert Rogers and his Rangers safely reaching Detroit. Between June, 1759 and October, 1761, when Thomas Hutchins became an assistant agent in Croghan's Western Division of Indian Affairs, the Indians brought 338 prisoners to Fort Pitt, but Gen. Jeffrey Amherst was appalled at the expense. Amherst’s frugal policies were inciting war, agents Hutchins and Alexander McKee reported from Indian Country in 1762, but Croghan’s warnings went unheeded and Pontiac’s Rebellion followed (Hanna, 21-25).

Croghan Hall in today’s Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh and Croghan’s old trading post on the Youghiogheny at the mouth of Sewickley Creek were burnt, with partner Col. William Clapham among those killed by the Indians early in 1763 . Bushy Run was the first battle on the frontier Croghan missed, for he had resigned and sailed to London, shipwrecking off the Normandy Coast. Recognition of his land claims and reparation for losses in the recent war was delayed by the Board of Trade, but the Lords tentatively approved moving the Proclamation Line of 1763 to the Ohio River and freeing the Indian Department of local military control, infuriating Bouquet (Wainwright, 198-210).

“One of the most extraordinary occurrences in frontier history” further aggravated Bouquet. Crown goods that he had authorized Croghan to transport to Fort Pitt were found by outraged frontiersmen to contain trade items, “scalping knives,” in violation of a Pennsylvania edict and, disguising themselves as Indians, the Black Boys burnt supplies worth Ł3,000, closed Forbes Road, and vowed to kill Croghan, an insurrection that heralded the Revolution. Hollywood’s 1939 version of the incident, Allegheny Uprising, has a treacherous trader in league with an arrogant British officer as its villains. But trade goods were essential to the peace Croghan established in Ohio Country and with the Illinois tribes from the Wabash to Mississippi River, achievements over the next two years that, after being severely wounded and captured by Mascouten and Kickapoo warriors, included bringing Pontiac to Fort Detroit (Wainwright, 216-220).

Frequent heavy expenses and losses in the service of Britain, Ł1,500 in the 1765 Indian attack alone, were often not repaid and Croghan could not legally augment his Ł200 annual salary, fueling abuse by his critics and his regular threats to resign. Upon arriving in New York on January 10, 1767 aboard the Sally from New Orleans and still ill from malaria caught on the upper Mississippi, he did resign. Johnson “prevailed on him to withdraw his resignation” in April and Croghan began developing a 20,000 acre tract on New York's frontier as a more permanent home than Philadelphia’s elegant Monckton Hall where he had regained his health or Croghan Hall, impressively rebuilt (Wainwright, 231-242).

He was ordered to Fort Pitt in May to quiet Indian anger about white settlement and murders. Governor John Penn detained his return in Philadelphia with questions about the Indians to accompany the Mason-Dixon survey, who stopped it when Croghan’s 1749 deeds were threatened. June found him in New York petitioning Governor Moore to buy 40,000 acres from the Six Nations, traveling back and forth to Johnson Hall all summer, to Philadelphia in September, to Fort Pitt on October 16, on to Detroit quelling a major uprising there and holding conferences at every village on the way, then riding back to Monckton Hall to celebrate the new year, 1768 (Wainwright, 243-246).

Ten days later “Frederick Stump and his servant John Ironcutter” murdered three Indians, their wives, and three children on the Susquehanna, roiling Indian Country (Hanna, 58-59). Pennsylvania’s Assembly turned to Croghan in New York. Although “crippled with rheumatism, a chronic winter complaint from now on,” and despite learning in Chester that the Black Boys planned to waylay and kill him, Croghan pressed on to Fort Pitt alone in a snow storm to condole the Indians (Wainwright, 248-252).

Philadelphia merchant Samuel Wharton and Croghan campaigned to extend the Indian Boundary line, resulting in the Fort Stanwix Treaty of 1768. Prior to it Croghan bought huge tracts of Six Nations’ land for himself and others. Crown approval of these sales was the first of three conditions set by the Iroquois in signing the treaty, second was Crown recognition of a 2,500,000 acre grant to William Trent for the Indiana Company, and the third was 200,000 acres elsewhere if Croghan’s 1749 grant fell into Pennsylvania. “The Board of Trade censored Johnson for allowing such private matters to become part of a treaty with the king” (Wainwright, 253-257).

So pressing were his debts that “during the year 1770, Croghan sold approximately 152,000 acres of his 250,000 acres in New York,” vowing to keep his remaining “New York lands to the last” and sell his Pennsylvania lands and interests in the Indiana Company and the proposed new colony of Vandalia (Volwiler, 283). But he “was never again to see Croghan’s Forest” when he left for Fort Pitt in June, the ten day visit to forestall another Indian war lengthened to seven years (Wainwright, 272-273).

Croghan reduced the hostility between local Indians and Virginia settlers by controlling the rum that had replaced most British trade goods. Unrest caused by the Townshend Acts boycott led to a confederation of western and southern tribes that Croghan nullified in the spring of 1771, exposing the Seneca plot to attack the British. Peace was necessary “if Samuel Wharton was to succeed in London” in establishing “an inland colony. Pittsylvania, or Vandalia, as the colony was later called, included within its bounds both Croghan’s Indian grant and the Indiana grant and guaranteed their titles” (Wainwright, 273-274).

Hardly anything changed when Croghan resigned as Johnson’s Deputy on November 2, 1771 to “better serve Vandalia.” Alexander McKee replaced him temporarily and he remained “on call.” A partnership with cousin Thomas Smallman was formed and Croghan Hall, now a legal trading post, “continued to be an Indian haven.” His principal agents, Barnard and Michael Gratz, were unable to “liquidate his debts” in 1772 as he hoped and “severe attacks of gout” added to his failing health. Andrew Montour’s death in January, 1772 was followed by stunning good news, the Privy Council and King had approved Vandalia. Croghan was ordered to “notify the Indians," four hundred of whom attended the November, 1773 conference. It cost Croghan Ł1,365 and Vandalia was still not ratified. Convinced it never would be, Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s governor, visited Pittsburgh that summer and recognized Croghan’s Indian grant (Wainwright, 281-286).

Dunmore appointed Dr. John Connolly, Colonel Croghan’s nephew , as his western agent (Volwiler, 25). “With Croghan’s full support, Connolly claimed Pittsburgh for Virginia in January, 1774 and called up the militia. The first men . . . [came] from Croghan Hall.” People in Philadelphia “actually believed that Dunmore had seized Pittsburgh at Croghan’s suggestion,” and a Pittsburgher wrote, “Its thought here that 'tis all Colonel Croghan’s intrigues.” Pennsylvania had been administering the region for five years. “Arthur St. Clair, a former British officer, was chief official for the Penns west of the mountains” in dealing with “Mr. Croghan’s emissaries (and it is astonishing how many he has either duped or seduced to embrace his measures)” when Connolly, “flushed with self-importance,” and Dunmore began pursuing policies that “made war inevitable” (Wainwright, 287-289). Connolly penned an inflammatory open letter in April, 1774 and “on the 27th, [Michael] Cresap killed two Shawnee who were quietly assisting white traders and on the 30th occurred the foul murder of nine kinsmen of the famous Mingo chief, Logan.” Panic spread and “Croghan was called upon once more to take charge of Indian affairs” (Volwiler, 302-303).

He worked with St. Clair to protect the frontier, provoking a furious letter from Connolly calling his actions “unlawful, unwarrantable & affrontive.” Dunmore arrived in Pittsburgh in September, a month after Johnson’s death in New York, to war on the Shawnees and investigate Connolly’s charges that Croghan was inciting them “to attack Virginia” and was “siding with Pennsylvania.” Croghan cleared himself, remained presiding judge of Augusta County’s Pittsburgh court, and added Chairman of its Committee of Correspondence to his Virginia duties after the battles of Lexington and Concord in April, 1775, as did St. Clair for Pennsylvania. By summer Connolly was with Dunmore on a British man-of-war dreaming of returning to Pittsburgh at the head of an army (Wainwright, 289-295), until captured and imprisoned in Hagerstown, Maryland (Hanna, 79).

In 1775 Croghan made “another major effort to clear up his debts, which now totaled nearly Ł24,000.” On July 10, 1775 the Six Nations sold him six million acres between the Allegheny River and Beaver Creek on the same terms as a one and a half million acre purchase in 1773, much of it conveyed to his creditors. Two days later the Continental Congress appointed trader Richard Butler as the Pittsburgh agent in its new Indian department and when Butler retired in April, 1776, George Morgan, bitter disappointments for Croghan. His cooperation with them never flagged, even if “Morgan had absolutely no use for Croghan” and called on McKee when he wanted advice (Wainwright, 296-299).

Intelligence of British designs continued to be gathered and the Ohio tribes kept neutral by Croghan until 1777 when he was accused of treason and ordered to Philadelphia by Pittsburgh’s General Edward Hand. A few weeks after he reached Monckton Hall, the British captured Philadelphia and General “Howe promptly called Croghan to headquarters and berated him for serving as committeeman at Pittsburgh and for neutralizing the Lake Indians. The general ordered him to take lodgings in town, where he was billeted with two officers who kept him under close scrutiny.” The British evacuated in June, 1778 and the returning Pennsylvania government accused Croghan of aiding the enemy. He vindicated himself during a November trial and, barred from returning to Pittsburgh by General Hand, moved to Lancaster, where he resolved “to sell & pay ever farthing I owe in America as soon as possible” through his agents, the Gratz brothers (Wainwright, 300-304).

Croghan moved to Philadelphia, “first to Moyamensing Township, and finally to Passyunk,” in May, 1780, the year his western lands became part of Pennsylvania. Two years later a committee of Congress determined “that the purchases of Colonel Croghan and the Indiana Company, were made bona fide,” but they remained unrecognized. Still, he had “an estate conservatively estimated at Ł140,000” when he died on August 31, 1782. “His gardener . . . brought the corpse to town and he was interred in St. Peter’s” Episcopal church (Wainwright, 305-310).


For three decades George Croghan was the pivotal figure in Ohio Country events, yet except for his biographers, he is marginalized if found at all in history books. “Flaws in his nature” (Wainwright, 309), the central concern of the traditional view of him, are used to explain and justify his suppression and that of his story. Understandably, our national narrative focuses on George Washington, starting with his 1753 mission to the encroaching French in today’s Western Pennsylvania, where he clashed with Croghan a few weeks after surprising the French at Jumonville Glen.

Croghan is not mentioned in the national narrative, nor are the falsehoods Washington told about Jumonville Glen, that he was not given the French summons until on the march back to Fort Necessity and that he commanded only 40 men (Greenwood, Jumonville Glen, 11-22). Unlike historians, Washington felt guilty about the war crime. A coda to Washington’s dishonesty regarding Croghan and Western Pennsylvania, the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion aside, is the spurious deed Washington presented at court to evict Washington County, Pennsylvania families in 1784, settlers who had purchased their land from Croghan, who had bought it from the Iroquois in 1749. The dispute dated to 1772, yet Washington’s patent was issued July 5, 1775 (Bothwell, 139) by Lord Dunmore, then aboard a British man-of-war on the James River while Washington had just taken command of the Continental Army besieging Boston (Greenwood, Reappraisal, 44-45).

Their rivalry for influence on the frontier ended in 1777 and although no correspondence survives between the commander and chief and General Edward Hand in Pittsburgh about Croghan’s alleged treason, the missing letters implicate Washington in the military coup. Washington’s ruthlessness in dealing with Revolutionary War rivals like Croghan is seen in his aides shooting generals Thomas Conway and Charles Lee in duels. After 1777, for the remainder of the war and during his presidency, Washington’s influence on the Ohio frontier was paramount, with tragic results matching the Fort Necessity and Braddock campaigns.

Resistance to acknowledging Croghan’s role in history is a product of tradition, phony nationalism, and inertia. Among the daunting implications, his story renders obsolete every French and Indian War book ever written, exposes our national narrative as seriously flawed and at best misleading, and reveals the gross inadequacy of what is currently taught about the period from kindergarten through graduate school. Along with the human destruction of the environment, Croghan’s story is inconvenient, confirming a Native American insight about the European invaders, that they were missing something at the core of their being, a center that grounded them in reality. There were exceptions and Croghan was one of them, which is why he was nearly universally esteemed by Native Americans and those not blinded by hatred of Indians.

Ohio Country has a Native American heritage that sooner or later, as in China, is absorbed by its invaders and settlers, often without their being aware of it. This is likely true of every region in the Americas, a notion that has teased social scientists since the nineteenth century and that Croghan recognized in the eighteenth. He is not only the critical link in the events of his time, still poorly understood, but also in the relationship of present Ohio Country residents to their Native American predecessors.

Perhaps there will be another florescence, as during Hopewell times, of the culture that continues at least subconsciously in the Ohio heartland, eastern Kentucky and Indiana, and western Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Like cultures around the world fragmented by arbitrary political boundaries, the residents of Ohio Country have one of a kind characteristics that evolved over thousands of years and which George Croghan consciously and quickly adopted, becoming the region’s leader before and during its transition to national independence, in the process becoming our region’s Founding Father.

Instead of Pittsburgh where it belongs, sometime in the fall of 2012 the first historical marker commemorating George Croghan is likely to be placed in Pennsylvania's Westmoreland County, specifically the Rostraver Township veterans’ memorial near the municipal building. Indicative of the resistance to making Croghan's story public, the marker was ordered at the beginning of October, 2011 and is still not ready at the end of August, 2012.

The 250th anniversary of Pontiac’s Rebellion in 2013 offers another opportunity to recognize Croghan’s pivotal role in anticipating the uprising, lobbying the Board of Trade to make the Indian Department independent of the military, and with his expanded power bringing Pontiac to Detroit. Thereafter, except for Dunmore’s War on the Shawnees, Croghan kept the peace on the frontier, a herculean task. His faithful, courageous, dedicated public service was of the same magnitude as his gargantuan private interests and so well aligned that even most of those who suffered financially honored Croghan for his extraordinary contributions to the general good of society, his country, and posterity.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Face of Empire in British America, 1754-1766. New York, NY: Knopf, 2000.

Aquila, Richard. The Iroquois Restoration. Lincoln, NE: U of Nebraska P., 1997.

Bothwell, Margaret Pearson. “The Astonishing Croghans.” Western Pennsylvania History Magazine 48(2) April, 1965: 119-144,

Byers, William Vincent. B. and M. Gratz, Merchants in Philadelphia, 1754-1798. Jefferson City, MO: The Hugh Stevens Publishing Co., 1916.

Cave, Alfred A. “George Croghan and the Emergence of British Influence on the Ohio. Builders of Ohio. William Van Tine and Michael Pierce, eds. Columbus, OH: Ohio St. U. P., 2003.

Flexner, James Thomas. Mohawk Baron: A Biography of Sir William Johnson. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse U. P., 1979.

Greenwood, Jim. Jumonville Glen, May 28, 1754; Day of Infamy. Belle Vernon, PA: Monongahela Press., 2002.

---, editor. George Croghan’s Journal, April 1763 to September 1764 and Comments. Washington, PA: Monongahela Press, 2008.

---. George Croghan, A Reappraisal. Washington, PA: Monongahela Press, 2009.

---. website with the above histories, critical comments, and related pages.

Hanna, Charles A. "George Croghan: The King of the Traders." The Wilderness Trail, Vol. Two, originally pub. 1911. Lewisburg, PA: Wennawoods, 1995.

O'Toole, Fintan. White Savage: William Johnson and the Invention of America. New York, NY: Straus & Giroux, 2005.

Peyton, John Lewis. Peyton’s History of Augusta County, Virginia. Staunton, VA: Samuel M. Yost & Son, 1882.

Volwiler, Albert T. George Croghan and the Western Movement, 1741-1782, originally published in 1926. Lewisburg, PA: Wennawoods, 2000.

Wainwright, Nicholas B. George Croghan: Wilderness Diplomat. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P., 1959.

White, Richard. The Middle Ground;Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge U. P., 1991.

Woodard, Colin. American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. New York, NY: Viking Penguin, 2011.