AND THEN THEY DID IT AGAIN AND AGAIN
As I indicated in an earlier column, one of the primary reasons for the Whiskey Rebellion was that the settlers on the frontier resented paying taxes to the Confederacy of former colonies, when that government was incapable of protecting them from attacks by Indians. To be sure culture and understanding were at work. European, and thus American notions of land ownership were in sharp contrast to those of Native Americans. The Natives, in general, saw land as somewhat of a communal asset that was not owned by one person to the exclusion of all others. They may recognize or respect tribal boundaries but not those claimed by one individual. Likewise, the British and Americans would make land treaties with one Native group and expect all Native groups to respect them. At the same time the British would not respect prior French promises, and the Americans totally ignored the prior British promises.
In early September 1782 a force of about 600 Natives and 50 British soldiers crossed the Ohio River and staged a clever two-pronged attack in Kentucky at a location known as Bryan’s Station. Attacking with a portion of their force, reinforcements from Boonesboro and other settlements came to the settler’s aid. About half of the Native force waited in ambush for the 200 reinforcements. When the literal smoke had cleared 72 of the Kentuckians were dead, at a cost of four dead Natives and three slightly wounded.
These attacks, in addition to being aided by British troops were also partially led by Frontiersmen with British sympathies such as the legendary Simon Girty and Alexander McKee. It was the latter of whom who joined with a Mohawk named Thayendanegea, in his native tongue, and Joseph Brandt in English, in leading approximately 250 Natives in an attack on Wheeling in September 1782.
Brandt was perhaps one of the most charismatic, intelligent, and quite frankly historically interesting of the Native Leaders on the frontier. As a Mohawk his nation was part of the Iroquois Confederation which adopted a policy of neutrality during the Revolution. Yet he was a commander of units for the British. He was raised as a Christian, he was educated at a school which was a forerunner of Dartmouth College. He was fluent in English. He also spoke German and many of the native languages. He had seen service with the British in the French and Indian War and held an officer’s rank in the British forces during the Revolution. While the unit which he commanded was perhaps “irregular” it was comprised of about 20 Natives, and 80 white Americans who had Royalist Sympathies.
In the event, on September 11 to September 14, 1782, a period of time which was 238 years ago exactly, this week. Joseph Brandt and a British Captain of the Queen’s Rangers led an attack and besieged Fort Henry for three days. All of the settlers present near the Fort took refuge there, under the command of Colonel Ebenezer Zane. Most women and children and outlying settlers fled the area hoping to reach Catfish Camp, which had recently been renamed Washington, in neighboring Pennsylvania.
The defending force consisted of 23 men and 14 women inside Fort Henry. As well as 9 more in the Zane house which was more Blockhouse than house. Three things carried the day: the space between the Fort and the Zane house was a clear cross-fire zone, enabling the defenders in each to support the other; in the Fort there was a swivel gun piece of artillery as well as cannon balls and grapeshot, which before it fired, the attackers assumed was a dummy of a gun; and thirdly, on the morning of the 13th a rescue force of 14 militia men got through from Washington. At that point the Natives and the British just melted away. The sellers suffered two minor wounds. As to the British and the Natives no bodies were found. That was the second siege of Wheeling.
To be sure, even though the British would eventually surrender the territory by the Treaty of Paris, a state of open warfare existed along the frontier until 1794. Before that time the Americans would suffer at least one more disastrous defeat
AND THEN THEY DID IT AGAIN AND AGAIN