George Croghan - an 18th century pioneer land speculator and Indian negotiator in Pennsylvania and New York states - died 230 years ago today. It is claimed that a history of his life is ‘an epitome of Indian relations with the whites’. He kept journals on various of his exploratory and border dispute tours, and these are considered to be one of the most important sources for the history of the frontier in the period before the War of Independence.
Croghan was born in Dublin around 1718, but in his early 20s emigrated to colonial America, where he became a fur trader in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. By the mid-1740s, having mastered the customs and language of the local Indians, he was appointed Indian agent for Pennsylvania. He successfully wrested the allegiance of the area’s Indians from the French and negotiated important treaties of friendship. (He is mentioned, it is worth noting, in the diary of Conrad Weiser - see Weiser goes to Ohio - a German immigrant who was an Indian interpreter.)
As a result of the French and Indian War, which started in 1754, Croghan’s trading business collapsed, and he accepted an appointment as chief deputy to Sir William Johnson, British superintendent of northern Indian affairs. For more than a decade, he conducted extensive negotiations with the Indians, was instrumental in negotiating a settlement of Pontiac’s War (during which several tribes rebelled against British authority), and opened up Illinois to the British. All the while, he was again amassing his own land, often through complex speculations with business partners. He negotiated, for example, a 2.5 million acre grant from a consortium of tribes as restitution for his own losses during the Anglo-Indian War.
Croghan resigned as Indian agent in 1771 intent on establishing a new British colony called Vandalia (including parts of present day West Virginia and Kentucky) but his efforts got bogged down, especially after a land dispute with George Washington, and an accusation of treason. That and the outbreak of the war with Britain in 1775 left Croghan an impoverished man on his death in 1782. His estate went to his daughter Susannah, and when she died a few years later, in 1790, several of her children continued to pursue Croghan’s claims in the courts for decades but all to no avail. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia or an article in The Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association.
Croghan’s journals and correspondence, considered one of the most important sources for the history of the frontier in the mid-1700s, can be read online at Internet Archive or Indiana University. An introductory note starts as follows: ‘Next to Sir William Johnson, George Croghan was the most prominent figure among British Indian agents during the period of the later French wars, and the conspiracy of Pontiac. A history of his life is therefore an epitome of Indian relations with the whites, especially on the borders of Virginia and Pennsylvania and in the Ohio Valley. A pioneer trader and traveller, and a government agent, no other man of his time better knew the West and the counter currents that went to make up its history.’ Here are a few extracts from the journals themselves. [NB: See the Weiser article, as mentioned above, for a note on Wampum.]
1 March 1765
‘Six Senecas Indians came here, from one of the Shawanese Towns & inform’d me, as follows - That the deputation from the Shawanese & Delawares, which were sent last Summer, to the Ilinois to Councel with the French & Indians in that Country, were returned, that they had been well recd by the French, who, on their arrival, clothed them & told them, they would supply them, with every necessary they wanted, to carry on the War agst the English; & would send Traders with them, to their Towns, when they shou’d set out. That they had held a Council with nine Indian Nations, settled on the Ouabache & in the Ilinois Country, who all Engaged to support them, with their whole Force, should they continue the War against the English. That on those Deputys return to the plains of Siota & being informed of the Terms, of accommodation agreed on by their Nations (during their absence) with Colonel Boquet, they then in Council with the Sandusky & Seneca Indians, agreed to abide by their People’s Engagements, & perform the whole in their part, provided the English wou’d open a free Trade & intercourse with them, & supply them with Ammunition, Goods, & Rum, as usual & not prohibit the Sale of Powder & Liquors, as they had done before the late difference happened. These Indians farther said, the Shawanese had sent a Message to the French Traders, who were then following them to their Towns, to return home - (I much doubted the Truth of this) & that they had sent a Message, likewise, to the Nine Nations in that Country acquainting them, that they were about accommodating matters with the English, & desiring them to sit still, ‘till they heard farther from them in the Spring.’
2 March 1765
‘I dispatched a Messenger to the Shawanese & Senecas, & another to the Delaware & Sandusky Indians, to acquaint them of my arrival here, in Company with Lieutenant Frazer, with Messages from the Kings Commander in Chief, & Sir Wm Johnson, to their Nations, & desired their several Chiefs, would immediately come here to meet me. I likewise sent a Message to Pondiac who I heard was among the Twightwees, to meet me at the mouth of Siota, on my way down the River.’
4 March 1765
‘Two Senecas came here from Venango (where a hundred of their people were hunting) to know, if a Trade was opened here, for the Indians, as they had heard from the Seneca Country, all differences being settled between their Nation & the English, last fall, by Sir Wm Johnson. Deliver’d a string of Wampum.’
5 March 1765
‘Major Murray & I acquainted them there was no Trade opened yet, nor could there be any, till the Shawanese & Delawares had come in, to perform their Engagements with Colonel Bouquet. That we did send for them & Expected them here, before the last of this month. Gave them a Belt of Wampum, desiring them to rest satisfy’d, till that time, & likewise desired some of their Chiefs, to come down and hear, what should pass between us & those Nations.’
8 June 1765
‘At Day Break we were attacked by a Party of Indians consisting of Eighty Warriors of the Kacapers and Musquatimes who Killed two of my men & three Indians wounded myselfe and all the rest of my party Except two White Men and one Indian then made myselfe and all the White men Prisoners plundering us of every Thing we had. A Deputy of the Shawnesse who was Shot thro the Thigh having concealed himself in the Woods for a few Minuets after he was Wounded not then Knowing but they were Southern Indians who are always at war with the Northward Indians: after discovering what Nation they were he came up to them and made a very bold speech telling them that the Whole Northward Indians would join in taking Revenge for the Insult and murder of their People this alarmed these Indians very much they began excusing themselves saying their Fathers the French had spirited them up telling them the Inglish were coming with a body of Southern Indians to take their Country from them and inslave them. that it was this that induced them to commit this Outrage after having divided the plunder they left great Part of the heaviest Effects Behind not being able to carry them they sett of with us to their Village at Cautonan in a great Hurry being in dread of a Pursuit from a large Party of Indians they suspected were coming after me; Our Course was thro a thick Woody Country crossing a great many Swamps Morasses and Beaver Ponds. we traveled this Day about 42 Miles.’