Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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GIRTY, Simon, leader of
Indians, born in Pennsylvania 1741; died 1818. His father, an Irish immigrant
and an Indian Trader, was killed in a duel in 1750. His mother remarried in
1753, and in 1756 (during the French and Indian War), Simon, his three
brothers, his half-brother, his mother and his step-father were taken by
French-led Shawnee and Delaware forces who captured Fort Granville. Soon
afterward, Girty’s step-father was put to death at the Delaware village of
Kittanning. A month later, English militia under the command of William
Armstrong attacked Kittanning, and Thomas Girty, the eldest of the Girty
brothers was liberated. The rest of the family remained in Indian hands and was
separated and given to different tribes. Simon was taken by western Senecas to
a village near Lake Erie’s east shore, where he was adopted and trained as an
interpreter. He returned from life among the Senecas in 1764, at which time he
was fluent in eleven native languages. He was immediately hired into the
British Indian Department headquartered at Fort Pitt, to serve as an interpreter
and intermediary to the Six Nations. He was an avid supporter of the Virginia
faction in Pittsburgh and served as a spy, scout, and intermediary for Lord
Dunmore during Dunmore’s War with the Shawnees. By this time, Simon had
befriended Simon Kenton and they remained friends for the duration of their
lives. At the conclusion of Dunmore’s War, 1775, Girty was commissioned a
Lieutenant in the Virginia militia. A year later, the Virginia militia at
Pittsburgh was disbanded and Simon was hired by George Morgan, Patriot
Commissioner of Indian Affairs Middle District. Girty was to serve as an
interpreter and intermediary to the Six Nations, and was sent by Morgan to the
Grand Council of the Iroquois League which met once a year at Onondaga, New
York. There, Girty represented the fledgling United American States and
addressed the council, requesting a treaty of neutrality for the duration of the
revolution. Girty, an adopted Seneca, was in essence addressing his own
people. Unbeknown to Girty, Mohawks were already on the warpath, fighting as
allies of the King. Nevertheless, Simon won a commitment from the Iroquois and
returned to Pittsburgh with a diplomatic triumph. A month later, he came into
conflict with Commissioner Morgan and was fired. Girty next became a recruiter
for the Continental Army and was promised a captaincy if he could raise 150
men. He succeeded in reaching his quota but because of prejudice, he received
only a lieutenant’s commission. Shortly thereafter, the 8th Virginia
regiment shipped out to fight at Charleston and Girty was left behind at Fort
Pitt. Disgusted, Girty resigned his commission and was immediately hired by
General Edward Hand, commander of the western war. Following a dangerous spy
mission to a Seneca bastion in upper New York, Girty brought General Hand news
of a British supply base on the Cuyahoga River which was scheduled to arm
British-allied Indian forces in the coming spring. Following up on this
information, Hand led a disastrous expedition against this target which was soon
dubbed “The Squaw Campaign,” because a few Delaware women and old men, all of
whom were at peace with the rebels were killed, and Hand’s militia failed to
reach their objective at Cuyahoga. Girty’s promised commission was again denied
him, and after determining that it was the intention of the rebel leaders to
cross the Ohio River to settle the hunting grounds of the Indians who then
resided there, Girty defected in March of 1778. He made his way to Detroit and
rejoined the British Indian Department. Soon, Girty was assigned to serve as
military liaison and advisor to Wyandots, Mingos and Shawnees of the Ohio Valley
who were now fighting for the British Cause.
Girty’s old friend
Simon Kenton was captured by hostile Shawnees in the summer of 1778, and after
being dragged from one Indian town to another, where he was beaten and made to
run gauntlets, the Kentuckian was taken to the Shawnee town of Wapatomica where
he was condemned to be burned to death. Girty was returning from raids into
western Pennsylvania by Shawnees, Delawares, Wyandots and Mingos and stopping
briefly to rest at Wapatomica, he discovered his old friend was the doomed
captive. Simon argued for Kenton’s life and saved him from a terrible death.
Later in the war, Colonel William Crawford, leading an American expedition aimed
at destroying Indians in the Sandusky area (whether they were hostiles or not)
was captured during the battle of Sandusky, condemned by Delaware and Wyandot
Indians, and burned to death. Girty argued for Crawford’s life, but was finally
warned to say no more or he could take Crawford’s place at the stake. A report
by an escaped Rebel captive condemned Girty, saying he did nothing to help
Crawford and suggested that he enjoyed the spectacle of Crawford’s misery.
Other witnesses who were there agreed that Girty did all he could to save
Crawford and that he left before Crawford’s death.
Later in the
revolution, in addition to going on many raids against American outposts on the
frontier, Girty helped British and their allied Indian forces to overwhelm
Kentucky militia at the Battle of Blue Licks.
When the war ended,
Girty remained as an agent of the British Indian Department, serving the Indians
of the Ohio Valley and aiding them in their struggle to retain their homelands
in the face of ever increasing white invasion. These struggles are known as the
“Indian Wars” of the 1790s. Finally, at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794
the confederation of western tribes was defeated by General Wayne’s forces.
Simon Girty retired to his farm at Malden, just across the river from Detroit.
He continued to serve the Indian Department as an interpreter, and he and his
wife raised two boys and two girls. Early in the 1800s, Girty and his wife
separated. Simon remained at the farm and his health began to deteriorate. He
was crippled by a broken ankle that never healed correctly, and he began to lose
his sight. In one of the early battles of the War of 1812, Girty’s eldest son
Thomas contracted a fever while carrying a wounded British officer from the
battleground and soon died. Simon buried his son beside his home at Malden.
In 1813, Simon was
evacuated from Malden as American troops invaded the area. With a price on his
head, and by now the most notorious villain of the frontier, the 72-year-old man
was taken to a Mohawk village at Burlington on the Grand River, where he
remained until 1815. When he returned to his home at Malden, Girty was totally
blind. His wife came home to take care of him and he passed away from natural
causes in February, 1818. There is no evidence that he had ever willingly
participated in an atrocity committed against American captives of the Indians,
in fact, there is very strong evidence that he saved and helped repatriate more
than two dozen hostages, including men, women and children. Simon Girty’s
notorious legend was based on racism, and there are many now who regard him as a
See the author’s
essay, Simon Girty: His War on the Frontier, in: The Human Tradition
in the American Revolution, Ian Steele and Nancy Rhoden, editors, Scholarly
Resources, Maryland, 1999.
GIRTY, Simon, leader of Indians, born in Pennsylvania about 1750; died about 1815. His father had (lied, and his mother had married again, when in 1755 the whole family were taken captive by Indians, and the step-father was burned at the stake. Simon remained a prisoner till 1758, when he was released. In 1774 he was a soldier and spy under Lord Dunmore at Fort Pitt, and a friend and companion of Simon Kenton. Being an ac-tire loyalist, he left Pennsylvania at the beginning of the Revolution, became a leader of the savages, and was concerned in many atrocities. It is not known whether he was given a British commission. He had been held a prisoner by the Whigs at Pittsburg, but escaped, collected about 400 Indian warriors in the summer of 1777, and in September attacked Fort Henry (now Wheeling, West Virginia), which was garrisoned by about forty men. After defeating with great slaughter a reconnoitering party, and reducing the garrison to twelve men, he made a demand for its surrender, but was refused. The Indians now laid siege to the fort, but, as they had no artillery, the garrison held its own until it was relieved next day by forty mounted men. In 1778, with two other Tories, Girty went through the Indian country to Detroit, urging the savages to take up arms against the Americans. He was present at the torture and death of Colonel William Crawford (q. v.) in 1782, and is charged with showing delight at his sufferings; but Girty averred that he did what he could to save Crawford's life. Subsequently, when his old associate, Simon Kenton, was captured by the Indians, Girty exerted himself to the utmost to save him from the torture, and succeeded in effecting his release. In August, 1782, Girty invaded Kentucky and with 600 savages made an attack on Bryant's station, near Lexington, which was garrisoned by about fifty men. After an unsuccessful ambuscade Girty laid siege to the fort till the approach of re-enforcements under Daniel Boone caused him to retreat. He was rapidly pursued, and the battle of the Blue Licks followed, in which many of the Kentucky leaders lost their lives. This was the last great Indian battle on Kentucky soil. In the same year Girty was active in the expulsion of the Noravian missionaries who had been laboring quietly among the Wyandottes. He lived for some time on Sandusky River, where he had established a trading-station, and planned and led many marauding excursions. He was present at General Arthur St. Clair's defeat in 1791, and directed a savage to kill and scalp General Richard Butler, who lay wounded on the field. Girty acted as interpreter to the commissioners that were appointed by the United States government to meet the Indians in 1793, and treated them with insolence, finally securing the failure of the negotiations, He also aided the British in the war of 1812, and is said by some authorities to have been killed in the battle of the Thames in 1813, while others say that he died a natural death two years afterward.
My manuscript "Dirty, Dirty Simon Girty" now being evaluated at Pittsburgh University Press covers the takeover of Fort Pitt, for Simon Girty was one of Connolly's right-hand lieutenants.
Girty, who was born in Pennsylvania, was acting on behalf of Seneca interests. It's an interesting story. In brief, Girty who was an adopted Seneca was brought to Alexander McKee by Guyasuta -- a principal Six Nation sachem (and co-leader of the so-called Pontiac War). Guyasuta was successful in getting McKee to hire Girty as an interpreter for the British Indian Department located at Fort Pitt, and he soon became the official interpreter for all negotiations between the King and the Six Nations (taking place at Fort Pitt).
In 1768 in the Fort Stanwyx Treaty, the Iroquois League sold the King several thousands of acres of land on the east side of the Ohio river, including Point Pleasant. These lands were traditional hunting grounds of the Shawnees, who were outraged. The Six Nations defended their right to sell these lands, since they had
"conquered" the Shawnees in war. Spurred by land companies (including George Washington's Ohio Company), and by Governor Lord Dunmore of Virginia (who stood to profit directly from the sub-division of the newly acquired properties) the English went for the deal, paying off the
Native Americans with $10,000 in silver.
The Native Americans were not the least bit interested in the money. The Senecas and Mohawks both wanted to deflect white immigration to the south, away from their own homelands in northern Pennsylvania and upper New York. This political objective eventually manifested itself in Girty's avid support of
Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore's, activities at Pittsburgh. Later, during Dunmore's War against the Shawnees, Girty played a pivotal role in carrying important military communications between Dunmore and Lewis, and in finding and calming Chief John Logan, the Mingo leader whose actions following the massacre of his family on Yellow Creek, had provided the opening spark of the war that followed.
I told you some time ago that your entries on Girty on your website directory were flawed terribly. Please direct your staff to my article,
"Simon Girty: His War on the Frontier," in The Human Tradition and the American Revolution, Ian Steele and Nancy Rhoden, editors, Scholarly Resources, 1999. My essay on Girty appears as Chapter Twelve or Thirteen, as I remember. The facts of his life are accurate as stated in that piece.
Girty became America's most vilified revolutionary
character, namely because he was pro-Native American and stood in the way of white expansion and genocide. The traditional American perspective of Girty was contrived and created Girty's notorious legend. Reality tells a different story of who he was, and why he defected after serving the Rebels so well, from 1775 until March of 1778.
Real history is far more exciting and interesting than the contrived pablum
we've all been force fed for far too long!
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