1. George Croghan and the Emergence of British Influence on the Ohio Frontier
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1 HE MAN whose skills as an Indian trader and negotiator were instrumental in opening the Ohio country to British influence and later to white occupation was an immigrant of origins so obscure and lowly that we do not know the date of his birth. Despite his later prominence, no painter preserved his likeness, and no writer described his appearance. His life, colorful and turbulent, deserved but did not command the talents of a contemporary chronicler. Born in poverty in Ireland sometime during the second decade of the eighteenth century, George Croghan was driven from his native land by the potato famine of 1741. Settling in Pennsylvania, he quickly emerged as one of the most resourceful, successful, and prosperous of the colony’s frontier Indian traders and land speculators. Few of his colleagues or competitors could match Croghan’s rare capacity to understand the hopes, fears, and expectations of Indian clients and use that understanding to his advantage. Hard drinking, flamboyant, generous, cunning (sometimes ruthless), and poorly educated, George Croghan was the quintessential frontier entrepreneur . His relationships with Native Americans, with colonial officials, and with his business partners were seldom simple and often less than straightforward. A complex man of driving ambition and great ability , he made—and squandered—several fortunes. But his most substantial achievements were in the public arena, where he excelled as a frontier diplomat and peacemaker. While misgivings about his character were rampant, there is not doubt about his impact on Ohio history. The story of Anglo-American Ohio begins with George Croghan. 1 George Croghan and the Emergence of British Influence on the Ohio Frontier ALFRED A. CAVE T  vantne_3rd_chap1.qxd 11/4/2003 11:43 AM Page 1 2 BUILDERS OF OHIO Prior to 1763, France claimed the Old Northwest as part of Canada. Groghan, one of several hundred British traders who challenged that claim, established in the fall of 1744 a trading post at a Seneca village at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, the future site of the city of Cleveland. French efforts to incite the Ottawa and the Miami to attack Croghan and his associates were unavailing. French pretensions notwithstanding, English trade goods were greatly in demand among the Indians of the region, as they cost less than French offerings and were of higher quality. Moreover, a British naval blockade soon left French traders short of supplies. Croghan, conversant in several Native American languages, made the most of those advantages. In 1747, he instigated an Indian uprising against the French, sending the scalp of a French trader with his report to the governor of Pennsylvania. With help from the Iroquois on the shores of Lake Erie, Croghan extended his trading activities to the west and south. Given his exceptional rapport with his Indian clients, the Iroquois in 1746 admitted him to the governing council of their league at Onondaga. Croghan joined the veteran Indian agent Conrad Weiser in advocating an aggressive British diplomatic initiative to open trade and win allies in the Ohio country. Both realized that Pennsylvania’s long established policy of conducting Indian diplomacy through the League of the Iroquois could no longer provide security. The westward migration of Delaware and Shawnee Indians displaced by British colonial expansion had undermined the influence of the Iroquois, their nominal overlords. Concurrently, French traders in the region actively threatened British interests. After much prodding, Pennsylvania authorities authorized direct negotiations with the western Indians . In the spring of 1748, the colony dispatched Croghan and a pack train loaded with gifts to Logstown, an Indian trading village near modern-day Pittsburgh, where he met with Iroquois and Shawnee leaders and with representatives of the Miami, a western Ohio tribe hostile to the French. Croghan’s mission paved the way for an alliance between the Miami and the British. In 1749, he established a substantial trading post on the Great Miami River at the Miami village called Pickawillany . Although France was now technically at peace with Great Britain, a French official at Detroit placed a price on Croghan’s scalp. Alarmed by British incursions, Quebec authorities dispatched a military expedition of several hundred men under the command of Captain Pierre Joseph de Céloron de Blainville to the Ohio Valley to vantne_3rd_chap1.qxd 11/4/2003 11:43 AM Page 2 GEORGE CROGHAN 3 reassert French military and commercial power. Throughout the West, after warning Indian village leaders not to deal with the British intruders, Céloron planted lead plates that proclaimed French sovereignty . Everywhere...