The Scotch-Irish in the Indian Wars

Henry Jones Ford

A trait frequently attributed to the Scotch-Irish is that of cruelty to the Indians. Accusation of this nature goes back to the beginnings of Scotch-Irish settlement. In a letter of James Logan, written in 1729, he remarks that "the Indians themselves are alarmed at the swarms of strangers and we are afraid of a breach between them, for the Irish are very rough to them." In 1730 Logan wrote that "the settlement of five families from Ireland gives me more trouble than fifty of any other people." At a later period the Scotch-Irish are charged with provoking Indian outbreaks, and atrocious massacres of friendly Indians are laid to their account. Such charges are so inveterate and so general that a detailed examination is desirable.

When the planting of English colonies in America began the Indians were everywhere thick along the coast, and accounts of collision between the two races appear in the history of all the early settlements. The Massachusetts Bay colonists had less difficulty of this kind to encounter, because not long prior to their landing some epidemic sickness swept away the Indians. Cotton Mather remarks in his Magnolia: "The woods were almost cleared of those pernicious creatures, to make room for a better growth."

The attitude of thought manifested by this Puritan divine is typical of the sentiment which close contact with the Indians has inspired at every stage of the settlement of the country. Throughout the world's history, when peoples of different culture systems are brought into contact, the instinct of self preservation naturally operates to produce conflict. The white settlers in America impaired the natural basis of subsistence of the Indian tribes by their clearings and homesteads, and while they thus instilled a deep sense of grievance, at the same time they aroused cupidity by their possessions. Out of such a situation hostilities have always emerged, be the scene America on one side of the world, or Australia on the other. There are early stages of Australian history that equal in atrocity anything that American history can show. The Tasmanians, whose habit of regarding all animals as their natural prey made it hard for them to discriminate in favor of sheep or cattle belonging to a settler, came to be regarded as so much vermin, to be extirpated by the handiest means, and it is charged that even poison was used for the purpose. The American Indians, a race of much higher grade than the Australian black-fellows, had a sense of law and public obligation that could be availed of in the negotiation of treaties and the purchase of titles; and as a rule arrangements of this character either preceded or closely attended the advance of white settlement. The superior knowledge and astuteness of the whites enabled them to get the better of the Indians in such negotiations, and dealings between the two races were to the disadvantage of the Indians who from time to time made bloody reprisals for their wrongs.

The conflict of race interest was aggravated by personal antipathy. Accounts of the Indian tribes with which the colonists came in contact describe them as filthy in their persons and licentious in their behaviour. The account given by William Penn is a sharp exception to the general tenor. He believed the Indians to be derived from the ancient Hebrews, and he idealized their persons, their living and their manners to an extent that makes his account read more like a rhapsody than a description. No doubt Penn was enabled to hold such idyllic beliefs by the fact that he was an absentee landlord. Those who lived in the colonies and knew what the Indians were through familiar observation had a very different opinion. "More dirty, foul and sordid than swine," says the early New England historian Hutchinson, "being never so clean and sweet as when they were well greased." The common charge that they had no more sense of decency in the relations of the sexes than so many brutes is now known to be an error, due to inability to apprehend the classificatory system upon which the domestic institutions of the Indians rested. Lewis H. Morgan, whose work on Ancient Society first delineated the archaic types of family organization, based his theories upon minute study of the customs of the American Indians. He pointed out that by Indian law the husband of the eldest daughter of a family was entitled to treat her sisters also as wives. This polygamy appears to have been originally part of a system of group marriage.

Champlain, who lived a whole winter about 1615 among the Algonquins, is quoted by Hutchinson as saying that "the young women, although married, run from one wigwam to another, and take what they like; but no violence is offered to the women, all depending upon their consent. The husband takes like liberty, without raising any jealousy, or but little between them; nor is it any damage or loss of reputation to them, such being the custom of the country." Group relations of this kind have been found among savages in many parts of the world, and they are really regulated by a stringent system of tribal morality, although on the surface they appear as abominable promiscuity.

Early New England historians say that the Indians did not make advances to white women. Hutchinson remarks that "the English women had nothing to fear as to any attempt upon their honor." The families of settlers who were made captives in the French and Indian wars in New England seem to have been on the whole well treated. This was probably due to the influence of the French in Canada to which country the captives were taken. It was different in the Indian wars in the middle colonies and the South; women captured by the Indians might suffer the worst indignities. The victims, if they eventually escaped, were naturally reticent upon such matters, but it was common knowledge that they occurred, and this intensified frontier hatred of Indian character. A well known case on the Virginia frontier was that of an Indian child born to a married woman who had been an Indian captive. The child was reared as a member of the family, but resisted efforts to educate him, and after enlisting in the Revolutionary Army was never heard from again.

The cruelty of the Indians is remarked by all observers of their characteristics. They displayed a positive enjoyment of the spectacle of suffering, so that children would be put to the torture for their amusement. A family named Fisher were among the captives made by an Indian raid in 1758 in what is now Shenandoah County, Virginia. After the band reached its village Jacob Fisher, a lad of twelve or thirteen, was set to gathering dry wood. He began to cry, and told his father that he was afraid they were going to burn him. His father replied "I hope not," and advised him to obey. When a sufficient quantity of wood was gathered the Indians cleared a ring around a sapling to which they tied the boy by one hand; the wood was arranged about the boy in a circle and then fired. The boy was compelled to run around in this ring of fire until his rope wound him up to the sapling, and then back again until he was in contact with the flames. Meanwhile he was prodded with long, sharp poles whenever he flagged, and thus the child was tortured to death before the eyes of his father and brothers.

Doddridge, who is a careful narrator, and who does not write in a spirit of animosity toward the Indians, gives the following account of the experience of settlers in what is now Greenbrier County, West Virginia:

"Before these settlers were aware of the existence of the war, and supposing that the peace made with the French comprehended their Indian allies also, about sixty Indians visited the settlement on Muddy Creek. They made the visit under the mask of friendship. They were cordially received and treated with all the hospitality which it was in the power of these new settlers to bestow upon them; but on a sudden, and without any previous intimation of anything like a hostile intention, the Indians murdered in cold blood all the men belonging to the settlement, and made prisoners of the women and children. Leaving a guard with their prisoners, they then marched to the settlement in the Levels, before the fate of the Muddy Creek settlement was known. Here, as at Muddy Creek, they were treated with the most kind and attentive hospitality at the house of Mr. Archibald Glendennin, who gave the Indians a sumptuous feast of three fat elks which he had recently killed. Here, a scene of slaughter similar to that which had recently taken place at Muddy Creek, occurred at the conclusion of the feast.

"Mrs. Glendennin, whose husband was among the slain, and herself with her children prisoners, boldly charged the Indians with perfidy and cowardice, in taking advantage of the mask of friendship to commit murder. One of the Indians, exasperated at her boldness, and stung no doubt at the justice of the charge against them, brandished his tomahawk over her head, and dashed her husband's scalp in her face. In defiance of all his threats, the heroine still reiterated the charges of perfidy and cowardice against the Indians. On the next day, after marching about ten miles, while passing through a thicket, the Indians forming a front and rear guard, Mrs. Glendennin gave her infant to a neighbor woman, stepped into the bushes, without being perceived by the Indians, and made her escape. The cries of the child made the Indians inquire for the mother. She was not to be found. 'Well,' says one of them, 'I will soon bring the cow to her calf,' and taking the child by the feet, beat its brains out against a tree. Mrs. Glendennin returned home in the course of the succeeding night, and covered the corpse of her husband with fence rails. ... It was some days before a force could be collected in the eastern part of Botetourt and the adjoining country, for the purpose of burying the dead."

These are typical cases of Indian outrages that occurred along the track of Scotch-Irish settlement. There were like incidents on the frontier at every stage in the settlement of the country, and they produced everywhere an inveterate hatred of the Indians. It was not a Scotch-Irish characteristic but a frontier characteristic, and while the Scotch-Irish settlers certainly evinced this feeling, it was not peculiar to them as a class. Everywhere in colonial annals, whether the scene be in New England, or in Pennsylvania or in the South, there is the same story of the mutual hatred and ferocity of the two races. At the same time to those who became accustomed to it the Indian mode of life seems to have had a decided charm, for there are many instances of captives becoming genuinely incorporated in the tribe. A noted case is that of a young daughter of the Rev. John Williams, pastor of Deerfield, Mass. She married an Indian, and although she eventually returned to Deerfield to visit her family and early friends, she could not be induced to return to civilized life.

The Indian wars were not systematic military operations, but a succession of guerilla raids. The colonial Governments were so poorly organized, so deficient in resources and so crude in their methods, that they were apparently incapable of any steady exertion of public authority for the protection of the frontier. In the early wars of the New England settlements Indian methods were adopted. The attitude of the authorities and the state of public opinion in that period are instructively displayed in Penhallow's History. Samuel Penhallow was a native of Cornwall, England, who arrived in Massachusetts in 1686 originally with a view of becoming a missionary to the Indians. He married a wealthy heiress, by whom he acquired property at Portsmouth, N. H., where he settled. He was appointed a member of the Provincial Council, was Treasurer of the Province for several years, and for many years before his death in 1726 he was Chief Justice of the Superior Court. His History was published in 1726 with an introduction by the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Colman, of Boston, who likened the experience of the New England settlers with the Indians to that of the children of Israel with the Canaanites. Judge Penhallow's History is a document of the highest value, as it is a first-hand record of events. He gives a detailed account of massacres committed on both sides along the border, whither Scotch-Irish immigration to New England was directed. His account shows that all the provincial authorities did ordinarily was to incite reprisals upon the Indians. Referring to the year 1706 he says:

"The state of affairs still looking with a melancholy aspect, it was resolved for a more vigorous prosecution of the war, to grant the following encouragement, viz.:

To regular forces under pay... £10 per scalp

To volunteers in service... £20 per scalp

To volunteers without pay... £50 per scalp

To any troop or company that go to the relief of any town or garrison... £30 per scalp

"Over and above was granted the benefit of plunder, and captives of women and children under twelve years of age, which at first seemed a great encouragement, but it did not answer what we expected."

The bounty was later raised to £100 a scalp to volunteers serving at their own expense, and £60 to soldiers drawing pay. The war was therefore carried on principally by expeditions of scalp hunters. On one occasion a party of them paraded the streets of Boston with ten scalps stretched on hoops and borne aloft on poles. Sullivan, in his History of Maine, published in 1795, mentions that in 1756 James Cargill was charged with the murder of two of the Norridgewock tribe of Indians, "but was acquitted and drew a bounty of two thousand dollars from the treasury for their scalps."

This method of making war was as inconclusive as it was expensive. In 1706 Penhallow estimated that every Indian killed or taken "cost the country at least a thousand pounds." Of the three years war, 1722 to 1725, he says: "The charge was no less than one hundred and seventy-five thousand pounds, besides the constant charge of watching, warding, scouting, making and repairing of garrisons &c, which may modestly be computed at upward of seventy thousand pounds more." And yet after all, the Indians were never really formidable in numbers or resources. Penhallow remarks that "it is surprising to think that so small a number of Indians should be able to distress a country so large and populous to the degree we have related."

In Pennsylvania the customary inertia of the Government was aggravated by the positive unwillingness of the Assembly to permit the use of force. Benjamin Franklin in his Autobiography speaks of the unwillingness of "our Quaker Assembly to pass a militia law and make other provisions for the security of the Province." He relates that even when they did yield to stress of public necessity they would use "a variety of evasions to avoid complying, and modes of disguising the compliance when it became unavoidable." He gives as an instance that when an appropriation was needed for purchasing supplies of gunpowder the Assembly would not make the grant, but did make an appropriation "for the purchase of bread, flour, wheat, or other grain," the Government construing "other grain" to cover the purchase of gunpowder, and the Assembly not objecting to that interpretation. The usual situation was, however, that the Governor and Council were left without adequate funds for public defense.

This state of affairs should be kept in mind when the events are considered that have made a deep stain upon the record of the Scotch-Irish settlers in Pennsylvania. The Province was peculiarly exposed to Indian incursion through the easterly course of the mountain ranges. The Kittatinny mountain range or Blue Ridge, which was the western boundary of white settlement up to 1758, extends from Western Maryland to Northern New Jersey. After Braddock's defeat, on July 9, 1755, there were Indian raids all along this extensive frontier. By November 1, 1755, the magistrates of a region so far southeast as York County were calling for help to resist an Indian band moving down the Susquehanna. On the 24th of the same month the Indians struck into the region now included in Carbon, one of the easternmost counties of Pennsylvania, and massacred the inhabitants of the Moravian settlement of Gnadenhutten. Reports of Indian atrocities poured in upon the Government from every part of the frontier.

The settlers in Cumberland County, who were mainly Scotch-Irish, suffered greatly owing to their exposed position. Upon August 22, 1756, the Rev. Thomas Barton wrote to the Provincial Secretary relating that Indians had ambushed and killed a number of people at the funeral of a young woman "and what is unparallel'd by any Instance of Brutality, they even open'd the Coffin, took out the Corpse, and scalp'd her." Petition after petition went up from Cumberland County for help from the Government, particularly in the way of ammunition. The plight in which the people were left through the supine-ness of the Government is set forth in the following statement from the magistrates of York County, whose action cannot be imputed to Scotch-Irish prejudice as in that region the German element predominated:

"We believe there are Men enough willing to bear Arms, & go out against the Enemy, were they supplied with Arms, Ammunition & a reasonable Allowance for their Time, but without this, at least Arms, and Ammunition, we fear little to purpose can be done.

"If some Measures are not speedily fallen upon, we must either sit at home till we are butcher'd without Mercy, or Resistance, run away, or go out a confused Multitude destitute of Arms & Ammunition & without Discipline or proper Officers or any way fixed to be supplied with Provisions."

The then Governor of the Province, Robert Hunter Morris, was alive to his duties, but he lacked means to discharge them; and the situation tried his temper. He wrote to Governor Shirley of Massachusetts, August 27, 1756: "I am unfortunately linked with a set of men that seem lost to all sense of duty to their Country, or decency to their Superiors, who will oppose whatever I recommend, however beneficial to the public." The Assembly was opposed to creating a militia, and argued that the way to deal with the situation was by friendly overtures to the Indians, inquiring into their grievances, appeasing their complaints, and thus winning them from their alliance with the French. The imminence of the danger did not prevent the raising of the old issue, the Assembly insisting upon taxing the lands of the proprietors, and the Governor, acting under their instructions, pertinaciously resisting it. This issue was eventually compromised, the Penns agreeing to make a contribution in lieu of taxes, and means were obtained to erect forts along the frontiers to which the people could resort for protection. Lacking an organized force to repel the Indians, the New England policy of offering bounties for scalps was adopted. On April 9, 1756, the following schedule was proclaimed:

"For every Male Indian prisoner above ten years old, that shall be delivered at any of the Government's Forts, or Towns $150

"For Female Indian Prisoner or Male Prisoner of Ten years old and under, delivered as above $130

"For the Scalp of every Male Indian of above Ten years old $130

"For the Scalp of every Indian woman $50"

Such measures disgraced the Provincial Government by adopting the methods of savages and were quite futile as a means of public defense.