Sunday, January 25, 2015

Big Bottom - Fitzhughwilliams (sources?)

Big Bottom

The Ohio Company was sitting on a sizeable chunk of Ohio real estate, and there was pressure to make some money as well as relieve some of the pressure on the Marietta Settlement by offering "donation" land. 

A portion of those donation lands lied about thirty miles north up the Muskingum River's mouth at Marietta and were already new settlements formed at Waterford (future Fort Frye, now modern Beverly, OH) a the Wolf Creek settlement near to it. 

Further up the Muskingum to the north was the next parcel of donation lands at Big Bottom, so-called becuase a bend of the Muskingum had created a flat bottom that ran for 4-5 miles, and was said to the best land south of Wite Eye's Towns (later Duncan Falls), and the Indian town at Gay Sport. Above the bottom, was an ancient flood bench, or second bottom about half a mile wide that extended to the base of the ridge or hill line. 

In the fall of 1790, in conjunction with the Ohio Company's expansion, 36 men having won the lottery for the lands, began a new settlement at Big Bottom. They began work on a free standing block house, a pistol shot up on the east bank of the Muskingum on the Big Bottom. It was said that the men were mostly restless, adventurous unmarried lads, "little acquainted with Indian warfare, or military rules" and service. 

Against advice to wait until Spring, they went as a group and started work on the blockhouse. But they were not the best of fortification builders, and built a communal blockouse of beech logs so poorly fitted that there were gaps between the logs. They were also macho, and were confidently they could lick several times their numbvers in Indians, and decided not to build any palisades or walls. As the blockhouse was finished, they started working on cabins of their own, failing to mount guards or post sentries. 

About 20 men stayed in the blockhouse, their guns scatterd around the blockhouse.  At the opposite end of the first floor, from the door, was a fireplace, which was used for a communal or private meal at the end of the work day. 

But the men were not the most ambitious, and they had hacked out only a small clearing around the blockhouse, while other lads had taken up their plots, built small cabins, and were working on clearing their own places.  They had been chastised and criticised by Colonel Stacey when he visited, having skated on ice skates up the frozen Muskingum River from Marietta shortly before. Stacey had been at the Cherry Valley for the "massacre" when Butlers' Rangers and Seneca attacked the town and fort in New York in 1778.

The Winter of 1790-1791 was a record cold one. Since December 22, 1790, the river had frozen completely over, something usualally not seen at all, or if see happens only in mid January on the rarest of occassions. A minor thaw took place at the beginng of January rather than at the end of February, and on January 2, the snow melted a wee bit, but not enough to melt much of the white ground cover. 

About 325 feet north of the blockhouse, Francis and Isaac Choate, had built a small cabin for themselves and were working to clear some of the parcel of land with the help of two hired men, James Batten and Thomas Shaw who lived with them.

About 325 feet to the south of the blockhouse, lived Asa and Eleazar Ballard who had purchased their plot a few years before from Virginia, before the Ohio Company, and who lived in a cabin built in an old clearing. 

And as I have shared before, about settlers ending up on or near Indian trails, there just happened to be a major Indian war trail leading from the Sanduskly Towns down to the mouth of the Muskingum at Marietta. The trail followed the ridge to the west, running north to south, opposite Big Bottom. 

That Winter, the Indians had planned a major war party to wipe out the new settlement at Waterford by attacking and elimnating the isolated cabins one by one as they found them.  They were coming down the war trail, and the western ridge, and saw smoke.  Curious, as there had been nothing there at Big Bottom, they observed from the ridge, and spied the new blockhouse. A quick study showed the men loitering in and around the blockhouse, as well as their poor state of guard and poorer defenses.  A council was called, and a plan quickly worked out. 

The Wyandottes, Lenape (Delaware), and possibly some Shawnee in the 25 man war party descended the ridge through the forest a little north of the blockhouse.  There they saw the smoke rising from the Choate cabin, and found the cabin.  They modified their plan of attack, and divided themselves into two groups. The larger group was to attack the blockhouse, while a smaller group was to rush the Choate cabin and capture the inhabitants before an alarm could be given. 

The small party approached the Choate cabin unnoticed.  The Choate brothers, Shaw and Batten were inside having their supper.  While a few waited outside, several opened the door and went inside, speaking to the Whites in a friendly way.  The Whites, figuirng they were friendly Delaware hunters, invited them to stay and share supper with them. The Indians outside went in, and all managed to find a place to sit and share in the meal.   Several of the Indians took notice of the guns in the room, as well as several thongs hanging form a roof beam.  They jumped up, grabbed the Whites, and in a few seconds had them captured and tied up with their own leather thongs. 

About the same time, the larger party had approached the blockhouse.  They were surprised and pleased, as the Whites often had very good watch dogs, but there were not around, as they were inside the blockhouse sleeping near the fire due to the extremely cold weather outside. 

A large Indian jerked open the unbarred door, blocked the door from closing with his body, as the other Indians rushed into the doorway yelling.  As fast as they could, they fired at the Whites standing in front of the fire talking and warming themsleves. 

Zebulon Throop, a Massachusetts man, was frying a piece of meat in the fire, and a shot killed him and knocked him into it. Several men stanidng next to him were hit and fell to the floor, their rifles and muskets stacked carelessly in a corner of the room and out of their reach even if they had had any time to react.

Two Indians rushed into the blockhouse tomahawking all within their reach. The wife of Virginian Isaac Meeks, who was employed as a hunter for the settlement, recovered first and grabbed up an axe and aimed a blow at the head of the large Indian holding the door open.  He twisted and ducked his head, trying to avoid the worst of the blow but the axe continued on its arc and cut through half of his face and into his shoulder.  Mrs Meeks cocked the axe for a second blow, but an Indian rushed over and struck her down with a tomahawk, killing her instantly. 

Somehow the Indians failed to see 16 year old Phillip Stacey, the son of Colonel William Stacy, dive into a pile of loose bedding piled in the corner and scurry into hiding as hs brother John spang up the ladder to the second floor of the blockhouse.  John kicked out some wooden roof shakes, and climbed out onto the blockhouse roof. 

But, Indians who had bene posted outside to guard against any Whites escaping, spied him.  John pleaded for mercy to the Indians below, saying he was the only survivor.  As he was shouting, his yells were heard by the two Ballard brothers, who having the shots from thier cabin, were already running to the blockhouse.  Seeing the indians around the blockhouse shoot John Stacey off of the roof, they turned on their heels and bolted back to their cabin to get their rifles which they had forgotten to take with them.  But, as they neared their cabin, they saw it surrounded by Indians as well, and they heard the crash of their door being kicked in.  They turend away, and ran for the safety of the woods, before they figured on the Indians haivng found their large fire and hot supper on their table, figure the cabins owners were near by. 

Meanwhile at the blockhouse, the Indians finished off any wounded Whites, and collected all of the scalps.  The scalps taken, they turned their attention to plunder.  As they rummaged through the pile of bedding, they found Phillip Stacey.  Several warriors raised their tomahawks to kill him, but he jumped up and fell at the feet of a chief, begging for his life.  For unknown reasons, it actually worked, and the chief spared him is life. 

The Indians ransacked the blockhouse for anything of value, which they carried outside, making piles, and placing some items on the tops of the stumps out of the snow.  Going back inside, they started to rip up the puncheon floor boards to build a bonfire.  The floor boards were fired with wood from the fireplace, and the interior of the blockhouse with its corpses went up in flames.  But, only the floors and roof burned, as the walls had bene made from green beech, which would not catch fire. 
Inside, were the partially burned bodies of twelve: John Stacey, Ezra Putnam (son of Major Putnam), John Camp, and Zebulon Throop from Massachusetts, Jonathan Farewell and James Couch from New Hampshire, William James from Connecticut, John Clark from Rhode Island, Isaac meek, his wife, and two children from Virginia. 

A fanciful artist's depiction done in 1856 of the Big Bottom blockhouse:

The two Ballard brothers, Asa and Eleazar, having forgotten their guns, and having returned to their cabin to find it surrounded by Indians, had rushed off into the woods hoping that they had not been seen, or that the obvious tracks they left in the snow would ot be discovered by the Indians focused on looting and burning their cabin.  They turned left at the frozen Muskingum, just a few dozen yards from their cabin, and headed downriver toward the closest help, that of Samuel Mitchel's hunting camp, about four miles off on the same side. 

At Mitchel's hunting camp, was 50 year old Captain Joseph Rogers, who had been with Daniel Morgan's riflemen during the Rev War, and who was employed as both a hunter for Marietta, was well as a spy.  Living with him, was a Mohican (more likely a Mohegan) Indian by the name of Dick Layton.  Sam Mitchel was too there, his having gone to the Wolf Creek mills. Rogers and Layton were sleeping outside, wrapped up in their blankets against the cold near a campfire.  They awoke at the approach of the Ballards. 

Figuirng that the large numer of Indians meant trouble for the Wolf Creek mills and the Waterford Settlement, Rogers and Layton grabbed up their rifles, and with the Ballard brothers, crossed the bend on the frozen Muskingum, and headed cross-coutry to warn the settlers at Wolf Creek.

When they got there, duirng the dark of night, as they made their way from cabin to cabin, they found that the majority of the men were away, down in Marietta attending the court of the Quarter Sessions for that Monday. (There being no fear of Indians due to the treaty of 1789, and the fact that it was in in the dead of Winter when the Indians were not active.)

Rogers took charge, and collected and orgnaized the roughly 30 settlers, mostly all women and children, into the largest and most "fortified" log cabin that belonged to Colonel Oliver, and that was cloest to the mills (nicknamed Millsburgh).  Oliver had built a two story log cabin, and surorunded it by a high fence or not too tall stockade.  Many of the settlers at Wolf Creek were realtive newcomers, having arrived with the opening of the tracts in 1789 or 1790.  And worse yet, they had neglected to build a blockhouse.
As the settelrs arrived with their possessions, Rogers commandeered the kettles and pots, and had them filed with water from Wolf Creek as protection against fire. Rogers posted a sentry outside of the cabin and inside of the wall. The two story cabin's door was barred, and the windows shuttered. With Rogers, and Layton, there were seven men present- incluidng their friend Samuel Mitchel who was planing on returning to his hunting camp the enxt day. They took up positions on the second floor loft, and poked out portions of the chinking to make loopholes for firing. 

Rogers thought they should run the risk of fewer men, and rely more on the "safety" of the walled cabin. Samuel Mitchel was sent out under the cover of darkness to give the alarm down at Waterford, while two runners being of the most active and brave sort, were sent down to Marietta.

Just before dawn, the sentry spied Indians in the darkness, milling around the saw mill, and heard the creaking of Indians inside from its loose floor boards. Then they drifted toward Oliver's "fort".  But finding the inhabitants awake, and with a sentry on duty, they were discouraged, and left.  Meanwhile, Mitchel had arrived at the nearest cabin, near the mouth of Wolf Creek at the Muskingum, belonging to Harry Maxon.  Maxon was in Marietta for the court session, but Mitchel found Mrs. Maxon and Major Tyler who loved with them.  They gathered up a few prized posessions, crossed over the ice and headed down the east side of the Muskingum to Waterford. 

,The first cabin they came to was that of the Widow Convers, in what is now the center of modern Beverly, OH, and whose husband had died of small pox the year before leaving her and eight children.  Of the children, the two oldest were sons, James a young man, and Daniel, a lad of 15 (who would later be captured by Indians as I previously had shared.). Within an hour later, James and Daniel had given the alarm to every cabin at Waterford, extending its whole length of two miles along the river.

With all haste, the settlers grabbed up their prized possessions, tied their watch dogs to their cabin doors to give alarms, and in the night had assembled at Waterford's small blockhouse which had been built at the southern end of the donation lots.  The blockhouse was better than nothing. It was about 15 feet square on the first floor, but managed to hold twelve families above and below, of 67 people. 

Before dawn, spies were sent out to find signs of Indians. They found none.  During the day, families with armed guards went back to their cabins for food which they had had no time to take the night before in their haste. 

As it were, the escape of the Ballard brothers from Big Bototm, had alarted the settlers, and their being forted up and ready, foiled the Indians' plan of raiding one cabin at a time. 

The next day, January 4, 1791, the spies again reported no sign of the Indians, who were far easier to see now due to the snow on the ground.  Captain Rogers organized a party to go to Big Bottom.  As they came up the trail, they saw the blockhouse without its roof. Inside the sooted but not burned beech walls of the blockhouse, they found the burned but not consumed bodies of the settlers.  They were so burned that they could not be recognized.  The only corpse they could identify was that of William James, his being a stout man of notable six foot, four inches tall.  Outside the ground was frozen solid, and they had only a few shovels even if they could have dug graves.  The decision was made to dig a mass grave in the still warm ash and ember covered floor of the blockhouse. 

Big Bottom would remain empty, due to its isolated position, until after the Indian Wars.  Today, just outside of Stockport, OH, it is maintianed as a picnic ground state memorial." 

In 1905, Obadiah Brokaw built a 12 foot tall obelisk marker on the low "mound" that was the common grave dug in the still warm ground beneath the blockhouse: 

 Rogers would later be killed by Indians, and was/is buried in Marietta's Mound Cemetery.  Mound Cemetery contains more Rev War officers than any other cemetery anywhere.

The Indians at the Ballard cabin, quickly found Asa's and Eleazar'as tracks in the snow, and knew Whites had escaped.  The question was, could they be overtaken and captured or killed before they had a chance to warn other settlers?  A council was held, and it was decided that the 25 warrior or so main body of Delaware, Wyandotte, and maybe a few Shawnee would remain at Big Bottom, while a smaller party would be sent on to the original target of Wolf Creek and Waterford to intercept the misisng Whites and/or spy out the settlements for the possibility of still being attacked.

The party of Indians split off from the main party to attack the Wolf Creek mills settlement returned back up the Muskingum, frustrated that the settlers had been warned. They rendezvoused with the main party and shared the bad news.

It was decided to abandon the raid, and to go back with what they had.  A war club was left on a stump, and the Indains recrossed the frozen Muskingum, climbed the ridge, and went back north up the trail. 

It soon became clear that the large Indian who had had part of his face cut off by Mrs. Meek's axe, was not doing so well.

(I have viewed a number of Viking skulls in the Irish museum in Dublin that had been damaged by axe and sword. One, had had the side of his face sliced off through the facial skull bone and jaw.) 

It was uncertain to the indians whether he would live or die, and it was decided to scarifice one of the five prisoners as an offering to his spirit so that he would survive by fulfilling their laws of revenge.  The Indians "cast lots" to decide whom it was to be.  The "lot" fell on Isaac Chote (aka Choat).   Choate was stripped of his clothing, and the Indian undressed.  The warrior's blood soaked clothing was put on Choat, while Choat's was put on the wounded Indian.  Two warriors were delegted to stay with the wounded Indian while the rest moved on, and watch over his recovery or death, apart from the main body.  Somehow, the woudned warrior was revived enough to travel, and Choat's life was spared. 

The main body of Indians followed the war trail northwest to the British fort, Fort Miami, located at the rapids of the Maumee River about 12 miles from its mouth.  There, Colonel Alexander McKee, the "renegade" turned British Indian agent, redeemed Francis Choate, his doing so said to have been after Choate identified himself to fellow Free Mason McKee.  McKee arranged for Choate to travel by boat to Fort Detroit, where passage was booked on a sloop going to Fort Niagara.  From Naiagara, Coate went overland through New York, and back to his original home in Leicester, Mass. 

Meanwhile, part of the war party continued onto Fort Detroit by land.  It is not clear exactly how, but likely due to the interest and involvement of a Detroit citizen who was in the Indian trade, Isaac Choate was redeemed or ransomed from the Indians, the trader having paid the amount demanded by the Indians.   Isaac having no money, but not being keen on remaining an Indian prisoner, indentured himself to the trader to work off the ransom amount by working for him as a cooper (brarel maker).  In a few months, he had repaid the debt, purchased passage on a Fort Niagara bound boat, and followed Isaac back to their home in Leicester.

Thomas Shaw, was held by the remaining Indians in their village at Fort Miami for several months. Joseph Brandt had gone to Fort Miami, and learned of Shaw.  (In the summer of 1783, Brant had been key in the formation of the "Western Confederacy."  The Confederacy was made up of Iroquois and 29 other Indian nations who agreed to defend the Fort Stanwix Treaty line of 1768, and by denying any nation the ability to cede or sell any land without common consent.  In November of 1785, Joseph Brant went to London to ask King George III for assistance in defending the Indian confederacy from attack by the Americans. The government granted Brant a generous pension and agreed to fully compensate the Mohawk for their losses, but they did not promise to support the confederacy. 

In 1790, after Americans attacked the Western Confederacy in the Northwest Indian War, member tribes asked Brant and the Six Nations to enter the war on their side. Brant refused; he instead asked Lord Dorchester, the new governor of Quebec, for British assistance. Dorchester also refused, but later in 1794, he did provide the Indians with arms and provisions.  (Brandt was at Fort Miami, on "Confederacy" business)

Without promise of repayment, or other arrangements, Brandt ransomed Shaw.  Pennyless, Shaw made his way to Fort Detroit, hoping to work and earn money to purchase boat passage across Lake Erie to Fort Niagara.

(Note a common theme here, unlike some of the Kentucky captives who went by land back to KY, many redeeemd captives, espcially in Ohio, did not want to have to go by foot south through hostile Wyandotte, Shawnee, and Delaware country.) 

Shaw found employment working as a farmhand for a French farmer at Detroit.  Joseph Brandt, who was in Fort Detroit at that time, heard of Shaw being there, and sought him out to check on is status or welfare.  In their talking, Brandt learned that Shaw as an "expert axeman," and persuaded him to go work for Brandt's brother-in law who worked as a physician at Fort Niagra and who lived a few miles outside of the fort. 

Meanwhile back at the Maumee River rapids and the Indian village at Fort Miami, Phillip (Philemon) Stacey, who had hid under the bedding in the Big Bottom blockhouse and had saved his life by pleading for it, died of an unknown illness. 

Also at the same village, James Patten, was adopted as a Wyandotte, and lived there until 1795 when at the end of the Indian War, captives were to have been given up and returned.

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