The Yellow Creek Massacre

 

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On April 30, 1774, a posse of armed colonists murdered a group of unsuspecting Native-Americans in cold blood along the banks of the Ohio River in modern day Hancock County, West Virginia. The Yellow Creek Massacre was so significant that Thomas Jefferson mentioned it in the only book he ever published, Notes on the State of Virginia. He called the killings “inhumane” and “indecent.”

Thirteen years after the book’s original publication, Jefferson expanded on the massacre in An appendix to the notes on Virginia relative to the murder of Logan’s family (1800).  Although the massacre is not widely known, it influenced the direction of the Revolutionary War by pitting some Native-American tribes against the colonists.

After the French and Indian War, English colonists pushed further west. In 1768, the Cherokee tribe signed the Treaty of Hard Labour, which led to them vacating the land east of the Ohio River. This was one of multiple treaties that shaped the early western boundary. By 1774, tension between the natives and colonists in the Ohio River Valley reached a fever pitch. There were multiple tribes located along the river;  mostly Shawnees and Mingos.  The Mingos were a mixture of Iroquois, Seneca, Cayuga, Delaware, Shawnee natives. A major Mingo settlement was located in Ohio at the mouth of Yellow Creek, a tributary of the Ohio River. Across the river, where Mountaineer Racetrack currently stands, was a small trading outpost occupied by English colonist Joshua Baker. According to firsthand accounts, the outpost was frequented by colonists and natives who were looking to purchase rum off of Baker. 

Leading up to the Yellow Creek Massacre, there were multiple clashes between the colonists and the natives. A man named Michael Cresap killed two Native-Americans north of Wheeling, Virginia, and two white men were murdered while transporting goods on the Ohio River. An unsigned diary entry written at Fort Redstone, and dated Oct. 1774, provided insight into the mind of the colonists:

“The most recent murders committed by the Indians before the white people began to retaliate, were that of Captain Russell’s son, three more white men, and two of his negroes, on the fifteenth of October, 1773; that of a Dutch family on the Kenhawa, in June of the same year; and one Richard, in July following; and that of Mr. Hogg and three white men, on the Great Kenhawa, early in April 1774.”

Baker and the natives were aware of these attacks. According to John Sappington, a person directly involved in the massacre, the tipping point for Baker occurred when a young native girl told him that some of the natives had a plan to kill Baker and his family. Sappington stated:

“The evening before a squaw came over to Baker’s house, and by her crying seemed to be in great distress. The cause of her uneasiness being asked, she refused to tell; but getting Baker’s wife alone, she told her, that the Indians were going to kill her and all her family the next day, that she loved her, did not wish her to be killed and therefore told her what was intended, that she might save herself. In consequence of this information, Baker got a number of men to the amount of 21, to come to his house, and it was determined that the men should lie concealed in the back appartment; that if the Indians did come and behaved themselves peaceably, they should not be molested; but if not, the men were to shew themselves and act accordingly.”[1]

Sappington’s testimony explained how the massacre was planned, but it did not necessarily tell the entire truth. As a historian, one should never assume that a single eye witness account will tell the whole story. Instead, one should gather the most reliable primary sources and interpret them in the most objective way possible.

The next day, a group of Mingos, four men and three squaws, crossed the river and visited Baker’s outpost. A colonist named Daniel Greathouse and a group of approximately twenty men hid nearby and waited for their moment to strike. As the socializing progressed, a few of the Mingos became intoxicated on Baker’s rum. Every account of the story differed in some way. At some point during the gathering, the natives supposedly provoked the colonists by mocking them. The twenty or so men jumped out and brutally killed all of the natives, except for one child. The child was spared because the mother told the colonists that her child was half-white and that the father was a man by the name of Gibson. The colonists spared the child and then ended the mother’s life. The massacre was cold and calculated. Not only did they murder the natives, but they desecrated their bodies, disemboweled them, and hung them from trees. The colonists then ran to the river bank and waited for the other natives to cross. As approximately twenty natives began to cross, the colonists sniped them out of their boats, one by one, until they retreated.

News of the massacre spread quickly. The first group of natives killed were family members of a powerful Mingo Chief, Logan. He was a well-known figure in the Ohio Valley at the time. He was known by many of the colonists because of his conversion to Christianity. However, when he heard the news of the massacre,  Logan, along with a few other Shawnees and Mingos, sought revenge. For Logan and the natives, the massacre was a declaration of war, and so began Lord Dunmore’s War.

Dunmore's War Map

John Murray, the 4th Earl of Dunmore and the Governor of Virginia, convinced his legislature to mobilize the state militia to suppress the natives. Dunmore commanded around 1,700 men and pushed from Fort Pitt down the Ohio River. At the same time, Colonel Andrew Lewis commanded around 800 men down the Kanawha River and set up Camp Pleasant at its mouth. On October 10,1774, the biggest and final conflict of the war occurred. It was the Battle of Point Pleasant. Lewis and his men defeated the natives and on October 19, 1774, the Treaty of Camp Charlotte officially ended Dunmore’s War. The defeat forever destroyed the power of the Shawnee and other natives living in the valley. After the war, Logan gave a somber speech which expressed his sadness. The speech became known as Logan’s Lament. In the lament, Logan said,

“I appeal to any white man to say, if ever he entered Logan’s cabin hungry, and he gave him  not meat: if ever he came cold and naked, and he cloathed him not.   During the course of the last long and bloody war Logan remained idle in his cabin, an advocate for peace. Such was my love for the whites, that my countrymen pointed as they passed, and said, `Logan is the friend of white man.’ l had even thought to have lived with you, but for the injuries of one man. Colonel Cresap, the last spring, in cold blood,   and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not even sparing my women and children.  There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature.   This called on me for revenge.  I have sought it: I have killed many: I have fully glutted my vengeance: for my country I rejoice at the beams  of peace.  But do not harbour a thought that mine is the joy of fear.  Logan never felt fear.  He will not turn on his heel to save his life.  Who is there to mourn for Logan?–Not one.”

A Mingo Warrior

Logan was under the impression that Colonel Michael Cresap was responsible for the death of his family at Yellow Creek. However, based on the historical record, Cresap was not  involved in the massacre. The responsibility fell on Daniel Greathouse and his men. Cresap was responsible for the deaths of two natives near Wheeling, which made him partially responsible for the tensions that arose in the valley. Six years later, in 1780, it was rumored that Logan had become an alcoholic. Allegedly, in a drunken stupor, Logan hit his wife and knocked her unconscious. He thought he had killed her, so he fled. During his attempted escape, he was captured by other natives and supposedly killed by his nephew.

The legend of Logan’s death and the colonists description of the massacre are riddled with stereotypical myths about Native-Americans. The stories depicted the natives as careless, drunken, violent, and primitive thinking savages. The Yellow Creek Massacre truly embodies the struggle of Native-Americans during colonization.

Louie P. Gallo


[1] Bailey,Chris H.,  The Stulls of “Millsborough” A Genealogical History of John Stull “The Miller” Pioneer of Western Maryland, vol. 1, (self-published, 2000), 249-256.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. J.E.S says:

    Wow Fantastic writing. I am going to love reading through your posts. thanks

    1. Thank you very much for your support!!! It means more than you can imagine!

  2. Reblogged this on IntriguingHistory and commented:

    #TBT

  3. David Kuder says:

    I am a sometime living history portrayer of Colo. Thomas Cresap, Michael Cresap’s father. Thanks for clearing up the details of Michael’s false accusation by Logan.

  4. Cat says:

    It’s not completely accurate. A man named Michael Myers crossed the river to the Ohio side with two of Washington’s men to scout the area. They were at the mouth of Yellow Creek, where Myers tide his horse. An Indian tried to steal the horse, and Myer’s shot him. The three men crossed back over the river. Myers stopped at Greathouse’s Bar and told them what had transpired then went on to his farm in Little Washington, Pa. The next day Logan’s family arrived at the bar, named Hell’s Have Acre, wanting an explanation. Logan’s brother, John Petty who had been drinking started to get aggressive, at which time local settlers who had been hiding behind the bar opened fire on them. They shot Logan’s sister in the back. She begged the men to spare her child, that was 1/2 white, and they did. He was adopted by a Judge and his wife.

    1. Thanks for the comment! Yes, a man named Michael Myers did cross the river, and he did have a confrontation with the natives. I make mention of the overall tension between the colonists and the natives, and Myers’ story is a part of that tension. I also make mention of the conflicting reports of the story. However, I’m not sure where you get the bar “Hell’s Have Acre” or “Greathouse’s Bar”, but the incident occurred at Baker’s trading post, and according to most of the first hand accounts from the people who were there, Greathouse was the organizer.

      What is your source on the “bar” being named “Hell’s Have Acre?”

  5. Karen Mettenberger says:

    I love reading things on American historical society. My grandmother, my mom’s side was part Cherokee Indian. This article is fantastic.

  6. Sally says:

    Ohio History

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