Friday, October 21, 2011

A story for Halloween: a blood-curdling scream near where Colonel Crawford was burned at the stake

Since Halloween is right around the corner, here's a true anecdote that I can't tie in with an early U.S. coin as I have in the last posts, but this is something I find very interesting and relevant to northwest Ohio history just a bit south of the Great Black Swamp region.

One dark night about 7 years ago, when our daughter was a little toddler, we were traveling in our minivan with my parents on U.S. 23 just north of Upper Sandusky in Wyandot County, Ohio, keeping mainly quiet as she was sound asleep after a tiring day.  We traveled northwest and crossed the Sandusky River (actually the tributary Tymochtee Creek)- knowing the area and its dark history quite well, my mind wandered a bit and I shuddered as I looked off to the east.  Immediately north of the river is a roadside rest area, and when we passed it, our peacefully sleeping daughter emitted a huge scream (which nearly scared me out of my wits as I was the driver) and wailed inconsolably for a good five minutes at least until her mommy got her calmed down.  This was before she could speak, so we have no idea what kind of disturbing nightmare shook her from her slumber.   But the thing that made the biggest impression on me was what happened just a few hundred yards to the east, back in 1782.  It was a story we learned in all of its gory detail in 7th grade Ohio history class -- and, my grandfather owned a farm that is within a mile of this historical site, so this made an impression on me as a youngster.

The site is referred to as the Colonel Crawford Burn Site, as he was tortured, tied, and burned at the stake. It is about 4 miles northwest of where Colonel William Crawford's forces were routed by Indians in 1782 at a site called "Battle Island" (not an island in the river, but rather an "island" of hardwood trees in plain within the Sandusky Valley) just slightly north of what is now the town of Upper Sandusky .    The  Ohio Historical Society's marker at the Colonel Crawford Burn Site Monument in Wyandot County reads as follows:
"Colonel William Crawford, a lifelong friend of George Washington, was born in Virginia in 1722. He was married twice, first to Ann Stewart and later to Hannah Vance. In 1755, he served with Colonel Edward Braddock in the French and Indian War. In 1767, he moved to Stewart's Crossing, Pennsylvania, near the Youghiogheny River. During the American Revolutionary War he raised a company of men, commanded the 5th and 7th Regiments, fought in battles in Long Island, Trenton, and Princeton, and built forts along the western frontier. In 1782, he led the Sandusky Campaign into the Ohio country and was subsequently captured by Delaware Indians after the battle of 'Battle Island.' On June 11, 1782, he was tortured and killed near the Tymochtee Creek near this marker. A monument dedicated to his memory is located about a quarter of a mile north of here. Counties in Ohio and Pennsylvania are named for Colonel Crawford."

"At the twilight of the American Revolutionary War, British forces hired American Indians to conduct attacks on pioneers living along the Ohio and Pennsylvania border. In response, the 13th Virginia Regiment, an over 400-man mounted unit formed by General William Irvine, was led by Colonel William Crawford to destroy the Sandusky towns of the Wyandots and Delawares. This volunteer army departed Mingo Bottom on May 25, 1782, and headed west into the Ohio country. On June 4, they met an Indian force at an area called "Battle Island," located between Carey and Upper Sandusky. The Americans held the field, but withdrew when the British reinforced the Indians with Butler's Rangers and Shawnee Indians. Crawford was ultimately captured, tortured, and killed by Delaware Indians."

Well, "tortured" is probably a bit of an understatement.  If you want the full gory details, there are several contemporary eyewitness accounts that have been published, and which are easily Googled with the search terms "torture" or "burning" of William Crawford".  I've included a sample of one of the artistic depictions (public domain), as well as one depicting the battle.  

Battle of the Sandusky at 'Battle Island'

Colonel Crawford burned at the stake

Crawford became an early friend of George Washington, and in addition to surviving Braddock's Defeat during the French and Indian War, he served in Dunmore's War and was an American commander involved in numerous engagements during the Revolution. In May of 1782, he was appointed to lead an expedition against the Indians of the Sandusky Plains, an area which is now in Wyandot County, Ohio. The American forces were defeated at the Battle of Sandusky on June 4 and 5 (at Battle Island about a half mile northeast of the intersection of U.S. 30 and SR 53 just north of Upper Sandusky), by Indians and British rangers from Fort Detroit.  Separated from his men and taken captive by the Indians a short distance west of what is now Crestline Ohio,  Colonel Crawford was taken back west to the burn site just a short distance east of what is now the village of Crawford, Ohio, and tortured and burned.  By the way, I just found out on Wikipedia that the Butler's Rangers referred to in the quote from the Ohio Historical Society sign above were comprised to a large degree from British loyalist "Tories" from upstate New York. 

It may have just been a coincidence, but my daughter's disturbed slumber and harrowing scream at rattled me just a bit.  I have never since heard her awake in a "night terror" like that, nor do I wish to again.  Not that I believe in ghosts, but I wonder if there are any local accounts for the "Haunted Ohio" type books... numerous other of Crawford's men were slaughtered and tortured in the area or at the Battle Island site in retribution for the earlier Gnadenhutten massacre of innocent Moravian Christianized Indians. 



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