Simon Girty

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Simon Girty, "the White Savage", etching from Thomas Boyd's 1928 book by the same title

Simon Girty (1741 – February 18, 1818) aka Katepacomen [1] was an American colonial of Scots-Irish birth who served as a liaison between the British and their Native American allies during the American Revolution. He was portrayed as a villain, called "the White Savage", in many early history texts of the United States, and was also featured this way in nineteenth and early twentieth-century United States fiction.

As children, Girty and his brothers were taken captive in Pennsylvania in a Seneca raid and adopted by families. He lived with the Seneca for seven years and became fully assimilated, preferring their culture. He was returned to his birth family but retained a sympathy for the Native Americans.

Biography[edit]

Born in Pennsylvania, Girty and his brothers were taken prisoners as children by the Seneca and adopted by them. Girty did not return to his birth family for seven years, by which time he had become fully assimilated with the Seneca and preferred their way of life.

During the American Revolution, Girty first sided with the colonial revolutionaries. Like many other Scots-Irish, he later served with the Loyalists and their Indian allies, including many Seneca and three other Iroquois nations. American rebel frontiersmen considered him a renegade and turncoat.

On October 1, 1779, Girty and Alexander McKee, another Scots-Irish Loyalist, with the aid of a large force of Native Americans, attacked and killed American forces in present-day Kentucky, who were returning from an expedition to New Orleans. The ambush occurred near Dayton, Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio. Only a handful of the Americans survived, among them Colonel John Campbell and Captain Robert Benham.

Girty was present during the ritual torture and execution of Continental Army Colonel William Crawford by the Lenape war chief Captain Pipe. Two American witnesses of this torture and execution survived and were later interviewed regarding these events. One suggested that Girty was a pitiless instigator. The other claimed that Girty pleaded with the Native Americans on Crawford's behalf until threatened with death himself. The former account was popularized and served to vilify Girty during and after his lifetime. Later historians have understood that such ritual torture was part of Lenape practice for warriors.

Girty is credited with saving the lives of many American prisoners of the American Indians during the war, often by buying their freedom at his own expense.

Resettlement in Lower Canada[edit]

After the end of the war, Simon Girty settled in Lower Canada (now Ontario) along with other Loyalists and Indian allies of the British, such as nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. They were granted land by the British Crown in recognition of their service during the war. He retired to his farm near Fort Malden (present-day Amherstburg, Ontario) prior to the outbreak of the War of 1812. Girty's son was killed in that conflict, reportedly while trying to rescue a wounded British officer from the battlefield.

Despite popular myths to the contrary, Simon Girty had no part in that war, except as a refugee when the British retreated from Fort Malden. Nor was he killed with Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames, as was widely reported. Then more than sixty years old, he was increasingly infirm with arthritis and had failing eyesight. Girty returned to his farm after the war and died in 1818, completely blind, in Canada.

Representation in culture[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ His Shawnee name. https://archive.org/stream/watsonsmagazines154wats#page/283/mode/1up
  2. ^ Parker B. Brown, "The Historical Accuracy of the Captivity Narrative of Doctor John Knight," The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, vol. 70, no. 1 (January 1987), pp. 53–67, cited in Allan W. Eckert, That Dark and Bloody River
  3. ^ Wind Publications
  4. ^ http://www.trumpetintheland.com

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]