(edited excerpt from A Window in Time by Andy Hite)
In 1747 a group of Twightwee (Miami) Indians, lead by Memeska, came to the confluence of the Great Miami River and Loramie Creek. Memeska brought his followers to this place called Pickawillany, to be closer to his new friends the English. Memeska was coming to Ohio from Kekionga (Fort Wayne) to put distance between himself and his former French allies of the Great Lakes region. For many years the French had been the dominating force in the Great Lakes fur trade. However, growing dissatisfaction with high prices, poor quality, and short supplies of French goods led Memeska and others to look to the English as a more reliable source of trade goods.
Word spread quickly that English goods were now available at Pickawillany. This brought rapid growth to the village. Indians, not only from the Ohio country, but also the Great Lakes region and westward, came here to do business. In 1750, Christopher Gist, an agent for Virginia’s Ohio Land Company, visited Pickawillany. Gist estimated that in 1750 this new village numbered upwards of 1200 individuals.
This activity was not lost on the French authorities who viewed Memeska (who they called La Demoiselle) as a serious threat to their control of the Indian fur trade. Almost from the moment Pickawillany was established, the French had begun planning how best to remove this thorn from their side.
1750 and 1751 saw Pickawillany grow as both a village and a trading center. Traders George Croghan, Andrew Montour, and Christopher Gist were all present at one time or another and brought additional traders. They also helped Memeska improve and strengthen his village.
On June 21, 1752 a force of about 250 Ottawa Indians and French militia led by Charles Langlade attacked Pickawillany. Many of the Twightwee men were hunting, leaving mostly women and children, and a few older men. Also present were Memeska and his family. In addition, several English traders were working at their trading station. The attack was so sudden that many of the women were captured as they worked in the cornfields. Others fled to the village stockade in hopes of protecting themselves. Three traders were cut off, and were forced to seek protection in one of the traders’ cabins near the stockade. These traders quickly surrendered to the invaders without firing a shot in their own defense. To save themselves, they told Langlade how few defenders were inside the Twightwee stockade.
A siege of the stockade was laid down, and the defenders were informed if they would surrender the traders and their goods, the attackers would leave Pickawillany. Inside the stockade, with several defenders wounded and water supplies exhausted, the defenders agreed to the terms they had been offered.
Neither side honored their agreement. Five of the seven traders in the stockade were surrendered. Gunsmith Thomas Burney and trader Andrew McBryer were hidden and later escaped to carry the news of the attack to the English at Lower Shawnee Town (Portsmouth). One of the five surrendered traders had been wounded. As soon as he was seized, he was stabbed to death, scalped, and his heart ripped from his chest and eaten. Memeska, having taken refuge in the stockade, now faced a similar fate. The French saw him as the cause of most of their problems in Ohio, and the primary agent for the English. It was time to pay up. Before his remaining followers, including his wife and son, he too was killed, boiled, and his body eaten. The surviving traders and their goods were gathered and marched to Detroit. With this defeat, the Pickawillany thorn was at last removed from the French side.
Following this defeat, the surviving Twightwee did move back to Kekionga and Pickawillany was not occupied as a village site again. After the removal of the Twightwee, the Shawnee eventually moved into the Miami Valley in the late 1750’s and began establishing some of their villages in the region.
Excavations at the sit of Pickawillany
Once a season the Ohio Historical Society offers visitors the opportunity to visit the site of the Pickawillany village, where archaeology instructors and students from Hocking College are working on an ongoing research project. These photos are from the 2009 field work.
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