Simon Girty

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

Simon Girty (November 14, 1741 – February 18, 1818) (sometimes referred to as Katepacomen [2] ), [lower-alpha 1] was an American colonial of Irish descent from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who served as a liaison between the British and their Indian allies during the American Revolution. He was portrayed as a villain, and was also featured this way in 19th and early 20th-century United States fiction.


As children, Girty and his brothers were taken captive in Pennsylvania in a Seneca raid and adopted. 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 Indians.

Early life

Simon Girty was born to Simon Girty the Elder and Mary Newton near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Simon Girty the Elder arrived in North America in 1730 from Ireland. The accepted spelling of Girty's name was most likely a "colonial derivation of McGearty, Gearty, Garrity, Garrarghty, Geraghty or Girtee" and a corruption and Anglicization of an older native Irish surname Mag Oireachtach. [3]

After establishing a trading post, Simon Girty the Elder and Mary Newton had four sons: Thomas, Simon, James, and George, in 1739–1746.[ citation needed ]

In May 1750, the Sheriff arrested the entire Girty family, along with other squatters, for building a home on Sherman's Creek on the Susquehanna River, before the British authorities allowed any settlers to build there. The British authorities—specifically, George Croghan—also burned down the Girty home, shed, barn, and corral. All squatters were forced to post bonds of £500 each, and were bound for trial at Cumberland County, Pennsylvania Court. [3]

Simon Girty's father killed

In December 1750, Simon Girty the Elder and Samuel Sanders (or Saunders) fought, or dueled, which ended with Girty's death. After both men fired a shot and missed, they pulled out their swords. "Girty made a misstep and fell. Sanders treacherously ran him through with his sword, which caused his death". [3] Saunders was either a "convict, an escaped bond servant, a soldier, or a rival trader who competed with Girty and murdered him to steal his trade goods". [3] Samuel Saunders was subsequently arrested, tried in Philadelphia, convicted of manslaughter, and imprisoned.[ citation needed ]

One source says that Simon Girty the Elder's head was split with a tomahawk by an Indian called "The Fish", and that John Turner, his half-brother, avenged Girty by killing "The Fish". [4]

Thomas McKee and George Gibson applied for Simon Girty the Elder's estate (his house and land) and persuaded William Plumsted, the mayor of Philadelphia, to backdate their application by a full year to make it appear legal. McKee claimed Girty owed him £300 for trade goods he sold to Girty on credit. Plumsted went along with Gibson and McKee's scheme, and McKee was subsequently awarded Girty's estate. [3]

Three years after Simon Girty the Elder was killed, his wife Mary married John Turner, his half-brother (and in some versions of the story, her husband's avenger). They settled near to the land once owned by Simon Girty the Elder.[ citation needed ]

In 1754, John Turner Jr. was born.[ citation needed ]

During the French and Indian War (1754–1763), the area where they had their farm became too dangerous, with numerous war parties attacking settlers, so John Turner took his new family to Fort Granville on the Juniata River in western Pennsylvania, along with dozens of other English families looking for safety. At Fort Granville, John Turner joined the local militia under Captain Edward Ward and was promoted to Sergeant, Ward's third in command.[ citation needed ]

On August 2, 1756, Captain Ward had taken the majority of the militia out on patrol, which was known to the local Lenape tribe. Captain François Coulon de Villiers attacked Fort Granville with 55 French soldiers and about 100 Lenape Indians. Villiers' force snuck along Juniata River and set the stockade on fire. This made a large hole, through which they killed an officer and an enlisted man, and wounded several men who were fighting the fire. Villiers then offered quarter if the fort surrendered, so John Turner, as the ranking living officer, opened the gate. After marching the prisoners away from the fort, the French and Lenape plundered the fort and burned it to the ground. The Lenape then took the prisoners to Kittanning, their village on the Allegheny River.[ citation needed ]

The torture and death of John Turner

The Lenape had previously traded with Simon Girty the Elder, and they recognized his wife and children. One tradition says the Lenape sincerely believed that John Turner was the man who had killed Simon Girty the Elder in order to take his house, land, and family. Other traditions say that the Lenape recognized him as Girty's avenger and killer of "The Fish", or that they thought that John Turner had badly beaten an Indian. For whichever reason, Chief Jacobs (Toweah) of the Lenape and his council condemned John Turner to be burned at the stake. The Muncey Lenape pushed red-hot gun barrels into and through John Turner's body. John Turner endured three hours of ritualistic torture before he was scalped, and a young Lenape struck a tomahawk into his brain, killing him, all in front of his wife, stepchildren, and newborn baby. [3]

Thomas Girty escaped his Lenape captivity during the British-led Kittanning Expedition on September 8, 1756.[ citation needed ]

After the Kittanning Expedition, the Indians split the Girty family up; they were sent to live with different tribes. Thirteen-year-old James Girty was taken by Shawnee warriors, as were Mary and baby John Turner. The Lenape kept 10-year-old George Girty. Fifteen-year-old Simon Girty was given to Guyasuta, Chief of the Ohio Seneca (Mingoes), and lived in a village near Lake Erie's east shore in northwestern Pennsylvania.[ citation needed ]

Guyasuta, Simon Girty's mentor

After he gained the respect of the Mingoes by running the gauntlet successfully, the Mingo pulled out all of Simon Girty's hair, leaving just a scalplock on his crown. Later, Simon was given "breechcoth and leggings, a deerskin shirt, and moccasins". [5] Simon Girty lived with Guyasuta for seven years. He was returned to the British in November 1764, during a prisoner exchange after the end of Pontiac's War.[ citation needed ]

During the period when Simon Girty lived with them (1756–1764), Guyasuta and the Ohio Seneca fought in many battles against the British in the French and Indian War. Guyasuta was instrumental in defeat of Major James Grant at the Battle of Fort Duquesne on September 14, 1758. The French and Indian War officially ended in 1763, but hostilities between the Indians and the British continued in Pontiac's War. Guyasuta and the Ohio Seneca were allied with Pontiac, and fought the British alongside his warriors at the July 1763 Siege of Fort Pitt, the July 31, 1763 Battle of Bloody Run, the August 5–6, 1763 Battle of Bushy Run, and the September 14, 1763 Devil's Hole Massacre (the deadliest engagement for British soldiers during the war). It's unclear if Simon Girty fought along with Guyasuta in this war.[ citation needed ]

On October 17, 1764, British commander Henry Bouquet demanded that the Ohio Indians return all captives, including those not yet returned from the French and Indian War. Chief Guyasuta and other native leaders reluctantly handed over more than 200 captives, many of whom had been adopted into Indian families. On November 14, 1764, Simon Girty returned to the British after a prisoner exchange, and resurfaced near Fort Pitt. Simon Girty knew 11 languages, had become fully assimilated with the Seneca, and preferred their way of life.[ citation needed ]

Simon Girty was the principal interpreter at the signing of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix between the Iroquois and the British.[ citation needed ]

Role in American Revolution

During the American Revolution, Girty first sided with the colonial revolutionaries. 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.[ citation needed ]

Lord Dunmore's War

Simon served alongside, with and for George Rogers Clark, Simon Kenton, Thomas and Edward Cunningham (Rangers), Daniel Boone (Ranger), Colonel William Crawford, Daniel Morgan and William Caldwell, fighting for the British during Lord Dunmore's War. Simon served in the capacity of a spy, scout and intermediary for Lord Dunmore with the Shawnees. [3] The war began with the Yellow Creek Massacre on April 30, 1774, when Virginia frontiersmen led by Daniel Greathouse killed the family of Mingo war-leader Johnny Logan, who had been friendly to Americans.[ citation needed ]

The Indians were defeated at the Battle of Point Pleasant. After Chief Cornstalk signed the Treaty of Camp Charlotte, Dunmore sent Girty to bring Johnny Logan to the capitulation proceedings. Simon found Logan, but Logan wouldn't come. He told Girty his thoughts and feelings regarding the entire ordeal in Logan's Lament , which Girty repeated to the British officers. At the conclusion of the war, Simon was a commissioned Lieutenant in the Virginia Militia. This unit was disbanded the following year. [6]

Simon Girty was among the early Virginia Frontiersmen to draft up the Original First Declaration of Independence. They had just returned from a successful campaign under Lord Dunmore and discovered the passage of the Intolerable Acts. This meant they could find themselves under orders to stop an uprising of their own countrymen. If they were to raise any objection, this could be seen as treason. [7]

Instead of keeping quiet, they took matters into their own hands and many settled amid the great danger west of the Alleghenies in open defiance of the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Among their number were many famous as intrepid frontiersmen and others who were soon to gain fame as officers in the Revolution: Simon Kenton, the notorious Simon Girty, Michael Cresap, Colonel William Crawford, George Rogers Clark, Adam Stephen and Daniel Morgan. These men were not easily intimidated. [7]

The Squaw Campaign

During the American Revolution, Girty initially served with American forces against Indian allies of the British.

In early 1778, the Americans sent an expedition to destroy Indian stores and supplies along the Cuyahoga River in northeastern Ohio. The force of 500 American volunteers was led by General Edward Hand, Colonel William Crawford (a land speculator and close friend of George Washington), and Colonel Providence Mounts, and included Girty.

They set out on February 8, 1778. They marched out of Fort Pitt, crossed the Allegheny River, and went 22 miles down the Ohio River over the ancient Indian trails called the "Great Path", to the mouth of the Beaver River. [3]

One morning Major James Brenton asked Simon to help him find his horse. After finding the horse, Brenton and Simon were returning to camp, when they heard gunfire near the forks of the Beaver River (the confluence of the Mahoning and Shenango). The Americans had come across Kuskuskee, an old, nearly abandoned Lenape village, and attacked before inquiring about who was residing there. An old man, who was digging up stored corn behind his house, shot one round from his musket at the Americans, wounding Captain David Scott and breaking his arm. Reasin Virgin killed the old man with his tomahawk. [3] A woman ran out of the cabin with her hands up, and she leaned against a tree. Several American volunteers "ran up, fell upon, shot and killed her". [3] Another woman and a group of children ran from a cabin and disappeared into the woods. [5] An old Indian woman came out of a cabin with her hands up, and the Americans fired many shots at her, only being able to shoot one of her fingers off, before Hand and Crawford ordered the troops to cease firing.

The old woman confirmed that the old man that they had shot was her husband, Bull. Bull's brother was Hopocan ("Captain Pipe"), the principal Lenape chief. The dead woman was Captain Pipe's mother. The old woman also mentioned that there were 10 Muncie warriors at a nearby saltlick 10 miles up the Mahoning River (at present day Niles, Ohio). General Hand sent Simon Girty and a dozen American volunteers to scout for these warriors, but they only found five Lenape women (one of whom they kept as a hostage), and a young Indian boy. The Lenape boy, who was hunting birds in a tree by himself with a bow and arrow, was killed. Americans Zach Connell and Squire Forman argued over who got the boy's scalp

On March 3, Hand returned to Fort Pitt with "a few Indian muskets, pots and pans, two Indian women captives, and a pair of scalps". [3] George Morgan apologized to the Lenapes, who at the time were neutral.

Defection, Not Desertion

Simon Girty talked to Simon Kenton the night before he defected.[ citation needed ]

In early 1778, when Edward Hand was the Commander of Fort Pitt, Simon Girty discovered the North-Western tribes were uniting against the Americans. This would involve the entire frontier and this was the turning point that would allow the seductive promises of Elliot and McKee to succeed in turning Simon. [8] On March 28, 1778, Alexander McKee (Scots-Irish Loyalist), Matthew Elliott, and Simon Girty all defected on the same night. Along with them was Robert Surphlit (McKee's cousin), a man named Higgins (an employee), and two of McKee's black slaves. Seven men left McKee's house in Pittsburgh, and absconded west into the Ohio country, and towards the British stronghold in Detroit. A few hours later, a party of American soldiers arrived at the house to take McKee to the Pittsburgh prison.[ citation needed ]

The seven defectors stopped by Coshocton, the capital of the Lenape. After the murders of Captain Pipe's mother and brother, the Lenape's loyalties were split. Captain Pipe wanted war on the Americans, and White Eyes wanted peace. Simon Girty made a pledge for war, and the Lenape agreed.[ citation needed ]

While in Coshocton, Simon met his brother James Girty, who joined Simon in his defection. George Girty eventually followed in his brothers' footsteps, and also defected. A Pennsylvania court declared Simon, James, and George Girty, along with Alexander McKee and Matthew Elliot, to be outlaws, guilty of treason, and placed an $800 bounty on Simon Girty's head. [5]

On April 20, 1778, Simon Girty, along with Edward Hazel, a British Indian agent, and Leatherlips, a Wyandot chief, reached Detroit, where Henry Hamilton employed Simon at sixteen shillings a day.[ citation needed ]

On October 1, 1779, Girty and Alexander McKee, leading a large force of Indians, ambushed American forces in present-day Northern Kentucky. The Americans 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.[ citation needed ]

In August 1782, Simon Girty, under the command at William Caldwell, along with about 300 Shawnee natives and British Canadians, attacked Bryan Station. Three days later, they ambushed Daniel Boone at the Battle of Blue Licks.[ citation needed ]

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

Role in Northwest Indian War

Simon was hired by George Morgan who was serving as the Patriot Commissioner of Indian Affairs Middle District. Simon was to serve as an interpreter and intermediary to the Six Nations. It was Simon that negotiated the first treaty with the Indians. He was sent to represent the United American States and addressed the Grand Council of the Iroquois League at Onondaga, New York. He successfully returned to Pittsburgh. Words were exchanged and Simon was fired. [9]

During the Northwest Indian War (1785–1795), Girty fought alongside the Wyandots and other Indians. [10] He fought the Americans at St. Clair's Defeat in 1791, the greatest defeat the United States Army has ever known. [11]

Resettlement in Upper Canada

After the end of the war, Simon Girty settled in Upper 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.[ citation needed ]

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 failing eyesight. Girty returned to his farm in Canada after the war and died in 1818, completely blind.[ citation needed ]

Representation in culture


  1. Katepacomen was reputed to be an Indian name, but may simply have been an American invention, as was often the case with early historical anecdotes, since no such name or term appears to exist in the most likely native languages — i.e.: Shawnee, Wyandot, Lenape or Haudenosaunee.

Related Research Articles

Logan (Iroquois leader) Native American orator and war leader

Logan the Orator was a Cayuga orator and war leader born of one of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. After his 1760s move to the Ohio Country, he became affiliated with the Mingo, a tribe formed from Seneca, Cayuga, Lenape and other remnant peoples. He took revenge for family members killed by Virginian Long knives in 1774 in what is known as the Yellow Creek Massacre. His actions against settlers on the frontier helped spark Dunmore's War later that year.

Lenape Indigenous people originally from Lenapehoking, now the Mid-Atlantic United States

The Lenape, also called the Leni Lenape, Lenni Lenape and Delaware people, are an indigenous people of the Northeastern Woodlands, who live in the United States and Canada. Their historical territory included present-day northeastern Delaware, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania along the Delaware River watershed, New York City, western Long Island, and the Lower Hudson Valley. Today, Lenape people belong to the Delaware Nation and Delaware Tribe of Indians in Oklahoma; the Stockbridge-Munsee Community in Wisconsin; and the Munsee-Delaware Nation, Moravian of the Thames First Nation, and Delaware of Six Nations in Ontario.

Pontiacs War 1763 war launched by American Indians against the British Empire in North America

Pontiac's War was launched in 1763 by a loose confederation of American Indians dissatisfied with British rule in the Great Lakes region following the French and Indian War (1754–1763). Warriors from numerous tribes joined in an effort to drive British soldiers and settlers out of the region. The war is named after Odawa leader Pontiac, the most prominent of many Indian leaders in the conflict.

Kittanning (village) Historic Native American village in Pennsylvania

Kittanning was an 18th-century Native American village in the Ohio Country, located on the Allegheny River at present-day Kittanning, Pennsylvania. The village was at the western terminus of the Kittanning Path, an Indian trail that provided a route across the Alleghenies between the Ohio and Susquehanna river basins. Together with Logstown, Pickawillany, Sandusky, and Lower Shawneetown, Kittanning was one of several large multiethnic and autonomous "Indian republics" made up of a variety of smaller disparate social groups: village fragments, extended families, or individuals, often survivors of epidemics and refugees from conflicts with other Native Americans or with Europeans. Kittanning served as a staging area for Delaware and Shawnee raids on English colonial settlements during the French and Indian War, until Pennsylvania militia under the command of Colonel John Armstrong destroyed the village on 8 September 1756.

George Croghan was an Irish-born fur trader in the Ohio Country of North America who became a key early figure in the region. In 1746 he was appointed to the Haudenosaunee Onondaga Council and remained so until he was banished from the frontier in 1777 during the American Revolutionary War. Emigrating from Ireland to Pennsylvania in 1741, he had become an important trader by going to the villages of Indigenous Peoples, learning their languages and customs, and working on the frontier where previously mostly French had been trading. During and after King George's War of the 1740s, he helped negotiate new treaties and alliances for the British with Native Americans.


Guyasuta was an important leader of the Seneca people in the second half of the eighteenth century, playing a central role in the diplomacy and warfare of that era. At young age, he and his family migrated along the Allegheny River and finally settled in Logstown, an Iroquois village in Pennsylvania. The paternal half of his ancestry were decorated warriors.

Western theater of the American Revolutionary War Area of conflict west of the Appalachian Mountains

The Western theater of the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) was the area of conflict west of the Appalachian Mountains, the region which became the Northwest Territory of the United States as well as the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri and Spanish Louisiana. The western war was fought between American Indians with their British allies in Detroit, and American settlers south and east of the Ohio River, and also the Spanish as allies of the latter.

Fort Pitt (Pennsylvania) A fort built by British forces between 1759 and 1761 during the French and Indian War

Fort Pitt was a fort built by British forces between 1759 and 1761 during the French and Indian War at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, where the Ohio River is formed in western Pennsylvania. It was near the site of Fort Duquesne, a French colonial fort built in 1754 as tensions increased between Great Britain and France in both Europe and North America. The French destroyed Fort Duquesne in 1758 when they retreated under British attack.

<i>The Light in the Forest</i>

The Light in the Forest is a novel first published in 1953 by U.S. author Conrad Richter. Though it is a work of fiction and primarily features fictional characters, the novel incorporates historic figures and is based in historical fact related to the late eighteenth century and period of the American Revolutionary War.

Crawford expedition 1781 campaign in the American Revolutionary War

The Crawford expedition, also known as the Sandusky expedition and Crawford's Defeat, was a United States campaign from May to June of 1782 on the western front of the American Revolutionary War, and one of the final operations of the conflict. Led by Colonel William Crawford, the campaign's goal was to destroy enemy Native American towns along the Sandusky River in the Ohio Country, with the hope of ending Indian attacks on American settlers. The expedition was one in a long series of raids against enemy settlements which both sides had conducted throughout the war.

Colonel Archibald Andrew Lochry was a colonial American military officer whose command ended in disaster when he and nearly every member of his force were killed or captured by Mohawk forces led by George Girty, the brother of Simon Girty, and Chief Joseph Brant. This skirmish is famously known in early American history as Lochry's Defeat.

Lochrys Defeat 1781 battle in Indiana, USA

Lochry's Defeat, also known as the Lochry massacre, was a battle fought on August 24, 1781, near present-day Aurora, Indiana, in the United States. The battle was part of the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), which began as a conflict between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies before spreading to the western frontier, where American Indians entered the war as British allies. The battle was short and decisive: about one hundred Indians of local tribes led by Joseph Brant, a Mohawk military leader who was temporarily in the west, ambushed a similar number of Pennsylvania militiamen led by Archibald Lochry. Brant and his men killed or captured all of the Pennsylvanians without suffering any casualties.

Northwestern Confederacy Confederation of Native American tribes in the Great Lakes region

The Northwestern Confederacy, or Northwestern Indian Confederacy, was a loose confederacy of Native Americans in the Great Lakes region of the United States created after the American Revolutionary War. Formally, the confederacy referred to itself as the United Indian Nations, at their Confederate Council. The confederacy, which had its roots in pan-tribal movements dating to the 1740s, formed in an attempt to resist the expansion of the United States and the encroachment of American settlers into the Northwest Territory after Great Britain ceded the region to the U.S. in the 1783 Treaty of Paris. American expansion resulted in the Northwest Indian War (1785–1795), in which the Confederacy won significant victories over the United States, but concluded with an U.S. victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The Confederacy became fractured and agreed to peace with the United States, but the pan-tribal resistance was later rekindled by Tenskwatawa and his brother, Tecumseh.

Custaloga, also known as Packanke, was a chief of the Delaware (Lenape) tribe in the mid-18th century. He was a member of the Wolf Clan through his mother. Captain Pipe was his nephew and succeeded him as chief.

Captain Pipe An 18th-century chief of the Algonquian-speaking Lenape (Delaware)

Captain Pipe (Lenape), called Konieschquanoheel and also known as Hopocan, was an 18th-century chief of the Algonquian-speaking Lenape (Delaware) and a member of the Wolf Clan. He succeeded his maternal uncle Custaloga as chief by 1773.

Indian Reserve (1763)

"Indian Reserve" is a historical term for the largely uncolonized land in North America that was claimed by France, ceded to Great Britain through the Treaty of Paris (1763) at the end of the Seven Years' War—also known as the French and Indian War—and set aside for the First Nations in the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The British government had contemplated establishing an Indian barrier state in the portion of the reserve west of the Appalachian Mountains, and bounded by the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and the Great Lakes. British officials aspired to establish such a state even after the region was assigned to the United States in the Treaty of Paris (1783) ending the American Revolutionary War, but abandoned their efforts in 1814 after losing military control of the region during the War of 1812.

George Morgan was a merchant, land speculator, and United States Indian agent during the American Revolutionary War, when he was given the rank of colonel in the Continental Army. He negotiated with Lenape and other Native American tribes in western Pennsylvania to gain their support during the American Revolutionary War. An associate of the Lenape chief White Eyes, Morgan cared for his son George Morgan White Eyes for several years after White Eyes died.

Alexander McKee was an agent in the British Indian Department during the French and Indian War, the American Revolutionary War, and the Northwest Indian War. He achieved the rank of colonel.

Daniel Brodhead IV American Revolutionary War general

Daniel Brodhead IV was an American military and political leader during the American Revolutionary War and early days of the United States.


Turtleheart was a Delaware (Lenape) principal warrior and chief who lived during the French and Indian Wars, and Pontiac's War. He and Lenape Chief Killbuck represented the Delaware Nation at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768.


Further reading