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Blue Jacket

From Academic Kids

Blue Jacket or Weyapiersenwah (c. 1745 – c.1810) was a war chief of the Shawnee people, known for his militant defense of Shawnee lands in the Ohio Country. Perhaps the preeminent American Indian leader in the Northwest Indian War, in which a pan-tribal confederacy fought several battles with the nascent United States, he was an important predecessor of the famous Shawnee leader Tecumseh.


Contents

Who was Blue Jacket?

Little is known of Blue Jacket's early life. In 1877, decades after his death, a story was published claiming that Blue Jacket was in fact a white man named Marmaduke Van Swearingen, who had been captured and adopted by the Shawnee around the time of the American Revolutionary War. This story was popularized in books written by Allan Eckert, and remains well known in Ohio, where an outdoor drama celebrating the life of the white Indian chief is performed year after year.

Despite the persistence of this tale, many have questioned its authenticity. Academic historians such as Blue Jacket biographer John Sugden and the late Francis Jennings consider Eckert's books, which are billed as history, to be works of fiction. In 2000, DNA testing of the descendants of Blue Jacket and Van Swearingen gave additional support to the argument that Blue Jacket was not Van Swearingen. According to Sugden, nothing in the contemporary historical record indicates that Blue Jacket was anything other than a Shawnee Indian by birth.

Struggle for the Old Northwest

Blue Jacket participated in Dunmore's War and the American Revolutionary War (allied with the British), always attempting to maintain Shawnee land rights. With the British defeat in the American Revolutionary War, the Shawnee lost valuable assistance in defending the Ohio Country. The struggle continued as white settlement in Ohio escalated, and Blue Jacket was a prominent leader of the resistance.

On November 3, 1791, a pan-tribal Indian army led by Blue Jacket and Miami Chief Little Turtle (Michikinikwa) defeated an American expedition led by Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory. The battle, known as St. Clair's Defeat, was the crowning achievement of Blue Jacket's military career, and the most severe defeat ever inflicted upon the United States by Native Americans. Traditional accounts of the battle tend to give most of the credit for the victory to Little Turtle. John Sugden argues that Little Turtle's prominence is due in large measure to Little Turtle's self-promotion in later years.

Blue Jacket's triumph was short-lived. The Americans were alarmed by St. Clair's Defeat, and raised a new professional army, commanded by General Anthony Wayne. On August 20, 1794, Blue Jacket's confederacy clashed with Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, just south of present-day Toledo, Ohio. Blue Jacket's army was defeated, and he was compelled to sign the Treaty of Greenville on August 3, 1795, ceding much of present-day Ohio to the United States. In 1805, Blue Jacket also signed the Treaty of Fort Industry, relinquishing even more of Ohio. In Blue Jacket's final years, he saw the rise to prominence of Tecumseh, who would take up the banner and make the final attempts to reclaim Shawnee lands in the Ohio Country.

Blue Jacket has Shawnee descendants to the present day.

Reference

  • Sugden, John. Blue Jacket: Warrior of the Shawnees. University of Nebraska Press, 2000.

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