Croghan, George

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Croghan, George


near Dublin, Ireland


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Trader, Indian agent, and landowner

"I always took him for an honest man, and have as yet no reason to think otherwys [sic] of him."

Conrad Weiser, U.S. Indian Affairs Advisor.

George Croghan was a trader and landowner in the English colony of Pennsylvania during the expansion of the western frontier. In Croghan's day, the frontier was the boundary between Pennsylvania and the unsettled territory that became Ohio. An adventurous man, Croghan was enthusiastic about trading with the Native Americans in that region, and he established friendly relations with the Seneca tribe around Lake Erie. The French were dominant in this region and soon came into conflict with the English, whom Croghan represented. Croghan's attempts to bolster trade in the Pennsylvania colony became legendary.

Becomes trader

George Croghan was born in Ireland. He left Ireland in 1741 during a potato famine (failure of potato crops that resulted in widespread starvation) and settled in the Pennsylvania colony. At the time he arrived, trade between colonists and Native Americans had expanded westward beyond the Allegheny Mountains and into Ohio. Commerce was now thriving along the banks of the Ohio River and the shores ofLake Erie. Wealthy Pennsylvania merchants like Edward Shippen made a lot of money exchanging European goods for Native American furs (at the time such transactions were called "the Indian trade"). The first historical reference to Croghan is dated June 1742, when he was asked to deliver some goods from Shippen to Peter Tostee, another prominent Pennsylvania trader who had brought Croghan into the trading business. Several months later Croghan accompanied Tostee on a venture in Ohio.

In 1743 Croghan purchased land in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The following year he launched an expedition to trade with the Senecas, whose village was located near the mouth of the Cuyahoga River on Lake Erie (the area that is now Cleveland, Ohio). The Lake Erie region had already been claimed by the French, whose headquarters were in Detroit (in present-day Michigan). At the time, French traders were attempting to gain control of the region by urging allied Native American tribes to attack the English. In March 1744, England declared war on France. During the following winter Croghan remained at the Seneca village and continued trading. In the spring of 1745, however, he had to flee after a Frenchman accused him of trespassing.

On his way to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Croghan met up with Tostee's trading party. Tostee reported that he and his men had just been attacked by Shawnee Indians who were allied with the French. During the conflict, the Shawnee had taken everything, including some furs that belonged to Croghan. When the Croghan and Trostee parties reached Philadelphia they met with Shippen, who was now mayor of the city. In an attempt to influence any remaining Shawnee who were not allied with the French, the Pennsylvania Council (the governing body of the colony) decided to offer a gift of European-made goods to the Native Americans. This plan, which was not traditional government practice, was probably Croghan's idea. He would continue to use this method to convince Ohio tribes not to join the French.

Builds plantation and becomes important trader

In 1746 Croghan purchased 171 acres of land on the Conedogwinet Creek in Pennsborough Township. On the land he built Pennsborough plantation, which would be his home for the next five years. The following winter he returned to Ohio to live among the Senecas at Cuyahoga in the Lake Erie region. Meanwhile, the English gained dominance in the area and Croghan conducted more trade than ever before. In response to the strong English presence, the French commander at Detroit was ordered to send Native Americans to attack the English traders. This effort failed, however, because many Native Americans were ending their alliances with the French.

By now Pennsborough plantation had become Croghan's headquarters for trade with Native peoples in Ohio. Furs and other Native American goods were shipped from the plantation in the same wagons that had delivered European products. On the estate he operated a tannery (a shop where animal hides are made into leather) and a shop where Native American goods were sold to the public. He also raised cattle and horses and owned African slaves.

Attack sparks uprising

An important center of trade in the Lake Erie region was the village of Sandusky (now a city in Ohio). Croghan's growing business interests played a big part in the success of Sandusky. In 1747, the village was also the site of a massacre that sparked a major uprising. Five French traders on their way to Detroit stopped in Sandusky, not knowing that local Native Americans were loyal to the English. They were attacked and murdered by Wyandots and Senecas. Afterwards, Native groups mounted raids in the entire area, searching for other French traders who had ventured into English territory. Although the French were ultimately victorious, they lost many men and one of their forts was partially burned. The French directly blamed Croghan and the English for sparking the Native American attacks.

During the uprising the Pennsylvania Council made another gift of European goods to the Ohio tribes to ensure their continued support against the French. Once again the plan was Croghan's idea. The chief governmental adviser on Indian affairs, Conrad Weiser, agreed to Croghan's suggestion that the Native Americans be given a huge shipment of goods—including lead, gunpowder, and liquor. Accumulating these items was a major undertaking, however, and Croghan soon became concerned that the Native Americans would ally themselves with the French before he could get the entire shipment together. To remedy the situation, the Pennsylvania Council decided to have him give the Native Americans a portion of the shipment.

A group of fifteen tribal representative arrived in Lancaster the day the delivery took place. Pennsylvania officials thanked the Native Americans for taking part in the uprising against the French and told the representatives that Croghan would deliver their partial gift. Weiser escorted the Native Americans to Harris's Ferry where they met with Croghan, who handed over a portion of the lead, gunpowder, and liquor. He also provided them with horses for their return trip to Ohio. Before departing, the Indians mentioned that if they had not received assistance they would have joined the French, who were gaining strength in Ohio. Croghan's quick thinking appeased the Native Americans and resulted in more English trade in Ohio.

Prosperity threatens Six Nations

The meeting between the Twightwees, a Native American tribe in present-day Ohio, and the Pennsylvania Council in 1747 was an unprecedented event. William Penn (see entry), the proprietor of the Pennsylvania colony, had previously dealt only with the Iroquois Confederacy. In the seventeenth century, the Iroquois Confederacy was known as the League of Five Nations, an alliance comprised of the Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas, and Mohawks, Native American groups who lived in New York State. In the following century it became the League of Six Nations with the incorporation of the Tuscaroras. The Onondaga village served as the capital, where the confederacy made decisions concerning wars and treaties. However, in the 1740s, the vast contingent of Native American groups settling in Ohio threatened the power of the Six Nations. Ohio was located far from New York, and Ohio tribes were thriving because of the prosperous fur trade. As a result, tribes such as the Twightwees were able to strike out independently and make their own treaties.

Twightwees become English allies

Finally, in the winter of 1747, the larger gift that was promised to the Ohio Indians was ready. In addition to gunpowder and lead, this delivery also included guns, knives, and hatchets. Once again, delivery of the gift was delayed. Weiser, who was supposed to transport the shipment to Ohio, received news that the uprising had ended. Therefore, he thought the gift was unnecessary. The Pennsylvania Council, however, insisted that it be delivered whether or not the Indians were still at war. At the time, Croghan was at his Pennsborough plantation impatiently awaiting the shipment, and the council told him to proceed to Ohio to deliver a token gift and inform the Native Americans of the delay.

Croghan set out for Ohio in April. After arriving later that month, he met with Indians in Logstown, a trading post on the Ohio River. Croghan realized that he did not bring enough supplies to distribute among the one thousand five hundred Indians. Therefore, he added some of his own supplies to the token gift. At the time, in typical Croghan fashion, he had planned to charge the government for the extra supplies. During a meeting at Logstown, Native Americans informed Croghan that the Twightwee tribe had agreed to form an alliance with the English. Finally, Croghan returned to Philadelphia in June with the good news, as well as a bill for the extra supplies.

Tribes finally rewarded

Croghan informed the Pennsylvania Council that the Twightwees were to arrive at Lancaster on July 15 to negotiate a treaty. The meeting took place at the courthouse in Lancaster. Croghan, who attended the proceedings as a witness, signed his name to the treaty between the English and the Twightwees. The alliance would be highly beneficial to the English. Not only would it increase their military strength, but it would also help their trade business. Since the Twightwees controlled a vast region in Ohio and were no longer under French command, the English were now free to increase their trade activity in the area.

After the treaty was signed, Croghan set out with the Twightwees for his Pennsborough plantation. Upon returning to his plantation, Croghan began preparing the gift that he and Weiser were to deliver to Ohio. When Weiser arrived, the two men embarked on the long journey to Logstown to meet with the Native Americans, who were anxiously awaiting their arrival. The gift from the Pennsylvania Council, which had taken so long to prepare, finally reached Logstown. Weiser, acting as interpreter, informed the Native Americans that the Twightwees were now allies of the English and that the war between England and France was over.

Serves as diplomat

In 1756 Croghan began a twenty-year career as a government Indian agent for Pennsylvania. Because of his good

Croghan's warning

After working for many years as a successful trader, George Croghan had a twenty-year career as an agent for the Indian Department in Pennsylvania. When he was a trader he started the practice of giving gifts of such items as gunpowder, lead, and liquor to Native American tribes to win their allegiance. Although gift-giving was against English government policy, Croghan continued the practice when he worked with the Indian Department. In 1763 he wrote a letter to William Johnson, head of the department, warning of the dire consequences of not giving presents to Native Americans:

The Indians are a very jealous people and they had great expectations of being very generally supplied by us, and from their poverty and mercenary disposition, they can't bear such a disappointment. Undoubtedly the General [Jeffrey Amherst, the British military commander in Pennsylvania] has his own reason for not allowing any presents or ammunition to be given to them, and I wish it may have its desired effect, but I take this opportunity to acquaint you that I dread the event, as I know the Indians can't long persevere. They are a rash, inconsistent people and inclined to mischief and never will consider consequences, though it may end in their ruin. Their success at the beginning of this war [the French and Indian Wars] on our frontiers is too recent in their memory to suffer them to consider their present inability to make war with us, and if the Senecas, Delawares, and Shawnees should break with us, it will end in a general war with all the western nations, though they at present seem jealous of each other. For my part, I am resolved to resign if the General does not liberalize our expenditures for Indian affairs. I don't choose to be begging eternally for such necessaries as are wanted to carry on the service, nor will I support it at my own expense. There are great troubles ahead. How it may end the Lord knows, but I assure you I am of opinion it will not be long before we shall have some quarrels with them.

Source: Eckert, Allan W. The Conquerors: A Narrative. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970, pp. 130–31.

relations with Native Americans, he was an excellent diplomat. In 1763, however, Croghan's home was burned to the ground by a Delaware raiding party. Croghan died in Philadelphia in 1782. He now stands as one of the legendary figures on the colonial frontier, and his life is regarded as a typically American success story. Along the way, he managed to forge close bonds with Native Americans and his influence was acknowledged by the government of Pennsylvania. Although his policy of rewarding the Indians with gifts was not traditional practice in Pennsylvania, it was an effective means of winning the allegiance of Ohio tribes. His success in business, as is evidenced by his thriving Pennsborough plantation operation, helped to open up the western territory for trade and eventual exploration.

For further research

Eckert, Allan W. The Conquerors: A Narrative. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970.

Wainwright, Nicholas B. George Croghan: Wilderness Diplomat. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1959.

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