Miami tribal leader
Old Briton. Memeskia was a leader of the Piankashaw band of the Miamis, a tribe living in present-day northern Indiana and Ohio. As a youth he traveled extensively on the Ohio River and lived on the lower Wabash River. Later he lived in a village in northeastern Indiana, near present-day Fort Wayne. Known as Old Briton because of his affinity for the British and their superior trade goods, Memeskia believed that his people would be better off severing ties with their former allies, the French. Both the French and British settlements were thinly spread over the Ohio territory, and the Miamis had a degree of independence regardless of their alliance. Memeskia may have been motivated by the hope of manipulating the two European powers to his advantage.
British Ally. In early 1747, when a British-sponsored uprising against the French failed, Memeskia led the Miamis to the new village of Pickawillany. Strategically located at the confluence of the Great Miami River and Loramie’s Creek in western Ohio, it was far enough east that any French raiders would be detected before they got close. But it was near enough to the Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Illinois, and other tribes living in present-day Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois for trade and accessible to the British traders of Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Diplomacy. During the winter of 1749–1750 Pickawillany became a large center of the Indian trade, attracting new residents, including three hundred Weas and Piankashaws who arrived in the spring. During the summer Memeskia accepted gifts from the French but ignored their demands to relocate nearer to them; that November the British sent their own presents to assure his loyalty. By 1751 Memeskia declared war on the French and made plans to meet the British to formalize an alliance. But Memeskia feared to leave his village unguarded and could not attend the planned council. French raiders reached Pickawillany while Memeskia and his warriors were out on the fall hunt, but with too few troops to attack. Returning from the hunt, Memeskia executed three French prisoners and had the ears cut off a fourth; the ears were sent back as a warning.
War. In the spring of 1752 the French attacked Pickawillany in strength, capturing women in the cornfields, disarming men in the village, seizing property, and forcing Memeskia and twenty warriors into the stockade. Outnumbered ten to one, Memeskia reluctantly accepted the French leader’s offer of a cease-fire and the return of his Miami prisoners in exchange for the surrender of the stockade and its British trading post. Once the prisoners were exchanged, however, the French and their Indian allies took bitter revenge. Ottawa and Ojibwa (or Chippewa) warriors killed Memeskia and mutilated his body. After cutting out his heart and eating it they boiled his body and consumed it in front of the villagers.
R. David Edmunds, “Old Briton,” in American Indian Leaders: Studies in Diversity, edited by Edmunds (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1980), pp. 1–20;
Neal Salisbury, “Native People and European Settlers in Eastern North America, 1600–1783,” in The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, volume 1, North America, edited by Bruce G. Trigger and Wilcomb E. Washburn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 440–441.