Simon Girty

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

Simon Girty (1741 – February 18, 1818) aka Katepacomen [1] was an American colonial of Scots-Irish birth who served as a liaison between the British and their Native American allies during the American Revolution. He was portrayed as a villain, called "the White Savage", in many early history texts of the United States, and was also featured this way in nineteenth and early twentieth-century United States fiction.

As children, Girty and his brothers were taken captive in Pennsylvania in a Seneca raid and adopted by families. 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 Native Americans.

Biography[edit]

Born in Pennsylvania, Girty and his brothers were taken prisoners as children by the Seneca and adopted by them. Girty did not return to his birth family for seven years, by which time he had become fully assimilated with the Seneca and preferred their way of life.

During the American Revolution, Girty first sided with the colonial revolutionaries. Like many other Scots-Irish, 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.

On October 1, 1779, Girty and Alexander McKee, another Scots-Irish Loyalist, with the aid of a large force of Native Americans, attacked and killed American forces in present-day Kentucky, who 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.

Girty was present during the ritual torture and execution of Continental Army Colonel William Crawford by the Lenape war chief Captain Pipe. Two American witnesses of this torture and execution survived and were later interviewed regarding these events. One suggested that Girty was a pitiless instigator. The other claimed that Girty pleaded with the Native Americans on Crawford's behalf until threatened with death himself. The former account was popularized and served to vilify Girty during and after his lifetime. Later historians have understood that such ritual torture was part of Lenape practice for warriors.

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

Resettlement in Lower Canada[edit]

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.

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 had failing eyesight. Girty returned to his farm after the war and died in 1818, completely blind, in Canada.

Representation in culture[edit]

  • Simon Girty, the Outlaw. An Historical Romance (1846), was a novel by Uriah James Jones portraying him as a renegade.
  • Simon Girty: "The White Savage" A Romance of the Border (1880) was a novel by Charles McKnight.
  • Simon Girty, along with his brothers, are vilified Zane Grey's frontier trilogy series, Betty Zane, Spirit of the Border and The Last Trail.
  • Joseph Altsheler features Simon Girty as a turncoat and villain in several of his "Young Trailer Series" of eight juvenile fiction books, published from 1907-1911.
  • Simon Girty was featured as one of the jury members in Stephen Vincent Benet's short story "The Devil and Daniel Webster" and in the 1941 movie of the same title. In that story, he is described as "the renegade, who saw white men burned at the stake and whooped with the Indians to see them burn".
  • Hugh Henry Brackenridge edited the detailed recollections of a witness to Crawford's execution. Published as Dr. Knight's Narrative, this account influenced Girty's reputation as a renegade. 20th-century historians have researched the account and questioned the bias of Brackenridge in his version.[2]
  • Simon Girty is featured as a character in Julius de Gruyter's novel Drum Beats on the Sandusky (1969). This novel portrays one of Crawford's young volunteer soldiers' reprieve from Indian capture and his subsequent adventures under Girty's custody.
  • Canadian playwright Ed Butts wrote a play entitled, The Fame of Simon Girty.
  • Girty: Historical Fiction in Prose and Poetry, by Richard Taylor.[3]
  • Girty appears as a character in the fictional novel The Dakota Cipher by William Dietrich.
  • He is featured as an ambiguous renegade character in Hugo Pratt's graphic novel Fort Wheeling (1962).
  • Girty is featured in the Deerfoot novels by Edward S. Ellis.
  • He is the main character in Indian Lover by Lewis Owen
  • He is the main character in the graphic novel, Wilderness: The True Story of Simon Girty, The Renegade by Timothy Truman, published from 1989-1990.
  • He is mentioned in Flood Tides Along the Allegheny.
  • Simon Girty is the central character of historical drama "The White Savage" at Trumpet in the Land in New Philadephia, Ohio.[4]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ His Shawnee name. https://archive.org/stream/watsonsmagazines154wats#page/283/mode/1up
  2. ^ Parker B. Brown, "The Historical Accuracy of the Captivity Narrative of Doctor John Knight," The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, vol. 70, no. 1 (January 1987), pp. 53–67, cited in Allan W. Eckert, That Dark and Bloody River
  3. ^ Wind Publications
  4. ^ http://www.trumpetintheland.com

References[edit]

  • Barr, Daniel. "'A Monster So Brutal': Simon Girty and the Degenerative Myth of the American Frontier, 1783-1900", Essays in History (editor) Ed Lengel. University of Virginia, 1998, p. 40.
  • Boyd, Thomas. Simon Girty: The White Savage. New York: 1928.
  • Butterfield, Consul Willshire. History of the Girtys. Cincinnati: Clarke, 1890.
  • Calloway, Collin. "Simon Girty: Interpreter and Intermediary". In Being and Becoming Indian: Biographical Studies of North American Frontiers, edited by James A. Clifton, 38–58. Chicago: Dorsey, 1989.
  • Ferling, John. "Simon Girty". American National Biography. Ed. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Leighton, Douglas. "Simon Girty". Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, 1983.
  • Eckert, Allan W. That Dark And Bloody River. Bantam: 1995.
  • Hoffman, Phillip W. Simon Girty Turncoat Hero: The Most Hated Man on the Early American Frontier. American History Press: 2008

Further reading[edit]