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Chalahgawtha (or, more commonly in English, Chillicothe) was the name of one of the five divisions (or bands) of the Shawnee, a Native American people, during the 18th century, as well as the name of the principal village of the division. The other four divisions were the Mekoche, Kispoko, Pekowi, and Hathawekela. (All five division names have been spelled in a great variety of ways.) Together these divisions formed the loose confederacy that was the Shawnee tribe.
By tradition, each Shawnee division had certain roles it performed on behalf of the entire tribe, although these customs were fading by the time they were recorded in writing by European-Americans. The Chillicothe division often provided political leadership for the tribe. A famous Chillicothe leader was Chief Blackfish.
The village where the chief of the Chillicothe division lived was also known as "Chillicothe". When this principal village was relocated, often as a result of war or the expansion of European-American settlement, the new village would be again be called "Chillicothe". Not all Shawnees living in the town belonged to the Chillicothe division, and some residents were from tribes other than the Shawnee. There are numerous Shawnee Chillicothe villages in the historical record, which has occasionally caused some confusion.
Chillicothes on the Scioto
Lower Shawnee Town was a large Shawnee town on the Ohio River, founded about 1738 by Shawnees. The name of the town was not recorded, but scholars believe it may have been "Chillicothe". The town grew to be a major trading hub in the years leading up to the French and Indian War, although it was of lesser political importance than Logstown, upriver on the Ohio. Members from most if not all five Shawnee divisions lived in the town, as well as an assortment of other Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans, with an estimated total population of 1,200 or more people. Lower Shawnee Town was abandoned after the fall of Fort Duquesne in 1758.
The next Chillicothe (1758–1787) was one of seven Shawnee villages on the west bank of the Scioto River, near Paint Creek and the present U.S. city of Chillicothe, Ohio. The village may have been settled in the 1750s as Shawnees were returning to the Ohio Country after having been driven out and scattered by the Iroquois decades earlier. Cheeseekau, older brother of Tecumseh, was probably born here about 1761. Tecumseh may have been born here in 1768, or at nearby Kisposko town. In 1762, Chillicothe contained about 300 warriors (perhaps 1,200 people), which meant that the majority of Shawnees then living in Ohio lived there.
European influences, especially in trade goods such as guns, kettles, and clothing, were prevalent among the Shawnee at this time. David Jones, a British missionary, visited the town in 1773 and noted that a British fur trader named Moses Henry lived there.
In the early 1770s, the Shawnee towns on the Scioto were the focus a Shawnee-led movement formed to resist British colonial expansion following the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix. The Shawnees were ultimately unsuccessful in forging a large alliance, however, and fought Dunmore's War in 1774 with little support from other tribes. An army from Virginia marched to the Scioto villages and forced the Shawnees to accept the boundary established in the Stanwix treaty.
After the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, many Chillicothe residents relocated northwest to the Little Miami River. Shawnee villagers continued to live on the Scioto, along with some Cherokees, until the village was attacked by Americans in 1787 during the Northwest Indian War.
Because of its prominence in the American Revolutionary War, Old Chillicothe (1774–1780) was the most famous of the Shawnee Chillicothe villages in American history. It is often known in historical writing as "Old Chillicothe" in order to distinguish it from the present Ohio city of Chillicothe. Settlement of the village began in 1774. Located on the Little Miami River, the area is now known as "Oldtown", near presentday Xenia.
Chillicothe was the home of Blackfish, war chief of the division. From here the Shawnees staged numerous raids into Kentucky, where they hoped to drive out the American settlers. Frontiersman Daniel Boone was captured in Kentucky in 1778 by Chief Blackfish and brought to Chillicothe with other prisoners. Boone was adopted into the tribe and lived for several months at Chillicothe. According to tradition the village was the birthplace of Tecumseh, the famous Shawnee leader. Tecumseh, however, was born in 1768, before this Chillicothe was settled. As mentioned above, he was likely born at a village on the Scioto River.
After Chief Blackfish unsuccessfully besieged Boonesborough, Kentucky in 1778, Kentuckians crossed the Ohio River and attacked Chillicothe on 29 May 1779. Blackfish successfully defended the town, but was shot in the leg and later died when the wound became infected. In 1780, in retaliation for Bird's invasion of Kentucky, George Rogers Clark led the Kentucky militia up the Little Miami River. Chillicothe was abandoned as Clark approached. Clark burned the town and destroyed the surrounding crops. (By some accounts, the Shawnees had burned the town before fleeing, to deny the Kentuckians plunder and supplies.) Clark marched further north and fought a battle at Pekowi town.
Chillicothe on the Great Miami River (1780–1782) was settled after the destruction of the previous village. Although a British army surrendered at Yorktown in October 1781, the war on the frontier continued unabated. In Kentucky, the Americans were defeated at the Battle of Blue Licks in August 1782, the worst defeat of the war for the Kentuckians. In retaliation, in November Clark led another expedition into Ohio, the last major campaign of the war. Chillicothe and four other villages were destroyed.
The next Chillicothe was on the St. Mary's River (1783–1790). Another Chillicothe (1788–1792) was located on the Maumee River, near present Fort Wayne, Indiana. A Chillicothe (1787–?) was located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, north of present Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
- Bakeless, John. Background to Glory: The Life of George Rogers Clark. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1957. Bison Book printing, 1992; ISBN 0-8032-6105-5.
- Edmunds, R. David. "Forgotten Allies: The Loyal Shawnees and the War of 1812" in David Curtis Skaggs and Larry L. Nelson, eds., The Sixty Years' War for the Great Lakes, 1754-1814, pp. 337–51. East Lansing: Michigan State U P, 2001. ISBN 0-87013-569-4.
- Henderson, A. Gwynn. "The Lower Shawnee Town on Ohio: Sustaining Native Autonomy in an Indian 'Republic'" in Craig Thompson Friend, ed., The Buzzel About Kentuck: Settling the Promised Land. Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 1999. ISBN 0-8131-2085-3.
- Sugden, John. Tecumseh: A Life. New York: Holt, 1997. ISBN 0-8050-4138-9 (hardcover); ISBN 0-8050-6121-5 (1999 paperback).
- Sugden, John. "Blackfish" in American National Biography. Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1999.
- Tanner, Helen Hornbeck, ed. Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1987.