George Croghan (1720-1782) was instrumental in negotiating Native American treaties that resulted in several tribes switching allegiances from the French to the British during the French and Indian War and the 1763 Anglo-Indian War fought on the North American continent.
In his extensive travels in the wilderness areas of pre-Revolutionary War America, Croghan became adept in Native American customs and, in more than one case, languages. These skills prompted the British occupational forces to enlist him to negotiate with several tribes to be more friendly toward the French. On one occasion, Croghan was held hostage by Native Americans, but otherwise he moved freely throughout the areas of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. In addition to serving as an appointed British official in the areas west of the Appalachian Mountains, Croghan was also a fur trapper and land speculator intent on capitalizing on Western expansionism by white settlers. His official capacity with the British government, however, led American colonialists to suspect him of working covertly against their efforts in the American Revolution, and he was twice accused of treason. He was a staunch defender of Native American culture, customs, and religion and also a land speculator who attempted to amass a fortune by purchasing land from Native Americans and selling it at a tremendous profit to white settlers.
Fur Trader and Government Agent
Little is known about Croghan's early life. His parents are unknown, as is the name of his first wife. He had a half-brother named Edward Ward Sr. and a brother-in-law named William Trent with whom he partnered in the fur trade. He fathered one European daughter and another by a Native American woman. He traveled to America in 1741 and became a fur trader in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His success was attributed to his practice of traveling to Native American villages to purchase pelts rather than waiting for the furs to be delivered to him. During this period he learned much about Native American customs and traditions. He had great admiration for these traditions, which his letters of the time state. He learned the Delaware and Iroquios languages. It is surmised that he learned the Mohawk language as well. Croghan was among the first English colonists to visit Kentucky, and he expanded his fur-trading operations throughout the Ohio and Illinois valleys. By the early 1750s, Crogan had established several trading posts throughout Pennsylvania. His rapid expansion and inability to protect his storehouses from thieving competitors, however, forced him into bankruptcy in 1853.
Croghan's work as a government agent working to secure peace with the Native American tribes began in February 1750, when he and Andrew Montour represented the colonial government of Pennsylvania at Big Mineamis Creek. In 1751, he accepted a mission in Logstown, where several Native American tribes held a large council. In June 1753, his Native American trading partners were captured by Native Americans in collusion with the French and sent to Montreal. Croghan opened another post near Cumberland, Maryland, the following year. He served as a captain with General Edward Braddock during the French and Indian War in 1754 and 1755 and was with George Washington at Fort Necessity. In 1756, Superintendent Sir William Johnston appointed Croghan deputy superintendent of Indian affairs for the northern colonies. Headquartered at Fort Pitt from 1758 to 1772, he helped negotiate treaties with the tribes west of the Six Nations and north of the Ohio River, including the Shawnees, Delawares, Miamis, Wyandots, and Ottawas, many of the same groups he had become familiar with as a fur trader. Following the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1760, the responsibility fell upon Croghan to inform the tribes allied with the French that the British would be taking over the French forts.
In 1761, Croghan and Johnson represented British interests at another council of Native American tribes held in the Michigan-territory outpost of Detroit. Croghan was instrumental in ending the Anglo-Indian War of 1863, which began when Sir Jeffery Amherst ordered an end to gift giving by the British to Native Americans. Failing to make Amherst understand the value Native Americans placed upon this custom, Croghan purchased gifts from his own monies to forestall armed conflict. He attempted to resign from his deputy supervisor position in 1762 and 1763, but both resignations were rejected. The Seneca and Shawnee tribes attempted to drive the British out of the territory previously occupied by the French, and the British monarchy attempted to settle the dispute by forbidding new settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains in the Proclamation of 1763. In 1765, Croghan was commissioned to accept a French surrender at Fort de Chartres. En route, his contingent was attacked by Kickapoo and Mascouten tribe members, who killed three Shawnee chiefs escorting him and captured Croghan. He wrote to his friend Captain Murray about the incident: "I got the stroke of a Hatchet on the Head, but my skull being pretty thick, the hatchet would not enter, so you may see a thick skull is of service on some occasions." The angered Shawnee threatened retaliation against the Kickapoo, who in turn released Croghan to the Miami tribe and instructed the Miami to tell the British to massacre the Shawnee. While in custody of the Miami tribe, Croghan corresponded with Chief Pontiac, and the two men met in Detroit to sign a peace treaty. Croghan was able to later negotiate Kickapoo and Mascouten consent for the British to occupy the French forts.
While arguing for fair treatment of Native Americans, Croghan clearly intended to remove them from their lands and replace them with white settlers and amass a huge profit for himself. Croghan visited England in 1764 to discuss the status of Native American relations. He particularly wanted all treaties to be negotiated between the tribes and the British Crown rather than the American colonies. Croghan also attempted to secure for himself a deed for 200,000 acres in New York. His request was denied, but the Crown issued him 10,000 acres in 1768. Throughout the 1750s and 1760s, Croghan amassed enormous parcels of land along the Susquehanna and Ohio rivers on behalf of business partners and other speculators. In 1868, he negotiated a 2.5-million-acre grant from a consortium of Native American tribes as restitution for his own losses during the Anglo-Indian War. This land extended from the borders of Pennsylvania and Ohio to the Little Kanawha and Monongahela rivers. Called the Indiana Grant, Crogan arranged to include it as part of the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, which angered many colonialists. Hedging his bets, Croghan attempted to supersede the Indiana Grant with his idea for the Vandalia colony. The 20-million-acre Vandalia included the Indiana Grant acreage and was supported by Virginia politicians. However, the Crown, concerned about the rebellious attitude in the colonies, decided to cancel the Vandalia project to appease potential unrest with Native Americans. According to Dictionary of American Biography, "the outbreak of the Revolution, however, wrecked all of Croghan's extensive land operations." He would not recover his losses.
In 1775, Croghan declared his allegiance to the American colonies in their attempt to seek independence from Britain. His service for the British department of Native American affairs, however, prompted suspicions concerning his loyalty. Furthering these suspicions were the facts that many of his former workers in the department had sworn fealty to the Crown, and that Croghan's own son-in-law, Augustine Prevost, was a commissioned officer in the British military. Croghan's resignation was forced in 1777, and, one year later, his name appeared on a list of traitors. He was brought to trial but acquitted. General George Washington tried him later for treason in 1782, but some historians believe that Washington was seeking revenge for a land dispute with Croghan. The two men reportedly had laid opposing claims for the same parcel of land at separate times, and Croghan's claim preceded Washington's. Called Croghan Plantation, the property extended from the forks of the Ohio River to Turtle Creek in Pennsylvania. The Plantation was burned to the ground in 1763 during Chief Pontiac's uprising. Rather than rebuild it, Croghan offered to sell it to Washington in 1770. This angered Washington and, in 1782, he charged Croghan with treason. Croghan died two weeks later on August 31, in Passyunk near Philadelphia, before he could be brought to trial.
Dictionary of American Biography Base set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936, http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (March 7, 2002).
Garrity, James A., and Mark C. Carnes, editors, American National Biography, Volume V, Oxford University Press, New York, 1999, pp. 753-54.
Johnson, Alan, and Dumas Malone, editors., Dictionary of American Biography, Volume IV, Charles Scribners Sons, New York, 1930, p, 557.
Stephens, Sir Leslie, and Sir Sidney Lee, editors, Dictionary of National Biography, Volume V, Oxford University Press, New York, 1963-64.
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