Brigadier General Ephraim
Ephraim Douglass was the son
of Adam Douglass, a Scot, and was born in Carlisle, in 1750. At the
age of 18 he went to Fort Pitt, where he worked for a few years as a
carpenter. He afterward engaged in the Indian trade at Pittsburg and
Kittanning in partnership with Devereux Smith and Richard Butler.
The Indian Peacemaker
The residents of the frontier, in the opening of 1783, were happy in
the expectation of peace, when they were startled and distressed by
a series of Indian depredations. Several small parties of savages,
in the latter part of March and the first week of April, invaded
Westmoreland and Washington counties, struck severe blows and
escaped quickly into the wilderness.
Four Indians appeared at
a clearing in the valley of Brush creek, killed James Davis and his
son in a field, took two other men captive and tried to break into
the cabin, which was defended by a woman and an old man. One of the
Indians tried to pry open the door with his gun, which he thrust in
between the door and its frame. The man and the woman within seized
the gun barrel and broke it loose from its stock, whereupon the
Indians went away.
In Washington county a man was killed
within a mile of the new county seat on Chartiers creek, and a dozen
persons were captured. Two of the prisoners, Mrs. Walker and a boy,
regained their liberty, but the others were carried to the Shawnee
towns on the headwaters of the Big Miami river.
Some of the
frontiersmen suspected that these raids were made by bands that had
been out hunting all winter, and did not know of the peace made
between Great Britain and the United States, or of the orders issued
by the British commanders. Fear was felt that the Indians might keep
up the war without British support, and appeals were sent to
Philadelphia for peace treaties with the savage tribes. On April 4
the Pennsylvania Council asked Congress to take some action to
pacify the Indians, and on April 29 the request was repeated, with
the statement that 40 persons had been killed and captured, since
spring opened, on the Pennsylvania frontiers.
Two days later
Congress voted to send a messenger into the Indian country to inform
the tribes that the King of Great Britain had been compelled to make
peace with the United States; that the British had agreed to
evacuate the forts at Detroit and Niagara, leaving the Indians to
take care of themselves, and that the United States desired peace
with the Indians, but were prepared for vigorous action if the
tribes should prefer war. To execute this hard and dangerous mission
the Secretary at War, Major General Benjamin Lincoln, chose Major
Ephraim Douglass, of Pittsburg.
In 1776 Douglass was appointed by Congress quartermaster of the
Eighth Pennsylvania regiment. He was captured by the British at
Bound Brook, N. J., on April 13, 1777, and for more than two years
was a prisoner in New York. After his exchange, much broken in
health, he was made the assistant commissary for the department of
Fort Pitt. In the autumn of 1781 he was sent on a dangerous mission
alone into the Indian country of Southern Ohio, and did not return
until May, 1782. Major Douglass was a tall man, of great strength.
His fearlessness, energy and persistence, added to his knowledge of
the Indian country, recommended him to the Secretary at War.
Douglass was accompanied on his journey by Captain George McCully,
who had been associated with him in the Indian trade and had served
with distinction in the Revolution, and by a wilderness guide. These
three men, well mounted and carrying a white flag, left Fort Pitt on
June 7, 1783, and rode to the Sandusky river, where they arrived on
June 16. They went to the principal tower of the Delawares, where
they were received with cordiality by Captain Pipe, the chief
sachem. With him, for one reason and another, the messengers were
compelled to remain for two weeks. The Indians were extremely
punctilious in all matters of negotiations, either for peace or war,
clinging to ancient forms with much solemn ceremony. While Captain
Pipe declared himself to be strongly in favor of peace, he declined
to enter into a council on the subject until after Major Douglass
had treated with the Wyandots and the Shawnees. This was because the
Wyandots and the Shawnees had taken up the hatchet first and had
forced the Delawares into the war.
The chief of the Wyandots
along the Sandusky river was Dunquat, the celebrated Half-King, and
he was away at Detroit, but his wife thought that he would soon come
home, and persuaded Douglass to wait for him. Captain Pipe was kind
enough to send a runner to the Shawnee towns on the Big Miami,
asking their chiefs to come to Sandusky to meet the American agent.
In five days this runner returned with the news that the Shawnees
had just been called to Detroit, to attend a great Indian council
with the British commander there.
Pipe now advised Douglass
to go to Detroit and meet all the Indian chiefs in the British
presence. Dunquat did not return at the time his wife expected him,
and Pipe said that even the Half-King could not make peace with the
Americans without the authority of the Wyandot great council, which
had its seat in Canada, near Detroit. Douglass, therefore, decided
to go to the British fort, and on the last day of June he and
McCully set forth, in company with Captain Pipe and two other
Delawares. The time spent by Douglass at Sandusky had not been
wasted. He had talked much with Pipe and other chiefs, and had
influenced them to a friendly feeling toward the American states. He
had likewise made a good impression among the old men and women in
the Wyandot towns.
On the second day of their journey
Douglass and his companions were met by Captain Matthew Elliott and
three cther persons, sent by Lieutenant Colonel DePeyster, the
commander at Detroit, to conduct the Americans to the British post.
This Elliott was one of the tories who had fled from Pittsburg in
the spring of 1778, and he and Douglass had formerly been
acquainted. Elliott carried a letter from DePeyster, inviting
Douglass to attend the Indian council at Detroit.
arrived at the British post on July 4 and had a very civil
reception. DePeyster lodged him well and treated him kindly.
Douglass soon learned, however, that the British commander would not
permit him to hold a conference with the Indian chiefs.
DePeyster pleaded that he had no authority from his government to
permit such a conference. He objected, moreover, to some of the
language in Douglass's letter of instruction. It would never do to
allow the Indians to be told that the King of England had been
compelled to make peace. Such a statement might lead the tribes to
feel a dangerous contempt for the British power. Neither was
DePeyster willing that Douglass should tell the Indians that the
British had agreed to evacuate Detroit. He had no knowledge that
such an agreement had been made. He advised Douglass to go down to
Niagara and state the terms of his mission to Brigadier General
Allan Maclean, who had greater authority in such affairs.
DePeyster did give material assistance to the object of Douglass's
journey, by persuading the Indians to peace. On July 6 the great
council was held in Fort Detroit. It was attended by the chiefs of
ii tribes,, representing nearly all the Indians from the Scioto
river to Lake Superior. To them DePeyster made a long talk,
conveying the essential part of Douglass's message. He told the
chiefs of the peace between Great Britain and the United States, and
that he could no longer give them help in their war against the
Americans. He announced that the Americans desired peace with the
Indian tribes, and had sent Major Douglass to invite them to a
treaty, and he advised all the Indians to cease their warfare
against the United States.
This address had a good effect on
the assembled savages, and although they could hold no council with
the American envoy, they surrounded his lodging and saluted him with
pronounced expressions of friendship. On the day after the council
Douglass and McCully left Detroit and traveled overland, through
Ontario, toward Niagara. At that British post, which they reached in
four days, General Maclean raised the same objections as those
offered by Lieutenant Colonel DePeyster. He would not permit Major
Douglass to speak directly to the Iroquois chiefs, but on his own
account and through Colonel Butler, the Indian superintendent, he
informed the chiefs of the desires of the United States for peace
with all the tribes.
While at Fort Niagara, Douglass had a
long private conversation with Joseph Brant, the celebrated war
chief of the Mohawks, and did what he could to persuade Brant of the
kindly intentions of the Americans toward the Indians.
General Maclean urged Douglass to go to Quebec and confer with the
governor general of Canada, but the major felt that he had
fulfilled, as far as possible, the duties of his mission, and
desired to return to the states. General Maclean sent him by boat to
Oswego, whence Douglass journeyed, by way of Albany, to Princeton,
N. J., where the federal government was then located, and made his
report to General Lincoln.
This mission of Douglass effected
complete peace on the frontiers. To his efforts were due the
cessation of the Indian War of the Revolution on the borders of New
York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
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