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Highlight: A Journey to the Northwest Frontier in 1783: The Journal of George McCully

Shawnee Indian“Indian of the Nation of the Shawanoes [Shawnee],” Jean Baptiste Tardieu, 1826. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Recently the Library of Congress mounted an exhibit titled Mapping a New Nation: Abel Buell’s Map of the United States, 1784. Exhibit curators wondered what it would have been like to travel across the eighteenth-century American landscape depicted by the map, and how to recreate that experience for visitors to the exhibit at the Library.

They found an answer in a journal kept by George McCully, an Indian trader and Revolutionary War soldier who lived near Pittsburgh. McCully kept the journal as he traveled through the wilderness area between Pittsburgh and Detroit in June and July, 1783. Today the journal is at the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.

McCully was traveling as a companion to fellow veteran, Indian trader, and Pennsylvanian Ephraim Douglass. Douglass had been sent by Secretary of War Benjamin Lincoln on a mission to the Indians of the Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York frontiers. Among Douglass’s qualifications was his ability to speak several Indian languages, apparently fluently enough to confuse the Indian he heard “hollow” (“holler,” or call) near the Scioto River. Douglass’s mission was to tell the Delaware, Wyandot, Shawnee, Mohawk, and other tribes of these regions that the United States and Britain were about to sign a treaty ending the war and the Indians would have to accept American sovereignty. Since some Indians of this region had sided with the British, and the British remained entrenched in their forts on the Great Lakes, Douglass found the Indian leaders he met politely resistant to his message.

Saturday, 14th [June 14, 1783]

. . . After an hours halt moved on crossing the ridge and soon came to the waters of Sioto [Scioto River, Ohio]. Crossed many small streams, and at sunset encamped on one. No sooner were our horses loosed to feed, than we were saluted with an Indian hollow which was immediately answered by Mr. Douglass, and desired to come up to us. He replied that it would be surprising if he would not, but was most surprised indeed when he found it was white men he was advancing to. Seeing him much alarmed Mr. Douglass and I stepped to him and took him by the hand, told our business, took every method to dissipate his fear which we soon effected. ... we spent the evening very sociably together. . . .

Journal of George McCully (1752-1793), [June] 7 - July 4, 1783,
Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

McCully journal

"We were saluted with an Indian hollow," George McCully Journal, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

McCully’s journal stops just as he and Douglass reached the British fort at Detroit, but the delegation continued on to the British forts at Niagara and Oswego and then to Princeton, New Jersey, where the American Congress was meeting. Ephraim Douglass’s August 1783 report to Secretary Lincoln covers the same ground as McCully and then continues where McCully left off.

Even though McCully’s journal isn’t complete, and despite the irregularity of his spelling and punctuation, his observant descriptions make the journal an extraordinarily rich primary source. Teachers and students can use McCully’s journal to learn more about the Revolutionary War, the landscape and inhabitants of eighteenth-century Pennsylvania and Ohio, and what it felt like to travel through the wilderness before there were the cars, planes, highways, and bridges that make the same trip quick and comfortable today.

Fort Niagra

Fort Niagara, 1815, William Strickland. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Scioto River photograph

The Scioto River in the twentieth century. The bridge was built in 1815. Historic American Engineering Record. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Use George McCully’s 1783 Journal With Your Students:

Read the Original Journal:

Images of the journal at the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress are online at: http://www.loc.gov/item/mm79005946.

Read a Published Transcription of the Journal:

Clarence M. Burton. Ephraim Douglass and his Times, A Fragment of History, With the Journal of George McCully (Hitherto Unpublished) and Various Letters of the Period. New York: William Abbat, 1910, pages 39-49. https://archive.org/details/ephraimdouglas00burtrich External link

Ideas and Questions:

Compare McCully and Douglass’s trip with a modern trip from Pittsburgh to Detroit. Try using a GPS or mapping website or application to see how modern forms of transportation have transformed the experience of travel through this region.

What was the same trip like during the age of railroads? Use the Railroad Map Collection of the Geography and Maps Division of the Library of Congress. For more Library of Congress maps online go to: http://www.loc.gov/maps/.

How did the population of this region change after the Revolutionary War? The first federal census was in 1790. From 1790 until the present the federal government has performed a census every ten years. Use the Historical Census Browser External linkfrom the University of Virginia to track population changes over time.

Online Resources:

Ephraim Douglass, Report to Secretary of War Benjamin Lincoln, August 18, 1783 in Pennsylvania Archives 10 (Philadelphia, 1854), pages 83-90. Online at Google Books.

Mapping a New Nation: Abel Buell’s Map of the United States, 1784
See how Library of Congress curators and designers combined excerpts from McCully’s journal with images from Abel Buell’s map in “Across a New Nation,” a section of the exhibit’s interactive display. Forthcoming.

Julie Miller, “A Journey to the Northwest Frontier in 1783: The Journal of George McCully,” Library of Congress Blog, April 29, 2014.

To learn why Congress was in Princeton: http://www.senate.gov/reference/reference_item/Nine_Capitals_of_the_United_States.htm External link

For more on the American Revolution:
http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/revolution/home.html

Bibliography:

Barnholth, William I. Hopocan (Capt. Pipe) the Delaware Chieftain. Akron, OH: Summit County Historical Society, 1966.

Butterfield, Consul Wilshire. An Historical Account of the Expedition Against Sandusky Under Col. William Crawford in 1782. Cincinnati, 1873.
Online at: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006785118 External link

Calloway, Colin G. The American Revolution in Indian Country. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Calloway, Colin. “Neither White nor Red: White Renegades on the American Indian Frontier.” Western Historical Quarterly 17 (1986): 43-66.

Demos, John. The Unredeemed Captive, A Family Story from Early America. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Horsman, Reginald, ed. Frontier Detroit, 1760-1812. [Milwaukee], 1964.

Horsman, Reginald. Matthew Elliott, British Indian Agent. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1964.

Maisner, John. “Crawford’s Defeat: Raids and Retaliations on the Frontier,” in Revolutionary Detroit: Portraits in Political and Cultural Change, 1760-1805 ed. Denver Brunsman and Joel Stone. Detroit Historical Society, 2009.

Mills, William Corless. Archeological Atlas of Ohio. Columbus: F.J. Heer for the [Ohio State Archaeological and Historical] Society, 1914.

O’Donnell, James H. “Captain Pipe’s Speech: A Commentary on the Delaware Experience, 1775-1781.” Northwest Ohio Quarterly 64 (Autumn, 1992): 126-133.

Sabine, Lorenzo. The American Loyalists, Biographical Sketches of Adherents to the British Crown in the War of the Revolution. Boston: C.C. Little and J. Brown, 1847. Online at: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000365264 External link

Seaver, James E. A Narrative of the Life of Mary Jemison. Ed. June Namias. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992 (and other editions).

Severance, Frank H. “The Niagara Peace Mission of Ephraim Douglass in 1783" in Peace Episodes on the Niagara. Buffalo, NY: Buffalo Historical Society, 1914, pages 115-142

Tanner, Helen Hornbeck. Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.

Taylor, Alan. The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.

Veech, James. The Monongahela of Old. Pittsburgh, 1910.
Online at: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009597763 External link

White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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