There are so many fascinating stories in the old thick volumes of “Historical Collections of Ohio” by Henry Howe.
My dad had a copy that was printed in 1852. I would love to curl up on a cold winter day with the ancient leather-bound book and read the old stories, county-by-county, and marvel about those people who got Ohio started.
I tried to imagine Ohio totally covered with huge trees and clear rivers. I wanted so much to get into a time machine and see my parent’s farm like it was before the area was settled, back when the prehistoric people camped on the hill behind the barn about 10,000 years ago. We’ve been picking up their discards for years, and I would love to learn more about them.
I read Allen Eckert’s “Frontiersmen” when we first moved back to Ohio. It repeated some of Howe’s stories and added tales from a collection of 200-year-old letters called “The Draper Papers.” I had no idea that so many interesting historical events took place in this area. But it also made me a bit sick. I had forgotten how violent the early days of Ohio had been.
Years later, I met Eckert and enjoyed hunting for fossils with him and discussing the stories as we looked for brachiopods in the creek beds of Indiana. He talked of being somewhat haunted by the same story that bothered me. It is a story that anyone who has read Eckert’s Frontiersmen knows all too well.
Col. William Crawford was burned at the stake by the Wyandots in 1782. The long hours of his tortuous death was recorded in horrific detail by a doctor who managed to escape before he was put to death the same way.
The location of Crawford’s execution was not that far from where I grew up, and my friends had talked about going to see the site and shuttering with chills. They said it was haunted by his ghost, and I wanted nothing to do with seeing the place.
Now I know why.
Recently while researching a difficult branch of my mother’s family tree, I saw a name I didn’t want to see. I looked at the date of his death and the location, and then I sat silently and let it sink in.
Col. William Crawford is my six times great grandfather. Suddenly the story of his torture and execution was more than just a story in Frontiersmen. I immediately wanted to call Eckert, but he had passed away a few years earlier.
I focused my research on Crawford and found out he was a lot more than a victim. It is a pity that is how people remember him, not by what he did before that. There were so many more interesting things to remember him by.
He was a close friend of George Washington. They both survived the same battles in the French and Indian War, and they surveyed along the Ohio River together. In 1770, Washington stayed at Crawford’s cabin. When the war started, Crawford was a colonel who served with General Washington from the beginning. He crossed the Delaware with his friend. In 1781, at 59, he retired to his home in Pennsylvania.
And then I thought: “Oh no, Crawford was not alone.” He had a wife and children and grandchildren. His wife Hannah probably complained when Washington and General Irvine asked Crawford to come out of retirement to handle a problem up in the Sandusky area of the wilderness near the lake.
As an officer’s wife, I can imagine her saying, “Doesn’t George have someone else to ask? Doesn’t he know you are nearly 60?”
She was probably relieved when their son, Major John Crawford, told her he would be with his father and would watch out for him. The addition of nephew William Crawford and son-in-law Major William Harrison probably made her feel better about the campaign. They could watch out for each other.
But that was not to be.
The expedition was poorly put together and the Wyandots were fighting on their home turf. When Col. William Crawford ordered retreat, he hesitated to search for this nephew and son–in-law. He had lost track of them and had no idea they were already dead. He could not find them and ended up trailing behind the column. He was nearly 60. His horse was exhausted and he fell farther behind. Then he was captured and eventually killed.
To me this story is now about his wife Hannah. How did she ever handle losing her husband, nephew and son-in-law all on the same day in such horrific ways? I hope she never heard the details that we read now. I wonder what became of her and I’ll keep looking in records until I find out.
Her daughter Sarah (Sally) Crawford Harrison later married Major Uriah Springer. It is through their descendants that I find my mother’s people in West Virginia.
So be careful when you get into this genealogy hobby. When you find a story like this, family history will become very personal — and you might even have some nightmares as I did.
However, it is really good to remember what our ancestors overcame to get us to this place where we are today. It reminds us that we have to work hard to protect what they built.
Spring isn’t here yet, so keep searching. You never know who you will find.
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