Various Accounts of the Capture of John Ewing
(B. 27 December 1747 - D. 23 December 1824/25)
Submitted by Mary Hill
There are several versions of the captivity of John EWING. Three of the versions are provided below:
1)The first account of the capture of John EWING was in a file cabinet in the genealogy section of the State Library of Ohio. Jack MATTHEWS (a 4th great-grandson of John EWING) typed it based on the oral family story. The library copy appeared to have been copied from colored paper and was very difficult to read. The spelling, grammar, and discrepancies (e.g., 17 warriors vs. 19 warriors) below are exactly as they appear in MATTHEWS' account, except that I capitalized all surnames.
2) John EWING's sister is referred to as Nancy in some versions this account, has been referred to as Jennie (Jeanet) in other accounts.
3) The children of John's sister are: Jane CLENDENIN (who later married John DAVIS) and John CLENDENIN (who died during captivity).
--Mary Hill, Ph.D., 5th great-granddaughter of "Indian John" EWING.
JOHN EWING: CAPTIVE OF THE SHAWNEE
By Jack Matthews
One of the very first white men to come into what is now Ohio was John EWING - my great-great-great-great-grandfather. I have encountered several brief references to him in history books and several more to his sister, (Mrs.) Nancy CLENDENIN, but none coincide exactly to the records preserved by our family and all of the other versions together do not give one-fourth of the detail of their story as it appears in these records.
Since the published accounts I have seen are vague and fragmentary, it seems likely that the family records are closer to the truth.
Here is the story.
On a June day in 1763, John EWING was helping his sister and brother-in-law, Archibald CLENDENIN, on their farm which was located about one mile from present-day Lewisburg, West Virginia. John, sixteen years old at the time, was hoeing corn with two Negro slaves on a mountainside. The three men heard shots from the cabin, which was out of sight, but they weren't particularly alarmed since the shots could easily have been CLENDENIN shooting a wild turkey. Nevertheless, John and one of the slaves decided to investigate.
Before they had gone very far, two Shawnee warriors confronted them, saying, "How de do" in the manner of the frontier and offering to shake hands. Then John saw his sister, Nancy, tied to a shaving horse by the cabin. There were 17 other Shawnee warriors in the party, and John and the slave were immediately captured.
The Indians had arrived while Nancy was cooking dinner. Seemingly friendly, they entered the cabin, one at a time, until all 19 were inside. They killed Nancy's husband, slapped his scalp dry against the log walls and set fire to the cabin.
Nancy, her children and John were taken at a rapid pace toward the Ohio River, where the Shawnees had sunk their canoes. While crossing Sewell Mountain, a packhorse fell, and in the confusion, Nancy escaped.
After a brief search, one of the infuriated Shawnee held up Nancy's baby by the legs, saying, "When the calf bawls, the cow will come."
Nancy didn't hear the baby's cries; however, and the Indian killed it. Nancy tracked her way back to the cabin and arrived exactly one week after her capture to find the corpse of her husband still lying in the July sun.
She buried his body and slept that night in the cornfield. The next day she started walking toward the nearest settlement.
Meanwhile, the Shawnee had raised their canoes at the mouth of the Kanawha and crossed the great river into Ohio. By this time, their pace was almost leisurely. They stopped at the salt licks (near what is now Jackson) for two weeks, and made salt and cured meat. Then they came north to their village of Picawillma, three miles below present-day Circleville.
At Picawillma, John was forced to run the gauntlet, in which he later said, the squaws used their hickory clubs lightly, whereas the young boys beat him fiercely. After this ordeal, he was adopted by the mother of WABAWASENA (White Otter), the brave who had captured him. The woman was apparently a terrible scold, but EWING always spoke of WABAWASENA with great respect for his intellectual and moral qualities.
After John had adjusted to his new life somewhat and learned the Shawnee tongue, a Bible was brought back to the village from a raid in far-off Tennessee. The great council chief of the Shawnee at this time was named THOBQUEH, which means "Hole in the day" (I do not know, but I would guess that this referred to a polar eclipse on or near the date of THOBQUEH 's birth.) The old chief was reckoned to be near a hundred years old at this time. He called the young boy to him and demanded that he translate the Bible to him and explain what it meant.
When John read of the creation, THOBQUEH asked if the first man was an Indian or a white man. John replied that it must have been a white man. THOBQUEH thought it was quite hilarious that anyone could suppose the Great Spirit made "a poor, ignorant, cowardly white man" before he made an Indian.
But in the account of the great flood, THOBQUEH was really dismayed. The only Shawnee word John knew with which to translate Noah's Ark, was "canoe" and when the grissled old chief heard of all the animals it held, he cried out, "Now you know that's a lie! There never was a tree on the Scioto bottoms big enough to make such a canoe as that!"
During John's three-year stay at Picawillma, there was a smallpox epidemic. The Indians, even the bravest warriors, were terrified by the disease. Many of them drowned themselves in the Scioto. John's adopted mother was one of the scores who died of it.
When John was infected, he isolated himself in a cornfield with a buffalo robe (there were scattered buffalo east of the Mississippi in the 18th century) and blanket and lived on roast squashes and cold water until he recovered.
John was freed by a treaty between he British and the Shawnee and he walked through the wilderness to Fort Pitt, which was the nearest white settlement. The rest of his life was relatively uneventful.
As an old man, he delighted in telling stories to his grandchildren. He had a prodigious memory. As a boy, he had gotten access to a few precious books owned by a frontier preacher. He had memorized a great many poems, among them the whole of Milton's Paradise Lost, and he was fond of quoting poetry to his children and grandchildren all his life.
Eventually, John moved to Ohio with his family, settled in Gallia County, where he died in 1824. This time, his life in Ohio was quite uneventful although the country was still wild and very much a frontier community. The small village of Ewington was named, not for John, but for his brother, "Swago Bill" EWING.
Apparently, the three or four years among the Shawnee as a boy had been quite enough excitement for one lifetime and John EWING was content to spend his subsequent days in the relative peace and obscurity of a small frontier farm.
Excerpt from HISTORICAL SKETCHES OF POCAHONTAS COUNTY, WEST VIRGINIA"
By William T. Price (pub. 1901)
The EWING family of Pocahontas County and vicinity was founded by James EWING, born near Londonderry, Ireland, of Scotch parents, about 1720. He came to Virginia as a young man, and there married Margaret SARGENT, of Irish birth, who bore him five children: Jennie, who married CLENDENNIN, Susan who married Moses MOORE, Elizabeth who married George DOUGHERTY, John, and William. John was born in 1747. At the time of the CLENDENNIN massacre in Greenbrier County, John, a mere lad, was taken prisoner by the Indians, and carried into the Ohio Country. There he was adopted into an Indian tribe, baptized according to Indian custom, and given an Indian name. But John's Scotch-Irish blood was not easily converted to Indian, and when a returning party of warriors brought back as a curiosity an English Bible, he explained to them that it was the word of God. The Indians asked whether his God was an Indian or a white man, and when John answered that he was a white man, they would no longer listen to his reading the book.
John learned the Indian tongue, but he never loved the Indian. In his old age, at the mention of the word "Indian in his presence he would always say, "Curse and confound the Indian." He was released from captivity under a treaty with the Indians, probably in 1764, and delivered to the whites at Fort Pitt, from which point he made his way back to his old Virginia home.
The descendants of John EWING reverently refer to him as "Indian John."
HISTORICAL SKETCHES, No. 6, John EWING
from "Gallipolis Journal," April 21, 1870, Gallipolis, Ohio
CLENDINEN'S little girl who had been EWING's special care during the long and tiresome journey, was adopted by a family in Delaware Town. He often met her during their captivity, a source of great pleasure to both. The little boy, John, a namesake of EWING's and a great favorite withal, for he was a bright, intelligent little fellow, just old enough to win the love and admiration of those around him by his pretty boyish ways, was presented by his captors to two squaws, who had a kind of joint interest in him. On a quarrel rising between them as to who should have possession, the Indian, to settle the dispute, struck him dead with a tomahawk.
Having a retentive memory and an observing eye, EWING soon became master of the Indian language and manners. On one of their predatory excursions among the white settlements of Tennessee, the Indians became the unwitty possessors of two articles, the nature and uses of which they did not quite comprehend - the Bible and the small pox. The Bible was delivered to THOBQUEB, (Hole in the day), the great council chief of the Shawnees. His age, which he reckoned by many hundreds of moons, was nearly a hundred years. He carried the honorable scars of many a border war, and had in his wigwam scalps and trophies innumerable.- He commanded the Indians at the battle of Monongahela, and among his trophies from that field were a number of watches, shoe buckles, buttons and other ornaments taken from the ill-fated officers of that disastrous day. EWING represented him as a man remarkable for his sagacity in council, his constant zeal, his active spirit, and brilliant eloquence, all heightened by the impression of his personal appearance, which age made still more striking. But with all his cunning, the white man's book was to him a perplexing mystery. He summoned EWING to his wigwam and commanded him to explain. He began at the first and translated it into the Indian tongue. All seemed satisfactory to the chief until he came to man's wonderful creation: "And the lord God form man out of the dust of the earth and" - "stop!" thundered the chief. "You say the Great Spirit made man out of the dust of the ground, now, was that man a white man or an Indian? EWING, in his natural simplicity, said he supposed it meant a white man of course. The joke tickled THOBQUEB immensely, and he forgave the boy's presumption- Said he, "I pity your ignorance, but you ought at least to have sense enough to know that the Great Spirit never made the poor, ignorant, cowardly white man before he did the red man. But go on, I will listen to a little more of you nonsense, though I don't believe a word of it." All went well until he came to the description of the Deluge. Here he was obliged to interpret the work ark by the Indian for canoe, and thus arose another stumbling block to the chief's understanding of the Scriptures. After reading the dimensions of the "great cane," and the number of persona and animals put aboard, the old chief exclaimed: "Now you know that's a lie, there never was a tree on the Scioto bottoms big enough to make such a canoe as that!"
When the small pox broke out among them their fear knew no bounds. The most skillful medicine men among them, with roots of wondrous, power, were unable to stay the sweeping pestilence. It carried them off by hundreds. The warrior whose heart was never wont to quake with fear now threw himself into the river, preferring a speedy death, rather than fall at the hands of the ghastly foe. EWING's adopted mother and sister were among the victims. When he felt the disease fastening itself upon him, he repaired to a field of growing corn and squashes which he had on the river bank a short distance below the village. Here beside a spring of sparkling water, he cut down a large dead shell bark hickory and set it on fire. With buffalo robe and blanket for a bed and roast squashes and cold water for a diet, with neither nursing nor medicine, he passed through the ordeal in safety, with scarcely a mark to mar his features. He said he never found a better remedy for small pox.
He remained with the Indians about three years, as near as he could recollect, but during that time he lost all account of the days of the week and month. He was employed principally in farming and hunting, but he had a great deal of leisure time. At last, by a provision of one of the many treaties of peace he was released, and started on his return to home and friends. The first white settlement he reached was Pittsburg. Here he was furnished with shirt, pant and shoes. When he reached home he found there his mother and sister. He asked for some dinner, which they prepared before he made himself known.- His sister first recognized him.- Their mutual joy at so unexpected a meeting after so long a separation may be better imagined than described. He married in Greenbrier county, Va, and after raising a family of five children, he removed to this county in 1801, and settled on George's creek, where he lived until his wife died, when he went to Huntington township to live with his son, Andrew EWING, and his daughter Sarah, wife of the late General Sam'l R. HOLCOMB. Here amid the quiet enjoyment of a circle of loving friends and relatives he spent the remainder of his life.- Although quiet and unassuming, he possessed all the qualifications of a citizen of sterling worth. It is one thing to play an active part on the great forensic stage, it is another and often a nobler thing to act an honorable part in the humbler walks of life. In the latter John EWING was truly a bright star. He died on December 23d, 1824, and was buried on the estate of Gen. Anselm T. HOLCOMB, near Vinton. It is but just to state here that for all the information upon which the foregoing sketches are founded, I am indebted to Gen. A. T. HOLCOMB, grandson of John EWING.