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Chief Blue Jacket Shawnee Warrior

March 23, 2009

Painting by Hal Sherman - 2007

Very little is known about Chief Blue Jacket’s early life, prior to his appearance in historical records beginning in 1773. John Sugden analyzes scores of records and draws conclusions about the last principal war chief of the Shawnee Indians in his book Blue Jacket Warrior of the Shawnees.

Chief Blue Jacket, the one we should concern ourselves with, was most likely born about 1743 in the Ohio country. He was a Piqua Shawnee. The Shawnees had been building villages along the Ohio River from the 1730’s, and in the 1750’s on the Muskingum and Scioto Rivers. Blue Jacket had a sister and Red Pole, the orator and civil Mekoche leader Muscquaconocah, was possibly a half-brother. Shawnees inherit their tribes from their fathers and so Sugden suggests the two leaders may have had the same mother. Other than that, not much else survives about Blue Jacket’s ancestors.

Blue Jacket went by the name Big Rabbit, Se-pet-te-ke-na-the, until 1776. He then adopted another name Waweyapiersenwaw, or “whirpool”. It is not known how he came to be known as Blue Jacket.

Sugden delves into the other Blue Jacket we have come to know as being the white captive Marmaduke van Sweringen. The story of van Sweringen was published in 1877 and written by a reporter named Thomas Jefferson Larsh. This story was never verified and has been taken to be historically accurate. Sugden presents an irrefutable case that the famous war chief Blue Jacket was not van Sweringen.

Blue Jacket was the Shawnee who began the Pan-Indian movement to try and prevent the Americans from forcing them off their Ohio lands. He travelled to other tribes and built a coalition that Tecumseh later modeled his own efforts upon. Blue Jacket built towns and built alliances with the British and he led the warriors in battle. His leadership resulted in the defeat of the Americans led by St. Clair on 4 November 1791 along the Wabash River. It was an amazing victory.

But the Americans never quit and Blue Jacket and his warriors were defeated in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. And it was there that the retreating Indian warriors were barred from entering protection in the British Fort Miamis. Blue Jacket’s eyes were opened to his supposed ally’s refusal to truly back them up.

Fallen Timbers led Blue Jacket to sign the Treaty of Greenville. The Treaty gave his people peace, Blue Jacket thought, and annuities and provisions which kept his people from starving. He began a massive effort to reconcile with the Americans and to preserve what was left of Shawnee lands and their way of life.

But Blue Jacket was not adverse to white culture. His first wife, Margaret Moore, was a white captive and they had two children together – Joseph and Nancy. Joseph was raised by his father but Margaret was persuaded to remain with her Virginia family during a visit and Nancy was born in Virginia. Nancy and Margaret returned to Ohio about 1804 and while Margaret lived in a white settlement, Nancy spent most of her remaining years with the Shawnee.

Blue Jacket also married a French and Shawnee woman. Their children: George, Jim, Mary Louise, and Sally. Mary married Jacques Lasalle and was buried in Detroit at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in 1806. Blue Jacket started a town in 1800 on the Detroit River during his retirement, opposite Grosee Ile and two miles above what is now Gibraltar, Michigan.

Blue Jacket was an entrepreneur, often living in one of the nicest houses. He traded goods and he traded whiskey. He drank and grew overweight in his sixties.

Blue Jacket assisted Tecumseh and the Prophet with assuring the Americans that their intentions at Prophet’s Town were peaceful. He travelled with them and spoke with American leaders in 1806. “It affects my heart and fills it with sorrow,” Blue Jacket said as he thought about all of the blood shed in defense of Indian land. “Now I am a very old man, and will soon pass away like all the rest. I desire to live and die in peace!”

It was said later, that Blue Jacket died in his Detroit River village in early 1808. Blue Jacket’s descendants went on to live interesting and successful lives.

Much is made about Tecumseh and his efforts to build a Pan-Indian coalition and he deserves this attention. But, we must look farther back and acknowledge that it was Chief Blue Jacket who taught the young warrior just how to do this.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 23, 2009 12:46 pm

    Interesting read.

    I was not familiar with this Chief before your post. Growing up in Indian Territory, I have always had an interest in reading about the history of the different tribes.

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