Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Nonhelema of the Shawnee

When thinking about women who played important roles in the American Revolution, I’ll bet a Native American warrior woman doesn’t spring to mind. But today we’re going to take a look at a female Shawnee chief and warrior who, surprisingly, played an important role on the side of the Americans in opposition to the majority of her people. Nonhelema will appear in book 6 of my American Patriot Series, Refiner’s Fire, bringing a warning of danger to Jonathan Carleton/White Eagle as she did in real life to American soldiers on the frontier during the Revolution.

Nonhelema's Memorial Stone
Logan Elm Park
Nonhelema was born around 1718, about 2 years before her most famous brother, Cornstalk. They had 2 younger brothers, Silverheels, and Nimwha. The family migrated to Pennsylvania from West Virginia or Maryland around 1730 as the Shawnee and other tribes were increasingly pushed westward by the expansion of white settlements into the continent’s interior. From there they relocated to Ohio Territory near present day Chillicothe on the Scioto River.

According to the journal of Indian agent George Morgan, their father was named White Fish, and Cornstalk seemed to confirm that in a 1775 speech. However, according to the records of the Moravian missionaries, Cornstalk was the son or grandson of a well-known Pennsylvania Shawnee chief named Paxinosa, or “Hard Striker”, who has been mistakenly identified by some writers as Tecumseh’s father. I’ve found some accounts online that link the two names, so both may be correct. Nonhelema first married an unnamed Shawnee man, and later in life married the Shawnee chief Moluntha. She had several children, including a son, Thomas McKee, from her relationship with Indian Agent Colonel Alexander McKee and another son, Captain Butler/Tamanatha, with Colonel Richard Butler.

Nonhelema stood nearly six feet, six inches tall and by all accounts was an imposing figure with a well-formed body and long, flowing hair that turned white in old age. When she was young she fought as a warrior and was known to be a fierce adversary in battle. She came to be called The Grenadier or Grenadier Squaw in reference to the height of 18th-century grenadiers. She was present at the Battle of Bushy Run in August 1763 and may have participated in it, painting her body black and fighting naked as was the custom of her people. Without a doubt the sight of such a warrior must have given her enemies pause!

Logan Memorial
Logan Elm Park, Ohio
The Shawnee had both male and female chiefs, and Nonhelema became chief of the largest Shawnee village on the Pickaway Plains in Ohio Territory. Her town lay on the south bank of Scippo Creek southeast of present-day Circleville, a short distance from Cornstalk’s Town on the creek’s north bank. The cabin of Nonhelema’s friend John Logan, a notable Mingo orator and war chief, also lay nearby. The unprovoked slaying of his entire family by Virginians at Yellow Creek precipitated Lord Dunmore’s War.

Nonhelema reputedly fought at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774, where the Shawnee force led by Cornstalk was defeated and the war essentially ended. Since Shawnee women played important roles in relations with other nations, she most likely attended the treaty with Cornstalk. The place where the treaty was signed and where Logan made his famous lament for his murdered relatives was less than 4 miles from Nonhelema’s Town. She and Cornstalk abided by this treaty for the rest of their lives, unlike the majority of the Shawnee.

Nonhelema’s participation in colonial frontier wars apparently convinced her that the survival of her people depended on living peacefully with the Americans. By the Revolution Nonhelema had become a peace chief, and she spent the rest of her life working toward that end. However, hers and Cornstalk’s peace proposals were opposed by a large faction of the Shawnee, who hoped to use an alliance with the British to reclaim the lands taken from them by settlers. By the winter of 1776, the nation was divided between those who advocated neutrality in the war between the Americans and the British, led by Nonhelema and Cornstalk, and those who allied with the British, led by men such as Black Fish and Blue Jacket, who will also appear in Refiner’s Fire.

The Power of the Gospel
David Zeisberger preaching to the Indians
In researching 18th century Native Americans, there are many contradictory accounts and dates that make it difficult to sift out the facts. What is clear, though, is that Paxinosa’s family was greatly affected by the ministry of the Moravians, whose missionaries initially served among the Indians in Pennsylvania, primarily among the Lenape, or Delaware. They eventually established a number of towns for Indian believers along the Muskingum and Tuscarawas rivers in Ohio where many Shawnee towns were located as well. According to The History of the Moravian Mission Among the Indians in North America, Paxinosa’s wife—who would be the mother of Nonhelema and Cornstalk—was converted by the preaching of the Moravians in 1755 and, with Paxinosa’s consent, was baptized by Bishop Spangenberg. The History also recounts that in 1771 the well-known missionary David Zeisberger traveled among the Shawnee and at the first village was kindly received by a son of the chief Paxnous (Paxinosa)—quite possibly Cornstalk—who offered to accompany them during their visit.

Some online accounts claim that Nonhelema was baptized in 1772 by Zeisberger and took the English name Katherine, with the nickname of Katy. This is quite plausible given the many connections between her family and the Moravians. The History records that in 1776 Cornstalk arrived at Gnadenhütten, one of the towns of the Indian believers, with more than 100 men, women, and children in his retinue, and that “His behaviour was courteous, and he shewed a particular friendship for the missionary Jacob Schmick.” Judging from the actions of Nonhelema and Cornstalk during the American Revolution in working for peace between the Americans and the native peoples, both were deeply influenced by the Moravian doctrine of nonresistance.

On July 25, 1777, Nonhelema warned the soldiers at Fort Randolph on Point Pleasant that most of the Shawnee were allying with the British and planned to attack other forts. Cornstalk came to Fort Randolph with another chief, Red Hawk, that November to warn the fort’s commander that he could not hold his warriors back from going to war against the Americans. The commander held the men as a hostages to ensure the Shawnee’s neutrality, and when Cornstalk’s son came to visit him, he was also held. On November 10, 2 American militiamen from the fort who had gone out to hunt were found killed by Indians. The enraged soldiers broke into the room where Cornstalk and his companions were being held and brutally murdered them in retaliation.

Fort Randolph
Nonhelema, who was also at the fort serving as interpreter, had been sent out with 2 scouts as spies to the waiting Shawnee war party to deliver a message from Captain McKee, that he could not comply with their demand to release the chiefs. She most likely was on her way with the message when her brother, nephew, and their companions were killed.

In spite of her brother’s murder, Nonhelema did not waver in her friendship for the Americans. In 1778 she again warned Fort Randolph of a coming attack. On May 20 a Wyandot and Mingo force under Dunquat, the Wyandot Half King, surrounded the fort and began a week-long siege, during which Nonhelema’s large herd of cattle and horses was destroyed. Unsuccessful in their effort to force the fort’s defenders to surrender, the Indians began to move up the Kanawha River to attack Fort Donnally. Nonhelema dressed 2 messengers, John Pryor and Philip Hammond, as Indians so they could carry a warning160 miles to the garrison at Fort Donnally, which then also withstood attack.

Present-day view at site of
Nonhelema's Town
With her herds gone and her people’s hostility toward her growing, Nonhelema was forced to flee for protection to the town of the Lenape’s principal chief, White Eyes, near the Lenape capital of Coshocton, Ohio. In 1780 Nonhelema served as guide and translator for the U.S. inspector general of cavalry, when he traveled to Illinois to treat with the Indians there. She petitioned Congress in 1785 for a 1,000-acre grant in Ohio, as compensation for her services during the Revolution. Congress denied this claim but granted her a pension of daily rations and an annual allotment of blankets and clothing. When General Benjamin Logan led Kentucky militia against the Ohio Shawnee the following year, Nonhelema and her husband and family surrendered to the troops. Even so, a soldier killed Moluntha, and Nonhelema was held at Fort Pitt. While there she helped the commander compile a Shawnee-language dictionary. She died sometime after her release in December 1786.

Historical Marker at Nonhelema's Town
Although Nonhelema was revered by many of the Shawnee as an influential chief, those of her people who allied with the British considered her a traitor. According to Nonhelema’s memorial plaque in Logan’s Elm Park south of Circleville, Ohio, “She spoke three languages, serving as peacemaker and interpreter between Indians and Whites. Because of her friendships, she accepted Christianity. After the peace treaty in 1774, she was disowned by her people and became a homeless exile.”

Nonhelema’s story includes many difficult and sad circumstances, but she was a great leader among her people at a critical time in their history and ours.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Update: Refiner's Fire

Now that The Return has released, I’m back at work on book 6 of this series, Refiner’s Fire. For the time being I’m dividing my time between research and writing the first few chapters, with greater focus for now on research. Be assured that there’s lots of adventure, intrigue, danger, and romance still ahead for Elizabeth and Jonathan, along with the rest of the cast of characters, both those already established and new ones. This time the most important action shifts to France and on the high seas.

Detail of Chateau de Versailles, Pierre Patel, 1668. Wikicommons

At this point I’m projecting a release date of either Fall 2018 or Spring 2019. I hope you’ll follow along with this blog as I share progress and sneak peeks into the action from time to time!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Baroness Frederika von Riedesel

Baroness von Riedesel
I saw the whole battle myself, and, knowing that my husband was taking part in it, I was filled with fear and anguish and shivered whenever a shot was fired…

When you think of women involved in the American Revolution, I’ll bet you don’t visualize a German baroness. But when the British hired Hessian troops to help fight the American rebels, some women accompanied their husbands to our shores. One of them was vivacious young Frederika Charlotte Louise von Massow, the Baroness von Riedesel.

She was born on July 11, 1746, at Brandenburg. Her father was a general, and as a child, Frederika experienced the hardships of travelling with the Prussian Army. In 1762 during the battles of the Seven Years’ War, sixteen-year-old Frederika helped care for the wounded, among them, the then lieutenant colonel Friedrich Adolph Riedesel, baron of Eisenbach. It’s clear they were quite attracted to each other because they married later the same year.

Red-haired Fredericka was described as looking more like an unmarried school girl than a married woman, “full in figure and possessing no small share of beauty.” She and Friedrich became a devoted couple and soon added two daughters to their family. Frederika was pregnant again in 1776 when Brunswick signed a treaty to support Great Britain in the war against her rebellious American colonies. Now a general, Friedrich could not do without his wife at his side. When he sailed for America he made sure that Frederika would join him as soon as the new baby could travel. Carolina was born in March, and in May 1776, accompanied by her three little girls, Frederika sailed to England. Ever resourceful, she brought along a number of German antiques to sell to help pay travelling expenses.

England proved to be a less than enjoyable experience, with Fredericka’s German fashions and language attracting scorn. Nevertheless, she learned the English language and customs in six weeks, while she waited for a ship to take her and her daughters to Canada. General Riedesel had insisted she travel with a companion, and it was April 1777 before all the arrangements could be made and she and her little girls finally set sail. They were reunited with the general in June at Trois-Rivières, Quebec, just in time to accompany the army south on General John Burgoyne’s campaign to capture Albany and divide the New England states from the rest of the new nation.

Riding behind the army in a calash—and I’ll bet that was fun!—Frederika and her children eventually ended up on the battlefields around the small town of Saratoga, NY. The quote above is from an entry in her journal, written on September 19, 1777, during the Battle of Freeman’s Farm. You’ll find a longer excerpt from this fascinating journal on the American Patriot Series website. During the battle Frederika and the children sheltered in a nearby house, where wounded soldiers were brought and where a young English officer slowly died during that agonizing night. Then on October 7 she was preparing a meal when the Battle of Bemis Heights began. The meal had to be cleared from the table in order to provide a bed for mortally wounded General Simon Fraser. Frederika spent another night tending wounded soldiers, several other women, and her own children. Before expiring the next morning, General Fraser asked that his body be buried at one of the redoubts. Frederika handled all the arrangements and in spite of her terror attended the funeral while under American cannon fire. To make their precarious situation even worse, the house caught fire that afternoon, forcing everyone to evacuate.

Lansing House
Through this ordeal Frederika became very critical of security at the British camp and of General Burgoyne himself. At one point it became necessary for her to remind him that his men were starving due to lack of supplies. Burgoyne held out, however, until even he could no longer deny that defeat was imminent. When he finally agreed to retreat to Canada, the army was forced to march north through torrential rains, with their equipment miring in knee-deep mud. Unable to go farther, they took refuge near Saratoga, present day Schuylerville, where they were soon surrounded by the American forces. General Riedesel arranged his command on heights now occupied by the Schuylerville Central School and directed Frederika to take the children to a nearby farmhouse at that time owned by a man named Lansing, about three hundred yards to the north of the lines.

The baroness and her daughters as
portrayed in Harper's Weekly, 1857
This marked the beginning of a horrifying week for the women, children and wounded soldiers who soon crowded into the building’s cellar with her. The house has been known as the Marshall House since 1817. Although a much larger structure today, it still preserves the stone cellar where Frederika recorded what they all endured. Beams that were shattered by American cannon fire are visible as are bloodstains on the floor left by a soldier whose leg was severed in the cannonade. Three of the eleven cannonballs Frederika noted as having hit the building are also displayed. She spent days managing the needs of the children, women, and wounded soldiers in the crowded cellar as the battle continued. A German soldier described her as an “angel of comfort” who “restored order in the chaos.”

The Riedesels popularized the German
tradition of Christmas trees in America
After Burgoyne’s surrender on October 17, 1777, Frederika, Friedrich, and their children became prisoners along with Burgoyne’s entire army and the approximately 2,000 women who accompanied them. They were marched to Boston, then transferred to Virginia. In 1779 they were allowed to move to New York City, and in 1780 Frederika gave birth to their fourth daughter, named America. Friedrich commanded troops on Long Island during the winter of 1780–1781, after which he and his family were sent to Canada. Frederika gave birth to a fifth daughter there, named Canada, who sadly didn’t live. It wasn’t until the peace treaty was signed in1783 that they at last returned home to Brunswick. Frederika bore 4 more children, a total of 9 altogether, 6 of whom survived to adulthood.

Encouraged by her husband, Frederika published her journal and letters shortly after his death in 1800. The Letters and Journals Relating to the War of the American Revolution and the Capture of the German Troops at Saratoga may well be the most complete and reliable account of this ill-fated British campaign. She died March 29, 1808, in Berlin and was buried with her husband in a family grave in Lauterbach.

PerhapsI relate to Frederika because we’re fellow redheads, but she was clearly a resourceful, courageous, and admirable woman. Just thinking about the challenges of caring for 3 tiny children in the midst of a war zone makes me shudder. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d handle what she endured nearly as well!