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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Abel Janney

His Captivity and Life Among Indians
of Northern Ohio in 1782.

Captured near the Ohio and Taken to an Indian Town near the Lake--His Life as a Captive. Escapes and is
Recaptured--Indian Mode of Life--Their
Barbarities--Prisoners Burned.

July 29, 1909.

Dallas Bogan on 26 August 2004
article from the book, "The Pioneer Writings of Josiah Morrow." by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

I am indebted to Mr. Lupton-N.E.N.E. Lupton, of Ridgeville, for the use of a manuscript giving a narrative of the capture of Abel Janney by the Indians and his life among the savages of northern Ohio in the year 1782. The narrative seems to have been written originally by the captive himself, who, unlike many if not most of the white men captured by the Indians, was not only able to write, but was engaged to teach school for the children of the officers of a garrison and merchants on an island in Canada before his release. The manuscript submitted to me is not the original but a copy made by Jacob Janney who died in Warren county at an advanced age some thirty years ago.
The captive gives no account of his own life previous to or after his captivity, but mentions the fact that he was a native of Loudon county, Virginia. A note by .John J. Janney, of Columbus, Ohio, published in 1900 by the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society, says: "Abel Janney was a resident of Goosed Creek neighborhood (now Lincoln), Louden county, Virginia. He was of a roving disposition, often engaged in hunting and trapping, and it was while on a trapping excursion that he was captured. Colman Wilks and John Russell were with him. Wilks was shot; Russell escaped and reached the settlements in Kentucky, but was so badly prostrated that he lived but a few days."
The copy before me is carefully and legibly written. The original as well as the copy, seems to have been without any punctuation or divisions into sentences or paragraphs. The spelling of proper names by this Indians captive is interesting. We find for Kanawha, Kenhaway; for Ottawa, an Indian tribe, Tawwa; for DePeyster, the commander at Detroit, Major Depasture; for Lachine, Lasheen.
The narrative is too long for publication in the Star, but some incidents told by the captive will be given.

The Capture.

On March 12, 1782, Janney was captured. He and two companions were lying in their blankets about half a mile from the Ohio river and on the Indian side, that is the north side, and not far from the mouth of the Kanawha. About daybreak four Indians and a white man rushed upon them with a shout. Janney told his companions to stand and fight, but they seized their guns and ran. Janney fired at the Indians and they upon him, but without effect. The savages surrounded Janney with their tomahawks, when one of them told him in English to give up and he would not be hurt, and he did so. One of Janney's companions was shot and killed by the white man with the savages, and the other was caught by one of the Indians, but he got away leaving his gun with the Indian, and escaped with little clothing upon him and without a gun or even a knife. Before starting on their journey the Indians scalped the dead white man, placed a heavy load of provisions on Janney's back, and tied a string around his neck, by which he was lead by the white savage.
The captors traveled very rapidly and on the third day came to the camp of some Indians who were hunting. Here something unusual occurred. Before going to the camp, the captors painted Janney red, and the white savage who had killed Janney's companion painted himself black. When the Indian hunters were heard returning to the camp, the captors cut three large stakes, shaved off the bark and painted two of them red and one black. The captive was tied very tight, and the Indians of both parties sat down and smoked and talked for a long time. Janney expected to be put to death, but in the night some squaws at the camp brought him roasted bears's meat, which he ate, and the Indian women gave him to understand that he was to be taken in their town. Early the next morning the captors with their prisoner took up their journey which was continued until they reached a town in northern Ohio, the name of which is not given.
It was on March 20th, the ninth day after leaving the Ohio, that the town was reached at which Janney was kept for more than two months. On the arrival no one was found in the village except some old squaws, the Indian men being away at their sugar camps making sugar. Janney thus escaped running the gauntlet. The prisoner was put in charge of an old Indian who took him to his own wigwam.
While the captive remained at the village Colonel Crawford's disastrous defeat at Sandusky occurred and Janney saw some of the prisoners taken by the Indians and describes, as if he were an eye witness, the barbarous manner in which they were put to death. He says the first put to death after his arrival was James Whart, a Quaker and a sober man, who was cruelly murdered after he had been kept two weeks, and without the least expectation on his part that such was their intention. He was burned to death three miles from the town. It is not stated whether or not he had been in the army. Janney also describes the tortures inflicted upon Colonel Crawford when he was burned at the stake, the details of which are too appalling for publication in these columns. He does not say distinctly that he himself met Colonel Crawford or talked with him or was present at his end. He says that he met Colonel Crawford's son-in-law, John Harrison, whose Christian name was William and not John, was a lawyer and a man of high standing in western Pennsylvania, and a soldier in the expedition commanded by his father-in-law.
Janney, who had been captured while hunting and trapping and not in battle, seems to have been treated kindly by the Indians. His narrative does not give much information concerning the mode of life of the people with whom he lived. It appears, however, that the town had a council house; that there were extensive cornfields near the town, and that on the night he made his escape there were several horses kept at a distance from the town at least one of which was belled, but on that night the larger number of the horses belonging to the town were standing near the council house in the central part of the town. We are not informed as to what was the chief articles of food, but it appears that the Indians had made maple sugar in March, and that they had gardens and the captive speaks of a tent in or near one of the gardens, "where I staid to watch the garden to keep the other Indians' from stealing the garden stuff."
Long before this period the Indians mode of life had been much modified by their contact with the white race. They used the white man's gun, hoe, hunting knife and copper kettles, and their horses were largely stolen from the whites. Janney left the town probably before the green corn could be used for food. At another village near Detroit in August on his arrival he was given "some victuals, watermelons and apples." He says, "I remained there two weeks and was kindly treated by them, having nothing to do but cut a little wood for the fire and shoot blackbirds that came to eat up the corn."

Escape and Re-capture.

After remaining at the first town to which he was taken for more than two months Janney determined to make his escape. He prepared to start on his journey after midnight on August 2. The Indian men were at this time mostly gone on a war expedition into Kentucky. He was lame from a cut on his ankle and determined to take a good horse. He had the necessaries for his journey except a gun which must be his main dependence for food. He found a pretty good rifle in a house in which there were no occupants. Unfortunately he accidentally discharged his gun which alarmed the village and he ran thru the cornfields. He was unable to get the horse he wished to take which was standing near the council house. On the outside of the town he found several horses, but was able to catch only one of them which proved to be a poor traveler. He rode eastward until about one o'clock the next afternoon, when lame as he was, he abandoned his horse and made his way on foot.
On August 8, when he was as he supposed within forty or fifty miles of Fort Wheeling, he was captured again by a party of Indians of a different tribe from those with whom he had been living. They promised not to hurt him and to take him to Detroit. On their journey westward the first Indian town they reached was Sandusky. Before entering the town they took a pair of scissors which Janney says they always carried with them to war, cut his hair, painted him and fixed him up to look as much as possible like one of themselves and gave him his own gun to carry. This, they said, was to prevent the Indians of the town from beating him.
Janney arrived at Detroit on September 3, 1782, and was kept in close confinement until September 22, when he embarked on a sloop and reached Montreal on the 28th. He remained at a garrison in Canada until July 7, 1783, when he obtained his release and made his way via New York to his old home in Louden county, Virginia.

Indian Endurance.

This narrative gives some surprising accounts of the endurance of the Indians. They would make long journeys for days with little food and sometimes without any. When Janney was captured the second time he had with him a supply of venison as he had killed a deer the evening before and barbecued as much of the meat as he thought was necessary to take with him. This supply was eaten up immediately after the re-capture, and it was, says Janney, the last mouthful they had for nearly four days except blackberries. On the fourth day one of the Indians killed a wolf which they cut up and broiled on the coals and it was speedily eaten up. The entrails were taken out, cleaned a little and roasted, and then devoured greedily. Hungry as was the captive his stomach revolted at this to him unusual food. After eating the wolf, they had no further supply until they reached Sandusky after a further journey of a day and a half.
According to Theodore Roosevelt the Indians of the Northwest territory, tho they made war and hunting their two chiefs occupations, were not as skillful as the white hunter in the use of the rifle, nor could they equal the frontiersmen in feats of physical prowess, such as boxing and wrestling, yet they had superior endurance and ability to withstand fatigue and exposure. A white man, he says, might out run them for eight or ten miles, but on a long journey they could tire out any man and any beast except a wolf. And the Indians of today, he says, stand fatigue, hunger and privation better than the whites, but seem more susceptible to cold.
Abel Janney's narrative furnishes evidence that game in the wilds of Ohio was not always abundant. The Indians who captured him in August may have been experienced hunters; they made the journey from eastern Ohio to Sandusky thru a wilderness without passing an Indian village; they seem to have been supplied with guns and ammunition and were compelled to rely almost entirely on the meat of animals for food, yet in a journey of five days and a half they killed nothing but one wolf.

FOOTNOTES: [a place to add additional information that you might want to submit]


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