Berkeley County, West Virginia Biography of Colonel William CRAWFORD


         Colonel William CRAWFORD was born in Berkeley County, Virginia, 1732 and died a horrible and agonizing death in Wyandot County, Ohio territory, June 11, 1782. He was a half-brother to Colonel Hugh Stephenson and was a surveyor, serving under Washington.

         At the outbreak of the French and Indian War, he became an ensign in the Virginia Riflemen and was with General Braddock in the expedition against Fort Duquesne. He remained in the service until 1761 and, on recommendation of Washington, was promoted to captain. He served during the Pontiac war, from 1763 to 1764, and in 1767 settled in Western Pennsylvania, purchasing land and later becoming a justice of the peace.

         Early after the beginning of the Revolution, he raised a company of Virginians and joined Washington’s army. He was made lieutenant colonel of the 5th Virginia Regiment, in 1776; later he became a colonel. He participated in the battle of Long Island, in the subsequent retreat across New Jersey and over the Delaware, in the battles of Trenton and Princeton, and around Philadelphia. In 1778 he was assigned to frontier duty and for years following was occupied in suppressing the Indian attacks on the settlers.

         He resigned and retired to his farm, hoping to spend the remainder of his days with his family after having given nearly 25 years of his life in the service of his country; but in May 1782, at the urgent request of Gens. Washington and Willian Irvine, reluctantly accepted the expedition to destroy the Wyandott and Moravian Indians on the Muskingum River in Ohio territory.

         The Indians were discovered on June 4, and an engagement ensued in which Crawford’s troops were surrounded by a force much larger than their own in a grove called Battle Island. The fight lasted two days and, when finding themselves “hemmed in,” decided to “cut their way out.” In the retreat that followed, the soldiers were separated and Col. Crawford fell into the hands of the Indians. Dr. McKnight, a fellow prisoner who later escaped, told of the torture of William Crawford: “He was stripped naked, severely beaten with clubs and sticks and made to sit down near a post which had been planted for the purpose and around which a fire of poles was burning briskly. His hands were then pinioned behind him and a rope attached to the band around his wrist and fastened to the foot of a post about 15 feet high, allowing him liberty only to sit down or walk once or twice around it and return the same way.

         “His ears were cut off and while the men would apply the burning ends of the poles to his flesh, the squaws threw coals and hot embers upon him. For three hours he endured these excruciating agonies with the utmost fortitude. When faint and exhausted he commended his soul to God and laid down on his face. He was then scalped and burning coals being laid upon head and back by one of the squaws he again attempted to walk but strength failed him and he sank into the welcome arms of death. His body was thrown into the fire and consumed into ashes.” The story was told by N.N. Hill Jr. in the Magazine of Western History for May 1885, under the title of “Crawford’s Campaign.”


    Submitted by Marilyn Gouge and extracted from History of Berkeley County, West Virginia, 1928, and Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, Vol. II, Prominent Persons.

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