As a Memorial Day weekend special, we thought we’d share with our readers a bit more about a famous military figure from American and Ohio history. The name is one which every Crawford Countian knows well. His life story, however, may not be so familiar.
We share observations on the life of Colonel Crawford as profiled in an address given by Judge James H. Anderson on May 6, 1896 in Upper Sandusky. Judge Anderson had been invited to speak on the subject by the Wyandot County Pioneer Association, and his discourse was given to a crowd of nearly 6,000 people on the banks of the Tymochtee River in Wyandot County – near where Crawford was burned at the stake.
Readers may not be aware that as a young man, Colonel Crawford became a close friend of George Washington. At the time of their initial meeting in 1749, Crawford was described as “..a youth of fine, manly presence, above six feet in height, and in point of strength and activity a very athlete.” Crawford and Washington went on joint surveying tours, and after that time, their correspondence was frequent no matter where each was living.
After service during the French and Indian War, Washington and Crawford undertook another joint surveying expedition. It was during this 1770 trip that both visited what is now the state of Ohio for the first time. Their destination was what is now the city of Steubenville in Jefferson County.
What might not be readily known about Crawford is that he was also a judge, actually serving as “president judge of the courts” for Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. One of his associates on the bench was to become Major General Arthur St. Clair.
During the Revolutionary War, Crawford was appointed lieutenant colonel of the Fifth Virginia regiment. That unit took part in action in battles in New Jersey. On Christmas Day, 1776, he crossed the Delaware River with his friend General Washington, and participated in the Battle of Trenton the next day.
In 1778, General George Rogers Clark invited Crawford to take part in a secret military expedition against British posts between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, but the latter declined. Two years later, however, he was petitioning Congress to provide better protection for the western frontier. His strong desire was to capture the important transportation crossroads at what is now Upper Sandusky, a campaign launched under his command in 1782. As local students of history know, that expedition ended in tragedy – first, with the defeat of Crawford’s forces at the Battle of Sandusky, and then with Crawford’s subsequent capture, torturing, and killing.
The Battle of Olentangy, which occurred between Galion and Bucyrus off of what is now Parcher Road, was the very last battle of that expedition. Taking place on June 6, 1782, the battle was one of the very last between British regulars and American soldiers in the entire Revolutionary War period. The hero of that battle was an officer by the name of Major John Rose; after the war, it was revealed that Rose was actually Baron Gustave Henri de Rosenthal, a member of Russian nobility. Dead from both sides are buried in Crawford County. Crawford was subsequently captured near what is now Leesville.
Anderson described the death of Colonel Crawford this way: “Ordinary prisoners were tomahawked without much ado, but Crawford, the “Big Captain,” was reserved for a death more terrible: exceeding in fiendish, ferocious, devilish cruelty, and barbarity, anything recorded in savage annals.” The stake itself stood some 15 feet high, and Crawford’s hands were bound behind his back, with a rope tied between the foot of the post and his wrists.
When General Washington learned of the death of his lifelong friend, he wrote these words:
“It is with the greatest sorrow and concern that I have learned the melancholy tidings of Colonel Crawford’s death. He was known to me as an officer of much care and prudence; brave, experienced and active. The manner of his death was shocking to me, and I have this day communicated to the Congress such papers as I have regarding it.”
“His (Crawford’s) name should live in the great American heart, and in the pantheon of history, while true patriotism is cherished, and the memory of the father of our country revered.”
Driving tours of major sites associated with Crawford’s Expedition are available, many of which can be visited and viewed. Photos below were taken during the 225th Anniversary Reenactment of the Battle of Olentangy in 2007, which took place on the original battle site.
Photo Credit: Top, Minutemen at Buttrick Hill, TalkingTree/Creative Commons License; Bottom (all) – Courtesy of Thomas Palmer