Historical Markers
Simon Girty Historical Marker
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Simon Girty

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
Front Street at Fort Hunter Park, Middle Paxton Twp.

Dedication Date:
June 16, 2001

Behind the Marker

"[Simon Girty was] as brutal, depraved, and wicked a wretch as ever lived."

                                                        -John Heckewelder

This image depicts a treaty council between Indians and Europeans on the Pennsylvania frontier.  An Indian orator speaks over the council fire while using a wampum belt to make his point.  One of his compatriots smokes from a pipe tomahawk.  British officers listen with rapt attention (one places his hand over his heart), while a secretary records the proceedings.
The Indians giving a Talk to Colonel Bouquet, by Benjamin West, 1766.

As the text of this marker indicates, no Indian captive in Pennsylvania was more notorious than Simon Girty. To some contemporaries, he was a valued "white Indian," someone who had learned Indian languages and customs and could be employed as an interpreter and go-between. Others considered him a "white savage" who had abandoned his heritage and become a cruel and treacherous enemy. The story of his life has been clouded by the biases and exaggerations of historians ever since the late 1700s. Even today, he remains a controversial figure because of his loyalty to the British and hostility to the Americans during the American Revolution.

Girty's early life shared much in common with another famous Pennsylvania Indian captive, markerMary Jemison. Like Jemison, he was born to Irish parents and grew up on the Pennsylvania frontier near modern Harrisburg. His father worked in the fur trade and was killed in a dispute with an Indian in 1750, when Simon was nine years old. Six years later, when the French and Indian War brought Indian raids to western Pennsylvania, Girty was taken captive by Delaware Indians, and he witnessed the execution of his step-father. Like Jemison, Girty was in his early teens when he was taken captive, and he was adopted by Seneca living in the Ohio Country. He spent several years with them, learning their language and customs, before he wasmarker repatriated to surviving family members at Fort Pitt at the end of the war.

By the early 1770s, Girty had a well-established reputation in the Pittsburgh area as an interpreter and scout. He allied himself with the Virginians in the region, and in 1774 he served as an agent and interpreter for Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of that colony, during his war againstmarkerChief Logan and the Shawnee. In fact, it was probably Girty who deliveredmarker Logan's famous speech to Dunmore at the end of the war.

At the outbreak of the American Revolution, the British and Americans both sought Girty's services as a frontier diplomat and scout. Girty initially sided with the patriots, who in 1777 accused him of treason for allegedly planning an Indian attack on Fort Pitt. Shortly thereafter, he joined the British side, moving to Detroit and working as an interpreter and war party leader. He was detested by the Moravian missionariesmarkerDavid Zeisberger and markerJohn Heckewelder because of his harassment of their communities of Delaware converts on the Ohio frontier.

Girty's infamy among the Americans was cemented in 1782 by his participation in the torture and execution of markerColonel William Crawford, a militia commander from western Pennsylvania. Crawford was captured by Delaware warriors at the Battle of Upper Sandusky. Seeking revenge for the murder of ninety-six peaceful Delaware Moravian converts by a Pennsylvania militiamen a few months earlier, his captors marked Crawford for death and submitted him to a series of grueling tortures. According to the accounts of two other captors who subsequently escaped, Girty was present at Crawford's suffering, and laughed in response to Crawford's pleas that he shoot him.

While controversy remains to this day over Girty's reaction to Crawford's torture, he remained an ally of the British in the Ohio Country during the Indian wars of the 1790s. After the British abandoned Detroit in 1796, Girty moved to Canada, where various reports place his death between 1811 and 1818.
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