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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Revolutionary Mothers: Nonhelema of the Shawnee

Nonhelema's Memorial
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. In my last post, I took a look at the part played by Baroness von Riedesel, the wife of a Hessian general who fought on the side of the British. Today we’re going to talk about 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 briefly 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 was born around 1718, about 2 years before her most famous brother, Hokolesqua, 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, then 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.

Grenadier Squaw Historical Marker
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!

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.

Lord Dunmore by Joshua Reynolds
Nonhelema is reputed to have 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.

View of area around Nonhelema's Town
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 Revolution in working for peace between the Americans and the native peoples, both were deeply influenced by the Moravian doctrine of nonresistance.

Modern replica of Fort Randolph
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 the fort. 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 good behavior of their people, 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. 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.

Benjamin Logan
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 warning 160 miles to the garrison at Fort Donnally, which then also withstood attack. 

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 she 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. 

Plaque on Nonhelema's memorial
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 the Logan Elm State Memorial 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 story includes many difficult and sad circumstances, but she was a great leader among her people at a critical time in their history. Is there a women you particularly admire who is or was a great leader for our time? If so, please share her name and what you most admire about her.

Image of Fort Randolph by Kevin Myers at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,
J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won Foreword Magazine’s 2014 INDYFAB Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, released April 1, 2017. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Molly Pitcher - Patriot and Soldier

by Tamera Lynn Kraft

There were many well known heroes during the Revolutionary War, but there were many more lesser known or unknown heroes. One heroine has virtually disappeared from the history books, but her heroism was celebrated in early American history. She was known as Molly Pitcher.

Molly Pitcher was born as Mary Ludwig in 1754 near Trenton, New Jersey. Although some suggest Molly was a legend or a composite of many women, Mary Ludwig was a real woman and did at least some of the things suggested.

Mary moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1768 where she met William Hays, the local barber. A year later, they married. During the American Revolution, Hays volunteered in the Continental Army and became a gunner. As was common during this time, Mary would follow her husband in battle to help where needed.

On June 28th, 1778, Hays fought in the Monmouth in New Jersey during a extremely hot day. Mary followed him into battle and carried buckets of cold water onto the field to give the soldier cool drinks. This is when the soldiers nicknamed her Molly Pitcher. While on the field, Molly saw her husband collapse at his cannon. She immediately took his place at the cannon and manned the weapon until the Patriots won the battle. One witness said a cannon shot passed between her legs carrying away the lower part of her petticoat, but she was not injured during the battle.

Because of her actions, Molly Pitcher became a legendary figure representing women who helped during the war. After the war, Molly moved back to Carlisle, and after her husband's death, she married another veteran. She was honored for her wartime service in 1822 when a statue was erected in her honor and she was given a pension or $40 a year for the rest of her life. She died ten years later in 1832.

Tamera Lynn Kraft has always loved adventures. She loves to write historical fiction set in the United States because there are so many stories in American history. There are strong elements of faith, romance, suspense and adventure in her stories. She has received 2nd place in the NOCW contest, 3rd place TARA writer’s contest, and was a finalist in the Frasier Writing Contest. She currently has two novellas published: A Christmas Promise and Resurrection of Hope. Her first full length novel, Alice's Notions, is available at most online retail stores. You can contact her at

Friday, July 14, 2017


March 15, 1781

Guilford Courthouse Visitor's Center
Last spring, when I was traveling in North Carolina, I was able to visit the site of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, now Greensboro. It is a battle that figures in my current work in progress so I was eager to wander through the battlefield and visitor’s center.

Nathaniel Greene

General Nathaniel Greene was in charge of the Continental Army’s Southern Department. After the Battle of Cowpens in January of 1781, where 300 British were killed or wounded and another 525 were taken prisoner, General Cornwallis was determined to destroy Greene's army.

Cornwallis and his troops pursued the Americans across North Carolina. Greene had already reconnoitered and led them to the area near Guilford Courthouse.
Greene waited until additional Virginia militia reinforcements arrived and then positioned them in three successive defensive lines.

The first line was made up of untested North Carolina militia that would fire at the British while they crossed the open fields.

Less than half a mile further east, Greene situated his second line, the Virginia militia in dense woods which would provide cover for them and dispel the British formations.

Green placed his third line of 1,400 Continentals 500 yards further back on top of a small ridge and behind another cleared field.
Map of the Guilford Court House Battleground, based on c. 2006 National Park Service map

General Cornwallis
The British army was already tired after a twelve mile march that morning when they crossed Horsepen creek and readied for the attack. The Americans first attacked from a rail fence about 150 yards in front of the advancing British redcoats downing dozens of them.  The British continued their approach for 100 more yards, where they began to fire and charged.

The inexperienced North Carolina militia, who had been told they could disband, fled
The Guilford Courthouse woods in March
into the woods. When the British pursued them they were met by the second line, the Virginia militia. The fighting became splintered, much of it hand-to-hand combat.

The British were then met by Greene’s last line and in the open fields the advantage went back and forth between the two armies. Greene’s cavalry joined the fight.

Seeing his soldiers were being attacked from the front and flank by infantry and cavalry, Cornwallis directed that grapeshot be fired at the American horsemen, also placing his own troops in harm’s way. It halted the American cavalry charge and the infantry was also driven back. Additional British troops entered the woods and more hand-to hand combat ensued.

When Greene learned that British infantrymen were advancing from the rear, he ordered his troops to disengage and withdraw. The weather turned stormy as Greene’s exhausted and hungry men marched to a camp fifteen miles away.

In the ninety minute battle, the British though outnumbered more than two to one, defeated the American forces.  However, they lost over a quarter of their men.

Monument to General Nathaniel Greene

Cornwallis gave up the pursuit and retreated toward Wilmington on the North Carolina Coast while Greene headed to South Carolina. Later, Cornwallis, hoping to draw Greene to follow him, headed to Virginia. The stage was being set for Cornwallis’s eventual defeat at Yorktown.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Hidden History - Elfreth's Alley

While touring Philadelphia recently, we discovered a little street tucked away from some of the other sights, called Elfreth's Alley. This narrow cobble stoned alley, is lined each side with brick houses that were built between the 1720's and 1830's. In fact, it is "Our nation's oldest residential street" and it has remained inhabited since colonial times.

Elfreth's Alley wasn't originally included in William Penn's plans for Philadelphia's "greene country town." As the city prospered, however, waterfront properties were purchased and rented by the many middle class merchants, tradesmen, and artisans for convenience of conducting business. By 1700, most of the population of Philadelphia had settled withing four blocks of the Delaware River. Overcrowding was an issue.

In 1706, landowners Arthur Wells and John Gilbert recognized the need and decided to combine their properties between Front and Second Streets and opened up a cart path. At the time the Delaware River was wider and flowed right next to this area. The alley was named after silversmith and land speculator, Jeremiah Elfreth, who built and rented out many of the homes there. Elfreth's Alley residents included Dolly Madison, Betsy Ross, and a friend of Ben Franklin, William Maugridge, whom he frequently visited there.

The brick row houses found at Elfreth's Alley are called a "Trinity,"and many can be found in Philadelphia. They are sometimes called "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" houses. Each home has only one room on each floor. There is often a basement kitchen, a first floor that was typically used as a shop, narrow stairway, and family living areas on the upper levels. Although there is no yard in the front of the home, there is some space in the rear for a garden and perhaps the keeping of a cow and a few chickens. There are gates between homes for access to the rear, as seen in these photos. 

We did get to peek inside one of the homes that is used as a museum for a Windsor chair shop, and it is quite compact. It amazes me that sometimes people took in boarders, such as sailors, and that families that actually lived and worked in these homes.

This was the original tiny house movement!


New Englander Carla Gade writes from her Victorian home in central Maine. With ten books in print she enjoys bringing her tales to life with historically authentic settings and characters. An avid reader, amateur genealogist, photographer, and house plan hobbyist, Carla's great love (next to her family) is historical research. Though you might find her tromping around an abandoned homestead, an old fort, or interviewing a docent at an historical museum, it's easier to connect with her online.

Monday, July 10, 2017

This Month in Colonial History: July

United States Declaration of Independence.jpg
Facsimile of the original Declaration of Independence
July was a busy month during the Colonial and Federal eras!

2: "Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation." In 1776, this resolution is adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, thus closing the Colonial era (roughly). In 1788, Congress announces that the Constitution has been ratified, by 9 of the 13 states, thus ushering in the Federal era.

3: George Washington steps up to command the Continental army. (1775)

4: In 1776, the Declaration of Independence is approved by the Continental Congress. In 1801, to commemorate the nation’s 25th anniversary, the U.S. Marines parade in review for President Jefferson.

A last effort to avoid full-out war with Britain
5: “The Continental Congress adopted the Olive Branch Petition expressing hope for a reconciliation with Britain. However, King George III refused even to look at the petition and instead issued a proclamation declaring the colonists to be in a state of open rebellion.” (The History Place) Now there’s a tidbit I’d never heard before! (1775)

6: Birth of John Paul Jones (1747-1792) in Kirkbean, Scotland.

8: First public reading of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia (1776). In 1796, the first passport is issued by the U.S. State Department.

10: Birth of John Calvin (1509-1564) in Noyon, France. (Cited here because of the deep influence Calvinism had on the American Revolution.)

11:  Birth of John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) in Braintree, Massachusetts. In 1798, his father President John Adams approves an act officially creating the U.S. Marine Corps. And in 1804, the death of Alexander Hamilton in a duel with Aaron Burr.

Kutani Crane by Wedgwood
12:  Birth of British pottery designer Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) in Burslem, Staffordshire, England.

13: Congress enacts the Northwest Ordinance: "Considered one of the most important legislative acts of the Confederation Congress, it established the precedent by which the Federal government would be sovereign and expand westward with the admission of new states, rather than with the expansion of existing states and their established sovereignty under the Articles of Confederation." (Wikipedia) (1787)

14: In 1789, the fall of the Bastille in France. In 1791, on the second anniversary, the Birmingham riot takes place, resulting in mob rule for three days.

15: Birth of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) in Leiden, Holland.

16: Birth of British portrait painter Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) in Plympton, Devon, England. In 1769, the founding of San Diego as the mission San Diego de Alcala by Father Junipero Serra.

19: Samuel Colt invented the revolver. (1814)

20: Britain enacts the Riot Act, to be read in case of rowdy gatherings. “Our sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the king.” Thus the term "being read the Riot Act" is born. (1715)

25: American forces defeat the British at the Battle of Niagara Falls. (1814)

26: Benjamin Franklin becomes the first Postmaster General. (1775)

31: The opening of the U.S. Patent Office. (1790)

Which of these did you not know, before?

 As always, my thanks to The History Place, Holiday Insights, and Marine Corps University. And Wikipedia. :)