David Williamson

From Ohio History Central

David Williamson was a militia officer and public official in the Ohio Country in the years of the American Revolution and the early nation.

Williamson was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1752. While he was still a child, Williamson's family moved to western Pennsylvania and eventually settled in Washington County.

By the age of twenty-five, Williamson had attained the rank of captain in the Washington County militia. His men probably fought in the Battle of Point Pleasant and in other engagements in Lord Dunmore's War in 1774. By the age of thirty, Williamson had become a lieutenant colonel in the Pennsylvania militia.

During the American Revolution, Williamson and his militia played an active role in the Ohio Country. Throughout the war, many American Indians in the region were loyal to the British due to their concern about the increasing number of Anglo-American settlers encroaching into the promised American Indian territory. In response to these invasions by unruly settlers, Ohio Country American Indians ambushed, killed, and kidnapped numerous settlers. Many colonial settlers on the frontier believed that so-called "Christian Indians" -- a Moravian community of Lenape (Delaware) peoples -- living in the Western Ohio villages of Schoenbrunn, Lichtenau, and Gnadenhutten were responsible for some of the attacks. In actuality, this group of Lenape -- and the Moravian missionaries ( including David Zeisberger and John Heckewelder) who lived and worked with them -- were not involved in the violence, and had tried to remain neutral in the conflict.

In 1781, Williamson led two companies of Pennsylvania militia into eastern Ohio to ascertain the true leanings of the Moravian mission's Lenape. Williamson captured several Lenape and took them to Fort Pitt. The Americans quickly released the prisoners after the militiamen could not place any blame on them for the American Indian attacks on invading settlers elsewhere in the Ohio Country.

Williamson's distrust and dislike of the region's American Indians continued to grow as more attacks occurred against white settlers. In March 1782, Williamson led a detachment of Pennsylvania militia to the Moravian mission at Gnadenhutten. The Moravians and their charges had abandoned the village the year before, but approximately one hundred former residents had returned to harvest any remaining crops in the fields. The militiamen slaughtered the Lenape. In total, the soldiers killed ninety-six men, women, and children at Gnadenhutten. This event became known as the Gnadenhutten Massacre.

Williamson's militia continued to attack Ohio Country American Indian communities for the remainder of the Revolutionary War. He and his men accompanied Colonel William Crawford to the Ohio Country in May and June 1782. Their intentions were to destroy the villages of the Wyandot, the Munsee and another Lenape settlement along the Sandusky River. With the assistance of British soldiers, these American Indian peoples defeated the militiamen in the Battle of the Sandusky and the Battle of the Olentangy on June 4-6, 1782. Of the 480 Pennsylvanians involved in the battle, approximately seventy men were killed or captured including Crawford. Williamson and others led the survivors back to the relative safety of Pennsylvania.

Following the war, Williamson was elected as the Washington County sheriff. He invested much of his money in various business ventures. Many of the enterprises failed. David Williamson died in poverty in 1814.

See Also


  1. Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.
  2. Zeisberger, David. Schoenbrunn Story: Excerpts from the Diary of the Reverend David Zeisberger, 1772-1777, at Schoenbrunn in the Ohio Country. Columbus: Ohio History Connection, 1972.