John Hardin was a soldier in the American Revolution and in the early years of the new nation. He was born in Fauquier County, Virginia, in 1753. He became well known in his youth for his hunting and shooting abilities. In 1774, he became an ensign in the Virginia militia and participated in Lord Dunmore's War in that same year. During the American Revolution, Hardin supported the struggle for independence and served in the Continental Army. Upon the war's conclusion, he settled in Washington County, Kentucky.
During the 1780s, Hardin participated in various campaigns against Indians residing in the Northwest Territory. In 1790, General Josiah Harmar led a force to attack the Miami Indians, the Shawnee Indians, and the Delaware Indians, along with other natives located in western Ohio. The natives fled their villages as Harmar's army approached. The Americans burned several villages, but the Indians regrouped. On October 20, the natives, led by Little Turtle, attacked a detachment from Harmar's army led by Colonel Hardin. His force consisted of several hundred militiamen and a few regular soldiers. Hardin led his men into an ambush. Most of the militiamen fled the battle without even firing a shot. The regular soldiers put up a brief resistance, but the natives killed most of them. Some of the retreating militiamen did not stop until they crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky. Harmar sent out another detachment after Little Turtle's warriors two days later. Once again, the natives inflicted heavy casualties upon the Americans. Harmar immediately retreated to the safety of Fort Washington. He had lost 183 men killed or missing in this campaign.
In 1792, President George Washington dispatched Hardin to negotiate a treaty with the Shawnee Indians living in western Ohio. As he neared one of the Shawnees' villages, Hardin stopped for the night. As he slept, several Shawnees killed him. Hardin's life illustrates the danger of living on the frontier during the 1780s and 1790s, as well as the tensions between white Americans and Indians following the American Revolution. The town of Hardin in Shelby County, Ohio, and Hardin County, Ohio, are named for John Hardin. The town of Hardin is said to be located at the site of his death.