Richard Butler

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Richard Butler was a frontiersman and military leader in the years before, during and after the American Revolution. He was born in Ireland on April 1, 1743 and migrated with his father to North America sometime prior to 1764. They settled in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Butler had a long career in first the English and then the American military. He served as an ensign in Bouquet's Expedition in 1764. During the late 1760s, Butler and his brother participated in the fur trade with American Indians in the Ohio Country. The two men provided American Indians in the region with manufactured goods in return for animal skins. He joined the Continental Army during the American Revolution. He participated in the Battle of Saratoga and eventually attained the rank of brigadier-general. In 1783, the Confederation Congress appointed him to be an Indian commissioner. He helped to negotiate a treaty with the Iroquois people, determining their western boundary with the United States.

In 1785, the Confederation Congress sent George Rogers Clark, Arthur Lee, and Butler to the Ohio Country to negotiate a treaty with the Lenape (Delaware), the Wyandot (Huron), the Ottawa, and the Ojibwe (Chippewa). The treaty negotiations took place at Fort McIntosh. Most of the American Indian representatives were younger chiefs who did not have the legal authority to negotiate a treaty. Despite this, the American commissioners pressed for a treaty. After several weeks of negotiations and the pressing of much alcohol onto the American Indian representatives, the coalition signed the Treaty of Fort McIntosh on January 21, 1785. The tribal leaders had agreed that they lived under the American government and could not form alliances with any other powers. Many of Ohio's American Indians were thus forced to relinquish their lands in southern and eastern Ohio. They were confined to the western corner of modern-day Ohio with a border consisting roughly of the Cuyahoga River on the east; a southern border extending from modern-day Akron westward to the Tuscarawas River, southward to Fort Laurens, then westward to Pickawillany on the Miami River; a western border running north from Pickawillany to the St. Mary's River, to modern-day Ft. Wayne, Indiana; and a northern border from Fort Wayne to Lake Erie, eastward to the Cuyahoga River. Many of Ohio's American Indian peoples rejected the treaty. The Shawnee, especially, were especially opposed to the treaty because they lost claim to all of their lands in southwestern Ohio and did not recognize the leaders sent to the treaty negotiations.

Later that same year, the Confederation Congress dispatched Butler and Samuel Holden Parsons to negotiate a new treaty with the Shawnee. The negotiations took place at Fort Finney (near what is now Cincinnati, Ohio). The Shawnees refused to give up their land. Butler and Parsons threatened the Shawnee with attack. Shawnee chiefs, fearing the power of the American military, agreed to the Treaty of Fort Finney on February 1, 1786. The Shawnee agreed to relinquish all claims to their land in southwestern Ohio and southern Indiana. They would move to the land set aside for them in the Treaty of Fort McIntosh. The Americans also promised to keep white squatters from settling on land reserved exclusively for the Indians.

Butler spent the remainder of the 1780s as the superintendent of Indian affairs for the Northern District of America. He also served in the Pennsylvania legislature. The United States government named him the head of the court-martial for Josiah Harmar in 1791. He also served as the second in command to Arthur St. Clair in his violent campaign against remaining American Indians living in Western Ohio. Butler lost his life on November 4, 1791. He was severely wounded in St. Clair's Defeat. The American soldiers fled the battlefield, leaving Butler behind. American Indians in the Ohio Country disliked Butler for his role in the treaty negotiations of 1785 and 1786.

See Also


  1. Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.