Close-up view of Blue Jacket from the painting "The Signing of the Treaty of Greene Ville, 1795" as depicted by Howard Chandler Christy.
Blue Jacket was a leader of the Shawnee natives. The date of his birth is unknown, but it was probably in the early 1740s. His Native American name was Weyapiersenwah (also spelled Wehyehpiherhsehnwah). Historians know very little of his early years. In 1774, Blue Jacket participated in Lord Dunmore's War. In this conflict, militiamen from Pennsylvania and Virginia hoped to force the Ohio Country natives to accept the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1768) and leave much of what is now the State of Ohio. The major battle in this war was the Battle of Point Pleasant. The British succeeded in defeating a force of Shawnee natives led by Cornstalk. Blue Jacket participated in the battle. During the American Revolution Blue Jacket, like most Shawnees, fought with the British. By the war's conclusion, Blue Jacket had settled along the Maumee River.
During the early 1790s, Blue Jacket and Little Turtle of the Miami natives were the major leaders of the natives in the Ohio Country. They led their people against American settlers in western Ohio as the whites moved into the area. The Native Americans defeated an army led by General Josiah Harmar in 1790 and another one led by Arthur St. Clair in 1791. St. Clair's Defeat was one of the worst losses ever suffered by the American military at the hands of the Native Americans. Following St. Clair's Defeat, Little Turtle called for negotiations between the Native Americans and the United States. The natives' British ally had failed to support the Native Americans fully during the past several years against the Americans. Little Turtle believed that, without Britain's help, the natives had no serious chance against the Americans. Blue Jacket then assumed control over native attempts to stop the influx of settlers. In 1794, he led the Native Americans against an army led by General Anthony Wayne. The two sides met at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Wayne emerged from the battle victorious. Blue Jacket's men fell back to Fort Miami, a British stronghold. The British refused to assist the natives. At this point, Blue Jacket and his followers agreed to negotiate with the Americans.
In 1795, the Shawnees, represented by Blue Jacket, signed the Treaty of Greeneville. The natives agreed to relinquish all claims to land in what is now Ohio except for the northwestern third of the state. In 1805, Blue Jacket also signed the Treaty of Fort Industry. Under this agreement, many Ohio Country natives agreed to cede parts of northwest Ohio to the United States.
Blue Jacket died about 1810. He probably resided near Detroit near the end of his life.
Numerous people have claimed that Blue Jacket was a white man by the name of Marmaduke van Sweringen. Supposedly, the Shawnees captured van Sweringen during the American Revolution, when he was approximately seventeen years old. When van Sweringen was captured, the Shawnees also kidnapped his younger brother. The Shawnees agreed to release the younger van Sweringen with Marmaduke swearing that he would go live with his captors as a Native American.
Marmaduke van Sweringen was a real person. According to a family Bible, he was born in 1763, which means that the Shawnees may have captured him during the American Revolution. There is no doubt, however, that Blue Jacket was born during the early 1740s, approximately two decades before van Sweringen. Blue Jacket emerged as a powerful leader of the Shawnees during Lord Dunmore's War in 1774. At this point, van Sweringen would have been only eleven years of age. Van Sweringen was supposedly captured when he was a grown man. At the age of seventeen years, he would have a firm grasp of the English language. It is well documented that Blue Jacket did not know English and had to rely on interpreters during his negotiations with whites.
Many people who believe that van Sweringen was Blue Jacket point to the Shawnee chief's children, who purportedly were of mixed heritage. There is no doubt that Blue Jacket's children were partly white. Blue Jacket's wife, Margaret Moore, was a white woman and a Shawnee captive. Historical documents refer to the couple's children repeatedly as "half breeds" or "half bloods." If Blue Jacket was white and his wife was white, these terms, in all likelihood, would not have been used to describe the couple's children.
It is also important to note that the first claims that Blue Jacket was a white man did not emerge until the late 1870s, approximately seventy years after the chief's death. None of Blue Jacket's historical contemporaries ever claimed that the Shawnee leader was a white man.
Results of DNA testing of Blue Jacket and van Sweringen heirs published in 2006 showed no relationship between the families tested.
- Josiah Harmar
- Arthur St. Clair
- Anthony Wayne
- American Revolution
- Battle of Fallen Timbers
- Treaty of Fort Industry (1805)
- Shawnee Indians
- Treaty of Greeneville (1795)
- Ohio Country
- Lord Dunmore's War and the Battle of Point Pleasant
- Fort Miamis
- Miami Indians
- Harmar's Defeat
- St. Clair's Defeat
- Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1768)
- Greenville, Ohio
- Maumee River
- Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.