Close-up view of Blue Jacket from the painting "The Signing of the Treaty of Greene Ville, 1795" as depicted by Howard Chandler Christy.
Weyapiersenwah -- also spelled Wehyehpiherhsehnwah -- was a Shawnee leader. He is also known by his Anglo-American exonym, "Blue Jacket". The date of his birth is unknown, but it was probably in the early 1740s. Historians know very little of Weyapiersenwah's early years. In 1774, he participated in Lord Dunmore's War. In this conflict, militiamen from Pennsylvania and Virginia hoped to force the Ohio Country American Indians to accept the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1768), which would have required them to 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 Shawnee force led by Cornstalk. Weyapiersenwah also participated in the battle. During the American Revolution, Weyapiersenwah -- like most of the Shawnee -- fought on the side of the British. By the war's conclusion, Weyapiersenwah had settled along the Maumee River.
During the early 1790s, Weyapiersenwah and the Miami leader Little Turtle were the major leaders of American Indian nations living in the Ohio Country. They led their people against Anglo-American settlers who continued to move into Western Ohio, often in violation of treaty agreements. Ohio American Indians defeated an army led by General Josiah Harmar in 1790 and another one led by Arthur St. Clair in 1791. The so-called St. Clair's Defeat was one of the worst losses ever suffered by the American military at the hands of the American Indians. Following St. Clair's Defeat, Little Turtle called for negotiations between the American Indians of the Ohio Country and the United States. The American Indians' British ally had failed to support the various nations of the territory fully during the past several years in the nations' struggle against Anglo-American encroachment on American Indian-held lands. Little Turtle believed that, without Britain's help, the American Indians had no serious chance against the Americans. Weyapiersenwah then assumed control over American Indian attempts to stop the influx of settlers. In 1794, he led the American Indians against an army led by General Anthony Wayne. The two sides met at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Wayne emerged from the battle victorious. Weyapiersenwah's men fell back to Fort Miami, a British stronghold. The British, however, refused to assist Weyapiersenwah's men. At this point, Weyapiersenwah and his followers agreed to negotiate with the Americans.
In 1795, the Shawnee, represented by Weyapiersenwah, signed the Treaty of Greeneville. The Shawnee agreed to relinquish all claims to land in what is now Ohio except for the northwestern third of the state. In 1805, Weyapiersenwah also signed the Treaty of Fort Industry. Under this agreement, many Ohio Country natives were asked to cede parts of northwest Ohio to the United States.
Weyapiersenwah died about 1810. He probably resided near today's metro Detroit near the end of his life.
Numerous people have claimed that Weyapiersenwah was actually a white man by the name of Marmaduke van Sweringen. Supposedly, the Shawnee captured van Sweringen during the American Revolution, when he was approximately seventeen years old. When van Sweringen was captured, the Shawnee also kidnapped his younger brother. The Shawneesagreed to release the younger van Sweringen with Marmaduke swearing that he would go live with his captors as a American Indian.
Marmaduke van Sweringen was a real person. According to a family Bible, he was born in 1763, which means that the Shawnee may have captured him during the American Revolution. There is no doubt, however, that Weyapiersenwah was born during the early 1740s, approximately two decades before van Sweringen. Weyapiersenwah emerged as a powerful Shawnee leader 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 Weyapiersenwah, however, did not know English and had to rely on interpreters during his negotiations with whites.
Many people who believe that van Sweringen was Weyapiersenwah 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.
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.