Weyapiersenwah (ca. 1743-1810), also spelled Wehyehpiherhsehnwah and commonly referred to by his English name Blue Jacket, was a prominent military leader of the Shawnee. During the Northwest Indian Wars (1785-1795), Blue Jacket and Miami Chief Little Turtle led an American Indian alliance against United States military forces in the Ohio Country, which included members of many tribes with villages in Ohio, including the Shawnee, Miami (Myaamia), Wyandotte, Delaware (Lenape), Ottawa, Potawatomis, Ojibwes, and small numbers of Cherokee and Seneca-Cayuga Tribes.
The first sources mentioning Blue Jacket date to his being a prominent war chief, leaving his early life up to speculation. However, Blue Jacket was born during a time marked by regular, bloody skirmishes between the American Indians and Anglo-American settlers. During the 1740s, Ohio tribes previously forced to flee the Ohio Country during the Beaver Wars, a campaign during which the Iroquois fought other American Indian groups, including those in the Ohio Country, for their lands and territories in order to gain access to new beaver populations, were returning to what we refer to today as Ohio. The most notable of these tribes was the Shawnee, and by the time Blue Jacket was a young boy, the Shawnee’s re-settlement in the Ohio Country was fully underway. The British and French desired the Shawnee’s homeland, and it became disputed “unsettled” territory.
During the early 1760s, Ohio tribes, including the Shawnee, ran out of ammunition and other supplies with which to defend their villages and lands, and began to conduct a series of raids to replenish supplies. It is during this period that Blue Jacket probably gained recognition as a talented warrior. Blue Jacket and the Shawnee allied with the British during the American Revolution (1765-1783) and he led the Shawnee in Lord Dunmore’s War (1774), when the Shawnee and Seneca-Cayuga Tribes unsuccessfully fought to ward off Anglo-American squatters on American Indian lands south of the Ohio River in Virginia. As a result, American Indians there lost their rights to hunt on lands south of the Ohio River. The Shawnee continued to lead the resistance and Blue Jacket rose to prominence.
During the 1790s, Blue Jacket and Little Turtle together led warriors of their American Indian alliance in victory over United States’ forces under the command of Josiah Harmar in 1790, and again in 1791 against Arthur St. Clair. As ordered by President George Washington, St. Clair’s forces fought to force American Indian groups in the Ohio Country off their land. The two leaders led the alliance in an offensive attack on St. Clair’s troops at daybreak and swarmed the camp on the banks of the Wabash. Although Blue Jacket and Little Turtle led the alliance against United States forces, the American Indians suffered a decisive defeat at the Battle of Fallen Timbers against General Anthony Wayne in 1794. The American Indian’s defeat at Fallen Timbers resulted in leaders of many tribes, after months of deliberation, signing the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, a document which ceded two-thirds of the State of Ohio to the United States—all of southern Ohio and parts of the central and eastern regions.
After the signing of the Treaty of Greenville, although Blue Jacket remained active in public relations efforts, he retired to Wapakoneta, Ohio, where he supplemented his farming and hunting with trade. Blue Jacket’s later successor Tecumseh became a notable warrior during the Northwest Indian Wars and after Blue Jacket’s passing, grew to prominence and continued to lead the alliance during the War of 1812.
It is interesting to note that a story in an 1877 issue of the Ohio State Journal written by journalist Thomas Jefferson Larsh propagated the idea that Blue Jacket was in fact a young, Anglo-American man named Marmaduke van Sweringen who was captured by the Shawnee, probably during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). In the late 1960s, author Allan W. Eckert popularized the theory in his novels. However, chronological disconnects and other inconsistencies in the documented lives of both Blue Jacket and van Sweringen, along with conclusive DNA tests, prove this theory to be false. The results of the DNA tests were published in the September 2006 issue of the Ohio Journal of Science.
- 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.