The Spicer Massacre

My notes: Elizabeth Spicer is our direct ancestor. She married Thomas Bowen, and her direct descendant is of course Bura Dell Bowen Stenoien, my grandmother. These events occurred over two centuries ago and remind us both of our fragility and mortality. Elizabeth experienced first-hand the culture of the Indians; its inhumanity as well as its compassion and love.

It is important to have an historical understanding of what lead to the massacre in 1773, lest one assume that simple Indian brutality and cruelty was the root cause. Prior to the French and Indian War (1753-1758), there was a long history of peaceful coexistence between the English and the Indians. The Iroquois or Six Nation confederation of Indian tribes was a powerful force, working side-by-side with the English to protect both societies’ interests. William Penn had a sensible Indian policy, acknowledging the Indians’ right to their ancestral lands and obtaining new territory only through the legal purchase of land from Iroquois leaders.

For a number of reasons, the Indians were slowly moving west. Not only had many tribes been depleted by epidemics of small pox, measles and tuberculosis, the fur trade and introduction of gun powder lead to the gradual depletion of game. The Shawnees and Delawares in particular headed out west into the Ohio Valley.

When the French were defeated, the Indians hoped that they would be left alone in the west. Nonetheless, the English built forts in Detroit and at present day Pittsburg (Fort Pitt). The British Commander-in-Chief, General Jeffrey Amherst, ignored Indian interests and disdained Indian courtesies. The British supplied them with little gunpowder and ammunition. When Indians were murdered by whites, the perpetrator was not brought to justice. When whites were murdered my Indians, the Indian was tried in an English court and hanged.

Chief Pontiac, leader of the Ottawa tribe, waged war on the English in 1763, vowing to drive the white man out of Indian territories. A number of forts were captured and destroyed. In Pennsylvania, Fort Pitt was besieged in July. The commandant of Fort Pitt, Captain Simeon Ecuyer, with the approval of General Amherst, made a gift of blankets infected with smallpox to the Delaware Indians! The siege was broken and Fort Pitt saved when Colonel Bouquet arrived with a relief column of four hundred soldiers.

During this time, a breed of ‘Indian haters’ had been growing up on the Pennsylvania frontier. These men and boys were epitomized by the Paxton Boys, whose first deed of heroism was to murder six peacable and defenseless Indians at Conestoga. The governments of New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia were unable to restrain their border populations, who murdered Indians wholesale and with impunity. Benjamin Franklin observed, “It grieves me to hear that our Frontier People are yet greater Barbarians that the Indians, and continue to murder them in a time of peace.

The Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768, negotiated with the Iroquois, opened the vast southwestern area of Pennsylvania to the Ohio River for white settlement. Most of the early settlers came from Maryland and Virginia, who sold them land at one-fourteenth the price of Pennsylvania, and allowed them the purchase of more than 400 acres. William Spicer arrived soon thereafter, in 1771 or 1772. He settled in the southeastern corner of Greene County, near Garard’s Fort.

I received an e-mail from Betty Silfies in December, 2001. She informs me that Elizabeth Spicer likely had a sister, Mary Spicer. Her information follows:
I wonder if you are aware that Elizabeth Spicer Bowen had an older sister also. Until the recent interest in family research people were not able to put all the facts together. I am a descendant of Mary Spicer Burns. If you look at the early deeds and tax lists of the property that Elizabeth inherited from her father you will see that the taxes were paid by Elizabeth and Michael Burns. On p 123-124 , dated 14th June 1795 there is even a diagram of how the land is divided between the two. In late 1795 or 1796 Michael sold his part of the property and moved to what is now Perry County, MO, but was Spanish Territory at the time. There are found documents that his wife Mary signed as the former Mary Spicer. I have read that there were probably 2 cabins on the property even at the time of the massacre. Michael and Mary probably lived in the other. They may have fled to one of the forts, or were missed by the Indians.

I received an email from Maynard Spicer in March 2005. In it, he states that William’s father was Phillip Spicer, who died in 1749. Phillip’s estate was settled by his wife Ann in Snow Hill, Maryland. This information can be verified in the hall of records in Annapolis, Md. Phillip Spicer’s father was John Spicer, who died in 1719. He lived below Cambridge, Md on Crab Island and was a carpenter.

The Spicer Massacre of June 4, 1773

The Weston Independent – January 19, 1926

On August 7, 1889, the Spicer-Bowen descendants held a family reunion at Davistown, Greene County, Pennsylvania in memory of Elizabeth Spicer. Elizabeth was taken captive by the Indians June 4, 1773 and returned to friends Christmas Day, 1774 at Muddy Creek, Greene County, Pennsylvania. At this meeting her youngest daughter, Nancy Steele, then 88, was present, as well as many grand- and great-grandchildren and others.

A movement was started at this time to collect records of descendants. Albert Stephens, John Coatsworth and Clarence C. Wright were appointed to the task. Upon the death of the first two, all records fell into my hands. As I had the minutes of this meeting, I feel it my duty to put into writing at this time some of the records, as well as the story of the massacre as I learned it from the only living daughter, Agnes Steele (known as ‘Aunt Nancy’), my great-grandmother. Additionally, I was raised on an adjoining farm one-half mile west of the scene of the massacre, and I do know the lay of the land. I do not know that any one of the descendants has ever written the story as told by Betty Spicer.

In about the year 1771 or 1772, there came into western Pennsylvania from Maryland or Virginia, a William Spicer and his family. William, his wife Lydia and five children (some people say seven) came to make their future home.

They traveled across the mountains on horseback with packsaddles. William, being a farmer as well as a trader, had the right to stake off four hundred acres. He was then required to build a cabin and raise a crop of grain, however small and of any kind, which entitled him to a preemption right to add to this one thousand acres of adjoining land, providing that this had not been staked off. William built the cabin and planted the crop (whether one or two is uncertain). The farm lines ran on the tops of the ridges while the house was build in the valley below.

William Spicer located in a valley below Keener’s Knob and the ridge between Whiteley and Dunkard Creek, on land that now belongs to Amanda Rice (once owned by Oliver Sicklesmith) about two miles east of Garard’s Fort, Greene County, and one mile south of Willow Tree. I was born one-half mile west of the cabin on an adjoining farm, and had the opportunity to pass by and through the farm on many occasions. Additionally, at the time of the first reunion, I was with the large party who visited the farm with Major Lot Bowen. On that day, this grandson of Betty Spicer, told the story of the massacre and pointed out the course and movements of the Indians on that fateful day as told him by his grandmother. Thus, I am certain that this is the spot and cabin where the massacre took place.

Original platte of the Spicer farm.

This house, built of logs, a relic of Indian days, has at this time withstood the storms of time. The logs had so rotted out at the bottom at the time of our last visit that I had to stoop upon entering the door. The lookouts were nearly circular, about two inches in diameter with four in each gable. The port holes in the garret were about eighteen inches long and about four inches deep. These were sawed out of the logs and there were two on each side. This cabin has long since been torn down, but the spot can be located.

The Spring of 1773
In the spring of 1773, William Spicer and his family planted their crops. Everything was going quite nicely, and since he was on very friendly terms with the Indians, no danger was feared.
In other localities, disturbances had arisen between the Whites and Indians. When an Indian was killed, his friends would start on a raid on some friendly Whites to get revenge.
Warnings had been sent to Spicer that the Indians were on the War Path and that he should flee to nearby Garard Fort. Spicer thought that the family could complete their washing and ironing and go the next day. To his great surprise, on the morning of June 4, the Indians came down from the trail and caught him chopping wood around the corner of the house, some say that he was making a watering trough. His daughter, Elizabeth, a lovely girl of twelve, was assisting her mother with the ironing. William Jr., aged ten, was nearby with other children, but Jobe, who was sixteen years old, was out in the corn field trapping squirrels and plowing corn.

Murder of Family

A more lovely, contented frontier home could not be imagined when the warriors appeared, intent on murdering the innocent. Spicer, upon observing their presence, stuck his ax in the log and started in to the house to get something for them to eat. Suddenly, one of the warriors struck him in the head with the ax and followed by killing the mother and two children. Elizabeth dodged out the rear door and, with brother William and the iron still in her hand, ran for some distance. In flight, she threw the iron behind a log (years later she returned and found it, and I learn that it remains in the possession of some of the relatives). Elizabeth and William ran to find the men on an adjoining farm. Had they not hallooed for these men, they might not have been caught. As they were very fleet of foot, the Indians were pleased. They captured the two children and returned to the house. There, they discovered that the baby was still alive. A big Indian took the child by the feet and beat its head against the house. This was a great shock to Betty, a scene that she never forgot. They killed Jobe in the field where he was trapping and working, scalped him and the family, and after loading up with all the plunder that they could carry, started with the two children captives for their camp in Ohio.

Painting of the Spicer Massacre by R. L. Burwell. This can be found in the Greeene County Historical Society Museum in Waynesburg, PA.

After they had gone a short distance out the dividing ridge, or old Indian trail, they heard people coming after them and were compelled to hide in a nearby hollow. All night long they heard horses racing by. The Indians warned the children captives that if they made any noise, they would be killed.

This the iron that Betsy was carrying when she fled from the Indians. Years later she retrieved this from behind a log. It can be found at the Greene County Historical Society Museum in Waynesburg, PA.

The Indians soon discovered that they had too much plunder carry, so they unloaded and hid a portion. At the same time they dropped her father’s scalp, which had a double crown. After Betty’s return from captivity, she recovered it and ever kept it with the thought that it be buried with her.

On this trip, when the children tired, a big Indian would put Betty on his back and carry her. At night, to keep warm, she would be placed in a comfortable spot and two Indians would lie down and place their backs against her. The trip was made to the Ohio line and the group crossed the river near what is now Wheeling, West Virginia.

Betty and William were soon adopted by their captors and were loved and carefully taken care of. When any feast or specialties were served, Betty was never slighted. One of the Indians’ special desserts was to gather wild turkey eggs lay them away until they rotted, then serve them. Betty would hide hers; when she was certain of not being seen, she would throw the delicacy into a nearby ditch.

At one time, one of the squaws dressed herself in Betty’s mother’s clothing, which had been stolen. Betty’s pride was touched, and taking it as an insult to the memory of her mother, she flew into a rage and finally tore the clothing off the woman, all to the great amusement of the Indians. She was not punished; rather, it was considered an heroic act. I am not so sure but that this characteristic has passed on down through the ages resulting in today’s demand for women’s rights.

Betty with the Indians

During Betty’s stay with the Indians, they taught her the names of herbs, how and when to find them, as well as their use in case of sickness. This art proved to be one her great assets through her entire life. This knowledge was handed down from generation to generation, and is still practiced by many of her descendants.I am sorry to say that I have many times been an unwilling victim of some of her concoctions.

The Indians also taught her to smoke a pipe, a habit she never did give up. When she was very old and blind, it was her granddaughter, Ruth Steele, whose job it was to fill her pipe for her, and place a coal from the wood fire on it so Grandma could have another smoke. This I learned from her granddaughter.

Betty often said that the winter she was with the Indians was cold and rough, but she and her brother had the best of care. To be sure that she didn’t get cold, she was placed in bed between two squaws. It has been common knowledge among the descendants that Betty was with the Indians eighteen months, and if we count back from the time of her return, we find that to be correct.

Wars Break Out

The traders and Indians had frequent quarrels, especially the younger men, and often someone would be shot. The Shawnees and Mingos (Delaware Indians who had moved into Ohio) were arrogant and overbearing. In the spring of 1774 (April 27), Creesap killed and scalped two Indians near Wheeling, West Virginia. On April 30, it is claimed, Greathouse tricked with drinks and then killed all of Chief Logan’s kin (who were considered to be at peace with the whites) and others, thirteen in all.

This is known as the Yellow Creek Massacre and occurred northwest of the site of the Spicer massacre. “Logan’s Lament” was presented to the world by Thomas Jefferson. “There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature… Who is there to mourn for Logan?– Not One!” The war then began in earnest. Chief Logan, tribal chief of the Iroquois Six Nations, joined the Delawares and Shawnee Indians already fighting. This war involved the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio.

Following this, many Whites and Indians were slaughtered until Lord Dunmore was sent down the Ohio to the mouth of the Great Kanawha and succeeded in calling together many of the chiefs, making a treaty with them. As a result of the treaty, the Indians agreed that all prisoners captured would be returned. This treaty was signed in November of 1774, and shortly afterwards, Colonel Wilson was commissioned to meet the Indians at a specified point along the Ohio and then bring the prisoners home. On his way, he crossed the Monongahela near the mouth of Big Whiteley. He built what was then known as New Geneva, and called it Fort Wilson. He also built a mill. At a later date, Betty’s stepson worked in this mill. Isaiah Bowen was the millright before he moved to Missouri. When Colonel Wilson arrived at the meeting site, Betty was there to be returned; William however had been hidden and could not be found. She was returned to the settlement, probably on Muddy Creek, on Christmas Day, 1774. A few years later, she married William Daugherty.

William Spicer Among Indians

It was a custom among the Indians to have days of sport. On such days they would have running races, jumping, wrestling, shooting and ‘running the gauntlet,’ as it was called. William took part in all of these competitions and was a frequent winner, as he was very fleet of foot (this made him well-liked by his Indian captors). When the great feat of ‘running the gauntlet’ was performed, it took courage, bravery, skill and alertness to win. Two long rows of fire were arranged with Indians on the outside of each, holding in their hands a stick of wood or a firebrand. The boys were started in between the rows at one end, and emerged out the other. As they ran through, the Indians punched at them with burning stock, and the boy who succeeded in dodging and emerged with the fewest burns or scars was the lucky boy. William was the winner that summer, and the Indians determined that they would never give him up, and they never did.

When William Spicer was nineteen or twenty years of age, he wanted to return to visit his sister. The Indians at first refused to grant his wish for fear that it was a trick to get away from them. He gave his word that he would return if his wish was granted. The Indians consented, sending with him a large Indian bodyguard.

They also threatened to either kill the boy or his friends if he did not return. He stayed for sometime and visited her. Many of his old friends insisted that he stay; they would take care of the Indian bodyguard. William said that it would merely bring on another massacre. Besides, if he should remain, he would have to suffer the insults of the white man since he had learned the manners and customs of the red men. The Indians had been kind to him, and he was a favorite of the tribe, so he thought it was best he return as promised. Some time later he married an Indian girl and was appointed Chief. He raised a family of two boys and two girls (probably more). He named the first girl after his sister, Elizabeth, while the second daughter was named by his wife, Faircloud. William took great interest in his family and the tribe that he controlled. Much farming and stock raising was begun and he became quite wealthy. He started to educate his children (some claim that they attended W. and J. College). At one time when his sister visited him, he told her if she would send a white boy to marry one of his girls, he would give him half a bushel of silver with which to start out their lives together. In the latter part of his life, he apparently had some dispute over property and it was reported that he was poisoned by an Indian, which eventually resulted in his death.
William Spicer never made but one trip into Pensylvania, and never accompanied the Indians on any of their raids. While it is said that the Indians were often seen in the company of a white man, this was not William. It is felt that Theodore Roosevelt, in his book Winning the West, identified this man. “One of Lord Dunmore’s scouts was Simon Girty, of evil fame, whom the whole west grew to loathe with bitter hatred, as the ‘White Renegade.’ He was the son of a vicious Irish trader who was killed by the Indians and grew up among them. His daring, ferocity and unscrupulous cunning early on made him one of their leaders. For the moment, he was serving Lord Dunmore and the whites.” He continues, “He was by taste, habits and education a red man, and felt ill at ease among those of his own color. He soon returned to the Indians and dwelt among them ever afterwards, the most inveterate foe of the whites to be found in all tribes. He lived to be a very old man is said to have died fighting his ancient foe and kinsmen, the Americans.

When Elizabeth’s son, Corbly Bowen, was ten or twelve years old, she took him on horseback and journeyed out to Ohio to visit her brother. When some distance from camp the war whoop was given, and the Indians came rushing out in two lines and surrounded them, which gave the boy an awful fright. Betty, knowing what to do, threw them a signal of friendship, and soon they were by her side inquiring what she wanted. She asked for their chief and was soon ushered into his presence. This must have been about 1804, as Corbly was born April 22, 1794. During the visit, she was treated royally, and on Sundays, everything was quiet. William asked his sister to make some cookies and doughnuts like his mother used to make and to teach his wife how to make them, which she did.

When the visit was ended and she was ready to return, many presents were given them. One of these was an Indian pony that remained in the family for many years. I have heart Uncle Lot Bowen say he had carried wheat to mill and flour home on this pony when he was a small lad. The sack had to be tied onto the pony, as he was too small to balance it.
Some claim that Betty made more than one trip to visit her brother, for on one occasion, she was asked to cook the turkey and prepare the Christmas meal, as she was in the habit of doing it at home, in order that William’s wife might learn how to do it.

Elizabeth’s Marriage and Family

After the marriage of Elizabeth Spicer and William Daugherty, two children were born, Elizabeth Burge and Lydia Hubbs. After the death of her first husband, Elizabeth married Thomas Bowen, October 16, 1791.

The following is an exact copy from the records of Thomas Bowen’s old family bible, now in the hands of Thomas Franklin Bowen, Bland, Missouri:
Thomas Bowen and Agnes Bowen were wedded A.D. 1768, the 22nd of March. Thomas Bowen and Elizabeth Bowen were wedded October 16th, 1791.

Spicer Bowen was born September 9th, 16th day of the moon, 1792
Corbly* Bowen was born the 22nd of April, 1794
Mary Bowen was born November 3, 1796
William Bowen was born 21st of August, 1798
Thomas Bowen, Jr. was born September 29, 1800
Agnes Bowen was born April 27, 1802

*Corbly Bowen’s namesake, the Reverend John Corbly of Garard’s Fort, was active in the Whiskey Insurrection of 1791-1794. He was arrested in November of 1994 and marched 30 days through the snow to Philadelphia. He and others were finally released without trial. Reverend Corbly’s Goshen Baptist Church at Garard’s Fort was the first church formed in Greene County in 1773, only two miles from the Spicer farm. Previously imprisoned in eastern Virginia for his Baptist beliefs, Corbly was an excellent preacher and founded a number of Baptist churches in western Pennsylvania. He was an ardent patriot during the revolution, served as Virginia Justice of the Peace, and survived the tragedy of seeing his wife and three of his children killed by Indians in 1782.

This family was raised at Davistown, Greene County, Pennsylvania on a farm one mile further up Meadow Run, left branch. Died and was buried on this same farm.

Elizabeth Spicer Bowen died April 8, 1854, age 92 years and 10 months.

Thomas Bowen, born 1747, died 1832, came from Wales. He was first married March 22, 1768 to Agnes Crea of Muddy Creek, Greene County, Pennsylvania. To them were born six children:
George Bowen born January 15th, 1769
Robert Bowen born March 4, 1770
Sarah Bowen born November 13, 1771
Elizabeth Bowen born April 19, 1778
Alexander Bowen born December 9, 1780
Isaiah Bowen born December 7, 1784