As it were
Pioneer Brickell’s path here was harrowing
The John Brickell Memorial Marker, near the federal courthouse on Marconi Boulevard.
Near the northwest corner of the Joseph P. Kinneary U.S. Courthouse on Marconi Boulevard in downtown Columbus is a small area with an aging metal marker attached to a rather imposing boulder.
Most people never pass by it or even know that it is there. Those who do walk by do not often stop to read it, perhaps assuming that it must have something to do with the courthouse nearby.
The memorial marks the site of the home of one of the earliest European settlers in central Ohio. John Brickell arrived at the Forks of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers in 1797. This was the same year that Lucas Sullivant laid out the village of Franklinton on the west bank of the Scioto.
Sullivant had come into Ohio from Kentucky and points south as a surveyor of the Virginia Military District. The District ran from the Miami River in the west to the Scioto River in the east and was set aside for Virginia veterans of the Revolution. All of this part of the country began to be surveyed and settled in earnest in the wake of the Greenville Treaty of 1795 which ended a generation of violent conflict. Lucas Sullivant in 1797 was 32 years old, at the height of his powers and well on his way to becoming one of the largest land owners in the Midwest.
John Brickell, on the other hand, came to central Ohio from the north. He traveled to central Ohio from the lands still owned and occupied by Native Americans. He was able to do so because of that same Greenville Treaty that brought so many other people to Ohio. But unlike so many others who came because the treaty ended a conflict, John Brickell came here because the treaty set him free. John Brickell in 1797 was 16 years old and felt himself lucky to be alive.
Many years later he told at least some of his story in an issue of the American Pioneer magazine. “I was born on the 24th of May, 1781, in Pennsylvania, near a place then known as Stewart’s Crossing on the Youghiogheny River. ... On my father’s side I was of Irish and on my mother’s of German parentage. My father died when I was quite young, and I went to live with an elder brother ... about two miles from Pittsburgh.”
“On the ninth of February, 1791 ... I was alone clearing out a fence row, about a quarter of a mile from our house, when an Indian came to me and took my axe from me and laid it on his shoulder with his rifle, and then let down the cock of his gun, which it appears, he had cocked in approaching me. ... He took me by the hand and pointed the direction he wanted me to go.”
“After going a little distance we fell in with George Girty. ... He spoke English and told me what they had done. He said, ‘White people had killed Indians, and that the Indians had retaliated, and now there is war, and you are a prisoner; and we will take you to our town and make an Indian of you; and you will not be killed if you go peaceably; but if you try to run away, we won’t be troubled with you, but we will kill you and take your scalp to our town.’ I told him I would go peaceably.”
It would be more than four years before John Brickell was able to come home. In that time he had many adventures. He was shown the scalps of friends and neighbors who had been recently killed. He later arrived at a Seneca town where he was forced to run a gantlet between two lines of the residents, young and old, of the village. “I knew nothing of what they wanted, and started; but I had no chance, for they fell to beating me, until I was bruised from head to foot. ... I was nearly killed and did not get over it for two months.”
Eventually Brickell travelled with his captors to a Delaware town on the Auglaize River where he became part of the family of a warrior named Whingwy Pooshies, or Big Cat.
He learned the language and customs of his new family. But when the signing of the Greenville Treaty of 1795 permitted him to leave the Delawares if he wished, he chose to do just that. But part of their world had become part of his.
“I learned the Delaware language, and can speak it now about as well as English. ... They called the Ohio River Whingwy Sepung or Big Stream. ... Seckle Sepung, or Salt Lick Creek, is what is now called Alum Creek. ... Whingwy Mahoni Sepung is what we call Big Walnut Creek.”
“In 1797, I came to this place, that is now Columbus, Ohio, and have resided here ever since ... without ever wearing anything like a stocking inside of my moccasin, shoes or boots ... and I can say what few can at this day, that my feet are never cold.”
John Brickell died on July 20, 1842. He is buried in Green Lawn Cemetery.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.