As It Were: John Brickell was captured by Natives, but kept many of their ways in freedom
Captured by Native Americans when he was young, John Brickell never forgot where he came from.
When he returned to that world, he never forgot where he had been. The trail Brickell followed was a long one that ended in what would one day be Ohio’s capital city.
In 1842, Brickell told the story of his life and adventures to the American Pioneer magazine. He still was quite eloquent and told a good story in simple terms. What often was overlooked was what happened after he left Native America behind.
It was a story with a bloody beginning.
“I was born on the 28th of May 1781, in Pennsylvania, near a place then known as Stewart’s Crossing. … On the outbreak of the Indian war, a body of Indians collected in the amount of about 150 warriors and spread up and down the Allegheny River about 40 miles, and by a preconcerted movement, made an attack on all the settlements along the river, for that distance, in one day.
“This was on the ninth of February 1791. I was alone, clearing out a fence row, about a quarter mile from the house, when an Indian came to me, and took my axe from me, laid it upon his shoulder with his rifle, and then let down the cock of his gun which it appears he had cocked in approaching me. … I then expected something was wrong and attempted to run, but he threw me down on my face, in which position I every moment expected to feel the stroke of his tomahawk in my head. But he had prepared a rope with which he tied my hands behind me, and thus marched me off.”
It was a long march.
With a number of Native American custodians, Brickell eventually arrived at a Delaware camp near what would later be the site of Fort Seneca, where he was beaten badly.
“Here, at this juncture, a very big Indian came up and threw the company off me and took me by the arm. … I was nearly killed and did not get over it for two months. My impression is that the Indian who rescued me was Captain Pipe, who assisted in burning Colonel (William) Crawford.”
Brickell stayed about two weeks in the Seneca towns and then moved on to the Auglaize River.
“When we arrived at the Auglaize River, we met an Indian my owner called brother, to whom he gave me; and I was adopted into his family. His name was Whingwy Pooshies or Big Cat. I lived in his family from about the first week in May 1791, until my release in June 1796.”
In that time, he was treated as if he were the son of Big Cat. He learned the language of the Delaware and how to hunt, fish and live in harmony with the people who had adopted him.
“I learned the Delaware language well. … Seckle Sepung, or Saltlick Creek, is what we now call Alum Creek. Whingwy Mahoni Sepung, or Big Lick Creek, is what we call Big Walnut Creek.”
In the wake of the victory of Gen. Anthony Wayne at Fallen Timbers and the Treaty of Fort Greenville in 1795, demands were made of Native America to return the prisoners they had taken. Eventually, Whingy Pooshies took Brickell to Fort Defiance and gave him a choice – stay or return with the Big Cat. Brickell chose to stay at the fort.
After a visit to Pennsylvania, Brickell returned to Ohio and in 1797 became one of the first settlers in the new village of Franklinton at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers.
In 1798, the new village was inundated with a flood, and Brickell decided he did not want to live in a floodplain. He moved across the river and bought several acres of high ground near the place where the Federal District Courthouse is today. He built a sturdy house, married Susan Stokes of Franklinton and had a family with 10 children.
He never forgot the people he had left behind. He wore buckskins for the rest of his life “and without ever wearing anything like a stocking inside of my moccasin, shoes or boots, from the time I went among the Indians to this day, and I can say what few can at this day, that my feet are never cold.”
Several property owners deeded land to Columbus to form the North Graveyard in the new borough of Columbus.
Brickell bought a strip of land next to the north side of the graveyard as a family burial plot. He ended up owning a lot of the land in what is now the Short North. In 1844, he was buried in the family plot. When his wife died in 1851, she was buried there, as well.
In 1871, the family had all the Brickells in the family plot moved to Green Lawn Cemetery. Spruce Street now runs over the place where the Brickells once were buried.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.