Piqua Historical Area State
"A Window into Time"
Written by Andy Hite, Manager,
Piqua Historical Area State Memorial
and reproduced with permission of Andy Hite and the Ohio
There is no record of who the first European was to lay eyes on
this land. Perhaps it was a solitary fur trader from France who
first visited this valley. The answer is lost forever in the
mists of time, like a fog that veils the land on a spring
morning. What we do know, is that by the early 1700's France
considered Ohio to be hers. England was busy establishing
colonies east of the Appalachian Mountains, but would soon cast
longing glances to the west and send her own fur traders here to
do business with the Indians of the Ohio Valley.
It would not be long before the struggle between these two
European giants would spill into the land that we call Piqua
today. France, with her strength in Canada, and England from her
eastern toehold, would both take economic, political, and
military actions to win control of this land.
In 1747 a group of Twightwee (Miami) Indians, lead by Memeska,
came to the confluence of the Great Miami River and Loramie
Creek. Memeska brought his followers to this place called
Pickawillany, to be closer to his new friends the English.
Memeska was coming to Ohio from Kekionga (Fort Wayne) to put
distance between himself and his former French allies of the
Great Lakes region. For many years the French had been the
dominating force in the Great Lakes fur trade. However, growing
dissatisfaction with high prices, poor quality, and short
supplies of French goods led Memeska and others to look to the
English as a more reliable source of trade goods.
It was not long after the move to Pickawillany that a treaty of
friendship between Memeska' s Twightwee and the English was
forged in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. On the heels of that
agreement came English traders, employed by Pennsylvanian George
Croghan, who began to establish a trading station next to the
Word spread quickly that English goods were now available at
Pickawillany. This brought rapid growth to the village. Indians,
not only from the Ohio country, but also the Great Lakes region
and westward, came here to do business. In
1750, Christopher Gist, an agent for Virginia's Ohio Land
Company, visited Pickawillany. Gist estimated that in 1750 this
new village numbered upwards of 1.200 individuals.
This activity was not lost on the French authorities who viewed
Memeska (who they called La Demoiselle) as a serious threat to
their control of the Indian fur trade. Almost from the moment
Pickawillany was established, the French had begun planning how
best to remove this thorn from their side.
In 1749 French officials in Canada sent Pierre Joseph Celoron
and a force of 265 men into the Ohio Valley to reinforce French
authority and strengthen their claim to the land. Celoron and
his forces traveled through the Ohio country, stopping at key
points to conduct ceremonies burying lead plates in the ground
at the mouths of rivers draining into the Ohio saying this is
French land. This expedition received cool receptions at best,
from the Ohio Indians, so Celoron made quick work of each stop.
Celoron was keenly aware that even as he was reclaiming the land
for his King, English influence was growing daily.
On September 13, 1749, after a journey up the Great Miami River,
Celoron and his men arrived at Pickawillany. He held out hope of
convincing Memeska to return to the French fold. Just as Celoron
was approaching the village, several English traders packed
their trade horses and left. Celoron found only two traders in
the Village. They were ordered to leave, which they promptly
While Celoron was able to overawe the traders, Memeska was
another story. Pickawillany's population and influence was
growing, and Celoron knew he was not strong enough to force a
removal to Kekionga. Memeska did promise, "none but good
answers" for Celoron. The Frenchman recognized those promises to
return to the old homeland in the spring were merely
procrastinations. He ended the council with this warning for
"Be faithful to your promise. You have
assured him of this. because he is much stronger than you, and
if you be wanting it, fear the resentment of a father, who has
only too much reason to be angry with you, and has offered you
the means of regaining his favor."
Celoron, September, 1749
With that said, Celoron and his men left, knowing they had
failed to accomplish their mission. It was shortly after Celoron'
s exit that George Croghan and his Pennsylvania traders arrived
at Pickawillany to officially establish the English trading
post. Soon a brisk trade business was flourishing near Memeska'
s village. Because of his friendship with the English traders
Memeska was known as Old Briton to his new allies.
1750 and 1751 saw Pickawillany grow as both a village and a
trading center. Traders George Croghan, Andrew Montour, and
Christopher Gist were all present at one time or another and
brought additional traders. They also helped Memeska improve and
strengthen his village.
Early in 1751 Celoron was ordered to employ force to revisit
Pickawillany and bring Memeska back to Kekionga. However, being
unable to raise the needed men, he did not leave the security of
the French headquarters
In the autumn of 1751, a small French force did advance on
Pickawillany, only to find most of its residents away on the
fall hunt. Even then the French were not strong enough to mount
an attack. They did seize some English traders and kill a
Twightwee man and woman.
French officials saw their position in Ohio rapidly
deteriorating and determined to take the necessary steps to stop
this erosion of their control. In March, 1752 they put in motion
plans to organize a stronger raid on Memeska and his village.
On June 21, 1752 a force of about 250 Ottawa Indians and French
militia led by Charles Langlade attacked Pickawillany. Many of
the Twightwee men were hunting, leaving mostly women and
children, and a few older men. Also present were Memeska and his
family. In addition, several English traders were working at
their trading station. The attack was so sudden that many of the
women were captured as they worked in the cornfields. Others
fled to the village stockade in hopes of protecting themselves.
Three traders were cut off, and were forced to seek protection
in one of the traders' cabins near the stockade. These traders
quickly surrendered to the invaders without firing a shot in
their own defense. To save themselves, they told Langlade how
few defenders were inside the Twightwee stockade.
A siege of the stockade was laid down, and the defenders were
informed if they would surrender the traders and their goods,
the attackers would leave Pickawillany. Inside the stockade,
with several defenders wounded and water supplies exhausted, the
defenders agreed to the terms they had been offered.
Neither side honored their agreement. Five of the seven traders
in the stockade were surrendered. Gunsmith Thomas Burney and
trader Andrew McBryer were hidden and later escaped to carry the
news of the attack to the English at Lower Shawnee Town
(Portsmouth). One of the five surrendered traders had been
wounded. As soon as he was seized, he was stabbed to death,
scalped, and his heart ripped from his chest and eaten. Memeska,
having taken refuge in the stockade, now faced a similar fate.
The French saw him as the cause of most of their problems in
Ohio, and the primary agent for the English. It was time to pay
up. Before his remaining followers, including his wife and son,
he too was killed, boiled, and his body eaten. The surviving
traders and their goods were gathered and marched to Detroit.
With this defeat, the Pickawillany thorn was at last removed
from the French side.
Following this defeat, the surviving Twightwee did move back to
Kekionga and Pickawillany was not occupied as a village site
again. After the removal of the Twightwee, the Shawnee
eventually moved into the Miami Valley in the late 1750' s and
began establishing some of their villages in the region.
A gunsmith's talents were in great demand at the trading
stations in the west.. In 1750, the Twightwee requested of
Christopher Gist at Pickawillany:
"Brother our hearts are glad that you have taken notice of
us, and surely, brother, we hope that you will order a smith to
settle here to mend our guns and hatchets."
Pickawillany did get their gunsmith. Thomas Burney first appears
on the Ohio frontier at the Wyandot village Muskingum in 1750.
Christopher Gist mentioned Burney when he visited that
settlement on the trip that eventually took him to Pickawillany.
We know that sometime after this meeting, Burney also moved
further west and became active at Pickawillany both repairing
weapons and functioning as trader a dealing in "strouds, duffils,
powder, lead, linen, paint, and gartering."
It was Burney and another trader, Andrew McBryer, who were
hidden by the Twightwee during Charles Langlade's June, 1752
attack on the village. Burney and McBryer were able to escape,
make their way to Lower Shawnee Town, and spread the news about
the events that had taken place further west. They met William
Trent, who had been sent by Virginia Governor Dinwiddie, to
carry goods to the Twightwee town on the Great Miami River.
Trent succeeded in talking Burney into returning to the scene of
the attack. When they arrived back at Pickawillany, two French
flags were flying over Memeska's empty village. By the end of
August Burney was back in Pennsylvania, where he filed his story
of the French and Indian attack.
Burney next served as a military scout beginning sometime in
late 1753 or 1754. George Washington spoke of Burney in
correspondence from Great Meadows in May, 1754. Burney's next
assignment was as a scout with General Edward Braddock. Here in
the forests of western Pennsylvania, he met his end like many
other of Braddock's men. On April 12, 1756 his widow Mary
petitioned the Virginia House of Burgesses for his pension.
In 1979 an archaeological survey of the Pickawillany site
yielded evidence of Burney's smithing activities. Tomahawk heads
bearing the touch- mark "B," as well as many gun parts were
discovered. It is believed that this is where Thomas Burney had
worked repairing the weapons and tools of the Twightwee village.
For a short time, Thomas Burney was alive and well and
practicing his craft at "the extent of the English Settlements."