Piqua Historical Area State Memorial:
"A Window into Time"
Written by Andy Hite, Manager, Piqua Historical Area State Memorial
and reproduced with permission of Andy Hite and the Ohio Historical Society
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 Pickawillany village.
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 did.
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 Memeska:
"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."