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Lower Shawneetown

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Title: Lower Shawneetown  
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Subject: History of Kentucky, Peter Chartier, Geography of Scioto County, Ohio, Shawnee tribe, Pekowi
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Lower Shawneetown

Lower Shawneetown
15 GP 15
Bronze historical marker near site
Lower Shawneetown15 GP 15 is located in Kentucky
Lower Shawneetown
15 GP 15
Approximate location within Kentucky today
Country  USA
Region Greenup County, Kentucky
Nearest town South Portsmouth, Kentucky
Culture Fort Ancient culture, Shawnee people
Period Madisonville horizon, protohistoric
Number of monuments
Lower Shawneetown
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 83002784[1]
Added to NRHP April 28, 1983

Lower Shawneetown (15Gp15), also known as the Bentley Site, Shannoah and Sonnontio, is a Late Fort Ancient culture Madisonville horizon (post 1400 CE) archaeological site overlain by an 18th-century Shawnee village; it is located near South Portsmouth in Greenup County, Kentucky.[2] It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 28, 1983.[1]

Between about 1735 and 1758 Lower Shawneetown became a center for commerce and diplomacy, "a sort of republic populated by a diverse array of migratory peoples, from the Iroquois to the Delawares, and supplied by British traders, Lower Shawneetown had become a formidable threat to French ambitions. With a 'fairly large number of bad characters from various nations' Lower Shawneetown posed a significant challenge to France and Great Britain alike. The community was less a village and more of a 'district extending along the wide Scioto River and narrower Ohio River floodplains and terraces.' It was a sprawling series of wickiups and longhouses...French and British traders regarded Lower Shawneetown as one of two capitals of the Shawnee tribe."[3]


  • Portsmouth Earthworks, Group A 1
  • Fort Ancient settlement 2
  • Shawnee village 3
    • Visits by French soldiers 3.1
    • Peter Chartier 3.2
    • Visits by British traders 3.3
    • Captives 3.4
  • See also 4
  • References 5

Portsmouth Earthworks, Group A

A feature of the site is the "Old Fort Earthworks", a part of the Portsmouth Earthworks known as Group A. Built between 100 BCE and 500 CE by the Adena culture, the earthworks are a series of large rectangular enclosures connected to the main features of the group (located across the Ohio River in Portsmouth) by an earthen causeway.[4]

Fort Ancient settlement

The site is a 1.2 hectare village on the second flood terrace of the Ohio River, located across from the mouth of the Scioto River. It was excavated in the 1930s and was discovered to have had similar structures and building techniques as those found at another nearby Fort Ancient site, the Hardin Village Site located 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) up the Ohio.[5] Also found during the excavations were distinctive Madisonville horizon pottery,[6] including cordmarked, plain and grooved-paddle jars, as well as a variety of chert points, scrapers and ceremonial pipes.[2]

Many 18th century European trade goods were also found at the site, including gun spalls and gunflints, gun parts (sideplate, mainspring, ram pipes, and breech plugs), wire-wound and drawn glass beads, tinkling cones, a button, pendants, an earring, cutlery, kettle ears, a key, nails, chisels, hooks, a buckle, a Jew's harp, and pieces of a pair of iron scissors.[2][5]

Shawnee village

Established in the mid-1730s at the mouth of the Scioto River, this was one of the earliest known Shawnee settlements on both sides of the Ohio River.[7] The name of the town was not recorded, but scholars believe it may have been "Chalahgawtha," a Shawnee word meaning "principal place".[8] Pressure from the growing European populations on the east coast of North America and in southern Canada had caused Native American populations to concentrate in the Ohio River Valley,[9] and Lower Shawneetown was situated at a convenient point, accessible to many communities living on tributaries of the Ohio River. The area had Iroquois, Wyandot, and Miami communities within a few days' journey. The town also lay near the Seneca Trail, which was used by Cherokees and Catawbas, and it was surrounded by fertile, alluvial flatlands that were ideal for growing corn. Although mainly a Shawnee village, the population included contingents of Seneca and Lenape.[3] The opportunity to trade for furs and to broker political alliances also attracted both British and French traders[8] and the town became a key center in dealings with other tribes and with Europeans before it was abandoned about November 1758.[2][10][11]

Visits by French soldiers

Both the British and the French became increasingly concerned about the growing Native American settlements in the region, including Lower Shawneetown's neighbors, William Trent) in "the home of the Shawnees on the Ohio River".[10] The French had focused much attention on Canada, allowing English traders to establish themselves in the Ohio Valley, but in the late 1730s the French began trying to correct this by sending expeditions into the region.

The earliest eyewitness account is a report by Baron de Longueuil from July of 1739. A French military expedition made up of 123 French soldiers and 319 Native American warriors from Quebec, under the command of Charles III Le Moyne, was on its way to help defend New Orleans from the Chickasaw, who were attacking the city on behalf of England. While on their journey down the Ohio River towards the Mississippi, they met with local chiefs in a village on the banks of the Scioto.[10]

Concerned that this vibrant community would be readily influenced by trade goods supplied by the British, the Governor of New France, Charles de la Boische, Marquis de Beauharnois sent emissaries to Lower Shawneetown in 1741 to try to persuade the Shawnees to relocate to Detroit, but the proposal was rejected.[3]

In the summer of 1749 Pierre Joseph Céloron de Blainville moved down the Ohio River on his "lead plate expedition," burying lead plates at six locations where major tributaries entered the Ohio. The plates were inscribed to claim the area for France. Céloron also sought out British traders and warned them to leave this territory which belonged to France.[8] Hearing that a French military force was approaching, the inhabitants hastily erected a stockade and fired three shots at a delegation which reached the gates bearing a French flag. The Shawnees reluctantly opened the gates and invited Céloron to enter; he summoned the five Pennsylvania traders who were then living in the town and ordered them to leave, but they refused.[12] Céloron considered plundering their goods, but as he was confronted by a large and well-armed Shawnee force, he desisted and continued on his way.[13]

Peter Chartier

In April 1745 Peter Chartier and about 400 Shawnees took refuge in Lower Shawneetown after defying Governor Patrick Gordon in a conflict over the sale of rum to the Shawnees. Chartier opposed the sale of alcohol in Native American communities and threatened to destroy any shipments of rum that he found.[14] He persuaded members of the Pekowi Shawnee to leave Pennsylvania and migrate south. After staying in Lower Shawneetown for a few weeks they proceeded into Kentucky to found the community of Eskippakithiki.[10]

Visits by British traders

This 1779 map shows "Shannoah" on the Ohio River, although the town was abandoned around 1758.
William Trent

established a storehouse in Lower Shawneetown sometime around 1734, and the Shawnees kept it secure in order to encourage further trade with the British. Between 1748 and 1751 the British traders

  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-11-02. 
  2. ^ a b c d Sharp, William E. (1996). "Chapter 6:Fort Ancient Farmers". In Lewis, R. Barry. Kentucky Archaeology. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 170–176.  
  3. ^ a b c Stephen Warren, Worlds the Shawnees Made: Migration and Violence in Early America, UNC Press Books, 2014. ISBN 1469611732
  4. ^ "Portsmouth Earthworks". Ohio History Central. Retrieved 2009-06-06. 
  5. ^ a b c David Pollack and A. Gwynn Henderson, "A Preliminary Report on the Contact Period Occupation at Lower Shawneetown (l5GP15), Greenup County, Kentucky," paper presented at the 58th Annual Meeting of the Central States Anthropological Society on April 9, 1982.
  6. ^ , Vol. 1, Issue 1, April 2003; Northern Kentucky University.Norse ScientistMichelle M. Davidson, "Preliminary mineralogical and chemical study of Pre-Madisonville and Madisonville horizon Fort Ancient ceramics,"
  7. ^ a b Foster, Emily (2000-08-24). The Ohio Frontier: An Anthology of Early Writings. The University Press of Kentucky. p. 13.  
  8. ^ a b c University Press of Kentucky, 1999; pp. 25-56.The Buzzel about Kentuck: Settling the Promised Land,A. Glynn Henderson, "The Lower Shawnee Town on Ohio: Sustaining Native Autonomy in an Indian "Republic"." In Craig Thompson Friend, ed., ISBN 0813133394
  9. ^ Vol VII, 1979.Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences,Jerry E. Clark, "A System Model of Shawnee Indian Migration,"
  10. ^ a b c d e f Putnam's sons, 1911The Wilderness Trail: Or, The Ventures and Adventures of the Pennsylvania Traders on the Allegheny Path, Volume 1 The Wilderness Trail: Or, The Ventures and Adventures of the Pennsylvania Traders on the Allegheny Path,Charles Augustus Hanna,
  11. ^ a b The Penguin library of American Indian history; Penguin, 2007.The Shawnees and the War for America,Gordon Calloway, ISBN 0670038628
  12. ^ "Celeron de Bienville". Ohio History Central.  
  13. ^ Vol. 71 of McGill-Queen's Native and Northern Series; McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP, 2013.Setting All the Captives Free: Capture, Adjustment, and Recollection in Allegheny Country,Ian K. Steele, ISBN 0773589899
  14. ^ "Hanna on Peter Chartier", E.P. Grondine, posted Thu Feb 14, 2013.
  15. ^ The Journal of Christopher Gist, 1750-1751 From Lewis P. Summers, 1929, Annals of Southwest Virginia, 1769-1800. Abingdon, VA.
  16. ^ Henry F. Dobyns, William R. Swagerty, Their Number Become Thinned: Native American Population Dynamics in Eastern North America, ACLS Humanities E-Book; Native American historic demography series; Newberry Library. Center for the History of the American Indian, University of Tennessee Press, 1983. ISBN 0870494007
  17. ^ Caroline S. Coldren, "Catherine Gougar Goodman," monograph, April 1940; Family History Library.
  18. ^ Volume 31; Ohio Historical Society., 1922.Ohio History,
  19. ^ James Duvall, "Mary Ingles and the Escape from Big Bone Lick," Boone County Public Library, 2009.
  20. ^ G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1910.A narrative of the life of Mary Jemison: De-he-wä-mis, the white woman of the Genesee,James Everett Seaver and William Pryor Letchworth,


See also

When Mary Jemison, a captive of the Seneca, spent the winter at the mouth of the Scioto River in 1758-1759, she reported that Lower Shawneetown had been abandoned and relocated further up the Scioto River.[20] It is possible that this new village was Chalahgawtha at the site of present-day Chillicothe, Ohio.[10]

At least two captives taken during raids on American pioneer settlements are known to have lived in Lower Shawneetown: Catherine Gougar (1732-1801) was kidnapped in 1744 from her home in Berks County, Pennsylvania and lived in the town for five years.[17] She was eventually sold to French-Canadian traders and after two more years in Canada, managed to return home in 1751.[18] Mary Draper Ingles (1732-1815) was kidnapped during the Draper's Meadow massacre in July 1755 and taken to Lower Shawneetown, but she escaped in mid-October with another woman and walked several hundred miles to return to her home.[19]


As a community of 300 men, the town may have had a total population of between 1,200[11] and 1,500.[16] The town consisted of 40 houses on the Kentucky side and 100 houses on the Ohio side, including a 90 feet (27 m) long council house.[7] The Shawnee had relocated part of the village on the east bank of the Scioto River and on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River after a flood destroyed much of the original village which had been situated on the Scioto River's west bank.[5]

The journal terminates with a detailed description of a festival Gist witnessed during his stay in Lower Shawneetown.[15]

"Tuesday 29.— Set the Mouth of Sciodoe Creek opposite to the Shannoah Town, here we fired our Guns to alarm the Traders, who soon answered, and came and ferryed Us over to the Town — The Land about the Mouth of Sciodoe Creek is rich but broken fine Bottoms upon the River & Creek. The Shannoah Town is situate upon both Sides the River Ohio, just below the Mouth of Sciodoe Creek, and contains about 300 Men, there are about 40 Houses on the S Side of the River and about 100 on the N Side, with a Kind of State-House of about 90 Feet long, with a light Cover of Bark in which they hold their Councils."

Gist's journal entry from January 29 1751:

, visited the town. Robert Callender and the Ohio Valley tributaries in 1750-1751 and 1753. In January 1751 Gist, Croghan and Montour, accompanied by Kanawhan Region in order to identify lands for potential settlement. He surveyed the Ohio Valley, to explore the surveyor, a skilled woodsman and Christopher Gist hired Ohio Company In 1750, the [10]

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