When Pilgrim settlers first set foot on Plymouth Colony in November 1620, they had to battle a severe winter. According to Holidays on the Net, an online source for the history of American holidays, of the 110 settlers and crew on the Mayflower, less than 50 survived.
Their luck changed on March 16, 1621, when they first encountered Native American culture. The peaceful local tribe began teaching the new arrivals survival skills that led to a bounteous harvest that autumn. With plenty of food to get them through the next winter, and with homes they’d built that summer, the settlers had plenty to celebrate.
Pilgrim Gov. William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to be shared by all the colonists and the neighboring Native Americans. They invited Chief Massasoit and 90 braves to the celebration, which lasted 3 days. During that time, they played games, ran races, marched and played drums. The Natives demonstrated their skills with the bow and arrow and the Pilgrims with their muskets. Exactly when the festival took place is uncertain, but it is believed to have been in mid-October.
Native Americans lived or hunted in Greene County since 13,000 B.C. Historians have given names to the different groups who’ve succeeded one another beginning with the Archaic 8,000 B.C. to 1,000 B.C. They were followed by the mound-building Adena (1,000 to 200 B.C.) and the Hopewell (100 B.C. to 500 A.D.) tribe.
The Monongahela culture (1050 to 1635) disappeared before the arrival of the white settlers. Historians differ on the cause of the group’s disappearance. Some claim disease, defeat by more powerful tribes, prolonged drought and intermingling with other indigenous peoples were the chief causes.
In Greene County, while the first settlers didn’t receive any such help from the indigenous population, Matt Cumberledge, executive director of the Greene County Historical Society, said there are legends of cooperation between the two groups, who initially “got along very well.”
“Prior to 1774, there was little difference in the lifestyle of the two groups,” Cumberledge said. “They even dressed the same. One big difference - the settlers lived in log cabins while the Native Americans lived in a circular fortified village.”
Cumberledge said the population of Greene County was small around 1774 and that it consisted of roughly half white settlers and half Native Americans. By 1800, the number of Caucasians living in Greene County had grown to around 8,600, according to a census recorded in a book by I. D. Rupp titled “Early History of Western Pennsylvania.”
Cumberledge believes the harmonious relations between the two groups were disrupted by the interplay of politics by the colonial governments and the Iroquois Confederation. The latter was interested in dominating the area for purposes of hunting and the fur trade at the expense of the local Native populations of Delawares, Shawnees and Mingos.
The outbreak of Lord Dunsmore’s War in 1774 ruptured the local harmony. As governor of Virginia, Dunsmore asked the legislature to declare war on the Native population. The war ended soon after Virginia’s victory in the Battle of Point Pleasant on Oct. 10, 1774, but not before an attack on the Spicer Family in the Dunkard Township area on June 5, 1774, left several members of the family dead and scalped.
During the American Revolution, the Natives rebounded as many of the men in the white settlements went off to join the rebellion against Great Britain. Others like the Corbly family of Garards Fort (May 10, 1782) and the Davis family (Fall 1781) shared a fate similar to the Spicers.
Cumberledge’s own ancestral family lost four members during a Native American attack in the Brave area on April 23, 1789. A surviving son away in Maryland at the time later returned to the family property in 1802 to add to the family line in Greene County.
The last major attack took place on May 1, 1791, when two Native groups and one settler renegade killed three of the Crow sisters (Catherine, Susan and Betsy) of Crabapple Hollow, Richhill Township. The attack took place as the girls walked home along Wheeling Creek after visiting a sick neighbor. The large rock behind which the attackers hid still stands with the names of the three murdered girls, ranging in age from 10 to 16, carved into it.
Marilyn Kerr, corresponding secretary for the Cornerstone Genealogical Society, said it’s difficult to say how many of Greene County’s current residents have some Native American ancestry, but she said she believes there are those who can trace part of their family tree back to Native forebears.