Saturday, April 24, 2010

William "Swago Bill" Ewing

BARBARA LOUISE EWING POWELL graciously shared the following historical sketch.

Frontier nicknames such as "Indian John" and "Swago Bill" were useful in distinguishing people with identical names, which wasn't uncommon then.

The year 1774, William obtained by "tomahawk" rights to 745 acres on Swago Creek not far from his brother. The pioneers claimed land by walking the perimeter of the acreage they wanted and marking--presumably with a tomahawk--appropriate trees on the boundary. After living on the land 10 years and never being asked to leave, the settlers could consider the land their own. A later survey and grant of the land dated January 1st, 1795 and signed by Robert Brooke, governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, gave official title to William. He became known as "Swago Bill" for the creek which flowed over the land. William built a small cabin near the foot of the Swago. He married, and as his family increased, he built a second home, this one larger, two story structure about a mile away. The land was considered good for farming, with some rough, hilly topography, including limestone cliffs and scattered rocks.

On October 10, 1774, William participated in the Battle of Point Pleasant. Sometimes regarded as the first fight of the Revolutionary War, the successful outcome of the battle subdued the Indians along the outlying settlements for at least two years. It was part of a larger undertaking called Lord Dunmore's War. Lord Dunmore at this time was governor of the Colony of Virginia. Concerned about the increasingly defiant spirit of the colonists, Lord Dunmore looked for a distraction by declaring war on the Indians. Two militia units were formed. One, under the command of Colonel Andrew Lewis, marched along the Kanawha River in present day West Virginia to it's juncture with the Ohio River, not far from Point Pleasant, there to wait for Lord Dunmore and his unit. Together, the two units would cross the Ohio and march into Indian territory. Swago Bill, only 16 years old, enlisted in Captain Stewart's company, part of the regiment commanded by Colonel Lewis. The company formed at Camp Union, not far from the site of the Clendennin Massacre, near Lewisburg. Except for a few of the officers, the men wore no uniforms. Instead, the wore hunting shirts, leather leggins, and fur caps typical of the pioneers. They carried either flintlocks or muskets, bullet pouches, hunting knives, and tomahawks.

As Lewis' unit waited for Lord Dunmore's arrival, approximately 1,000 Indians, under the leadership of Chief Cornstalk, began to mass unseen on the other side of the Ohio, and were able to cross the river without being detected. They were discovered only by accident when two militiamen who were out foraging and happened upon the Indians encampment. One of the two militiamen was killed in the shots that ensued, but the other was able to return to his post near sunrise. About 150 of Lewis' troops went out in search of their enemy, but before they had gone a half mile from camp they were attacked by a much larger force of Indians.

The American forces fought in Indian fashion, keeping as much as possible behind trees,logs, or anything that provided protection. William was behind a tree when another soldier,rushing for cover, pushed him from his position and took it for himself. Instantaneously the soldier fell dead, shot through the head by an Indian bullet. William would have received the shot if he had not so unceremoniously been shoved aside.

Under the impression that Lord Dunmore's troops had arrived on the battle scene, the Indians retreated to the other side of the Ohio River. By the end of the baffle, eighty-one Americans were killed, and, according to one estimate, 233 Indians. Because of the battle, Lewis had to delay his excursion into Indian country for a week. During that delay the Indians approached Lord Dunmore seeking peace. Among the terms of the treaty was a stipulation that no white people should be allowed to hunt on the north side of the Ohio River. Most of the militiamen, including Swago Bill, returned to their homes immediately following the treaty.

Three years later he (Swago Bill) was back at Point Pleasant, a member of Captain Matthew Arbuckle's company of militiamen. Arbuckle and his troops had been ordered to Point Pleasant, to police the frontier in that area and to construct a fort, replacing Fort Blair, which had burned down for unknown reasons. The Revolutionary War was well underway, and the Indians, including Chief Cornstalk, were recruited easily by the British. On November 10, subsequent to an attack on a small contingent of militia men, the chief, his son, and two other Indians, who earlier had been taken prisoner, were being held at the fort. William was guarding the prisoners when a mob of angry soldiers rushed the fort with the intent of avenging the death of one of their comrades, and they threatened to kill William, too, if he interfered. Swago Bill protested the impending massacre, but was unsuccessful. Three of the captives were shot to death and, according to the report, one was "mangled." The soldiers who had a hand in the murders were brought to trial, but all were acquitted.

It appears that William's two years at Point Pleasant comprised the extent of his Revolutionary War experiences. Neither family folklore nor written records place him anywhere else. However, in 1783 he had another experience with the Indians, who were trying one last time to stem the flow of whites into the Greenbrier Valley, home to the Ewings and many other settlers in West Virginia. Still a bachelor, William got word that Indians were in the vicinity. He left the work he was doing and took himself and his team to the fort, six or eight miles away. A day or two went by with no incidents, and Swago Bill decided to return to his home to see if everything was in order. He retrieved the plow he had left in the field, and headed to his cabin when he heard some menacing noises. Looking up, he saw three gun barrels pointed at him and heard three clicks in rapid succession. Each gun had misfired. William dropped the plow and ran as fast as he could, with the Indians in close pursuit. After going over a crest of a hill, he veered off the path, dodged into the woods a short distance, and hid behind a benevolent tree. The Indians ran by his hiding place, and never were the wiser. Swago Bill continued through the woods on his journey to the fort, where he stayed for a few more days. The Indian threat seemed to evaporate, and the settlers returned to their homes.

By now the Greenbrier River area was becoming well populated. Among the Ewings' neighbors was the McNeill family, including little Mary. Born on Christmas Day, 1771, Mary was not quite 14 years old and William was five weeks short of 29 when they were wed in nearby Lewisburg, West Virginia on November 16, 1785. They set up housekeeping at William's cabin on the Swago Creek, and 15 months later their first born arrived, a daughter they named Elizabeth. By 1807 William and Mary had ten sons and two daughters, two more children than Indian John and his wife, Ann Smith, could claim.

The Ordinance of 1787, establishing the Northwest Territory and encompassing six
eventual states, had been implemented and the westward expansion of the United States was well underway. In the spring of 1810 Swago Bill and Mary decided to join Indian John and his family and many of their neighbors who had moved nine years earlier to the western part of Gallia County, across the Ohio River from Point Pleasant, where government land could be bought for $2.00 an acre. William's aim was to get out of the mountains and procure more arable land for his ever-growing family.

The Ewing train covering the difficult 160 miles consisted of three covered wagons fitted out with living quarters, 12 horses, and several head of sheep, swine, and cows. They carried the provisions necessary for the trail, as well as the equipment and tools they would need to build a new home. They built rafts at Point Pleasant and made several trips to ferry their train across the Ohio. - The journey was not over when they regrouped on the northern shore, since their final destination was a bend on the Raccoon River in Section 11 of Huntington Township, about 20 miles farther north.

William and Mary had left their home on the Swago without selling it, but on December 1, 1812 it passed into the hands of Sampson Matthews for "$1,200 current money of the State of Virginia" Two pieces of red sandstone from the chimney of the house on Swago Creek remain in the Ewing family today. Swago Bill and his family were settled in by early July, 1810, the date of the first election of the newly formed Huntington Township, which William and his son Thomas attended..

William had bought the entire northeast quarter of Section 11, 160 acres in all, at $2.00 an acre, payable at a rate of $80 down and $80 a year until paid. On July 22, 1817 he received a grant, signed by President James Monroe, which acknowledged payment in full. Son Thomas bought an adjoining 80 acres. The task that faced William and Thomas was awesome, but typical for the frontier settlers: to convert to farmland 240 acres of dense woods. Trees were cut, stumps pulled, brush burned, and the job was done. They fashioned the trees into usable lumber for home, outbuildings, and fences. The land became meadow, crops were planted, and the house was ready for occupancy by the spring of 1812, allowing the family to vacate the temporary structure they had lived in for two years. The permanent structure was a two-story building, made of hewn logs and with a stone chimney.

Sunday Times -sentinel 19 July '81

They.. gave Ewington,OH its name to Honor Bill Ewing

By James Sands GALLIPOLIS William Ewing after whom the town of Ewington was named, was born December 24 1756 in Bath County, Va., the son of James and Margaret * Ewing. James Ewing was a Scotchman who had lived for some time in Londonderry, Ireland before coming to America in 1740. William Ewing's first acquaintance with Ohio came in 1763 when his brother John was captured by Indians and taken to the Scioto River. In 1774 William joined Arbuckle’s militia which became a part of Dunmore’s army assigned to attack Ohio Indians. At Point pleasant on Oct. 10, 1774, Ewing found himself in the thick of the fight when the Indians attacked the Virginians before Dunmore could go on the offensive. Ewing was later to write that he found himself in this battle firing at "redskins" from behind a sapling. One of his comrades rushed up to him and pushed Ewing from his shelter out into the open. From this cover Ewing’s comrade began to fire. Ewing was scarcely out of the way before Ewing’s comrade was struck in the middle of the forehead by an Indian bullet.
Ewing always claimed that be had trouble in this battle with his rifle. Each time that he took deliberate aim, his gun flashed in the pan. However, when he fired at random his gun never failed to go off. "If I ever killed anyone," said Ewing, "I never knew it." William was also present at Ft. Randolph (Point Pleasant) when Chief Cornstalk was killed in 1777. Presumably he was also present at the fort the following year when the fort was laid seige by Wyandot Indians led by Chief Half King. In 1785 Ewing, then 28, married the 14-year-Old girl Mary McNeill and the couple settled on the Swago Creek near Buckeye, W. Va. In time Ewing was nicknamed "Swago" Bill after the creek. "Swago" Bill blazed a line of trees around his property some years before he had clear title as was the custom in those days. The settlers were few and far between and Indians still posed a problem.
While plowing. Ewing received word that Indians were prepared to attack and so he sought shelter at the nearest fort. When he returned some weeks later his plow was covered with weeds and a brood of quails, was nesting under the plowshare. Ewing shouldered his plow with the intent to return to the fort and thus give Up claim on his Buckeye land for the time being. He had gone only a short distance through some woods when he heard thump-thump-thump ... click-click- click. "Swago" Bill turned and saw three Indians behind a log with their guns stretched out. It seems that the Indians’ powder was too damp and all three had misfired. William Dropped his plow and ran for the fort with three indians in close pursuit. Over a hill and into a gully they went. Here Ewing changed course and went UP a ravine. The Indians continued on the gully trail and thus "Swago" Bill had avoided capture. It was in 1810 that Ewing came to
Gallia County,OH. He bought 160 acres of government land at $2 an acre and here lived (where Ewington now sits) until his death in 1822 It was in 1812 that Ewing built the first two- story cabin of hewn logs in the north- western part of the county. Among Ewing’s other credits was that he served as a Justice of the Peace most of the time he lived in Gallia County. "Swago" Bill’s descendants became numerous in Gallia County as well as in Hancock County. Ill.. and Hilisdale County, Mich. Mary McNeill Ewing moved in 1839 to Wilkesville with her son Andrew. In 1853 the 82-year-Old mother Mary Ewing headed out west in a wagon train along with this son Andrew. They first settled in Iowa and then five years later moved to Mercer County, Mo. It was here in 1858 that Mary died and was buried - some 800 miles from her beloved husband, "Swago" Bill Ewing.

James Sands’ address is Box 92 Clarksburg, Ohio 43115.

* NOTE Although this Margaret Sargent was once thought to be the wife of James Ewing it was never proven to be fact by anyone in the family. Further it was later withdrawn by the person who had it so published. To date we do NOT know who James married. We also have no bases in fact that James was ever a Capt. in the Revolutionary war. This was also an error made by early Ewing historians. There was a James Ewing married to a Margaret Sargent but it appears that he is NOT "our" James.

The above news article was graciously shared with us by Wally Ewing of Grand Haven, MI.

1 comment:

  1. Hey if you are going to steal my content you could have at least told where you stole it from!!

    I would have share had you just asked!!

    Richard D. Ewing
    Owner of the above content and a descendant of William "Swago Bill" Ewing
    I am also member of the Sons of the American Revolution.
    I am now also the keeper of the 13 bankers boxes of the research that went into the book this was taken from.