His Name Is Everywhere, His Memory Is Not
Let’s look at a man who stood out in a town of historic lions.
After reading the first two parts of this series on Logstown, you know it was not so much an ideal Indian village as a company town. You also know young George Washington was a land speculator who spent time there on business.
You don’t know the man with the name Montour.
It’s everywhere: Montour High School, Montour Creek, Montour Trail, Montour County, Montoursville, Montour Falls, NY.
You’d think he was a distinguished gentleman, a proper model citizen.
In fact, if they were to do a movie of him, only actor Johnny Depp could do him justice.
Andrew Montour was very much like the fictional character Capt. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Carribbean.
And yet, Montour was the only man trusted by both sides as pale-faced settlers pushed west, and Indians pushed back.
His grandparents had been Oneida, Seneca and French. He was fluent in English, French, and six Indian languages.
More importantly, as an interpreter, he had the ability and the burden to communicate not what chiefs and governors said to each other, but what they meant.
Missionary Diaries Revealing
Recently translated and digitized diaries of Moravian (German/Czech) missionaries indicate Montour may have developed his skills in a Susquehanna River town as wild as any pirate seaport.
Drinking, dancing, whoring and whooping went on day and night at Shamokin. Killing did, too.
It was a cosmopolitan village populated by refugees of many tribes, most speaking different language and dialects, during a time of particularly violent warring and raiding.
It’s not the same place as the city called Shamokin today. The village was 15 miles to the west, where Sunbury sits.
“Andrew’s cast of countenance is decidedly European, and had not his face been encircled with a broad band of paint, applied with bear’s fat, I would have certainly taken him for one.
“He wore a broadcloth coat, a scarlet damasque lapel-waistcoat, breeches, over which his shirt hung, a black Cordovan neckerchief, decked with silver bugels, shoes and stockings, and a hat.
“His ears were hung with pendants of brass and other wires plaited together like the handle of a basket. He was very cordial, but on my addressing him in French, he, to my surprise, replied in English.”
We get our first description of Montour from the man in charge of the missionaries. He hoped to get help moving among the Indians.
That was when he was in his early 20s. His flashy appearance, among Indian men, was not extreme. They take cues from nature. Male birds are more about display than female birds.
Montour had just happened to stop by his mother’s house. It was in an alcohol-free Indian village she operated 35 miles up the Susquehanna from Shamokin.
Madam Montour, as she called herself, was half French and half Algonquin. She was famous for her interpreting skills.
Working among men, and being half French, she also promoted style and beauty. She and her family, by this time, were decidedly pro British and anti French. They had moved to Pennsylvania from Canada.
Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, a wealthy patron of the Moravian Church, wanted to hire Madam Montour. She recommended her young son.
The count and Montour then crisscrossed Pennsylvania, operating out of the Moravian headquarters in the idyllic Christian community founded at Bethlehem, PA.
Government Needed Him
Conrad Weiser, the main guy dealing with Indians for the Pennsylvania and Virginia governments, eventually enlisted Montour’s help, as well.
It wasn’t just Montour’s language abilities people wanted. He had considerable respect and trust among tribes.
Indians didn’t call him by any of his European names: Montour, or Andrew, or Andre and Henri . To them, he was Sattelihu or Eghnisara, both esteemed tribal names.
Sattelihu apparently had proven many times he was a warrior. That was very important.
“His forehead was painted bright red, strange assortment of bright colored clothes . . soft spoken and pleasant, perfectly fearless, with marvelous endurance, great tact, the gift of leadership, a chief and counselor of the Iroquois, trusted with important missions by them.”
Swimming in Rum
Montour, the literal embodiment of blended European and Indian cultures, tried for 25 years to bring that blend to the world around him. Ultimately, he failed..
He struggled amid towering waves of rum that engulfed and swept away Indian friends. This frontier was one of the most dangerous places on Earth.
Weiser spoke highly of his interpreter, but reported Montour’s drinking problems to the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania.
“I must say something to you about Andrew M., not to ridicule him but to inform you how to act with him.
“In the first place, when we met at John Harris’ (for whom Harrisburg would be named). He called for so much punch that himself, the Half King (Tanacharison, a Logstown chief) and other Indians got drunk, the same at Tobias Hendricks’ (a Cumberland County settler). . .
Following a conference with Indian chiefs at Aughwick in Huntingdon County, Weiser said he tried in vain to get Montour to dress so they could move on to their next diplomatic destination.
“I left him drunk at Aughwick, On one leg, he had a stocking and no shoe, On the other, a shoe and no stocking.”
Montour, as he often did, raced after Weiser after he sobered up. He begged forgiveness.
Weiser, likewise, begged his bosses in Philadelphia to appreciate that Montour was invaluable — when sober.
Jack Sparrow’s struggle with rum and sobriety is evident in the following clip. Coincidentally, Sparrow’s mother was an Indian maiden.
Sometimes, a Great Hero
Montour, or perhaps his Sattelihu ego, could play the hero, though.
The following comes from a diary of Martin Mack, who with his wife, Anna, were in Shamokin stepping over and around drunks to talk about Jesus.
They had been staying in Montour’s tiny bark hut for seven weeks. Most of that time, Montour was away in Philadelphia, trying to reverse his impoverished state. Sound like Jack Sparrow?
Fortunately for the Macks, he was home the evening of Nov. 2, 1745. Oh, by the way, he had yet another name. The Moravians called him Anderius.
. . . In the evening, 12 Indians arrived here by water who are coming from Canada. They are going to war with the Cherokees. Anderius knows them, there was a friend of his among them. Anderius said these Indians had come from very far away. They came from over 400 miles further away than Onondago (Syracuse, N.Y.)
They looked very bloodthirsty. They camped near Anderius’ hut. They soon prepared the place to dance. They got an empty barrel of rum. Knocked the bottom out of it and made a drum out of it.
They began according to their custom to celebrate. They shouted and danced for nearly two hours, during which time the enemy [Satan], to whom we are a thorn in his eye, was very occupied and would have loved to get rid of us.
They soon got rum to drink and became so full of it that they behaved like wild animals. They were close to pulling down our hut.
Just after midnight, four of them came in here who looked terrifying and bloodthirsty.
Anderius was afraid that they wanted to do harm to us. He took them out of the hut, but an hour later another one came and acted like a madman, picked up a large brand from the fire and said he wanted to burn the white people.
Anderius quickly stood up and grabbed the brand out of his hands. He [the Indian] went for his flintlock. Anderius, however, also took that away from him.
He grabbed a piece of wood and came towards us. Anderius took that and said he should leave.
He said he did not want to. So, he (Anderius) said he should sit down by the fire.
He sat down, but soon left. [He was later murdered by another of the visitors.]
Anderius was very worried that the drunken Indians would do us harm. We said to him that, if he thought we should, then we would spend this night in the bush. But he did not think this was advisable because it is so cold. (Anna had already gotten quite ill sleeping in the woods to avoid crazy drunks while Anderius was in Philadelphia).
So we stayed, commended ourselves to the watchfulness of the Lamb and wished that it would become day soon. Soon, they beat to death the one who wanted to kill us.
The next day Montour told the Macks he was leaving town, perhaps for good. He took them to old chief Shikellamy, who offered his large hut.
Seemingly Everywhere at Once
Where did Montour go? The better question would be, Where did Montour not go? He was constantly on the move.
He was the interpreter at dozens of conferences all aimed at either keeping the peace with Indians, or stirring them up to do battle with the French. The ultimate goal was getting Indian land for British developers. Montour wanted to be one of them.
He also organized many of those conferences. That was no easy task. Some could have as many as 50 chiefs from a single tribe, each of whom had to be feted and honored. Hence the expression: “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”
The government Quakers in Philadelphia usually thought he was being too lavish. And, they didn’t want to be “buying” favors from anyone, or they didn’t want to be paying “blackmail.”
Often, he would use his own money or credit. That led to drawn-out bureaucratic struggles for repayment. And resentment. Resentment that would spill out when he was drunk.
He went with Weiser to Logstown in 1748, bearing considerable gifts they extracted from the Pennsylvania government.
It was to counter French efforts to re-establish their trading monopoly in the region.
I won’t bore you with the speechmaking and negotiations he interpreted at a dozen or more conferences that followed at Logstown, all of which ended in greater Indian attachment to the British, and less to the French.
The Spy Amongst Us
White leaders on the civilized East Coast didn’t know from one week to the next what the people in the wilderness were thinking or doing. That’s where Montour was most valuable. He was a top notch spy.
His loyalty to Britain, however, was questioned by those put off by his fierce Indian looks. They did so at their own peril.
In 1755, he was again in Central Pennsylvania trying to learn which tribes and clans were heeding the French call for all-out war on British settlers.
Fourteen Delaware Indians from Kittanning raided a settlement below Shamokin. They killed or carried off 25 people, burning all the houses.
Harris, the namesake of Harrisburg, raised a company of 46 men to go upriver and bury them. They found them already buried, so they continued on to Shamokin.
Weiser filed a report with the governor.
“They were seemingly well received, but found a great number of strange Indians, though Delawares (from the Ohio), all painted black, which gave suspicion.”
“Thomas McKee told his companions that he did not like them, and the next morning . . . he got up early, in order to go back, but they did not see any of the strangers. They were gone before them. Andrew Montour was there, painted as the rest.
Of course he was. Montour was everywhere.
“He advised our people not to go the same road they came, but to keep this side of the Susquehanna and go the old road; but when they came to the parting of the roads, a majority was for going the highest and best road, and so crossed the Susquehanna, contrary to Andrew Montour’s counsel . . .
“When they came to John Penn’s Creek . . . they were fired upon by Indians that had waylaid them. Some dropped down dead; the rest fled and made towards the Susquehanna, and came to this side and so (traveled) home as well as they could. Twenty-six of them were missing and not heard of as yet.”
Colonel John Armstrong wrote from Carlisle that no settlers were left in the region, and he didn’t trust Montour.
“Montour and Monaghatootha (chief Scararoudy) are going to the Governor (to give the intelligence they gathered). The former is greatly suspected of being an enemy in his heart. ‘Tis hard to tell.”
The Warrior Washington Wanted
He wouldn’t put on war paint just to spy. He gathered warriors and led them in battle. At least once, he commanded a company comprised of white woodsmen and traders. The governor trusted them even less than the Indians.
Montour was with George Washington as he lost Fort Necessity. The future president tried several times after that to get Montour’s help. He confessed little patience or understanding with Indians.
Montour was among the few Indians who stayed with Major General Edward Braddock (and Washington) during the ill-fated attempt to take Fort Duquesne from the French in July 1755.
In fact, a month later, we hear Montour’s voice at a conference in Philadelphia blaming Braddock for the disaster.
Speaking for Scarouady, the Oneida war chief based at Logstown, Montour said:
We Six Nations must let you know that it was the pride and ignorance of that great general that came from England. [that caused the defeat]
He is now dead; but he was bad when he was alive. He looked upon us as dogs, and would never hear anything what was said to him.
We often endeavored to advise him and to tell him of the danger he was in with his soldiers, but he never appeared pleased with us, and that was the reason that a great many of our warriors left him and would not be under his command.
He goes on to say the colonists and Indians could defeat the French without any “help” of soldiers from the other side of the great ocean.
Montour Assures Forbes Success
The success of the followup effort a few years later by General John Forbes was assured by Montour’s work at a conference with Indians at Easton.
Tribes around Fort Duquesne agreed to withdraw support for the French. In exchange, the British would provide better trading posts, and keep settlers away. Yeah, right.
Like Jack Sparrow, there was a price on Montour’s head.
The French posted promises to pay anyone who killed him. The Iroquois countered that with a promise to go to war with the tribe of anyone responsible for Montour’s death.
Lacking Indian help, and with 6,000 British troops headed their way, the French blew up Fort Duquesne and said, “Au revoir.”
Of course, the British (mostly Scots) stayed and built massive Fort Pitt. Pittsburgh was born. The flow of settlers became a tsunami.
And, Montour did become a land developer, or at least a land owner.
He got a choice five-mile long island in the Ohio River. It came to be called Montour’s Island. Pittsburghers today know it as Neville’s Island.
For services to Pennsylvania and Virginia, he was awarded several thousand additional acres.
The End of the Path
As he reached 50 years of age, his interpreting skills were not much needed any more. People were still talking, but no one was listening.
He would not have been inclined to tell Indians what palefaces were saying anyway.
Mostly, it was “Leave now! Go west!”
His reflexes may have left him, but his friend, rum, stayed loyal.
“The interpreter Montour was killed at his own house the day before yesterday by a Seneca Indian, who had been entertained by him at his house for some days,” wrote the commander of Fort Pitt on Jan. 22, 1772.
“He was buried this day near the fort.”
Did his drinking buddies learn a lesson as they watched Sattelihu and his braided brass earrings lowered into the ground?
“The Indians who came to the funeral,” the commander noted, “begged a few gallons of rum to drown their sorrows for the life of their friend.”
He gave it to them.
Did I miss something? Did I get something wrong? Fill us in at comments section below.
Leon J. Pollom, writer/researcher