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Descendant makes a case for Simon Girty

Wednesday, December 29, 1999

By Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

To some American Indians, Simon Girty Jr. was a trusted translator who was especially helpful when treaties were being negotiated with Colonial or British authorities.

 
  Ken Girty walks near the graves of two of his ancestors, John and James Girty, at Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette)

To British soldiers battling rebellious American Colonists, Girty was a helpful scout and spy around Fort Pitt and the Ohio Valley-Great Lakes frontier.

But to the victors of the American Revolution, Girty was a traitor because he deserted their army to fight with the British. In many historical accounts, novels and films, Girty is portrayed as a savage.

"He's the most notorious character of the American Revolution, and probably the most maligned Colonial that I can think of. Nobody was more vilified than he was," said Phillip Hoffman, a California writer who is doing a book about the renegade.

Simon Girty was the son of an Irish immigrant who settled in Pennsylvania. When he was 15, he and members of his family were captured by the western Seneca Indians and taken to Kittanning. By the time he was returned to Colonial society at age 23, Simon Girty knew 11 Indian dialects, Hoffman said.

By then, Girty had come to love the Indian way of life, and, at one point, served as bodyguard to Seneca Indian Chief Guyasuta.

Ken Girty, a 66-year-old Butler County man and descendant of the frontiersman, says that after nearly 10 years of research, he understands why his ancestor defected and is convinced that his reputation for cruelty is exaggerated.

"I think he was great. I think he was just misunderstood. He fought for what he believed in," Ken Girty said.

For months, Ken Girty has been organizing a gathering of Girtys from all over North America.

On June 24, many of Simon Girty's descendants will gather in North Park to share food and stories. Ken Girty also plans to invite Mayor Murphy and county Executive Jim Roddey. Several hundred historical enthusiasts also are expected to attend.

While serving as an interpreter at Fort Pitt, Simon Girty learned enough to make him uncomfortable about the Colonists plans to expand into Indian territory.

"He found out what the Americans planned to do to the Indians, and he didn't like that. He knew they were going to take their land and annihilate them," Ken Girty said.

In addition, Ken Girty said, "Simon was promised a commission in the American army and he didn't receive it. He thought the Revolution was all right. But he had sworn allegiance to the king, and he felt he was a British subject."

Ken Girty, a great-great-great-great-great nephew of Simon Girty,

originally thought Girty was a "baby-killer," and was teased by his classmates while he was growing up in Lawrenceville.

Now, Girty's opinion of his ancestor is quite different.

"I think he was great. I have a whole list of people who were actually saved by him."

Simon Girty Jr. also saved his good friend, Simon Kenton, from being burned at the stake by Indians, Ken Girty said.

One of Girty's biggest misdeeds, according to the Ohio Historical Society, was his conduct during the tortuous death of Col. William Crawford near Upper Sandusky in northwestern Ohio.

As Crawford was being burned, scalped and knifed by Delaware Indians in retaliation for Indians killed in a massacre, he begged Girty to shoot him to end his pain.

Girty refused and laughed at Crawford, according to one account of a soldier who said he saw the torture and later escaped the Indian camp.

But pointing to an affidavit from Cornelius Quick, another prisoner who was interviewed by Colonial historian Lyman Draper, Ken Girty believes the account is wrong.

Quick told Draper that Girty offered the Indians everything he had to stop them from burning Crawford at the stake.

"He had offered the Indians his prized white horse, his rifle, money and liquor. The Indians finally told him that if he didn't shut up, they were going to burn him, too," Ken Girty said.

Simon Girty had a rapport with the Senecas but no influence with the Delawares, Ken Girty said.

If your name is Girty, and you want an invitation to the gathering, write to Ken Girty at 607 Oak Lane, Renfrew, Pa. 16053, or call him at 724-789-7505.



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