Ohio History Journal






In any historical celebration of the Maumee Valley, Captain

Thomas Morris may justly claim a brief mention. He was the

first British officer to ascend the Maumee River. I say "officer,"

because it is possible that one or two Pennsylvania traders may

have penetrated that far into Ohio in the 1740's or 1750's. But

Morris did something else, too. He has left us two accounts of

his Maumee adventures--one a day-by-day diary, the other a nar-

rative based on his diary and written in later years.

Not a great deal is known about Morris although he achieved

enough subsequent fame to be found in the Dictionary of National

Biography. He was born in 1732 in Carlisle, England, the son of

a retired army officer and song writer. He attended Winchester

College and then, early in 1749, joined the British army as ensign

in the 17th Regiment. In December, 1755, he was promoted a

lieutenant. His regiment was sent to America in 1758 at the

height of the French and Indian War and was employed at the

siege of Havana in 1762. It then returned to continental America

and remained here under General Thomas Gage, the new com-


You will recall that 1763 was a momentous year in this region.

The British had won the West by conquest and had garrisoned all

of the former French posts in 1760 and 1761 except Fort Chartres

on the Mississippi. Hostile Indians barred the way to British

soldiers seeking to reach the Illinois post, and Pontiac's uprising

set back the day of English occupation another year. In the sum-

mer of 1764, General Gage sent out two expeditions to quell the

rebellion of the western tribes.  One under Colonel Bouquet

marched into southern Ohio. The other, under Colonel John

Bradstreet, was sent to relieve Detroit and to chastize Pontiac's

immediate allies. Thomas Morris, now a captain, was one of the





officers accompanying Bradstreet. This expedition sailed from

Niagara and coasted along the south shore of Lake Erie. At

Sandusky a stop was made for an Indian conference, by which

Bradstreet was lulled into the belief that the Indians regretted

their uprising and were reconciled to having the English in their

midst. He therefore resolved to send an officer across country to

Fort Chartres as advance agent for a garrison which would be sent


Three other factors also prompted Bradstreet to take this

premature step. First, he was at the head of an all-water route to

the Mississippi by way of the Maumee and Wabash rivers. Sec-

ondly, he had found a Canadian able and willing to act as guide

and Indian interpreter to the destination. Lastly, he had in Captain

Morris an officer who could speak French and was daring enough

to undertake the mission.

Accordingly, on the afternoon of August 26, 1764, Captain

Morris, two Canadians, two servants and 19 Indian escorts started

in canoes from Cedar Point and crossed Maumee Bay. At the

same time Bradstreet's force moved northward to Detroit. Owing

to its late start, Morris' party encamped that night near the mouth

of the Maumee River. Next day the canoes made good progress

up the river to the rapids (in the vicinity of Fort Meigs), where

he stopped at an Ottawa village. The great chief Pontiac, whose

village was on a near-by island, came out to meet him and greeted

him with an unfriendly speech, saying briefly that all English men

were liars and that the French king was not yet defeated.

Morris was unharmed, however, and was allowed to occupy

a cabin in the village. Here he met a French trader and former

soldier named St. Vincent, who befriended him and accompanied

him on his journey. The next day Morris addressed a council

of chiefs and told them that the French king had ceded this terri-

tory to the British king. This news the chiefs received with con-

tempt and disbelief. That night one of Morris' Indian escorts, a

Mohawk, ran away after stealing most of the captain's effects and

selling his two barrels of rum to the Ottawas. Consequently, the

village blades got roaring drunk and decided to kill Morris, who




was obliged to slip out of his cabin in disguise and take refuge in

a cornfield across the river.

The next day, August 30, Morris received a surprise. The

local chief brought him some melons--and a volume of Shakes-

peare, which Morris bought for a little powder. Now I am aware

of the proud literary tradition of Indiana, and I am reluctant to

point out that this incident occurred in Ohio. If the savages of

Ohio were reading Shakespeare in 1764, I'm afraid Indiana must

bow to its neighbor, although you Indianans may argue that the

Ohio Indian probably got the volume from some Miami Indians

of Fort Wayne who had read it so often they were tired of it.

Of course, if Ohioans admit this possibility, they may then counter

with the assertion that anyway here was the beginning of the

rental library business. However, I shall leave that controversy to

be settled in my absence and go on to quote from an essay which

Morris wrote in after years lauding the dramatic ability of a

French actress, one Mademoiselle Du Menil. In one place he re-

marks: "If the world ever afforded me a pleasure equal to that

of reading Shakespeare at the foot of a water-fall in an American

desert; it was Du Menil's performance in tragedy."

On August 31, Morris again set out up the river, assured by

some Miami warriors that he would be welcomed at their village.

Because the river was so shallow here, he bought three horses and

used the canoes only to carry the baggage. His party of 17 Indians

had been reduced to 12, and he had sent back one of his servants

with a letter to Bradstreet. They followed the shore of the river

up to a second Indian village and encamped. The next few days

were spent in easy marches, the canoes being dragged along in

shallow water. Morris was finding game very plentiful. He was

eating fish, venison, turkey, duck and raccoon, besides Indian corn.

One day his party managed to get away with two deer, ten turkeys,

some ducks, raccoons, corn, etc. Morris restrains himself to ob-

serving only, "I never saw such hearty eating before."

On September 7, the party reached "Miamis fort," on the

site of the present city of Fort Wayne. Morris relates that he

was "met at the bottom of the meadow by almost the whole village,

who had brought spears, bows and arrows, and tomahawks to



dispatch me." And how did Captain Morris receive this Hoosier

welcome? He mentions in his diary that he took to a canoe and

paddled out into the middle of the river, which I can well believe.

In his narrative he embroiders the story a bit and asserts that he

remained in his canoe, "reading the tragedy of Anthony and

Cleopatra, in the volume of Shakespeare." Morris had attended

college, and college men sometimes read at unexpected moments,

but I submit to you whether any person in Morris' circumstances

would use a book other than as a shield.

The chief of the Miami village was Pacanne, who was cer-

tainly not the village idiot, although he can hardly avoid being

called the village nut. He had just received a visit from a dele-

gation of Shawnees and Delawares, and these visiting firemen had

declared that they would never make peace with the English and

urged the Miamis to kill Captain Morris when he arrived or make

him return. Morris was surprised to learn of this attitude on the

part of the Shawnees and Delawares, because it indicated his

superior, Colonel Bradstreet, had been deceived in believing the

friendly protestations of the Indians.

Morris was taken to the fort, where the few French families

lived, but after a short time two warriors seized him and took him

across the river to their village. They stripped him of his clothes,

bound his arms and put him in a cabin. His Canadian guide and

Pontiac's nephew spoke to the village elders for Morris' release,

and the local chief untied him. He was then chased out of the

village and returned to the fort. For the next two days Morris

had to hide in the garret of one Monsieur L'Esperance.

Meanwhile the Miamis held a council and decided that the

Englishman should not go farther westward. Morris was deter-

mined to push on down the Wabash to Ouiatenon (Lafayette,

Indiana), but two Frenchmen came in from St. Joseph (Niles,

Michigan) and reported that the before-mentioned delegation of

Shawnees and Delawares were waiting at Ouiatenon to kill Morris

on his arrival. Morris decided that Fort Wayne's welcome should

not be outdone by Lafayette's and prepared to turn back.

On September 10, at noon, Morris and his party set out down

the Maumee, leaving his baggage behind with Monsieur Capucin.



(By the way, has anyone ever located that baggage and found the

Shakespeare volume?) The third day out they met a squaw from

the Ottawa village at the rapids who said there were 700 Shawnees

and Delawares at her town preparing to burn Detroit. Morris

was sure the news was false, but it scared his Indian bodyguard.

They wished to avoid the village and hurry on to Detroit by them-

selves, confident they would make better time without the white

men. So Morris and his Canadian, and two Indians, were left

to go by themselves through the woods, circle northward around

the Ottawa village and reach Detroit.

Morris' route cannot be traced exactly. It was northeast, of

course, through woods and meadows, and Morris said the direct

distance was 150 miles. On the 16th he crossed the trail running

from the Maumee rapids to Detroit. He avoided it and kept to a

by-path until he reached the Potawatomi village in lower Michi-

gan. The next day, September 17, Morris walked into the fort

at Detroit, and it gave him great satisfaction that he had reached

it ahead of the Indians who had deserted him.

Morris returned to the East that fall, and in 1767 went back

to England. He resigned from the army, married and settled

down to a life of writing. He published four volumes of poetry,

essays, biography and a novel. He also composed a few songs,

popular in his day. He was still living in 1806, and the date of his

death is not known.

I have spoken of the two accounts of his Maumee Valley

adventure. Until recently only one was known--the published

version. It was supposed that this was written from memory, or

from a diary in Morris' possession. But in going through the

General Gage papers in the Clerents Library, a considerable

correspondence between Colonel Bradstreet and Gage was uncov-

ered. In one of his letters Bradstreet enclosed a report of Morris'

mission up the Maumee. The report turned out to be Morris'

original diary, which he sent on to Bradstreet without taking time

to copy. For the same reason Bradstreet forwarded it to Gage.

On the cover is a note to Bradstreet's aide-de-camp, asking him to

make a copy and return it to Morris. Undoubtedly he did so, and

that is all that Morris ever retained. About 1791 he wrote up his



adventure and published it in a volume called Miscellanies in Prose

and Verse (London, 1791). That in itself has become a rare book,

but I am glad to say that the Clements Library owns a copy, along

with the original manuscript diary in Morris' handwriting, on

which the narrative is based. There is not a great deal of differ-

ence between the diary and the narrative, although the latter is

longer. He added one interesting paragraph at the end of his

published narrative: observing that the Miami Indians which had

held him prisoner were still making trouble for white men in that

region and that they had just defeated an American expedition

sent against them. With this reference to General Harmar, having

brought matters up to date, I step aside to let the following

speakers continue the story. Thank you.