Published on March 9, 2011 by Aquarius
Blue Jacket or Weyapiersenwah (c. 1743 – c. 1810) was a war chief of the Shawnee people, known for his militant defense of Shawnee lands in the Ohio Country. Perhaps the preeminent American Indian leader in the Northwest Indian War, in which a pan-tribal confederacy fought several battles with the nascent United States, he was an important predecessor of the famous Shawnee leader Tecumseh.
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Little is known of Blue Jacket’s early life. He first appears in written historical records in 1773, when he was already a grown man and a war chief. In that year, a British missionary visited the Shawnee villages on the Scioto River and recorded the location of Blue Jacket’s Town on Deer Creek (present Ross County, Ohio).
Later a story spread that he was in fact a white man named Marmaduke Van Swearingen, who had been captured and adopted by Shawnees in the 1770s, around the time of the American Revolutionary War. This story, popularized in historical novels written by Allan W. Eckert in the late 1960s, remains well known in Ohio, where an outdoor drama celebrating the life of the white Indian chief was performed yearly in Xenia, Ohio from 1981 until 2007.
Despite the persistence of this tale, many have questioned its authenticity. Historians such as Reginald Horsman, Helen Hornbeck Tanner, and Blue Jacket biographer John Sugden have argued that the known historical facts about Blue Jacket and Van Swearingen make it unlikely that they were the same person. The historical record indicates that Blue Jacket was much older than Marmaduke Van Swearingen and was already an established chief by the time that Van Swearingen was supposedly captured. Furthermore, no one who personally knew Blue Jacket left any records referring to him as a white man. According to Sugden, Blue Jacket was undoubtedly a Shawnee by birth.
DNA testing of the descendants of Blue Jacket and Van Swearingen has given additional support to the argument that Blue Jacket was not Van Swearingen. After an initial test in 2000, results of a DNA test using updated equipment and techniques was published in the September 2006 edition of The Ohio Journal of Science . The researchers tested DNA samples from four men descended from Charles Swearingen, Blue Jacket’s supposed brother, and six who are descended from Blue Jacket’s son George Blue-Jacket. The DNA from the two families did not match, and so the study concluded that the famous Shawnee war chief was in fact a Native American and that the popular story surrounding his relatedness to Dutch settlers is without merit.