George Croghan was a prominent trader, frontiersman, and Indian agent. Born in Ireland around 1718, Croghan emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1741. Within a few years, Croghan became a successful western fur trader. A quick-witted, and savvy negotiator, Croghan was a brilliant intermediary who fellow frontiersman Christopher Gist once labeled "King of the Traders."1
From the 1740s forward the Ohio country was at the center of expansionist ambitions west of the Appalachians, and Croghan was a central player in those ambitions. A key to Croghan's success was establishing trading posts in Native American villages—a method practiced by French traders— rather than wait for Indian customers to come to him, the common British practice. Croghan also learned at least two Native languages, Delaware and Mohawk, eventually becoming an Onondaga Council sachem. As a result of his pivotal role as a mediator, William Johnson appointed Croghan to the coveted position of Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs, a position he held for fifteen years from 1756 until 1771.
Through his relationships with Native Americans and his familiarity with the western landscape, Croghan became a prominent colonial land speculator. Unlike George Washington and other wealthy colonists, Croghan acquired large tracts of land and sold them off in small portions rather than accumulating vast landed estates. He seldom held a tract of land longer than five years. By the late 1760s, however, Croghan was plagued with debt. Many of his private land dealings went unconfirmed and he was forced to watch as settlers poured into lands that he had previously claimed, particularly in the Ohio country.
Croghan resigned from the Indian Affairs Department in 1771. Afterwards, he led a group of speculators that included Benjamin Franklin in an attempt to establish Vandalia, a proposed fourteenth colony along the Ohio River located in the modern states of West Virginia and Kentucky. The project ultimately failed, increasing Croghan's overall debt.
The relationship between Washington and Croghan was often contentious. Washington was among those who challenged Croghan's land titles. Washington's agent William Crawford surveyed land on Chartiers Creek that was claimed by Croghan when one of Washington's Indian deeds fell far short of the professed 100,000 acres. More than twenty years later in 1784, and despite presenting a questionable patent, Washington won a court case against Chartiers Creek families who had bought their land from Croghan. Washington's document was dated July 5, 1775, two years after his land dispute with Croghan began, and was obtained from Lord Dunmore just a few days after Washington had assumed command of the Continental army.
Croghan's vision of the future economic greatness of the American West helped shape the development of that region. In addition, Washington, Croghan, and other land speculators performed services for settlers similar to those that were eventually performed by states and the federal government after the American Revolution. Speculators like Croghan perpetuated ideas and took actions that had profound social significance and influence.
Croghan died at his home in Passyunk Township, Pennsylvania, on August 31, 1782. He was largely forgotten by then, and his death was not even reported in newspapers. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. The marker on his grave succumbed to the elements and the location was unmarked for many years. A new marker was added by the Sons of the American Revolution in 2008.
Joshua J. Jeffers
1. "Christopher Gist's First and Second Journals, Sept. 11, 1750-March 29, 1752" George Mercer Papers Relating to the Ohio Company of Virginia, ed. Lois Mulkearn (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1954), 10.
Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. New York: Alfred A. Knopf: Random House, 2000.
Volwiler, Albert T. George Croghan and the Westward Movement, 1741–1782. Cleveland: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1926.
Merrell, James H. Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier. New York: Norton, 1999.
Wainwright, Nicholas B. George Croghan: Wilderness Diplomat. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959.