A History of Jonathan Alder: His Captivity and Life with the Indians

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Jonathan Alder is a man who lived through a significant period of Ohio’s history. His first hand account of the two different cultures to which he belonged was able to provide a view into life in early Ohio and create a greater understanding of it. He knew of Native life personally and experienced their defeat and removal by the colonists. However, he was also a European colonist and therefore, is able to provide us with an understanding of the relationships between Native Americans, the British, and the Americans during this period of Ohio’s history. From his account, we learn about these relationships, Anglo encroachment, his “becoming” of a Native, his travels between Virginia and Ohio, and his experiences with family and everyday life. Ultimately, we learn why his story is important and why he wanted it preserved.

Alder’s account of captivity, beginning in the late eighteenth century, gives a lot of insight into European advancement into the Ohio area.

At the time of his capture in 1782, Ohio had no permanent European settlements. The area still belonged to the Ohio Indians, and was viewed as their territory. However, through Alder’s story we see the Ohio territory go from a complete wilderness to a state that played an important role in the new nation. Ohio started off as Indian hunting grounds and eventually, a short time after the Treaty of Greenville, Alder’s account tells us that “white people began to make their appearance among us.” (Clay and Nelson 2002, 16).

Alder learned a lot from his time in captivity. Essentially, he “becomes” a Native when he is captured and taken to live with a family of Mingo and Shawnee Indians. He was adopted by this family and here he was taught the languages and cultures of the Natives. The boys...