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Blue Jacket

Blue Jacket was a Shawnee warrior and diplomat who worked to resist European expansion west of the Appalachians in the late 1700s. Myth and mystery obscure the facts of his life. West Virginia was long considered to be his birthplace, but this is uncertain. He may have actually been born in Pennsylvania, probably some time in the mid-1700s.

He is best known for his confrontations with armies led by Gen. Josiah Harmar and Gen. ‘‘Mad Anthony’’ Wayne. In October 1790, Blue Jacket joined Little Turtle in leading a multi-tribal confederacy to defeat Harmar at the head of the Maumee River. Then in August 1794, Indians suffered a pivotal defeat in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in Ohio, when Blue Jacket’s warriors were defeated by General Wayne. This defeat removed the Indian threat from the Ohio Valley, ending the frontier wars in West Virginia.

After the battle, Blue Jacket, representing the Indian confederacy, signed the Treaty of Greenville, ceding half of what is now Ohio to the Americans. He remained a spokesman for the Shawnees, calling on Indians to reject the contaminating influences of whites, to restore native customs, and to abandon alcohol and the use of witchcraft. His exact death date is unknown, but estimates range from 1808 to 1810.

The controversy surrounding Blue Jacket stems from a belief that he was actually a white man named Marmaduke Van Swearingen, whose family lived near present Richwood. He was supposed to have been kidnapped as a teenager by the Shawnees, eventually becoming their famous chief. This story is widely accepted. Recently, however, scholars have challenged its accuracy, maintaining that Blue Jacket and Van Swearingen were actually separate individuals. DNA tests of Blue Jacket descendants and members of the Van Swearingen family reportedly support no connection between the two men.

Written by Mary Lou Pratt


  1. Sugden, John. Blue Jacket: Warrior of the Shawnees. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.

  2. Johnson, Louise F. Testing Popular Lore: Marmaduke Swearingen a.k.a. Blue Jacket. National Genealogical Quarterly, (September 1994).

  3. "Van Swearingen, Marmaduke," in Comstock, Jim, ed, West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia. vol. 22. Richwood: Jim Comstock, 1974.

  4. "Blue Jacket." American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.