Monday, October 30, 2023

The murder of Jane McCrea, 1777

Even though the Declaration of Independence was announced on 4 July 1776, the British crown continued to fight the colonists for some years afterwards, often recruiting various Native American tribes to reinforce their army's attempts to take back America, right up to the eventual Treaty of Paris in 1783. (When war was re-declared in 1812, once again the Indian tribes were involved, siding with the British. The American Indian Wars are important to be aware of - Wikipedia here.)

One awful incident of this alliance was the murder in July 1777 of Jane McCrea, the 18 year old daughter of Ulster-born (some sources say Scottish-born) Presbyterian minister the late Rev James McCrea of Bedminster, New Jersey (1711–1769). 

Most accounts say that the McCrea siblings were divided by the unfolding Revolution - some were loyal to the crown, the rest were American 'patriots'. Jane was betrothed to a David Jones who enlisted in the British Army in 1776.

Travelling with her friend Sarah McNeil (perhaps journeying to her wedding to marry Jones) near Fort Edward in the Hudson Valley in the east of New York State, on 27 July 1777, Jane was killed by gunfire from Indians in General Burgoyne's army. She was also scalped.

Jones recovered her bullet-ridden body; her scalp was sold by her killers.

Her story, as a martyr heroine,  is said to have galvanised the pro-independence American cause. The story - perhaps akin to our own Betsy Gray - was told in print, and later in art (here's a print from 1857) for many generations. A memorial was raised over her grave in 1901 by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

... it was also a politically useful tool, both during the war and after.  It cast the British and Native American forces who fought against the infant American republic as heartless perpetrators of terrible violence, even against innocent Loyalists like McCrea.  Thus, the yarn had staying power, remaining popular decades and decades after the actual event ... 

previous post here about Meggie Stinson and Jenny Wiley