Thursday, February 6, 2014

My First Special Exhibit- George Croghan: Fallen Hero

Thanks to Historic Locust Grove, the Arts and Culture Partnership at the University of Louisville, and Dr. John Hale, Director of Liberal Studies at the University of Louisville, I had the opportunity last year to design, build, and curate my first special museum exhibit. To commemorate the bicentennial of Major George Croghan's successful defense of Ft. Stephenson, Locust Grove decided to launch the first of what will hopefully be a continuing series of special temporary exhibits; this one to showcase the life story of the tragic second son of the original owners of the historic home.

Exhibit Banner

Other museums, private collectors, and researchers provided a great deal of support in addition to the resources we had available at Locust Grove. In particular, the curatorial staff at the Frazier History Museum were tirelessly helpful and generous.

Here is a walk through some of what was on display. The exhibit was located in a room of a ca. 1810 log house that has been incorporated into Locust Grove's modern museum gallery.

Representation of Croghan's early life. In the foreground are images of the miniatures of his parents, William and Lucy Croghan, the original owners of Locust Grove. The actual miniatures are in Locust Grove's collection but were too fragile to be displayed. The ca. late 18th Century hunting sword (collection of the Frazier History Museum), ca. early 19th Century hunting bag and bullet mold (my collection), and ca. early 19th Century powder horn (collection of Nathanael Logsdon/Historic Tunnel Mill) represent Croghan's enthusiasm for hunting in his early life. The books belonged to George Croghan and his brothers, John Croghan and William Croghan, Jr; they were all successful students.

George Croghan was the only one of his brothers to follow in the footsteps of his father and uncles by joining the military. He was first with Kentucky Volunteer Dragoons during William Henry Harrison's campaign in the Indiana Territory in 1811. The campaign culminated in the Battle of Tippecanoe where Croghan served as aid to Colonel Boyd. When the War of 1812 came the following year, he was made a captain in the regular United States Army (17th Infantry Regiment) and promoted to the rank of major following his contribution to the defense of Fort Meigs and urging of his superiors by his father. The uniform in this exhibit (collection of Historic Locust Grove) belonged to George Rogers Clark Floyd who was also at Tippecanoe (it does not reflect the style worn by Croghan- the dragoons had been directed to wear plain blue single breasted coats by Major Daviess). The sword was likely carried by a militia officer or NCO around the time of or during the War of 1812 (collection of Nathanael Logsdon/Historic Tunnel Mill; consultation on origin by Ric Cusick). The pipe tomahawk head (collection of Frazier History Museum) is also from about the same time as the war and represents the Native American forces that engaged Harrison's army at Tippecanoe under Tecumseh's brother, "the Prophet."

The high point of Croghan's life was his defense of Fort Stephenson in August, 1813. When the intent of attack upon the fort by British General Proctor's combined force of British regulars and Native allies became known to William Henry Harrison (still Croghan's superior), he sent orders from his his base at Seneca Town (10 miles from Ft. Stephenson) to Croghan that he was to abandon the fort, burn it down, and join him at Seneca Town. The courier carrying the orders got lost in the woods and, by the time he arrived, the presence of Proctor's Native allies near by was already apparent. Croghan responded to Harrison's orders stating that a safe retreat had become impossible and that he intended to remain at Ft. Stephenson and attempt a defense. This insubordination caused Harrison to have Croghan arrested and brought to him at Seneca Town. Croghan successfully argued that a defense was the only option and was returned to his command. With 150 men and a single 6-pound cannon known as "Old Betsy," Croghan forced Proctor's force to retreat. They had 500 British regulars, 700-800 Natives, howitzers on the river and multiple 6-pounders on land.  The details of the battle are fascinating but perhaps too long of a story to go into here. Afterwards, Croghan was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and moved to the 2nd Regiment of Rifles.

The book in this display is an 1815 copy of The Portfolio (collection of Lou Scholtz) detailing Croghan's defense of Fort Stephenson, a basic account of his life, and an engraved image of him. The sword with the hilt in the fore ground (collection of the Frazier History Museum) is an American officer's sword from the War of 1812 period. The sword laying across it is a 1795 pattern British officer's sword (collection of the Frazier History Museum). The rifle and shako (hat) (collection of Michael Cooper) are reproductions reflecting equipment used by the U.S. rifle regiments late in the war, during the time Croghan was serving with them. The reproduction pattern 1808 cartridge box (collection of Nathanael Logsdon/Historic Tunnel Mill) is the same type likely carried by troops of the 17th US Infantry during the Battle of Fort Stephenson.

Closer View

The Portfolio, 1815, collection of Lou Scholtz

Croghan's life following the war was a catastrophe. He married Serena Livingston of New York, the Livingstons being one of the richest most powerful families in the country. George and Serena had several children over the course of their marriage; three survived to adulthood. He bought a plantation near New Orleans and moved his family there. Serena did not favor the location or the climate and George eventually sold it to a Mr. Bell of New York. Mr. Bell found, though, that the horses on the plantation were emaciated and the sugar works had never been completed because Croghan had never paid the workers building it. By Louisiana state law at the time, this created a lien on the property; it really was not Croghan's to sell. He and Serena escaped New Orleans by cover of night back to Kentucky. George would spend most of the rest of his life trying to pay off the consequences. Partially due to the influence of his friend, Andrew Jackson, Croghan returned to New Orleans in 1825 as Post Master. Not long after he received the rank of full Colonel and Inspector General with the U.S. Army and resigned from the post office. An audit revealed that he had been embezzling funds, partially to pay off debt from the plantation and partially to fuel a toxic drinking and gambling habit that was just now becoming apparent. Indications are that he attempted suicide by cutting his wrists. Serena was able to get him to Pennsylvania where she did her best to keep the situation quiet. He was able to keep his new position with the army but, from 1826-1841, his behavior grew steadily worse. Family and army correspondence reflect continuous drunken spectacles and extreme irresponsibility with money followed by pledges to improve and periods of behaving well around family, only to return to the same patterns when back on the road.

Bottle, decanter and glasses collection of Historic Locust Grove. Early 19th Century bank notes recreated by Albert Roberts. The sword (collection of Historic Locust Grove) is the only one known to still exist that belonged to George Croghan. It dates to 1821 or later so was with him either during his Inspector General or Mexican War service. Donated by his descendants. The medal in the back (collection of Historic Locust Grove) was awarded to Croghan by Congress in 1835 for his 1813 defense of Fort Stephenson. It was the result of his long standing struggle with William Henry Harrison over what Croghan considered slanderous remarks and insufficient recognition for the defense. It was the only time Congress awarded such and honor so long after the fact. The two miniatures in the front are John Croghan and George Croghan (both collection of Historic Locust Grove). No matter how bad things got, John never failed to do whatever he could to support George. The Bible in the rear was a gift to Serena from George on New Years Day, 1838. Possibly one of many attempts to prove that he was going to clean himself up.

In 1841, Croghan moved back to Locust Grove, now owned and occupied by his brother Dr.John Croghan, the perpetual bachelor. He cleaned up his act, assisted John with his other property, Mammoth Cave, and joined the local temperance society. The Bible in the foreground (collection of Historic Locust Grove) belonged to him. Still plagued by debt, Serena legally separated himself from him, in part to protect the property and inheritance of her and her children. She was aided in this by their only surviving son, St. George Croghan. Ultimately, he served in the Mexican War as a Colonel with his friend and long time Locust Grove neighbor, Zachary Taylor. The Colt Dragoon revolver (1980s reproduction by the Colt company, collection of the Frazier History Museum) represents how far technology had come since his last battle. In war, he seemed to find himself again, but contracted cholera and died in New Orleans in 1849, three days before John died at Locust Grove. The ribbon and ceramic pitcher both bear his image and are commemorative pieces from Fremont Ohio, the site of Fort Stephenson, where he has always been honored as a hero.

Oldest daughter Mary Angelica (painting at left, collection of Historic Locust Grove) and youngest daughter Serena "Tiny" (photograph at right, collection of Historic Locust Grove) both married and moved to San Francisco, California along with their mother (George's widow) Serena. Many of their descendants are still there and have been a tremendous help to Locust Grove since it has been transformed from a farm into a museum. St. George inherited Locust Grove following his uncle's and father's deaths. He served in the Confederate Army as a Colonel and was shot and killed in West Virginia in 1861.

Mary Angelica Croghan Wyatt, Collection of Historic Locust Grove

Lt. Col. George Croghan, ca. 1816, by John Wesley Jarvis. Collection of Historic Locust Grove

Serena Livingston Croghan, ca. 1816, Collection of Historic Locust Grove


  1. Hello,

    Please look at the George Croghan medal I have listed on eBay and tell me what you think. Ebay Item number 382319540746

    1. Very interesting! That would be the great uncle of the George Croghan from my post here. "My" George Croghan's father was William Croghan, who came to America ca. 1769; his father was Nicholas Croghan, the brother of the George Croghan from your medal. George and William were associated in this country prior to George's death. Very interesting piece! Have never seen anything like it.