Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Whistler's Forts

Just like John Jay Jackson—my husband's fourth great grandfather whose life history we are trying to piece together—Captain John Whistler was a man assigned to build military outposts. It may well be this very propensity that led to Jackson's meeting and, ultimately, marrying Sarah Howard Ijams.

To check this possibility, let's review John Jackson's fort-building itinerary, and then move on to that of the Captain.

When I first began researching John Jackson, one narrative providing a listing of his service was in the book, Pioneers of Perry County, Ohio, by 1830, published by the Perry County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society. I had first written about this discovery after my return from a visit to the Allen County Public Library, where I had found the entry. (It was, incidentally, the excerpt that clued me in that my husband's sisters are eligible to join the Daughters of the American Revolution.)

Basically, once John Jackson enlisted in the army as part of the 4th Regiment of U.S. Riflemen, he was eventually sent down river from Pittsburgh to Fort Belle Fontaine near Saint Louis, then up the Mississippi to Prairie du Chien, where, among other assignments, he participated in the building of Fort Crawford.

John Whistler, enlisting in the United States Army much earlier than John Jackson, had also been sent to the western frontier. He was involved in battle there as early as the Harmar campaign in 1790. His first assignment in the area that was to become Fort Wayne—the location at which I suspect these families eventually met—was in 1794.

That was an assignment specifically to build the fort there in Indiana territory. Whistler was not stationed there for long, however, as by July of 1797, he was transferred to Fort Lernoult in Michigan, and then again, by the summer of 1803, he was assigned to participate in building yet another fort.

This time, he was part of the company building Fort Dearborn, which location later became the site of the city of Chicago. All the while, John Whistler was being promoted through the ranks, and by the time of his stay at the new Fort Dearborn, he became its first commandant.

That was far from his final assignment, however. Due to a dispute with a prominent local trader, Whistler was transferred back to Detroit—a fortunate "setback" for him, personally, as it preceded the Fort Dearborn massacre by about two years.

After his service in the War of 1812, John Whistler eventually returned to Fort Wayne—this time, with the charge to rebuild the now-decaying old fort.

Tracing Captain Whistler's military whereabouts, however, was not entirely a straightforward endeavor. Depending on which narrative we follow, we'll see other forts were part of his tour of duty—but they are not clearly specified in reports of his assignments.

Some of these forts, as we'll soon see, have significance to our exploration of the personal micro-history involving John Jackson. Some of these assignments may help us determine the time and location of the Ijams-Jackson nexus. Others may reveal the possibility of a younger William Ijams—likely, Sarah Howard Ijams' brother—being the go-between leading either to the marriage of Whistler to Sarah's widowed mother, or to that of Sarah, herself, and John Jackson.

Exploring further records about Fort Wayne may also provide hints about these connections. Perhaps you remember my stumbling upon the newspaper article, written back in 1990 in Toledo (of all places), reporting on a roleplaying exhibit in which the main characters stationed at Fort Wayne were named John Whistler and William Ijams. Who picked out names like those? That couldn't have been a script writer's choice based solely upon coincidence or artistic whimsy.

Then, too, it may be the records of Fort Wayne—and also, possibly, those of Fort Washington by Cincinnati—will help us more closely place both the times of the Whistler family's interface with the Ijams family and the timeline of Whistler's first wife's death.

Keep in mind: at one point—either at the first, when Whistler enlisted with the U.S. Army, or at a later point—Whistler was posted at Fort Washington, located at Cincinnati. This assignment becomes important when, recalling the custom back then of wives moving along with their husbands during their military assignments, the locations where they stayed as families may reveal possibilities of the families' social connections. I've also ended up tracing Whistler's service based on his children's birth places. Knowing where he was stationed—and when—will become necessary when I need to zero in on details related to our Ijams and Jackson stories.

It may be the timeline of Whistler's first wife's death will help us pinpoint the date and location of his second marriage to the Ijams widow. More than that, due to the possibility of these women—Anna Whistler and Elizabeth Ijams—living with their husbands at these same forts, it may be likely that, long before that second marriage, Elizabeth Howard Ijams already knew John Whistler.

Above: Image of the signature of Captain John Whistler, from B. J. Griswold's 1917 volume, The Pictorial History of Fort Wayne, Indianain the public domain.


  1. Never heard of the Harmar Campaign - it was a rare case were the Native Americans actually won.

    1. The Harmar Campaign turns out to be only one small part of the portion of history I don't ever recall learning in school. Wonder why...

  2. Obviously I was absent the day they talked about the Battle of Fort Dearborn:)


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