|Old Fort Wayne in 1797|
by Tom Castaldi
John Whistler came to America as a British soldier in the Revolution, under the command of General John Burgoyne. He was captured, paroled and sent back to England. His elopement with Anna Bishop, daughter of Sir Edward Bishop, a close friend of his father, brought the young man and woman to America where they made their first home at Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1790.
The following year, after joining the army of the United States, John Whistler came west with General St. Clair’s army. He escaped after suffering severe wounds received at the “Wabash slaughter field” handed to the Americans by Little Turtle’s warriors at Fort Recovery. Back in Cincinnati at Fort Washington Whistler returned to receive a new assignment and was joined there by his wife.
When General Anthony Wayne’s army arrived, Whistler joined them on the march into northwest Ohio where he participated in the Battle of Fallen Timbers. After defeating the Indian confederation under the leadership of the Shawnee brave Blue Jacket, on August 20, 1794, Wayne moved his “Legion of the United States” up the Maumee River to the large American Indian settlement of Kekionga at the confluence of the Three Rivers.
Wayne ordered a fort to be built in 1794 on the high ground overlooking the confluence of the Saint Mary’s and Saint Joseph rivers and the Miami town of Kekionga. In 1798, Colonel Thomas Hunt began construction of a second American fort at the Three Rivers. This fort, near present-day East Main and Clay Streets, was completed in 1800 and served as a replacement for the first hastily built one erected nearby to the south by General Wayne.
The American forts at the Three Rivers came under attack only once during nearly a quarter-of-a-century while they guarded United States interests in the midst of Indian territory. In 1815, after having withstood a siege three years earlier, this stronghold was replaced under the direction of now Major John Whistler. By 1816, Whistler, the Fort’s Commandant, was transferred to a new assignment in Saint Louis, Missouri. The fort Whistler had rebuilt during 1815 and 1816 was the last in the Three Rivers region and on April 19, 1819, was abandoned by the U. S. Army.
After the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Whistler and his wife resided in the fort at Fort Wayne, and here, in 1800, George Washington Whistler was born, one of fifteen children. George became “Whistler’s Father” the father of James Abbott McNeill Whistler whose renowned oil on canvas, “Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother”, is known to the world as “Whistler’s Mother”.
The Indian Agency continued to operate in the fort after it was decommissioned by the government and the first school in Fort Wayne was established here by the Baptist missionary, Isaac McCoy, from 1820 to 1822. The land immediately around the fort was ceded to Allen County by an act of Congress in 1830 and it wasn’t until 1852 that the last building of the fort was demolished.
Originally published in Fort Wayne Magazine “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – January 2008 No. 39 Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com.