Abner Prior, A CT Yankee Among the Wabash Indians

Capt Abner Prior WoundedI saw this weekend that someone had “liked” an old Pryor post on Facebook– a post about Capt. Pryor and the Wabash Indians.  I realized that I haven’t disclosed the identity of the Captain. I think it was Capt. Abner Prior. It’s always tough to ID a Pryor when we don’t have a first name. OK, you can stop laughing… yes, I know it’s hard to identify Pryors even when we DO have a first name!

Abner Prior was very involved with the Wabash Indians. The March 14, 1793 diary entry by Ezra Stiles, president of Yale, spoke of Abner Prior visiting him at Yale with a party of several indians from the west. https://tennesseepryors.com/in-context-of-history/captain-pryor-lewis-and-clark-and-the-welsh-indians/  The diary stated that Captain Pryor had been living in Illinois for 6 years (since about 1786?).

This description fits nicely with the Abner Prior who was the Superintendent of Indian Affairs on the Wabash at Fort Knox, IN in March 1794. If you read French (the language of diplomacy, the language the French traders brought to the mid-west) then you may enjoy reading a letter sent to Prior (spelled using the French pronunciation Prieur) from Jean Baptiste de Coigne the chief of the Illinois. (see letter). Prior received a land grant (warrant #1666) in 1791, which states his wife’s name was Abigail and that he served through CT.

The American Historical Review, edited by John Franklin Jameson, Henry Eldridge Bourne, Robert Livingston Schuyler states this about Abner Prior: “[Priors service] is mentioned as of distinguished bravery, in Wayne’s dispatch of August 28, 1794. This fits with a military report I found on Ancestry; on August 20, 1794 Abner Prior was wounded in a skirmish with native warriors at the Battle of the Rapids of the Miami of the Lakes.

Minutes of a Conference with the Illinois and Wabash Indians, [1–4 February 1793]. There are several references to a Captain Pryor. “Old crooked legs sends you this pipe (here he presented it) and he prays you to send him Capt. Pryor for his father, for he is old & you ought to do this for him.” March 14, 1793 Diary entry, Ezra Stiles, president of Yale. Visited by Captain Pryor and Indians on way to Boston. Pryor had been living among the Indians for 6 years in the Wabash and Kaskaskia. (since 1784?) 1784 Capt Pryor living in Illinois territory among the Wabash Indians (see 1793 diary entry below)

I think this is the Abner Prior who was a Revolutionary War soldier from CT with Allen Prior– they were both in Kanawha County, VA (now WV) and were counted on the 1792 Tithe Table.  Abner Prior still had an influence in the Kanawha area in 1793:

July 2nd, 1793 – Charges against Captain Caperton. 11th charge – “For recieving after the 6th of May , 1792, in Kanawa, an extraordinary transfer of Andrew Donnellys, Sr., Reuben Slaughter, Edw’d McClung, and Andrew Donnelly, Jr. , Militia of Capt. J. Morris’ ranging company, andn swearing to the enlistment and mustering of them on the 18th day of March, 1792–he on that day at Greenbrier Courthouse.” Col. Thomas Lewis and Abner Pryor to testify.” (Calendar of Virginia State papers and Other Manuscripts, Volume 6; published 1886 – Possibly also spelled Donnally?)

Now there’s a nice little side story to Abner Prior visiting Yale in 1793 with the party from Illinois. He stopped at Yale in New Haven, CT– Did he go through Windsor, CT on his way up to Boston to see Prior family? What on earth did his family think about seeing their frontiersman relative? Did they give him and the native delegation room and board?

Abner Prior illustrates how multiple lines of Priors and Pryors moved through the frontier and should be looked at carefully. For instance, because Abner lived in the Kanawha in the 1780’s – 1790’s he shouldn’t be confused with the Pryors from Amherst County, VA who were pioneering the Kanawha (the Virginia frontier) in the 1770’s.