Captain Prior at Fort Defiance (OH) in 1794

mystery-pryor-manReported in The Maryland Gazette (Annapolis, MD on 2 October 1794). This report is of a battle between Americans and British/Native-American forces. Fort Defiance is where the town of Defiance, OH now sits.

LEXINGTON, September 8.
An express arrived here on Saturday evening about 8 o’clock, with letters from the army, from which we have collected the following particulars:–
On the 20th ult. about 146 miles advanced of Greenville, the advance guard, consisting of two companies, were attached by about 1100 Indians and Canadian militia; the attack being sudden and unexpected, the advance guard fell back on the main army and threw them into confusion, which occasioned a retreat of about one hundred paces before they formed again; after forming, not more than two heavy fires were exchanged before they were ordered to charge the enemy, which was instantly done; upon which the enemy immediately gave ground, and our men rushing forward with such imperosity, the enemy were dislodged from their coverts, and the cavalry taking advantage of that event, pursued them about two miles, when they dispersed. The action continued about an hour and a quarter; we had about 30 men killed, and 80 wounded; among the former are captain Campbell of the cavalry, and lieutenant Towles of the infantry. Among the latter are captain Slough, captain Vanransalear, Captain PRIOR and lieutenant Campbell Smith, of the federal army; –Seven of the volunteers were killed, and fourteen wounded. One hundred and twenty seven scalps were taken, and a number killed in the river that were not scalped. The army remained three days on the ground, and returned to Fort Defiance, at the mount of the Auglaize, where they were on the 24th ultimo.

The action happened within sight of a strong British fort, regularly built, and garrisoned with three hundred men, between forty and fifty miles below Fort Defiance, on the Maumee or the lakes. The commander in chief, sent a flag to major Campbell, commander of the British garrison, to march his men out to the nearest British post, and give up the fort, both of which he positively refused. The Indians had 5000 acres of land in corn, all in excellent order on the bottoms of the Miumee river, a considerable quantity of which the army have destroyed.

The following list of the names of the killed and wounded of the Kentucky volunteers, was received this day.
KILLED. John Jackson, Alexander Innes, William Mitchell, Thomas Moore, William Steel, Benjamin Bell, and James Wiley. WOUNDED. Captain Rawlings, lieutenant McKinney, ensign Duncan. Privates George McCullock, John Howard, Robert Scott, John Hinkston, Isaac Rankins, James Cost, James Stewart, Benjamin Bantle, John Montgomery, and William Woodrow.

I hate the use of “former” and “latter” as much as anyone else. In this article the word “killed” is the former event, indicating that Captain Prior was killed in action. Of course another newspaper account didn’t mention Captain Prior as one of the men killed:

Killed by Indians and Canadian Militia near Ft. Defiance, Ky on 20 Aug. 1794: Capt. Robert CAMPBELL (of the dragoons), Lt. Henry B. Towles (of the 4th Sub-Legion) and the following Ky. Volunteers: John JACKSON, Alexander INNES, William MITCHELL, Thomas MOORE, William STEELE, Benjamin BELL, And James WILEY (BVCG 29 Sept. 94, VCGA 6 Oct 94, VGRMA 6, 13 Oct 94, VGRC 3 Oct 94, HNPA 4, 7, Oct 94)
— Genealogical Abstracts from 18th-century Virginia Newspapers by Robert Kirk Headley

So who was Captain Prior and what really happened to him? Alan D. Gaff in his book Bayonets in the Wilderness: Anthony Wayne’s Legion in the Old Northwest also was interested in what happened to this Prior:

“Although Captain Prior of the First Sub-Legion was listed as wounded in Wayne’s report, his injury must have been minor since General Wilkinson* failed to mention it in his two surviving accounts of the fight.”

Captain Prior was Abner Prior who I wrote about in Abner Prior, A CT Yankee Among the Wabash Indians — Captain Solomon Van Rensalear, Captain Campbell Smith, and Captain Jacob Slough who were named in the newspaper report and were all also named and reported as “wounded” on the company roster.

* General James Wilkinson is the same man who was entangled with Aaron Burr (see post)