Monday, June 26, 2000
Blue Jacket wasn't white man, DNA suggests
Shawnee chief's family wants him recorded as Indian
By Sara J. Bennett
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Descendants of celebrated Shawnee war chief Blue Jacket for years have fought the story that he really was a white man who started life as Marmaduke Van Swearingen.
Now, they have ammunition that could prove more powerful than genealogy charts or historical documents. A Wright State biologist studying DNA from the Blue Jacket and Van Swearingen families has shown that Blue Jacket and Marmaduke Van Swearingen probably weren't the same person.
Blue Jacket descendants herald the news as a breakthrough. They want the chief, who in the 1790s led the Shawnee against Army forces trying to crush Indian resistance in Ohio, to be remembered as an American Indian.
They also want their own legacies restored.
The white man has always relished the idea that the great chief Blue Jacket was actually their white chief, said Robert Denton Blue Jacket, a Tulsa, Okla., descendant who provided DNA samples.
Being an Indian is not a matter of your blood, it's a matter of your heart it's your cultural identity, and that's what was so sad about this whole myth. It has robbed so many people of not
only their blood, but their cultural identity.
Mr. Blue Jacket and other descendants plan on using the new DNA evidence to try to force changes in works that perpetuate the Blue-Jacket-as-white-man story. One target is the outdoor Blue Jacket theatrical production performed each summer in Xenia. It recently was included in the Library of Congress' Local Legacies program.
The story also was recounted in a 1969 biography by Allan Eckert. According to the book, Blue Jacket was the son of white settlers who was adopted by the Shawnee when a hunting party came upon the 17-year-old boy in a West Virginia woods in 1771. The Shawnees re-named young Marmaduke Van Swearingen Blue Jacket because he was wearing a blue coat when he willingly joined their tribe.
The new DNA research raises questions about that theory.
Wright State biologist Dan Krane tested DNA samples from five descendants of Blue Jacket and five descendants of Mr. Van Swearingen. Preliminary results suggest the two men were not the same.
The DNA also suggests that Blue Jacket was American Indian, Mr. Krane said, but it doesn't rule out the possibility that he was white.
Mr. Krane received the DNA samples from Robert Van Trees, who is not relat ed to Blue Jacket or Mr. Van Swearingen but grew interested in the story while researching his own family tree.
Mr. Van Trees, 82, of Fairborn, traveled the nation last summer gathering saliva samples from direct male descendants of both families.
The method of DNA testing used by Mr. Krane is reliable, said Carl Huether, a University of Cincinnati biology professor. But to help answer the question of Blue Jacket's ethnicity, researchers also should compare DNA of his descendants with that of descendants from his Shawnee tribe, Mr. Huether said.
The author Allan Eckert, who lives in Bellefontaine, was traveling and unavailable for comment. Alexander Kaye, who has published Mr. Eckert's books, said Mr. Eckert got his information from family records and did exhaustive research.
Historical accounts of a mighty Indian chief really being white don't surprise Miami University history professor Andrew Cayton.
Especially in the 1800s, historians had to deal with people like Tecumseh and Blue Jacket, and they found much to be admired in these men that conflicted with their general sense that the Indians were racially inferior, he said. One way you can deal with that is if you have these Indian leaders who are sterling examples of leadership and intelligence, you say that somewhere, they must have had white blood in them.
Until now, Mr. Van Trees has used birth dates and other documentation that he claims show Blue Jacket couldn't have been Marmaduke Van Swearingen. He said he has found no record of Mr. Van Swearingen, although he did uncover a Marmaduke Swearingen, born in 1763 in western Pennsylvania. He disappeared, and his family never saw him again.
Mr. Van Trees also claims to have tracked down the origin of the Blue-Jacket-as-white-man story. He says it was first published in 1877 in an Ohio newspaper.
In light of recent DNA evidence, the Library of Congress has added a disclaimer to its Local Legacies Web site saying that the story depicted in Xenia's Blue Jacket production is under dispute.
But the Xenia play won't change, said Scott Galbraith, the show's director of marketing and public relations.
We're not espousing to be a history book. This is theater, he said. What we do is utilize historical elements to tell stories of humanity. That's what theater is about. It's not about biology.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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