Jonathan Alder, was born in Maryland in 1773 and a few years later he and his family moved to western Virginia in Wythe County. Several years after that, his father Bartholomew died leaving his wife and 5 sons to fend for themselves on the western frontier, living in a log cabin. They owned a few horses and other livestock. In the fall of 1781, the Revolutionary War was still being waged back east, when one morning Jonathan and his older brother David went looking for two of their horses that had gone missing during the night.
The two brothers found the horses, but before they could head back to their cabin 5 Indians overtook them. The younger Jonathan was quickly subdued, but his older brother David was able to flee through the woods with one of the Indians giving chase. A white man that was with the Indians tried to convince Jonathan in telling them where his family's cabin was located, but Jonathan refused to give him any details. He then saw one of the warriors dragging his brother behind him. He then noticed the spear hanging from his brother's struggling body.
Jonathan tried comforting his wounded brother, but the indians were in a hurry. With a quick jerk, one of them removed the spear and they immediately took off at a quick pace, but despite all his effort, David could not keep up. Glancing back, one of the indians realized that the wounded boy was falling behind and so he dropped back as the rest of the group went on.
In Jonathan's biography that he would later tell to one of his own sons, this was how he learned that his older brother had been killed and that his fate was in the hands of these men, one of them with the bloody scalp of his brother hanging from his belt. Thus began a journey for Jonathan Alder that would last 29 years living with a Mingo tribe in Ohio.
Running the Gauntlet
Part of the process of being accepted into a local group involved the process of running a gauntlet. In this event, the young boy would be stripped bare, and forced to run by a long row of village women and youths armed with sticks. Although the sticks would do little more than sting and bruise, it would in fact be a matter of life and death for the young boy. If he failed to make it to the end of the gauntlet, it would mean he didn't have the spirit necessary to become part of the village and he would be sold off as a slave. By successfully running the gauntlet, he would then have passed the first step in becoming adopted by the village.
After successfully surviving the ordeal of running the gauntlet, Alder was adopted by a loving Mingo / Shawnee couple (Succopanus, a Mingo Chief and his Shawnee wife Winecheo). Together they raised him as their own son. Since they each spoke different languages, Alder learned both Mingo and Shawnee languages and their ways became his ways. Many years later, even after his adoptive father had given the young man his freedom, he remained with the Mingos living in a small cabin just south of Plain City. He would continue taking part in their annual events, even marrying one of the women.
While these events were not necessarily unique among the early settlers of the western frontier, few of the kidnapping's were documented as well as Alder's life. What makes Jonathan Alder's story different is that he not only survived many life-threatening ordeals, but he was witness to many of the events in our state's early history that he would later describe in his biography that has given us a lasting impression of what daily life was like among the Native Americans living in the Ohio Territory before they were forced to leave.
In 1795 Jonathan Alder took an Indian woman named Barshaw as his wife. But when both of his adoptive parents died Jonathan Alder departed his adopted Indian family of Mingos and his wife in 1804.
In 1806 Alder moved down to a small tract of land along the Big Darby River in Madison County. Later he went back to Virginia to find his real mother and surviving brothers. After spending several years there, he fell in love with Mary Blount, who he would later marry. Together, many of his family moved back to Central Ohio where he would spend the rest of his life. Jonathan and Mary had 12 children.
Jonathan died in 1849 at the age of 76 and is buried in the Foster Chapel Cemetery. His log cabin was located a mile north of there, but was later moved to London, Ohio and is in the Madison County Historical Society Museum at 260 E. High St., London, Ohio 43140.