Simon Girty, Turncoat Hero -Book Review

I remember hearing about ‘Dirty Girty’ when I was in West Virginia History class in junior high school. The lasting impression is one of an unrepentant villain who turned on his countrymen and joined the enemy during the war for independence and took pleasure in helping savages torture and kill innocent people. In later years, I have suspected that there was more to the story than that. Phillip W. Hoffman’s book does a lot to dispel the one-sided caricature and presents us with a complex and interesting character who may have acted against the interests of the colonists, but may have had some reason for doing so, at least from his standpoint.

I am not a particular fan of revisionist historians, by and large. Frequently they seem to be just trying to sell books by presenting controversial or outrageous claims. I think this book is a bit different. It is definitely pro-Girty, but seems to be well-researched. Also, there is the fact that Girty is regarded by a war hero by our neighbors to the north as well as by many native Americans.

The book covers most of Girty’s life, from his childhood through his capture and adoption by the Seneca and then his career as an interpreter (speaking 9 to 11 different Native American languages) and intermediary between the Indians and the colonists and their governments.

At any rate, this book (running a little over 400 pages) is very readable and a bit thought-provoking for anyone who is interested in late 18th century North American history.

The book is available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon among others.

Footnote: An interesting contrast would be Richard Fleming’s monumental Wetzel, a fictionalized but fact-based biography of a backwoodsman who was definitely on the other side of the conflict on the early frontier.