Richard Butler  – Continental Army Officer – Pennsylvania


Richard Butler (April 1, 1743 – November 4, 1791) was an officer in the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War, who later died fighting American Indians in Ohio.

==Early life==

Born in St. Bridget’s Parish, Dublin, Ireland, Richard Butler was the oldest son of Thomas and Eleanor (Parker) Butler. Thomas Butler was an Irish aristocrat who served in the British army. In 1748 he opened a gun shop in Dublin, but that same year the family moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where Thomas learned to make the Pennsylvania long rifles used in the French and Indian War.

By 1760, the family had moved to the frontier at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where Thomas and his sons manufactured long rifles and became friends with Daniel Morgan. The Butler gun shop still stands in Carlisle.

By the 1770s, Richard Butler and his brother William were important traders at Fort Pitt in Pennsylvania and in Ohio. A street in Pittsburgh, Butler Street, is named for them.

==American Revolution==

At the outset of the American Revolution, the Continental Congress named Richard Butler a commissioner in 1775 to negotiate with the Indians. He visited representatives of the Delaware, Shawnee, and other tribes to secure their support, or at least neutrality, in the war with Britain.

In 1776, Butler was commissioned a major in the Continental Army, serving first as second in command to his friend Daniel Morgan. He saw action at the Battle of Saratoga and the Battle of Monmouth. His four brothers also served, and were noted for their bravery as the “fighting Butlers.”

At Yorktown, George Washington conferred on Richard Butler the honor of receiving Cornwallis’ sword of surrender, an honor which Richard gave to his second in command, Ebenezer Denny. At the last moment, Baron von Steuben demanded that he receive the sword. This almost precipitated a duel between Butler and Von Steuben.

At the victory dinner for his officers, George Washington raised his glass and toasted, “The Butlers and their five sons!”

Butler was an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati.

==Post American Revolution activity==

After the war, the Confederation Congress put Richard Butler in charge of Indians of the Northwest Territory. He negotiated the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784, in which the Iroquois surrendered their lands. He was also called upon during later negotiations, such as the Treaty of Fort McIntosh in 1785.

Butler returned to Pennsylvania, and was a judge in Allegheny County. He also served in the state legislature. He married Maria Smith and had four children, only one who lived to have children and continue his line. Butler also fathered a son, Captain Butler (or Tamanatha) with Shawnee chieftess Nonhelema. Butler and his Shawnee son fought in opposing armies in 1791.

When American Indians resisted the U.S. occupation of Ohio, Butler, now a major general of levies, was sent north from Fort Hamilton (now Hamilton, Ohio). He was second-in-command of an expedition led by General Arthur St. Clair. Two of his brothers, Thomas and Edward, were in the company with him. On the morning of November 4, 1791, Indians led by Chief Little Turtle ambushed the army and killed 600 men and scores of women and children. The Battle of the Wabash, also known as St. Claire’s Defeat, was the greatest loss the U.S. Army suffered against the Indians – far more so than Custer’s Last Stand.

Richard, a heavy man, was mortally wounded; his brother Thomas was shot in both legs. Richard ordered his younger brother Edward to leave him and save Thomas, which he did. Richard gave his sword to another officer with the admonition to never to wipe Butler blood from the blade. Later the sword was given to Edward’s son, Edward George Washington Butler, in remembrance of his father’s bravery in attempting to save his brothers.

Richard Butler was killed with a tomahawk blow to the head. Simon Girty, a white man living among the Indians, identified his body among the dead. Butler was then allegedly scalped, and his heart removed and eaten by those warriors who wished to partake of his bravery. Years later, Chief Little Turtle returned to Butler’s widow, Maria, the Society of the Cincinnati medal Butler wore the day that he died. Little Turtle assured the widow that Butler’s body had not been mutilated as reported.

It is alleged that Butler’s remains were interred in a coffin on the battlefield, and that years later this coffin was found in the town of Fort Recovery, Ohio, and reburied at the Fort Recovery Memorial.


Butler County, Ohio, where Fort Hamilton stood, is named for Richard Butler, as are Butler County, Kentucky, and Butler County, Pennsylvania. The city of Butler, Pennsylvania and the General Richard Butler Bridge (located in the city of Butler) are also named for him.

A miniature portrait of Richard Butler was painted by “The Painter of The Revolution,” Colonel John Trumbull, in 1790 and is in the collection of Yale University.

He is also honored in the name of a chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), the General Richard Butler Chapter, founded in Butler, Pennsylvania.