Jim Smith. Allegheny Uprising
Called Jim Smith in the film, but preferring James Smith in real life, the frontiersman played by John Wayne in Allegheny Uprising was based on a real person in Western Pennsylvania following the French and Indian War and Pontiac’s Rebellion. Smith fought in both. He also led a group of men known as the Black Boys because they blackened their faces when performing acts which merited the disapproval of British authorities. The basis of their disagreements with the British was Indian Affairs, specifically some of the trade goods being offered to the Indians, rum and gunpowder. They took action to hijack pack trains of goods bound for the Indians.
These elements were present in John Wayne’s portrayal of Jim Smith in Allegheny Uprising, though all of the names of the characters were fictionalized other than his, with some name dropping of British General Gage. Most of the film is fictionalized as well, but there is nothing rare about that in the recounting of the life of James Smith. Most of what is known of him is based on his own autobiography, without corroborating support or evidence, and absent from British records, such as the fall of Fort Bedford in 1769. According to Jim Smith the Black Boys captured the British fort without firing a shot, forcing the release of several of their comrades.
Similar events are depicted by Wayne as Jim Smith. Of course Wayne’s Smith has Claire Trevor tagging along as his love interest while the real James Smith did not take his wife with him on his illicit raids. The film correctly points out that the British officials took no action against the illegal trade with the Indians, desiring to quickly regain the support of the tribes in the aftermath of Pontiac’s Rebellion. Wayne’s Smith at one point tells a British officer, “I guess you Brits will never understand our ways”, a line which denies the fact that at that point in American history the colonists considered themselves loyal British subjects, though the cords were beginning to fray.
The events of the Black Boys rebellion are poorly documented and little known outside of those who specialize in the colonial phase of American history. It occurred at the same time as the events in Boston and Williamsburg were beginning to coalesce into organized demands for representation in Parliament. Allegheny Uprising was based on the book The First Rebel: Being a lost chapter of our history and a true narrative of America’s first uprising against English military authority, which was itself based on James Smith’s autobiography, which has an even longer title. The movie’s producer did not follow either closely.
Jim Smith is one of Wayne’s lesser known roles and the film did not fare as well as the earlier release with Claire Trevor, Stagecoach, nor another film depicting the colonial era, Drums along the Mohawk. The paucity of accurate information regarding the real James Smith, the Black Boys, and the rebellion make it impossible to rate Wayne’s performance as regards historical accuracy. The film depicts the British trading rifles to the Indians at a time when rifles were relatively rare, expensive, and all handmade by gunsmiths, a lengthy process. It could have been that the gunpowder being provided in reality was for peppering the rum, a favorite technique of flavoring of the Eastern Indians.