Chronicles of Border Warfare
The tract of country usually denominated North Western Virginia, includes the counties of Brook, Ohio, Tyler, Wood, Lewis, Randolph, Preston, Harrison and Monongalia, covering an area of 8,887 square miles, and having a population, according to the census of 1830, of 78,510 souls. These counties, with a portion of Pennsylvania then deemed to be within the limits of Virginia, constituted the district of West Augusta; and was the last grand division of the state, to become occupied by whites. This was perhaps owing to natural causes, as well as to the more immediate proximity of hostile Indians.
The general surface of the district of country is very broken, its hills, though rich, are yet steep and precipitous, and the various streams which flow along their bases, afford but few bottoms; and these of too narrow and contracted dimensions to have attracted the adventurer, when more inviting portions of the country, were alike open to his enterprise. -- The Alleghany ridge of mountains, over which the eastern emigrant had to pass, presented too, no inconsiderable barrier to its earlier locations: while the cold, bleak, inhospitable region, extending from the North Branch to the Cheat and Valley rivers, seemed to threaten an entire seclusion from the eastern settlements, and to render it an isolated spot, not easily connected with any other section of the state.
The first attempt on the part of the English to occupy the country contiguous to the Ohio river, was made in consequence of the measures adopted by the French to possess themselves of it. France had early become acquainted with the country, so far as to perceive the facility with which her possessions in the north, might, by means of a free communication down, the valley of the Mississippi, be connected with those in the south. To preserve this communication, uninterrupted, to acquire influence over the neighboring Indians and to prevent the occupancy and settlement by England of the country west of the Alleghany mountains, the French were early induced to establish trading posts among the Indians on the Ohio, and to obtain and preserve possession of the country by the erection of a chain of forts to extend from Canada to Louisiana.
To counteract those operations of the French, to possess herself of the country, to which she deemed her title to be good, and to enjoy the lucrative traffic which was then to be carried on with the Indians, England gave to an association of gentlemen in Great Britain and Virginia, (under the title of the Ohio Company,) liberty to locate and hold in their own right, 600,000 acres of land within the country then claimed by both England and France. In pursuance of this grant, steps were directly taken to effect those objects, by establishing trading houses among the Indians near the Ohio, and by engaging persons to make such a survey of the country, as would enable the grantees to effect a location of the quantity allowed them, out of the most valuable lands. The company endeavored to complete their survey with all possible secrecy, and by inducing the Indians to believe their object to be purely commercial, to allay any apprehensions, which might otherwise arise, of an attempt to gain possession of the country.
The attempt to accomplish their purpose of territorial aggrandizement, with secrecy, was fruitless and unavailing. – The Pennsylvania traders, fearful that they would lose the profitable commerce carried on with the Indians, excited their jealousy by acquainting them with the real motive of the company; while the French actually seized, and made prisoners of their traders, and opened and secured, by detachments of troops stationed at convenient situations, a communication from Presq’ Isle to the Ohio river.
The Ohio company sent a party of men to erect a stockade fort at the confluence of the Monongahela and Alleghany rivers, which had been recommended by General Washington as a suitable position for the erection of fortifications.* this party of men was accompanied by a detachment of militia, which had been ordered out by the governor; but before they could effect their object, they were driven off by the French who immediately took possession of the place, and erected thereon fort du Quesne. These transactions were
* In the journal )drawn up for the inspection of Gov. Dinwiddie) of the events of his mission to the commander of the French forces on the Ohio; this was the first of those splendid acts of a public nature, performed by Gen. Washington.
immediately succeeded by the war, usually, called Braddock’s war, which put an end to the contemplated settlement and the events of which are, for the most part, matter of general history. It may not however, be amiss to relate some incidents connected with this war, which though of minor importance may yet be interesting to some; and which have escaped the pen of the historian.
In Braddock’s army there were two regiments of volunteer militia from Virginia. One of these was commended by Col. Russel of Fairfax; the other by Col. Fry, and was from Shenandoah and James rivers. In this latter regiment there was a company from Culpepper, commanded by Capt. Grant, (afterwards known as a considerable land holder in Kentucky_ and of which John Field (who was killed in the battle at Point Pleasant) was a lieutenant. There was likewise in this regiment, a company of riflemen, from Augusta, commanded by Capt. Samuel Lewis, (the eldest son of John Lewis, who, with Mackey and Salling, had been foremost in settling that country) who was afterwards known as Col. Samuel Lewis of Rockingham. In this company was also contained the five brothers of Capt. Lewis. Andrew, afterwards Gen. Lewis of Botetourt – Charles, afterwards Col. Lewis, who was likewise killed at Point Pleasant – William, John and Thomas. Among their compatriots in arms, were the five sons of Capt. John Matthews (who had accompanied Burden to Virginia) Elihu, Barkley, John, McDowell and Paul Whitly, James Bell, Patrick Lockard, and a number of others of the first settlers of Augusta, Rockbridge and Rockingham.
From the time the army crossed the Alleghany mountain, its movements were constantly watched by Indian spies, from Fort du Quesne; and as it approached nearer the point of destination, runners were regularly dispatched, to acquaint the garrison with its progress, and manner of marching. – When intelligence was received that Braddock still moved in close order, the Indians laid the plan for surprising him, and carried it into most effectual execution with but little assistance from the French. *
At the place where the English crossed the Monongahela river, there are about two acres of bottom land, bounded by the river on the east, and by a bridge of high cliffs on the west. Through these cliffs there is a considerable ravine, formed by the flowing of a small rivulet – On the summit, a wide prospect opens to the west, of a country whose base is level, but surface uneven. On this summit lay the French and Indians concealed by the prairie grass and timber; and from this situation, in almost perfect security, they fired down upon Braddock’s men. The only exposure of the French and Indians, resulted from the circumstance of their having to raise their heads to peep over the verge of the cliff, in order to shoot with more deadly precision. In consequence, all of them who were killed in the early part of the action, were shot through the head.
The companies, commanded by Capt. Grant and Lewis were the first to cross the river. As fast as they landed they formed, and proceeding up the ravine, arrived at the plain on the head of the rivulet, without having discovered the concealed enemy which they had just passed. So soon as the rear of Braddock’s army had crossed the river, the enemy raised a heart rending yell, and poured down a constant and most deadly fire. Before General Braddock received his wound, he gave orders for the whole line to countermarch and form a phalanx on the bottom, so as to cover their retreat across the river. When the main column was wheeled, Grant’s and Lewis’ companies had proceeded so far in advance, that a large body of the enemy rushed down from both sides of the ravine, and intercepted them. A most deadly contest ensued. Those who intercepted Grant and Lewis, could not pass down the defile, as the main body of Braddock’s army was there, and it would have been rushing into the midst of it, to inevitable destruction – the sides of the ravine were too steep and rocky to admit a retreat up them, and their only hope of escape lay in cutting
* James Smith, afterwards Col. Smith of Bourbon county in Kentucky, was then a prisoner at du Quesne. He says that the Indians, in council planned the attach on Braddock’s army and selected the ground from which to make it – that the assailants did not number more than 400 men, of whom but a small proportion were French. One of the Indians laughed when he heard the order of march in Braddock’s army, and said "we’ll shoot them down all as one pigeon." Washington beheld the event in fearful anticipation, and exerted himself in vain with Gen. Braddock, to alter the order of march.
down whose two companies and passing out at the head of the ravine. A dreadful slaughter was the consequence. Opposed in close fifth, and with no prospect of security, but by joining the main army in the bottom, the companies of Grant and Lewis literally cut their way through to the mouth of the ravine. Many of Lewis’s men were killed and wounded, and not more than half of Grant’s lived to reach the river bank. Almost the only loss the enemy sustained was in this conflict.
The unfortunate result of the campaign of 1755, gave to the French a complete ascendance over the Indians on the Ohio. In consequence of this, there was a general distress on the frontier settlements of Virginia. The incursions of the Indians became more frequent and were extended so far, that apprehensions existed of an irruption into the country east of the Blue ridge. This state of things continued until the capture of Fort de Quesne in 1758 by Gen. Forbes.
In the regiment commanded by Washington in the army of 1758, Andrew Lewis was a Major. With this gentleman, Gen. Washington had become acquainted during the campaign of 1754, and had formed of him, as a military man, the highest expectations; his conduct at the defeat of Major Grant, realized those expectations, and acquired for him a reputation for prudence and courage which he sustained unimpaired during a long life of public service. *
Gen. Lewis was in person upwards of six feet high, finely proportioned, of uncommon strength and great activity. His countenance was stern and rather forbidding – his deportment distant and reserved; this rendered his person more awful than engaging. When he was at Fort Stanwich in 1760, as one of the commissioners from the colony of Virginia, to treat, in conjunction with commissioners from the eastern colonies, with the Six Nations, the Governor of New York remarked "that the earth seemed to tremble under his tread." When the war of the revolution commenced, and General Washington was commissioned commander in chief, he is said to have expressed a wish, that the appointment had been given to Gen. Lewis. Be this as it may, it is certain that he accepted the commission of Brigadier General at the solicitation of Washington; and when, from wounded pride** and a shattered constitution, he was induced to express intention of resigning, Gen. Washington wrote him, entreating that he would not do so and assuring him that justice should be done, as regarded his rank. Gen. Lewis, however, had become much reduced by disease, and did not think himself able, longer to endure the hardships of a soldier’s live – he resigned his commission in 1780, and died in the country of Bedford, on the way to his home in Betetourt on Roanoke river.
When major Grant, (who had been sent with a detachment for the purpose of reconnoitering the country about Fort du Quesne,) arrived in view of it, he resolved on attempting its reduction. Major Lewis remonstrated with him, on the propriety of that course, and endeavored to dissuade him from the attempt. Grant deemed it practicable to surprise the garrison and effect an easy conquest, and was unwilling that the provincial troops should divide with his Highland regulars the glory of the achievement – he therefore ordered major Lewis two miles into the rear, with that part of the Virginia regiment than under his command.
Soon after the action had commenced, Lewis discovered by the retreating fire, that Grant was in an unpleasant situation, and leaving Capt. Bullet with fifty men to guard the baggage, hastened to his relief. On arriving at the battle ground, and finding Grant and his detachment surrounded by the Indians, who had passed his rear under cover of the banks of the Alleghany and Monongahela rivers, Major Lewis commenced a brisk fire and made so vigorous an attack on the Indians as to open a passage through which Grant and some few of his men effected an escape. Lewis and his
* After the capitulation of Fort Necessity, and while some of the soldiers of each army were intermixed, an Irishman, exasperated with the Indian near him, "cursed the copper-coloured scoundrel" and raised his musket to shoot him. Gen. Lewis who had been twice wounded in the engagement, and was then hobbling on a staff raised the Irishman’s gun, as he was in the act of firing, and thus not only saved the life of the Indian, but probably prevented a general massacre of the Virginia troops.
** Congress had given to Gen. Stephens, and some others )whose senior Lewis had been in former services) commissions as Major Generals.
brave provincials became enclosed within the Indian lines and suffered dreadfully. Out of eight officers five were killed, a sixth wounded and a seventh taken prisoner. Capt. Bullet who defended the baggage with great bravery and contributed much to save the remnant of the detachment, was the only officer who escaped unhurt. Out of one hundred and sixth-six men, sixty-two were killed on the spot and two were wounded.
Major Lewis was himself made prisoner; and although stripped by the Indians of every article of his clothing and reduced to perfect nudity, he was protected from bodily injury by a French officer, who took him to his tent and supplied him with clothes. Grant who had wandered all night with five or six of his men, came in, on the morning after the engagement and surrendered himself a prisoner of war.
While Grant and Lewis were prisoners, the former addressed a letter to Gen. Forbes giving a detailed account of the engagement and attributing the defeat to the ill conduct of the latter. This letter, (being inspected by the French who knew the falsehood of the charge it contained) was handed to Maj. Lewis. Exasperated at this charge, Lewis waited on Major Grant and in the interview between them, after having bestowed on him some abusive epithets, challenged him to the field. Grant declined to accept the invitation; and Lewis, after spitting in his face in presence of several of the French officers, left him to reflect on his baseness.
After this defeat a council was held by the Indians to determine on the course proper for them to pursue. The most of them had come from Detroit at the insistence of the French commandant there, to fortify Fort de Quesne against an attack by Forbes – the hunting season had arrived and many of them were anxious to return to their town. The question which attracted their attention most seriously was, whether Gen. Forbes would then retreat or advance. As Grant had been most signally defeated, many supposed that the main army would retire into winter quarters, as Dunbar had, after the battle on the Monongahela. The French expressed a different opinion, and endeavored to prevail on the Indians to remain and witness the result. This however they refused to do, and the greater part of them left du Quesne. Upon this the commandant of the fort, in order to learn the course which Gen. Forbes would pursue, and to impress upon the English, an idea that the French were in return preparing to attack the, ordered the remainder of the Indians, a number of Canadians and some French regulars to reconnoiter the route along which Gen. Forbes would be most likely to march his army, to watch their motions and harass them as much as possible; determining if they could not thus force him to abandon the idea of attacking Du Quesne during that campaign, they would evacuate the fort and retire into Canada.
When Major Grant with his man had been ordered on to Du Quesne, the main army had been left at Raystown, where it continued for some time; an advance was however posted at fort Ligonier. Between this vanguard and the detachment from Du Quesne there was a partial engagement, which resulted in the loss of some of the Maryland troops. Fort Ligonier was then closely watched by the French and Indians, and several of the sentinels were killed, before the point from which the fires were directed, was discovered; it was at length ascertained that parties of the enemy would creep under the bank of the Loyal Hanna till they could obtain a position from which to do execution. Some soldiers were then stationed to guard this point, who succeeded in killing two Indians, and in wounding and making prisoner of one Frenchman. From him the English obtained information that the greater part of the Indians had left Du Quesne, and that the ford was defenseless: the army then moved forward and taking possession of it ruins established thereon Fort Pitt. The country around began immediately to be settled, and several other forts were erected to protect emigrants, and to keep the Indians in awe.
Previous to this an attempt had been made by David Tygart and a Mr. Files to establish themselves on an upper branch of the Monongahela river. They had been for some time frontier’s men and were familiar with the scenes usually exhibited on remote and unprotected borders; and nothing daunted by the cruel murders and savage enormities, which they had previously witnessed, were induced by some cause, most probably the uninterrupted enjoyment of the forest in the he pursuit of game, to venture still farther into the wilderness. About the year 1754 these two men with their families arrived on the east fork of the Monongahela, and after examining the country, selected positions for their future residence. Files chose a spot on the river, at the mouth of a creek which still bears his name, where Beverly, the county seat of Randolph has been since established. Tygart settled a few miles farther up and also on the river. The valley in which they had thus taken up their abode, has since been called Tygart’s valley, and the east fork of the Monongahela, Tygart’s-valley river.
The difficulty of procuring bread stuffs for their families, their contiguity to an Indian village, and the fact that an Indian war path passed near their dwellings, soon determined them to retrace their steps. Before they carried this determination into effect, the family of Files became the victims of savage cruelty. At a time when all the family were at their cabin, except an elder son, they were discoveries by a party of Indians, supposed to be returning from the South Branch, who inhumanly butchered them all. Young Files being not far from the house and hearing the uproar, approached until he saw, too distinctly, the deeds of death which were doing; and feeling the utter impossibility of affording relief to his own, resolved if he could, to effect the safety of Tygart’s family. This was done and the country abandoned by them.
Not long after this, Doctor Thomas Eckarly and his two brothers came from Pennsylvania and camped at the mouth of a creek, emptying into the Monongahela, 8 or 10 miles below Morgantown; they were Dunkards, and from that circumstance, the watercourse on which they fixed themselves for a while, has been called Dunkard’s creek. While their camp continued at this place, these men were engaged in exploring the country; and ultimately settled on Cheat river, at the Dunkard bottom. Here they erected a cabin for their dwelling, and made such improvements as enabled them to raise the first year, a crop sufficient for their use, and some culinary vegetables; their guns supplied them with an abundance of meat, of a flavor as delicious as the refined palate of a modern epicure could well wish. Their clothes were made chiefly of the skins of animals, and were easily procured; and although calculated to give a grotesque appearance to a fine gentleman in a city drawing room; yet were they particularly suited to their situation, and afforded them comfort.
Here they spent some years entirely unmolested by the Indians, although a destructive war was then waging, and prosecuted with cruelty, along the whole extent of our frontier. At length to obtain an additional supply of ammunition, salt and shirting, Doctor Eckarly left Cheat, with a pack of furs and skins to visit a trading post on the Shenandoah. On his return he stopped at For Pleasant on the South Branch; and having communicated to its inhabitants the place of his residence, and the length of time he had been living there, he was charged with being in confederacy with the Indians, and probably at that instant a spy, examining the condition of the fort. In vain the Doctor protested his innocence and the fact that he had not even seen an Indian in the country: the suffering condition of the border settlements, rendered his account, in their opinion improbable, and he was put in confinement.
The society, of which Doctor Eckarly was a member, was rather obnoxious to a majority of the frontier inhabitants. Their intimacy with the Indians, although cultivated with the most laudable motives, and for noble purposes, yet made them objects at least of distrust to many. Laboring under these disadvantages, it was with difficulty that Doctor Eckarly prevailed on the officer of the fort to release him; and when this was done, he was only permitted to go home under certain conditions – he was escorted by a guard of armed men, who were to carry him back of any discovery were made prejudicial to him. Upon their arrival at Cheat, the truth of his statement was awfully confirmed. The first spectacle which presented itself to their view, when the party came within sight of where the cabin had been, was a heap of ashes. On approaching the ruins, the half decayed, and mutilated bodies of the poor Dunkards, were seen in the yard; the hoops on which their scalps had been dried, were there, and the ruthless hand of desolation had waved over their little fields. Doctor Eckarly aided in burying the remains of his unfortunate brothers, and returned to the fort on the South Branch.
In the fall of 1758, Thomas Decker and some other commenced a settlement on the Monongahela river, at the mouth of which is now, Decker’s creek. In the ensuing spring it was entirely broken up by a party of Delawares and Mingoes; the greater part or its inhabitants murdered.
There was at this time at Brownsville, a fort, then known as Red stone fort, under the command of Capt. Paul. One of the Decker’s party escaped from the Indians who destroyed the settlement, and making his way to Fort Redstone, gave to its commander the melancholy intelligence. The garrison being too weak to admit of sending a detachment in pursuit, Capt. Paul dispatched a runner with the information to Capt. John Gibson, then stationed at Fort Pitt. Leaving the fort under the command of Lieut. Williamson, Capt. Gibson set out with thirty men to intercept the Indians, on their return to their towns.
In consequence of the distance which the pursuers had to go, and the haste with which the Indians had retreated, the expedition failed in its objective; they however accidentally came on a party of six of seven Mingoes, on the head of Cross creek in Ohio (near Steubenville) – these had been prowling about the river, below Fort Pitt, seeking an opportunity of committing depredations. As Capt. Gibson passed the point of a small knoll, just after day break, he came unexpectedly upon them – some of them were lying down; the others were sitting around a fire, making thongs of green hides. Kiskepila or Little Eagle, a Mingo chief, headed the party. So soon as he discovered Capt. Gibson, he raised the war whoop and fired his rifle –the ball passed through Gibson’s hunting shirt and wounded a soldier just behind him. Gibson sprang forward, and swinging his sword with Herculean force, severed the head of the Little Eagle from his body – two other Indians were shot down, and the remainder escaped to their towns on Muskingum.
When the captives, who were restored under the treaty of 1763, came in, those who were at the Mingo towns when the remnant of Kiskepila’s party returned, stated that the Indians represented Gibson as having cut off the Little Eagle’s head with a long knife. Several of the white persons were then sacrificed to appease the names of Kiskepila; and a war dance ensued, accompanied with terrific shouts and bitter denunciations of revenge on ‘the Big knife warrier." This name was soon after applied to the Virginia militia generally: and to this day they are known among the north western Indians as the "Long Knives," or "Big knife nation."
These are believed to have been the only attempts to effect a settlement of North Western Virginia, prior to the close of the French war. The capture of Fort de Quesne and the erection and garrisoning of Fort Pitt, although they gave to the English ascendancy in that quarter; yet they did not so far check the hostile irruptions of the Indians, as to render a residence in this portion of Virginia, by any means secure. – It was consequently not attempted ‘till some years after the restoration of peace in 1765.
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