One day in 1753 Gideon Carr, an Albemarle County farmer, presented a good horse, a rifle, and money to an eighteen year old boy he had educated and given a name, then told the boy, William Carr, to seek his fortune on the frontier and never return. William's mother tried to make her husband believe her son's obviously mixed racial heritage was a "judgment on her for her wickedness." If she were anxious for his safety in the west, she needn't have been. The rough-and-tumble environment of Albemarle County was preparation enough.
As late as 1779 British prisoner of war Major Thomas Anbury noted the forests of Albemarle County were broken only by widely scattered farms and plantations. Houses of "the better sort" were "lathed and plastered within," the chimneys more often of wood than brick. Near the Blue Ridge backwoodsmen lived in log houses and ate poke greens instead of garden vegetables. They hunted bear with packs of savage dogs, and showed off their rifles—and bravery—by shooting at boards in each other's hands and between their legs. Zig-zag rail fences kept cattle and hogs out of fields where deadened trees threatened to drop limbs on the heads of humans and animals alike. Near taverns fights erupted at races where horses galloped in a straight line for a quarter of a mile. Before a fight could commence, however, backwoods etiquette required the parties to agree on the rules which might include biting, kicking, and eye-gouging with long thumbnails hardened in candle flame.
We know William Carr never married or settled in one place, but "lived [on the frontier] in the forts and stations, and spent his time almost entirely hunting." About 1765 he may have returned from the wilderness to join a white cousin—Joseph Martin from Piney Creek in Albemarle—on a longhunt into Powell's Valley next to Kentucky—a country so wild the deer had only recently learned to run from the scent of a man or the report of a rifle.
When John Redd first talked with William Carr in 1775 he was living in Joseph Martin's fort east of Cumberland Gap on the Kentucky path. Of all the hunters Redd was acquainted with, Carr ventured farthest. "Fiew men," Redd said, "possessed a more high sense of honor, and true bravery." In 1776 when most hunters remained at home, fearing the reaction of Cherokees who were angry over the tribe's sale of their hunting grounds to Richard Henderson's Transylvania Company, Carr went alone into the brush and never returned.
There were undoubtedly other free men of African descent—how many we will never know—who took up residence on the fringes of settlement. In 1753 near Fairfield, Va. "a free negro" from Lancaster County, Pa., "the only blacksmith in this district," shod the horse of Moravian missionary Gotlob Koenigsderfer, and enthusiastically discussed religion with him in German. His Scottish wife baked bread for brother Gotlob and his companions before they resumed their journey to North Carolina.
Frontier Slaves far outnumbered free men of color, however. Henry Skaggs invested the profits of his most successful hunt in two "likely negro boys;" and Daniel Boone bought slaves to help him operate an inn he built out of abandoned flatboat timbers on the Ohio. But middle class was as high as a free man was likely to rise on the frontier. No one owned more than a few slaves; and social barriers between whites and blacks, like those between the classes, were less rigid west of the mountains, where slaves and enslavers were more likely to sleep a few steps away from each other in the same one-room cabins, to plant and harvest side by side, and serve together as soldiers.
Fifty miles west of William Carr's Albemarle County home in 1753, on the frontier between Euro and Native Americans, a slave named Monk lived in the family of Wallace Estill, a descendant of Scots Presbyterians and French Huguenots, who came from New Jersey in 1746 to settle on Bullpasture River. During the French War Monk probably saw duty at Fort George, the family refuge near Clover Creek in present Highland County. He was an expert in making gunpowder—an art he later taught Daniel Boone. When Estill's wife died, the fifty-year-old widower and father of six married seventeen-year-old Mary Ann Campbell and reared another brood. In 1773 the family moved to Indian Creek in Monroe County, West Virginia where Estill died in 1792.
In 1778 Monk traveled with James Estill to Kentucky. In 1782 Wyandots captured him outside of Estill's fort. He was able to convince the Wyandot commander the poorly defended fort was impregnable, and fell far enough behind the retreating Wyandots to join Estill's pursuit party. The Indians made a stand. Estill put Monk in charge of the horses. But when the Indians attempted to outflank their pursuers, Monk stood firm while the white men Estill sent to head them bolted without firing a shot. The Indians poured a murderous crossfire into the remaining Kentuckians, who retreated when James Estill fell, his white hunting shirt soaked with blood. Estill's widow freed Monk after the battle, perhaps convinced that this one black man was more than the equal of the men who deserted her husband.
Such instances were not uncommon. In 1787 a party of settlers that included two slaves—a father and his young son—went from Bledsoe's Lick (Castalian Springs, Tenn.) "to pick out cotton." While the men worked, Indians crept up and seized the child. The father grabbed a rifle, ran after the warriors, and "mortally wounded one" before they dropped the boy unharmed. One of the white men who straggled up after the action recalled later how they "evanced up to the attack, and evanced back again." In 1793 at Greenfield Station in Tennessee three white men and a slave named Abraham, "a good soldier and marksman," the property of Anthony Bledsoe's widow, held off an army of over two hundred Indians by strategic manouvering, and by reserving fire. And in east Tennessee a slave named Toby, the "body and confidential servant" of Gen. Joseph Martin—William Carr's cousin—was a man "of great physical power, as well as mental," who always "distinguished himself" on military campaigns.