In autumn of 1742 twenty-eight Iroquois traveled south through the Valley of Virginia to make war on the Catawbas. They were led by Jonnhaty, an experienced captain of the Onondaga tribe. By December 14 they had reached John McDowell's "Red House" (Fairfield, Va.). McDowell's son, Samuel, who was seven at the time, later remembered his father treating the Indians to food and a dram of whiskey. More likely they helped themselves to the livestock and Captain John tried to buy their good will with a drink. They must have been truly desperate to stop here after what they had just been through. Game was so scarce along the path it was either kill the settlers' hogs or starve. On the Shenandoah two of them got into a wrestling match with three white men who tried to wrench away their guns. Another warrior made the white men back off with "a large French knife."
In Augusta County ten white men herded them along the trail to "a big House"—possibly a meetinghouse, but most likely James Patton's house of locust logs on South River, an eastern fork of the Shenandoah. A "great Number of People" had gathered. The older warriors entered as spokesmen, leaving their guns outside with the younger men. The Indian leaders presented their pass to James Patton. We know Patton saw the pass because he describes in a letter to the governor exactly what was in it. It was "from James Silver near Harris' ferry [Pa.] ... directed to one Wm [Hoge] a Justice o'peace desiring him to give them a pass to travel through Virginia to their enemies." The Iroquois had not received a pass from Hoge, who lived on Hoge's Run (Kernstown, Va.). At least Patton didn't mention such a pass.
The men in the big house demanded that the Indians turn back. The crowd in the yard grew larger. The young warriors became uneasy and shouted for their leaders to get out. A "Captain with a Sword on his side"—probably Patton, who always liked making a show of his sword—came out "to bring the others in, but they refused." When the Indian leaders emerged the white captain drew his sword "to Stop them by force." The warriors in the yard "made a field cry" and shoved their muskets into the mob's face, but the Indian leaders were able to calm their companions and lead them away without shedding blood.
The Iroquois lingered in the neighborhood, turning arrows on the settlers' far-ranging cattle, exercising what they believed was a right to "reasonable Victuals." Captain McDowell diverted their activities to South River—a branch of Maury River east of Timber Ridge—where he said they might lay in a supply of wild meat. But the next day he alerted Patton "of the unease of the neighbors." Patton ordered McDowell and John Buchanan to assemble their militia companies and trail the warriors until they were clear of the settlements. Livestock lost to the Indians "should be paid for at the Governments Charge." But now the Indians were not only killing cattle but horses. Orders not to punish the marauders galled the rank-and-file, whose grandfathers had executed Catholics for doing the like. The men accused the captains of cowardice.
|Site of the first battle between white settlers and Native Americans west of the Blue Ridge, Battle Run is located just north of John Peter Salling's cabin (identified as "Salley's" on the Jefferson-Fry Map), and east of Maury River (called North River). The South River that flows into Maury is where John McDowell sent Jonhatty and his warriors to hunt. To the west the "Road from the Yadkin River" crosses James River at Looney's Creek.|
McDowell sent a scout to locate the Indians, but the Indians located the scout. Where was he going, they wanted to know. Hunting, he told them. They let him go. An Indian spy trailed him "over a little Ridge of a Hill" and saw him double back, racing for the white men's camp with news the Indians had stolen a valuable mare. Early in the morning of December 19, forty white men—half of them mounted—overhauled the warriors on Battle Run, three miles from the last outpost in Burden's Land, the empty cabin of John Peter Salling, a backwoods Ulysses still absent on his wilderness odyssey.
McDowell sent forward two men who could speak some Iroquois with a white flag. According to Samuel McDowell—who grew up hearing the particulars from participants—"my father with Eight or ten of his men Rode on till they came to the front of the Indians." As McDowell was dismounting, one of the footmen in the rear fired a load of buckshot into an Indian boy who was making for the woods. The fatally wounded boy "Raised the War whoop and the Indians who ware in frunt flung their Budgets and fired."
Guns erupted in both directions. Seven Indian muskets exploded point blank at the advance party, cutting down McDowell and the flag bearers. Blasts from the whites dropped two Indians. Before the white men could reload, Jonnhaty with his "stoutest warriors" were on them, tomahawks flashing. After what the Indians said was a "sharp engagement," some of the whites fell back. One warrior shot "several arrows into [a] white Man's back" before he himself was wounded in the foot. Solomon Moffatt (a blacksmith who was wanted in Pennsylvania for killing an Iroquois man with his fists) rallied the whites. The Indians lost another man before dashing to a thicket "several hundred yards away" with ten white men under Captain Buchanan on their heels. The Indians made it to cover and the white men turned back.
The surviving whites were no longer so bold. They had a bellyful of fighting and beat a retreat for home. After they had gone the Indians returned and "found Eight white Men upon the spot whom they stripped, and several Horses, with some Provision ... [T]hey sat down for the sake of the Provision, for which they stood in great Want." Next day the whites returned with reinforcements to carry the dead to McDowell's where Samuel McDowell remembered seeing his father and the other men buried.
In 1743 Captain McDowell's widow, Magdalene, married Benjamin Burden, Jr., and both made claims on the government for stock lost to Jonnhaty's starving warriors. We have no way of knowing what Captain John's widow told her new husband, but in 1747 the Captain's brother James sued Benjamin Burden, Jr. for spreading rumors that James was a "rogue and a murdering villain," who "brought the Indians upon the settlement." Perhaps the accusations originated with settlers of South River who didn't appreciate the McDowells sending hungry warriors to hunt in their back yards.
In 1744 Virginia made peace overtures. Interpreter Conrad Weiser acted as Virginia's representative at a treaty in which the Iroquois ceded all land to the western horizon. They meant the crest of the Allegheny Mountains, but Virginians exploited the ambiguous language to lay claim to the entire Ohio Valley.
In 1753 Virginia Governor Dinwiddie dispatched Colonel George Washington to serve eviction papers on the French at Fort Le Bouef (present Waterford, Pa.), one of several forts the French had constructed on turf Virginia claimed under the Iroquois treaty of 1744. As a counter-measure against the French, Dinwiddie sent Captain William Trent to build a fort at the forks of the Ohio in 1754. On April 17 the French surprised Trent's party and built their own fort, Duquesne.
Washington, on his way to reinforce the British garrison at the forks, instead fought a skirmish with a French patrol and hunkered down with a handful of Virginians east of Chestnut Ridge (Fayette Co., Pa.) in a rickety stockade he christened Fort Necessity. He eventually surrendered to superior numbers. But this minor exchange of musket balls, whose "whistle" Washington found "charming," sparked a global conflict between Britain and France, and a more personal one between Natives and the Cohees and Germans west of the Blue Ridge.
|Fort Loudon was a large fort near Winchester, the eastern terminus of Braddock's Road. It was not a settlers' refuge, but a supply depot for other forts guarding mountain passes, and a rendezvous point for Virginia militia on their way to garrison more exposed outposts. Washington made his headquarters here throughout the war. Mounted with artillery, it was a far cry from the neighborhood stockades settlers built solely for protection. Business generated by the fort was the main reason Winchester grew from a village of nearly sixty rough-hewn houses before the war into a town of over two hundred buildings in 1759.|
On June 18, 1755, a month before Braddock's Defeat, Indians attacked Samuel Stalnaker's settlement on Holston River (Chilhowie, Va.), capturing Stalnaker, his wife, his son Adam, Samuel Hydon, Matthias Counie, and a servant man. The Indians executed all the prisoners save Stalnaker and Hydon. Stalnaker's mother and four children had dashed to "Rye Patch" and avoided catputre.
The Indians marched Stalnaker to "Ouabach Fort" and took him to "the Shawnese Towns" from which he escaped on April 10, 1756. Three hundred miles and two months later he stumbled into Virginia's "Back Settlements" with harrowing news. He traveled to Williamsburg and reported to the governor that "on the Evening before he made his Escape, 1,000 Indians and six French Officers came to the Shawnese Town, designed for Fort DuQuesne ... to see whether [the English would make] any Attempt ... upon it, and if not, to disperse themselves, and fall upon the Frontiers of Virginia and Pennsylvania ..."
From this first attack in 1755 until 1760, settlers on the frontier lived from April to October of each year in log hovels that formed stockade walls and worked their crops under armed guard. Those who moved outside because of the crowding, the stench, and swarms of flies, risked instant death and maybe torture. Some were spared and adopted in place of lost loved ones.
One inmate of Dickinson's fort on Cowpasture River, seven-year-old Jane Gay Stephenson whose Irish-born father lived all his adult life on the frontier, recalled a time in Virginia when she walked out of the fort with other children to pick haws. Someone pulled down the limbs and handed the fruit to the younger children. She remembered turning back to the fort, "and when I came, went into another cabin, wouldn't go into Mammy's, she would know I had been out." Suddenly an alarm came that Indians had captured the haw pickers two hundred yards from where Jane turned back.
On October 10, 1759, after General Wolfe had all but sealed the doom of France in North America with a victory over Montcalm, a Shawnee war party attacked the settlement of Kerr's Creek in present Rockbridge County, Va. The Indians killed twelve people, among them John Gilmore, his wife, their son [James?], and the wife of William Gilmore. Other victims included Jacob Cunningham, his wife, and their ten-year-old daughter Margaret. Although Margaret miraculously survived being scalped, her wounds never completely healed, and she died in old age of "a cancerous affection." The Indians made prisoners of thirteen others and took considerable plunder.
The survivors sent for Captain William Christian who responded with "a Company of Volunteers." Christian's party pursued the Shawnee to "near the Allegheny Hills" and attacked their camp. The Indians made a feeble resistance, shattering Halbert McClure's ankle with a musket ball. The whites "recovered 11 of the Prisoners, and 17 Horses, and brought in ... six white Scalps ... some Money, Matchcoats, Blankets. &c." Anxious relatives had told the volunteers they could keep the plunder if they brought the captives home unharmed. One of the volunteers, George Wilson, took a fancy to a horse that he assumed was part of the spoils offered for the return of the prisoners. But Thomas Gilmore, whose father and mother were dead, didn't feel bound by the pledge and sued Wilson for the return of the horse.
For a few years there was an uneasy peace. But in 1763 France's native allies, angry at the British for their inability to enforce a proclamation designed to pen settlers east of the Allegheny Mountains, opened a new round of peculiarly aggressive attacks against the frontier. "Almost seemed as if they thought they would make their way to Williamsburgh that year," said Jane Stephenson who remembered seeing men carry guns to New Providence meeting house "as regular as the congregation met." She and her family were forted in 1764 when word came from north of their settlement that Alexander Crawford and his wife were killed after daring to visit their homestead west of Staunton. Jane heard a woman reply "he must take better care next time."
One victim of the renewed violence was Archibald Clendenning—"a great soldier" who according to nephew James Wade "was scarified by the Indians till he looked like an old raccoon dog." In 1761 Clendenning moved his family across Allegheny Mountain after failing to get land on Cowpasture River patented to his deceased father. In 1762 he was appointed constable for Greenbriar River. But on July 15, 1763 Shawnees attacked the new settlements at Muddy Creek and the Levels (Lewisburg, W.Va.), killing Clendenning and all his children except five-year-old Jane, who was spared and adopted by a Shawnee family. On May 14, 1765 she was returned to Fort Pitt and re-united with her mother, Ann, who survived the Muddy Creek attack and had since returned to Cowpasture.
Encouraged by the ease with which they destroyed the illegal Greenbriar settlement, twenty-seven Shawnees pressed over North Mountain into Burden's Land. This time the Kerr's Creek settlers had ample warning. Two young Telford brothers saw an Indian slip behind a tree; someone else discovered moccasin tracks in a corn field. On July 17 most of the settlers had gathered at Jonathan Cunningham's fortified house at Big Spring west of Gilmer Creek when Robert Irwin—a lookout posted on a rise at the head of the creek—reported warriors marching down the valley "Indian file." A majority of the settlers hastily decided to take refuge in the stone meeting house at Timber Ridge where some had sent family members earlier to attend Sunday meeting.
|A fortified house, built near Lexington during the Indian war, and converted later into a barn. Jonathan Cunningham's house at Big Spring, only a few miles to the west, may have looked something like this.|
They were packing their belongings on horses when the Shawnees attacked. According to Jane Gay Stephenson—whose uncle and cousin were killed, and whose aunt was captured with her three children—the Indians "had the ground all spied out. What they would do they knew. And then they came in like race horses." From a hill Mrs. Alexander Dale saw most of the victims run for the weeds and brush along the banks of the pond fed by the spring. "Some were spared their life, but the most were stricken down by the tomahawk." She said the Indians reminded her "of boys knocking down chickens with clubs." She mounted a stallion colt with her baby in her arms, but, afraid for her child if the Indians should catch her, she dropped him in a rye field and recovered him later.
Fifty-five-year-old John McKee and his pregnant wife Jenny didn't go to Cunningham's after the initial warnings. They sent their children to Timber Ridge, planning to join them later. When the attack came they ran for the woods, but when Jenny faltered McKee kept running. An Indian stopped to knock Jenny in the head with the blunt end of his tomahawk and continued after McKee who made "a short angle" in a thicket and zigzagged through the trees until he found a hiding place. Still conscious, Jenny crawled into a sink hole and bound her head with a handkerchief before dying unscalped.
In March newcomer Robert Hamilton hired John Biggs to cover a cabin, get his house logs, and plant and fence his corn. Now Hamilton shepherded some women into the unfinished house that hadn't yet been chinked or daubed with clay. An Indian fired between the logs. The ball ripped through Hamilton's chest and out near the spine. He yelled for the women to "clear out" and "himself followed them, presenting his gun on the advancing Indians" to keep them at bay until they made it to safety in some "glady lands." While he was saving these women, Indians captured his daughters Mary, Marian, and his son Archibald.
The Indians also struck down Thomas Gilmore, whose father had been killed in 1759. Thomas' wife, "standing with her three children over the body of her husband, fought with desperation the Indian who rushed up to scalp him." By proving "she was a brave squaw" she saved her life and the lives of her children.
The Shawnees didn't kill Jonathan Cunningham, but they torched his fortified house and marched only four miles up the creek before they stopped to have a "drinking frolic" on whiskey plundered from his stillhouse. They were still there next day when Captain James McDowell arrived at Big Spring with one hundred militia. He sent two spies a half mile ahead to guard against surprise and gave orders to bury the seventeen bodies scattered over the ground. The spies saw two Indians—one with a keg—returning to the stillhouse. They picked their targets, but before the Indians could get within range the spies panicked and ran back to report the Indians were coming by the hundreds. "The whole [one hundred] men left burying the dead and ran." When the Indians returned to their camp they laughed a the cowardice of the two spies, and pantomimed their behavior so perfectly that the captives knew the identity of one of the men. The prisoners also recalled with some bitterness how easily the Indians might have been surprised.
Scalpless Margaret Cunningham was an object of sport. After the Indians carried her to their towns north of the Ohio "they put on her head what they gave her to understand was her own scalp."
2 little boys, Jimmy Woods, and Jimmy McClung were taken—they went to Staunton when they got back, and had their ears recorded. The year the Indians took Carr's Creek settlement a 2d. time, they were greatly bad. Almost seemed as if they thought they would make their way to Williamsburgh that year
June 5, 1764 "I have been down with mother lately and find she is much affraid and I think no wonder of it for there were none beyond her but John Trimble and Finley ... When I was at Mother's I found she and sister both not a little affraid and the Town's People hiring 13 or 14 men to watch them as well waking or sleeping their Centrey Box is Samson mathew's and widow woods pales and the Bridge by Kids and the Rock below Capt. Flemings &c and some walk around the Court house no doubt to holoo out when they see the Indians enter the town