Frontier Alarms in Southern Fincastle County, Virginia, 1774
In far Southwestern Virginia and NE Tennessee
Foreword: Clashes between pioneer settlers and Indians are very difficult to present. We only hear the male pioneer's side, while both the Indian and pioneer wives are silent. We never get a balanced story. The Indians side is poorly presented, but we can perceive there is much more when Chief Logan leaves a letter of outrage at John Robert's house and then kidnaps Robert's older son. Then at the end of Dunmore's War, he takes time to personally return him from Ohio Territory all the way back to near the Tennessee-Virginia boundary. For the white women, our only window to their world comes when one of the men reported "it was a skittish time for the women." Good or bad, the letters saved by Colonel Preston with a few other records become a window in our past.
This account focuses on the defense of Clinch, Holston, and Watauga River settlements and represents only a small window of 1774 frontier action.
Compiled 1 January 2008; revised 2 April 2008, J.R. Murphy/www.planetmurphy.org
Locations of Forts, Settlements, and Rivers
7 May 1774 – Letter of Captain W. Russell to Colonel William Preston: "Upon my return from Williamsburg (Capitol of Colonial Virginia), found the upper settlers on Clinch River had totally evacuated their plantations...I thought it my duty to employ four men as runners...to prevail on the remainder of the inhabitants to desist from so ruinous an undertaking...." (Minor changes are made for easier reading)
20 June 1774 – Arthur Campbell to Colonel William Preston: "Sir – Since the rash action of killing a Cherokee on Wattaugo (Watauga River, NE Tennessee Territory), the lower settlement on this and Clinch Rivers is greatly alarmed. Some preparing to move off.... We may expect a reprisal will be made shortly.... One Crabtree is generally suspected to be the Principal in the late dispatching of Cherokee Billey. However, let the consequence of the affair be what it will, I am persuaded it would be easier to find 200 men to screen him from the Law, than ten to bring him to Justice. Crabtrees, different robberies, the murder of Russell, Boons and Drake's sons is in everyone's mouth."
22 June 1774 - Colonel William Christian (writing from Dunkard Bottom) to Colonel William Preston: "I had thoughts of writing to Captain (James) Thompson or Captain William Campbell whose Company his is to encourage Crabtree to go in search of the (Kentucky) Surveyors" (who are unaware of the new hostilities)."
27 June 1774 – Colonel William Preston (Fort Chiswell) to Colonel William Christian: "Sir – The present defenseless situation of the Frontier inhabitants of the County of Fincastle made it absolutely necessary (to) raise and keep on foot a number of men to protect the frontiers and annoy the enemy... I have given orders to six Captains to raise twenty men out of each of the Companies either as volunteers or by a draught...make up the party of 150 men besides officers.... You will endeavor to procure ammunition and provisions for this service.... I have appointed the soldiers to meet you at the Town House on (the Fork of) Holston early next week, from whence you are to begin your march to Clinch and from thence over Cumberland Mountain by any Gap or pass you think proper that leads to the head branches of the Kentucky....to discover and repulse the enemy on their approach to our settlements. It is believed there is a large party of Cherokees on their way...."
End of June 1774: "It was to Fort Byrd, or Moore's Station, that Captain Gass and Daniel Boone's families, who lived but two miles off, repaired when it was made a place of rendezvous toward the close of June."
(From "The Life of Daniel Boone," by Lyman Draper, Edited by Ted Franklin Belue, Stackpole Books, 1998, page 306)
1 July 1774 – Major Arthur Campbell to Colonel William Preston: "Dear Sir – The hour that I so much dreaded is now, I am apprehensive, near at hand; the Cherokees has at length commenced hostilities. They have murdered their Traders, and the Messengers that went from Wattago (Watauga)....."
3 July 1774 - Colonel William Preston to Colonel William Christian: "...believed (other Indians) will join the Cherokees and fall upon the people of Holston (River settlements) immediately. ...Therefore you are to give order to Captain Herbert and Captain Madison to draught 50 men out of their companies. Captains Crockett & Doack 30 men; Captains Arthur Campbell, William Campbell & James Thompson 40 men beside those already draught for the defense of the settlements on Clinch (River)."
12 July 1774 - Colonel William Christian (Russell's Fort) to Colonel William Preston: "The number of men to be ordered at several places on the Frontiers of Fincastle ... at Moores (Fort) – Capt. Thompson, 10 men.... There are four Forts erecting on Clinch in Capt. Russell's Company; one at Moore's, four miles below this, another at Blackmore's 16 miles lower down, and one at Smiths 12 miles above this place). The number of men to be ordered at several places on the Frontiers of Fincastle" (are):
at Blackmores, back of Moccison Gap...30 men
at Moores – Captain Thompson..............10 men
at Russells................................................10 men
at J. Smiths...............................................10 men
at D. Smiths..............................................10 men
at head Sandy Creek.................................30 men
at Cove & Walker's Creek........................15 men, totaling 115.
13 July 1774 – Captain William Russell (Fort Preston) to Colonel William Preston: "Since I wrote you last, the inhabitants of this (Clinch) River have altered the plan of two forts only, on this River below Elk Garden, and have erected three, one in Cassel Wood, which I call Fort Preston, a second ten miles above, which I call Fort Christian, the third five miles below the first, which I call Fort Byrd, and there are four families at John Blackmores near the mouth of Stoney Creek that will never be able to stand it without a command of men...."
10 August 1774 - Major. Arthur Campbell to Colonel William Preston: "The bearer Captain Looney will wait on you about some business concerning the expedition... If Captain Russell goes on the Expedition (to Point Pleasant, confluence of the Ohio River and Kanawha Rivers in present day West Virginia), I think there will be an absolutely necessity for Captain Looney to be put in business that quarter as I cannot think of any officer on this river that will suit so well."
12 August 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell (Royal Oak) to Colonel William Preston: "Want of powder for the Forts is a general cry, indeed, I don't know what the men (will do) for want of it.... I believe Capt. Thompson will be deceived in getting men with drafting, however I shall wait unit he makes trial."
13 August 1774 - Colonel William Preston (Smithfield) to Major Arthur Campbell: "I received yours by Captain Looney, and gave him instructions to raise a Company as not to interfere with any of the Captains already appointed. This also be necessary if it is consistent with his private affairs to go out; as I am apprehensive there will be occasion for as many as can be raised. I would be glad to know his full determination on this Head as soon as possible."
13 August 1774 - Colonel William Preston to Captain David Long: "I would be glad that you could raise a company capable for service. You tell me you can get 25 or 30 men off Watawgo (Watauga) provided they can have Robert Lucas for a Lieutenant. I have no objection to him on these terms. Mr. John Anderson or Mr. Abraham Bledsoe will be your ensign...."
Comment: 16 August is the date that many Fincastle volunteers began marching for Point Pleasant and Dunmore's War on the Ohio River. Other stayed behind to protect the settlers.
16 August 1774 - Captain William Russell (Fort Preston) to Colonel William Preston: "I have heard Captain Thompson is appointed to command a Company at Blackmores, should I be granted a Command, and it shall be agreeable to you and Captain Thompson...to appoint him towards the head of the River, as that will give him a more immediate opportunity of securing the inhabitants about his Fathers, and even his own. I think.... absolutely necessary to have two Captains to command on Clinch...to be ranging, beside those in the forts as constant guards to the inhabitants."
19th August 1774 - Arthur Campbell (Royal-Oak) to Colonel William Preston: "I have now an opportunity by Mr. Logan to write Captain Looney (who) marched in high spirits from this place with upwards of 80 men. Looney and Drake have done hurt to Shelby and Billey Campbell.... However I will endeavor to humor all parties until they come to rendezvous."
25 August 1774 - Colonel William Preston: "There was an agreeable ...conclusion by a Council of the Militia Officers of this County for the defense of the frontiers in the absence of the Troops. I ordered Captain Thompson with 60 men to guard the lower settlements on Clinch, which duty ... he is upon by or before this time."
27 August 1774, Daniel Boone returned to the settlements after an absence of 61 days. Boone and his friend Michael Stoner were sent out to warn surveyors in what is today's Ohio – Kentucky – West Virginia that Indians were out of control and they were at great risk.
28 August 1774 – John Floyd to William Preston: "You will hear of Mr. Boone's return and desire of going out.... To assist according to your instructions, I may let Boone join me and try. Captain Bledsoe say Boone has more interest (influence) than any man now disengaged; and you know what Boone has done for me by your kind directions, for which reason, I love the man...."
28 August 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell (Royal Oak) to Colonel William Preston: "I wrote pressingly to Mr. Boone to raise men with all expedition to join Captain Floyd. ...I have good reason to believe Mr. Boone will get all in Captain Looney's Company that intended to go with Bledsoe. ....I have been informed that Mr. Boone tracked a small party of Indians from Cumberland Gap to near the Settlement. Upon this intelligence I wrote pressingly to Captain Thompson to have a constant look out and to urge the spies strictly to do their duty."
3 September 1774 - Colonel William Christian (head of Rich Creek) to Colonel William Preston: "Captain Thompson's men say that you did promise them that John Read should neither draw pay nor act as Ensign in Capt. Campbell's Company...."
4 September 1774 - Comment: On this date, the first of the troops reached Camp Union (now West Virginia) near Lewisburg on their way to Point Pleasant. This was the common gathering point for troops from many counties.
9 September 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell to Colonial William Preston: "Sir – Yesterday morning early, one John Henry was dangerously wounded; upon Clinch about 4 miles from Captain Smith's Station, and it is supposed his wife, and three small children (were) taken prisoners. Henry was standing in his door, when two Indians fired at him, his wife and children was in bed. He immediately ran to the woods; and shortly after, accidentally met with Old Jonathan Hamilton who concealed him in a thicket until he should go and alarm the Fort, and bring him assistance...."
"I have sent out orders to this and the two next Companies on the Holston, for all the men that have arms or any ammunition to assemble tomorrow, in order to patrol a few days in the Rich Valley.... I hope you will now think it expedient to enlarge the number of men on duty, at least for a few weeks, as the head of Clinch and the lower settlement on Holston is but weakly guarded."
17 September 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell to Colonel William Preston: "Sir – the same day Jonathan Henry was wounded on the Clinch, there was one Samuel Lemmey taken prisoner on the North Fork of Holston (River)...."
26 September 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell: "Last night about midnight I received letters from Clinch and the lower settlement on Holston giving me an account of the distressed situation of those places, on account of the expected approach of a large (body) of this enemy. Friday the 23d, Two Negroes was captured from (Moore's Fort) and considerable number of cattle and horses (stolen)."
Campbell continues: "The 24th, in the evening, a family (of John Robertson) was killed and (scalped on) Reedy-Creek near Kings Mill. ...The people were gathering together at (Kings Fort?) in order to make a stand. ...It was very unfortunate that Captain Thompson had left Blackmores only two days before the damage was done as he had his full compliment of men. When the enemy came, there were only 12 and some of them indifferent. Flour is wanted badly at Blackmores and the hea(d of Clinch?)."
The historian, Lyman Draper detailed the Reedy Creek events: "On the evening of Saturday, the 24th of September...John Roberts, his wife, and several children...were indiscriminately slaughtered...excepting only the oldest son, James, a youth about ten years of age, was made prisoner."
"About sunrise the next morning hallooing and the report of many guns were heard at several houses, from which the people had fled to the woods; and the attack on Roberts’ family was ascertained and rapidly heralded throughout the region, when Captain William Cocke raised a small party and vainly pursued the savages, while John Anderson, James Clendenin and another person collected together the families of Clendenin, Gilbert Christian who was himself absent at the time at one of the Stations on Clinch, and a few others also on Reedy Creek below Roberts place numbering in all nearly twenty persons, all of whom marched on foot fully four miles to King's Fort: 'It was a skittish time with the women, you may be sure,' writes an aged surviving participant and eye-witness (2) of that affecting scene."
(From “Draper Manuscript Collection” on microfilm, Volume 2B, page 140-142, Chapter 8, from the unpublished book about Daniel Boone). This is also found in ("The Life of Daniel Boone," by Lyman Draper, Edited by Ted Franklin Belue, Stackpole Books, 1998, page 314)
29 September, 1774: Major Arthur Campbell further wrote that "Robert's child who had been scalped and tomahawked...could speak sensibly. He knew his (uncle's) voice and turned and ran to him...he received but one blow with a tomahawk on the back of his head, which cut through his scull.... ...I have sent for (the child) and employed an old man that has some skill to attend him. I wish I could get Dr. Lloyd to him...." A few days later, Major Campbell reported to Colonel Preston, that boy was dead.
In Robert's house, Indian Chief Logan left a letter which came into the possession of Colonel Preston.
29 September 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell to Colonel Preston: "We have frequent alarms since the late damage. Indian signs have been seen in the very heart of the settlement; and a man upon the South Fork (Holston) narrowly escaped being taken prisoner, about twilight in the evening. I believe they are only spies...."
"Blackmore's and the head of Clinch are extremely thin, so that it is out of Captain Looney's or Captain Smith's power to pursue the enemy if there was but a dozen of them. ...Mr. Boone is very diligent at Castle-Woods and keeps up good orders. I have reason to believe they have lately been remiss at Blackmores, and the spies there did not do their duty."
1 October 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell: "Last Thursday, three men were fired at with 300 yards of Moore's Fort. One John Duncan was shot dead on the spot and scalped. ...The Express came off next morning early. Mr. Boone was preparing to go in search of the enemy. Mr. Boone also informs me that the Indians have been frequently about Blackmores, since the Negroes were taken; And Captain Looney has so few men that he cannot venture to go in pursuit of them, having only eleven men. I have had no word yet from Doack, Thompson, Montgomery or Cox. Mr. Boone has sent me the war club that was left; it is different from that left at Blackmores. Mr. Boone thinks it is the Cherokees that are now annoying us."
2 October 1774 - John Montgomery: "Your letter desired I should use my influence to raise 15 men to go to the assistance of the distressed people of Holston."
4 October 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell to Colonel William Preston: "Captain Thompson came here, and gave me a particular account of the situation of the people in the lower Settlement. He was much put to it to get men to go out of the Inhabitants, however with 9 men, he ventured through Mockison Gap, and somewhere between the North Fork (Holston) and Clinch Mountains, he came upon fresh tracks but could not make them out any distance. ...Upon consulting with Captain Thompson, it was agreed that I should make application to you for his having the Command of these upon Duty in this side Clinch Mountain, and that he would endeavour to have a party of 20 always with himself to range. ...orders anticipating my application for a third Captain on duty, I make no doubt you will approve my appointment of Captain Thompson...."
4 October 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell (Royal Oak) to Colonel William Preston: "John Cox is just arrived here with 24 men. I shall send him down the River to range about Reedy Creek and Mockison Gap....and then he may serve as an Escort to the provisions over to Blackmores."
5 October 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell: "One of the Snodgrasses said he seen an Indian a little below Captain Thompson's the day before yesterday."
6 October 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell (Royal Oak) to Colonel William Preston: "All the men stationed in this side of the Clinch, should be if possible young men and be ready to march to other places if called upon. ...to send such good hands as could be best spared out of them (from) Captain Looneys and Smiths Companies on Clinch....On back side of letter, included: Blackmore's – 18 men under Sergeant Moore."
9 October 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell (Royal Oak) to Colonel William Preston: "I forgot to mention Captain Thompson was on his march with about 30 men near Captain Cockes when he got the news about Shelby's wench. Perhaps our skulking enemies may be found out this week."
10 October 1774 - Battle of Point Pleasant, (now West Virginia):
On October 10, 1774 near the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers, two scouts from General Andrew Lewis’ Army discovered a large group of Indians, who began firing and killed one of the scouts. The other returned and reported to Lewis, who immediately ordered out detachments. The Indians, led by Chief Cornstalk, King of the Northern Confederacy of Indians, fired first and then began the Battle of Point Pleasant, the biggest frontier engagement thus far. There were about 1000 volunteer soldiers against 900 Indians. The battle continued all day until a half hour before sunset. At this point the Indians retreated and left the battlefield, probably because they ran out of supplies and food.
Returning to Fincastle County, Virginia:
10 October 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell: "One of the Snodgrasses says he seen an Indian a little below Captain Thompsons the day before yesterday. ...I divided the last of the 8 pounds of powder that came by Vance to Lieutenant Cox men yesterday. They had 4 shots apiece and with persuasions I got them to go down the river; they said they would turn home if they did not get more next week."
12 October 1774: Ohio River: Messenger from Cornstalk to General Lewis sued for peace. Within several weeks, other Indian tribes laid their arms down.
12 October 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell (Royal Oak) to Colonel William Preston: "Yesterday also I had an Express from Clinch with the following intelligence: Thursday, 6th at Blackmores, one Deal Carter was killed and scalped within 55 steps of the Fort. Evidently the Indians intentions were ... to enter the Fort. ..The next day Captain Smith came to Blackmores with a party of 30 men in connection with Boone. Captain Smith and Boone set out with 26 choice hands greatly anxious to proceed. ...This unlucky affair happened when there were but few men in the Fort and Captain Looney happened to be (away from) this settlement, and Lieutenant Cox had not got out. Christian's fine stock of cattle and horses are missing."
13 October 1774 - Captain Daniel Smith (Castle's Woods) to Colonel William Preston: "Requesting you to appoint Mr. Boone to be a Captain and to take charge of these lower forts, that so he may be at liberty to act without orders from Holston Captains who by their frequent absence leave the inhabitants sometimes in disorder."
13 October 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell to Colonel William Preston: "As Mr. Boone is to be the bearer hereof he can inform you particularly of the news this way. You will see by the enclosed your old acquaintance William Poage wants a Commission. He now acts as Sergeant at Fort Preston (Castlewood)... if it don't interfere with others already appointed, which I am afraid it will, as either Vance or Captain Looney's Ensign is intended for that Station. I wish Mr. Boone's application or rather ye people for him may not have a similar tendency. ...and some disgust at Captain Looney for being away at home the time of the late alarm, which he pleads in excuse that he wanted to see to the safety of his own family, when Roberts was killed in his neighborhood."
13 October 1774 - Major Arthur Campbell to Colonel William Preston: "Also 7 men from Captain Crocket's Company, which I have directed as low as Kings Mill where Lieutenant. (Gilbert) Christian is stationed; which place I am obliged to make use of as a store house, from whence the flour is packed to Blackmores, by the way of Mockison Gap."
16 October 2004 - Major Arthur Campbell (Royal Oak) to Colonel William Preston: "Last night I received a letter from Captain Thompson who had just returned from a trip of ranging as far as Captain Shelbys. He informs me that one Murphy, an half breed Cherokee had come into Wattago (Watauga), as a messenger from some of the Chiefs, to inform the inhabitants that a number of their young men had gone out to war contrary to their consent. ...One of Captain Thompson's men had his arm shattered in a dangerous manner by one of his companions foolishly struggling about a gun."
8 November 1774 – Colonel William Christian (Royal Oak) to Colonel William Preston: "Last (21 October) Logan a famous (Indian) Chief went home with a little boy, a son of Roberts on Holston and two of Blackmore's Negroes. He said he had taken them on the frontiers next the Cherokee County, and had killed, I think, either 5 or 7 people. The boy and negroes will be soon in."
Comment: End of available material.
"Documentary History of Dunmore's War – 1774," by Gold Thwaites, Louise Kellogg, 1905. Source is Draper's Manuscript Collection, mostly under the "Papers of William Preston," from which much of this material is derived.
"Lord Dunmore's Little War of 1774," by Warren Skidmore with Donna Kaminsky, 2002. This is a list of Public Service Claims and Muster Lists of various military units in 1774 which are found at the Library of Virginia.
"The Life of Daniel Boone," Lyman C. Draper, Edited by Ted Franklin Belue, 1998. Excellent account of these years.
"Documentary History of Dunmore's War – 1774," by Gold Thwaites, Louise Kellogg, 1905. Source is Draper's Manuscript Collection, mostly under the "Papers of William Preston," from which much of the material is derived.
Draper Manuscript Collection, by Lyman Draper, on microfilm at Wayne State University, microfilm collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Draper’s Sources for the Reedy Creek Affair were:
(1) Capt. Cocke’s MSS
(2) M.S. Letters of Maj. A. Campbell, Sept. 27th, 29th, Oct. 3rd, 6th, and 12th; Capt W. Cocke’s September 25th, and Capt. Anthony Bledsoe’s Oct. 15th 1774, all among the Preston Papers. (The notations to follow were not identified by Draper)
Conversations with the late Mrs. Sarah Shelby of Tennessee.
MS. Letters of Col. Geo. Christian, August 15th and 25th, 1853. Au? Archives, fourth Series, 1808, Au. Pioneer, I, 208.).
Discourse on Logan and Cresap, delivered by Brautz Mayer, delivered before the Maryland Historical Society, May 8th, 1851, of which it is a small praise to say, that it is a learned and able production.
American Pioneer, I, 359, Major Campbell to Col Preston, in MS. Preston Papers.)
"History of the Battle of Point Pleasant," by Virgil A. Lewis, 1909. Excellent day to day account of the soldiers marching from Camp Union to Point Pleasant.
Footnotes and Comments
Fincastle County existed from 1772 to 1776 and covered all of southwestern Virginia, points west, and included lands north of the South Branch of the Holston River within Territorial Tennessee, such as Kings Fort, Kings Mill, and Reedy Creek. Watauga Settlements were further south into today's Tennessee and belonged to the North Carolina
The Battle of Point Pleasant was a landmark where our first real military skills developed and were soon to be used in the American Revolution.
In April 1775, Daniel Boone and friends began building Fort Boonesborough, Kentucky's second settlement.
Private Humphrey Hogan served as a private in the 1774 Fincastle County, Virginia Militia under the commands of Captain James Thompson and Captain David Looney. His story is noted elsewhere on the website. Humphrey Hogan is never mentioned in these military reports but is presumed to be one of the unnamed volunteers taking part in the defense. What is known about his Fincastle military activities is this:
(1). Captain James Thompson was paid for 94 days service in 1774, but the exact dates are not known. Under his command was Lt. Gilbert Christian, Ensigns John Anderson, Henry Moore, Alexander Vance. There were 112 soldiers under Thompson including Humphrey Hoggan. Captain James Thompson was a grandson of Augusta County's first settler, Colonel James Patton. He moved to Holston River area in 1772 where he became Captain of militia for the newly-formed county of Fincastle. He remained to watch the frontier during the 1774 Point Pleasant – Dunmore War campaign, and later acted as guard to Colonel Christian in the Cherokee expedition of 1776.
(2). Captain David Looney was paid for 58 days in 1774 and had a total of about 163 soldiers under his command. His Lieutenants were Gilbert Christian, John Cox and Daniel Boone. Ensigns were John Anderson and William Poage. Privates included Humphrey Hoggan for one period of 27 days and another of 31 days; and Daniel Hoggin for 57 days. No concise dates seem to exist.
Fincastle County Public Service Claims later paid expenses to Humphrey Hoggan for 6 days horse hire and 2 days riding expenses during 1774.