Chapter IV - The Dunmore War

History of Hampshire County West Virginia From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present
By Hu Maxwell and H. L. Swisher
Morgantown, West Virginia; A. Brown Boughner Printer; 1897

Pages 48-59

The progress of the settlement of West Virginia from 1764 to 1774 has been noticed elsewhere in this volume. There were ten years of peace; but in the year 1774 war with the Indians broke out again. Peace was restored before the close of the year. The trouble of 1774 is usually known as Dunmore's war, so called from Lord Dunmore who was at that time Governor of Virginia,, and who took personal charge of a portion of the army operating against the Indians. There has been much controversy as to the origin or cause of hostilities, and the matter has never yet been settled satisfactorily to all. It has been charged that emissaries of Great Britain incited the Indians to take up arms, and that Dunmore was one of the moving spirits in this disgraceful conspiracy against the colony of Virginia. It is further charged that Dunmore hoped to see the army under General Andrew Lewis defeated and destroyed at Point Pleasant, and that Dunmore's failure to form a junction with the army under Lewis according to agreement, was intentional, premeditated and in the hope that the southern division of the army would be crushed.

This is a charge so serious that no historian has a right to put it forward without strong evidence for its support -- much stronger evidence than has yet been brought to light. The charge may be neither wholly true nor wholly false. There is not a little evidence against Dunmore in this campaign, especially when taken in connection with the state of feeling entertained by Great Britain against the American colonies at that time. In order to present this matter somewhat clearly, yet eliminating many minor details, it is necessary to speak of Great Britain's efforts to annoy and intimidate the colonies, as early as 1774, and of the spirit in which these annoyances, were received by the Americans.

Many people, both in America and England, saw, in 1774, that a revolution was at hand. The thirteen colonies were arriving very near the formation of a confederacy whose avowed purpose was resistance to Great Britain. Massachusetts had raised ninety thousand dollars to buy powder and arms; Connecticut provided for military stores and had proposed to issue seventy thousand dollars in paper money. In fact, preparations for war with England were going steadily forward, although hostilities had not begun. Great Britain was getting ready to meet the rebellious colonies, either by strategy or force, or both. Overtures had been made by the Americans to the Canadians to join them in a common struggle for liberty. Canada belonged to Great Britain, having been taken by conquest from France in the French and Indian war. Great Britain's first move was regarding Canada; not only to prevent that country from joining the Americans, but to use Canada as a menace and a weapon against them. England's plan was deeply laid. It was largely the work of Thurlow and Wedderburn. The Canadians were to be granted full religious liberty and a large share of political liberty in order to gain their friendship. They were mostly Catholics, and with them England, on account of her trouble with her thirteen colonies, took the first step in Catholic emancipation. Having won the Canadians to her side, Great Britain intended to setup a separate empire there, and expected to use this. Canadian empire as a constant threat against the colonies. It was thought that the colonists would cling to England through fear of Canada.

The plan having been matured, its execution, was attempted at once. The first step was the emancipation of the Canadian Catholics. The next step was the passage of the Quebec Act, by which the province of Quebec was extended southward to take in western Pennsylvania and all the country belonging to England north and west of the Ohio river. The king of England had already forbidden the planting of settlements between the Ohio river and the Alleghany mountains in West Virginia; so the Quebec Act was intended to shut the English colonies out of the west and confine them east of the Alleghany mountains. Had this plan been carried into execution as intended, it would have curtailed the colonies, at least Pennsylvania and Virginia, and prevented their growth westward. The country beyond the Ohio would have become Canadian in its laws and people; and Great Britain would have had two empires in America, one Catholic and the other Protestant; or, at least, one composed of the thirteen colonies, and the other of Canada extended southward and westward, and it was intended that these empires should restrain, check and threaten each other, thus holding both loyal to and dependent upon Great Britain.

Some time before the passage of the Quebec Act a movement was on foot to establish a new province called Vandalia, west of the Alleghanies, including the greater part of West Virginia and a portion of Kentucky. Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were interested in it. The capital was to be at the mouth of the Kanawha. The province was never formed. Great Britain was not inclined to create states west of the mountains at a time when efforts were being made to confine the settlements east of that range. To have had West Virginia and a portion of Kentucky neutral ground, and vacant, between the empire of Canada and the empire of the thirteen colonies, would have pleased the authors of the Quebec Act. But acts of parliament and proclamations by the king had little effect on the pioneers who pushed into the wilderness of the west to find new homes.

Before proceeding to a narrative of the events of the Dunmore war, it is not out of place to inquire concerning Governor Dunmore and whether, from his past acts and general character, he would be likely to conspire with the British and the Indians to destroy the western settlements of Virginia. Whether the British were capable of an act so savage and unjust as inciting savages to harrass the western frontier of their own colonies is not a matter for controversy. It is a fact that they did do it during the Revolutionary war. Whether they had adopted this policy so early as 1774, and whether Governor Dunmore was a party to the scheme, is not so certain. Therefore let us ask, who was Dunmore? He was a needy, rapacious Scotch earl, of the House of Murray, who came to America to amass a fortune and who at once set about the accomplishment of his object with little regard for the rights of others or the laws of the country. He was governor of New York a short time; and, although poor when he came, he was the owner of fifty thousand acres of land when he left; and was preparing to decide, in his own court, in his own favor, a large and unfounded claim which he had preferred against the lieutenant-governor. When he assumed the office of governor of Virginia his greed for land and for money knew no bounds. He recognized no law which did not suit his purpose. He paid no attention to positive instructions from the crown, which forbade him to meddle with lands in the west. These lands were known to be beyond the borders of Virginia, as fixed by the treaties of Fort Stanwix and Lochaber, and therefore were not in his jurisdiction. He had soon acquired two large tracts in southern Illinois, and also held lands where Louisville, Kentucky, now stands, and in Kentucky opposite Cincinnati. Nor did his greed for wealth and power stop with appropriating wild lands to his own use; but, without any warrant in law, and in violation of all justice, he extended the boundaries of Virginia northward to include much of western Pennsylvania, Pittsburg in particular; and he made that the county seat of Augusta county, and moved the court from Staunton to that place. He even changed the name Fort Pitt to Fort Dunmore. He appointed forty-two justices of the peace. Another appointment of his as lieutenant of militia was Simon Girty, afterwards notorious and infamous as a deserter and a leader of Indians in their war against the frontiers. He appointed John Connolly, a physician and adventurer, commandant of Fort Pitt and its dependencies, which were supposed to include all the western country. Connolly was a willing tool of Dunmore in many a questionable transaction. Court was held at Fort Pitt until the spring of 1776. The name of Pittsburg first occurs in the court records on August 20, 1776. When Connolly received his appointment he issued a proclamation, setting forth his authority. The Pennsylvanians resisted Dunmore's usurpation, and arrested Connolly. The Virginia authorities arrested some of the Pennsylvania officers, and there was confusion, almost anarchy, so long as Dunmore was governor.

Dunmore had trouble elsewhere. His domineering conduct, and his support of some of Great Britain's oppressive measures, caused him to be hated by the Virginians, and led to armed resistance. Thereupon he threatened to make Virginia a solitude, using* these words: "I do enjoin the magistrates and all loyal subjects to repair to my assistance, or I shall consider the whole country in rebellion, and myself at liberty to annoy it by every possible means, and I shall not hesitate at reducing houses to ashes, and spreading devastation wherever I can reach. With a small body of troops and arms, I could raise such a force from among Indians, negroes and other persons as would soon reduce the refractory people of the colony to obedience." The patriots of Virginia finally rose in arms and drove Governor Dunmore from the country. Some of these events occurred after the Dunmore war, but they serve to show what kind of man the governor was.

Perhaps the strongest argument against the claim that Dunmore was in league with Indians, backed by Great Britain, to push back the frontier of Virginia to the Alleghanies, is the fact that Dunmore at that time was reaching out for lands, for himself, in Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio; and his land grabbing would have been cut off in that quarter had the plan of limiting Virginia to the Alleghanies been successful. He could not have carried out his schemes of acquiring possessions in the west, had the Quebec Act been sustained. Dunmore did more to nullify the Quebec Act than any one else. He exerted every energy to extend and maintain the Virginia frontier as far west as possible. By this he opposed and circumvented the efforts of Great Britain to shut Virginia off from the west. He and the government at home did not work together, nor agree on the frontier policy; and in the absence of direct proof sustaining the charge that he was in conspiracy with the British government and the Indians to assail the western frontier, the doubt as to his guilt on the charge must remain in his favor.

From the time of the treaty made by General Bouquet with the Indians, 1764, to the year 1773, there was peace on the frontiers. War did not break out in 1773, but murders were committed by Indians which excited the frontier settlements, and were the first in a series which led to war. The Indians did not comply with the terms of the treaty with General Bouquet. They had agreed to give up all prisoners. It was subsequently ascertained that they had not done so. Some captives were still held in bondage. But this in itself did not lead to the war of 1774. The frontiers, since Bouquet's treaty, had been pushed to the Ohio river, in West Virginia, and into Kentucky. Although Indians had no right by occupation to either West Virginia or Kentucky, and although they had given up by treaty any right which they claimed, they yet looked with anger upon the planting of settlements in those countries. The first act of hostility was committed in 1773, not in West Virginia, but further south. A party of emigrants, under the leadership of a son of Daniel Boone, were on their way to Kentucky when they were set upon and several were killed, including young Boone. There can be no doubt that this attack was made to prevent or hinder the colonization of Kentucky. Soon after this, a white man killed an Indian at a horse race. This is said to have been the first Indian blood shed on the frontier of Virginia by a white man since Pontiac's war, In February 1774 the Indians killed six white men and two negroes; and in the same month, on the Ohio, they seized a trading canoe, killed the men in charge and carried the goods to the Shawnee towns. Then the white men began to kill also. In March, on the Ohio, a fight occurred between settlers and Indians, in which one was killed on each side, and five canoes were taken from the Indians. John Connolly wrote from Pittsburg on April 21, to the people of Wheeling to be on their guard, as the Indians were preparing for war. On April 26, two Indians were killed on the Ohio. On April 30, nine Indians were killed on the same river near Steubenville. On May 1, another Indian was killed. About the same time an old Indian named Bald Eagle was killed on the Monongahela river; and an Indian camp on the Little Kanawha, in the present county of Braxton, was broken up, and the natives were murdered. A party of white men with Governor Dunmore's permission destroyed an Indian village on the Muskingum river. The frontiers were alarmed. Forts were built in which the inhabitants could find shelter from attacks. Expresses were sent to Williamsburg entreating assistance. The Virginia assembly in May discussed the dangers from Indians on the frontier, and intimated that the militia should be called out. Governor Dunmore ordered out the militia of the frontier counties. He then proceeded in person to Pittsburg, partly to look after his lands, and partly to take charge of the campaign against the Indians. The Delawares and Six Nations renewed their treaty of peace in September, but the Shawnees, the most powerful and warlike tribe in Ohio, did not. This tribe had been sullen and unfriendly at Bouquet's treaty, and had remained sour ever since. Nearly all the captives yet in the hands of the Indians were held by this fierce tribe, which defied the white man and despised treaties. These savages were ruled by Cornstalk, an able and no doubt a good man, opposed to war, but when carried into it by the headstrong rashness of his tribe, none fought more bravely than he. The Shawnees were the chief fighters on the Indian side in the Dunmore war, and they were the chief sufferers.

After arranging his business at Pittsburg, Governor Dunmore descended the Ohio river with twelve hundred men. Daniel Morgan, with a company from the valley of Virginia, was with him. A second army was being organized in the southwestern part of Virginia, and Dunmore's instructions were that this army, after marching down the Great Kanawha, should join him on the Ohio where he promised to wait. The Governor failed to keep his promise, but crossed into Ohio and marched against the Shawnee towns which he found deserted. He built a fort and sat down to wait.

In the meantime the army was collecting which was to descend the Kanawha. General Andrew Lewis was commander. The pioneers on the Greenbrier and New River formed a not inconsiderable part of the army which rendezvoused on the site of Lewisburg in Greenbrier county. In this army were fifty men from the Watauga, among whom were Evan Shelby, James Robertson and Valentine Sevier, names famous in history. Perhaps an army composed of better fighting material than that assembled for the march to Ohio, never took the field anywhere. The distance from Lewisburg to the mouth of the Great Kanawha was about one hundred and sixty miles. At that time there was not so much as a trail, if an old Indian path, hard to find, is excepted. At the mouth of Elk river the army made canoes and embarking in them, proceeded to Point Pleasant, the mouth of the Kanawha, which they reached October 6, 1774. A halt was here made. Four days later the Indian army under Cornstalk arrived, about one thousand in number. The Virginians were encamped on the narrow point of land formed by the meeting of the Kanawha and Ohio. The Indians crossed the Ohio the evening before, or during the night, and went into camp on the West Virginia side, and about two miles from the Virginians. The were discovered at daybreak, October 10, by two young men who were hunting. The Indians fired and killed one of them; the other escaped and carried the news to the army.

This was the first intelligence the Virginians had that the Indians had come down from their towns in Ohio to give battle. By what means the savages had received intelligence of the advance of the army in time to collect their forces and meet it before the Ohio river was crossed, has never been ascertained; but it is probable that Indian scouts had watched the progress of General Lewis from the time he took up his march from Greenbrier. Cornstalk laid well his plans for the destruction of the Virginian army at Point Pleasant. He formed his line across the v neck of land, from the Ohio to the Kanawha, and enclosed the Virginians between his line and the two rivers. He posted detachments on the farther banks of the Ohio and the Kanawha to cut off General Lewis should he attempt to retreat across either river. Cornstalk meant not only to defeat the army, but to destroy it. The Virginians numbered eleven hundred.

When the news of the advance of the Indian army reached General Lewis, he prepared for battle, and sent three hundred men to the front to meet the enemy, The fight began at sunrise. Both armies were soon engaged over a line a mile long. Both fought from behind trees, logs and whatever would offer protection. The lines were always near each other; sometimes twenty yards, sometimes less; occasionally near enough to use the tomahawk. The battle was remarkable for its obstinacy. It raged six hours, almost hand to hand. Then the Indians fell back a short distance and took up a strong position, and all efforts to dislodge them by attacks in front failed. Cornstalk was along his whole line, and above the din of battle his powerful voice could be heard: "Be strong! Be strong!" The loss was heavy among the Virginians, and perhaps equally heavy among the Indians. Late in the afternoon General Lewis discovered a way to attack the Indians in flank. A small stream with high banks empties into the Kanawha at that point, and he sent a detachment up this stream, the movement being concealed from the Indians, and when an advantageous point was reached, the soldiers emerged and attacked the Indians. Taken by surprise, the savages retreated. This movement decided the day in favor of the Virginians. The Indians fled a short distance up the Ohio and crossed to the western side, the most of them on logs and rude rafts, probably the same on which they had crossed the stream before the battle. The Virginians lost sixty men killed and ninety-six wounded. The loss of the Indians was not ascertained. They left thirty-three dead on the field, and were seen to throw others into the Ohio river. All their wounded were carried off,

The battle of Point Pleasant was the most stubbornly contested of all frontier battles with the Indians; but it was by no means the bloodiest. Several others could be named in which the loss of life was much greater; notably Braddock's defeat, and the defeat of General St. Clair. The battle of Point Pleasant was also remarkable from the number of the men who took part in it who afterwards became noted. Among them may be mentioned Isaac Shelby, the first governor of Kentucky; William Campbell, the hero of King's mountain, and who died on the battle field of Eutaw Springs; Colonel John Steele, afterward governor of Mississippi; George Mathews, afterward governor of Georgia; Colonel William Fleming, governor of Virginia, and many others. Nearly all the men who were in that battle and afterward returned to their homes, were subsequently soldiers of the American army in the war for independence.

The day following the battle, Colonial Christian arrived with three hundred soldiers from Fincastle. Fort Randolph was built at Point Pleasant; and after leaving a garrison there, General Lewis crossed the Ohio and marched nearly a hundred miles to the Scioto river to join Governor Dunmore. Before he arrived at Fort Charlotte, where Dunmore was, he received a message from the governor, ordering him to stop, and giving as a reason that he was about to negotiate a treaty with the Indians. General Lewis and his men refused at first to obey this order. They had no love for Dunmore, and they did not regard Mm as a friend of Virginia. Not until a second express arrived did General Lewis obey.

After the fight at Point Pleasant, Cornstalk, Logan and Red Eagle, the three principal chiefs who had taken part in the battle, retreated to their towns with their tribesmen. Seeing that pursuit was swift and vigorous, Cornstalk called a council and asked what should be done. No one had any advice to offer. He then proposed to kill the old men, women and children; and the warriors then should go out to meet the invaders and fight till every Indian had met his death on the field of battle. No reply was made to this proposition. Thereupon Cornstalk said that since his men would not fight, he would go and make peace; and he did so. Thus ended the war. Governor Dun more had led an army of Virginia into Ohio, and assumed and exercised authority there, thus setting aside and nullifying the act of parliament which extended the jurisdiction of Quebec to the Ohio river.

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