FORT COCKE

FROM FRONTIER FORTS ALONG THE POTOMAC AND ITS TRIBUTARIES

BY WILLIAM H ANSEL, JR

This defense was first known as Fort “G. Parker,” but it later took the name of Captain William Cocke of the Virginia Rangers, as he was the commanding officer of the place during much of the Indian troubles. The fort was constructed on the east side of Patterson’s Creek, on a knoll overlooking the bottom lands, about one mile south of present Headsville in what is now Mineral County, West Virginia, formerly Hampshire County, Virginia.

This fort was built by Captain William Cocke’s third company of rangers under the direction of Lieutenant Bacon upon orders of Washington dated October 26, 1755, and was probably completed within a month. The stockade, made of upright logs or palisades, was in the form of a square ninety feet on a side and enclosed about one-fifth of an acre. Bastions or blockhouses were built at each of the four corners. A barrack sufficient to house fifty men was constructed within the stockade.

Washington ordered Lieutenant Bacon to proceed to “George Parker’s plantation where you will meet with Captain William Cocke and his company of Rangers who are ordered to erect a Work of Defense at the said place.” George Parker was the owner of Lot No. 1 of the Patterson Creek survey, it having been conveyed to him by Thomas Lord Fairfax on the 25th day of October, 1748. The lot consisted of 399 acres and included what is now the present site of Headsville. But in locating the fort, Bacon and Cocke selected a place within the bounds of the Patterson’s Creek Manor land and more than one-half mile south or upstream of the southern boundary of Parker’s Lot No 1. The survey of the Manor land into lots in 1762 by Joseph Neville placed Fort Cocke on Lot No 13 thereof. At the time of the survey, Neville found Nicholas Seavours occupying this lot.

On November 9, 1756, the strength necessary to garrison Fort Cocke was listed at 500 men, while that necessary at Fort Ashby was only 60 troops. But Fort Cocke, because of its size and location, at no time ever had a garrison that even closely approached 500 troops. On May 14, 1756, he soldiers at this place were listed as one captain, one lieutenant, one ensign, two sergeants and forty-five men. On July 13, 1756, Captain Robert McKenzie was ordered to proceed to the fort “now commanded by Captain William Cox” to take command of it and to escort wagons to Fort Ashby on the one hand and to Fort Pearsall on the other. McKenzie, with Cocke’s company, was further ordered to go out frequently and “scour the woods well” in search of Indians.

On August 5, 1756, in orders to Captain Thomas Waggoner, Captain Bell was directed to Fort Cocke, to take command there with twenty men and to escort all expresses and wagons going to and from Fort Cumberland as far as Ashby’s and Pearsall’s. The remainder of his force was to be divided between Forts Kuykendall and Ashby. Located not far from the mouth of Beaver Run, Fort Cocke was thus situate on or near the military road leading from Winchester to Cumberland, and its garrison escorted wagon trains moving between the two places as far east as Romney and as far as Fort Ashby to the north. Fort Cocke was attacked by a band of Indians in early April, 1756, but the garrison beat them off with no loss. On the 3rd day of April 1756, John Adam Long, who owned Lot No. 2 of the Fairfax Patterson Creek Survey about two miles north of Fort Cocke, was captured by the Indians who had attacked the fort and he was taken to Fort Duquesne. Long was then fifty-five years of age. He was at the French fort for twenty days when he managed to escape and reached his home in safety. He took time, however, to stop at Fort Cumberland and report his adventures to Colonel Adam Stephen.

In 1761, Windle Millar was killed by the Indians while working in a field near Fort Cocke. He left his widow, Elizabeth, five sons and four daughters surviving. Millar was buried along the Creek at the place he was shot. At the same time, Patrick McCarty was captured by the same Indians who had killed Millar. He was taken to Ohio and burned at the stake by his savage captors. He left surviving his widow, one son, Colonel Edward McCarty, and four daughters. A monument marks the place where these two settlers were attacked. It is uncertain when and by whom this stone was erected, but it has been there for more than one hundred years.

In correspondence of Washington, Fort Cocke was mentioned many times. On January 10, 1756, in orders to Commissary Thomas Walker, three months provisions were directed to be laid in at the fort, and since there were three thousand pounds of pork stored at Fort Pearsall, a portion of this meat was directed to be taken to the Patterson’s Creek fort. Not long after, Captain Cocke wrote Washington advising that Indians were lurking around his fort. Upon learning this new, the militia from Louisa and Stafford counties assembled at Fort Loudon and destined for service on Patterson’s Creek, deserted in droves, only six of the Louisa and eight of the Stafford County men standing firm.

On October 21, 1775, before the construction of Fort Cocke had begun, four officers, two sergeants and 29 rank and file were stationed on Patterson’s Creek at or near the place where the fort was to be built. A short time after construction of the place, on December 29, 1755, a captain, lieutenant and 27 men were stationed there.

George Parker, who lived about one mile downstream from this fort, furnished supplies from time to time to Captain Cocke’s men. In March 1756, the Virginia Assembly allowed him the sum of 510 lbs of tobacco for tow hogs, and he was also paid 1 pound, 16 shillings and 3 pence for a cow delivered to the troops.

Because of its small size, Fort Cocke was a place of limited refuge for settlers living in the Patterson’s Creek Valley. After the capture of Fort Duquesne, troops garrisoning the fort were gradually withdrawn. Thereafter, it deteriorated rapidly. In 1770 while on a visit to his western lands, Washington rode down Pattersons Creek and stated that he stopped at the place where Fort Cocke had stood, indicating thereby that within fifteen years of construction, it had ceased to exist.

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