A note: we must read the terminology "savage," etc. applied to the Native American population in this account with suitable irony -- many of the events of frontier history encourage application of the terms as much to the Pennsylvanian and Virginian invaders as to original inhabitants.
Intelligence of the Indian troubles all along the western frontier of Virginia had been conveyed in almost daily letters and reports to the capital at Williamsburg. June 10, 1774, Governor Dunmore sent a circular letter to all the county lieutenants, who were the official heads of the local militia, ordering them to muster the militia and to take such measures for defense as the situation required, including the rection of small forts in the exposed settlements. One of the important points to be occupied and fortified was the mouth of the Kanahwa river, and the governor recommended that the forces there should co-operate with the garrison at Fort Dunmore in patrolling the intervening country along the Ohio. About the same time [John] Connolly [in Pittsburgh] was preparing to send a force down the Ohio to build a small fort "at the mouth of Wheeling." This course was approved by the governor, who recommended that Captain William Crawford proceed to Wheeling and from that point carry on a campaign into the Indian country.
Thus, early in June, 1774, Captain Crawford with about two hundred men from Fort Dunmore came to the mouth of Wheeling and begn the erection of Fort Fincastle, or, as it was later known, Fort Henry (4). George Rogers Clark has been credited with having planned the fort at Wheeling, and it is probable that some structure of defense had been erected or begun before the arrival of Crawford. But now, as one of the three principal forts on the Ohio, the work was undertaken on a much larger scale.
In July, Dunmore himself set out for the west, and had ordered Major Angus McDonald to march with a considerable force to Wheeling, and thence conduct a campaign across the Ohio. In the latter days of that month, McDonald joined Crawford, and with their combined troops the fort at Wheeling was soon completed.
While it is true that a certain fitness of location for the needs of population and commerce has influenced the destiny of many a city, it is a fact which also does not admit of question that a sort of caprice in choice or event has often selected one site above others for the fame of a thriving center of population. A commandant ninety miles away had designated the "mouth of Wheeling" as the proper place for a fort and headquarters in an Indian campaign. A royal governor who had never seen the Ohio Valley approved the choice. Captain Crawford and Major McDonald arrived with a thousand or more troops, constructed a rectangular stockade fort, gave this spot overlooking the Ohio river a precedence among all the minor block-house settlements of this region, and thus provided the nucleus for a city that has not been without fame of achievement among America's centers of trade and industry. Ebenezer Zane, George Rogers Clark, Michael Cresap, John Connolly, Lord Dunmore, Captain William Crawford, Major Angus McDonald -- all of whom participated to a greater or less degree in bringing this establishment to pass -- are names that should not be forgotten in the history of the genesis of this city.
There are no contemporary documents that afford any descriptive picture of Fort Fincastle. The fort disappeared before the close of the century, and only the recollections of old men and women, or second-hand accounts, furnished the details on which existing descriptions were based. But there was a plan that seldom varied in the construction of these frontier posts, and had the Wheeling fort differed conspicuously the fact would probably have been handed down in tradition or the early writings. Hence it is possible to accept the usual statement that the fort was rectangular in form, with its four stockade walls consisting of upright pickets eight or ten feet high. Some of these forts had two block-houses, located at diagonal corners, and others had a block-house at each corner. Fort Fincastle is said to have been of the latter kind. These block-houses extended a few feet beyond the lines of the walls, so that a lateral fire could be directed against any who tried to scale the pickets. And the second store of each block-house also projected beyond the wall of the first, so that the enemy was exposed at every point outside of the fort. The traditional accounts state that the fort occupied about half an acre of ground. Governor Dunmore recommended the construction of "a small fort" at this point, and this size would agree with such specifications. The fort was probably about 175 feet long by 125 feet wide, or about one quarter the area of a city square. On the inside of the stockade were rows of cabins, comprising the barracks for the garrison, the store houses, etc.
While the exact lines of the fort could not be traced in the modern topography of Wheeling, the approximate site can be defined with certainty. In 1774, and for many years later, the ground between present Main street and the river, and about Eleventh street, formed a prominent elevation or bluff, considerably higher than the highest point of the present hill. On the river side, there was a steep declivity, and for years afterward early travelers spoke of the difficult approach from the river landing up to the center of the village. On the south the hill fell off abruptly to the lower levels of the bottom lands towards the creek. On the north and east there was a gentler slope from the height chosen for the fort to the general levels of this bench land between the river and the hills. This situation made the fort nearly impregnable from any ordinary Indian attack. No attacking party could successfully assail from the river or from the grain fields in the bottom lands to the south. The ground below the fort on the east and north was likewise cleared, and only a few scattered cabins afforded protection to a foe approaching the fort from those directions.
The building for Fort Fincastle was only an incident of the general campaign known as Dunmore's war. Toward the end of July, leaving Crawford in command of the fort, Major McDonald left Wheeling with a considerable force and marched to the Wakatomica towns on the Muskingum. He burnt some deserted villages, destroyed some corn fields, and then returned to Wheeling. The Wakatomica expedition increased rather than allayed the fury of the Indians, whose ravages continued throughout the summer.
In June and July, 1776, Virginia had organized its own state government, with Patrick Henry as first governor, and the colonies had promulgated the Declaration of Independence. One of the interesting minor results was the change of the name of the Wheeling fort to Fort Henry. In October of the same year the state assembly divided the old district of West Augusta and created the three counties, of which Ohio was one, comprising nearly all of the present Panhandle and parts of Pennsylvania besides. In September, 1776, Col Dorsey Pentecost, the militia commandant in the West Augusta district, wrote to David Shepherd (6), the pioneer at the Forks of Wheeling, appraising him of the decision to station detachments of militia at different places on the Ohio between Fort Pitt and the mouth Grave creek, and appointing Shepherd as commissary for victualing the militia employed in this service. In October following, Colonel Pentecost ordered Captain William Harrod (whose name was subsequently identified with Kentucky history) to command a company with station on Fishing creek twenty-six miles below Grave creek. In November Pentecost writes Harrod from the Wells settlement on Short creek, informing him of the proposed hostile movement in the following winter and spring from the northwestern Indians against the line of posts on the Ohio. Murders and raids on the border during the fall of 1776 were arousing the whole frontier. In November two boys named Rowe were killed by the Indians within calling distance of the garrison at Grave creek (7). A few days later two men who were spying on the Indian side of the Ohio near the present Bridgeport were overtaken by the Indians, and one killed and the other captured.
Soon after the civil organization of Ohio county David Rogers was appointed the first county lieutenant, but he soon afterwards resigned, his successor being David Shepherd, who held this office nearly twenty years. (8) The military situation in Ohio county in March, 1777, was portrayed in a letter from Colonel Shepherd to Governor Patrick Henry. The militia numbered not more than three hundred and fifty effective men, while the frontier to be guarded was eighty miles in length, "and that laying the nearest and most exposed to the Indians and the late alarming accounts from the Indian towns." He had therefore disposed of his forces by placing fifty men at Wheeling, fifty at Grave creek, and twenty-five at Beech Bottom, near the modern Wellsburg.(9)
On May 2, 1777, there arrived at Wheeling a party commanded by Lieutenant William Linn, who delivered to Colonel Shepherd about ten thousand pounds of powder for the use of the state of Virginia. This powder had been brought up the Mississippi and Ohio from New Orleans, and the undertaking was one of the most daring and difficult exploits in the annals of the period. The chief need of the colonies in their war with England was gunpowder. Captain George Gibson conceived the bold plan of obtaining a supply at the Spanish port of New Orleans and bringing it up the rivers to Fort Pitt. He and Linn journeyed to the mouth of the Mississippi in the guise of traders, and after many difficulties Linn started up the river with several boats, a crew of forty men, and the cargo of ninety-eight barrels of gunpowder. The dangers and difficulties encountered on this remarkable voyage cannot be related here, but the fact that the cargo was delivered to Colonel Shepherd at Wheeling and kept for some time in Fort Henry is one of the interesting details that connect this city with the larger phases of the Revolution.
The many isolated outrages on the frontier during the early part of 1777, together with the contemplated general attack from the western Indians under the instigationof the British at Detroit, caused Congress to appoint Brigadier General Edward Hand to command on the frontier, with Fort Pitt as his headquarters. At Detroit Colonel Henry Hamilton directed the activities of the British and Indians. By July, 1777, he had sent out fifteen distinct raiding parties against the American frontier. The underlying purpose of these attacks was to distract the colonial congress and hamper the efficiency of Washington's army. The backwoodsmen such as Daniel Morgan and his followers were well known for their valor and pugnacity on many a hard-fought field from the campaign of Braddock to the battle at Point Pleasant. To keep them employed on the border against their inveterate foes, the Indians, was a policy of strategy that was not altogether in harmony with the practices of civilized warfare, but was certainly an effective means of weakening the power of the continental armies on the main battle grounds of the war.
There was, therefore, some coherence, a general plan, in the individual murders, the widely separated raids, that characterized the Indian warfare of this period about Wheeling. It was not only a struggle for existence on the part of this or that settlement against the natural enemies of the wilderness. It was, in addition, a distinct phase of the war for American independence. The two-fold character of the Indian strife along the Ohio during this period has not always been recognized. The settler who served in the garrisons at Fort Henry, or Grave creek, or other points along the Ohio, was not only a home guard defending his family and property, but was in reality a soldier of the Revolution, repelling an attack directed by England against the new national cause.
The early part of 1777 had been marked by raids under the direction of Hamilton against the Kentucky posts, and the season's hostilities closed with the first general attack on Fort Henry. Fort Henry and Fort Randolph at the mouth of the Kanawha were the main outposts of Fort Pitt, which was headquarters for this department of the frontier. Besides these forts, which could resist the attack of large numbers, there were the block-houses at Beech Bottom, Cross creek, Grave creek and that near West Liberty which was then commanded by Samuel McCulloch. In June Captain Samuel Meason (Mason) (10), who commanded at Fort Henry, reported that his company consisted of fifty men. In August some friendly Indians reported to General Hand that the renegade Simon Girty was leading an Indian attack against Fort Henry, but the stroke fell before the garrison could be reinforced. The residents about the fort were occupying their cabins, located mostly on the east and north sides, and did not take refuge in the fort until the attack began.(11)
On the evening of August 31st, Captain Ogle's scouting party came in from the Beech Bottom fort, and reported the appearance of smoke to the south, which was conjectured as rising from the Grave creek block-house. This was presumably the only thing in nature of warning against the approach of the Indians. Early the next morning a white man and a negro were dispatched to bring in some horses from the bottoms near the creek. The greater part of this bottom was in a field of corn, but a road led down from the settlement towards the mouth of the creek. While passing along this road the two men encountered six Indians, who fired and killed the white man, but apparently allowed the negro to run back toward the fort. Captain Meason at once hurried down the road to the point where the encounter had taken place. Suddenly, from the corn field, arose a large party of savages, completely surrounding the white men. The latter made a gallant resistance and endeavored to retreat. Nearly all were shot down or overpowered, except Captain Meason, who, though wounded, escaped and finally got into the fort. During the struggle in the corn field, Captain Ogle, with twelve of his scouts, set out to the relief of their comrades, but were likewise ambushed. Ogle made his escape, and two of the soldiers succeeded in getting away, but the total results of this bloody battle on the ground now covered by Wheeling's mercantile and wholesale center was twenty-four killed, wounded or captured. The leader of the war party was thought to be Simon Girty himself.
After the successful ambuscade the entire body of the enemy, said to number nearly four hundred, advanced, and under protection of the neighboring cabins laid siege to the fort. The fighting continued thoughout the day, and traditional accounts have related many incidents such as have marked the heroic defense of many western frontier posts. Women and children assisted in the work of reloading the guns, moulding bullets and watching every move of the enemy. The garrison was outnumbered nearly ten to one, but every assault on the stockade was repelled. Such a fortification as that at Wheeling was practically impregnable to Indian attack. Unless cannon were used to breach the walls, or the structure could be set on fire, the defenders could shoot down their assailants with little danger to themselves.
On the following morning occurred the famous episode of McCulloch's Leap. The news of the attack had been carried through the country to Short creek and other settlements. Major Samuel McCulloch, with a party of forty or fifty men, came to the relief of the besieged, and in the early morning all managed to effect an entrance through the gates of the stockade except McCulloch (12), who in some manner was cut off from the main body. He then wheeled his horse and galloped up Wheeling hill, intending to return to Short creek. But at the summit, near the point where the National road crosses, his flight was intercepted by another band of Indians. Thus beset behind and before, with all avenue of passage cut off, the intrepid Major turned and spurred his horse directly down the abrupt hillside to the banks of Wheeling creek, nearly two hundred feet below. Horse and rider then dashed across the creek and over the peninsula, and made good their escape. Making due allowance for the fact that the hill was not an actual precipice, and that the underbrush might have buoyed up the horse in its rapid flight, the exploit yet remains one of the most daring in western annals.
The failure of the first day's assault, with the reinforcements and the general alarm that was spreading throughout the country, caused the enemy to raise the siege. Except those slain on the bottoms, the defenders of the fort escaped with only one man wounded. But the cabins of the settlers were destroyed, the stock wantonly butchered, and every ravage known to savage warfare inflicted upon the settlement. The fort alone remained, and the settlers round about it had to begin all over again in the building of homes and the acquirement of the means of subsistence.
In the journal of the Virginia house of delegates, for the session beginning October 20, 1777, is found a record that is interesting not only for its review of the disaster, but also as the first positive proof that the community about the fort was identified with a "local habitation and a name." The journal entry reads:
"A petition of sundry inhabitants of the town of Zanesburg was presented to the house and read: setting forth, that they have been obliged to abandon their houses and effects to the savages, and to shelter themselves in Fort Henry, and that having thus lost their all, they pray such relief as shall be thought just and reasonable."
The petition was rejected.
Towards the end of September, a few weeks after this siege of Fort Henry, occurred another of the border tragedies that must always remain in the recollection of this vicinity. Captain William Foreman with a company of militia had entered the garrison at Fort Henry. On September 26th he set out with forty-five men on a scouting expedition down the river. One of his party was William Linn, the hero of the powder expedition previously mentioned, one of the most experience of border fighters. Near Grave creek the Foreman party was ambushed by a band of Indians commanded by Half-King, a Wyandot chief, and twenty-one were killed outright, and but for the skill and bravery of Linn and his fellow scouts the entire force would have been annihilated. Foreman and his two sons were among the slain. In Mount Rose cemetery at Moundsville is a memorial stone commemorating the victims of this massacre.
Without the pre-eminent activities of Virginia, this western country could hardly have held its own during the Revolution. While the continental government as a whole did what it could to protect the frontier, it was the peculiar interest of Virginia in this region, which produced a large share of the magnificent acquisitions of territory following the war. Another reference to Virginia's position and attitude is needed for a proper understanding of the subsequent events in which Wheeling and vicinity figured.
For two decades Virginia had been employing arms, diplomacy and business enterprise in enforcing her ambitious claims to the great western country which the old royal charter of 1609 was supposed to embrace. The Indian boundary at the Ohio, as fixed in 1768, had been regarded by Virginia as only a temporary expedient to quiet the Indians, and in no sense a curtailment of the western pretensions of the colony. The settlement of the Kentucky region had been undertaken largely by Virginians, and in 1776 the commonwealth had declared its sovereignty over that territory and had created the county of Kentucky.
A year later, in December, 1777, under the enthusiastic leadership of George Rogers Clark, Virginia undertook to carry the western conquest into the region north ofthe Ohio. In one sense this was an aggressive campaign on behalf of all the colonies against the enemy in the northwest, but it was more particularly a Virginia enterprise for the actual acquisition of territory to which it had long advanced less convincing claims. One set of instructions to Clark directed him to defend Kentucky, while the other authorized him to attack the British post at Kaskaskia in the Illinois country.
Three companies for the Clark expedition rendezvoused at Redstone (Brownsville), and in May, 1778, he was again at Wheeling, on his way down the Ohio, picking up a quantity of supplies at Fort Henry. The brilliant campaign by which Clark won the northwest is not to be related here. But this first aggressive campaign in the west, and its successful results, caused the energies of the English commanders henceforth to be directed against the American forces out in Illinois and Indiana rather than against the frontier outposts along the upper Ohio. Hence for several years Wheeling rested in comparative security and the people of this vicinity were only occasionally disturbed by Indian depredations. The department commanders at Fort Pitt during 1778-79 had undertaken some campaigns into the Indian country in the present state of Ohio, but without important success. With the abandonment of Fort Randolph at the mouth of the Kanawha in June, 1779, Fort Henry remained the most advanced outpost of the upper Ohio. Late in the summer of 1779 General Brodhead made a vigorous campaign against the Indians of the upper Allegheny, and the punishment he inflicted on the tribes in that vicinity was another factor in taming the savage spirit in the western wilds. Some residents about Wheeling were participants in this Brodhead campaign.
During 1780 the struggle in the west went on with varying fortunes. While Clark was strengthening the American foothold in the Lower Ohio Valley, his charished project of capturing Detroit failed for lack of men. General Brodhead at Fort Pitt was also planning a campaign against Detroit, his enterprise being under the auspices of the regular continental army, while Clark was representing the colony of Virginia. A counter movement was undertaken by the British from Detroit, one division being directed against Kentucky and the other towards northwestern Virginia. The purpose of the latter was to divert attention, and it became in fact a plundering party, avoiding in its raids such large posts as Fort Henry. The enemy crossed the river near Wheeling, but the inhabitants had been warned by scouts and were nearly all safe at Wheeling. In the settlements between the river and Catfish Camp (Washington, Pa.) a number of prisoners were taken. The Indians then becoming alarmed at the rapid concentration of militia at Wheeling, hurriedly withdrew across the Ohio, but not until they had ruthlessly butchered all the male captives.
Throughout the seasonable months of 1780 General Brodhead was endeavoring to get forces assembled and supplies for the projected campaign against the Indians in Ohio, but late in the fall had to abandon the enterprise. A lively correspondence was carried on between the department commander and the captains of the garrisons at Wheeling and vicinity, interesting as showing the difficulties in getting a properly equipped army ready for any aggressive movement. Fort Henry and Holliday's Cove both had garrisons of regularly enlisted men at this time, and when, in October, these garrisons were ordered to leave their posts, Colonel Shepherd, as county lieutenant, was directed to supply their places with members of the militia. During the previous spring, when the first orders were sent out for this expedition, the local officers were advised to urge upon the settlers haste in planting and sowing the summer crops before the muster was made. Nothing illustrated to better advantage the poverty of this frontier country. During the Civil war, when requisitions were issued to fill up the ranks, those who remained at home were abundantly able to cultivate the crops, tend the shops and care for the families of those who went to the front. The resources of the community were, in comparison with those of pioneer times, inexhaustible, and behind these stood the organized and efficient power of a great government of many states. But when, in 1780, the citizens of Ohio county went out to war, they must first make provision against famine and want in their homes. This primary necessity provided for, there might then remain a few weeks for active campaigning in a distant country.
The year 1781, which was practically the last of the Revolution upon the Atlantic slope, ending with the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, was filled with stirring events on the western frontier. Wheeling had its full share in these activities.
Once more Virginia, with a somewhat feeble co-operation from the continental army, was preparing for an active campaign in the northwest, with the capture of Detroit as the objective purpose. But for the energetic conduct of George Rogers Clark in this region during the preceding three years, the British and Indians would have had a free sweep of the frontiers, and the settlement of the Ohio valley might have been set back for years. Late in 1780 Governor Jefferson of Virginia had promised Clark two thousand troops for his projected enterprise, and in March, 1781, had directed the frontier county lieutenants to gather men for this service. General Brodhead, at Fort Pitt, was also instructed by Washington to furnish all the troops he could spare to Clark. But there was a grudging response on the part of Brodhead. The Pennsylvania-Virginia boundary disput was not nearing settlement, and the inhabitants of the Pennsylvania counties about Pittsburgh were little inclined to support an enterprise which was under the auspices of Virginia. Furthermore, the constant fear of Indian invasion deterred many from enlisting in an expedition that would take them far from their own homes. Brodhead in the previous year had had ample experience of this difficulty in assembling men and supplies.
General Brodhead himself was still bent on carrying out the campaign against the Delaware towns in Ohio. Early in 1781 supplies were being brought into the stockage fort at Wheeling, and there the local militia were rendevoused to the number of about one hundred and fifty under Colonel Shepherd. Brodhead with about the same number of regulars came down from Fort Pitt, and in April with the entire force crossed the Ohio. By a rapid march he fell upon the Indian town at the site of the modern Coshocton, laid it waste and secured plumber which was later sold at Fort Henry for about eighty pounds. One report states that a number of captured Indians were killed and scalped, perhaps in retaliation for previous practices of the same kind on the other side. After this brief but successful incursion, Brodhead returned to Wheeling without having lost a man.
This expedition, combined with the other causes referred to, hindered the enlistment for Clark's campaign. In July that leader, with only about four hundred men, moved down the river the Wheeling, where in a letter to the governor of Virginia he expressed his deep disappointment at not receiving the promised support. He continued on to the falls of the Ohio, where, owing to the defections in his force, he was unable to prosecute any aggressive movement into the enemy's territory. However, his enterprise served to hold the attention of the British so that the border settlements were partly spared the ravages which had been planned against them.
A reinforcement for Clark, raiused in Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, and commanded by Col. Archibald Lochry, had arrived in Wheeling too late for the rendezvous, and there took boats to follow after the main expedition. A force of British rangers and Indian allies, sent out from Detroit against Clark, fell upon these Pennsylvanians when encamped near the present Cincinnati.. A third of the Americans were killed or wounded, and of those captured, many, including Lochry, were murdered.
All the tribes north of the Ohio were now rousing for a general attack on the frontiers. On August 24th Colonel Brodhead dispatched a letter to the commander of Fort Henry, reporting the advance of a large force of the enemy, whose objective of attack was Wheeling, and ordering that the alarm should be spread to all the surrounding inhabitants.(14)
Thus Fort Henry was prepared when the enemy appeared, and the attack was baffled, though a few prisoners were taken in the neighborhood. A friendly Moravian from the villages of the Christian Indians on the Muskingum had conveyed the warning of this attack, and the enemy now dealt a heavy vengeance for this and other friendly services from the same source. Gnaddenhutten, the Moravia settlement on the Tuscarawas, was broken up and its inhabitants forced to remove to Sandusky, where they could no longer act as tale-bearers.
With the success of the continental army at Yorktown the climax of the war in the colonies was passed and it became possible to give more practical relief to the struggling frontier. Here the war was no means at an end. In September, 1781, General William Irvine had been appointed successor to Brodhead as commander of the western department. In November Fort Henry had as garrison one regular officer and fifteen privates, but it became necessary to withdraw even this handful of regulars, and for several months the garrison consisted of some militia from Washington county, Pennsylvania.
While the negotiations for peace between the mother country and the colonies were under way, the western country was still being beat upon by the surgings of war. The campaigns of 1782 left the respective positions of the combatants about the same, but the dogged persistence of Clark in holding the posts of the Illinois country, and the brave defense of their homes by the frontier settlers, were important factors in securing the west for the confederated colonies. (15) The scenes of the principal warfare between the two sides lie outside the scope of this narrative, and require only a brief reference.
Early in 1782 the Williamson expedition went from Pennsylvania against the Moravian towns. The Moravian Indians had returned to their villages, and owing either to their own faithlessness or to a plot in which the acts of other Indians were laid at their door, the Americans in western Pennsylvania and Virginia determined to drive them entirely away from the border. The work was carried out ruthlessly, and the Moravian massacre has left a blood-stained chapter in the annals of the conflict between civilization and barbarism. The immediate results of the deed were to rouse all the Ohio tribes in retaliation and to beat back the advancing tide of settlement for which this invasion appeared to be a precursor.
Hence the frontier settlements were in a state of terror, and occasional murders kept the population closely grouped about the blockhouses and forts. Such a defensive attitude threatened ruin to the country, and best counsel advised an aggressive campaign that would destroy or humble all the hostile tribes, and thus entirely remove the source of danger. In May, therefore, in the Mingo bottom near the present Steubenville, was organized the Sandusky expedition, whose commander, Colonel William Crawford, had earlier been identified with the founding of Fort Henry. The details of this unfortunate enterprise, resulting in the defeat of the American army, and the capture and burning at the stake of its valiant leader, can be read in many works that relate the general history and Indian annals of the central west. It is of interest to note that the expedition was recruited largely from volunteers in western Pennsylvania and Virginia, and a number of residents in the Panhandle about Wheeling were participants in this ill-fated campaign.
The chief result of Crawford's defeat was the immediate exposure of the border to the fury of the victorious Indians. That summer was the worst ever experienced by the settler along the Ohio, as it also marked practically the end of the period of Indian strife. Many of the settlers removed their families to Redstone and other posts away from the border, and all that remained were "forted." Around Fort Van Metre on Short creek the inmates endeavored to tend their crops under the protection of scouts, who patrolled the neighborhood on constant watch for the approach of savages. Towards the close of July Major Samuel McCuloloch, while engaged in this scout duty, was shot from his horse by a party of Indians within a short distance of the fort. His name had been a terror to savage foes for years, and it was thought that the Indians had marked him for destruction. In addition to scalping him, it is said his slayers cut out his heart and ate it to impart to themselves his courage.
Two expeditions, originating at Detroit, and composed of British and Indians, undertook the final attacks upon the frontier during this summer. One was directed against the Kentucky settlements, and the second against Wheeling. On the afternoon of September 11th the approach of the latter was observed by Linn, the noted scout whose exploits have been previously mentioned. The alarm was given but only the inhabitants in the immediate vicinity of the fort had time to take refuge there, and no reinforcements were able to come in during the siege. This attack and siege was the culminating event in the history of Fort Henry, and for that reason, and due also to the controversy which later arose regarding some of the striking incidents, it requires a careful examination as to the sources of its accounts.
After the withdrawal of the Washington county militia from the garrison, Fort Henry was occupied by a few volunteers from Ohio county. In an official letter to General Irvine, dated July 22, 1782, Ebenezer Zane makes a requisition for thirty or forty pounds of powder, and says "Any powder you may now furnish for the use of this garrison, I will undertake to account for and replace if not burnt at the enemy." He also adds that five militia constituted the strength of the garrison in addition to the inhabitants.
While there are no contemporary records of the fact, all secondary accounts agree that at this time Colonel Zane and family occupied a strongly fortified house perhaps thirty yards to the south and east of the stockade, its location being on the southern edge of the elevation on which the fort stood. This dwelling was practically a block-house, with loopholes and other provisions for defense. At the beginning of the attack Zane and his family elected to remain in this house instead of retiring to the fort. Because of its position and strength, the house became in reality an auxiliary of the main fortification, and in an assualt from the east side (which was the most practicable point of attack) the enemy were exposed to a cross fire from both the house and fort.
On the 14th of September, Colonel Zane, who was the responsible if not official commander at Wheeling (16), wrote the following report of the siege to General Irvine:
WHEELING, 14th September, 1782.
Sir: On the evening of the 11th instant a body of the enemy appeared in sight of our garrison. They immediately formed their lines around the garrison, paraded British colors, and demanded the fort to be surrendered, which was refused. About twelve o'clock at night they rushed hard on the pickets, in oder to storm, but were repulsed. They made two other attempts to storm, before day, but to no purpose.
About eight o'clock next morning, there came a negro from them to us, and informed us that the force consisted of a British Captain and forty regular soldiers, and two hundred and sixty Indians. The enemy kept a continual fire the whole day. About ten o'clock at night they made a fourth attempt to storm, to no better purpose than the former. The enemy continued round the garrison till the morning of the 13th instant, when they disappeared. Our loss is none. Daniel Sullivan, who arrived here in the first of the action, is wounded in the foot.
I believe they have driven the greater part of our stock away, and might, I think, be soon overtaken.
I am, with due respect, your obedient servant,
To: William Irvine, Brigadier General, Commanding Western Department, Fort Pitt.
This concise and matter of fact report, written a day after the enemy disappeared, must take precedence over all other accounts of the siege. Two letters from the county lieutenant of Washington county to General Irvine, dated September 12th and September 15th respectively, add a few other details. Captain Boggs, according to the first, was bearer of the intelligence from Wheeling, and had ridden away from the fort to alarm the country and bring succor from other points. He reported that about 3 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon (the 11th) a trail of a large Indian party was discovered. He was a mile and half away from the fort when he heard "the swivel fired at Wheeling and one rifle." From this it is eveident that some little time elapsed between the discovery of the enemy and the beginning of the attack, sufficient to allow the nearby residents, including the Caldwell family south of the creek on Caldwell's run, to take refuge within the fort. In the second letter above referred to, the writer states that he had seen two deserters from the attacking force, and they had given the number of the enemy as 238 Indians and forty rangers, the latter commanded by a British officer -- this corresponding substantially with the Zane report.
Outside of the brief documents just noted, there were no published accounts of this siege for nearly twenty years after it occurred. It was in 1786 that the first newspaper west of the Alleghenies was established (at Pittsburgh), and twenty years more passed before the first attempt in journalism was made at Wheeling. An event which in modern times would have brought a score of special correspondents and photographers to the scene, was recorded only in the memory of the local inhabitants and the stories that circulated about the countryside -- the oldest art of history. Hence many years later, when the local chroniclers and historians began collecting the annals of this period of Indian strife, they had to depend for their facts upon the reminiscent narratives of the surviving actors in the tragedy. The best memory often fails in accurate narration of the past, and the narrative itself is subjected to the manner of telling adopted by the writer. The versions of such stories therefore vary in many particulars, though on the whole conforming to the essential truth. The important thing for the reader is to recognize this element of human fallibility in such secondary accounts, and at the same time not push his critical faculties to the point of distrusting all he reads.
In works previously published, and which are available to those interested in the subject, these varying narratives of this last siege of Fort Henry are told in detail. (17) These stories will not be repeated here, and only a brief reference will be made to the chief points in controversy. The picturesque incident which, more than anything else, gave such wide current to the whole story of the siege, was the so-called "powder exploit." The principal supply of powder for the garrison at Fort Henry had been secured by Colonel Zane through the letter to the department commander already quoted. Most of the accounts state that this supply was kept in the Zane house, he having given his word that he would be responsible for its use only for purposes of defense. Had the garrison at Fort Henry been maintained on a regular military basis, the storing of powder anywhere outside the store-house expressly provided for that purpose within the stockage would have been an unusual proceedure. But, as has been shown, the post's organization was at a low ebb during this summer. And, as the de facto commander, and his dwelling being a practical block-house adjunct to the main stockade, Zane's disposition of the powder seems to have been a wise precaution, and it is only fair to accept the usual statements on this phase of the subject. (18)
When the powder in the fort began to give out, and it became necessary for some one to run across the open space to secure a new supply, all accounts agree that one of the women in the garrison bravely volunteered for the service, returning with the powder in her apron. Who was this heroine? The general verdict of tradition, and the early published accounts, fixed that honor upon Betty Zane, a sister of Colonel Ebenezer Zane. A Philadelphia paper printed an account in 1802 ascribing this part to Betty Zane, and practically all subsequent publications of the story agreed as to the person who performed the exploit. In 1849 Mrs. Lydia S. Cruger, then eighty-four years of age, gave out an affidavit form of account in which she affirmed, as a matter of her personal recollection of the incident, that a young woman named Molly Scott was the messenger. Mrs. Cruger's statement also reverses the situation, so that the powder was in the garrison, the inmates of the Zane dwelling were in need of ammunition, and Molly Scott consequently started from the Zane house and carried back the powder from the stockade. Mrs. Cruger was a daughter of the Captain Boggs above mentioned, and was a girl of seventeen at the time of the siege. She herself, according to her statement, assisted Molly Scott in procuring the powder at the store house.
Beyond stating the conflicting versions of this historic incident, nothing can be added to decide the controversy. The strength of local tradition and the earliest published accounts incline to the honor of Betty Zane. The dissent from that view has had fewer exponents but they have not lacked in vigor and earnestness.
The troublous relations of the settler with the Indian did not cease with the close of the Revolution. As long as the Indian country remained just across the Ohio river, the while people lived in the shadow of massacre and pillage. But after 1782 this portion of the border was only incidentally and occasionally disturbed, and was never the object of such deliberate campaigns as those heretofore described.
In 1783 Virginia ceded her claims by right of conquest in the territory north of the Ohio to the united government of the colonies. In 1785 Fort Harmar was established by the continental forces at the mouth of the Muskingum, and a few years later, under cover of the nation's forts and soldiers, the Ohio Company began the permanent settlement of Ohio at Marietta. In 1787 the Northwest Territory was organized, and the jurisdiction of the United States proclaimed from the line of the upper Ohio to the Mississippi. The subsequent settlement of the Ohio rapidly removed the frontier from the river which had been fixed as the property line between the white and red men in 1768. The occupation of Northwest was not accomplished without bloodshed, and the disastrous campaigns of Harmar and St. Clair in 1790-91 had their echoes in marauding parties as far as southeastern Ohio.
In 1792 some horses were stolen near Wheeling, and on May 5th Colonel Shepherd wrote to the county lieutenant of Washington county as follows: "Last Evening two Indians Shot at a man within one mile of my house, & Snapt at another in the night. They have also take two boys, sons of James Behams, living on middle Wheeling, one of which they have killed, the other has got in, tho he is Scalped and badly Tomahawked. The Spies inform me there is Great Sign of them on Captena and Stillwater. We Expect nothing Else but a General onset: our People are Generally moving to the forts, and Seems to be in Great Confusion. * * * " (19)
The victory of Wayne in 1794 crushed the Indian power of the Northwest, and from that time forward the inhabitants of the upper Ohio dwelt in comparative security. And, as will be shown in a subsequent chapter, the settlers about Wheeling had overcome not only the Indian foes but likewise many of the other difficulties of the wilderness, and from that time forward were engaged in laying the foundations of a great material civilization.
Service provided by the staff of the Ohio County Public Library in partnership with and partially funded by Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation.
(4) The fort's original name was a compliment to Lord Dunmore, but when, on the breaking out of the Revolution, Dunmore became one of the objects of patriotic hatred, the name was changed to honor the first governor of Virginia.
(6) Col. David Shepherd, eldest son of Thomas, was born in Berkeley county, near Shepherdstown, where his father was one of the earliest settlers on the Shenandoah Valley, allied with the Hites and Van Meters. In 1770 he removed to the west and settled at the forks of Wheeling creek, in what is now Ohio county, West Virginia. Having acted as commissary under Pentecost, he was in January, 1777, chosen county-lieutenant for the newly erected Ohio county, and acted in that capacity until his death in 1795. He commanded Fort Henry during its siege in 1777, and led a regiment on Broadhead's Coshocton expedition (1781). During 1783-85 Shepherd served in the Virginia legislature, and during the Indian wars was efficient in guarding the frontier.
(7) An interesting document that portrays the situation at Grave creek settlement, and records the names of some of the first settlers and residents of this time in the vicinity of the modern Marshall county, is a letter written January 2, 1777, and directed to Captain William Harrod, the commandant in that locality. The text and the signatures of this letter are as follows (The document is reproduced in the "Revolution on the Upper Ohio" by Thwaites & Kellogg):
Sir -- We, the subscribers, finding it impossible to Defend ourselves against the Common Enemy of this Country by the Militia's being drawn away from this Garrison, & if we do not Get Some Assistance Immediately we will be obliged to Quit this place, it being the frontier fort & so near to the savage that we hope you will be so Kind as to Get as many of Your men as you Can to Stay to our Assistance as we understand you have a very great Influence over your men and as there is not any particular Orders for men to be Stationed at this place David Shephard, Esqr. will find you & your men provisions while you stay here & we flatter ourselves At the same time that the Commissioners for paying the former Militia will in no ways refuse to pay you & your men for this Service done the Country as well as those done by the former Capts. at this Place. Sr., your Compliance in this request will very much oblige yr very Humble Servants,
|Yates Conwell||Zephaniah Blackford|
|James Williams||Morgan Jones|
|Matthew Karr||Charles McClean|
|Joseph Tomlinson||James Caldwell|
|Stephen Parr||John Williams|
|David McClure||William McMechen|
|Samuel Harris, Sr.|| |
On the same day the above was written the men whose names are given below agreed to serve in the militia fifteen days to assist "the Inhabitants of Grave Creek fort to Defend themselves against the Savages." The list of names signed to this agreement follows:
|Joseph McClain||Paul Armstrong|
|John McClain||Matthew Kerr|
|James Harris||Samuel Stilwell|
|Stephen Harris||John Boyd|
|Thomas Knox||Michael Flood|
|George Knox||Joseph Glen|
|James McMechen||Adam Row, Jr.|
|Joseph Alexander||James Davis|
|Adam Row||John Harkness|
|Francis Purcell||Philip O'Finn|
(8) The orders of the Virginia council March 4, 1777, appointed and commissioned David Rogers county lieutenant, David Shepherd, colonel; David McClure, lieutenant colonel, and Samuel McCulloch, major of Ohio county.
(9) Beech Bottom fort, occupied only in 1777, and protecting the Hedges family, stood about three miles south of the present Wellsburg.
(10) Meason, commander of Fort Henry during 1777-78, later removed to Tennessee, where he became leader of a band of highwaymen, and was finally shot and beheaded by members of his own gang.
(11) The subsequent details of the attack are derived from Withers' and other writings of secondary authority, based upon the recollections of the participants many years after the events occurred. There is much confusion of statement in these accounts and they can scarcely be relied upon for an accurate picture of the day's events.
(12) Samuel McCulloch, the noted borderer, was born in 1750 and about 1770 settled on Short creek. In 1779 he was elected to represent Ohio county in the legislature. He was in Brodhead's campaign, and had command of Van Metre's fort during the Revolutionary period. As hereafter to be related, he was shot and killed by Indians not far from this fort, July 30, 1782.
(14) The following paragraph from this letter has some interest: "You will immediately put your garrison in the best posture of defense, and lay in as great a quantity of water as circumstances will admit, and receive them cooly; they intend to decoy your garrison, but you are to guard against strategem, and defend the post to the last extremity."
(15) Had Clark not been in possession of Kaskaskia and Vincennes, England would probably have made use of the right of possession to continue her territorial authority over this northwestern country, and as had been proposed at the beginning of the war, the Dominion of Canada might have been bounded on the south by the Ohio rather than the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes.
(16) Silas Zane, according to the later accounts, was in command of Fort Henry during this siege.
(17) Withers' Chronicles of Border Warfare contains the first account in book form. The History of the Panhandle of West Virginia (1879) contains copious extracts from the different accounts and an elaborate discussion as to the controverted powder exploit. [It has since been examined in West Virginia History journal...]
(18) There had previously been some trouble in keeping the garrison stores intact for their legitimate purposes. The following record from the minutes of the Ohio county court for the June session of 1778 has some interest in this connection:
"A Recognisance against Saml. Mason for disposing of & exchanging some of the Continental Stores at Fort Henry, exhibited by Cl. David Sheepherd; whereupon the Defendant came into Court & acknowledged the Charge in part; whereupon this Court have considered that Saml. Mason aforesd. be fined five pounds and Return into the hands of Coln. Sheepherd an equally good gun, or the value thereof; valued by Raesin virgin & Joseph hoge, sworn for that purpose, valued at seventeen pounds; furthermore it appears to this Court that Saml. Mason aforesd. had exchanged his own property for the stores aforesd. with Certain V. Doulton, D. Q., master in the Continental service.
On April 2d the inhabitants of Middle Wheeling had memorialized the authorities at Pittsburgh saying they were too weak to make a stand against invasion and asking for men, arms and ammunition for defense. The names of the petitioners are given herewith to show the residents along Middle Wheeling creek at that date:
|Thomas Orr||Thomas Harpon|
|David Hosack||William Hulte|
|Thomas Hosack||Andrew White|
|Samuel Moore||Devet Howell|
|William Morrison||William McCaskill|
|James Hosack||Robert Pendergast|
|James McDonnal||George Knox|
|Andrew Hannah||James Knox|
|Samuel Holmes||James Steter|
|George Whitehill||Hilian Sleater|
|William Bohanon||Hugh McCutchen|
|Robert McCoy||John Brick, V. D. M.|
|Ferdinand Moore||William Porter|