Who's your daddy, Tennessee?

   Over on the Tennessee State Library and Archives blog, for Father's Day, I penned a brief, lighthearted post inviting reader comments on who best deserves the moniker of "Father of Tennessee." Is it James Robertson, founder of Nashville, or John Sevier, "Tennessee's First Hero" and first governor of Tennessee?



   Many chroniclers of early Tennessee history have proclaimed James Robertson as the “Father of Tennessee.” As a leader of both the Watauga and Cumberland settlements, Robertson is credited with establishing the first frontier settlements in what would later become the state of Tennessee. Together with John Donelson, he co-founded Fort Nashborough, which later became the city of Nashville.

   Other writers, however, contend that John Sevier is our state’s founding father and deserves recognition as the “Father of Tennessee.” Sevier stood alone as a towering figure in early Tennessee politics as a celebrated frontiersman, a revered military leader of the Revolutionary War, a respected and feared Indian fighter, and Tennessee’s first governor.

   My opinion is somewhat biased on the matter, so I invite readers to visit the TSLA Blog and Facebook page to make their own opinions known. You can read the entire article online HERE on the TSLA Blog.

Happy Father's Day, everyone!


 
Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.


Polygamy on the Early Tennessee Frontier

   Last week, I had the opportunity to listen to Cumberland University professor Dr. Natalie Inman as she delivered a thought-provoking lecture to members of the Tennessee Historical Society at the Fort Negley Visitor's Center. Her presentation, "Polygamy in the Early Republic: The Case of Indian Agent Joseph Martin," not only covered Martin's wildly fascinating married life -- he had 23 children with four different wives, white and Cherokee -- but also examined the polygamist culture that existed on the Tennessee frontier.

   According to Dr. Inman, intermarriage between white settlers and Native Americans became a necessary survival tactic on America's new frontier. Inman argued that white men needed Cherokee wives to conduct business on the frontier as a means of cross-cultural cooperation. Cherokee culture embraced a maternally-focused family structure, unlike Euro-American cultures which were inherently paternalistic. Within the Cherokee family structure women held far more power than men. Recognizing this, white men often married Cherokee wives not for love, but rather in order to acquire land or negotiate trade routes. Inman argued that Indian Agents, like Martin, used marriage as a negotiating tactic in diplomatic relations, and though frowned upon in America's Euro-centric culture, both intermarriage and adultery were accepted norms on America's early frontier.

The acquisition of land was a frequent ambition of white settlers of "THE CHEROKEE COUNTRY," and white men often relinquished control to women in the maternalistic Cherokee culture in order to obtain land rights and diplomatic leverage in trade negotiations. 
Image credit: The Project Gutenberg eBook of Myths of the Cherokee, by James Mooney, 1900.


   Inman also discussed the rivalry that existed between Martin and John Sevier, a topic I briefly explored here on The Posterity Project a few months ago. Martin's position as an agent and superintendent of Cherokee Indian affairs put him squarely at odds with Sevier, who saw the Cherokees as a threat to establishing sovereignty for his fragile State of Franklin movement. During her talk, Inman described Martin as a "warrior" who protected his Cherokee family against Sevier's unnecessary aggression, while he simultaneously sought protection for his white family during the State of Franklin conflict. According to Inman, hard times created more complex household structures, and on the American frontier, complex families, like Martin's, were more common than one might expect.


Questions about John Sevier's own married past...


   As a public historian, I make my living, in part, by seeking the truth about our collective past. In my ongoing blog series about John Sevier, and in my book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, I have frequently challenged long-held traditions and beliefs in search for the truth. Sometimes, this quest for truth leads me down elusive paths.

   One of the unanswered questions that I occasionally receive from readers concerns Sevier's descendants -- more specifically his relationship with the indigenous Cherokee population of Tennessee, and rumors of an alleged affair Sevier had with an unknown Cherokee woman. Whispers of this rumor can be found on various online publications and genealogy forums, but finding credible primary and secondary published sources to back up those online claims has proved challenging.

   One recently published online article asserts, "several families claim a lineage to John Sevier and an unknown Cherokee Indian woman. Their daughter, Winney Alice Sevier, was left by her mother in Russell County, Virginia, at the Henry Campbell farm. Winney later fell in love with Campbell’s son, Abraham, whom she married and lived with in a home on the adjacent farm." The article borrows liberally from previously published narratives of Sevier's life without attribution, and so I hesitate to give much weight to this assertion.

   Another name recently surfaced in my email correspondence with Sevier descendants. Obedience Hillard Sevier is a name cited on genealogy message boards as someone with a familial connection to Sevier. Some allege that Sevier fathered Obedience with a Cherokee mistress, while others state that Obedience was an indentured servant to the Sevier family who took on her master's name. I tend to believe the latter, but after hearing Dr. Inman's lecture, I wonder... Did Sevier engage in his own "diplomatic" relations with the Cherokees in the same ways as his enemy, Joseph Martin?


A thought-provoking question...


   I want to clearly state that I am not a professional genealogist, and my book is not a genealogy of the Sevier family. John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero examines Sevier's life within the context of history and memory. It is not a Sevier family history. Still, I have extensively researched Sevier's life, with particular attention to his military campaigns against the Cherokees.

   I have yet to encounter a credible source that definitively proves a familial link to Sevier and the mysterious Cherokee children sharing his surname, and I certainly cannot project the actions of those like Martin onto Sevier. Yet, the question about Sevier's alleged affair with a Cherokee mistress persists. This is a question that I'm sure some will find provoking, but one that I hope will challenge us all to examine the past, "warts and all."


 
Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

An indissoluble trinity...

   As a native Tennessean, I would like to take this opportunity, on Statehood Day, to share a timely salute to our most cherished state symbol... The official salute to the Flag of Tennessee (T.C.A. 4-1-329):


Three white stars on a field of blue

God keep them strong and ever true

It is with pride and love that we

Salute the Flag of Tennessee.





   The Tennessee Blue Book details the symbolism captured in the State Flag of Tennessee, affectionately known as the "tristar":

   "The three stars are of pure white, representing the three grand divisions of the state. They are bound together by the endless circle of the blue field, the symbol being three bound together in one—an indissoluble trinity. The large field is crimson. The final blue bar relieves the sameness of the crimson field and prevents the flag from showing too much crimson when hanging limp. The white edgings contrast more strongly the other colors."

   In 1905, Johnson City attorney and Tennessee National Guardsman LeRoy Reeves (1876-1960) designed the flag which the Tennessee General Assembly ultimately adopted as the official flag of the state of Tennessee on April 17, 1905. Reeves' elegantly bold and distinctive design has endured for more than a century, embraced by Tennesseans as a unified symbol of civic pride in the "Volunteer State's" history and culture. On this Statehood Day and for many years to come, may the tristar continue to wave "strong and ever true."

Statehood Day in Tennessee


   In a related post, my colleagues at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) have published a brief blog post on the creation of the 1796 Tennessee Constitution. Its enactment #OnThisDay has a fascinating history.

   Click HERE to read more from the TSLA Blog. You can also view a digitized copy of the constitution itself HERE at TSLA's Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA).


 

Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

William Tatham, Wataugan

   As Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park prepares to celebrate its annual observance of the Siege of Fort Watauga (or more accurately, Fort Caswell), I thought the occasion offered an appropriate moment to reflect upon the recollections of one of the fort's original defenders, William Tatham.

   William Tatham (1752-1819), the eldest of five children born in England, emigrated to Virginia in 1769. Upon his arrival, he found employment as a clerk with the mercantile firm of Carter & Trent, merchants operating on the James River. Tatham spent many hours during his years of service with Carter & Trent listening to the wild and fascinating tales of the longhunters who frequented the Virginia wilderness. He sought the same sense of adventure for his own life, and by 1774, the lure of the frontier brought Tatham to Watauga. There he later witnessed the Cherokee siege of Fort Caswell in the summer of 1776.

   The Cherokees besieged the fort for two solid weeks leaving its inhabitants short on food and supplies. John Sevier, James Robertson, and their fellow defenders held off the Cherokee assault and awaited reinforcements, but by the time that they arrived, the Cherokees had already abandoned their attack.

   The siege at Fort Caswell on the Watauga is an episode of Tennessee history wrapped in myth and memory. In the years that followed, oral traditions, repeated by succeeding generations and validated by the published accounts of late-nineteenth century antiquarians and storytellers, embellished the details of this engagement with each telling. These authors recalled the tale of John Sevier's rescue of Catherine "Bonny Kate" Sherrill at Fort Caswell, in particular, with literary flair.

   In his Annals of Tennessee, Dr. J. G. M. Ramsey chronicled Sevier's "determined bravery" in helping to defend the fort, and in his book, Rear-Guard of the Revolution, James Gilmore described how Sevier courageously faced down "two or three hundred savages" as a young "Bonny Kate" ran from her Cherokee pursuers and into the arms of her rescuer.

"Siege of Fort Watauga." An artist's sketch of Catherine "Bonny Kate" Sherrill's escape from Cherokee pursuers.
Image credit: Tennessee State Library and Archives


   Decades later, as the jurist and antiquarian Samuel Cole Williams began compiling research notes for a book about the Lost State of Franklin, he learned that Tatham had been a witness to the Siege of Fort Caswell. Inspired by this story, Williams published a thin biography in 1922 entitled, William Tatham, Wataugan. He later published a revised, though still brief, edition of his Tatham biography in 1947.

   According to Williams, Tatham was "the only defender of Fort Caswell who wrote reminiscences of occurrences during that early invasion." Despite his close proximity to the event itself, Tatham's account of the Siege at Fort Caswell revealed his own embellishments, and Tatham likely overstated his role in defending the fort. Nevertheless, Williams "made liberal use of Tatham's writings" in his own works, including History of the Lost State of Franklin, Dawn of Tennessee Valley and Tennessee History, and Tennessee During the Revolutionary War, among numerous other titles.

   Tatham's full account of the Siege of Fort Caswell originally appeared in the April 6, 1793 edition of the Knoxville Gazette. Williams later published Tatham's account in his book, William Tatham, Wataugan. This is William Tatham's story:

   In January 1776 emigration had advanced over the Indian boundary as far as Big Creek on the north side of Holston and to Big Limestone Creek on the south side, but these settlers were under no legal or regular government.

   Added to this there were a number of people called Regulators, who had fled from North Carolina to the extreme frontier for safety after their battle against Governor Tryon at the Alamance and were actually about joining the Cherokees against the Americans. To make the matter still worse, while the Indians were on their invasion, the chief stock of powder was but six pounds in the hands of the settlers [on the Watauga].

   In this dilemma, the Virginia government gave orders for all men to retire within the line or they would be treated as outlaws. The people on the north side of the Holston obeyed the mandate; but through the influence, in a great degree, of William Cocke, Esq., they forted themselves at Amos Heaton’s [Eaton’s] now [1793] Sullivan Old Court House; and those on the Watauga and Nolichucky posted [at the latter] about thirty volunteers under Captain James Robertson, just above the mouth of Big Limestone, where Mr. Gillespie now lives.

   Shortly after this party took post and before they had finished their fort, called Fort Lee, four of the traders made their escape from the Cherokee nation and apprised them of the immediate march of about six hundred Cherokees and a few Creeks, who were destined against the settlements. The inhabitants immediately took the alarm, and instead of flocking to the frontier barrier on strong and open ground, thereby covering their country, those on the Nolachucky hastily fled, carrying off their livestock and provisions leaving about fifteen of the volunteers at the frontier to make the best shift in their power.

   The result of this precipitate retreat was this: The few who were determined to oppose the enemy in the defense of that quarter were joined by as many in the rear of the scamper as had not time to get safely off: and were thus compelled to fortify near the Sycamore Shoals of Watauga, on much weaker ground than that which they had evacuated: cut off from assistance and resources [from North Carolina] by the mountains and defiles which were at that day almost impenetrable; and from every possibility of information, save for their own vigilance.

   The party at Heaton’s fort were nearly in a similar situation; and these two posts, weak as new settlements could be, had to stand the brunt of the enemy whose numbers, prowess, resources and European patronage was at least equal to any danger that we now dread at this day. On the southern and western side of Donelson’s line we were obliged to rely upon the following numbers for defense against both southern and northern Indians, as near as I can recollect.

   At Watauga, men, boys and negroes fit to bear arms, but not well armed, under Captain James Robertson. Yet the country was well defended! And strange as it may appear this territory [Southwest] owes its present consequence to this handful of men; for in less than two years after, the Tennessee and Kentucky countries contained no less than fifty-seven forts. It is very probable that if this small party had given way, the people would have generally (if not all) fled to the eastern side of the Allegheny mountains.


A recreation of Fort Caswell (a.k.a. Fort Watauga). Image credit: Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.



William Tatham, Wataugan by Samuel Cole Williams is available in most public or university libraries, and may be purchased through any number of used book stores or antiquarian book dealers.


 

Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

Sowing the seeds of war: The Yellow Creek Massacre and the Battle of Point Pleasant

   Today, my ongoing research into the origins of the Battle of Point Pleasant and John Sevier's role in it takes me to the reminiscences of Judge Henry Jolly. In 1849, a man named S. P. Hildreth interviewed Jolly on Lyman Draper's behalf for Draper's ongoing research into the border wars of the Old Southwest. In Hildreth's recorded transcript of the interview, Jolly recalled his memories of the "Yellow Creek Massacre," an event which ultimately led Lord Dunmore to bring the might of the Virginia militia to bear upon the native people of the region. *

   The broad brushstrokes of history have judged that Dunmore's overwhelming victory over Chief Cornstalk's Indian alliance in the 1774 Battle of Point Pleasant came as a consequence of depredations perpetrated by a "Savage Empire." A careful examination of Jolly's recollections, however, reveals the root cause of the conflict -- a cause bathed in the blood of vengeance.

   The Mingo Indian chief known to the white people as "John Logan" sought revenge for the brutal murder of his family by white settlers at Yellow Creek on April 30, 1774. Jolly, a respected jurist, was sixteen years old at the time of the massacre, yet at the age of 75, he recalled the savage incident which led to the Battle of Point Pleasant in striking detail:

   In the Spring of the year 1774 a party of Indians encamped on the Northwest of the Ohio, near the mouth of Yellow Creek. A party of whites called Greathouse’s party, lay on the opposite side of the river. The Indians came over to the white party—I think five men, one woman and an infant babe. The whites gave them rum, which three of them drank, and in a short time became very drunk. The other two men and the woman refused. The sober Indians were challenged to shoot at a mark, to which they agreed, and as soon as they emptied their guns, the whites shot them down. The woman attempted to escape by flight, but was also shot down. She lived long enough, however, to beg mercy for her babe, telling them that it was a kin to themselves. They had a man in the cabin, prepared with a tomahawk for the purpose of killing the three drunk Indians, which was immediately done. The party of men, women &c moved off for the interior settlements, and came to Catfish Camp on the evening of the next day, where they tarried until the next day. I very well recollect my mother, feeding and dressing the babe, chirping to the little innocent, and it smiling, however, they took it away, and talked of sending it to its supposed father, Col. Geo. [John] Gibson of Carlisle (Pa.) who was then [and] had been for several years a trader amongst the Indians. 

An illustration depicting the Yellow Creek Massacre.
Image credit: West Virginia Encyclopedia.

   The remainder of the party, at the mouth of Yellow Creek, finding that their friends on the opposite side of the river was massacred, the[y] attempted to escape by descending the Ohio, and in order to avoid being discovered by the whites, passed on the west side of Wheeling Island, and landed at pipe creek, a small stream that empties into the Ohio a few miles below Graves Creek, where they were overtaken by Cresap with a party of men from Wheeling. They I believe carried him in a litter from Wheeling to Redstone. I saw the party on the return from their victorious campaign.

   The Indians had for some time before this event thought themselves intruded upon by the Long Knife, as they called the Virginians at that time, and many of them were for war—however the[y] called a Council, in which Logan acted a conspicuous part. He admitted their ground of complaint, but at the same time reminded them of some aggressions on the part of the Indians, and that by a war, they could but harass and distress the frontier settlements for a short time, that the Long Knife would come like the trees in the woods, and that ultimately, they would be drove from their good land that they now possessed. He therefore strongly recommended peace. To him they all agreed, grounded the hatchet, every thing wore a tranquil appearance, when behold, in came the fugitives from Yellow Creek; Logan’s father, Brother and sister murdered. What is to be done now? Logan has lost three of his nearest and dearest relations, the consequence is that this same Logan, who a few days before was so pacific, raises the hatchet, with a declaration, that he will not ground it, until he has taken ten for one, which I believe he completely fulfilled, by taking thirty scalps and prisoners in the summer of 74. The above has often been told to me by sundry persons who was at the Indian town, at the time of the Council alluded to, and also when the remains of the party came in from Yellow Creek; Thomas Nicholson has told me the above and much more, another person (whose name I cannot recollect) told me that he was at the towns when the Yellow Creek Indians came it, that there was a very Great lamentation by all the Indians of that places, some friendly Indian advised him to leave the Indian Settlement, which he did.

   Could any person of common rationality, believe for a moment, that the Indians came to Yellow Creek with hostile intention, or that they had any suspicion of the whites, having any hostile intentions against them? Would five men have crossed the river, three of them in a short time dead drunk, the other two discharging their guns, putting themselves entirely at the mercy of the whites, or would they have brought over a squaw, with an infant papoose, if they had not reposed the utmost confidence in the friendship of the whites? Every person who is acquainted with Indians knows better, and it was the belief of the inhabitants who were capable of reasoning on the subject, that all the depredations committed on the frontiers was by Logan and his party, as a retaliation, for the murder of Logan’s friends at Yellow Creek—I mean all the depredations committed in the year 1774.


   Jolly's memory of the Yellow Creek Massacre and the events that followed failed to recall the details of the savage attack on Logan's kin. Others would testify to witnessing a horrific scene in which members of the Greathouse party not only kidnapped a young child and brutally murdered all the natives, but they also mutilated their bodies and disemboweled Logan's pregnant sister. They then scalped and impaled her unborn child on a stake. During the slaughter, one of the attackers cruelly bragged, "Many a deer have I served in this way."

   In his grief, Logan called out to the men whom he accused of murdering his family:

   "What did you kill my people on Yellow Creek for. The white People killed my kin at Coneestoga a great while ago, & I though[t nothing of that]. But you killed my kin again on Yellow Creek, and took m[y cousin prisoner] then I thought I must kill too; and I have been three time[s to war since but] the Indians is not Angry only myself."

Captain Joh[n Logan] July 21st. Day.


   The Yellow Creek Massacre ended all hope Chief Cornstalk had for a peaceful coexistence with the settlers as Logan sought revenge for the brutal slayings. Logan later lamented:

   "I appeal to any white man to say if he ever entered Logan's cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat; if he ever came cold and naked and he clothed him not. During the course of the last long and bloody war, Logan remained idle in his cabin, an advocate for peace.... There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature. This has called on me for revenge. I have sought it; I have killed many; I have fully glutted my vengeance. For my country, I rejoice in the beams of peace."



Photographic reproduction of a print depicting John Logan (1725-1780), a chief of the Mingo tribe.
Image credit: Ohio History Central.



   In a letter to Colonel William Preston, Major Arthur Campbell urgently pleaded for military intervention. In his letter, Campbell communicated the frequency of Logan's vengeance-fueled assault on the settlers. "So many attacks in so short a time, give the inhabitants very alarming apprehensions," he wrote.

   Lord Dunmore answered Campbell's call for reinforcements and exacted his own form of revenge for Logan's personal pursuit of justice, ultimately defeating Cornstalk's Indian warriors at the Battle of Point Pleasant. Although Logan did not participate in the battle itself, he did continue to fight against the Americans in the Revolutionary War. He escaped death until 1780, when ironically, a member of his own family, a nephew, murdered Logan near present-day Detroit, Michigan.


PREVIOUS POSTS:



SELECTED SOURCES:

  • "Reminiscences of Judge Henry Jolly," Draper Manuscripts, 6NN22-24, cited in Reuben Gold Thwaites and Louise Phelps Kellogg, Documentary History of Dunmore's War, 1774. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 1905, pp. 9-14.
  • Colin G. Calloway. The Shawnees and the War for America. New York: Viking, 2007, pp. 51-52.



NOTES:


* According to Thwaites' Documentary History of Dunmore's War, 9n16: “The following was sent to Dr. Draper in 1849, by S. P. Hildreth, who had an interview with Judge Jolly. The latter was sixteen years of age at the time of these occurrences, and recollected them well. There has been much controversy over these incidents; for the statements of other contemporaries, see Sappington, in Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia (ed. of 1825), pp. 336-339; Tomlinson, in Jacob’s Cresap, pp. 133-137; George Rogers Clark’s letter, ibid., pp. 154-158; Washington-Crawford Letters, pp. 86, 87; and N. Y. Colon. Docs., viii, pp. 463-465.—Ed.”




 

Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

"You may judge that we had a very hard day." -- Isaac Shelby and the Battle of Point Pleasant

   In my previous post on The Posterity Project, I examined how, at the turn of the twentieth century, the archivist and historian Virgil Lewis chronicled the Battle of Point Pleasant, a pivotal engagement that occurred on October 10, 1774. The battle pitted a confederation of Indian tribes against the Virginia militia during Lord Dunmore's War. In a struggle for control over an area of land now comprised of portions of West Virginia and Kentucky, this bloody confrontation gave John Sevier his first taste of battle with the Indians and helped shape his philosophy of offensive guerrilla warfare for years to come.

An artist's illustration of the Battle of Point Pleasant.
Image credit: West Virginia Division of Culture & History

   Lewis and other historians of the battle credited Lieutenant Isaac Shelby with leading the charge toward victory with a flanking maneuver that ultimately turned the tide of the battle in the Virginian's favor. Shelby chronicled his experience as a witness and participant in the Battle of Point Pleasant in a letter to his uncle, John Shelby, written just six days after the battle on October 16, 1774. In his book, History of the Battle of Point Pleasant, Lewis remarked that Isaac Shelby's account was regarded by historians as "the best of all that was written on the field."

   The following text is Isaac Shelby’s letter to his uncle describing the Battle of Point Pleasant in all its vivid detail, with only a few minor copy edits made to correct for errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar…



Dear Uncle,

   I gladly embrace this opportunity to acquaint you that we are all three [Capt. Evan Shelby, and his two sons, Isaac and James] yet alive through God's mercies, and I sincerely wish that this may find you and your family in the station of health that we left you. I never had anything worth notice to acquaint you with since I left you til now. The Express seems to be hurrying that I can't write you with the same coolness and deliberation as I would.


   We arrived at the mouth [of] Kanawha Thursday 6th October and encamped on a fine piece of ground with an intent to wait for the Governor and his party, but hearing that he was going another way we contented ourselves to stay there a few days to rest the troops, &c when we looked upon ourselves to be in safety til Monday morning the 10th instant when two of our companies went out before day to hunt, To wit Valentine Sevier and James Robertson, and discovered a party of Indians. As I expect you will hear something of our battle before you get this I have here stated this affair nearly to you.


   For the satisfaction of the people in your parts in this they have a true state of the memorable battle fought at the mouth of the great Kanawha on the 10th instant. Monday morning, about half an hour before sunrise, two of Captain Russell's Company discovered a large party of Indians about a mile from camp, one of which men was shot down by the Indians, the other made his escape and brought intelligence.[1]
   In two or three minutes after, two of Captain [Evan] Shelby's came in and confirmed the account. General Andrew Lewis being informed thereof, immediately ordered out Colonel Charles Lewis to take the command of one hundred and fifty of the Augusta Troops, and with him went Captain Dickinson, Captain Harrison, Captain Wilson, Captain John Lewis, of Augusta, and Captain Lockridge, which made the first Division. Colonel Fleming was also ordered to take the command of one hundred and fifty more of the Botetourt, Bedford, and Fincastle Troops, viz: Captain Thomas Buford, from Bedford, Captain Love, of Botetourt, Captain Shelby and Captain Russell, of Fincastle, which made the second Division. Colonel Charles Lewis's Division marched to the right some distance from the Ohio; and Colonel Fleming, with his Division, on the bank of the Ohio, to the left. Colonel Charles Lewis's Division had not marched quite half a mile from camp, when about sunrise, an attack was made on the front of his Division, in a most vigorous manner by the United tribes of Indians—Shawnees; Delawares, Mingoes, Taways, and several other Nations in number not less than eight hundred and by many thought to be a thousand. 
   In this heavy attack Colonel Charles Lewis received a wound which soon after caused his death and several of his men fell on the spot in fact the Augusta Division was forced to give way to the heavy fire of the enemy. In about a second of a minute after the attack on Colonel Lewis’s Division the enemy engaged the front of Colonel Fleming’s Division on the Ohio, and in a short time Colonel Fleming received two balls through his left arm and one through his breast, and after animating the captains and soldiers in a calm manner to the pursuit of victory, returned to camp.[2]

   The loss of the brave Colonels was sensibly felt by the officers in particular, but the Augusta troops being shortly reinforced from camp by Colonel Field with his Company together with Captain McDowell, Captain Mathews and Captain Stuart from Augusta, Captain John Lewis, Captain Paulin, Captain Arbuckle and Captain McClanahan from Botetourt, the enemy no longer able to maintain their ground was forced to give way til they were in a line with the troops left in action on banks of Ohio, by Colonel Fleming. In this precipitate retreat Colonel Field was killed, after which Captain [Evan] Shelby was ordered to take the Command.


   During this time which was til after twelve o'clock, the action continued extremely hot, the close underwood many steep banks and logs greatly favored their retreat, and the bravest of their men made the use of themselves, whilst others were throwing their dead into the Ohio and carrying off their wounded. After twelve the action in a small degree abated but continued sharp enough til after one o’clock. Their long retreat gave them a most advantageous spot of ground, from whence it appeared to the officers so difficult to dislodge them that it was thought most advisable to stand as the line then was formed which was about a mile and a quarter in length, and had til then sustained a constant and equal weight of fire from wing to wing.


   It was til half an hour of sunset they continued firing on us which we returned to their disadvantage at length night coming on they found a safe retreat. They had not the satisfaction of scalping any of our men save one or two stragglers whom they killed before the engagement many of their dead they scalped rather than we should have them, but our troops scalped upwards of twenty of those who were first killed. It is beyond doubt their loss in number far exceeds ours, which is considerable… about 46 killed and about 80 wounded. From this, Sir, you may judge that we had a very hard day.[3]


   It is really impossible for me to express or you to conceive the conditions that we were under, sometimes, the hideous cries of the enemy and the groans of our wounded men lying around was enough to shudder the stoutest heart. It is the general opinion of the officers that we shall soon have another engagement as we have now got over into the enemy’s country. We expect to meet the Governor about forty or fifty miles from here. Nothing will save us from another battle unless they attack the Governor’s Party. Five men that came in daddy's company were killed. I don't know that you were acquainted with any of them except Marck Williams who lived with Roger Top. Acquaint Mr. Carmack that his son was slightly wounded through the shoulder and arm and that he is in a likely way of recovery. We leave him at the mouth of Kanawha and one very careful hand to take care of him. There is a garrison and three hundred men left at that place with a surgeon to heal the wounded. We expect to return to the garrison in about sixteen days from the Shawnee towns.


   I have nothing more particular to acquaint you with concerning the battle. As to the country, I can't now say much in praise of any that I have yet seen. Daddy intended writing to you but did not know of the Express til the time was too short. I have wrote to Mammy though not so fully as to you as I then expected the Express was just going. We seem to be all in a moving posture, just going from this place so that I must conclude wishing you health and prosperity til I see you and your family. In the meantime, I am your truly affectionate friend and humble servant.


-- Isaac Shelby
Portrait of Isaac Shelby (1750–1826), the first and fifth Governor of Kentucky, ca. 1820.
Image credit: Kentucky Historical Society


SELECTED SOURCES:


  • Virgil A. Lewis. History of the Battle of Point Pleasant Fought Between White Men and Indians at the Mouth of the Great Kanawha River. Charleston, WV: The Tribune Printing Company, 1909, pp. 43-45.
  • Reuben Gold Thwaites and Louise Phelps Kellogg, eds. Documentary History of Dunmore's War, 1774. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 1905, pp. 269-277.

NOTES:


  • [1] These were Joseph Hughey, of Shelby’s company, and James Mooney, of Russell’s. The former was killed by a white renegade, Tavenor Ross, while the latter brought the news to camp. Mooney was a former neighbor of Daniel Boone, upon the Yadkin in North Carolina, and had accompanied him upon the disastrous Kentucky hunting expedition of 1769. He was killed at Point Pleasant.
  • [2] According to Samuel G. Drake’s History and Biography of the Indians of North America, Book V., p. 43, “Fleming was a heroic officer; after two balls had passed through his arm, he continued on the field, and exercised his command with the greatest coolness and presence of mind. His voice was continually heard, ‘Don’t lose an inch of ground; advance; outflank the enemy; keep between them and the river.’ This was his last command; there came a shot which passed through his lungs and he fell, but insisted still to be permitted to remain upon the field. As he was borne from the field a portion of the lung protruded from the wound, and he pressed it back with his own hand.” Although he survived the battle, Fleming never fully recovered from his wounds. His disabilities prevented his military service in the Revolutionary War, yet he went on to serve his country in another role, as a member of the First Senate of the Commonwealth of Virginia and later as the acting Governor of the Commonwealth. Colonel Fleming died on August 5, 1795 at the age of sixty-six, “and carried to his grave, in his body, a bullet received at the Battle of Point Pleasant.” See: Lewis, History of the Battle of Point Pleasant, 44n5 and 25n4. See also: William D. Hoyt, Jr., “Colonel William Fleming in Dunmore’s War, 1774,” West Virginia History, 3:2 (Jan. 1942), 99-119.
  • [3] According to Lewis, "The number of Indians killed and wounded could never be known for they were continually carrying off their dead and throwing them into the river... His loss has been stated at two hundred and thirty-three." In a footnote, Lewis also observed, "Pu-kee-she-no a Shawnee, whose name signified 'I light from flying' was killed in the battle. He was the noblest warrior that perished there. His wife was a Cherokee woman whose name was Mee-thee-ta-she, which signified 'a turtle laying her eggs in the sand.' These were the parents of Tecumseh and his brothers Ells-wat-a-wa one who foretells; otherwise the Prophet, and Kum-sha-ka, signifying 'A tiger that flies in the air.' The mother is said to have transplanted the beautiful Cherokee rose from the banks of the Tennessee to those of the Scioto, whence it has spread far and wide. Their home was on the banks of that river, on the site of the present city of Chilicothe, and there the little son, Tecumseh, but six years of age, played while his father was killed at Point Pleasant.” See: Lewis, History of the Battle of Point Pleasant, 51n11, and Drake, Biography and History of the Indians of North America, Book V., p.123.



 

Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.