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Lord Dunmore’s War 1774

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[Note: This presentation of Lord Dunmore’s War is Chapter XIII of Archibald Henderson (Ph.D.)’s The Conquest of the Old Southwest, published by the Century Company, New York in 1920.]



Virginia, we conceive, can claim this Country [Kentucky] with the greatest justice and propriety, its within the Limits of their Charter. They Fought and bled for it. And had it not been for the memorable Battle, at the Great Kanaway those vast regions had yet continued inaccessible.

In taking this daring step, the Watauga settlers moved into the spotlight of national history. For the inevitable consequence of leasing the territory was the organization of a form of government for the infant settlement. Through his familiarity with the North Carolina type of “association,” in which the settlers had organized for the purpose of “regulating” buses, and his acquaintance with the settlers of the “Impartial Relation,” in which Husband fully expounded the principles and practices of this association, Robertson was peculiarly fitted for leadership in organizing this new government. The convention at which the Articles of Association, unfortunately lost, were drawn up, is noteworthy as the first governmental assemblage of free-born American citizens ever held west of the Alleghanies. The government then established was the first free and independent government, democratic in spirit, representative in form, ever organized upon the American continent. In describing this mimic republic, the royal Governor of Virginia says: “They appointed magistrates, and framed laws for their present occasion, and to all intents and purposes, erected themselves into, though an inconsiderable, yet a separate State.” The most daring spirit in this little state was the young John Sevier, of French Huguenot family (originally spelled Xavier), born in Augusta County, Virginia on September 23, 1745. It was from Millerstown in Shenandoah County where he was living the uneventful life of a small farmer, that he emigrated (December, 1773) to the Wattauga region. With his arrival there begins one of the most fascinating and romantic careers recorded in the varied and stirring annals of the Old Southwest. In this daring and impetuous young fellow, fair-haired, blue-eyed, magnetic, debonair of powerful build, splendid proportions and athletic skill-we behold the gallant exemplar of the truly heroic life of the border. The story of his life, thrilling in the extreme, is rich in all the multicolored elements which impart romance to the struggle of American civilization in the opening years of the republic.

This failure was portentous of the coming storm. The reign of the Long Hunters was over. Dawning upon the horizon was the day of stern adventurers, fixed in the desperate and lawless resolve to invade the trans-Alleghany country and to battle savagely with the red man for its possession. More than Boone was the McAfee party, five in number, from Botetourt County, Virginia, who between May 10th and September 1, 1773, safely accomplished a journey through Kentucky and carefully marked well-chosen sites for future location. An ominous incident of the time was the veiled warning which Cornstalk the great Shawnee chieftain, gave to Captain Thomas Bullitt, head of a party of royal surveyors, sent out by Lord Dunmore, Governor of Virginia. Cornstalk at Chillicothe, June 7, 1773, warned Bullitt concerning the encroachments of the whites, “designed to deprive us,” he said, “of the hunting of the country, as usual…. the hunting we stand in need of to buy our clothing.” During the preceding summer, George Rogers Clark, an aggressive young Virginian, with a small party, had descended the Ohio as low as Fish Creek, where he built a cabin; and in this region for many months various parties of surveyors were busily engaged in locating and surveying lands covered by military grants. Most significant of the ruthless determination of the pioneers to occupy by force the Kentucky area was the action of the large party from Monongahela, some forty in number, led by Captain James Harrod, who penetrated to the present Miller County, where in June 1774, they made improvements and actually laid out a town.

At this very time, Patrick Henry, in conjunction with William Byrd 3d and others, was negotiating for a private purchase of lands from the Cherokees; and when Wharton, after answering Henry’s inquiry as to where he might buy Indian goods, remarked: “It’s not possible you mean to enter the Indian trade at this period,” Henry laughingly replied: “The wish-world is my hobby horse.” “From I conclude,” adds Wharton, “he has some prospect of making a purchase of the natives but where I know not.”

The Battle of the Great Kanawha, at Point Pleasant was fought on October 10, 1774, between Lewis’s force, eleven hundred strong, and the Indians, under Cornstalk, somewhat inferior in numbers. It was a desultory action, over a greatly extended front and in very brushy country between Crooked Creek and the Ohio. Throughout the day, the Indians fought with rare craft and stubborn bravery–loudly cursing the white men, cleverly picking off their leaders, and derisively inquiring in regard to the absence of the fifes; “Where are your whistles now?” Slowly retreating, they sought to draw the whites into an ambuscade and at a favorable moment to “drive the Long Knives like bullocks into the river.” No marked success was achieved on either side until near sunset, when a flank movement directed by young Isaac Shelby alarmed the Indians, who mistook this party for the expected reinforcement under Christian, and retired across the Ohio. In the morning the whites were amazed to discover that the Indians, who the preceding day so splendidly heeded the echoing call of Cornstalk, “Be strong! Be strong!”, had quit the battle-field and left the victory with the whites.