Historical documents relating to Southwest Virginia in the Revolution

With explanatory comments by Grady Loy

In a letter to Col. Arthur Campbell in July of 1780 following a local Tory uprising, Col. William Campbell wrote: “I then detached between sixty and seventy men under the command of Captain Francis” [killed in October at Shallow Ford. This letter refers almost certainly to the earlier expedition in 1780 when young James Cox was captured], with instructions to collect all the stocks of horses and cattle belonging to the insurgents they possibly could, only leaving to each family one horse creature and what milch cattle were necessary for its support.”

No 55

To Colonel Campbell Commanding the Volunteer Riflemen from Virginia at the Moravian Settlements, Hillsborough 2 September 1780. I have just received information from General Smallwood that you are arrived with a Detachment of 400 Militia, at the Moravian Settlements in Surry County.

upon Receits of this Letter, I must request you to march with your Command to the Post occupied by General Smallwood, upon the East Side of the Yadkin near the Ford where you will soon be joined by very considerable Reinforcements, General Sumner marches tommorow with 1400 men from Ramfay’s Mills on Deep River, and will be at Salisbury in a few Days. Upon your arival at the Yadkin you will detach patrols of Horse to gain Intelligence and observe the Motions of the Enemy, which upon every occasion you will report to me. When you leave the Moravians, I desire you will take as much Flour as you can obtain Waggons to carry. assure them that your Receits shall paid ????? with the Depreciation allowed to them. I am H

HG (Horatio Gates)

Extract of a letter from his Excellency Thomas Jefferson, Governor of Virginia, dated

Richmond, Feb. 17, 1781.

Your proposition to the Cherokee Chiefs to visit Congress, for the purpose of preventing or delaying a rupture with that nation, was too late. The storm had gathered to a head when Major Martin got back. It was determined therefore to carry the war into their country, rather than wait it in ours; and I have it in my power to inform you that, thus disagreeably circumstanced, the issue has been successful. I inclose the particulars as reported to me.

Colonel Campbell’s report of the expedition against the Cherokees, dated Washington County,

Jan. 15, 1781.


THE << militia>> of this and the two Western North-Carolina Counties have been fortunate enough to frustrate the designs of the Cherokees. On my reaching the frontier, I found the Indians meant to annoy us by small parties, and carry off horses. To resist them effectually, the apparently best measure was to transfer the war without delay into their own borders. To raise a force sufficient, and provide them with provisions and other necessaries, seemed to be a work of time that would be accompanied with uncommon difficulties, especially in the winter season. Our situation was critical, and nothing but an extraordinary effort could save us and disappoint the views of the enemy. All the miseries of 1776 came fresh in remembrance, and to avoid a like scene men flew to their arms, and went to the field. The Wattago men, under Lieut. Col. Seveir, first marched, to the amount of about 300; the << militia>> of this, with that of Sullivan, made 400 more. The place of rendezvous was to be on this side the French river. Col. Seveir with his men got on the path before the others, and by means of some discoveries made by his scouts, he was induced to cross the river, in pursuit of a party of Indians that were coming towards our settlements. On the 16th of December he fell in with the party, since found to consist of 70 Indians, mostly from the town of Chote, killed 13 and took all their baggage, &c. in which were some of Clinton’s proclamations, and other documents expressive of their hostile designs against us.

After this action the Wattago corps thought proper to retreat to an island in the river. The 22d I crossed the French river, and found the Wattago men in great want of provisions. We gave them a supply from our small stock, and the next day made a forced march towards the Tenasse. The success of the enterprize seemed to rest on our safely reaching the further bank of that river, as we had information that the Indians had obstructed the common fording places, and had a force ready there to oppose our crossing. The morning of the 24th I made a feint towards the Island town, and with the main body passed the river at Timothee. We were now discovered; the Indians we saw seemed to be flying in consternation. Here I divided my force, sending a part to attack the towns below, and with the other I proceeded towards their principal town Chote. Just as I passed a defile above Toque, I observed the Indians in force stretching along the hills below Chote, with an apparent design to attack our van, then within their view; but the main body too soon came in sight for me to succeed in decoying them off the hills, so they quietly let us pass on in order, without firing a gun, except a few scattering shot at our rear at a great distance from the cliffs. We soon were in possession of their beloved town, in which we found a welcome supply of provisions. The 25th Major Martin went with a detachment to discover the route the enemy were flying off by. He surprised a party of Indians, took one scalp, and 17 horses loaded with cloathing, skins and houshold furniture. He discovered that most of the fugitives were making towards Telico and the Hiwassee. The same day Captain Crabtree, of the Virginia regiment, was detached with 60 men to burn the town of Chilhowee. He succeeded in setting fire to that part of it which is situated on the south side of the river: Although he was attacked by a superior force, he made good his retreat.

The 26th, Major Tipton, of the Carolina corps, was detached with 150 mounted infantry, with orders to cross the river, dislodge the enemy on that side, and destroy the town of Telassee. At the same time Major Gilbert Christian, with 150 foot, were to patrole the hills on the south side of Chilhowee, and burn the remaining part of that town. This party did their duty well, killed three Indians and took nine prisoners. The officer of the horse, by an unmilitary behaviour, failed in crossing the river. This trip took two days. In the mean time the famous Indian woman Nancy Ward came to camp. She gave us various intelligence, and made an overture in behalf of some of the Chiefs for peace; to which I then evaded giving an explicit answer, as I wished first to visit the vindictive part of the nation, mostly settled at Hiwassee and Chistowee, and to distress the whole as much as possible by destroying their habitations and provisions. The 28th we set fire to Chote, Sietego and Little Tuskeego, and moved our whole force to a town on Telico river, called Kai-a-tee, where I intended a post, to secure a retreat and to lay up provisions in. This evening Major Martin, on returning from a patrole, attacked a party of Indians, killed two, and drove several into the river. The same evening, in another skirmish, we lost Capt. James Elliot, a gallant young officer, being the first and only man the enemy had power to hurt on the expedition; the Indians lost three men on the occasion.

The 29th I set out for Hiwassee, distant about 40 miles, leaving at Kai-a-tee, under Major Christian, a garrison of 150 men. The 30th we arrived at the Hiwassee, and found the town of the same name abandoned. In patroling the environs we took a sensible young warrior, who informed us that a body of Indians, with McDonald, the British Agent, and some tories, were at Christowee, 12 miles distant, waiting to receive us. I had reason to believe the enemy had viewed us from the hills above Hiawassee; for which reason I ordered our camp to be laid off fires kindled, and other shews made, as if we intended to stay all night. At dark we set out with about 300 men (the Wattago men refusing to go further) crossed the river at an unexpected ford, and that night got near the town. Early in the morning of the 31st, we found that the enemy had fled in haste the evening before, leaving behind them, as they had done at the other towns, almost all their corn and other provisions, together with many of their utensils for agriculture, and all their heavy houshold furniture, with part of their stocks of horses, cattle and hogs. These towns I expected would have been contended for with obstinacy, as most of the Chickamogga people had removed hither after their visitation in 1779. Our troops becoming impatient, and no other object of importance being in view, it was resolved to return homewards. Major Martin, with a detachment, was ordered to pass by Sattoga, and the other towns on Telico river. In his route he took four prisoners, from whom he learnt that several of the Chiefs had met a few days before, to consult on means of procuring peace. As I found the enemy were humbled, I took the liberty to send the Chiefs a message, of which I send your Excellency a copy.

Our whole loss on this expedition was, one man killed by the Indians, and two wounded by accident. It would have been very pleasing to the troops to have met with the whole force of the nation at once on equal ground, but so great was the panic that seized them after seeing us in order over the Tenassee, that they never ventured themselves in sight of the army but on rocky cliffs, or other ground inaccessible to our mounted infantry. By the return of the officers of different detachments, we killed 29 men, and took 17

prisoners, mostly women and children; the number of wounded is uncertain. Besides these we brought in the family of Nancy Ward, whom for their good offices we do not consider as prisoners. The whole are in Major Martin’s care at the Great Island, until the sense of government is known how they are to be disposed of. We have destroyed the towns of Chote, Seitego, Tuskeego, Chilhowee, Toque, Mieliqua, Kai-a-tee, Sattoga, Telico, Hiwassee and Chistowee, all principal towns, besides some small ones, and several scattering settlements, in which were upwards of 1000 houses, and not less than 50,000 bushels of corn, and large quantities of other kinds of provisions, all of which, after taking sufficient subsistance for the army whilst in the country and on its return, were committed to the flames, or otherwise destroyed. No place in the Over-Hill country remained unvisited, except the small town of Telassee, a scattering settlement in the neighbourhood of Chickamogga, and the town of Calogee, situated on the sources of the Mobile. We found in Okanastota’s baggage, which he left behind in his fright, various manuscripts, copies of treaties, commissions, letters, and other archives of the nation, some of which shew the double game that people have been carrying on during the present war. There seemed to be not a man of honour among the Chiefs, except him of Kai-a-tee, whom I would willingly have discriminated, had it been in my power. Never did a people so happily situated act more foolishly, in losing their livings and their country at a time an advantageous neutrality was held out to them; but such are the consequences of British seduction. The enemy in my absence did some mischief in Powell’s Valley and on the Kentucky path, near Cumberland Gap, besides three children that they scalped on Holstein; one of the perpetrators of which we killed on our return, and retook a number of horses. The Botetourt and Montgomery << militia>> were too slow in their movements to do any service.

Your Excellency will please to excuse the length of this narration. I thought it my duty to give a circumstantial detail of facts, as the undertaking had something singular in it, and may lead to important consequences.

I am, Sir, Your most obedient and very humble Servant,


Thomas Jefferson, Esq;

Message to the Indian Chiefs.

Chiefs and Warriors,

We came into your country to fight your young men; we have killed not a few of them, and destroyed your towns. You know you began the war, by listening to the bad councils of the King of England, and the falshoods told you by his agents. We are now satisfied with what is done, as it may convince your nation that we can distress them much at any time they are so foolish as to engage in a war against us.

If your desire peace, as we have understood you do, we, out of pity to your women and children, are disposed to treat with you on that subject, and take you into friendship once more. We therefore send this by one of your young men, who is our prisoner, to tell you if you are also disposed to make peace, six of your Head men must come to our Agent Major Martin, at the Great-Island, within two moons. They will have a safe passport, if they will notify their approach by a runner with a flag, so as to give him time to meet them with a guard on Halstein river, at the boundary line. The wives and children of those men of your nation that protested against the war, if they are willing to take refuge at the Great-Island until peace is restored, we will give them a supply of provisions to keep them alive.

Warriors listen attentively,

If we receive no answer to this message until the time already mentioned expires, we shall then conclude you intend to continue to be our enemies, which will compel us to send another strong force into your country, who will come prepared to stay a long time, and take possession thereof as conquered by us, without making any restitution to you for your lands.

Signed at Kat-a-tee the fourth day of January, 1781, by



Lieut. Col. JOSEPH MARTIN, Agent and

Major of the << Militia>> .

Published by Order of Congress,

C. THOMSON, Secretary.

Deposition to Thomas Jefferson June 1780

I hereby certify that when I was ordered by my Executive last summer to take Command of an expedition against the Cherokee Indians, it was left to my own Choice whether to take the Troops down the Tenasee by water or on horseback if the Men had gone on horseback, they were to be paid for such horses as might be lost without default of the owners. That expedition not being carried on, I was directed by his Excellency the Governor, to take command of the Militias ordedred to Suppress the Tories who were at that time rising in Arms and to apply to that purpose the same Means and Powers which I was invested with for Carrying on the Cherokee Expedition, under which Directions I march’d a number of Mounted Militia to Kings Mountain in South Carolina.

William Campbell Colonel

Letter from William Preston, July 18, 1779, Regarding Capture of Captains Cox, Osborne and Henderson