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A History of The Middle
New River Settlements
and Contiguous Territory.

By David E. Johnston (1906).


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Chapter IV. 1775 - 1794 (Part 4)


Before proceeding to relate the movements of the military in the New River Valley, the names of some of the settlers who came into the valley in 1780 will be mentioned.  William Wilburn and David Hughes from North Carolina, and John and Benjamin White from Amherst County, Virginia, settled on Sugar Run in 1780, and a little later, probably in the autumn of 1781, came William Tracy Sarver, James Rowe and others from North Carolina, who settled in Wolf Creek Valley.  These men had gone from Culpeper County to the Hawe Patch in North Carolina, where it appears they joined themselves unto the King's men, and in Pyles' defeat on the Haw, on the 25th of February, 1781, James Rowe received from one of Lee's Legion a sabre wound which made him lame the rest of  his days.  The David Hughes referred to was also a Loyalist, and to escape military service in the American army hid himself in the wilds of the flatwoods about the head of Pipestem Creek, and on the waters of the Bluestone and Guyandotte.    A high knob situated about seven miles northeast of Athens in Mercer County, is still called "Dave's Knob," from this man David Hughes, who had a hiding place on the top thereof.  Hughes was a giant in size and strength and on one of his expeditions he caught a cub bear which by its outcries, brought its mother which fiercely attacked Hughes, seizing him by the left arm.  He succeeded in dispatching the bear by striking it with his fist in the ribs.  It may here be added that the New River valley received a large number of inhabitants in the years of 1775-1782 from North Carolina, a large part of whom were tories, but from whom have descended a large number of highly honored and respectable people.

Cornwallis' march into upper Carolina had greatly alarmed the Virginians and General Greene wrote letters to Governor Jefferson and to the various commanders of detached bodies of troops in Virginia asking help, and among those to whom he addressed his urgent appeals were Preston, Sevier, Shelby and Campbell.  Colonel William Preston on February 10, 1781, ordered the militia of Montgomery County to assemble at the Lead Mines, and on the day appointed three hundred and fifty men assembled pursuant to the order of their commander.  Major Joseph Cloyd, assembled and led the Middle New River men.  It is to be regretted that the names of the men who went with Preston and Cloyd have not been preserved.  One company went from the Middle New River valley, which was commanded by Captain Thomas Shannon, of Walker's Creek, and one of his lieutenants was Alexander Marrs.  A few names only of the privates who went along have been secured.    They were Matthew French, John French, Edward Hale, Joseph Hare, Isaac Cole and Thomas Farley.

Preston began his march on the 18th day of February and reported to General Greene on the 28th day of that month, who assigned him to the command of General Andrew Pickens.  On his way to report to Pickens he seems to have gotten between the American and British outposts, and camped for the night in close proximity to the British without knowing that they were near him.

On the second day of March, 1781, Lee's Legion and Preston's men had a spirited encounter with Tarleton, which General Greene in a dispatch to General Washington thus notices: "On the Second, Lieutenant Colonel Lee with a detachment of riflemen attacked the advance of the British army under Tarleton and killed and wounded thirty of them."

On the sixth of March at Whitsell's (Wetzell's mill), North Carolina, Williams' men, Pickens and his command, including Lee's Legion and Preston's Backwoodsmen, met the British and a severe engagement took place.  The Americans were compelled to retreat, and Preston's horse took fright and ran through a mill pond near the British, threw Preston off and escaped into the British lines.  Colonel Preston, being quite a fleshy man, found it difficult to keep up with the retreating army, and Major Cloyd seeing his condition dismounted and gave Preston his horse.  On the eve of going into this battle John French, son of Matthew, and a member of Captain Shannon's company, was detailed as one of the guards to the wagon train.  So soon as the firing began at the creek French left the train.  Without orders--in fact against orders--and went to the fight, joined therein and shot one of the enemy.  The officer in charge of the wagon train reported him for disobedience of orders, and demanded that he be court martialed.    Major Cloyd remarked that as French ran not from the fight, but towards it, if they court martialed him for such a cause, he would never again draw his sword in behalf of the country.

The Americans continued their retreat to Guilford Court House, where the main body of Greene's army had assembled to fight Cornwallis.  In the meantime, Colonel William Campbell with about sixty men had joined General Greene, and Preston's Montgomery men were placed under his, Campbell's, command on the extreme left of Greene's army.  Colonel Tarleton says, in his Southern Campaigns pp 241, "That in the battle of Guilford Court House he held the right of the British army and that his troops were badly hurt by the Backwoodsmen from Virginia, that they stood behind a fence until the British Infantry with their bayonets climbed over the same."  The Americans were defeated in this battle, and there were some criticisms as to the behavior of these Backwoodsmen or militia, and Colonel Preston in a letter to Governor Jefferson, written on the 10th of April, 1781, complaining of this criticism, and the injustice to his men, says, "that part of the men were in one action and all of the men were in two actions."  Judge Schenek, in his "North Carolina 1780-81," credits Colonel Martin Armstrong with leading a body of Surry County men in the battle of Guilford Court House.

After the close of this battle the militia returned to their homes, which were then threatened by Indian incursions, their services being badly needed along the frontier to suppress the Indian forays and outrages.

To the battle of Yorktown, fought in October, 1781, went Trigg's Battalion of artillery composed largely of New River Valley men.

The outrages committed by the Indians upon the family of Thomas Ingles in Burke's Garden in April, 1782, greatly alarmed the settlers along the more exposed portions of the border, and they pleaded for protection.  The consternation produced along the frontiers from Powell's Valley to New River was so great that the Governor of Virginia directed Colonel William Preston to assemble the field officers of Montgomery and Washington Counties at Lead Mines at once to devise ways and means to protect the settlers from Indian depredations.  The meeting of these officers took place on the 6th day of July, 1782.  In the meantime Colonel Preston had ordered Major Joseph Cloyd to call out the militia, and to station them at David Doak's Mill.  The field officers present at the July meeting from Montgomery County were William Preston, Daniel Trigg, Walter Crockett, John Taylor, Joseph Cloyd and Abraham Trigg; from Washington County, Arthur Campbell, Aaron Lewis, William Edmiston, James Dysart and Major Patrick Lockhart, District Commissioner.  The board of officers decided that two hundred men should be drawn out for the defense of the frontiers, to be disposed of into the following districts in Montgomery County, namely, "on New River in the neighborhood of Captain Pearis 30 men, Sugar Run 20, Captain Moore's head of Bluestone 25, head of Clinch 25.  In Washington, at Richlands 20, Castlewoods 30, Rye Cove 20, Powell's Valley 30 men.    The distances from Captain Pearis' to Sugar Run 10 miles, to Captain Moore's, head of Bluestone 30, to Captain Maxwell's, head of Clinch 16, which is nearest the Washington line, to Richands 24, to Castlewood's 30, to Rye Cove 28, to Powell's Valley Fort 26 miles, in all 164 miles."

Upon the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, in October, 1781, the war was regarded at an end.  Many of the militia men of Virginia and swarms of other people soon thereafter, came over the Alleghanies, seeking homes, and with them for the same purpose, came some of the French and British soldiers.  Vast throngs went to Kentucky.  Among those who came in the years of 1782-3-4 and 5, and located in the New River Valley, and who had been soldiers in the American army, were John Peters, Christian Peters, Charles Walker, Isaac Smith and Larkin Stowers, and a little later came Josiah Meadows, Jacob Meadows, James Emmons, Charles Duncan, John Kirk, Peter Dingess and Tollison Shuemate.  The Peters, Stowers, Walker, Jacob Meadows and Smith came from Rockingham County, Virginia, Peter Dingess, from Botetourt County, Josiah Meadows from Bedford, James Emmons and Charles Duncan from Stokes County, North Carolina, John and Thomas. Kirk, and Tollison Shuemate from Fauquier County, Virginia.  Duncan and Emmons had first removed from Fauquier County to Stokes County, North Carolina.  John Peters and his brother Christian came in 1783, the former located on the New River on the farm on which Mr. Charles D. French now resides, and the latter settled on Rich Creek, where the village of Peterstown is now situated, and he gave name to that village.    Charles Walker settled on New River, opposite the mouth of Wolf Creek.

Conner, Link and Lugar, who were Hessians--Germans--and who had belonged to the British army, came during one of the years referred to.  John Conner was a courier or dispatch bearer for Colonel Tarleton, the British commander on the battlefield of the Cowpens, and had been sent with a message, became intoxicated on the way, failed to deliver the message, was court martialed and sentenced to receive, and did receive one hundred lashes, save one, on his bare back, lived, but fainted under the operation, though he had been heavily dosed with liquor and powder mixed.  This whipping caused him to let the hated British do their own fighting thereafter, and thereupon he deserted to the Americans.

Three or four Hessian regiments were surrendered as prisoners of war by Cornwallis at Yorktown, and for safe keeping were sent into the valley of Virginia.    Finding there a people who had come from their own country, spoke their own tongue and living in a goodly land, they settled down and became citizens of the country.

The influx of population of the New River Valley, came principally from four directions, viz: the Virginia Valley, Piedmont, Virginia, the upper waters of the James and Roanoke Rivers or their tributaries, and from North Carolina.  From the valley came the Peters, Walkers, Stowers, Smiths; from the Piedmont, Virginia,  the Chapmans, Johnstons, McKensey, Lyttles, Garrisons, Kirks, Emmons, Duncans and Shuemates; from the waters of the James and Roanoke Rivers, the Clays, Baileys, Belchers, Shannons and Whites;  from North Carolina, the Harmans, Wilburns, Hughes and Hagers.

It has already been stated that Captain George Pearis settled on the New River, where Pearisburg station on the line of the Norfolk & Western Railway is now situated, in the Spring of 1782. (Note: George Pearis opened the first store in what is now Giles County.) He purchased a tract of land (204 acres) of Captain William Ingles for seventy pounds sterling.  It is altogether probable that Mrs. Ingels had observed these lands on her way up New River in November, 1755, after her escape from the Indians, and had given information thereof to her husband, who in 1780 entered and surveyed this 204 acre tract, as well, also,the Chapman I. Johnston home tract, and the tract on which Charles D. French resides.

It has been noted that Mitchell Clay and family settled on the Bluestone at Clover bottom in the year of 1775, where he opened up a considerable farm.  From the date of his settlement to near the autumn of 1783 he had not been molested by the savages, as he seems to have lived off their lines of travel, but his peace was not long to continue.

In the month of August, 1783, after Clay had harvested his crop of small grain, and desiring to get the benefit of the pastures for his cattle off the ground on which his crop had grown, he placed two of his sons, Bartley and Ezekiel, to build a fence around the stacks of grain, while he went out in the search of game.  His older sons seem to have been away from home.  It was in the afternoon, while these two young men were engaged at their work, and the older daughter with some of the younger girls were at the river washing, that a marauding party of eleven Indians crept up to the edge of the field and shot Bartley dead.  The discharge of the gun alarmed the girls at the river, and they started on a run for the house, the pathway leading directly by where Bartley had been killed.  An Indian attempted to scalp the young man, and at the same time to capture the older girl Tabitha, who undertook to defend the body of her dead brother, and prevent his being scalped, and in the struggle with the Indian, she reached for his butcher knife, which hung in his belt and missing it, the Indian drew it and stabbed her repeatedly, she however, several times wringing the knife from his hand cast it aside, but he each time recovering it continued cutting her with the knife, and stabbing her until he had literally chopped her to pieces before killing her.  The small girls during the melee, had escaped to the house, and the brother Ezekiel, a lad of some sixteen years had been captured by another Indian.  The house of Mitchell Clay stood on a high point, or knoll about three hundred yards nearly due west, from the dwelling house now owned and occupied by Mr. Daniel Day.  The old chimney, or rather the foundation stones of the chimney of the Clay cabin can still be seen.  About the time the attack was made by the Indian, a man by the name of Liggon Blankenship called at Clay's cabin, and when Mrs. Clay discovered her daughter in the struggle with the Indian, begged Blankenship to go and shoot the Indian and save her child, instead thereof he took to his heels and ran to the New River settlements and reported that Clay and all of his family had been killed by the Indians.  This cowardly behavior of Blankenship has been handed down from generation to generation and perhaps will be to the end of time.    The Indians, after securing the scalp of the young man Bartley, and his sister Tabitha, with their prisoner Ezekiel, left the scene.  So soon as Mrs. Clay ascertained that the Indians had departed, she took her children and carried the bodies of the dead ones to the house and placing them on a bed, left the cabin with her children and made her way through  the wild woods six miles to the house of Mr. James Bailey (son of Richard, of Beaver Pond) who lived at a place on Brush Creek waters about three fourths of a mile northwest from where New Hope Church now stands, and who had settled there in 1782, and was then Clay's nearest neighbor.  Mr. Clay, the father, on his hunting expedition had wounded a deer and followed it until nearly dark, then retraced his steps home, little dreaming of the horrors that had been enacted there in his absence.    When he reached the house he soon discovered from the dead bodies of his children and other evidence what had happened, and supposing that all of his family had been killed or were captives, he immediately left the cabin for the New River settlements, following a blind path which led from his place to New River at the mouth of East River.   On his way during the night he discovered that the Indians were in his rear, following him, and he left the path in order to evade them.  He reached the settlements early in the morning, followed closely by the Indians who stole a number of horses and immediately began their retreat to the Ohio.  Information was immediately conveyed to the various neighborhoods, and a party of men under Captain Matthew Farley, among them Charles Clay, Mitchell, Jr., James Bailey, William Wiley, Edward Hale, Isaac Cole, Joseph Hare, John French and Captain James Moore, went to the Clay cabin and buried the bodies of Bartley and Tabitha.  The pursuit then began.  The Indians taking the old Indian trail from the Bluestone across Flat Top Mountain, and down the divide between Guyandotte and Coal river waters along the top of Cherry Pound Mountain, where the trail separated, one branch thereof continuing down the west fork of the Coal River, and the other down the Pond fork of the same.  When the whites reached the forks of this path or trail, they discovered that the tracks of the horses, which the Indians had stolen, led down the Pond fork, and not suspecting that some of the Indian party had gone down the west fork, they followed the tracks of the horses.  It was late in the evening when they reached a point near the mouth of Pond fork, and discovered smoke from fires started by the Indians where they had camped, and heard the shrill whistle of a fife.  The party halted in order to confer as to the best method of attack.   They decided to divide their party so as to place a portion of them below the Indians, and to attack at daylight the next morning, and to make this attack from above and below at the same time.  The party crept as close up to where the Indians encamped as they thought safe to prevent discovery.   All was quiet during the night, but just at the break of day, a large Indian arose from his bed and walked out a short distance, and approaching Edward Hale, by whom he was shot and killed, and thereupon the attack began.

Two of the Indians were killed outright, and one that was wounded attempted to escape to the hill, and in his broken English begged for his life, but Charles Clay, whose brother and sister had just been killed by them, and another brother in captivity, refused him quarter and killed him on the spot.  The remaining Indians fled down the river.

Mitchell Clay, Jr., was then quite a boy, and when the attack began one large Indian rushed down toward him.  Young Clay had a large rifle gun, much too heavy for a boy of his size to handle, and firing at the Indian he missed him.  The Indian wheeled, and attempted to run off, but was killed by another of the party.

The place where this fight occurred is in the now county of Boone, at the head of a little bottom of the Pond fork, on west side thereof, about one-half mile above the junction of the Pond with the West fork of Coal River, and on the farm formerly owned by the late Mr. L. D. Coon, who a few years ago in plowing near the base of the hill where the fight took place, found an  Indian hatchet, which he gave to the author, and which he now has in his possession.  The spot where this battle was fought is well marked by a large pile of heavy stones, carried by the Indians from the adjacent mountain side, and piled over the bodies of their dead comrades.  The white people recovered their horses, but not Ezekiel Clay, who was carried by the hunting party of Indians that went down the West Fork, and with this party the whites failed to come into contact.    They took this unfortunate boy to their town at Chillicothe, and burned him at the stake.  Both Edward Hale and William Wiley took from the backs of the two dead Indians strips of their hides, which they converted into razor straps and which remained in their families for many years, as souvenirs of the battle.



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