Picking back up where we left off last week, it’s 1768. British Commissioners have just “bought” part of Pennsylvania, all of West Virginia, and most of Kentucky from the Cherokee and Iroquois tribes. Colonial leaders greet this news with joy! At long last, veterans of the French & Indian War can claim their land bounties in the Ohio Valley, as was promised to them by the King for the service. And let us not forget the potential profits! Any land not claimed as part of the war bounties was free game for land speculators to stake out and sell to potential settlers. But just who were these land speculators?
Well, to name a few… Lord Dunmore, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Lewis, Benjamin Franklin, and Sir William Johnson, the negotiator of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix. They all supported and encouraged settlement in these new lands, and indeed, by 1770, settlers and surveyors were pouring into the Ohio Valley. That same year, Lord Dunmore ordered the repair of Fort Pitt (now Pittsburgh), Ebenezer Zane built his blockhouse near Wheeling Creek, and George Washington surveyed Mason County.
Fearing that these new settlers would encroach upon and steal their lands, the Native Americans of the Ohio Valley formed a vast confederacy made up of the Delaware, Mingo, Ottawa, Shawnee, and Wyandotte and led by Shawnee War Chief Hokoleskwa, or Cornstalk.
The next few years were relatively peaceful. Occasionally, a lone settler or Native American was killed, but this was simply regarded as life on the frontier. That all changed in the fall of 1773.
That October, James Boone (son of Daniel) and Henry Russell (nephew of Patrick Henry) were captured and tortured by a group of Cherokee, Delaware, and Shawnee that opposed further settlement. This wouldn’t be a unique event, other than the fact that both men were from well-known families, which led to details of their deaths being published in the newspapers of Williamsburg, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Hostilities soon ended for the winter but began again in the spring.
In April of 1774, a group of settlers led by George Rogers Clark decided to strike back. Their target was the Shawnee village near what is now Portsmouth, Ohio. However, they lacked military experience and turned to Michael Cresap, a noted frontiersman, to lead them. Much to their displeasure, he persuaded them to call of their attack until they learned more concerning rumors of a coming war, and the entire party returned to Zane’s settlement. There, they received news from Fort Pitt that the Shawnee were preparing to declare war and urged them to defend themselves. They did the exact opposite and went on the offensive. The next day, they murdered a hunting party that was traveling downriver. Following this, Cresap and Clark stood down; however, one of Clark’s settlers, Daniel Greathouse, went rogue. Greathouse and a few other men traveled north to a known Native American settlement, lured them across the river with the promise of food and drink, and brutally murdered them all. This is today known as the Yellow Creek Massacre.
However, key problem, the Native Americans at Yellow Creek weren’t Shawnee! They were the family of Mingo War Chief Logan, a friend and ally of the colonists. He responded quickly and with extreme force, decimating several settlements in the Northern Panhandle and Southwestern Pennsylvania.
To quell the violence before an all-out war began, Lord Dunmore ordered Major Angus MacDonald and 300 militiamen to punish the Mingo and “make as many prisoners as they can of women and children.” Again, they attacked the wrong tribe. This time, it was the Shawnee village of Wapatomica, which was burnt to the ground. If the Shawnee had any hesitations about war, they were erased.
There was now no choice but war. Chief Cornstalk sent runners to the various villages, asking for their support against the “Long Knives.” Lord Dunmore sent a circular letter to every county militia commander west of the Blue Ridge, asking them to raise an army for the defense of Virginia and their families. By September, both armies were ready and on the move.
I’ll pick up next week with the chief event of Lord Dunmore’s War, the Battle of Point Pleasant.
Information primarily from the correspondence of George Rogers Clark, Lord Dunmore, Andrew Lewis, Angus MacDonald, and George Washington.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society.