Thwaites Introduction to Dunmore's War

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This article is being prepared to support the preparation of family histories of pioneer settlers, in the area of the Virginia Frontier about the time of the Revolution. The following is an excerpt from Reuben Gold Thwaites introduction to "Documentary History of Dunmore's War Thwaites and Kellogg, 1905:ix-xv. it provides a good explanation of the origins of the war, and something of its significance for settlement of the Virginia Frontier. Doubtless, over the course of the hundred plus years since this was written some information contained here has been re-examined by others, and conclusions reached by Thwaites may no longer represent the concensus of opinion on any given subject. Some of the subjects considered in the following (such as Cresap's role in instigating hostilities) were controversial at the time this was written, and remain controversial to this day.

This excerpt deals primarily with Thwaites views on the origin's of Dunmore's War, and the events leading up to marshalling of pioneer militia. The remainder of the introduction summarizes the primary events of the War itself. The interested reader may review Thwaites thoughts on that in the original, available electronically through Google Books


Most histories of trans-Alleghany pioneering ascribe the origin of the Dunmore War of 1774 to an isolated set of occurrences upon the upper Ohio, happening in the spring of that year. But its roots went far deeper than this. It was the culmination of a long series of mutual grievances and outrages between the frontiersmen of Virginia and Pennsylvania and the savages of the Ohio Valley. The crushing of New France by Great Britain brought but partial rest to the English borderers. The pioneers of the British colonies relentlessly pushed westward; aboriginal hunting grounds were converted first into their own game walks and then into farms, and in the process the tribesmen were often harshly treated. Savage resentment and reprisal were to be expected—blazing into the swift flame of Pontiac's conspiracy (1763), and only half smothered by the severity of Bouquet's retaliatory expedition. The frontier was the line of contact for two irreconcilable races; real peace could not be had, until one or the other was vanquished beyond question.

The policy of the English government had been to limit settlement by the Alleghanies (1); but pressure was exercised by influential persons interested in American development, and by 1768 native title to lands between the mountains and the south bank of the Ohio was quieted by the treaty of Fort Stanwix, re-inforced by that of Lochaber (1770) with the Southern Indians, whose boundary was then fixed at Kentucky River. The backwoodsmen of Pennsylvania and Virginia were a special class, formed chiefly of Scotch-Irish and German settlers, whom Lord Dunmore, then governor of Virginia, thus characterized in a report to the colonial secretary in London:

They acquire no attachment to Place : but wandering about Seems engrafted in their nature ; and it is a weakness incident to it, that they Should forever imagine the Lands further off, are Still better than those upon which they are already settled." (2)

Into the vast transmontane region which had been acquired at Stanwix and Lochaber, these men feverishly pressed, eager for fresh hunting grounds and virgin farms. Collision between them and the aborigines, many of whom denied the validity of the cessions, was inevitable. North of the Ohio, a readjustment of tribes had recently taken place. The Delawares, first encountered by whites in the river valleys of eastern Pennsylvania, had gradually been dispossessed, and forced westward, until they reached the fertile valleys of the Muskingum and the Tuscarawas, in the eastern part of the present Ohio. Thither a peaceful remnant had brought Moravian missionaries, who built the towns of Beautiful Spring (Schönbrunn), Tents of Grace (Gnadenhütten), and Peace (Salem), where they gathered their converts about them. These Christian villages probably were the most important element in restraining the Delaware tribe from yielding to the importunities of their neighbors to take up the hatchet against the Virginians. White Eyes, their principal chief, kept his people loyal to their peace pledge, and aided Lord Dunmore with information and advice that was as valuable as disinterested. Neighbors to the Delawares, dwelt the fierce Shawnee. Their history is involved in much obscurity, but their first home appears to have been to the south and west. In the first decades of the eighteenth century, their migration northward was being urged by French officials. From the middle of the century they were securely seated upon the Scioto, which became a centre of marauding parties launched against the Virginia frontier. Originally somewhat mild and peaceful under French control, their growth in numbers and influence made them the terror of the English border. Back of the Shawnee lay the tribes that had engaged in Pontiac's uprising—the Wyandot, the Ottawa, and the great confederacy of the Miami.

Throughout 1773 the dread of another Indian uprising lay heavy upon the hearts of Virginians, and the unprovoked massacre of young Boone and Russell, in Powell's Valley, in October, was considered a harbinger of evil. Through the long winter days, tales of raid and captivity on the Virginia borders, in 1755 and 1763, were rehearsed at every hearthstone —the attack on Draper's Meadows, when Colonel Patton was shot down, and the wives and children of Draper and Ingles carried to the Scioto villages ; and the raid led by the Shawnee war-chief Cornstalk, who, under the guise of friendship, massacred the unsuspecting settlers on the Greenbrier. Rifles were taken down from their chimney pegs, and carefully cleaned and re-fitted, long hunting-knives were sharpened— the bordermen were determined not to be taken unaware, when the opening of spring made the valleys and their streams passable for both white and savage forays.

In the Indian towns, likewise, there was muttering and alarm. Itinerant traders straggling into the white settlements, reported that the savages were sullen, and at Detroit were exchanging their peltry for powder, ball, and tomahawks. George Croghan, Pennsylvania's deputy Indian agent at Fort Pitt, sent for some Shawnee chiefs, whom he detained as quasi-hostages from December, 1773, until the following April. In January, they were fired upon in their huts, by a party posing as Virginia militia, assembled by Dr. John Connolly, who had been sent by Lord Dunmore to maintain the authority of that province at the Forks of the Ohio. No one was injured, but the apprehensions of the natives were allayed with difficulty. By March, the people of southwest Virginia were abandoning their farms and retreating northeastward to more thickly settled neighborhoods. The panic was now so general that danger existed lest the Clinch and Holston valleys might be wholly abandoned. March 24th, a Williamsburg paper printed an address to the governor, urging a speedy declaration of war as "necessary, nay, inevitable." With such a quiver of expectancy in the air, it is idle to inquire who struck the first blow, or where Dunmore's War was begun.

As early in the spring as practicable, surveyors coo-tinued the work of the previous year, exploring and locating lands in Kentucky. At the request of Washington and other prominent eastern men, Col. William Preston, official surveyor for Augusta County, dispatched several parties to lay out tracts for colonial officers entitled to land grants for military services. One of Preston's parties advanced down the Kanawha River and as far along the Ohio as the little Guyandotte, where Floyd writes of the indignities inflicted upon several persons by neighboring Shawnee. These latter claimed to have received instructions from Croghan to kill all Virginians, and to whip and rob any Pennsylvanians found trespassing upon their territory. Thomas Hogg, who had been surveying on the Kanawha, was reported missing, and it was feared he had been killed by hostiles. April l0th, a canoe belonging to one Butler, a prominent Pennsylvania trader, was fired upon near the mouth of the Little Beaver, and two of its Indian occupants killed. Incited by these events, and the numerous rumors flying about, Connolly, probably acting on his own initiative, issued on the twenty-first of April, a somewhat incendiary circular, asserting that a state of war already existed, and calling on the borderers to arm themselves in their own defense. The panic became contagious. There was a rapid retreat across the Monongahela—more than a thousand are said to have passed over in one day. Connolly's circular reached the neighborhood of the modern Wheeling on the twenty-fourth or the twenty-fifth of the month. Stirring events had, shortly before, taken place in this neighborhood. A number of young men were waiting here for the spring freshet to carry them down to Kentucky ; among these, George Clark a yuthful Virginian who was destined to play a prominent pat in Western history. From a letter by Clark, written twenty-four years after, we learn that a plan to march against the indians, in any direction, was enthusiastically embraced by the waiting emigrants. For leder there was proposed Capt. Michael Cresap, a Maryland prospector, with experience in Indian warfare, who was settling nearby. But to the surprise of all Cresap sought to dissuade them from the enterprise, and pleaded for peace. And a few days later, however, n the arrival of Connolly's circular, war was declared in the usual barbarous fashino of the frontier:

The war post was planted, a Council called and the Ceremonies used by the Indiands on so important an Occassion acted, and was was formally declared...The same evning two scalps were brought to Camp (3)

Cresap having been selected as the white leader, the disturbance which followed was, despite his declination of the office, popularly styled "Cresaps War". Accordingly, the Indiands laid to Crespa's charge the wilful murder of Chief Logan's family at the mouth of Yellow Creek, on the morning of the thirteenth of April---a disgraceful deed in whith that worthy took no part.

Despite the threatening aspect of affairs, the tribesmen appear to have been slow in taking the war-path. Isolated parties went out with hostile intent, as the long catalogue of ravages show; but as late as July 21st, the ill-treated Logan stated in a letter to the whites, "The Indians are not angry, only myself"

The Pennsylvanians hoped that peace might still be preserved. The deputy Indian agents of that province summoned the chief to Fort Pitt, and with the aid of the peacefully-inclined Delawares attempted to readjust the terms of the treaty. While negotiations were pending, the Shawnee protected a body of white traders then operating in their country, and sent them under escort to Fort Pitt, where the native guard was treacherously fired upon by irresponsible Indian haters. But from the borders of southwest Virginia, alarming reports continued to pour into Williamsburg, the Virginia capital. The enemy had penetrated to within thirty miles of Botetourt courthouse, and all settlers upon the Holston and Clinch were gathered within fortified stockades. Impelled by this serious condition, Lord Dunmore took the initiative, issued a circular letter (June 10) calling out the militia of the western counties, and prepared for aggressive measures.

(1) See Proclamation of King George, Oct 7, 1763, in Wis. Hist. Colls., xi pp 46-52; and Quebec Act, 1774, Ibid, pp. 53-60.

(2) See p. -371, post.

(3) Clark's letter, in Mayer, Logan and Cresap, pp. 149-154; Jacob, Life of Cresap, pp. 154-158; Perkins, Western Annals, p. 143.

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