Dunmore’s War

Dunmore’s War

Probably but few of the present inhabitants of Athens county are aware that a fort was established within its limits, and an army marched across its borders, led by an English earl, before the Revolutionary war. The building of Fort Gower at the mouth of the Hockhocking river, in what is now Troy township, and the march of Lord Dunmore’s army across the county, thirty years before its erection as a county, forms an interesting passage in our remote history before the earliest settlement by the whites.

“Dunmore’s war” was the designation applied to a series of bloody hostilities between the whites and Indians during the year 1774. It was the culmination of the bitter warfare that had been waged with varying success between the frontier population of Pennsylvania and Virginia, and the Delawares, Iroquois, Wyandots, and other tribes of Indians. One of the most noted of the many massacres of that period was that of Logan’s family by the whites, and, in retaliation, the swift vengeance of the Mingo chief upon the white settlements on the Monongahela, where, in the language of his celebrated speech, he “fully glutted his vengeance.”

In August, 1774, Lord Dunmore, then royal Governor of Virginia, determined to raise a large force and carry the war into the enemy’s country. The plan of the campaign was simple. Three regiments were to be raised west of the Blue Ridge, to be commanded by General Andrew Lewis, while two other regiments from the interior were to be commanded by Dunmore himself. The forces were to form a junction at the mouth of the Great Kanawha and proceed under the command of Lord Dunmore to attack the Indian towns in Ohio.

The force under Lewis, amounting to eleven hundred men, rendezvoused at Camp Union, now Lewisburg, Greenbriar county, West Virginia, whence they marched early in September, and reached Point Pleasant on the 6th of October. Three days later, Lewis received dispatches from Dunmore informing him that he had changed his plan of operations; that he (Dunmore) would march across the country against the Shawanese towns on the Scioto, situated within the present limits of Pickaway county, and Lewis was ordered to cross the Ohio river at once and join Dunmore before those towns.

This movement was to have been made on the 10th of October. On that day, however, before the march had begun, two men of Lewis’s command were fired upon while hunting a mile or so from camp. One was killed and the other came rushing into camp with the alarm that Indians were at hand. General Lewis had barely time to make some hasty dispositions when there began one of the most desperate Indian battles recorded in border warfare-the battle of Point Pleasant. The Indians were in great force, infuriated by past wrongs and by the hope of wiping out their enemy by this day’s fight, and were led on by their ablest and most daring chiefs. Pre-eminent among the savage leaders were Logan and “Cornplanter” (or “Cornstalk”), whose voices rang above the din, and whose tremendous feats performed in this day’s action have passed into history. The contest lasted all day and was not yet decided. Toward evening General Lewis ordered a body of men to gain the enemy’s flank, on seeing which movement about to be successfully executed the Indians drew off and effected a safe retreat. The force on both sides in this battle was nearly equal -about 1,100. The whites lost half their officers and 52 men killed. The loss of the Indians, killed and wounded, was estimated at 233 (Amer. Archives, vol. 1, p. 1018.) Soon after the battle Lewis crossed the river and pursued the Indians with great vigor, but did not again come in conflict with them.

Meanwhile, Lord Dunmore, in whose movements we are more interested, had, with about twelve hundred men, crossed the mountains at Potomac Gap, reviewed his force at Fort Pitt (now Pittsburg), and descended the Ohio river as far as the mouth of the Hockhocking, within the present limits of Athens county. Here he landed, formed a camp, and built a fortification which he called Fort Gower. It was from here that he sent word to General Lewis of the change in his plan of campaign, and he remained here until after the battle of Point Pleasant. Abraham Thomas, formerly of Miami county, Ohio, who was in Dunmore’s army, has stated in a letter published many years ago in the Troy times, that by laying his ear close to the surface of the river on the day of the battle, he could distinctly hear the roar of the musketry more than twenty-five miles distant.

Leaving a sufficient force at Fort Gower to protect the stores and secure it as a base, Lord Dunmore marched up the Hockhocking toward the Indian country. There is a tradition that his little army encamped a night successively at Federal creek, and at Sunday creek, in Athens county.

He marched across the present limits of the county and up the Hockhocking as far as where Logan now stands; and from there westward to a point seven miles from Circleville, where a grand parley was held with the Indians. It was at this council, by the way, that the famous speech of the Mingo chief was made, beginning “I appeal to any white man to say, if ever he entered Logan’s cabin hungry and he gave him not meat,” etc. After the execution of a treaty with the Indians (for we do not propose to detail the movements of General Lewis or the operations of the campaign, except as they had some connection with what is now Athens county), Lord Dunmore returned to Fort Gower by nearly the same route he had pursued in his advance, viz: across the country and down the valley of the Hockhocking to its mouth. It is probable that his army was disbanded at this point, and returned in small parties to their homes.

Charles Whittlesey, in Fugitive Essays, says:

“In 1831 a steamboat was detained a few hours near the house of Mr. Curtis, on the Ohio, a short distance above the mouth of the Hockhocking, and General Clark, of Missouri, came ashore. He inquired respecting the remains of a fort or encampment at the mouth of the Hockhocking river. He was told that there was evidence of a clearing of several acres in extent, and that pieces of guns and muskets had been found on that spot; and also that a collection of several hundred bullets had been discovered on the bank of the Hockhocking, about twenty-five miles up the river. General Clark then stated that the ground had been occupied as a camp by Lord Dunmore who came down the Kanawha with three hundred men in the spring of 1775, with the expectation of treating with the Indians here. The chiefs not making their appearance, the march was continued up the river twenty-five or thirty miles, where an express from Virginia overtook the party. That evening a council was held and lasted till very late at night. In the morning the troops were disbanded, and immediately requested to enlist in the British service for a stated period. The contents of the dispatches, received the previous evening, had not transpired when this proposition was made. A major of militia, named McCarty, made an harangue to the men against enlisting, which seems to have been done in an eloquent and effectual manner. He referred to the condition of the public mind in the colonies, and the probability of a revolution which must soon arrive. He represented the suspicious circumstances of the express, which was still a secret to the troops, and that appearances justified the conclusion that they were required to enlist in a service against their own countrymen, their own kindred, their own homes.

“The consequence was that but few of the men re-enlisted, and the majority, choosing the orator as leader, made the best of their way to Wheeling. The news brought out by the courier proved to be an account of the opening combat of the Revolution, at Lexington, Mass., April 20, 1775.

“General Clark stated that himself (or his brother was in the expedition.”

Of this account, Mr. Whittlesey says it was related to him “by Walter Curtis, Esq., of Belpre, Washington county, Ohio, and transmitted by me in substance to the secretary of the Ohio Historical Society. Mr. Curtis received it from General Clark, an eminent citizen of Missouri, a brother of General George Rogers Clark, of Kentucky.” Mr. Whittlesey admits that, ” though it comes very well authenticated, it seems to contradict other well-known facts.” We are decidedly of opinion that General Clark’s statement was erroneous in respect of the time, nature, and object of Lord Dunmore’s expedition up the Hockhocking, and that he never made but one expedition to that region, which was the one we have already described. In the first place, there is not a scrap nor particle of history extant to show that Dunmore made any western expedition in the “spring of 1775.” Secondly, we know that he was there in the summer and autumn of 1774, that Fort Gower was built at that time, and, probably, the buried bullets, etc., were deposited at the same time. Thirdly, hostilities with the mother country had begun in the spring (April) of 1775; Lord Dunmore was one of the most active and determined royalists in the colonies, and it is not likely that he was spending his time chasing after the Indians when his master’s empire in America was crumbling to pieces. Finally, we know that Dunmore was at Williamsburg, Virginia, on the 3d day of May, 1775, for on that day he issued a proclamation to “the disaffected persons of the Colony,” calling on them to return to their allegiance (Amer. Archives, vol. 2, p. 466.) There is evidence that he was there in April of the same year; and in June, 1775, a letter written from Baltimore says: “A gentleman who last night came here from Williamsburg, which he left on Friday last, June 9th, brings an account of Lord Dunmore having the day before gone on board a man-of-war at York, with his lady and family, for safety.” (Ide., p. 975.) These considerations we think, render it quite clear that Lord Dunmore did not make an expedition to the Hockhocking country in the spring of 1775, and doubtless the one made in the summer of 1774 was the only one he ever made to this region.

As a matter of historical curiosity we give the following:

“Proceedings of a Meeting of Officers under Earl Dunmore.

“At a meeting of the officers under the command of his Excellency, the Right Honorable the Earl of Dunmore, convened at Fort Gower, situated at the junction of the Ohio and Hockhocking rivers, November 5, 1774, for the purpose of considering the grievances of British America, an officer present addressed the meeting in the following words:

“Gentlemen: Having now concluded the campaign, by the assistance of Providence, with honor and advantage to the colony and ourselves, it only remains that we should give our country the strongest assurance that we are ready, at all times, to the utmost of our power, to maintain and defend her just rights and privileges.’ We have lived about three months in the woods, without any intelligence from Boston or from the delegates at Philadelphia. It is possible, from the groundless reports of designing men, that our countrymen may be jealous of the use such a body would make of the arms in their hands at this critical juncture. That we are a respectable body is certain, when it is considered that we can live weeks without bread or salt; that we can sleep in the open air without any covering but the canopy of heaven, and that our men can march and shoot with any in the known world. Blessed with these talents, let us solemnly engage with one another, and our country in particular, that we will use them to no purpose but the honor and advantage of America in general, and of Virginia in particular. It behooves us then, for the satisfaction of our country, that we should give them our real sentiments, by way of resolves, at this very alarming crisis.’

“Whereupon the meeting made choice of a committee to draw up and prepare resolves for their consideration, who immediately withdrew; and after some time spent therein, reported that they had agreed to and prepared the following resolves, which were read, maturely considered, and unanimously adopted by the meeting:

“Resolved, That we will bear the most faithful allegiance to his Majesty King George the Third, whilst his Majesty delights to reign over a brave and free people; that we will, at the expense of life and everything dear and valuable, exert ourselves in support of the honor of his Crown and the dignity of the British Empire. But as the love of liberty, and attachment to the real interests and just rights of America, outweigh every other consideration, we resolve that we will exert every power within us for the defense of American liberty, and for the support of her just rights and privileges; not in any precipitate, riotous, or tumultuous manner, but when regularly called forth by the unanimous voice of our countrymen.

“Resolved, That we entertain the greatest respect for his Excellency the Right Honorable Lord Dunmore, who commanded the expedition against the Shawanese; and who, we are confident, underwent the great fatigue of this singular campaign from no other motive than the true interest of this country.

Signed, by order and in behalf of the whole corps,
(Amer. Archives, vol. I, p. 962.)

On his return to Virginia, Lord Dunmore received the congratulations of various towns, and the thanks of the Assembly, on the successful issue of his expedition and his execution of a treaty with the Indians. He at once ardently espoused the cause of the King, was one of his most influential and obstinate adherents in the colonies, and spent the remainder of his brief stay in this country in the vain effort to resist the consummation of American independence. But the doom of the cause which Lord Dunmore thus earnestly espoused was as clearly written in the book of fate as was that of the savage pace, against whose towns he had marched up the banks of the Hockhocking.

Back to: Athens County, Ohio Indians

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