This is a continuation of the chapter,“Settling the Western Virginia Backcountry” from the Ph.D dissertation of John M. Boback: Indian Warfare, Household Competency, and the Settlement of the Western Virginia Frontier, 1749 to 1794.
The first portion of that chapter can be read here.
All white settlers driven out of western Virginia by early 1758
When scholars make reference to the “frontier experience” in West Virginia, it is important to bear in mind that the so-called “frontier experience” actually refers to the collective experiences of the individual pioneers who had been there. So would it be premature at this point to generalize the frontier experiences of fewer than a dozen settlers who had bad encounters with the Indians to the entire pioneer population of western Virginia? When we consider that every last settler in western Virginia had either been killed, taken captive, or driven from their homesteads by early 1758, the answer to this question would have to be “no,” it is not premature. (206) Every settler in western Virginia during the 1750s to one degree or another experienced the dangers, fears, and hardships of Indian warfare. (207)
At this point we can begin to discern the temporal influence that Indian-related violence exerted on the duration of the frontier period of “West Virginia” history. After six years of opportunistic raiding and angry resistance to white settlement, Indian warriors had left western Virginia no closer to being settled than it had been in 1749 when Sewel and Marlin first occupied their cabin near the Greenbrier River. In effect, Indian attacks had already begun to prolong the duration of frontier conditions in the western Virginia backcountry.
Trans-Allegheney frontier compared to the Shenandoah Valley
Of course, any discussion involving the pace of frontier settlement and development is meaningless unless the region in question can be compared directly with another frontier zone. For the purposes of this study, a comparison will be made between two different regions of Appalachian Virginia: the trans-Allegheny region situated between the Ohio River to the west and the Allegheny Mountains to the east, and the Shenandoah Valley nestled between the Blue Ridge to the east and the hill and valley region toward the west.
The benefits of using the Shenandoah Valley as a basis of comparison are numerous. First, by selecting a region located within the same colony as trans-Allegheny Virginia, we can avoid the confusion and complexities that would arise by comparing two regions that operated under separate political and legal systems. Second, the two regions are situated near one another and include some similar geologic and geographic features. Third, the historical development of the Shenandoah Valley frontier has already been thoroughly studied by scholars such as historical geographer Robert Mitchell. And fourth, the two regions shared some common historical processes that help us to understand the relationship between Indian violence and the duration of frontier living conditions. An important part of this shared history revolved around Virginians’ perceptions of the Appalachian backcountry and how those perceptions led to the adoption of colonial administrative policies aimed at securing the western borders of the colony through the encouragement of large-scale land speculation and the use of frontier settlers as “human shields.” Having said that, let us see what it means.
Mountain spiders, carnivorous elephants & giant rattlers
Throughout much of the colonial period, Virginians looked upon their mountainous western border with a sense of ambivalence. On the one hand, the rugged backcountry had much to offer including room for expansion, farmland, the fur trade, mineral wealth, valuable timber, and an enlarged empire. At the same time, however, many Virginians looked westward with a sense of apprehension and dread. Like the siren of Greek mythology that simultaneously enticed and destroyed, the Appalachian Mountains held forth the promise of wealth and opportunity yet posed many dangers both mythical and real. Some of the alleged hazards included deadly “mountain-spiders,” women warriors skilled with the use of a bow, packs of wolves, giant rattlesnakes that could hypnotize their prey, lions, huge carnivorous elephants, and miles of trackless forest where a man could become lost forever. Although most Virginians appear to have ceased debating the existence of armies of women archers by the Revolutionary War, they had not yet entirely ruled out the possibility of flesh-eating paciderms. (208)
Spaniards & Frenchmen
The greatest concern, however, arose from potential human foes. Early on, geographically illiterate colonists sometimes expressed concerns over the possible presence of Spaniards just west of the Blue Ridge in California. By the early eighteenth century, however, Virginians had largely realized that no European rival posed a direct threat to the security of their western frontier. Even the French at the height of the French and Indian War lacked the ability to single handedly mount a credible challenge to English claims of ownership of the upper Ohio Valley. In reference to Fort Duquesne, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, governor of Canada, admitted in 1756 that if the British launched an attack, “in the present state of the fort, it would be impossible to make any resistance for any length of time.” (209) The Marquis de Montcalm put it more bluntly by stating that “Fort Duquesne is not worth a straw.” (210) The real source of French power lay not in their own forts or soldiers, but in their ability to summon aid from the Indians. (211)
Indian warriors ravaging the frontier settlements
Virginians had good reason to fear the Indians. From the earliest years of the Virginia Colony, Indian warriors time and again had ravaged the frontier settlements terrorizing and killing settlers by the hundreds. Often carried out in the name of self-preservation or in retaliation for abusive treatment at the hands of Europeans, Indian warfare repeatedly dealt serious setbacks to English colonization. One particularly devastating attack occurred in March 1622 when warriors under the leadership of Chief Opechancanough killed one third of the approximately one thousand colonists in Virginia. (212)
Legislation, settlement & frontier defense
From the ashes of this attack emerged one of the more influential pieces of legislation to be passed in seventeenth-century Virginia, the 1630 land law. The key element of this law involved making land grants available directly to groups of settlers willing to relocate and live at exposed strategic locations on the frontier. Based on the English concept that possession and “improvement” of the land created ownership of that land, the settlers would serve two primary purposes. First, their physical presence would assert English dominion over that land and second, the settlers would serve as the first line of defense in the event of an Indian uprising. In other words, the settlers would constitute a buffer zone, or human shield. Although few settlers actually took advantage of the law at the time, it became the basis of Virginia’s frontier defense policy for the next one hundred thirty years. (213)
In 1701, the General Assembly of Virginia revised the land law by placing greater emphasis on its military and defensive aspects. The new law invited organized groups of no fewer than twenty “warlike Christian men” to petition the government to receive between ten thousand and thirty thousand acres of frontier land at no cost to them. In fact, they would even be exempted from paying taxes or levies for the next twenty years. Holding the overall tract of land as tenants in common, each man would individually receive two hundred acres of farmland and a smaller town lot. In exchange for the land and tax exemptions, the government required the men to construct a stout half acre fort, organize themselves into a military unit under a governor-approved commander, and equip themselves with a musket, pistol, sword, tomahawk, five pounds of powder, and twenty pounds of lead. (214) Although legislators hoped to permanently solve the perennial problem of frontier defense, the policy once again engendered only minimal enthusiasm from the public. (215)
Not yet ready to abandon the idea that land grants could somehow be translated into frontier defense, the colonial government in 1730 again reworked the land law. Unlike the previous version, the new law entirely eliminated all references to “warlike Christian men,” forts, military service, or mandatory lists of required weaponry. Instead, the law commercialized the process of frontier settlement by thrusting land speculators into a prominent intermediary position between the government and would-be settlers. Under the new guidelines, speculators could petition the government for up to one hundred thousand acres of frontier land. In return, they had to meet only three simple stipulations. First, one bonafide family had to be settled within their grant for every thousand acres received. Second, the speculators had a two year time limit in which to settle the families. And third, so as to not depopulate the eastern portions of the colony, the families had to come from somewhere outside of Virginia. (216)
Settlers & speculators
The new land policy garnered immediate widespread interest from speculators and settlers alike. Over the next two decades, millions of acres of frontier land in the Shenandoah Valley and trans-Allegheny Virginia would be distributed to dozens of different speculative interests. Some of the more prominent Shenandoah Valley speculators included Jacob Stover, Joist Hite, Robert McKay, brothers John and Isaac Van Meter, Benjamin Borden, James Patton, William Beverly, and Alexander Ross. Prominent speculative interests west of the Allegheny Mountains included not only individuals such as Thomas Lewis, Ambrose Powell, Henry Downs, and Andrew Lewis, but also large incorporated land companies whose membership read like a veritable who’s who of political influence, power, and experience in Virginia politics. The leadership of the Greenbrier Company, Ohio Company, and Loyal Land Company included among others Thomas Lee, George Fairfax, George Mason, Thomas Cresap, Augustine Washington, Lawrence Washington, William Beverly, and Charles Lewis. (217) Large-scale commercial land speculation quickly became such a ubiquitous facet of frontier life that we can easily lose sight of the fact that its original purpose involved defending the colony against Indian attacks.
With a vested economic interest in meeting the government’s requirement that settlers be brought in from outside the colony, speculators had little choice but to become both promoters and recruiters. While most settler recruitment appears to have taken place amongst the Germans, Swiss, Welsh, Scots-Irish, and English living in the Middle Atlantic colonies, speculators also looked toward Europe as a potential source for families. Ship captain and land speculator James Patton, for example, recruited and imported Scots-Irish immigrants into the Shenandoah Valley during the late 1730s. (218) Likewise, before the French and Indian War rendered settlement untenable in western Virginia, the Ohio Company envisioned recruiting settlers from amongst the German Protestants of the Rhineland. (219) As an incentive to settle on their lands, some speculators even offered prospective families legal and financial services such as extending them lines of credit. (220) For an immigrant family from a non-English speaking country, help with deeds, lands surveys, and financing would have been invaluable.
Non-Anglican Protestants encouraged to settle on the western frontier
Even the Anglican government of Virginia facilitated the recruitment of “foreign” families by encouraging non-Anglican Protestants to settle on the western frontier. In 1738, for example, Virginia Governor William Gooch informed the Synod of Philadelphia that Presbyterian ministers serving west of the Blue Ridge “may be assured that no interruption shall be given . . . so as they conform themselves to the rules prescribed by the Act of Toleration in England, by taking the oaths enjoined thereby, and registering the place of their meeting.” (221) In 1752, the General Assembly passed legislation for encouraging Protestant dissenters to settle on the western waters by exempting them “from the payment of all public, county, and parish levies, for the term of ten years.” (222) The following year, the Assembly extended the duration of the tax exemption to fifteen years for all Protestants living west of the mountains. By encouraging foreign Protestants to settle on the frontier, legislators hoped to “add to the strength and security of the colony.” (223) Thus, the threat of Indian attacks directly led the government of Virginia to adopt legislation that promoted both ethnic diversity and religious plurality in the western Virginia backcountry.
Land of opportunity & peril
Up to this point, the two Virginia frontier regions had experienced several common elements in their historical background and development. This shared heritage included among other things, having reputations as being places filled with both opportunity and danger, serving as testing grounds for governmental land policies which married large scale commercial land speculation with frontier defense, and being populated by settlers characterized by ethnic, racial, and religious diversity. In addition, the two regions also shared the same local government. From 1738 through 1769, for example, almost all of trans-Allegheny Virginia fell within Augusta County with its seat located at Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley.
Western frontier resistant to progress
By the early 1750s, however, the developmental history of trans-Allegheny Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley began to diverge in terms of how rapidly the region became settled and living conditions improved. In his study of the Shenandoah Valley, historical geographer Robert Mitchell found that the crude phase of frontier life typically ended within a year or two after initial permanent settlement. (224) What factors enabled the Shenandoah Valley frontier to progress so rapidly? In contrast with trans-Allegheny Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley possessed several advantages including greater proximity to the coast, access to east-flowing watercourses, and larger expanses of relatively level farmland. In addition, Mitchell pointed out that “the Shenandoah Valley had not been inhabited by any resident Indian tribes for a considerable period of time.” It was this “absence of sedentary Indians [that] allowed for a more peaceful and orderly settlement of the area.” (225) So even though the Shenandoah region had a lot going for it, the biggest advantage appears to have been the absence of long-term Indian-related violence. Conversely, settlers west of the Allegheny Mountains had many disadvantages to overcome with the most obstinate challenge being the Indians.
Crown & colony at odds in frontier policy matters
Like the settlers themselves, the colonial and imperial governments also struggled to resolve the challenges posed by Indians in the upper Ohio Valley. As the French and Indian War dragged on into 1758, Virginians increasingly found themselves at odds with royal officials in policy matters relating to the Indians, frontier defense, and settlement. To a great extent, these emerging differences between crown and colony stemmed from their very different perspectives on the war itself and what constituted an acceptable outcome. For many Virginians, the primary objectives of the French and Indian War involved broadly defining the geographical boundaries of the colony and insuring that Virginians had the freedom to speculate in western lands, engage in the Indian trade, and settle on the frontier. From the less parochial British perspective, the war entailed a global struggle for empire against their longtime French rival. The Seven Years War, as it would be known in Europe, occurred in several theaters throughout the world and placed a tremendous burden on the shoulders of British taxpayers. By the war’s end in 1762, Britain would accumulate a staggering debt of, 133 million pounds with an additional, 4.3 million pounds accruing annually in interest charges. (226) Naturally, it behooved the British to quickly resolve their struggle in the remote Ohio Valley even if it entailed making concessions to the Indians that colonial settlers, land speculators, and Indian traders would largely find unacceptable.
The Treaty of Easton, 1758
Where for decades Virginians had pursued a very confrontational style of frontier defense involving the placement of settlers at strategic locations within Indian territories, British officials starting in 1758 began to impose a new policy aimed at placating the Indians by closing the frontier to settlement. The first major step toward instituting this new policy occurred at the October 1758 Council of Easton held approximately fifty miles north of Philadelphia. Attended by over five hundred Indians representing thirteen different bands and tribes, Governor William Denny of Pennsylvania made a major announcement. Through negotiations conducted by British Indian Superintendent Sir William Johnson, the proprietors of Pennsylvania “cheerfully agreed to release” the Iroquois from having to abide by the Albany Treaty which just three years earlier had transferred ownership of western Pennsylvania to the English. (227) In other words, all of Pennsylvania west of the Allegheny Mountains would be restored to the Iroquois Confederacy. Consequently, white settlement there was prohibited. Restoring this land to the Iroquois implied that the Shawnees, western Delawares, and Ohio Iroquois would be allowed to live in western Pennsylvania without interference from settlers.
The French abandon the Forks of the Ohio
Although not a total panacea, the Treaty of Easton went a long way toward resolving some major British problems in the upper Ohio Valley. Immediately after announcing the settlement ban, messenger Frederick Christian Post along with the Delaware sachem Pisquetomen rushed from Easton across the colony to Fort Duquesne where the French and Indians busily prepared to meet the approaching army of General John Forbes. When the Shawnees and western Delawares learned that the frontier had been closed to settlement, they abandoned their French allies and made peace with the English. After all, it appeared as if they had achieved their military objective. As most of their Indian supporters melted away, the French had little choice but to destroy Fort Duquesne and abandon the Forks of the Ohio. In its place, the British built the considerably more imposing Fort Pitt. (228)
The British guarantee ban of white settlement & hunting on the western frontier
Over the next five years, royal officials expanded and elaborated on the new frontier policy. High-ranking army officers charged with defending the frontier had a particular interest in upholding the treaty because to a great extent, it determined the difference between war and peace with the Ohio tribes. In fact, the British had even been told as much when the prominent Delaware sachem Keekyuscung (also known as Ketiushund) sent a friendly warning to the “Governor, General, and all other people” that if they “staid and settled” in their hunting grounds, all of the Ohio tribes “would be against them; and he was afraid it would be a great war, and never come to a peace again.” (229) Not surprisingly, British commanders repeatedly told the Indians exactly what they wanted to hear. A week after Forbes’ army seized control of the Forks of the Ohio, Colonel Henry Bouquet informed the Delawares that “We have not come here to take possession of your hunting Country . . . but to open a large and extensive Trade with you . . . to serve you in every necessary you want, and on the cheapest Terms.” (230) General Robert Monckton reiterated the point when he assured a council of Shawnee, Delaware, Iroquois, Ottawa, and Wyandot chiefs that “His Majesty has not sent me to deprive any of you of your Lands and Property.” (231) And so as to leave absolutely no doubt regarding the imperial position, Colonel Bouquet on 30 October 1761 issued a formal proclamation at Fort Pitt reiterating the ban on settlement and hunting west of the mountains. (232) In fact, Bouquet even went so far as expand the settlement ban to include western Maryland and western Virginia as well. Anyone who violated the ban, he announced, would be arrested, delivered to Fort Pitt, and tried by court martial. (233)
206: Washington to Dinwiddie, 8 September 1756, Writings GW, 1:466.
207: For insight into how warfare broadly affected Virginians during the mid-eighteenth century, see Chester Raymond Young, “The Stress of War Upon the Civilian Population of Virginia, 1739-1760,” West Virginia History 27 (July 1966): 251-77.
208: For mountain-spiders, women warriors, and giant rattlesnakes, see John Lederer, The Discoveries of John Lederer. (1672; reprint, Rochester, N. Y.: George P. Humphrey, 1902), 9-10, 20-21, 25. Throughout the Ohio Valley, particularly at Big Bone Lick, Kentucky, the pioneers periodically discovered old tusks, molars, and bones from huge animals. The giant bones evoked quite a debate with some people speculating that the tusks came from a giant carnivorous American elephant that might still live somewhere on the frontier. Others theorized that the tusks belonged to a hippopotamus. Today we know that the remains came from extinct wooly mammoths, mastodons, and giant ground sloths. Johann David Schoepf, Travels in the Confederation, 1783-1784 (New York: Burt Franklin, 1968), 266-70; Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972), 43-47, 53-54.
209: Doc. His. N.Y., 10:425.
210: Doc. His. N.Y., 10:416.
211: Montcalm’s aide-de-camp Louis Antoine de Bougainville summed up French dependence on their Indian allies when he said “In the midst of the woods of America one can no more do without them than without cavalry in open country.” Quoted in Colin G. Calloway, New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 105.
212: Edward Waterhouse, “A Declaration of the State of the Colony and . . . A Relation of the Barbarous Massacre . . . ,” in Records of the Virginia Company of London, ed. Susan M. Kingsbury (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1933), 3:565-571; Richard L. Morton, Colonial Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1960), 1:74-75
213: Ray Allen Billington, Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1974), 54.
214: William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, 1619-1792 (Richmond: 1809-23), 3:204-8.
215: Otis K. Rice, The Allegheny Frontier: West Virginia Beginnings, 1730-1830 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1970), 20.
216: Thomas Perkins Abernathy, Three Virginia Frontiers (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1962), 54-55; Rice, Allegheny, 20. Speculators typically received four years rather than two years to settle families on land grants situated in the more remote trans-Allegheny region.
217: Robert D. Mitchell, Commercialism and Frontier: Perspectives on the Early Shenandoah Valley (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1977), 26-36; Rice, Allegheny, 20-21.
218: Patricia Givens Johnson, James Patton and the Appalachian Colonists, 2d ed. (Pulaski, Va.: Edmonds Printing, 1983), 9-10.
219: Alfred P. James, The Ohio Company: It’s Inner History (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1959), 16.
220: Rice, Allegheny Frontier, 22.
221: William Gooch quoted in Records of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1841), 147.
222: Hening, Statutes at Large, 6:258.
223: Hening, Statutes at Large, 6:355-56
224: Mitchell, Commercialism and Frontier, 3.
225: Mitchell, Commercialism and Frontier, 16, 19.
226: Stephan Thernstrom, A History of the American People, vol. 1 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984), 129
227: Samuel Hazard, ed., Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania [spine title: Colonial Records] (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania, 1852), 3:20
228: Christian Frederick Post, “Two Journals of Western Tours,” in Early Western Travels, 1748-1846, vol. 1, ed. Reuben Gold Thwaites (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark), 1904), 254-59; Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (New York: Vintage, 2000), 280-81.
229: Post, “Two Journals of Western Tours”, 278.
230: Penn. Archives, 3:572.
231: Penn. Archives, 3:745.
232: Jack M. Sosin, Whitehall and the Wilderness: The Middle West in British Colonial Policy, 1760-1775 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961), 42.
233: Randolph C. Downes, Council Fires on the Upper Ohio: A Narrative of Indian Affairs in the Upper Ohio Valley until 1795 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1968), 114.