Published on April 28, 2012 by Amy
Dunmore’s War (or Lord Dunmore’s War) was a war in 1774 between the Colony of Virginia and the Shawnee and Mingo American Indian nations.
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Lord Dunmore, the Governor of Virginia, asked the House of Burgesses to declare a state of war with the hostile Indian nations and order up an elite volunteer militia force for the campaign.
The conflict resulted from escalating violence between British colonists, who in accordance with previous treaties were exploring and moving into land south of the Ohio River (modern West Virginia and Kentucky), and American Indians, who held treaty rights to hunt there. Of the upper Ohio Valley, assessing the Allegheny, George Washington writes in his journal Sat. Nov. 17, 1770, “The Indians who are very dexterous, even their women, in the Management of Canoes, have there Hunting Camps & Cabins all along the River for the convenience of Transporting their Skins by Water to Market.”
As a result of successive attacks by Indian hunting and war bands upon the settlers, war was declared “to pacify the hostile Indian war bands”. The war ended soon after Virginia’s victory in the Battle of Point Pleasant on October 10, 1774.
As a result of this victory, the Indians lost the right to hunt in the area and agreed to recognize the Ohio River as the boundary between Indian lands and the British colonies.
Although the Indian national chieftains signed the treaty, conflict within the Indian nations soon broke out. Some tribesmen felt the treaty sold out their claims and opposed it, and others believed that another war would mean only further losses of territory to the more powerful British colonists.
When war broke out between the colonists and the British government, the war parties of the Indian nations quickly gained power. They mobilized the various Indian nations to attack the colonists during the Revolutionary War.
The area south of the Ohio River had long been claimed by the Iroquois Confederacy. Although they were the most powerful Indian nation in the Northern Colonies, other tribes also made claims to the area and often hunted the region. The Ohio Country was one of the causes of the Seven Years War between France and Britain, which ended with France ceding notional control over the entire area at the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
When British officials acquired the land south of the Ohio River in the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix from the Iroquois, Ohio Indians who hunted the land refused to sign the treaty and prepared to defend their hunting rights.
At the forefront of this resistance were the Shawnee. They were the most powerful among the anti-Iroquois Indian nations. They soon organized a large confederacy of Shawnee-Ohio Confederated Indians who were opposed to the British and the Iroquois in order to enforce their claims. British and Iroquois officials worked to isolate the Shawnee diplomatically from other Indian nations. When Dunmore’s War broke out in 1774, Shawnee faced the Virginia militia with few allies.
Following the 1768 treaty, British explorers, surveyors, and settlers began pouring into the region.
In September 1773, an obscure hunter named Daniel Boone led a group of about 50 emigrants in the first attempt by British colonists to establish a settlement in Kentucky County, Virginia. On October 9, 1773, Boone’s oldest son James and a small group of men and boys who were retrieving supplies were attacked by a band of Delawares, Shawnees, and Cherokees. They had decided “to send a message of their opposition to settlement…” James Boone and another boy were captured and tortured to death. The brutality of the killings shocked the erstwhile settlers along the frontier, and Boone’s party abandoned their expedition.
The deaths among Boone’s party were among the first events in Dunmore’s War. For the next several years, Indian nations opposed to the treaty continued to attack settlers, ritually mutilated and tortured to death the surviving men, and took the women and children into slavery.
Among the settlers was Captain Michael Cresap, the owner of a trading post at Redstone Old Fort (now Brownsville, Pennsylvania) on the Monongahela River. Under authority of the colonial government of Virginia, Cresap had taken control of extensive tracts of land at and below the mouth of Middle Island Creek (now Sistersville, West Virginia.) He went there in the early spring of 1774 with a party of men to settle his holdings.
Ebenezer Zane, afterwards a famed “Indian fighter” and guide, was engaged at the same time and in the same way with a small party of men on lands which he had taken up at or near the mouth of Sandy Creek.
A third and larger group that included George Rogers Clark, who later became a general during the Revolutionary War, had gathered at the mouth of the Little Kanawha River (the present site of Parkersburg, West Virginia.) They were waiting there for the arrival of other Virginians expected to join them before they moved downriver to settle lands in Kentucky. Clark’s group began to hear reports that hostile Indian nationals were robbing and occasionally killing traders, surveyors and others traveling down the Ohio. They concluded that hostile nations of the Shawnee-centered Ohio confederacy were bent on all-out war. The group decided to attack the Ohio Indian village called Horsehead Bottom, near the mouth of the Scioto River and on the way to their intended destination in Kentucky.
Few in the group had experience in warfare. After some discussion, the group selected Cresap, whom they knew was about fifteen miles (24 km) upriver. They knew he was intending to follow them into Kentucky, and he had combat experience. They sent for Cresap, who quickly came to meet with the group. After some discussion, Cresap dissuaded them from attacking the Shawnee. He thought that while the actions of the Shawnee-Ohio confederates were hostile, he did not believe war was inevitable. He argued further that if the group carried out its plans, he did not doubt their initial success, but war would then surely come. They would be blamed for it.
He suggested the group return to Wheeling, Virginia for a few weeks to see what would develop. If the situation calmed, they could resume their journey to Kentucky. The group agreed. When they arrived at Wheeling, they found the whole area in an uproar. People were panicked by the stories of the survivors of the Indian attacks. They were upset by what they viewed as Indian savagery. Fearing for the lives of women and children, the British colonists from the frontier flocked to town for protection. Cresap’s group was swelled with volunteers for a fight.
As word of the group’s arrival had reached Fort Pitt, Capt. John Connolly, commander of the fort, sent a message asking that the group to remain in Wheeling a few days. He had sent messages to the local tribes to determine their intentions. A flurry of correspondence resulted, first, with the group saying they would wait for further word from Connolly. Before their message reached Fort Pitt, Cresap received a second message from Connolly that said the Shawnee-Ohio tribes had signaled they intended war.
Cresap called a council on April 26. After he read Connolly’s letter aloud, the assembly declared war against the Indians. After spotting some Indian canoes on the river the next day, settlers chased them fifteen miles (24 km) downriver to Pipe Creek. There settlers engaged them in battle, with a few casualties on each side. The following day, Clark’s party abandoned the original idea of proceeding to Kentucky. Expecting retaliation, they broke camp and moved with Cresap’s men to his headquarters at Redstone Old Fort.
From Captain Hanson’s Journal (Surveyor enroute to job site stopped at Point Pleasant this date. He found confirming news he had heard from the Canawagh, Kanawha Iroquois, few days earlier as his team canoed down the Kanawha River that the Ohio Indians were on the war path. It was the talk by the locals all up and down all the rivers.)
Yellow Creek Massacre
Immediately after the Pipe Creek attack, settlers killed relatives of the Mingo leader Logan. Up until this point, he had expressed peace toward the settlers. Logan and his hunting party were camped on the west bank of the Ohio at Yellow Creek, about thirty miles above Wheeling (near present day Steubenville, Ohio) and across the river from Baker’s Bottom. On April 30 some members of the hunting party (Logan was not among them) crossed the river to the cabin of Joshua Baker, a settler and rum trader. The visiting Mingo included Logan’s younger brother, commonly known as John Petty, and two closely related women. The younger was pregnant, and also had an infant girl with her. The father of both children was John Gibson, a well-known trader. Once the group was in Baker’s cabin, 30 frontiersmen, led by Daniel Greathouse, crowded in and killed all except the infant child.
When Logan heard of the massacre, he was led to believe that Capt. Michael Cresap was responsible for attack. However, many people familiar with the incident (including George Rogers Clark) knew that Daniel Greathouse and his men were the ones who had killed the party. Settlers along the frontiers realized that these killings were likely to provoke the remaining Indian nations of the Ohio Country to attack. Settlers remaining on the frontier immediately sought safety, either in blockhouses or by fleeing eastward across the Monongahela River. Many traveled back across the Allegheny Mountains. Their fear was well founded. Logan and small parties of Shawnee and Mingo soon began striking frontier settlers in revenge for the murders at Yellow Creek.
Early in May 1774, Governor Dunmore received word that fighting had begun at Yellow Creek and other points on the Ohio. He requested the legislature to authorize general militia forces and fund a volunteer expedition into the Ohio River valley. With the new forces, the Governor advanced toward the Ohio where he split his force into two groups: one would move down the Ohio from Fort Pitt, led by him, and another body of troops under Colonel Andrew Lewis would travel from Camp Union (now Lewisburg, West Virginia) to meet Dunmore at the mouth of the Great Kanawha River. Under this general plan, Governor Dunmore traveled to Fort Pitt and proceeded with his forces down the Ohio River. On September 30, he arrived at Fort Fincastle (later Fort Henry), recently built at Wheeling by his direction.
The force under Lewis, 1100 strong, proceeded from Camp Union to the headwaters of the Kanawha, and then downriver to the appointed rendezvous, reaching the river’s mouth on October 6. Not finding Dunmore there, Lewis sent messengers up the Ohio to meet him and tell him of the arrival. On October 9 Dunmore sent a dispatch announcing his plans to proceed to the Shawnee towns on the Scioto. He ordered Lewis to cross the Ohio and meet him at the Shawnee towns.
On October 10, before Lewis began crossing the Ohio, he and his 1,100 men were surprised in attack by warriors under Chief Cornstalk. The Battle of Point Pleasant raged nearly all day and descended into hand-to-hand combat. Lewis’s army suffered about 215 casualties, of whom 75 were killed, including Lewis’s brother, and 140 wounded. His forces defeated the Ohio Confederacy warriors, who retreated across the Ohio, having lost about 40 warriors. Dunmore and Lewis advanced from their respective points into Ohio to within eight miles (13 km) of the Shawnee town on the Scioto. They erected the temporary Camp Charlotte on Sippo Creek.
Here they met with Cornstalk to begin peace negotiations. Although Chief Logan said he would cease fighting, he would not attend the formal peace talks. After the Mingo refused to accept the terms, Major William Crawford attacked their village of Seekunk (Salt Lick Town). His force of 240 men destroyed the village.
These operations, and the submission of the Shawnee and Mingo at Camp Charlotte, virtually closed the war. Governor Dunmore began his return, proceeding by Redstone and the Great Crossings of the Youghiogheny River to Fort Cumberland, and then to the Virginia capital.
The peace did not prevail for long following this treaty. In May 1776, as the American Revolution was heating up, the Shawnee joined renegade Cherokee chief Dragging Canoe in declaring war against the Virginia colonists.