The Fort Henry Story by Klein and Cooper
- by Richard S. Klein and Alan H. Cooper, originally published by the Fort Henry Bicentennial Committee, 1982
The Fort Henry Story
September 11 and 12, 1982, marked the 200th anniversary of the last attack on Fort Henry. The battle and many other aspects of the fort and what happened around it have caused much debate. The location, construction, size, manning, and events connected with the fort have, over the course of 200 years, been subject to much discussion often without any firm evidence. Any attempt to resolve all such questions is hardly feasible, however, since much information has been lost, or was never recorded. Some light may be shed on some of the frequently asked questions about the fort, but much will remain obscure.
The evidence used in these discussions is varied. The standard early histories, such as those of Doddridge, Withers, Thwaites and Kellogg, and DeHass, contain much. They, however, are not totally reliable, since the methods of collecting information and presenting it often lacked completeness and/or objectivity. These histories must be used with great caution, and much be compared to other source material to resolve apparent contradictions. Another source is the compendium of recollections, receipts and other documents gathered by Layman C. Draper in the mid-1800's. Much of the material is first-hand, such as letters, while some are the records of interviews given some fifty or more years after the fact. Caution is vital when consulting such documents. The notes of Ebenezer Zane, long lost and suddenly revived by Zane Grey, were generally rejected by those who saw them, since Zane had confused incidents and otherwise contradicted other first-hand accounts. Other sources such as the records of Ohio County, the Pennsylvania Archives and British material such as the Haldiman papers in Ottawa provide further first-hand documentation which may be compared with the standard reference works.
A general statement on these sources and the research done with them would include the necessity for caution. Much can be verified, much cannot, and much cannot be evaluated. One must weigh the conflicting accounts and derive the most feasible explanation from the evidence at hand. While often frustrating, such work points out the need for continued fresh assessments of evidence, for continued searching for new sources, and the more critical examinations of such evidence. It is encumbent upon researchers to attempt the reconstruction of our past relying on evidence without an overlay of what we might like to believe.
This brief review of Fort Henry will be considered beneficial if it causes even one person to pause by Imperial Display and remember what happened on that site. Our past is very much a part of us in Wheeling, a part we would do will never to forget.
The Revolutionary War in the Upper Ohio Valley was distinctly different than that with which we are most familiar in the East. While large armies occupied cities and suffered great hardships caused by lack of supplies, the war in the West was fought for different reasons. The frontier looked to the West and its opportunities for expansion, while the Native Americans ("Indians") and Europeans tried to protect their own interests. Whether the war in the East be won or lost, these peoples tried to ensure that the West beyond the frontier, would remain in their hands. For the Native Americans, this fight took the form of raids on the frontier designed to dishearten the settlers and to discourage further expansion. For the French and British, it meant the retention of their hold on the fur trade, bought with guns and whiskey. The two groups, then, shared a desire to maintain a status quo, and to prevent the upstart colonists from continuing their westward thrust.
Western Virginia in the 1700's has been described as a hunting area and/or no-man's land. While prior to around 1695 the land had been inhabited by peoples dating from about 16,000 B.C., it is true that the population sharply decreased after the early eighteenth century. There are several explanations for this drop in population. One is the designation of Western Virginia as a buffer zone between the Iroquois to the North and Shawnee and Cherokee to the South. Raiding parties between these spheres of influence were common. However, recent excavations in Southern West Virginia have shown that the area was not totally deserted. Perhaps the idea of a lack of settlement is more a function of what archaeologists have yet to find that a true indication of the reality of population density.
A second, and much more grim, interpretation of the population decline is disease. It is well known that Europeans brought diseases, especially smallpox, for which the Native Americans had lost any immunity. Earlier estimates of the effect of the disease said that about 5-6 million natives died; more scientific evidence puts the figure at an unbelievable 30 million. If this is anywhere near the truth, it is no wonder that the population was so small. It is hard to imagine what this means in terms of human suffering and depredation.
During the second half of the 18th Century, then, the Native Americans, with their depleted numbers, faced larger and more frequent numbers of settlers who were pushing the frontier further back. It is no wonder that these Indians would seek help from those who supplied the wherewithal to hinder the migration of settlers.
The Upper Ohio Valley was not the scene of territorial conflict, but it did adjoin the area where conflict would arise, the Northwest Territories beyond the Ohio River. In the immediate area, the Indians were an off-shoot of the Iroquois, the Erie, who arrived in the mid-seventeenth century. About one hundred years later, most of the Erie moved back to New York and Northern Pennsylvania, leaving a remnant, who, with elements of other tribes, came to be called the Mingo.
There were no records of hostility between the Mingo and settlers for several years. Meanwhile, other tribes, moving westward, did find their way into the area. The Lenni-Lenape (Delaware) migrated beginning about 1720. The Shawnee controlled a large area to the south and west. The Iroquois, however, were the leaders, so much so that they considered other tribes trespassers. The 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, for instance, acknowledged Iroquois supremacy and removed the Shawnee from their lands in Kentucky.
Thus, by 1774, the Shawnee were being driven to desperation by the Iroquois and by the continued settlement of colonists on land once theirs.
The previously friendly relationship between the Mingo and the settlers was broken in April, 1774, with the massacre of the Logan family, a Mingo group living and trading with settlers at the mouth of Yellow Creek near Steubenville, Ohio. Meanwhile, the Shawnee began open hostilities against settlements in Kentucky.
The war which erupted in 1774 was known as the Shawnee War or as Dunmore's War. Dunmore, the Viscount Fincastle, was the royal governor of Virginia at the time. His commandant for the District of West Augusta, which included Western Virginia, was John Connally, stationed at Fort Pitt. There has been speculation that Connally and Dunmore precipitated the war in the hope of procuring more lands for themselves in the west.
Whatever the cause, Dunmore's War and its residual fighting continued intermittently until the question of ownership of the Northwest Territories was settled at the Battle of Fallen Timbers near Dayton, Ohio, in 1795.
The start of the Revolution, in this area, meant the loss of British support and material, but little in the way of questions of Great Britain and the colonies. For instance, at the Battle of Point Pleasant, British and colonial militia together fought the Indians, but, by a couple of years later, what British were left in the area were fighting with the Indians and, often, inciting them to battle. Detroit became the British headquarters for the area, and much information can be obtained from the Haldeman Papers (he was military governor at the time) located in Ottawa.
The issues at stake in the conflict on the frontier from 1774-1795 were ones of ownership of land and preservation of trade routes. A fortuitous consequence of the beginning of the Indian wars before the Revolution was British aid in the building of forts along the frontier to protect the settlers. Many such forts, government ordered (where the word "Fort" precedes the name), or private (where "Fort" in after the name of the builder), were erected in the span 1774-1776. Some local examples were Fort Fincastle (later renamed Fort Henry), Van Metre's Fort, Ramsey's Fort, Dement Fort, Fort Laurens, or Rice's Fort. When the Revolution began, the settlers found themselves with protection when British help was withdrawn.
Historians of the period within about 70 years of the settlement of Wheeling never disputed the location of Fort Henry. To some, it seems, the question of location was never even mentioned because, as it were, everyone already knew it. In more recent times the debate has been frequent. The ill-conceived placement or removal of commemorative markers, the name of buildings after the fort, and the use of poorly researched histories have spawned confusion where none once existed. The location of Fort Henry was on the west side of Main Street, from near 11th Street to about half way up the block toward 10th. The Imperial Display stores mark the site. [1057-1059 Main St. This was in 1982. In 1996 Imperial Display burned and the buildings were demolished.]
Reuben Thwaites, using the Draper material, said that the fort was about one-quarter mile above Wheeling Creek, on the bank of the river, on a plot of about one-half acre. Cramer said that the fort, "stood on the brow of a bluff . . . just above the present corner of Eleventh and Main Streets, and on the west side of Main next to and overlooking the river." He also stated that the site, "in subsequent years was known as 'Zane's Reserve'." This are is also well within that described by Doddridge as containing the first settlement at Wheeling, an area, "about 10 acres along Main and Market Streets, from the brow of the hill to a point just above the Suspension Bridge."
Other sources said that the fort stood approximately fifty yards from Ebenezer Zane's blockhouse. This has caused some speculation, since two houses which had belonged to the Zane family were known. One stood where Horne's is now located. The other, Noah Zane's house, stood in Stone's Alley. For many years, Noah Zane's house remained standing. An early (around 1910) photograph which was reprinted in the bicentennial edition of the Wheeling papers (July 4, 1976) showed the house which some people took to be the original Zane blockhouse. If one accepts the Horne's [1100 Main St.] site, then the fort stood where Imperial Display does.[1057-59 Main] Fifty yards down from Horne's was not a possible site, since there was a thirty-foot drop from the bluff to the lower part of town. That drop was located at the northern end of G. C. Murphy Company [1109 Market St.]. Its residual may be seen by noting the steepness of Water Street where it veers off from Main, and by the bluff behind the Imperial Display Store.
If the Stone's Alley house be proposed as Ebenezer Zane's, then the fifty yard designation would place the fort where the Capitol Music Hall stands. To resolved this dispute, one has the photograph and the recollections of an early inhabitant of Wheeling.
The photograph of the house in Stone's Alley clearly shows that it was built as a house, not as a blockhouse. The distinction is vital. The blockhouse was two stories, with the second overjutting the first to allow those inside to lift the floorboards and shoot the attackers at the door. The Stone's Alley house is two-storied, but the second floor is even with the first. The logs of which it was built were not closely joined and the interstices were filled with chinking. This was not then, bullet-proof. Blockhouses were much more tightly constructed since bullets could penetrate the mud used to chink a normal house. The unaesthetic appearance of the house would have been remedied by clapboard siding. The Stone's Alley house was not meant for defense.
The recollections, recorded by Caldwell, of an unnamed resident of Wheeling, described the town in 1815. On the east side of Main Street, after noting the location of Zane's blockhouse and the subsequent stone house, the narrator state that there was a vacant field until one reached the Quaker Meeting House on the northern corner of Stone's Alley. The house in the photograph, then, was not built until after 1815, some forty years later than the fort. Finally, the authors believe the construction of the house, in terms of its beams, joists, and window sizes, would be approximately 1820.
Another reason for the placing of the fort at the present site of Imperial Display is topographic. As has been noted, there was a bluff with a thirty-foot drop on its south end. To the north of the bluff, a ravine cut in a westerly direction. If one walks into the alley where the approach to the Steel Bridge stood, and looks to the left, one can see a retaining wall built about 1800. This wall provided a platform for building. If one assumes the ravine as the northern boundary of the site, and the thirty-foot drop as the southern, an irregular one-half to three-quarter acre plot can be accounted for. This is the size plot most often given for the fort, and for the later area known as Zane's Reserve.
The fort, at this site, was defended on three sides by the topography. On the south and west (river) sides, the bluff would have prevented or greatly hindered assaults. On the north, the ravine would have done about the same. The only level ingress would have been from the east, and thus Zane's blockhouse would have represented protection for the entrance since attackers would have had to pass by it to attack the fort, and thus would have been caught in a crossfire between the fort and the blockhouse. All of the recorded attacks on Fort Henry came from the east.
Fort Henry, first named Fort Fincastle for the Viscount Fincastle, Lord Dunmore, Royal Governor of Virginia, but later renamed for Patrick Henry, was built out of necessity. It was not erected by any specific plan or design, but was one of a number of similar forts built to protect settlers on the frontier in the middle years of the 1770s. The outbreak of the Shawnee or Dunmore's War, was the immediate cause.
It would appear that the need for a fortified shelter was noticed simultaneously by the residents of the area, and by the military authorities at Fort Pitt, in the Spring of 1774. John Connally wrote to Wheeling, urging the settlers to fortify themselves as soon as possible. Ebenezer Zane and John Caldwell began the fort, which was completed with the help of Captain William Crawford and Colonel Angus McDonald and 400 militia and regulars from Fort Pitt. Connally, in a letter preserved in the Pennsylvania Archives, told Crawford. "to proceed to Wheeling and complete the fort." Dunmore wrote to Connally on June 20, 1774, "I entirely approve of the measures you have taken to build a fort at Wheeling." Dunmore, then, did not specifically order the fort to be built, but did approve of it. Connally , according to some accounts, left Fort Pitt with 100 men to help build the fort, but was harassed by a small raiding party of Indians, returned to Pitt, and then sent Crawford and McDonald with 400 men.
A later version of the story has George Rogers Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame [the authors here have confused two Clarks: George Rogers Clark, who was a military leader in the Revolution, and William Clark who was co-leader of the Lewis and Clark expedition], involved in the construction. However, there is no primary evidence to suggest that he was involved. His fame was yet to come. In his later pension statement, Clark said he was in Wheeling looking for someone to guide his party of surveyors into Indian land. He doesn't say anything about the fort.
Fort Fincastle/Henry was then, built in the summer of 1774 and probably finished in July of that year. Its construction was the result of local necessity and was brought about by the beginning of Dunmore's war.
Size, Shape and Interior Arrangement
Pictures of Fort Henry portray it as any one of a number of sizes and shapes, with some giving it the appearance of a medieval castle or Disney-like structure. Although it is nice to think of Fort Henry as a large, sturdy fort, the reality of the situation is quite different.
Several forts which were contemporaneous with Fort Henry have been excavated. They show that such forts were small structures with upright log walls for protection. In some cases, the logs were set a few inches apart, and the intervals filled with brush, planks, or anything else that might stop a bullet. These forts had lean-to sheds along the walls, with a couple of log blockhouses inside, usually for stores and as residences for officers. With the help given to build Fort Henry, we may imagine that it was typical in this arrangement.
The source material says that Fort Henry sat on a one-half to three-quarter acre lot. The bluff which has been proposed as the site was of this size. Although some writers state the size of the fort as approximately 300' by 150', the site could not have supported a structure larger than 85' by 50'. The fort was used only in times of attack, and thus would not need to be of any substantial size. At any one time during an attack, the size given would easily accommodate all the early settlers. The nature of the attacks, which were hit and run rather than a complete investiture, would allow for some movement of people back and forth to nearby homes or to the river for water.
The shape of the fort, situated as it was on the irregular lot, has been cited as a rectangle, square, rhombus, trapezoid and parallelogram. The latter is the most likely, but there is no evidence for it. The sides along the street and facing the river would have been the longest. The main gate was located on the Main Street side, and there was probably a sally port, or rear exit, which may have led to a protected walkway down to the river. The walls have been cited as being 17' high and made of white oak, although from other evidence this seems too high. About 7' to 9' was standard. The logs were squared and pointed at the top, although in an obvious misprint, they were once referred to as "painted."
There are several theories relating to the interior of the fort. Remembering the wholesale borrowing of ideas from one writer to another, the present authors felt it most appropriate to consult Joseph Doddridge and Colonel George McKiernan. Both were likely to have seen the fort, or, in the case of McKiernan, knowledgeable enough to understand the descriptions given. McKiernan is also said to have interviewed John Caldwell, one of the builders, but stated he lost his notes and tried to remember what Caldwell said many years later. Relying on Doddridge, it would seem that there were blockhouses placed at each corner, and that a sentry box was positioned on top of each blockhouse. A storehouse, captain's house and barracks for the men were inside. The captain's house was adapted to the use of a swivel cannon on top of the second story. Other structures which may be assumed to have been in the fort were a corral for holding stock, and sheds along the walls for horses and men.
Withers said there were barracks, cabins for families, a storehouse, an officers' house and a well. There was, as noted earlier, no need for cabins, nor was there sufficient room. A well was also unlikely and unnecessary, considering the difficulty of digging down 70' to water level and the proximity of the river. Even during attacks, people could go out for water, since all attacks came from the east and the river was to the west. General Brodhead, at Fort Pitt, wrote to David Shepherd that he should, "get in a good supply of water." A well, then, was not in the fort, but was a later invention of historians.
The wall itself would have portholes through which the men could shoot. After the September 1, 1777, attack, one man recalled that, "the men complained that the women kept so in their way of looking out the portholes they couldn't do a thing."
Forts and Frontier Life
Fort Henry was one of a number of small protected areas situated throughout the Upper Ohio Valley. Besides the description of the fort and events in its brief history, it is interesting to study the context in which Fort Henry existed. Two avenues of research in this area are on the forts themselves and on the interactions between the Native Americans and the European immigrants.
The great majority of forts built in this area were private, that is, a landowner, often with neighbors, built a stockade around a blockhouse and placed sheds along the walls and probably a corral on the interior. Since the Indians raided periodically, but did not engage in long sieges, there was no need for more elaborate structures. The forts were for protection from these raids which would typically last a few hours only.
Colonel William Crawford wrote to General George Washington:
June 8, 1774
Our whole country is in forts what is left, but the major part is gone over the mountain. With much ado I have prevailed on about a dozen families to join me in building a fort over against my house which has been accomplished with much difficulty and a considerable expense to me. Valentine Crawford has built another at the same rate.
An unsigned letter from Fort Bedford, May 30, 1774, said:
It is lamentable to see the multitude of poor people that are hourly running down country. Some of them that stay are building forts. God only knows how it will turn out with them.
The construction of these small forts was scarcely noted by eyewitnesses. Lord Dunmore, however, did write:
Wednesday, 11 o'clock
In one week a small one could be built, the only difficulty that occurs to me is to occupy it afterwards.
Abraham Cuppy described the building of Fort Laurens. He noted the picket wall consisted of six-inch thick split beams which were planted in a trench three feet deep, packed solidly, and which extended up to fifteen feet high. The blockhouse was of two stories. The first was six feet high, and the second was eight feet. The second floor overjutted the first by a foot, so residents could remove the floor boards and shoot down at attackers. The second story also had portholes about five feet from the floor, about the height of a man's shoulder where his rifle would rest.
At Van Metre's Fort, the excavators found that the trench for the wall was about 1 1/2 feet wide, with straight sides down to about the two-foot level and with the sides coming to a point at the three-foot level. The logs in the wall were not split, being trees of about 5" in diameter, and they were not placed adjoining each other. The spaces would have been filled with planks and brush.
A description of the second Shepherd's Fort, in what is now Elm Grove, said that it had twelve-foot sycamore planks, three inches thick, laid cross-wise between uprights. There were also bastions at the corners and portholes cut into the planks.
There was no standard pattern for these forts, but the descriptions did point out the rationale for them. They had to be bullet-proof, and had to provide a protected area for settlers and their livestock. It would appear that Van Metre's Fort, for instance, became a small settlement itself during the peak of raids in the Summer of 1777. Because there was often no warning given, settlers had to stay where they could escape from attacks.
The second aspect of frontier life concerns the settlers themselves and their relations with the natives. It is possible to learn much about them from personal documents, such as diaries, and from public ones, such as wills and estate lists. These show that frontier life in this area was not without certain amenities, such as bolts of English cloth and fine china. Excavation has unearthed other items such as Chinese import porcelain. David Shepherd, for instance, kept detailed records of what he ordered from the East, and these provide a glimpse at the possessions of a frontiersman, albeit a rich one.
Perhaps more might be learned by hearing portions of stories and letters which concern the frontier people. Contact and comparisons with the Indians were frequent, as trade and warfare brought the two groups into greater proximity. Furs were exchanged for powder, shot, iron tomahawks and rum. Plundered items were sold to those from whom they were stolen. The documents below show some aspect of this contact.
Lord Dunmore wrote in 1770:
"Michael Cressop, a Maryland trader with a party of 15 men attacked five cannoes containing 14 Indians a shirmish enssued one Indian killed and one white man. 16 kegs of rum some saddles and bridles were taken from them."
General Brodhead wrote on May 14, 1780:
"The poverty of the Delawares may endanger their loyalty -- a few goods will do wonders."
The Delawares demanded, in a peace treaty, ten gills of run per man, a repairman for their muskets, and a shot maker. Rum was a frequently used incentive for trade or negotiations. William Penn decried its use.
"The red man himself charged that the vice of intoxication among them was not only originated but willfully fostered by Europeans in order they might be able more easily to overreach them in trade."
During the Revolution, the British and colonials used Indians in other ways. Brodhead told the Delaware:
"HQ Fort Pitt
The reward offered for scalps and prisoners will encourage many of your brothers of the Island (the colonies) to form themselves into parties to pursue and waylay the enemies. You must show your friendship by actions and now you have an excellent opportunity. The English must soon leave this Island and you will be well rewarded for their scalps and prisoners."
For the settlers, plunder was an incentive to hostilities. Colonel William Christian wrote to Colonel William Preston:
Tuesday, November 8, 1774
Tuesday night he (Captain Russell) detached 250 men who reached a Mingo town the following night killed 5 took 14 prisoners chiefly women and children the rest escaping under cover of night. The plunder to a considerable amount was brought away and the town burned."
George Rogers Clark told David Shepherd:
March 18, 1781
The advantages of plunder and the fair prospect of routing the savages must be so pleasing to every person I have no doubt of a number of volunteers."
Several indications of the ferocity of fighting during the Indian wars have been found. Colonel John Gibson wrote to General Edward Hand:
October 22nd, 1777
Dear General -- Just after the express left this on the 21st October James Shirley came in here with an account of his being attacked by Indians . . . They killed one Smith and his daughter, and tomahawked his son, a boy about 6 years old, and after scalping him, left him. The boy is still alive but I am afraid will not recover."
Another account was given by an Indian to Peter Wagoner, some years after the Indian had participated in the massacre of Wagoner's family.
"He declared it had been their intention to take the mother and all three children captive; and that killing the boy was accidental . . . The warrior struck to render him senseless to prevent him from making an outcry but the blow was too heavy, killing him instead . . . Mrs. Wagoner and the two smaller children were slain because it was learned they were being pursued and these captive could not travel fast enough as was necessary to escape."
Joseph Doddridge recorded another incident. Two boys, ages 11 and 12, were captured, but while the Indians slept, the boys killed them. The elder beat one to death with a tomahawk, while the younger, using a musket propped on a log, blew off the Indian's lower jaw. Later, other Indians praised the boys for their bravery.
Finally, there are several descriptions of the settlers themselves.
"The militiaman of the Virginia border was a unique figure, proud, arrogant, and wholly self-reliant. These wild, deadly riflemen chafed at restraint and discipline. Like the Indian whose warfare he emulated he could not at all times be relied upon in battle."
December 4, 1775
The Virginians are haughty, violent and bloody. The savages have a high opinion of them as warriors, but are jealous of their encroachments and very suspicious of their faith in treaties . . . In the inroads of the Virginians upon the savages, the former have plundered burnt and murdered without mercy."
"The inhabitants appear many of them, to be a wild ungovernable little less savage then their tawny neighbors race by similar barbarities have in fact provoked them to revenge."
George Rogers Clark wrote to Colonel Morgan of events at "Welunk" (Wheeling) in 1774. Clark spoke about the settlers.
"The war post was planted and the men tossed a collection of scalps taken into a common pile, some in breach cloths dancing wildly waving tomahawks."
The frontier was a rugged place, yet with certain material goods if one could afford them. This look at the early settlers serves to demonstrate what it took to wrest a country from its native population. While not always praiseworthy, these accounts show clearly the lifestyle of the frontier and its people.
The importance of Fort Henry may be measured more by its existence than by the events which occurred at it. While not a center of power such as Fort Pitt, Fort Henry did show that a settlement was growing in this area, and that there were sufficient inhabitants to warrant the construction of a fortified place. Of course, the presence of settlers on the border would augur the need for protection from the Indians their British allies.
The fort had an active lifespan of about nine years. Constructed in July of 1774, Fort Henry was the site of at least four attacks before it faded from history sometime in 1783. Although parts of the fort were still standing as late as 1808, the site had been abandoned since 1782 and stores were no longer kept there but in the Zane blockhouse. The area became a pasture, known as "Zane's Reserve," and was opened for building several years later.
The four attacks of which there is any evidence occurred in February 1777, September 1777, September 1781 and the last in September 1782. There were quite possibly other raids which were never reported, or for which the accounts have been lost.
The February, 1777, was a typical raid. A band of Indians, composed of Wyandot, Shawnee, Mingo and Delaware, "killed and scalped one man, the body of whom was much mangled . . . At Dunkard's Creek they killed and scalped one man and a woman and took three children and at each of the above places they burned houses and killed cattle and hogs." (Colonel William Crawford to Congress, April 22, 1777). A scout, John Schoolcraft, said he had warned Wheeling and Fort Pitt about marauding bands of Indians at about this same time.
The infamous September 1, 1777, attack was the most vicious of any at Fort Henry. Fourteen, and possibly twenty-three, defenders were killed and that was the result of a rather willful ignorance of the strategic acumen of the Indians. There had been much warning given for this attack.
On July 26, 1777, Captain Arbuckle wrote that a friendly Indian had said that Wheeling, and also Fort Randolph, would be attacked, and that the Indians would attempt to lure men away from the fort and then ambush them. On August 2, General Hand at Fort Pitt told David Shepherd to concentrate his forces at Fort Henry, and Shepherd responded by ordering eleven companies of militia between the Ohio and Monongahela to come to Wheeling. While these companies were assembling, there were sporadic incidents of fighting nearby. On August 2, Joseph Ogle encountered a band of five Indians, with the Indians wounding two slaves about 300 yards from the fort. About August 4, David Shepherd reported a fight between six scouts and five Indians, one of whom was killed.
By late August, Shepherd had completed some repairs to the fort, to make it "Indianproof" except if they should scale the wall. The companies ordered to arrive were on their way. Captain Pigman came with an unknown contingent; Colonel Zac Morgan and Major James Chew arrived with about 100 men; Captains Leach and Shannon came with about fifty men each; Captains Ogle and Mason had twenty-five; and there were about forty citizens already present. The total garrison of the fort was, then, approximately three hundred men, with an unknown number of women and children.
To understand what happened next, one must note the character of the militiamen, and the living arrangements they had at the fort. Many sources cite the militiamen as being barely disciplined. As volunteers or conscripts, they actively sought plunder and fighting. If these were not forthcoming, the men would literally toss their belongings over the wall and leave. Commanders were often put in the position of heeding their wishes, since failure to do so could lead to wholesale desertion. The Forman massacre was a case in point. Once at the fort, the men were fed through the largess of the residents who contributed some of their harvest and cattle or hogs to a common pool which was used by those stationed at the fort.
By August 28, Shepherd had problems with a restless militia and a dwindling food supply (the harvest of 1777 was quite poor), and there was a distinct lack of any Indian activity. Scouts were sent out daily to comb both sides of the river for signs of raiding parties and all reported no contact. In light of these events, Shepherd had one option, to let the men go. He wrote to General Hand, August 28, 1777:
"We have not seen any sign of the Indians since I wrote you last and we keep out scouts and spies every day . . . Captain Shannon's men seemed uneasy to go home and as I saw no appearance of the Indians I let them go."
From all accounts, the only militia left in the neighborhood were Ogle's and Mason's men at Beech Bottom, and the residents of Wheeling. The total number was no more than fifty. Three days later, September 1, the Indians, who were most probably watching the fort and saw the departure of the militia, attacked, and did exactly what Captain Arbuckle said they would over one month earlier.
Ogle's men, who had come back to Fort Henry, left to attack what was believed to be a small band of Indians, either in revenge for the death of a defender known as the "Irishman", or to retrieve Dr. James McMechen's horse which had been stolen. In a cornfield near Wheeling Creek, the company was ambushed. Mason's men then went to the rescue and were themselves ambushed.
The survivors reassembled at the fort and the Indians, perhaps with Simon Girty, took up positions to the North and East of the fort. The ensuing battle lasted until midnight when the Indians left. There is some discrepancy in the accounts about the number killed. It would appear that fourteen militia died, and nine of the civilians, for a total of twenty-three. The Indians, whose numbers are not known, lost at least two Wyandot, with seven wounded, but there is no information of the losses of the other tribes present.
This attack was also the setting for the story of Major Samuel McColloch's leap. The historian Alexander Withers, who used Ebenezer Zane's notes on the attack, said that McColloch arrived from West Liberty with forty-five men after the attack, and spent their time examining the ambush site. Withers makes no mention of the leap.
A tragic epilogue to this attack was the Forman Massacre which occurred three weeks later. Captains Forman and Ogle were ambushed by the Wyandot leader Half King and fifty men, and they lost twenty-one in the Narrows at McMechen. It would appear that there was an insufficient regard for the Indians' abilities in warfare, and lack of heed to a warning. Major James Chew wrote of the massacre:
"What will not men do for want of thought or rather to be thought brave by the giddy multitudes. This last was the occasion of the loss in the Narrows. Believe me I never saw on this river a likelier platt of ground for a battle, for such a party, and their conduct on the march, was the occasion of the fatal event that followed."
The same could be said for the attack on Fort Henry, where there was little heed given to a warning, and where the character of the militia made ambushes easy.
The circumstances of the September attack and the Forman Massacre were rather amazingly repeated in the September 1781, attack. Again, there was sufficient warning given. Colonel Brodhead wrote to David Shepherd, August 24, 1781:
"I have this moment received certain intelligence that the enemy are coming in great force against us and particularly against Wheeling. You will immediately put your garrison in the best posture of defense and lay in a great quantity of water as circumstances will admit and receive them cooly. They intend to decoy your garrison, but you are to guard against stratagem, and defend your post to the last extremity."
However, the garrison was ambushed! Few accounts have survived of this attack, but what appears to have happened is that the Indians succeeded in drawing the defenders out toward Wheeling Hill where they were ambushed. We might surmise that the defenders numbered about forty, including civilians, but there is no information of losses. The Indians again burned crops and houses, killed animals and left.
These three attacks show the typical type of Indian raid, that is, a type of guerrilla warfare which was designed to harass and dishearten the settlers and to inflict as much damage as possible without resort to a suicidal frontal assault on a fortified place.
This strategy changed in the September 11-13, 1782 attack. During this siege on the fort, which would be the last, the Indians and British tried to assault the fort four times with no success. The presence of the British may be assumed to have been the cause of the change in tactics, but the outcome was the same: burned crops, killed or captured animals, and few casualties.
The accounts of this last attack revolve around the notes of Ebenezer Zane, the recollections of various participants and the records of the British involved in the attack. The 1782 attack was part of a much larger British-led incursion against colonial settlements in Ohio and Kentucky. As has been noted, these areas were ceded to the Indians by the treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768. For the reasons given, both the British and the Indians had cause to try and prohibit further settlement.
A problem with the settlers' accounts of the attack is that they were taken as many as fifty years after the fact. Several early historians noted that these recollections confused events in separate attacks, besides exaggerating or forgetting details. The British depositions were more straightforward although they too lack certain details.
The British were elements of Butler's Rangers and were led by Captain Andrew Bradt, Colonel Sir John Butler's son-in-law or nephew. They had come from Fort Niagara, had passed through the Delaware Indian villages near Zanesville, and had arrive at Fort Henry on September 11 with fifty men and 238 Indians. After the assault, the rangers took enough cattle from Wheeling to provision them for ten days, until they joined with Captain William Caldwell at the Shawnee villages around the Scioto River on September 21. The attack on Wheeling was the last fought by these rangers during the Indian wars.
There were few defenders in the fort. The numbers are not certain, but there seemed to be fewer than twenty men, with unnumbered women and children. According to Zane, the Indians first demanded surrender, and, when rejected, assaulted the fort three times on September 11 and once on September 12. There was one minor injury to the defenders, and unknown losses to the attackers. The British and Indians did destroy grain and houses before leaving.
The most notable event of the attack, and long a popular local legend, was the (approximately) 50 yard run by Betty Zane for gunpowder. Besides indicating that the fort was already abandoned (part of the wall collapsed during the attack) and that stores were kept in the Zane blockhouse, the incident became a highly publicized example of heroism. Except for Lydia Boggs Shepherd Cruger's statement that Molly Scott did the running, all other witnesses, including several Scotts, said that Betty Zane ran from the fort to the blockhouse, filled an apron or tablecloth with powder, and returned in a hail of rifle fire.
The attack, although different in strategy from those that preceded it, ending with similar results, ie., burned crops, decimated livestock, etc. It does mark the last raid on Wheeling proper, although there were sporadic incidents up to 1795. In 1792, for instance, Lewis Grindstaff was killed along Middle Creek and was buried on the grounds of Shepherd's Fort, now Monument Place. The title, "last battle of the Revolution" has been placed on the attack, but, in the context of the Indian wars and of the surrender of General Cornwallis eleven months earlier, and of the continuation of the Indian wars until 1795, the title is less factual than sentimental. From the Haldiman Papers, we have two letters:
August 24, 1782
The Indians have all left this place since they are not permitted to go to war. I am apprehensive of being insulted daily. There are few troops at present on the Mohawk River, the people everywhere are clamoring for peace which seems to be daily. (John Ross)"
DePeyster to the Indians:
I have another message from the commander-in-chief to you which is that you will not push the war into the enemies' country but defend you own in which he is ready to give you every assistance in his power."
There is also some evidence that the authorities in Detroit tried to recall the rangers, but were unable to locate them.
The significance of Fort Henry is its presence! The events at the fort are exemplars for hundreds of similar raids on groups of settlers over a twenty-two year period, and graphically demonstrate the determination and perseverance needed to keep the frontier open for colonization. When we speak of Fort Henry, we are citing in microcosm the history of the frontier, and the men and women who hung on to it.
About the Authors
Richard S. Klein is an avid historian and researcher. For several years, he studied the early years of Wheeling and old Ohio County. Using primary source material, some of which had not been seen for decades, Mr. Klein reconstructed events and places which would otherwise have been forgotten.
Alan H. Cooper is an archaeologist and educator. With Mr. Klein, he excavated several historic and prehistoric sites in the Wheeling area, and co-authored over twenty articles on aspects of local history. Elected to the Society of Professional Archaeologists, Dr. Cooper taught and Linsly and West Virginia University, and has taught archaeology through the Delf Norona Museum. He was also President of the Wheeling Chapter of the West Virginia Archaeological Society, and Director of the Society. He now resides in Dover, New Jersey.