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Lord Dunmore’s War (1774)

aka Dunmore’s War

Lord Dunmore’s War

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.

Lord Dunmore’s War was the name given to a series of bloody hostilities in 1774 between the colonists of Virginia and the Shawnee and Mingo Indians. The area south of the Ohio River had long been claimed by the Iroquois, the most powerful Indian nation in the Northern Colonies, but other tribes also made claims to the area and often hunted the region. The colonists began exploring and settling the lands south of the Ohio River (now WV and KY) after the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix with the Iroquois, but Ohio Indians who hunted the land refused to sign the treaty and prepared to defend their hunting rights. At the forefront of the resistance were the Shawnee.

In September 1773, a then-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,VA (KY). 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 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.

History, always written by the victors, is not unbiased. While many accounts of the Lord Dunmore’s War downplay it, there were plenty of hostilities of the Whites against the Indians. What undisputedly led to the War was the “Yellow Creek Massacre” on April 30, 1774. A group of Virginia frontiersmen murdered a dozen Mingoes, many relatives of the previously-friendly John James Logan (~1725-1780) (Iroquois/Mingo), including women and children. Some accounts claim there were nearby Indian warriors painted for battle; some don’t. Although influential tribal chiefs in the region, such as Cornstalk (Shawnee), White Eyes (Lenape), and Guyasuta (Seneca/Mingo), attempted to negotiate a peaceful resolution lest the incident develop into a larger war, several parties of mixed Mingo and Shawnee warriors soon struck the frontier, killing and taking captives. By most accounts Logan personally “took the scalps of more than 30 colonists.”

The Virginia colonists duly responded. In May, 1774, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore (“Lord Dunmore”), then royal Governor of Virginia, asked the House of Burgesses to declare a state of war with the hostile Indian nations, the Mingoes and the Shawnees. War was declared “to pacify the hostile Indian war bands”. On June 10, 1774, Lord Dunmore called out the militia of southwest Virginia under the command of Colonel Andrew Lewis. On July 10, 1774* Governor Dunmore departed for the Ohio Valley, reaching it in early October. In August the militia of Frederick County under Major Angus McDonald raided the Indian towns on the Muskingum River.

Dunmore’s warplan was simple. Three regiments were to be raised west of the Blue Ridge, one to be commanded by Colonel Andrew Lewis, while two other regiments from the interior were to be commanded by Dunmore himself. The force under Lewis, 1100 strong, proceeded from Camp Union (Lewisburg,WV) to the headwaters of the Kanawha, and then downriver to the appointed rendezvous, reaching the river’s mouth on October 6, while Dunmore traveled to Fort Pitt and proceeded with his forces down the Ohio River. 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 the morning of October 10, before Lewis began crossing the Ohio, he and his 1,100 men were surprised when about 1100 warriors under Chief Cornstalk (not including Logan) attacked them. The Battle of Point Pleasant, as it came to be called, raged nearly all day and descended into hand-to-hand combat. Despite heavy losses, Lewis’ army emerged victorious, and the Indians retreated across the Ohio.

Dunmore and Lewis advanced from their respective points into Ohio towards the Shawnee towns on the Scioto, where they erected the temporary Camp Charlotte on Sippo Creek — John Houseman served under Captain Daniel Morgan here; this Frederick county, VA company served for 164 days, including time at Camp Charlotte; it is unknown if they also served in the Battle of Point Pleasant. Dunmore, perhaps with Lewis, met with Cornstalk to begin peace negotiations. According to tradition, Chief Logan refused to attend the negotiations, although some accounts say he promised to cease fighting. Under the October 19, 1774* Treaty of Camp Charlotte terms, 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, ending Lord Dunmore’s War. After the Mingo refused to accept the terms of the treaty, Major William Crawford attacked their village of Seekunk (Salt Lick Town). His force of 240 men destroyed the village

The battle of Point Pleasant has been called the most extensive and the most bitterly contested Indian battle in American history, and with the most potent results. At the time it occurred it aroused world-wide interest; English, French and German newspapers published extensive articles descriptive of the battle.

Upon his return to Virginia, Lord Dunmore received praise by the colonists and the Assembly for his success of the War and the the 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. The British continued to follow a policy of limiting western expansion of the colonies, while guaranteeing the Indians peace in their homes. Lord Dunmore’s War, like the earlier French and Indian War, only strengthened the British in their resolve to keep the peace at the price of stifling the western expansion by the colonial settlers.

But the colonists were unhappy with more than the British policy of Western expansion. Lord Dunmore had been trying hard to limit the Virginians’ ability to govern themselves for over a year. In both 1773 and 1774, the governor disbanded the Virginia legislature, the House of Burgesses, for supporting persons opposed to the Mother Country. He surely would have found it enticing to get rid of the military capabilities of the oppositionists.

Andrew Lewis, who refused to take another order from Dunmore from the date of the Battle of Point Pleasant, reported to General Washington about the fact that Lewis and his men were attacked there at the place where Lord Dunmore had told them to meet him and his wing. Dunmore was charged with inciting the Indian war and arranging the campaign so as to carry out his political plans. It was charged that he arranged the expedition so as to have the force under Lewis annihilated by the Indians, and thereby weaken the physical strength and break down the spirits of the Virginians, for they were defying royal power.

In 1775 all Virginians came to despise Dunmore. In March, angry over the Virginia Convention, Dunmore attempted to incite an insurrection among the slaves. In April he seized the store of gunpowder from Williamsburg; Patrick Henry gathered a corps of volunteers and marched to the capital (Williamsburg,VA), causing the governor to pay for the powder. That fall, Dunmore and co-conspirators were caught planning to incite the Indians against the Virginia frontiersmen. In November he proclaimed freedom to all slaves who should take up arms against the “rebels”, and declared martial law throughout Virginia; emancipation was successful in that he augmented his depleted force from 300 to 1100. He sent marauding parties against the Whigs, and began to lay waste to the Virignia countryside. The Virginians quickly organized militias for defense, and repulsed Dunmore at Great Bridge,VA on December 9. He withdrew to his ships at Norfolk, and when the town would not furnish supplies to him, cannonaded the town and set it on fire. Ironically, just 14 months after supposedly being allies in the Lord Dunmore War, it was General Andrew Lewis and his Virginia militia who attacked Dunmore, decimating his navy; Dunmore escaped and joined the naval forces in NY, soon after returning to England. Obviously he had the distinction of being the last royal governor of Virginia.

The hostilities with the Indians had not ended; the Indians played an important role in the American Revolution on the Western front. Dissention within the Indian nations over the 1774 treaty emboldened the Indians, specifically the Shawnee and the Cherokee, and they declared war against the Virginia colonists in May, 1776. In the Western colonies, the Revolutionary battles continued to be marked by Indian-Colonist hostilities. Theordore Roosevelt said the Lord Dunmore War “was of the greatest advantage to the American cause; for it kept the northwestern Indians off our hands for the first two years of the Revolutionary struggle.”

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