Battle of Point Pleasant
FIRST BATTLE OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
OCTOBER 10, 1774
By MRS. LIVIA SIMPSON-POFFENBARGER, LL. D.
(Mrs. George Poffenbarger)
Reproduced from the Report made to the West Virginia State Board of Control for its Report of 1927.
West Virginians, Virginians and citizens of those states who owe their acquisition to the United States, through the concession of Virginia in the adoption of the constitution of the United States, are not alone in their interest in the battle of Point Pleasant, October 10, 1774.
Point Pleasant is truly a national shrine to which new hundreds, nay thousands, are annually coming. A new highway bridge now completed over the Ohio River at Point Pleasant makes another chain in the "From the Lakes to the Gulf" highway. The town is easily accessible by other improved roads, by river and rail.
It is important that Americans should know our own history and its significance in the great revolutionary struggle, in which the Battle of Point Pleasant was the first conflict waged by the American Colonists in defense of the Colonies, wherein they met in battle the allies of the English, the great federated Indian tribes, commanded by Chief Cornstalk. It was the deadliest battle ever waged by red men since the discovery of America. It was incited by Dunmore, the Tory Governor of Virginia, and his trusted lieutenants.
That the status of that battle was not generally known following its occurrence is due to the fact that that branch of the Army, in what is known as Dunmore’s War, commanded by General Andrew Lewis, was for the major part recruited en route to Camp Union, as they were on their way to the mouth of the Kanawha, (the place agreed upon for the uniting of the two wings of the Army, the other wing commanded by Dunmore in person), and thus no official roster was prepared. The Army was made up of his kinsmen, personal friends and associates, and they in turn enlisted their friends. They were the flower of the citizens west of the Allegheny Mountains.
General Lewis was convinced, if not before, then immediately following, of the treachery of Lord Dunmore. Following the battle General Lewis refused to obey his orders, and thus became the first American officer to disobey a superior British officer. Thus it was he refrained from making an official report to Dunmore, Governor of the colony, as he would have otherwise done, and, too, Dunmore was yet in the field, and, as Lewis knew, was then in the camp of the enemy. Hence the report of the battle made by General Lewis became no part of the public records of Virginia or Virginia history.
The events of the continuing revolution came so thick and so fast as to preclude the discussion or recordation of the far-reaching significance of the battle of Point Pleasant, until 1787, when came the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, wherein Virginia contributed so large and so generous and so patriotic a part by her concession of the Northwest Territory to the United States, Virginia’s property, ceded to her at Camp Charlotte later ratified at Fort Pitt, as a result of the victory at Point Pleasant.
True, the Declaration of Independence had not as yet been signed, proclaiming that the colonists were at war with the mother country, neither had it been signed nor proclaimed when the British began hostility at Lexington on April 19, 1775, but it was as much a struggle and a more barbarous attack than that of the battle of Lexington, "heard around the world," and faithfully recorded by the patriotic citizens of New England. True it is that New England had then no quick means of communication between the western frontier of Virginia and New England, who knew not then of the terrible battle of Point Pleasant and all that it portended.
Immediately following the battle of Point Pleasant there appeared no published account of the battle, save a meager account in the Virginia Gazette at Williamsburg, Virginia, a small paper of meager circulation and with but few copies preserved. Another early published record extant and yet bound and preserved was reviewed by Dr. John P. Hale, author of "Trans Allegheny Pioneers" and other valuable historical publications. Interested in the one hundredth anniversary of the battle about to be celebrated at Point Pleasant, Dr. Hale, then being on a visit to Belfast, Ireland, the Scotch-Irish stronghold whence many of the participants of the battle had come, found an account of the battle published in 1774 in the Belfast News Letters and in a later edition another unsigned report from Camp Point Pleasant. They were believed to have been sent by each of the then commanding officers of the fort at Point Pleasant, Captains Isaac Shelby and Matthew Arbuckle, and they are reproduced in Dr. Hale’s "Trans Alleghenies" (1886) on pp. 187-188-189. They are important, and doubtless correct, reports of the battle. Dr. Hale on page 202 "Trans Alleghenies" says: "It has been stated that there were not only suspicious but grave charges that Governor Dunmore acted a double part, and that he was untrue and treacherous to the interests of the colony he governed.
"As he is inseparably connected with this campaign (called the Dunmore War) and its accompanying history, and the inauguration of the Revolution, it may be well to allude to his official course, just before, during and after the campaign, that his true relations to it and to the colony may be understood; and also to show that the Revolution was really in progress: that this campaign was one of the important moves on the historical chess-board, and that the battle of Point Pleasant was, as generally claimed, the initiatory battle of the great drama.
"In the summer of 1773 Governor Dunmore made, ostensibly, a pleasure trip to Fort Pitt; here he established close relations with Dr. Connally, making him ‘Indian Agent, Land Agent, etc.’ Connally was an able, active and efficient man, who thereafter adhered to the English cause.
"It is charged that Connally at once began to foment trouble and ill feeling between the colonies of Virginia and Pennsylvania in regard to the western frontier, and also to incite the Indian tribes to resistance of white westward encroachments upon their hunting grounds and prepare the way for getting their cooperation with England against the colonies when the rupture should come.
"Dr. Connally changed the name of Fort Pitt to Fort Dunmore. He claimed lands in Pennsylvania under pretence from Lord Dunmore. He was arrested and imprisoned for a time and had the Indian tribes highly excited and united in a strong confederacy and threatening war.
"While the Continental Congress (1774) was then in session in Philadelphia and was passing resolutions which created a breach between the colonies and the mother country past healing, Governor Dunmore and General Lewis were organizing and marching their armies to the West. Instead of uniting the forces into one army and marching straight to the Indian towns and conquering or dictating a lasting peace, Lord Dunmore took the larger portion of the army by a long detour by Fort Pitt, thence down the Ohio, picking up on the way Dr. Connally and Simon Girty, whom he made useful. At Fort Pitt it is said he held conference with some of the Indian chiefs.
Instead of uniting with Lewis at the mouth of the Kanawha, which had been arranged but probably not intended, Dunmore struck off from the Ohio at the mouth of the Hockhocking and, marched for the Indian towns on the Pickaway Plains, without the support of Lewis, army, delaying long enough for the Indians to have annihilated Lewis’ division, if events had turned out as Cornstalk had planned.
"Col. Andrew Lewis, (son of General Andrew) says: 'It is known that Blue Jacket, a Shawnee chief, visited Lord Dunmore’s camp on the 9th, the day before the battle, and went straight from there to the Point.'
"When Lewis had crossed the river after the battle and was marching to join Dunmore, a messenger was dispatched to him twice in one day, ordering him to stop and retrace his steps, the messenger being the notorious Simon Girty.
"General Lewis had very naturally become very much incensed at the conduct of lord Dunmore, and took the high handed responsibility, advised and sanctioned by his officers and men, of disobeying the order of his superior in command, and of boldly marching toward the camp.
"When within about two and a half miles of Lord Dunmore’s camp, which he called Camp Charlotte after the wife of his master, George III, he came out to meet Lewis in person, bringing with him Cornstalk, White Eyes and others, and insisted on Lewis returning as he (Dunmore) was negotiating a treaty of peace with the Indians.
"Evidently it did not comport with Lord Dunmore’s plans to have General Lewis present at the treaty to help negotiations by suggestions, or to have the moral support of his army to support him. Col. Daniel Morgan, Col. Samuel McDowell, George Rodgers Clark and others of eminence insisted on accompanying Dunmore, whose treachery they suspected, that there would be terms of surrender made acceptable to Virginia.
Col. John Stuart, another participant in the Battle of Point Pleasant, wrote a memoir on the first pages of the Greenbrier County records, he being the first Clerk of that County, in which he said in part:
"The battle of Point Pleasant was in fact the beginning of the Revolutionary War, that obtained for our county the liberty and independence enjoyed by the United States, for it is well known that the Indians were influenced by the British to commence the war to terrify and confound the people, before they commenced hostilities themselves the following year at Lexington. It was thought by British politicians that to incite an Indian war would prevent a combination of the colonies for opposing parliamentary measures to tax Americans. The blood therefore spilt upon this memorable battlefield will long be remembered by the good people of Virginia and the United States with gratitude."
Hale further says in "Trans Alleghenies," p. 209:
"Lord Dunmore upon his return to Williamsburg, made report of the results of his campaign. Upon his own ex parte statement the Assembly passed a vote of thanks for his valuable services, which they very much regretted upon learning the facts, and they later changed the name of Dunmore County, upon petition of its citizens, to that of Shenandoah.
"Just after the battle of Lexington April 19, 1775, Dunmore had all the powder stored in the Colonial Magazine at Williamsburg secretly conveyed on board an armed English vessel lying off Yorktown, and threatened to lay Williamsburg in ashes at the first sign of insurrection.
"That cooperation with the Indians was the Dunmore policy of annihilating the colonists it will be seen. Following the battle of Lexington, April 19, 1775, he sent a messenger to his old friend Connally with a commission as Colonel, and instructed him to secure the cooperation of as many of the Western Militia as possible by large rewards, and to form an alliance with the Indians, collect his forces at Fort Pitt, and march through Virginia and meet him. Col. Connally was captured, imprisoned and the scheme exposed and thwarted." See p. 209 same volume.
Governor Dunmore and his fleet were driven from his stronghold at Guynnes Island in the Chesapeake Bay in 1776, and General Andrew Lewis had the pleasure of firing the first gun. There is sufficient evidence of the intention of Lord Dunmore to destroy the army of General Lewis at Point Pleasant. Had General Lewis been defeated, Virginia would have been so busy protecting the frontier she would have been unable to participate in the revolution, and without Virginia the revolution would not have been undertaken at that time.
As further evidence of the collusion of the Indians with Dunmore at the time of the battle of Point Pleasant, Campbell, one of Virginia’s outstanding early historians, says:
"It is known that Blue Jacket, a Shawnee chief, visited Dunmore’s camp on the 9th, the day before the battle and went straight from there to Point Pleasant, and that some of the Indians went to confer with Dunmore immediately after the battle; that Dunmore on the day of the battle remarked, ‘Lewis is probably having hot work about this time.’" Campbell further gives same above account of the conduct of Dunmore and his refusal to allow Lewis to participate in the treaty following the battle, and Lewis’ refusal to obey Dunmore’s orders.
Virgil A. Lewis, writing in 1883, in Hardesty’s Historical and Geographical Encyclopedia, including Mason County. W. Va., says:
"It is a well known fact that the emissaries of Great Britain were then inciting the Indians to hostilities against the frontier for the purpose of distracting attention, and thus preventing the consummation of the Union which was then being formed to resist their armed oppressor. It is well known that Lord Dunmore was an enemy of the colonists, and hence his efforts to induce the Indians to cooperate with the English and thus reduce Virginia to subjection.
"To the student of history no truth is more patent than this —that the battle of Point Pleasant was the first in the series of the Revolution, the flames of which were being kindled by the oppression of the Mother Country."
Far Reaching Results
Lewis further says: "The Great North
West territory, lying north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi, had
long been a bone of contention between France and England, and France did not
relinquish her claim until driven to recede as a result of the battle upon the
Plains of Alabama before Quebec. The treaty that followed at Paris in 1763 ceded
that territory to England. England’s failure to open this territory of Abraham
before Quebec. The treaty that followed at Paris in 1763 whereby England
maintained it to the exclusion of the colonists not only that she might with it
subsidize the Indians, but when necessary secure their services to maintain
control of the colonies."
The Virginians of the Dunmore division of
the army were enlisted for the war and had fully expected to participate in the
ensuing battle. They were loyal to Virginia and to the cause of the colonists,
and did almost to a man continue in the Revolution. They furnished largely the
men of the Clarke Expedition, conquerors of the Northwest, as truly defenders of
the colonists of the Revolution as though on the firing line against the British
Redcoats, and should be entitled to be considered in the Revolution from the
time they left Virginia for the front in September, 1774, until their return
home. Many of them did not see peace until all hostilities ended, which did not
finally occur until the battle of Fallen Timbers fully twenty years later.
The treaty made between the Indians and
the Virginians was kept inviolate for three years, enabling the Virginians not
only to enter the Northwest Territory but also to colonize Kentucky and
Bougher’s "Gleanings of
Virginia," 1903, p. 21, says: "Lord Dunmore, Governor of Virginia from
1772 to 1776, was suspected of playing double. While efforts were being made by
the General Congress in 1774 to resist the encroachments of Great Britain
against the colonies, while the Indians were committing depredations along the
western frontiers, the indignation of the people compelled their reluctant
governor to take up arms and march against the very Indians whom he was
suspected of having incited by intrigues to hostility.
"Dunmore marched his army in two
columns. The one under Andrew Lewis he sent to the junction of the Great Kanawha
with the Ohio River, while the other he led to a point higher up on the Ohio,
with the alleged purpose of destroying certain Indian towns and then joining
Lewis at Point Pleasant. The real purpose, however, is suspected to have been
the concentrating of the entire Indian force upon Lewis and thus awakening and
The Ohio Archaeological and Historical
Quarterly of July, 1903, says:
‘The patriot army with Lewis at Point
Pleasant fought the first battle of the Revolution, Oct. 10, 1774, Lord Dunmore
having no doubt planned the attack by the Indians to discourage the Americans
from further agitation of the then pending demand for fair treatment of the
American Colonies at the hands of Great Britain."
Let us view briefly what some of the other
historians have said of the conflict. Roosevelt in the "Winning of the
West," Vol. II, Chapter II, says: "Lord Dunmore’s War, waged by
Americans for the good of America, was the opening act of the drama, whereof the
closing scene was played at Yorktown. It made possible the twofold character of
the Revolutionary War, wherein on the one hand the Americans won by conquest and
colonization new lands for their children, and on the other wrought out their
national independence of the British King."
Kercheval says: "This Indian War was
but the precursor to our revolutionary war of 1775. Dunmore, then Governor of
Virginia, was one of the most inveterate and determined enemies of the
Revolution. Occupying the station of commander-in-chief of the large and
respectable state of Virginia, he possessed means and power to do much to serve
the views of Great Britain. It was consequently no difficult matter with a
Virginia Governor to direct the incipient state of things to any point most
conclusive to the grand end he had in view, namely: breaking our national
strength in some of the best and most efficient parts. If then a War with
Indians might have a tendency to produce this result, it appears perfectly
natural and reasonable to suppose Dunmore would make use of his power and
influence to promote it."
Lewis’s History of West Virginia, p.
134, says of the battle of Point Pleasant: "The Colonial Army returned home
only to enlist in this patriot army and almost on every battlefield of the
Revolution was represented that little band who stood face to face with the
savage (sic) allies of Great Britain."
And Lewis further says: "The Battle
of Point Pleasant stands out conspicuously between the great constructive
periods of American history. It is the greatest event of the colonial period and
stands just at its close. With it the Revolutionary period begins."
Ex-Governor and Judge George W. Atkinson,
himself an historian of high repute, said at Point Pleasant on Oct. 10, 1909, at
the National Memorial services: "Virginians have always claimed the Battle
of Point Pleasant to have been the first battle of the Revolution. On this blood
red battlefield of Point Pleasant our Virginia volunteers held the key to the
nation’s life. They will live down through the centuries while history lasts
and until men cease to honor valor."
Hon. O. E. Randall, one of Ohio’s most
eminent historians, speaking for the Sons of the American Revolution, at
Chillicothe, Ohio, on May 20-21, 1903, the one hundredth anniversary of the
founding of the State of Ohio, said the following:
"View as you choose, the Dunmore War
was the prelude, the opening occasion of the American Revolution. The dramatic
battle of that war was fought at the mouth of the Kanawha on the Virginia banks
of the Ohio, by General Lewis and fifteen hundred Virginia backwoodsmen against
Cornstalk, chief of the Shawnees and the federation of the Ohio Indian tribes
with an equal number of chosen braves. The battle fought October 10, 1774, was,
from the nature of the circumstances, the first battle of the Revolution. The
Indians were the suborned subjects, the hired Hessians of the British, for whom
and with whom they were eager to fight to defend the territory reserved by the
British for their hunting-grounds and homes."
There is not a state in the Union but
would proudly extol the great epoch of the Battle of Point Pleasant were it
theirs. All advised historians not biased by personal environment or jealous of
their own heritage are rapidly giving credit where credit is due the battle of
Point Pleasant, first battle of the American Revolution.
Students of history wishing to learn
further details of the Battle of Point Pleasant are referred to Belfast News
Letter publications frequently reproduced, Hale’s "Trans Allegheny
Pioneers," Col. John Stuart’s Memoirs, De Hass History, Stephen T.
Mitchell in "Spirit of the Old Dominion," Virgil A. Lewis’
"History of West Virginia," West Virginia Historical Magazine.
Waddell’s "Annals of Augusta County, Virginia," Bougher’s
"Gleanings of Virginia," Roosevelt’s "Winning of the
West," Randall’s "Ohio in the Revolution," West Virginia Board
of Control Report, 1922, Vol. II, Thwait’s "Dunmore War,"
Poffenbarger’s "Battle of Point Pleasant, First Battle of the
Revolution," Howe’s "History of Virginia," Kercheval’s
"History of the Valley."
It is to be regretted that the attention
of the educators of America have not been called to the fact that the textbooks
taught in our states are silent as to the history of this most outstanding
historic event, the Battle of Point Pleasant, and that the history properly
prepared should be made a part of the textbooks of the states that its children
and children’s children should know the story and set the example that all
historians will eventually follow when we have claimed for the nation our
priceless heritage in the battlefield and its history of Point Pleasant. The
money appropriated by the Congress of the United States and by the West Virginia
Legislature, as well as that made by private subscription, has been most
judiciously expended. This is evidenced in the securing of one of the most
beautiful and historic sites in America, dedicated October 10, 1901, as
Tu-Endie-Wei Park, given its oldest Indian name in theShawnee language,
signifying the "mingling of the waters." On these grounds at Point
Pleasant was dedicated on Saturday, October 9th, 1909, a granite shaft, 84 feet
high, the tallest battle monument west of the Alleghenies, in the presence of
more than twenty-five thousand people, and on October 10th following was held a
great memorial service.
Within the confines of Tu-Endie-Wei Park
repose the dead of the battle, and upon the bronze tablets of the monument are
recorded their names, as well as the names of those wounded. A statue of a
Virginia frontiersman in the dress of that pioneer adorns the monument, and
seems a sentinel guarding the bivouac of the dead.
Within the park on its original site
stands the Mansion House, the oldest house in the Kanawha Valley, first hewed
log house in western Virginia, a house of public entertainment, restored,
furnished with local Colonial furniture, much of which was originally in the
building. The house has lived within three centuries,having been built in 1797
by Walter Newman. It is open to the public.
On these grounds was built FortBlair
following the battle, and later was built near by Fort Randolph, whose site is
The Point Pleasant battlefield and
especially Tu-Endie-Wei Park, is to West Virginia what Lexington and Bunker Hill
are to Massachusetts, what Valley Forge and Gettysburg are to Pennsylvania, what
Kings Mountains is to North Carolina, what Yorktown and Appomattox are to
Virginia, what Antietam is to Maryland, what Lookout Mountains to Tennessee and
Vicksburg is to Mississippi--it is a Nation’s Shrine. It is not only West
Virginia’s proud possession, but the Congress of the United States forever
fixed the status when on February 17, 1908, without amendment, it passed the
"A Bill to aid in the erection of a
monument or memorial at Point Pleasant to commemorate the Battle of the
Revolution fought at that point between the Colonial troops and Indians, October
tenth, seventeen-hundred and seventy-four."
The organization of patriotic historical
societies founded on eligibility of descent from men and women
participating in the stirring events of the nation has done more to delve into
the history of the country and properly and authentically prove and present it
than any other contributing agency in America. Now happily all the patriotic
historical societies not only recognize the Battle of Point Pleasant as of the
Revolution, but also recognize the eligibility of descent for membership through
all men participating in that battle.
The Battle of Point Pleasant as one of the
Revolution was first recognized by the National Society Daughters of the
American Revolution, with headquarters at Washington, D. C. It is an historical
and patriotic society, chartered by the Congress of the United States as
official historians, and the Government publishes their annual reports and
deposits the originals as a part of the Smithsonian Institute records at
When in 1901 the Col. Charles Lewis
Chapter D. A. R. at Point Pleasant asked that they be chartered, their
application for charter and proof of descent was made up of women who largely
descended from men participating and killed in the battle of Point Pleasant, a
large percentage descending from Col. Charles Lewis, called "the beloved of
the Army." After due consideration and careful historical research made by
the Historical Research Committee and the Genealogical Committee of the National
Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, the Committee, made up of persons
thoroughly competent to investigate, and with abundant material at hand, being
personally uninterested, granted that the battle of Point Pleasant was a battle
of the American Revolution and granted the eligibility of descent from men of
that battle who were there killed and could not thereafter take part in any of
other battles. Thus was first officially fixed the status of that battle, and
thus the National D. A. R. joined in recording this important chapter in