Battle of Point Pleasant

October 10, 1774
By Cecilia Fábos-Becker

Battle of Point Pleasant

Battle of Point Pleasant

The French and Indian War, aka The Seven Years War, really started in 1754, and was concluded by a treaty between the UK and France in 1763. American colonists had been recruited to fight for the UK interests, and saw their forts and their militias, which they had created to protect their own frontiers, de-manned by the British with disastrous results for the colonists. Some 20 forts along the Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia frontier were all attacked within days and weeks of when their manpower was reduced, one after another. The men and older boys were almost all massacred, and the women and children taken captive by the native allies of the French. This left entire communities, which had been established for a generation or more, vulnerable to further murderous raids, and the appointed British Governor of Virginia who was also Commander of the North American forces, Lord Loudon (the Campbell Earl of Loudon), seemed not to care. An irony of these events was that cousins of his, Campbells of Skeldon who had married into the Woods’ family, saw their own children among the dead. Captain William Woods, for instance, was murdered in the massacre of Fort Upper Tract in 1758.

At the end of the war, the British parliament, which had no North American colonists in it, ignored the losses of the colonists, and decided to tax the colonists for support of the war–a war which most colonists had not wanted. George Washington himself and others had experienced these hard realities, and the colonists had little or no say in the matter. Tax after tax was mandated, and some were forced to be repealed by irate North American colonists. What made some levies worse, was that they were taxes on manufactured goods, like paper, which the colonists had been prohibited to make for themselves, except in very small, personal use quantities, by the very same British parliament. In fact, Manufacturing in the colonies was largely prohibited, while the colonists were to be taxed on the manufactured goods coming from the British manufacturers and merchants.

Then there was yet another harsh new limitation on the development of the colonies hidden in the 1763 treaty with the French, and enacted into law by the British parliament. Prior to this war, claims of land of the colonies extended far westward–with the blessing of the UK crown, which, along with Parliament, was eager to send excess population, including minor criminals, debtors and political dissidents to North America and the Caribbean colonies. That was largely acceptable–so long as there was a lot of unoccupied land to the west of the established communities. In 1763, however, the treaty agreed that what became known as the Northwest territory, or contested western territories west of the Appalachians were to be removed from colonial control and intrusion and reserved only for the native allies of the British in that late war. The English/British then were charged with keeping their own colonists out of these territories. This new enforcement began in 1764. It was a breach of previous charters with the colonists who were the extended families of all those in the UK, including members of parliament, and there was no compensation for the lost territories, only more taxes. Again, the colonists had no say about any of this. Then in 1767, the Parliament, frustrated by increased smuggling and tax evasion, replaced all its custom officials, put them under the control of the Navy and sent in more forces to support the new customs officials appointed entirely from and by London, to minimize potential intimidation toward them and sent in more naval forces. They were increasing the squeeze on the colonists, their now former kin.

By 1774, when it was clear that efforts to have colonial representation in the parliament were about to fail, the first Continental Congress was established in September, 1774, one month before the Battle.
Lord Dunmore by 1773, governor of Virginia (also appointed from London) and interested in vigorously enforcing the 1764 agreement, was determined to end Virginia claims and incursions into what is now Kentucky. This was John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore (1730-1809). In the summer of 1773, Dunmore ostensibly made a pleasure trip to Fort Pitt, where he established close relations with a Dr. Connally, made him ‘Indian agent, land agent, etc.’. Connally at once began to foment trouble and ill feeling between the colonies of Pennsylvania and Virginia over the western frontier, and he began to incite the tribes to greater violent resistance of white westward encroachments on their hunting grounds. It was also found that Dunmore and Connally were secretly helping to arm the natives, as well as encouraging the violence toward the colonists. By mid-1774, Conally ‘had the natives highly excited, united in strong confederacy and threatening war.’ Then Dunmore became even more treacherous. He ordered General Andrew Lewis of the colony militia to join forces with him, organizing and marching their forces together to march on the Indian towns and dictate a lasting peace–the same towns that Connally and Simon Girty had visited and stirred up, with encouragement from Dunmore. Instead of merging the forces, where originally agreed upon, Dunmore took a long detour by Fort Pitt, which Connally had renamed Fort Dunmore, thence down the Ohio river, picking up along the way Simon Girty and Dr. Conally, and met with Indian chiefs at Fort Pitt. Then instead of meeting Lewis at the mouth of the Kanawha as Dunmore had stated he would do, Dunmore struck off from the Ohio River at the mouth of the Hockhocking and marched for the Indian towns on the Pickaway Plains, without Lewis, delaying meeting Lewis until after Cornstalk and the native forces under him had annihilated Lewis and the Virginians, if the ambush had gone as Cornstalk and Dunmore had planned. Lewis and the Virginians had mistrusted Dunmore and had spies about who reported that Bluejacket, a Shawnee chief had visited Dunmore’s camp–and been welcomed, on the 9th of October, 1774, the day before the Battle, and had returned to the Point where the ambush was to occur–and returned with more guns.

Lewis and the Virginians defeated the Shawnee much to Dunmore’s dismay but Cornstalk and others had escaped and Dunmore had a back-up plan. When Lewis had crossed the river after the battle and was marching toward Dunmore, Dunmore dispatched a messenger, Simon Girty, to him ordering him to stop marching, and retrace his steps back to the Point. Lewis and his men, incensed by the duplicity of Dunmore, ignored and disobeyed Dunmore’s orders and resumed marching toward Dunmore’s camp. About 2-½ miles from Dunmore’s camp, Dunmore rode out to meet Lewis, accompanied by Cornstalk White Eyes, and other Shawnee leaders, indignantly ordering Lewis to return to the Point, as he, Dunmore was negotiating a treaty of peace with the Indians.

From eyewitness accounts: ‘Evidently it did not comport with Governor 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. Colonel Daniel Morgan, Colonel Samuel McDowell (a grandson of a Campbell of Skeldon married to a Woods), George Rogers Clark, and others of eminence then insisted upon accompanying Dunmore, whose (further) treachery they suspected, so that there would be terms of surrender of the chiefs, made that would be acceptable to Virginia.’ Dunmore was forced to comply but did not change his attitude nor his ways in the future.

Dunmore then returned to Williamsburg the then capitol of Virginia and made his own ex parte account to the Assembly, upon which they thanked him for his services. Then they learned the real story from other eminent participants and promptly changed the name of the Treaty from the Dunmore Treaty to the Shenandoah Treaty. Six months later, after the Battle of Lexington, Dunmore then had all the gunpowder stored in Williamsburg which was to provide for the militias for the defense of the colony (the natives were quelled but not for long) secretly conveyed to an English vessel lying off Yorktown (a little irony in that), and threatened to reduce all of Williamsburg to ashes at the first sign of insurrection. Eventually Dunmore fled Williamsburg and made his stronghold on Guynnes (Guinns) Island in the Chesapeake Bay and was driven from there by the Patriots in 1776. General Andrew Lewis was granted the honor of firing the first gun (cannon) upon Dunmore and his men.

At the battle of Point Pleasant were MANY men of Scots, Scots-Irish and Irish descent, as well as some of Welsh descent also. Among the nearly 1200 known Virginians were at least 7 Campbells,3 Crawfords, 4 Dougherty’s, 3 Harris’,3 Kennedy’s (and 1 spelled Canaday), 3 Leslie’s, 5 McAfee’s, 4 McAllister’s, 4 McClanahans/McClenahans, 3 McDowells, 3 McNeils, 3 Maxwell’s, 7 Martin’s (French-Irish),9 Mooney’s, 6 Moore’s, 4 O’Hara’s, 6 Scott’s, 5 Stewarts/Stuarts, 5 Wallace’s (one was a spy-ranger John Wallace, brother to others in the battle not all the spy-rangers were listed on the monument, but were known), and 7 Woods. There were 55 men whose surnames all began with ‘Mc.’

Most of the above is in the original accounts of the Battle, some of which were presented to Congress and now part of the souvenir booklet sold at the national monument at the Point Pleasant Battle Site, near Williamstown, West Virginia. Additional material is from histories of the French and Indian War, covering the period from the end of said war to the beginning of the Revolution.

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