The Fort Edwards Foundation
            The Fort Edwards Foundation of Capon Bridge, West Virginia



Cherokees At The Potomac Forts

By Doug Wood

Part 1

series logoThe Fort Edwards Foundation is pleased to present this article by Doug Wood to recognize the part played by the third power vying for control of North America during the French and Indian War. Too often historians have emphasized the roles of the two great European powers, Great Britain and France, to the exclusion of the native Americans who were struggling to preserve their nationality and culture in face of the European invasion. Although the Indians were by no means a unified force, they were an important part of this struggle, and they had a profound effect on the war's outcome. This article discusses the Cherokees' activity on the northern Virginia frontier and how it affected the outcome of the struggle. For Mr. Wood's contact information please see the end of the article. Other articles are accessible through our site index page. Note: corrections and editorial notes are put in brackets []. Please click on the "Note" links for further information.


The contribution made by Cherokees and other southern Indians to the British victory over the French during the French and Indian War is not well known, particularly in the "back parts" of Virginia, as the region around Fort Edwards was once called. During this "War for Empire in North America," Cherokees, Catawbas, Nottoways, Tuscaroras, Meherrins, Saponis, and a few Creeks joined Virginia forces to defend the frontier plantations. They also carried on far-reaching offensive actions against the French and their Indian allies in the Ohio country. Their offensive front, which was the longest of any Indian nation, was about 1300 miles from Presque Isle on Lake Erie to the territory of the Breed Nation near present Birmingham, Alabama, by way of Fort de Chartres. Note A It was also longer than that of any individual colonial force. Although there was not complete support for the British among the Cherokee, they mustered what may be the largest force of any Indian tribe in the war. Note B

One of the reasons Governor Dinwiddie and Colonel George Washington recruited Cherokees and Catawbas was to assist in training Virginia troops in the art of Indian warfare. Washington knew well the futility of utilizing only regular military tactics proven useful on the European fields of battle, because woodland warfare in the Allegheny Mountains was quite different. As he reflected upon Braddock’s defeat long after the war, he wrote, “The folly & consequence of opposing compact bodies to the sparse manner of Indian fighting, in woods, which had in a manner been predicted, was now so clearly verified that from hence forward another mode obtained in all future operations.”note#1  After Gen. Braddock’s army was soundly whipped, primarily due to its commanding officer’s refusal (up to the time he received his mortal wound) to alter his fighting technique, Col. Washington committed to training Virginia troops in Indian war tactics. He notified Gov. Dinwiddie “I have given all necessary orders for training the Men to a proper use of their Arms, and the method of Ind'n Fighting, and hope in a little time to make them expert.”[note#2]

map of Ohio River region

Sandy Creek Expedition

Col. Washington notified Governor Dinwiddie of his plans on the eve of the Sandy Creek Expedition, the first combined Virginia-Cherokee campaign against French-allied Ohio Valley Indians. Several historians have detailed this expedition, and most of them have summarized by saying the expedition failed to meet its primary objective of destroying Shawnee towns on the Ohio and Scioto Rivers. There were, however, three beneficial outcomes often overlooked by the chroniclers that bear emphasizing here:

  • long-lasting bonds were formed between some of the Cherokee and some of the Virginia officers;
  • Cherokee commanders made a strong commitment to recruit more warriors for the war effort; and
  • the Cherokees began mentoring select soldiers and officers in their methods of warfare.
All of these positive outcomes of the allied expedition had a direct effect on the eventual English victory over the French, especially in the southern theatre of the war.

Another result was that three Cherokee war leaders were given Virginia officer’s commissions by Governor Dinwiddie on this campaign, and these three men served through the war until the Forbes Campaign late in 1758. These commissioned Cherokees were Outacite (Man Killer) Ostenaco, Round O, and Yellow Bird (Chesquoterone).

Pearsall's and Fort Cumberland

Although the southern Indians frequently visited Fort Loudoun in Winchester and Fort Frederick in Maryland, their main jumping off points for offensive raids and defensive maneuvers seem to have been Pearsall’s Fort (present-day Romney, W.Va.) and Fort Cumberland (present-day Cumberland, Md.). There were two roads between Winchester and Fort Cumberland. One road ran northwest past Enoch’s Fort (present-day Forks of the Cacapon River) and crossed the Potomac at the mouth of Little Cacapon River. The other road ran west from Winchester past the fort at Joseph Edwards's and on to Pearsall’s fort at present Romney; then it followed Patterson's Creek to Ashby's Fort and on to Fort Cumberland. Although the Cherokee parties could travel by foot from Winchester to Pearsall’s in one day, they likely stopped at Edwards’s Fort going to and from the more western fort.

Fry-Jefferson map showing North River
Excerpt from the Fry & Jefferson Map of Virginia, 1754. Fort Cumberland is in the upper left corner.

Supplying the War Parties

Provisions were often scarce at the forts during the war, and at one time in 1757, when Ostenaco’s party was operating out of Pearsall’s Fort, the Man Killer became ill, seemingly from eating salt-preserved meat when fresh beef or venison could not be procured. Despite a common, modern misconception, most eastern woodland Indian groups did not preserve their meat through salting. They commonly engaged in salt making, but this was primarily for trade with Europeans. Most accounts by missionaries, traders, and captives among various Eastern Indian cultural groups indicate the 17th and 18th century Indians preferred their meat preserved simply through dry-roasting. leather hides If the notion of a scarcity of venison in the wilderness seems curious, it must be remembered that the Potomac region had seen heavy settlement by Europeans since the 1720s, and both they and the American Indians had hunted deer for the skin trade. Col. George Mercer wrote to Col. Washington on April 26, 1757,

Since my last to you, we have new council after council every day with the Indians. They seem at last pretty well satisfied, and a party of them sets out this day to war, the others will follow so soon as they get their shoes made. There is a great scarcity of deer skins, and I am obliged to send through the whole country to provide them.note#3

New moccasins made from deerskin were prerequisite to setting out for war, since these warriors had already walked approximately 500 miles from their homes to Winchester. What the Virginia Regiment officers at Fort Loudoun did to supply the Indians was to “borrow” from the regimental stores, as Washington alluded to in his letter to Governor Dinwiddie dated June 10, 1757:

I wrote your Honor in my last, that Colo. Stephen did, whilst I was in Williamsburgh, give out many of the Regimental Stores for the use of the Indian, among which were 122 Blankets. There are at this place, come up for the Indians, several pieces of dutch blanketing. I should be glad to know whether we may not take out of them (if there is a sufficiency to replace our loss) as the Indians have all been supplied?note#4

Having barely avoided one supply disaster, Mercer fretted about the next: supply of rifles

I am much at a loss what will be done with the next party of Indians which I am told are now in Augusta. We have neither shirts nor blankets to give them, nor do I know where to get them, nor is there more than 24 or 5 guns for them. All have been taken from Bedford and Augusta Courthouses, and there are 80 Indians in the party that’s on their march I am informed.note#5

Edmond Atkin, Esq., was the British Indian Agent for the southern colonies. He had a daunting task to keep the American Indian allies of the Crown satisfied with their treatment in exchange for their much-needed services. In order to prevent problematic encounters between Virginia’s native allies and Virginia’s civilians, Atkin proposed the use of only western-frontier-zone forts as the major headquarters for the warriors. Atkin’s reasoning was that this would avoid difficulties that might arise in encounters between the general Virginia populace and warriors from a different culture.

Christopher Gist, Atkin’s deputy agent, was given the task of considering which one of the forts on the South Branch of the Potomac River would be the best headquarters for Virginia’s Indian allies on the northwestern frontier.note#6  Pearsall's Fort (near present-day Romney, West Virginia) served as the South Branch headquarters for the allied Indians, although Fort Cumberland in Maryland on the North Branch of the Potomac River also harbored many of the colonies’ allies.note#7  Typically, war parties arriving in Winchester would be given supplies (or excuses and promises if supplies were not on hand), then be sent to Pearsall’s Fort via Edwards's Fort, or to Fort Cumberland via Enoch’s Fort, Fort Ashby, or other stations along the way.

Continued in Part 2 - See link below notes.


1. Anderson, Fred, editor. George Washington Remembers. Reflections on the French & Indian War. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Lanham, Maryland. 2004:24.

2. Fitzpatrick, John C., editor. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799, Vol. I. 1931:286. Washington to Dinwiddie, Jan. 13, 1756. (Hereafter referred to as Fitzpatrick 1931, V1).

3. Mays, Edith, editor, Amherst Papers, 1756-1763. Heritage Books, Bowie, Maryland, 1999:14. (Hereafter referred to as Mays 1999).

4. Fitzpatrick 1931, V2:51.

5. Mays 1999:14.

6. Mays 1999:36-39.

7. Ansell, William H. Frontier Forts Along the Potomac and Its Tributaries. Fort Pearsall Press, Romney, West Virginia. 1995. First printed in 1984. p 166.




1730 Attakullakulla and six Cherokee leaders visit London and sign treaty of peace with the British.

August, 1751 Attakullakulla and about 40 Cherokees visit Williamsburg to negotiate a treaty of peace and commerce with Virginia.

18 February, 1756 Major Andrew Lewis leads the abortive Sandy Creek Expedition ensuring future combined military efforts between Virginia and the Cherokees.

April, 1757 Wawhatchee arrives in Winchester with Cherokee warriors to confer with Virginia and Maryland officials and fight on the frontier.

April 26, 1757 Col. George Mercer writes to Col. Washington about war party setting out after making new moccasins.

May 20 - June 9, 1757 Lt. James Baker accompanies Cherokee to scout Fort Duquesne

June 24, 1757 Ostenaco arrives in Winchester with 27 other Cherokees en route to scout Fort Duquesne.

July 9, 1757 Ten Cherokees and Mingoes come to Winchester as peace delegation and are arrested.

End of March, 1758 Round O and his war party arrive in Winchester from raids along the Ohio River and Fort Duquesne.

By end of April, 1758 539 Cherokees and 113 Catawbas had visited Virginia’s Fort Loudoun at Winchester.

June 14-16, 1758, Representatives of the Cherokee and Catawba Nations meet at Fort Loudoun, Pennsylvania with Colonel Henry Bouquet. Bouquet fails to secure their assistance for the attack on Fort Duquesne and insults them as they leave. These events will eventually lead to the Cherokee War with the British.

August 28, 1758, Rev. Post reported effect of Cherokee’s warfare against French-allied Ohio Indians.

November 24, 1758, The French forces at Fort Duquesne, now without Indian allies, burn the fort and blow up the magazine and retreat up the Allegheny River at night. Col. Washington and an advance party occupy the site the next day.


Go to Part 2


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updated: 5/18/08