Cherokees At The Potomac Forts
By Doug Wood
This is the second part of the article on the activities of the Cherokees on the northern Virginia frontier during the French and Indian War.
Going on the Offense
The Cherokee and Catawba war efforts in 1757 turned the tide of war in favor of the southern British colonies. Operating out of frontier forts in Maryland and Virginia, the warriors conducted several successful raids, turning a gloomy defensive war into a promising offensive effort. Wauhatchee’s party from the Cherokee lower towns in upcountry South Carolina returned to Winchester in May after a successful raid with four scalps and two prisoners.note#8 The Cherokees were moving the front line from the Virginia plantations to the enemy Indian towns. Several Cherokee and Catawba war parties were accompanied by Virginia officers in training as part of Virginia’s effort to make its military forces adept at “Ind’n Fighting.” The activities of one of the Cherokee parties was detailed by Lt. James Baker who returned to Fort Cumberland on June 9 and penned a letter to Col. Washington the next day:
I Yesterday returned to this place with the Cherokees and have the Satisfaction to acquaint you that on the 5th. Instant we fell on two Tracks about 35 Miles beyond the three Forks of Yohagany in a small path that led towards this place, we had not followed those Tracks above eight or Ten miles, before we met 10 Frenchmen returning from a Scout, our foremost Indian discovered them first and sat down very cose [close] we all following his example, when the Frenchmen came within about fifty paces they saw our Men all Naked [shirtless], and called to us and ask'd us who we were, at which time we all rising together fired on them which they returned, we waited not to lode again, but run in with our Tomahawks the Frenchmen then making of [off] as fast as possible they cou'd, but the Indians out running them took two of them prisoners, the French lost six Men two killed dead on the Spot, two wounded, and two taken prisoners. Our loss tho' fewer in number is greater to us, the Swallow Warrior was Shot dead by a Ball in the head, and another Indian Wounded in both Thighs The Indians was so enraged at the loss of their head Man that it was impossible to save the other prisoner, Among the Frenchmen there was three Officers, two of which was killed and the other we have here. I send the Instructions of two of the Officers here inclosed. We have suffered greatly on our return not tasting a morsel for four days, and carrying the Wounded Man on our backs, I cannot tell when I shall be come down the Indians are not determined.note#9
Fort Cumberland at Wills Creek, Maryland
This was tough service. The party of 15 Cherokee warriors and five Virginia soldiers had started their ranging service on May 20. They had walked approximately 115 miles from Fort Cumberland to the head of Turtle Creek (near present day Murrysville, Pennsylvania), had engaged 10 Frenchmen who had recently parted with 50 Shawnees, and then had carried back a wounded man 115 miles without having anything to eat in four days, except wild onions.note#10 In another letter dated June 12, 1757, Washington instructed Lt. Baker to move to Pearsall’s Fort and remain there with his company. Baker was also instructed to encourage the Cherokees to bring the surviving French officer to Winchester.note#11 The intelligence gained from this war party was very useful. The surviving officer was none other than the commander of French Fort Miamis, Marie Francois Picoté, Sieur de Belestre II, the leader of the 1756 summer campaign that had ravaged the southwestern Virginia settlements and destroyed Fort Vause. His capture was a significant loss to the French war effort.
One point bears stressing. These mixed parties of southern Indians and Virginians were not led by the Virginia officers. Many historians mistakenly have assumed that because the Virginians wrote up the reports, they must have led the parties. Nothing could be further from the truth. Col. Washington, Lt. Governor Dinwiddie, and Maryland’s Governor Horatio Sharpe, each wrote letters asking the Cherokees to teach the colonial soldiers how to conduct war in the Indian manner. To ensure there was no question about who was to lead these mixed parties, British Indian Agent Atkin instructed Deputy Christopher Gist with words that reflected the lessons learned by the Cherokees on the Sandy Creek Expedition:
[November 16, 1757] Whereas both the Cherokees and the Catawbas have signified to me their dislike to a practice of many persons belonging to the Virginia Regt., and others, being fond of going out with them upon scouting after the enemy who, [the Virginians] not being used to that kind of service & therefore not fit for it, are a clog upon them [the Cherokees & Catawbas] and baulk them in their operations. For yet when it becomes necessary, they cannot keep them company either in marching or running; nor endure hunger; and by making too much noise and fire in the woods, make a discovery of them to the enemy. You are therefore to take especial care to hinder any white men whatever from going out with any of the Indian scouting parties unless at the voluntary requests of those Indians. And in such case, they are not to be commanded by any person whatever but their own captain, and are to go their own way to work in the Indian manner.note#12
Edwards’s Fort was likely visited twice in 1757 by one of the Cherokees’ high ranking officers, Outacite Ostenaco, the principal leader on the Sandy Creek Expedition in 1756 and one of the major recruiters of southern warriors for the British war effort. His title and name were variously spelled in 18th century correspondences, but his title, Outacite is translated as Man Killer.note#13 Man Killer was the second highest rank in the Cherokee military service and it was similar to the rank of Colonel in the British military service.note#14 Ostenaco arrived in Winchester on June 24, 1757, with 27 other Cherokees in his party.note#15 By letters dated July 8 and 15, Washington informed General Stanwix that Ostenaco and his warriors left Winchester for Fort Duquesne before July 8. This was the first time that Ostenaco passed by, perhaps even spent the night at or near Fort Edwards. Ostenaco got sick (see previous discussion) and had to lay up on the South Branch (probably at Pearsall’s Fort), while one of the Virginia officers and 19 of Ostenaco’s warriors continued on toward Fort Duquesne from Fort Cumberland on July 9.note#16
Ostenaco was called upon to straighten out a dangerous situation that Edmond Atkin had caused in Winchester. The several correspondences that explore the scenario are found in Fitzpatrick 1931, Volume 2. Around July 9, ten Indians, Cherokees and Mohawks, came into Winchester. These men made up a peace delegation traveling to Cherokee country from New York, where they had recently agreed to an alliance between the Cherokees and the Mohawks. Atkin suspected them of spying and had them arrested, even though Washington had warned him of the potentially bad consequences of such an affront. Atkin sent an express to the South Branch to retrieve Ostenaco. This was the second time the Man Killer visited Edwards’s Fort— on his way from Pearsall’s Fort back to Winchester. The Cherokees who were already at Winchester when the suspected spies (the Cherokees’ acquaintances) arrived, sent runners back home and to the Cherokee warriors with General Stanwix at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to warn them that “the English had fallen upon their Brethren.” Washington, according to his own account saved the day:
I took great pains to convince them, that it was a mistake, and happily succeeded; they readily agreed to send an Indian with an express, which I might procure, to their nation to prevent a massacre of all the traders and white people there, which they looked upon as inevitable, except timely measures were taken to prevent it.note#17
Some time in mid August Ostenaco, still quite ill, headed home with presents for his people.note#18 He was pretty well fed up with the treatment he and his warriors had received in Virginia. They had been poorly supplied by the Virginia military authorities, and Atkin’s meddling in the affair of the Cherokee-Mohawk delegation was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Ostenaco would not return to Virginia’s frontier forts in 1758, but he did lead a party in that year against French and Indian enemies along the Ohio River northward beyond Fort Duquesne.note#19
Cherokee Success Continues
Cherokee and mixed war party successes continued through the winter of 1757-58 into the spring of 1758. Round O led his war party from Cherokee towns to the Ohio River, to Fort Duquesne, and then to Winchester by March.note#20 By the end of April, 539 Cherokees and 113 Catawbas had visited Virginia’s Fort Loudoun at Winchester. Of these, 309 under the leadership of 17 Cherokee warriors made their ways to the South Branch forts. Many of these probably stopped at Edward’s Fort on their way to Pearsall’s and other South Branch forts. Some may have been fed or otherwise supplied out of Edward’s Fort. One can imagine the interesting conversations held, with the help of translators, between soldiers garrisoned at the fort and warriors on their way to the Ohio Indian towns and French forts. Undoubtedly, a number of young Virginian soldiers longed to go with these storied warriors to test their mettle against that of their brothers-in-arms, and to learn the arts of man-tracking and reading pictographs. Col. Henry Bouquet revealed this longing to General John Forbes in a correspondence dated June 21, 1758:
One other thing, that is to make Indians of part of our provincial soldiers. They are very willing, the expense is nothing, and I believe the advantage would be very real. It would only be necessary for them to remove their coats and breeches, which will delight them; give them moccasins and blankets; cut off their hair and daub them with paint and intermingle them with the real Indians. It would be difficult for the enemy to distinguish them and I believe that the impression which this number would produce would be useful to us.note#21
Training the Virginians
Lt. Colby Chew was one of the lucky ones. He had begun his Indian warfare training on the Sandy Creek Expedition. Now, he accompanied Catawba and Cherokee war parties from the Virginia and Pennsylvania frontiers into enemy held territory. Chew and Sergeant Andrew Vaughan escorted one particular Cherokee party headed toward Fort Duquesne. After nine days of gathering intelligence about the fort and the war roads, the Cherokees held a war council and determined that since provisions were low, all but seven should turn back. Chew, Vaughan, and five Cherokees continued to reconnoiter the next day. Chew sent a journal of his scouting activities to Colonel Washington, and he also wrote a report for Colonel Bouquet.note#22 The report details the difficulties and dangers of scouting in enemy territory, including daily long-distance travel and avoidance of large enemy parties. One passage from his report points out the lengths to which men such as Chew and Vaughan would go to learn the art of American Indian warfare, and it reveals the dedication of their mentors to teaching those soldiers every aspect of that art:
… we went down the River within ¾ of a mile of the Fort then turned S. E. and went upon a Stony Ridge where the Chief Warriour took his Conjouring Implements and Tyed them about the Neck of three Indians, and told them they could not be hurt. round my neck he tyed an otter skin in which his Conjouring Emplyment had been kept and round the Sarjts he tyed a bagg of paint that had been kept with the Rest of his Conjouring things. he then told us that none of us could be shot for those things would turn the Balls from us he then made us strip of all our Cloath Except our brich clouts and Mokesons, shook hands with us and told us to go and fight like men, for Nothing could hurt us.note#23
Model of Fort Duquesne at the Fort Pitt Museum.
On August 15th and 17th the party covered 42 miles each day on foot. On the 16th the mileage would have been 42 miles, but they didn’t stick to the path, so it was further, but Chew was not able to estimate how much further.note#24
The Cherokees were conducting a sort of pincer operation in the late summer of 1758 against the enemy Indian towns in the Ohio country. While Ostenaco and Oconostota led parties from the south up the Ohio River towards those towns, Round O, Yellow Bird, Black Dog, the Conjurer of Nequassee, and several other military leaders were approaching from the east, using the Potomac forts as their jumping-off points. This deep penetration into enemy territory and its intimidating effect upon the French war effort was very important to the outcome of the Forbes Campaign. General Forbes’ army was able to march into the ruins of Fort Duquesne partly due to the shifting of French supplies and military personnel to other theaters of the war, and partly due to the French allies’ falling away from their military partners in the southern theater of the war. However, the effective offensive campaigns into the “French hunting ground” by the Cherokees also had a great deal to do with the failure of the French effort in the Ohio Valley.
It appears that without the military successes of the Cherokees and Virginians operating out of the Potomac forts, the Reverend Frederick Christian Post’s peace mission would have had a different outcome. The Cherokees took women’s scalps as a terror tactic. The intended effect was to force the women in the matrilineal Indian cultures to speak out against continuing the war, which had now moved into their backyards. The demoralizing effect of this tactic upon the French allies is made evident in the testimony of a Delaware named Shamokin Daniel, who revealed to Shingas, a principal French-allied Delaware war commander, that the English had recruited a large number of mercenaries from amongst the Delawares’ traditional enemies. On August 28, 1758, Rev. Post recorded:
… then Daniel interrupted me and said [to Shingas] [“]don’t believe him, he tells nothing but, Idle Lying Stories, for what did the English hire twelve hundred Indians to kill us,[”] I protested against it, he said [“]God Damn you for a fool did you see the Woman lying in the Road that was kill’d by the Indians the English hired?”note#25
We can imagine that these Ohio country women, fearful of the mortal consequences of having enemy war parties skulking around berry patches, firewood copses, and other familiar ground, were speaking out loudly and unanimously in their town councils, “Stop the war!”
The Cherokees began mentoring Virginia officers in the art of Indian war tactics in 1756 on the Sandy Creek Expedition. Men like Andrew Lewis, Richard Pearis, John McNeil, John Draper (Mary Ingles’ brother, who later became an effective scout during Dunmore’s War), and others began to learn the art of wilderness war on that campaign. In 1757, James Baker, Alexander Spotswood, and other Virginia soldiers stationed along Virginia’s western frontiers in the Potomac forts learned the Indian war roads of the Trans-Allegheny region at the same time they were tutored by their native mentors in the tactics of Cherokee warfare. In 1758, the training continued for Virginians like Thomas Bullitt and Colby Chew (veterans of the Sandy Creek Expedition), as well as for William Crawford and Andrew Vaughan. The Potomac forts were critical headquarters for these trainees and their trainers. Because of George Washington’s insistence, this cross-cultural training had a lasting effect upon future military efforts of the colonies and of the states, once they gained independence. Against the backdrop of Virginia’s frontier, Potomac forts like Pearsall’s, Ashby, Edward’s, and Loudoun, the evolution of America’s special forces took a giant leap forward during the French and Indian War.
8. Fitzpatrick 1931, V2:36.
9. Hamilton, Stanislaus Murray, editor. 1898. Letters to Washington and Accompanying Papers. Published by the Society of the Colonial Dames of America. Houghton Mifflin and Company in Boston, Massachusetts and New York, New York. Accessible through the Library of Congress website at http://memory.loc.gov/
10. Fitzpatrick 1931, V2:57,58,60,61. Letter dated June 12, 1757 from Washington to Dinwiddie and letter dated June 15 from Washington to John Stanwix.
11. Fitzpatrick 1931, V2:59.
12. Mays 1999.
13. De Brahm, John Gerar William. 1971. De Brahms Report of the General Survey in the Southern District of North America. University of South Carolina Press. Transcribed from Kings Mss. 210 and 211 in the British Museum. p 127. (Hereafter referred to as De Brahm 1971). See also Williams, Samuel Cole. 2001. Lieut. Henry Timberlake’s Memoirs 1756-1765. Mountain Press, Signal Mountain, Tennessee. p. 94.
14. De Brahm 1971:109.
15. Fitzpatrick 1931, V2:76.
16. Fitzpatrick 1931, V2:85,97,98.
17. Fitzpatrick 1931, V2:115.
18. Mays 1999:21-22.
19. Access Genealogy 1999-2005. Letterbooks of William Henry Lyttleton 1756-1760. www.accessgenealogy.com/lyttelton.htm.
20. Browne, William Hand, editor. 1911. Archives of Maryland Volume XXXI, Proceedings of the Council of Maryland August 10, 1753 - March 20, 1761. Letters to Governor Horatio Sharpe 1754-1765. Lord Baltimore Press, Baltimore, Maryland. pp. 281-282.
21. Stevens, S. K., Donald H. Kent, and Autumn L. Leonard. 1951. The Papers of Henry Bouquet, Volume II. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. p 124. (Hereafter referred to as Stevens et. al. 1951).
23. Stevens et. al. 1951:402.
24 Stevens et. al. 1951:401 & 403.
25. Frederick Post, A Daily Journal Kept by Frederick Post Commencing July 15th, 1750. Forbes HQ, Papers of John Forbes (manuscript), call no. SC-MCGR-X : MSS 10034 : 2094910-1001:1, Special collections of the University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Virginia.
Ostenaco (early 1700s-1780) The date of Ostenaco's birth is unknown, but he was the youngest of four children and grew up along the Hiwassee River. He attained the title of "Outacite" which means "Man Killer" giving evidence of his courage as a warrior. He became one of the most influential and powerful Cherokee leaders and resided at Tomotley. Late in life he moved to Judd's Creek (present day Ooltewah Ck. near Chattanooga, Tennessee).
Lt. James Baker (1737-1758)
Col. Henry Bouquet (1719-1765) was a Swiss who had a commission in the British army and was the second in command to Gen. John Forbes on the expedition to capture the French Fort Duquesne in 1758.
Capt. Thomas Bullitt a senior lieutenant of the Virginia Regiment served on the disastrous Grant attack on Fort Duquesne.
Lt. Colby [or Coldsby] Chew became an ensign in the Virginia Regiment in the fall of 1757; he was with Major Grant on the attack of Fort Duquesne. He had accompanied Thomas Walker to Kentucky in 1750.
Richard Pearis (c.1725-1794), a trader, was employed by Virginia and later Maryland to handle Indian affairs. He was involved in dissuading the Cherokees and Catawbas from serving with Braddock.
The photos of the portrait of Ostenaco and the gorget were taken at the exhibit "Emissaries of Peace: The 1762 Cherokee & British Delegations" and are used courtesy of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina. The portrait was produced for the exhibit in 2005 by Keith Bearley. The exhibit deals primarily with the trip Ostenaco and Lt. Henry Timberlake made to London to cement relations between the Cherokees and the Crown. Together with the regular exhibit on Cherokee culture, the Museum has an outstanding collection of artifacts with interpretive displays. The Museum also has a store with a wide variety of books, CDs, DVDs, jewelry, souvenirs and various other items. Information about visiting the Museum can be found at the website: www.CherokeeMuseum.org
The Gazette articles in the boxes are taken either from the original newspaper or from French and Indian War Notices Abstracted from Colonial Newspapers by Armand Francis Lucier, published by Heritage Books, Inc. This series of abstracts is valuable for seeing the perspective of the local populace on the events pertaining to the war and to Indian relations.
About the Author of this article
Doug Wood has been interpreting Ostenaco, the Cherokee war chief, for many years and is on the West Virginia Humanities Council list of Living History Presenters. Information on the various programs he presents may be found at: Trails, Inc. For more information on the WV Humanities Living History program go to: www.wvhumanities.org/Ostenaco.htm
This article was edited and arranged for the web by Charles C. Hall. Photographs and maps are by him. Comments may be forwarded to the webmaster through the address on our "Contact" page.
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