Virginia took a leading role in the
threatening confrontation between
France in 1753 and 1754, the
Wapocomo Road or Great Wagon Road from Winchester to the
South Branch River and on to Will's Creek where Fort Cumberland was
built became an important thoroughfare for Col. George Washington's
Virginia Regiment. However, when it became clear that the provincial
forces were not up to the challenge of the French and would need help
from London, another road was built to hurry troops and supplies to
Fort Cumberland, the westernmost bastion of King George's forces.
When Gen. Edward Braddock was killed and his decimated army
hurried back through Ft. Cumberland to winter quarters
in Philadelphia, the road that Braddock
had built to take his army westward now became a path to lead the enemy
to the very heart of Hampshire County.
the French unexpectedly defeated Braddock's larger army on July 9, 1755
in the forest near Fort Duquesne, they did not immediately
realize the impact of their victory. Although they staged some
attacks on the Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania frontiers in the summer
and again in October of that year, it was not until the next spring that
they began to attack the central colonies in earnest. They knew that
Great Britain had a far greater population in America than they did, so they devised a
strategy of keeping their French and Canadian troops in the north to attack
New York and Massachusetts
while they sent their Indian allies to stalk the forests of the central
colonies. This turned out to be a very effective, but savage,
strategy as many of the tribes had some familiarity with the area and
the settlers were so scattered that unified defense was difficult.
1756, the native Americans and some French officers began a campaign
that brought death and devastation to Hampshire County and
surrounding areas. Several large parties of Indians, some with French
officers and soldiers attached, came from Ft. Duquesne and passed by Fort Cumberland to attack the
Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania frontiers. On Sunday morning, April 18, 1756, they appeared in the area near the fort at
Joseph Edwards's home on the Cacapon River. One local tradition says they attacked a mill at
Edwards Run and carried off some flour which they laid along a trail.
The military reports do not mention this event, but one does not know if
that is simply to omit a story about the naivety of the soldiers. The
reports sent to Col. Washington state that soldiers from the fort went
out in the morning searching for horses and found Indians. When the alarm was raised, Capt.
John Fenton Mercer, Ensign Thomas Carter and their company went out in
pursuit of the Indians. The company was ambushed by a large number of
the enemy estimated to be upwards of 100 including Frenchmen. Capt. Mercer, Ensign Carter and
fifteen soldiers were killed.
This engagement was the
largest and most costly battle between soldiers of Col. Washington's
Virginia Regiment and French & Indians to occur in the colony of
Virginia during the French and Indian War. It caused the House of
Burgesses to take the threat of invasion seriously and appropriate more
money for the colony's defense. As the Indians continued
to slaughter and burn and pillage, most of the settlers fled eastward or
to the Carolinas for safety. Except for the areas immediately
around forts, most of Hampshire County would be empty until
Gen. Forbes's campaign was successful in taking
Fort Duquesne and cutting off the route to the middle colonies.
of Battle of Great Cacapehon or Mercer's Massacre, as the battle would
be referred to, can be found in several sources. Among the more detailed are the papers of Col.
Washington and the records of the two courts martial associated with the
event. There are also three other references of interest.
Gazette, No. 574, of Thursday, May 6, 1756, carries an article datelined
April 23 and probably copied from the Virginia Gazette describing the
battle (see text box above). The May 13th issue of the
Maryland Gazette carried an article referencing a previous article
describing the death of Thomas Cresap's son, Thomas, Jr., that noted the
band of Indians which killed him was the same band that killed Capt.
Mercer and Ensign Carter since they had Capt. Mercer's hat. (see box to
An issue of
the Maryland Gazette on October 7th had an article about a
Mr. Long who had been a captive of the Indians around the time of the
Battle of Great Cacapehon and had been held at Fort Duquesne when the Indians returned
from the Cacapehon campaign. He heard their description of the battle
and noted they had papers taken from Capt. Mercer to prove their
accomplishment. He told his
story upon his escape and return to Fort Cumberland later in the year.
The Fort Edwards Foundation is dedicated to
telling the story of the brave men and women who struggled to carve a
home out of the wilderness. We invite you to come visit our site
where we have dedicated a monument to the soldiers and settlers who
died during this bloody time in our early history.
The Kitchen Garden with the memorial to those who
died in Hampshire County during the French and Indian War.