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

 

The Battle of Great Cacapehon

April 18, 1756

     When settlers first moved into the headwaters of the Potomac River in the 1730s, the land seemed far from civilization and untouched by the power of any government. However, by 1755 the area was right in the path of a confrontation between the two great European powers on the North American continent.  The ensuing war would bring a vast land within the realm of Great Britain, but it would Fry-Jefferson mapdevastate the peace and fortunes of settlers on the frontier of Hampshire County.

As Virginia took a leading role in the threatening confrontation between Great Britain and 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.

     When 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.  Burn fortThis 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.

    In April, 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. Mercer articleOn 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.

    The details 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 Cresap articledetailed 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.

    The Maryland 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 left)

    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.

Memorial in Garden
The Kitchen Garden with the memorial to those who died in Hampshire County during the French and Indian War.  

 

 

 
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updated: April 20, 2006
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