James McBride: his actual musket, and his epic life as a frontiersman and soldier

Family tradition has it that this French and Indian War era American musket was used by James McBride (1726-1812) to fight in the Battle of Point Pleasant on October 10, 1774. It was previously on display at the Augusta County Historical Society Museum in Staunton, Virginia, as part of their year-long exhibit on Lord Dunmore’s War It was also pictured in “Augusta County, Virginia’s Western Frontier,” by Gordon Barlow, at page 100. But the best part of this gun’s story hasn’t been told until now . . . .

One of the things that makes this gun interesting is that it was likely made on the Virginia frontier during the French and Indian War era, and possibly in Staunton, Virginia, by the Committee of Safety of Augusta County. How do we know this? It completely lacks decoration, and was clearly intended for military use. The musket utilizes iron mountings, and a mish-mash of recycled and gunsmith made parts. It has a bore of .75 caliber. And while I call this a “musket,” it could also be viewed as somewhat of a large caliber “smooth rifle,” given that it has sights, was probably used as we would think of a rifle being used (i.e., ranger style use, rather than military line formation use). Lastly, this gun probably pre-dates the period in which “rifles,” with actual rifled barrels, became commonly used on the frontier.

Most frontiersmen in the French and Indian War period, and probably the post-French and Indian War period (i.e., 1750-1770) would have carried smoothbore long guns. Of course there were rifles, but most in the early days would have had fowlers of some sort – which is basically a shotgun originally made for sporting purposes. The difference between a “fowler” and a “musket” is mostly its intended purpose, and minor physical differences related to military use. They both have a smoothbore, with no rifling inside the barrel. However, generally a musket will have sling swivels, in order to attach a sling, and will also have a bayonet lug, because soldiers in that era were generally required to have a bayonet. Exceptions to this were colonial militia, especially in Virginia, who were documented as generally carrying knives and tomahawks in lieu of a bayonet (and as having rifles).

As such, this is sort of a “grey area” gun: made clearly for military use, but not made for use in a formal line of 18th century infantry. It lacks a bayonet lug, required for the attachment of a bayonet. Also, it has sights for aiming, which military muskets usually lacked, since they really didn’t aim, by design. This gun was made to aim. The evidence points to frontier militia use. Aiming, and the use of a tomahawk or belt axe and knife, rather than a bayonet.

Here is the musket pictured with a powder horn, which also saw service at the Battle of Point Pleasant, which is of course an important event for those of us interested in the history of the Virginias. It’s hard to believe, but the Battle of Point Pleasant may not be the most exciting event of this gun’s life. James McBride lived a full life, as far as action is concerned. Both of these definitely look the part.

James McBride is believed to have been born in 1726 in Wigtown, Scotland. He sailed to Virginia in or about 1730-1732. Tradition has it that he came over with four brothers, three of whom were killed during the subsequent French and Indian War. Their names, according to family records, were William, Jaseth, John and Andrew.

There is an interesting story about James’ wonderings on the frontier prior to his military career. Legend has it that James may have been the first documented white frontiersman to venture into Kentucky as far as the Kentucky River. Frost’s “History of Kentucky” records that the name of James McBride was found cut in the bark of a Beech tree, along with the date 1755. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the Register of Kentucky State Historical Society:

1751 Christopher Gist explores eastern Kentucky.

1754 James McBride explores Kentucky to the mouth of the Kentucky River

Register of Kentucky State Historical Society, Volumes 1-20, Kentucky Historical Society, 1922, at page 118.

Even going back to the earliest history books on Kentucky, McBride is mentioned. John Filson (1747-1788) was an American author Kentucky historian, published Daniel Boone’s memoir, “The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon,” in 1784. He claimed that James McBride was the discoverer of Kentucky. Now obviously he wasn’t the first white man to step foot in Kentucky, but it’s an interesting story, and there’s enough separate accounts of it to give strong evidence that he ended was there in 1754 and/or 1755.

Frost’s “History of Kentucky” further mentioned that James married “Miss Crawford, who was descended from the English nobility, and that their son, William, married a Miss Lee . . . .” This is the key to identifying that adventurous James McBride with this same James McBride. Family tradition, recorded in the 19th century, records that James McBride of the Kentucky tree marking fame, is the same guy.

James’ nephew William, who was interviewed by the Rev. John D. Shane in 1840, recalled that:

“I went to old Mr. Kirkham’s, in Woodford, and took down, as he told meabout my uncle Jas: McBride that lived on the waters of Buffalo or Elk, in the frontier part of Va. My uncle had lived with his father 2 years. Jas: McBride was unfortunate in his addresses to a lady, and with gun in hand, and alone, made it westward ho! for about 9 mos. before he returned. 1754 or 5. The particulars of this, as noted down at the time, were handed to Mr. Crittenden for Mr. Butler. 

Interview with William McBride by Rev. John D. Shane, The Draper Manuscript Collection, Series CC, Kentucky Papers,Vol. 9-12, Pages: 257-263 State Historical Society of Wisconsin Division of Archives and Manuscripts

So apparently James was living on the Virginia frontier, around Buffalo Creek, which is referring to the Buffalo Creek in what is now Rockbridge County, Virginia – near Lexington, Virginia (then Augusta County, Virginia). Buffalo Creek is a tributary of the Maury River, which flows through Lexington, Virginia. You pass over it on I-81, just South of Lexington – near the Natural Bridge. James apparently did the 18th century version of speeding down the driveway in a pickup truck, throwing gravel, while an angry father of a young girl peppered his tailgate with birdshot. Then he is supposed to have wandered his way into being the first white guy to mark his name on a tree in Kentucky – even preceding the famous Daniel Boone.

So in 1754 or 1755, James made his way to the mouth of the Kentucky River and carved his name in a tree. It’s possible that he was attempted to claim land by “tomahawk rights,” which is essentially marking your name or initials on boundary trees. If this was the case, his efforts were cut short by the outbreak of military tension, and ultimately war, on the frontier.

.75 caliber bore, which is an indication this was thrown together during the French and Indian War. Being the standard caliber for British troops, using their “Brown Bess” muskets, this caliber would have offered the ability to use British ammunition without modification.

We don’t know exactly how it happened, but somehow James ended up in George Washington’s “army,” in June of 1754. In George Washington’s personal papers, it notes that James McBride joined them in June of 1754, having joined with other new recruits gathered by Capt. John West. I’m not sure if he wondered down to the Kentucky River before or after joining Washington. But since he was reported by family to have been gone for a couple years, it could have been either before or after. There are a couple other James McBrides in the record books, but only one who is really old enough, and only one who can be placed in the Virginia and Pennsylvania frontier during 1754-55.

Sling swivels, in the front and back – a necessary component for military use during the 18th Century. And all iron hardware.

It was only a month after McBride signed up with Washington in June of 1754, that Washington surrendered Fort Necessity, and his little army returned to Virginia – fortunately allowed to keep their guns. Maybe that’s when James headed to Kentucky.

That’s certainly possible, because there’s about a year long gap there where an adventurous soul such as himself would have done something interesting . . . . The next year, in 1755, James again joined a unit with Col. Washington, under the command of General Braddock. Family tradition states that he was joined by his brothers at this time. The Virginia Militia was led by George Washington, then a Lieutenant Colonel. Thomas Jefferson McBride described expedition as it relates to the McBride family:

The five McBride brothers all joined the command under Washington. This army under Braddock reached the Monongahela River on July 8th of that year, and on the 9th day of July the battle was fought and Braddock was mortally wounded, near where the city of Pittsburgh now stands. George Washington was his aide-de-camp with the rank of colonel and saved the army from utter destruction through the attach of the Americans on that day. This battle is known in history as “Braddock’s Defeat”.

The five McBride brothers were all in this battle. Three of them, Joseph, John, and Andrew were killed in the fight on the first day. William and James were left out of the five, and three or four days after the battle while reconnoitering the Indians killed the eldest brother, William.

And my father and mother told me that Indian friends told them that after they had killed him they cut out his heart and cooked it and ate it, because it was the heart of a very brave man, and according to Indian tradition the eating of this heart would furnish great courage to the red man.

History of McBrides, Thomas Jefferson McBride, great grandson of James McBride and Mary Crawford McBride of Tennessee,History of McBrides, housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

It’s unusual for a military musket to have a front sight… but it does. If you’ve got one gun, and you’re on the frontier, you are likely going to need to aim when using solid roundballs. It makes sense.

James McBride, being an adventurous Scots-Irish wanderer, having found his way into the battle of Braddock’s Defeat, and having survived, he stayed for a while in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area, possibly to console and assist his sister-in-law who lived there. While in Lancaster, he met Mary Crawford, who was the daughter of Col. John Crawford. Mary was born around 1736-38, so she was probably 18 or so. This is another detail tying this particular James McBride, with the same legendary tree marker who explored Kentucky in 1754-55 – since he was supposed to have married a woman named Crawford, who came from “nobility.”

Family tradition has it that this was yet another cliche‘ moment of forbidden romance for James, who was sort of a frontier hobo and part-time cobbler and shoemaker, and Mary, who was the daughter of an important and well-connected Pennsylvania family. Instead of finishing the job of making all their shoes, which is what he was supposed to do, he instead ran off with their 18 year old daughter:

Now sometime about the close of this war, so the story runs, it was the custom of the country then to hire a shoemaker to come to your home and make the shoes for the whole family. There was in that neighborhood a rich old planter by the name of Crofford, (Crawford) who hired James McBride, Sr. to make shoes for the entire family. I never learned how many children there were, but anyway he had a daughter about eighteen years of age at that time, so it turned out that while James was making the shoes for the family he fell in love with the girl and the girl with him, and that by the time the shoemaker was ready for his money she was ready to go with him.

Now, the young couple knew it would not do to let the old folks know, because the Croffords were a wealthy family and would not consent to the marriage, so they planned that when he left she would meet him at a certain place that evening. So James took his pony bob and his blankets, his old trusty gun with plenty of ammunition, his stew kettle in which he stowed his grub. This stew kettle he used to cook with, and went to the place appointed. And the young lady true to her promise met him there, so she rode the pony bob and her lover walked by her side to lead and guide the pony, and so they traveled all night to the Southwest. And you must remember that one hundred forty years ago Southwestern Virginia was a wilderness, so that by daylight the next day they were way out in the wilds of Western Virginia.

Their departure was taken so slyly that that the Crofford family could find no trace of them, so they continued their journey to the southwest part of Virginia to the Clynch (Clinch) River Country, and there they made their home, and this young lady who was my great grandmother on my father’s side lived away from her people for there was bad blood between the Croffords and James McBride, Sr.

But when the oldest son William McBride was sixteen years of age, he went back to visit his mother’s people and was welcomed by them. Now I want to say that to this woman (Mary Crawford) there were ten sons born. The oldest one was named William. I cannot recollect all of the named but I have heard Father speak of his uncle Joseph, John, Andrew, and so on. Now, as I have said there were ten of them who grew up to manhood. The oldest son William, remained on the old home plantation with his father, while the others left.

History of McBrides, Thomas Jefferson McBride, great grandson of James McBride and Mary Crawford McBride of Tennessee,History of McBrides, housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

It’s likely that this event took place around 1757. It’s also possible they just eloped without formally getting married, in order to avoid the powerful Crawford family discovering their whereabouts. Tax records show that they probably moved first to James’ old place on Buffalo Creek, in Rockbridge County, because he shows up on the tax records there until about 1760. Note also that he did not pay his taxes for 1755, implying that he gone during that period of time.

In 1760, James apparently signed up in a military unit again, enlisting in the 2nd Virginia Regiment under Col. Byrd, thus receiving a bounty. Apparently after that he deserted and fled the area. It’s possible he was fleeing the Crawford family, or maybe he just took the money and ran. There was a lawsuit filed over this in 1775. James and his wife Mary moved to the Clinch River area of Southwestern Virginia. This is documented, because family tradition has him living there at that time, and more importantly for the historian, he was involved in several lawsuits there – in both 1764 and 1765. In both cases, he was identified as a “soldier,” as his occupation. One of the plaintiffs who sued him was Samuel Davis. A decade later, they would serve together in the same unit at the Battle of Point Pleasant.

James and Mary Crawford McBride had the following children, as best as the records can tell:

William McBride, born in 1758 in Virginia; Daniel McBride, born in 1760 in Henry County, Virginia; James McBride, Jr., born in 1765 in Virginia; Isaac McBride, born in 1770 in Virginia; Maggie McBride, born in 1773; Thomas Crawford McBride, Sr., born in 1777 in the Clinch River area of Virginia; Andrew McBride, born in 1779 in Patrick County, Virginia; and Joseph Crawford McBride, born in 1780 in Botetourt County, Virginia.


They lived somewhere in the Clinch River area of Southwest Virginia. That was likely the vicinity of Patrick County, Virginia, which wasn’t formed until 1791, and which was previously Henry County, Virginia, and prior to that, part of Pittsylvania County, I believe. Anyways, it’s in the same general area as Bedford County, and where the Clinch River begins. Most records fro their family at the end of the 18th century seem to occur at the Patrick County courthouse.

The oldest son, William, lived with his father his entire life. His son James, born in 1787, therefore lived with his grandfather, whom he was named after, and almost assuredly heard first hand accounts of his life. It was grandson-James’s son, Thomas Jefferson McBride, who provides the family stories, as told to him by his father, James – now preserved by the Wisconsin Historical Society. Here are a few of the stories he documented about his great grandfather James McBride’s exciting frontier experiences:

Way back in those days of 1760 the people of the colonies lived under more difficulties than the people of these United States do now. They lived on coarse fare such as cornbread and wild meat. Hogs were very scarce in those days, so the first settlers of Southwestern Virginia had to live on cornbread and such wild meats as they could kill, such as wild turkeys, possums, coons, quail, deer and bears. The turkeys, possum and raccoons they could find on every hand, but sometimes they had to go out in the wilds of what is now Kentucky to get the deer and black bear that they all loved for meat. This was exceedingly dangerous, of course. Not only on account of the wild animals, but on account of the Indians.

Kentucky seemed to be the great battle ground of the Indians of the South and of the North. It was called by them the field of blood. Now in order for our people to be on the safe side they went in company twice a year, in the fall and in the spring and killed deer and bear meat sufficient for their needs. The first year there was plenty of deer and bear and was not so hard, but when the game got scarce then at times it required a great deal of time to find the game and bag enough to get along with, so now I want to relate an incident that happened in the life of James McBride, Sr. my great-grand-father, in one of his busts in Kentucky as I have heard my father and mother tell it.

The one time he and two others went to Kentucky to hunt bear and they separated, so it happened that great-grand-father spent two or three days hunting alone and only got one small deer, so the third day in the evening he was tired and discouraged and had stopped to take a nap, and as he stood there alone he heard a noise and he turned and looked and saw a big black bear about a rod from him and coming at him with its mouth wide open. He leveled his gun but it was done so quick the bear was only hit on the base of the ears so it only made Mr. bear very mad and it was a fight to the finish, so as luck would have it there was a stone right near that Grand-father grabbed and as the bear came up on a charge then he let him have it between the eyes and down he fell and then with his hunting knife he finished him in short order. Then he skinned him and cut up the meat, and put it on his pack saddle and returned home with his supply of bear meat for his dear wife and children.

Another time he went with others on a hunt into Kentucky, and after hunting alone for a day or two he found late one evening a cave where a bear had went in in the fall to winter during the winter. As it is well known to all that a fat bear houses up for all winter in the fall. This bear had gone into the cave late in the fall so grand- father built a fire and camped there all night until morning, then he made a torch out of a pine knot and crawled down into the cave until he got near enough to see the
eyes of the bear, then he shot him and as he was dragging the bear out of the cave, and he stopped to rest he saw the bear shake as though something had taken a hold of it, and so he reached over the dead bear and got a hold of another live one, so he pulled the dead bear out of the cave and then shot at the other one, so he had two fine big bears to skin and the meat to bag, and then he returned home with plenty of meat for the dear family.

Another time he and two others went far down into the wilds of Kentucky on a bear and deer hunt. One of the party was to make and keep camp while the other two went out to hunt. So as it happened one day the two that went out to hunt found two deer licks. These were places where the deer came to lick the ground on account of the salt deposits which were in the earth. So Grand- father built up a blind at the one that he had taken to watch. He tied his pony to a blackjack tree and laid down in the brush to watch for the deer to come. Late in the afternoon he saw, as he first thought, looking down into the valley nine big black turkeys come up the trail to the blind, but as he saw that they had stopped and went back down below he knew that they were not turkeys but Indians, so he went to his pony and untied him, and crossed the bridle reins over his head and stood on the opposite side of the pony to watch and see if the Indians came.

So after while he saw nine Indians come on the slope toward him. The old chief was in front stepping carefully with two large silver plates hung down on his breasts and as they came near Grand-father raised his rifle across the back of the pony and drew a bead on the chief’s breast between the two plates and at the sound of the gun the Chief fell dead on the spot. Grandfather said his first impulse upon killing the chief was to go and get the two silver plates but his second thought was that he had better get out. So he leaped on his pony and as he started the pony ran under a blackjack tree and the limbs of the tree pulled his hat off, and away he went bareheaded across the hills to the camp. He said the pony had always been a great stumbler but that on this ride of three or four miles he never stumbled once.

So when he got back to the camp his comrade there said that he had heard the report of a gun and that at about a half an hour later he heard the report of a second gun. So they waited until after night for the other man to come in and as he did not come they came to the conclusion that the Indians had killed him, which later proved to be so, because the Indians had taken a colored woman prisoner and she was with the Indians at their camp afterwards. She made her escapt and told about a white man killing the Indian Chief and loosing his hat as he went under the tree, and that about a half an hour afterwards another white man came up and that the Indians killed him and scalped him.

History of McBrides, Thomas Jefferson McBride, great grandson of James McBride and Mary Crawford McBride of Tennessee,History of McBrides, housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Here’s where Point Pleasant enters the story. In 1774, the state of Virginia gathered an army of frontiersmen from its Western regions, in order to march against the Shawnee in the Ohio country, following several years of vicious attacks, back and forth between the Shawnee and Virginian settlers on the frontier. Ever since the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768, the Shawnee were supposed to stay on their side of the Ohio, and the Virginians were supposed to stay on theirs. Of course this wasn’t happening, as the settlers were flooding into modern day West Virginia, and building forts pretty much everywhere.

One of the first settlers in the Greenbrier Valley arrived at this very spot in 1750 or 1751, and fell in love with this little valley, called Wolf Creek, in present day Monroe County, WV. Jarrett’s Fort was built off in the distance along Wolf Creek, several miles above the Greenbrier River.

Settlement had reached the Greenbrier Valley. Everything beyond the Greenbrier Valley was still somewhat of a no-man’s land. There were no roads; no forts, no towns, etc. The army, commanded by Gen. Andrew Lewis, was to rendezvous at “Camp Union,” a.k.a. Fort Savannah, the site of present day Lewisburg, West Virginia.

Inscription at the site of Camp Union aka, Fort Union, aka Fort Savannah. Present day Lewisburg, West Virginia. Capt. Arbuckle lived in a log cabin probably where that little modern structure sits today, on the other side of the street, directly across from the log barracks building (circa 1790s-1800). That’s US Route 219 in the pic, which by all accounts, would have run directly through the stockade of the fort.

James McBride, ever the soldier, volunteered in Captain Thomas Buford’s Company of Bedford County, Virginia Volunteers, who marched to Camp Union for the rendezvous. Also with him was a William Bryant – which is supposed to be Bryan – one of my great uncles. In the records they always either added a “t” or even an “s” for some reason. They still do. “Bryan – no t.” I still have to say it all the time . . . . Also serving with James, and William Bryan, was the guy who sued him 9 or 10 years earlier, Samuel Davis.

The Bedford Company indeed joined the army at Camp Union, on the “Big Levels” of the Greenbrier Valley. When General Lewis, at his camp in Greenbrier, took account of his forces, there were among them Captain Thomas Buford of Bedford with his Independent Company of Riflemen, consisting of six officers and forty-five privates.  General Lewis made up his forces into two regiments and one Battalion; The Augusta County Regiment commanded by Colonel Charles Lewis; the Botetourt County Regiment commanded by Colonel William Fleming, and the Fincastle County Battalion commanded by Colonel William Christian.  Captain Buford’s Company of Riflemen was a part of the Botetourt Regiment.

The “Lewis Spring” located at the actual site of Camp Union, as it appears today. Present day Lewisburg, WV. The fort was off to the right. It probably did not encapsulate the spring, but it may have. You can still see the spring run when the water level is up.
The actual site of Camp Union. It was probably a fairly large fort, by frontier standards, and would have included that stone foundation, the log structure across the street (which is not from the fort), and half of the next block to the right of those structures.
An old photo showing the old Greenbrier County jail, which is the stone foundation that’s still standing. This was built on part of the original site of Camp Union, which is why the county built it’s jail on it. In the background, you can see the hillside where the Lewis Spring is.

The men who composed Lewis’ army were used to warfare; but they had for years been fighting a defensive war against a steadily treacherous and resourceful foe. Now they were to be afforded an opportunity for aggressive warfare, to meet the Indians, follow them upon defeat, and destroy their towns, and finally put an end to the threat of the Red men, and free the frontier from the dread that was almost ever present in the breast of every man because of fear of savage attack upon his wife, his children and his home.  When this frontier army realized that such was to be the nature of the mission upon which they marched, they became impatient for the fray. 
Lewis’ army has been well described as “an army of civilized men, encamped on the borderland of the Savage Empire.” From any viewpoint, they were an interesting body of men. They were principally clad in the picturesque habiliments of the primitive frontier.

The hunting shirt and leather breeches and leggings were the conspicuous articles of the costume; the headgear was home made from the skins of animals or knit from wool.  Most men carried both a butcher knife and tomahawk—not the Indian tomahawk, but a narrow, slender hatchet of steel; the flint–lock rifle was the rule, the water-proof skin pouches and the gracefully curving powder horns, many quaintly and even artistically carved, completed the equipment.  
There were here and there officers in uniform, of the British Colonial regulation; but many, even of the officers, made no pretense at wearing anything except the ordinary civilian garb.  
But when we look through the inconsequential externals to things worthy of more important consideration, what a group of men do we behold! Some had been with Washington at Fort Necessity; some with Braddock upon the field of his fate on the Monongahela, and “others with Forbes at the capture of Fort Duquesne; and still others with” Colonel Henry Boquet on his expedition into the Ohio wilderness.

An Address to the Memory of Captain Thomas Buford by Landon C. Bell to the Peaks of Otter Chapter of the DAR, October 31, 1931 http://www.bufordfamilies.com/CaptJohnThomasBuford.htm

James McBride’s gun appears to have had a long career.
As is sometimes seen on 18th century frontier guns, the hammer on the flintlock had been cocked so many times, for so many years, probably under times of stress (rather than being gentle as when target shooting), then it eventually stressed the mortice around the left end of the lock, creating a gap, and probably requiring periodic maintenance through the years.

Indeed, James McBride, one of those men, had apparently been at both Fort Necessity and at Braddock’s Defeat – as had their new general, Andrew Lewis. Captain Buford’s Bedford men were a part of the force which marched under General Lewis and Colonel Fleming. They reached the mouth of Elk – Charleston, in ten days on September 22, 1774.

A historical marker noting the general route of the march of Gen. Lewis and his army. This is US Route 60 in the background, which is the general path – with some variances.
The North bank of the Kanawha River, close to Point Pleasant. The army marched along this bank of the Kanawha River. After the battle, General Lewis sent men through this field, all the way to the hill in the distance, which is 3 mile creek, to gather the scattered horses. My family was involved in the battle, and about a decade later, bought this exact field from Andrew Lewis, who owned thousands of acres here. My fifth great grandfather built a log cabin here, a stone’s throw from the river bank, which stood until the great flood of 1937, at which point it was bulldozed into the river.

The battle itself took place on October 10, 1774 – from sunrise to sundown. It was a battle for the ages, with both sides fighting with skill and great bravery. The Shawnee were led by the great chief commonly known as Cornstalk. Unfortunately, we have no details on the specifics of the experience of the Buford Company during the battle. But we do know that the Bedford men were a part of Col. William Fleming’s division.

This is how the point appears today. This is literally the point of land where the Virginians were camped. 20 years later, one of the vets returned and built a log tavern on the site, which still stands today. It’s called the “Mansion House.”
An old photo of the Mansion House.

After the initial shots were fired, alerting the Virginians to the fact that a massive Indian army was about to surprise them, Gen. Lewis ordered two divisions to march forward and attack: Col. Charles Lewis took the right, towards the high-ground, and Col. Fleming took his division to the left, along the Ohio bank. On meeting the enemy on the right-side, where the Indians already had the high-ground, Col. Charles Lewis himself was immediately shot, with a mortal wound. He was a convenient target wearing his scarlet uniform. He had been a frontiersman’s frontiersman, with a legendary frontier resume’. He had remarked to somebody that if he was going to die, he would die well-dressed. Remarkably, similar to the McBride family, the Charles Lewis family kept both is still-loaded rifle, and his powder horn, as keepsakes. I honestly don’t know where either of these are today, but I really wish I did.

A sketch of the battle, as drawn by a participant.

Here are photos I found of both of them, which I haven’t seen anywhere else. Your’e welcome. Yes I like to share instead of just keeping them to myself in hopes of one day finding them at a garage sale:

Charles Lewis powder horn
Charles Lewis Flintlock Rifle

Col. Fleming left us a great account of his Division’s experience on meeting the enemy. Fleming was also shot – numerous times actually – though he survived to casually write about holding his intestines inside his wounds, and operating on himself.

The attack upon Colonel Fleming’s force was even more determined. On the field Fleming was heard constantly among his men exhorting them: “Don’t lose an inch of ground; advance; outflank the enemy.”

He received two balls through his left arm and was shot through the breast – a gaping wound from which his lungs protruded. He gave his last command: “Keep between them and the river,” and with the greatest coolness retired to the camp.

It was necessary to throw seven companies to the reinforcement of Lewis’ right wing.  This left few, if any reinforcements which, even in an emergency, could have been sent to the left wing. But it held its ground. The fighting, from behind trees, logs and other natural cover, was vigorous and long continued.  Evidently, the Indians gave way in retreat, but to take advantage of it required cautious judgment; for to become too much exposed in following up a retreat meant danger, even disaster. But the Virginians pressed them back with vigor, until it was too dangerous, because of the favorable ground the Indians occupied to go farther. The battle line was now continuous, and well defined and extended over a front of about a mile and a quarter.

An Address to the Memory of Captain Thomas Buford by Landon C. Bell to the Peaks of Otter Chapter of the DAR, October 31, 1931 http://www.bufordfamilies.com/CaptJohnThomasBuford.htm

The main street in Point Pleasant. This is exactly where the battle occurred.

Capt. Buford was unfortunately mortally wounded. He died in camp at the point on October 10, 1774, and was buried there, and remains there today. He was likely buried in the camp’s powder magazine, along with Col. Charles Lewis.

After the Battle of Point Pleasant, James still had a lot of fight left in him, apparently. Records show that after the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, he enlisted with the Fifth Virginia Regiment, organized at Richmond, Virginia. He enlisted as a private, but likely due to his experience, was promoted to a Sergeant. His pay records survive, and among other things, show that he was at the Battle of Ticonderoga – yet another brutal defeat for colonial/American forces. In all, he served from October of 1776, until he was discharged in February of 1778.

The downtown courthouse in Point Pleasant. This would have been in the midst of the battle. Additionally, this is the exact spot – about where this marker is, I’m told, that Cornstalk was originally buried in 1777 when he was murdered here. When they later built the original courthouse which sat here, they found his remains, and reinterred him where the current monument stands in the park.

His records also show that he led a unit of Virginia Riflemen during this time with the Fifth Virginia, which is again consistent of him using a different type of weapon. Though this musket isn’t a rifle, per se, it was clearly designed and used in an identical fashion – albeit with somewhat less accuracy due to the lack of rifling. But it also had more versatility, in that it could also be used as a shotgun, or a combination thereof. I’ve seen many early rifles which had been bored out and converted to smoothbores – including the famous “Brass Barreled Rifle,” which I got to examine a couple of weeks ago.

The Brass Barreled Rifle – the second oldest known rifle dated by the maker. And that’s only 1771. The oldest is the “Schreit” Rifle, dated 1761. This is another reason it’s a much safer bet that early frontiersmen like McBride had a smoothbore, rather than a rifled barrel.

James’ descendants continued to serve in the Virginia Militia. There are existing records of his grandson, Major Isaac McBride, of Rockbridge County – Lexington, VA area – who led a company of Virginia Militia in the War of 1812, and who is still buried in Virginia. Isaac was the brother of William McBride, James’ son born in 1758. We know that William lived in the Clinch River area. So James and his family populated multiple areas of Southwestern Virginia.

It isn’t known exactly when James died, but it is likely around 1812, when his son William, who lived with him until his death, packed up and moved to Tennessee.

UPDATE 11/25/19: We have now reunited James McBride’s musket with the powder horn which was paired with it, both having descended together in the McBride family, as mementos of James McBride. Check it out:

11 thoughts on “James McBride: his actual musket, and his epic life as a frontiersman and soldier

  1. I enjoyed your article, and found in very interesting. Here is some information that might be of help.

    I believe that there are some geographical problems with this statement:
    “They lived somewhere in the Clinch River area of Southwest Virginia. That was likely the vicinity of Patrick County, Virginia, which wasn’t formed until 1791, and which was previously Henry County, Virginia, and prior to that, part of Pittsylvania County, I believe. Anyways, it’s in the same general area as Bedford County, and where the Clinch River begins. Most records for their family at the end of the 18th century seem to occur at the Patrick County courthouse.”

    The Clinch River is much farther west than Patrick County or Bedford County. It is in far Southwest Virginia and is a part of the Tennessee River system. East of it is the New River system which heads to the Ohio and then the Mississippi River. Both the Tennessee and New Rivers end up in the Gulf of Mexico. East of both of these are river systems are rivers that flow east into the Atlantic. Patrick is in the Dan River basin and Bedford in the Roanoke and James River basins. The Dan flows into the Roanoke which heads to the ocean in NE North Carolina, and the James into the Chesapeake bay and then the ocean.

    Patrick is a newer county formed in 1791, as you stated. It has always been that size as no new counties were ever from from it. It was formed from Henry in 1777, which was formed from Pittsylvania in 1767, which was formed from Halifax in 1752. So, earlier records for the Patrick County area could be found in those counties.

    The Clinch River runs through Tazewell, Russell, and Scott Counties. So, records for this area of Virginia should be found in these counties by date as follows: Tazewell 1800, Wythe 1790, Montgomery 1777, Fincastle 1772 ( no long exist, records may be in Montgomery), Botetourt 1770, and Augusta 1745. Scott 1814, Lee 1793, Russell 1786, Washington 1777, Fincastle 1772, Botetourt 1770, and Augusta 1745.

    I hope that this might be helpful,
    Ralph Arthur

    • Thanks Ralph, as you can see I’m not familiar with that area of Virginia. I’ll have to figure out some of these geographic details when I get the time. Google wasn’t a lot of help, if you can believe it.

  2. Absolutely AWESOME article, John!!

    If the soul of anyone who reads this is not affected they are, indeed, dead…..

    You, Sir, are an expert at this and I will read anything you write.


    • Thanks, Don. I’m not an expert at much outside the legal world, but if we all waited until we were experts to write things down, we will have passed up a lot of topics…..

  3. FYI, as I’ve noted before, the reason I have to approve comments is because there is a tremendous amount of spam comments for some reason. Rob0-comments.

  4. Hi John Bryan,
    I am very interested in this article on James McBride as I am a descendant from James McBride born abt. 1734 in Ireland and settled in VA and PA. My descendants come from his first marriage to Sarah Edwards, granddaughters, of Joseph Edwards, the fort builder. His second marriage was to Rachel Nixon (no children) and his third wife was Mary (and in his last will and testament) mentions her as his beloved wife Mary. I thought it was Mary Chenoweth, but maybe it is Mary Crawford. It all gets very confusing.
    Our James McBride, Sr. and wife Sarah had a son named James McBride, Jr. who was married to Catherine Frisbee and Nancy Kettle/Kittle. I am descended from James Jr. and Nancy Kettle McBride. These two are a little bit harder to track down, due to a fire at the Hampshire Co. Courthouse. Our line of McBride’s have carried them names of William, James, Thomas, Robert, down to our current generation. I wish we could be more concrete on proofs regarding Mary Crawford. I did find my James McBride listed at his uncle’s residence during one of the census and also a lady by the name of Mary Crawford staying there as well. Maybe these two never did get married? I will try to find that census somewhere in my volume of papers.

    Thank you for writing such a wonderful article. We are aware that our James McBride carved his name in the tree at the mouth of the Ohio River. I am very fortunate to have a first edition copy of that history book.

    Please stay in touch. Would love to learn more. Thanks for sharing the photos of the gun. Do you have any of James McBride?

    Bev (McBride) Schuele

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