John Bradshaw: Greenbrier Indian Spy and Vet of the Battle of Yorktown

In Frontier Defense: Colonizing Contested Areas in West Virginia, archaeologists Kim and Stephen McBride, who specialize in the frontier forts of Kentucky and the Virginias, explained that:

The use of “Indian spies” or scouts was another crucial element of the frontier defensive strategy. During the French and Indian War, spies functioned in an offensive capacity, gathering intelligence about the enemy and attacking them in their camps when possible. Spying parties often included hired American Indians as well.

By the 1770s and 1780s, spies had become more defensive, roaming over the landscape to look for enemy signs, especially in the warmer months when raiding was more of a threat, or they were given word of Indian activity. Given the widely dispersed nature of frontier farms and forts and the desire of most settlers to stay on their farms during the warmer months, only coming into the forts when absolutely necessary, this system was a critical aspect of frontier defense . . . .

Extra spies were often posted at known passes and advance areas during times of particular danger. Pensioner John Bradshaw reported that he “…watched the gaps and low places in the mountains for thirty miles, to a point where they met the spies from Burnside’s Fort.”

Frontier Defense: Colonizing Contested Areas in West Virginia, Kim and Stephen McBride, http://www.wvculture.org/history/settlement/frontierdefense.pdf

On this seventh day of May 1833 personally appeared in open Court [Probably Marlinton, Pocahontas County, (West) Virginiaa court I’ve often practiced law], before the County Court of Pocahontas County now sitting John Bradshaw a resident of the said Court of Pocahontas and state of Virginia aged seventy four years on the second day of February last, who being duly sworn according to Law doth on his Oath make the following declaration in order to obtain the benefit of the act of Congress passed June the 7th 1832.

[In other words, the following text is the recollection – under oath – of 74 year old John Bradshaw, who traveled to the courthouse to seek a pension for his service as a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Scans of his actual handwritten application appear below, and are transcribed (so that you don’t have to try to read them yourself – it ain’t easy….):]

A panorama shot of the Indian Creek valley, near where Cook’s Fort is believed to have stood. We were searching for remains of the fort, but unfortunately found nothing which could be attributed to the fort. But that’s for another post I have planned….

That he [John Bradshaw] entered the service as an Indian Spy in the spring of the year 1776; that he was then just entering the 18th year of his age; that at the time he entered the service as a Spy he was a private in the Company of Militia Commanded by Captain John Henderson; that he then resided in that part of Virginia which is now in the County of Monroe but whether it was then Botetort County or not he does not now know [present Monroe County WV formed in 1799 from Greenbrier County, which was formed from Botetourt and Montgomery counties in 1778]. That before he entered the service as a spy he took the Oath of Fidelity and the Oath to perform the duties of a Spy — That he went into service as a spy on the first day of May 1776 and was discharged on or before the first . . .

John Bradshaw Pension Application – Page 1

. . . day of November following, having continued in service six months and until that season of the year arrived when the fear of Indian depredation no longer existed, they having as was their general custom retired to winter quarters.

That again in the Spring of the year 1777 he entered the service as an Indian Spy on the 15th day of April and was discharged as before on the first day of November following having that summer performed a tour of six months and a half; he again went into service as an Indian Spy on the 15th day of April 1778 and continued in said service until the first of November following having again performed a tour of six months and a half and that he again commenced his expedition as an Indian Spy on the first day of May 1779 and continued in service until the first day of November 1779 having performed a tour of six months that summer, making in all Two years and one months services which he performed as an Indian Spy.

The supposed site of Cook’s Fort, just West of Greenville, West Virginia.

That the nature of his services as an Indian Spy was to leave Cooks Fort on Indian Creek now in the County of Monroe [near Greenville, West Virginia] and be out from three to four days each week and then return when others would go, the same length of time, that their practice was for two to go together & when they returned an other two would start out. . .

The Indian Creek Valley from Elk Rock – just North of where Cook’s Fort was believed to have been. That’s Estill’s blockhouse off in the distance to the right.

that the Companion who was mostly with him was a man by the name of James Ellis [that’s likely James Ellison – here’s his pension application] that he does not know what has become of him but supposes he is dead as he was considerably older than himself [he actually wasn’t dead, as he completed his own pension application the next year, in 1833, wherein he claimed to be 76 years old, so he wasn’t much older, but he was described by his witnesses at that time as “a very illiterate old man,” so maybe he looked older].

Also, still today, there’s an “Ellison Ridge Road,” crossing from Greenville, WV, and going towards Hans Creek, West Virginia. I waited for it to get good and muddy and crossed it this past January:

that the place where he . . .

Here’s the view of where Cook’s Fort is believed to be, as seen from Ellison Ridge Road, as it winds up the aptly named, Ellison’s Ridge:

He [John Bradshaw] also sometimes went in company with the late Colonel Samuel Estill of Kentucky [That’s the Estill family’s stone blockhouse in the picture above, off in the distance. Here is Samuel Estill’s pension application. As with many of these veterans, he also served at the greatest frontier battle of their generation: the Battle of Point Pleasant, in 1774. Estill lived at a blockhouse, as seen in the photo below, along Indian Creek, and served as an Indian Spy in 1777 and 1778. Thereafter, in 1778, he moved to Fort Boonesborough, Kentucky and had an EPIC career as a Kentucky frontiersman, worthy of a book or movie. He was with his brother, Capt. James Estill (who also moved to Kentucky from the home below) when he was killed at the Battle of Estill’s Defeat. Samuel thereafter took over command for his fallen brother. But that’s for another post entirely . . . .]

John Bradshaw Pension Application – Page 2
The Estill family’s blockhouse on Indian Creek, a few miles North of where Cook’s Fort was believed to have been.

. . . performed the aforesaid services as an Indian Spy was in the gaps and low places in the chain of mountains between William Lafferty’s plantation on New River and the head waters of Laurel Creek where they met the Spies from Burnsides Fort; that they traversed the country which included the head waters of big and little Stony creeks the head waters of the Indian draft a branch of Indian creek and the head waters of Wolf Creek . . .

A cave near Indian Creek near where Cook’s Fort is believed to have stood. Laurel Creek is running into it. Presumably, the would go from the mouth of this cave, and follow this creek, which runs from the direction of Byrnside’s Fort – which is itself on Indian Creek, but near its headwaters.
A cave overhang, with Laurel Creek running into it, before it empties into Indian Creek, out of the mouth of another cave, into Indian Creek, near where Cook’s Fort is believed to have stood. This is the creek Bradshaw said he followed to its headwaters, where they would meet up with the Indian Spies from Byrnside’s Fort.
Byrnside’s Fort, as it appears today.
The interior of Byrnside’s Fort, after plaster removal.
Bradshaw mentions “the headwaters of Wolf Creek,” which is essentially this valley. Wolf Creek begins just left of center, and then runs to the right, all the way to the mountains in the distance, which is the location of the Greenbrier River, at the mouth of Wolf Creek.

. . . . that the distance or space of country over which he had to travel was supposed to be upwards of thirty miles, that in performing the duties of a spy they had to carry their provisions with them it being against the nature of their Oath and instructions and also jeopardizing their own safety to make a fire at knight no matter how inclement the wether might be; and that during the whole time that he was engaged in the service as an Indian Spy as aforesaid he was not engaged in any civil pursuit . . . .

John Bradshaw Pension Application – Page 3

. . . . That he was afterwards drafted in the month of January 1781 into service as a soldier of the Revolution from the County of Augusta and marched in a company commanded by Captain Thomas Hicklin Lieutenant Joseph Gwin and Ensign Thomas Wright and was attached to a Regiment commanded by Colonel Sampson Mathews; that he lived at the time he was drafted in the County of Augusta and State of Virginia. That he was marched across the Blue Ridge of Mountains at Rockfish gap, thence directly to the City of Richmond, thence down the James River to Sandy Point where he with the company to which he belonged crossed the River and thence to Camp Carson an encampment in what was called the dismal Swamp near a place called Portsmouth in the State of Virginia, where he was stationed the greater part of the winter, and from thence he was marched with the Army in the spring to Murdoughs Mills [possibly Murdock’s Mill] still nearer to Portsmouth where he remained untill the 9th of April 1781 when he was discharged having served a tour of three months; that during said three months Tour of service he was in one engagement or skirmish under the command of the aforesaid officers at or in sight of Portsmouth; that Captain Cunningham from Rockbridge County, Virginia was wounded in the groin.

NOTE: we have a powder horn in the Scavengeology Collection which “supposedly” belonged to Captain Cunningham (I’m not necessarily convinced as there’s no proof and may just be b.s.):

. . . . that the Captain received his wound a few paces in his front there was also one soldier wounded in the leg & was placed on a carriage and bourn off the field or ground of the engagement; he recollects of no other injury received by the American Army in the aforesaid skirmish. that he was several times engaged in routing the picket guard of the enemy during the aforesaid tour. That he was a sergeant and acted as such during said three months tour, that he received his warrant as such, but not supposing that it would . . .

John Bradshaw Pension Application – Page 4

. . . ever be of any service to him has long since lost or mislaid it and does not now remember to have seen it for at least forty years.

That he was again drafted in the latter part of the summer or in the early part of the autumn of the same year 1781 from the County of Augusta and State aforesaid & was again command by Captain Thomas Hicklin and was attached to a Regiment commanded by Colonel Samuel Vance; that he was marched accross the Blue Ridge at Rockfish gap . . .

Edward Beyer painting of Rockfish Gap

. . . thence on by a place called Bowling green, thence on by Pages Ware House and thence on to Little York where Lord Cornwallis with his Army were then stationed; that he was at the Seige of York [28 Sep – 19 Oct 1781] and at the taking of Lord Cornwallis and his army; that the British Army was marched out between two lines of the American Army to the place where they laid down their arms and then they returned through the same lines to their encampment in York Town, and on the next day they were marched out with their knapsacks on, and then took up their line of march under a strong escort or guard of the American Soldiers to the Barracks at Winchester Virginia; that he was one of the guard who escorted the prisoners . . .

John Bradshaw Pension Application – Page 5

. . . to Winchester where he was discharged on the next day after his arrival having again served a tour of about three months as near as he now recollects; that for this last tour of service he does not now remember whether he received a written discharge or not but if he did it has long since been lost as he has no recollection of it. That he has no documentary evidence and that he knows of no person now living whose testimony he can procure who chan testify to his services as an Indian Spy, or to his services in the Revolutionary War unless it should be John Slavin who he supposes may probably recollect to have seen him at Portsmouth during his first tour at Portsmouth and his second tour at the Seige of York.

He hereby relinquishes every claim to a pension or annuity of pension except the present and declares that his name is not enrolled on the pension roll of the agency of any State.

[signed] John Bradshaw

John Bradshaw Pension Application – Page 6

Regarding Bradshaw’s recollections of escorting British prisoners from Yorktown to Winchester, Virginia, I came across a blog post discussing the diary of a Hessian soldier, who was apparently among the prisoners of war escorted by Bradshaw – referring to their guards as “Virginia Militia:”

Among them was Johann Conrad Dohla, a private in the 4th Company of the Bayreuth Regiment from the state of Ansbach-Bayreuth.  He kept a diary for his entire period of service in the war starting with his arrival in America in 1777 and ending after his return to the German states in 1783.[2] His diary titled A Hessian Diary of the American Revolution is still in print today.  The remainder of this blog post quotes extensively from Dohla’s entries describing Fredericksburg and its surroundings, which I found quite fascinating.


After the surrender, Dohla and his fellow prisoners began a long journey north escorted by Virginia militia.[3]  They neared Fredericksburg after a ten day march.  On October 29, Dohla wrote, “We marched to within one and one-half miles of Fredericksburg, where we camped in an opening in the forest.  During our march today, we saw many individual houses built in a poor manner of wood and covered with clay and patched together. But inside they were richly and well appointed, and in part furnished with the finest articles….  Poultry was plentiful here and inexpensive.  There is no shortage of good tea in Virginia because everywhere, in the forest, on the heights, and meadows, there is an abundance of such tea herbs.”[4] . . . .

Dohla and his comrades continued to Winchester where they were held as prisoners of war for about two months.[8]  Then, he was transferred to a prison camp in Frederick, Maryland, where he remained for 15 months.[9]  After the war’s end, Dohla’s band of Hessians were marched from Frederick to Long Island, New York, where they finally were released.  They set sail for home on August 1, 1783.[10]

Hessians and History: Learning Something New Every Day https://livesandlegaciesblog.org/2018/03/07/hessians-and-history-learning-something-new-every-day/

Another article I found had further descriptions of the march Bradshaw led the Hessians:

The prisoners marched along for days in steady rain and snow, lacking adequate food and water, and sleeping out under the open sky at night. They did, however, report that they enjoyed much freedom along the way. Their march took them through Williamsburg and Fredericksburg, where the two groups separated; the one bound for Winchester and the other for Fort Frederick. 

On November 1 , the Winchester group was made to cross the Rappahannock River barefoot, where the waters came up to their thighs. They proceeded on, coming into sight of the Blue Ridge on November 3rd. On the 4th they were made to wade barefoot again for nearly a quarter of an hour across the ice cold waters of the Shenandoah River, where the current was so swift that they had to be careful that it did not carry them away.

This crossing in cold water caused all sorts of sickness.
Finally, after marching two hundred and forty grueling miles in sixteen days, the first group arrived at their destination of Winchester, Virginia, on November 5th, 1781.

The Hessian Barracks at Winchester, Virginia and Frederick, Maryland
(From the Yorktown Prisoner of War Perspective) by Marie Rasnick Fetzer
http://www.rasnickfamily.org/thehessianbarracks.pdf

Stephen Popp, one of the Hessian soldiers, also kept a diary and also described the March to Winchester with Bradshaw’s unit:

From Yorktown to Winchester are two hundred forty Virginia miles. So far into the country they shipped us. Provisions were short on that march. We received no bread, only flour to make it with. Once in a while we also got some rough and hard bread. But this happened seldom. Twice we received some salt meat on this march, also a little fresh meat and a little salt. We couldn’t complain about the command. They gave us as much freedom as possible.

The Hessian Barracks at Winchester, Virginia and Frederick, Maryland
(From the Yorktown Prisoner of War Perspective) by Marie Rasnick Fetzer
http://www.rasnickfamily.org/thehessianbarracks.pdf

. . . . Mr. John H. Blain, a clergyman residing in the County of Pocahontas in the state aforesaid and William McCord residing in the said county and state, do hereby certify that we are well acquainted with John Bradshaw who has subscribed and sworn to the above declaration; that we believe him to be Seventy Four years of age; that he is respected and believed, in the neighborhood where he resides to have been an Indian Spy and a Soldier of the Revolution and that we concur in that opinion. Sworn to, and subscribed the day and year aforesaid.

And the said Court do hereby declare their opinion after the investigation of the matter and after putting the interrogations prescribed by the War Department that the above named applicant was a Revolutionary Soldier and Indian Spy, and served as he stated. And the Court further certifies that it appears to them that John H. Blain who has signed the preceding certificate is a clergyman residing in the County of Pocahontas & State of Virginia and that William McCord who has also signed is a resident of the County and State aforesaid and is a credible person and that this statement is entitled to credit . . . .

John Bradshaw Pension Application – Page 7

Henry M. Moffett, Clerk of the Court of Pocahontas County, do hereby certify that the foregoing contains the original proceedings of the said Court in the matter & application of John Bradshaw for a pension. In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and seal of office this 7th day of May, 1833.

[signed] H. M. Moffett

John Bradshaw Pension Application – Page 8

Virginia State: To wit: Pocahontas County:

Be it remembered that on this 29th day of April 1833 personally appeared before me, one of the Commonwealths Justices of the peace for the County aforesaid John Slaven [possibly pension application S6110] who made Oath and deposed in solemn form that John Bradshaw of the County and State aforesaid an aged soldier of the Revolutionary War served a three months tour in the Army of the Revolution at or near Portsmouth in the State of Virginia in the same company with the deponant in the Winter and Spring of the year 1781; that the said Bradshaw was a Sergeant in the company to which he belonged which company was commanded by Captain Thomas Hicklin and was attached to a Regiment commanded by Colonel Sampson Mathews; That in the latter part of the summer and fall of the same year 1781 he again served in a company with the said John Bradshaw and was with him at the siege of York and marched with him to guard the prisoners from York Town to Winchester after the Surrender of Lord Cornwallis where they were discharged; that they were commanded during that tour by Captain Thomas Hicklin and were attached to a Regiment commanded by Colonel Samuel Vance that they were drafted into service both times from the County of Augusta and State aforesaid and that this said John Bradshaw was esteemed a good soldier [signed] John Slaven

Sworn to and subscribed before me a Justice of the peace for the
County & state aforesaid the day & year aforesaid and I do moreover certify that from age and infirmity the said John Slaven cannot attend the County Court of Pocahontas to five his evidence – William Slaven

John Bradshaw Pension Application – Page 9

Reading through some of these pension applications, it’s crazy the hoops they made these patriots jump through to get pensions – with many of them being written off, and otherwise treated like garbage….

[The following report is by District Attorney Washington G. Singleton who investigated many pensioners from present West Virginia. For details see pension application S6111 of David W. Sleeth.]

John Bradshaw. Serv’d 2 yrs has received $260—


this man died in December last. I met with no one who knew any thing about his services

– the opinion of those of whom I made enquiry is in his favour. I suppose his widow ought to have the amount due. W. G Singleton February 15, 1835

John Bradshaw Pension Application, https://revwarapps.org/s6738.pdf

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