Memoirs of Col. John Stuart, of Greenbrier, about frontier warfare – Part 1 of 3

I jumped up and approached him to know what was the alarm, when I heard him declare that he had seen above five acres of land covered with. Indians, as thick as they could stand one beside another.

– Col. John Stuart

The following is a letter which was presented (i.e., spoken) to the Virginia Historical and Philosophical Society on February 4, 1833 at a meeting held in the Virginia House of Delegates, presided over by Jonathan P. Cushing, President of Hamden Sidney College. Following the presentation, the society voted to publish the letter – though it wasn’t originally intended for publication. It consisted of the memoirs of Col. John Stuart – the “father of Greenbrier County” – to his son, Charles A. Stuart, of Augusta County, Virginia.

I had seen excerpts of John Stuart’s “narrative” published in many places, but had not seen the entire narrative. So I tracked it down. I am providing it here in its entirety. This was another old published narrative which took me weeks of reformatting – since you can’t just copy and paste it. Most of the words transferred with no spaces, or other errors. But it was worth it, because this is really an unbelievable set of experiences and first hand knowledge for one man to have. And he’s an important character to the history of the Greenbrier Valley – and West Virginia as a whole.

This was John Stuart’s home, as it appears today off of Stuart’s Draft Road, near Lewisburg, West Virginia.

The John Stuart homeplace, as seen from the gate in the driveway – unfortunately.

Off to the right of the main house is a small stone structure, which was his office. This served as the first Greenbrier County Clerk’s Office, which made for a convenient commute for Col. Stuart. Not so much the people of Monroe County, across the river and up the buffalo trail….

The small stone building where John Stuart served as the first clerk of Greenbrier County. On the grounds of his estate.

In fact, here’s an original document we found, with the original signature of John Stuart, signing as clerk. The really interesting thing about this document is that it’s dated 1799, and he signed as clerk on behalf of Monroe County. Monroe County was detached in 1799 from Greenbrier County, because people were pissed about having to cross the sometimes flooded river in order to conduct courthouse business. This shows that in the very beginning, Stuart was still serving as their clerk. The other interesting thing about this document, is that it’s a judgment order obtained by John Byrnside – the owner of Willowbrook Plantation, which had been Byrnside’s Fort. Built by John’s father and and six other families. [NOTE: his father James, around 1786, moved in with his girlfriend near present day Hinton, West Virginia, and gave the plantation to his son John, who from then on cared for James’ wife, and his mother, Isabella. When James died, they apparently brought his body back home finally, and claimed he died there…..]

Original 1799 John Byrnside and John Stuart document. In the Scavengeology Collection.
Col. John Stuart’s signature on the original 1799 John Byrnside and John Stuart document. In the Scavengeology Collection. 1799 John Byrnside and John Stuart document. In the Scavengeology Collection.

The memoirs are remarkable because they contain important first, and second, hand information on important events. He recalls much of what was told to him by General Andrew Lewis. He also recalls his first hand experience from being involved in the settlement of the Greenbrier Valley, including the Battle of Point Pleasant, and the 1778 Shawnee attack on Donnally’s Fort – both of which consist of the two largest pre-Civil War battles in present-day West Virginia.

Drone view from the “Big Levels” at the site of the Clendenin Massacre, looking South towards John Stuart’s home, and present day Monroe County, at the mountains in the distance. The Greenbrier River divides the two areas of the valley.

Here’s a link to a scan of the 1833 publication where I found it – though I had to reformat the entire text by hand.

So it begins….

About the year 1749, a person who was a citizen of the county of Frederick, and subject to paroxysms of lunacy, when influenced by such fits, usually made excursions into the wilderness, and in his rambles westwardly, fell in on the waters of Greenbrier river. At that time, the country on the western waters were but littleknown to the English inhabitants of the then colonies of America, being claimed by the French, who had commenced settlements on the Ohio and its waters, west of the Allegheny mountains. The lunatic being surprised to find waters running a different course from any he had before known, returned with the intelligence of his discovery, which did abound with game.

Looking over the mountains and into the Greenbrier Valley, a rich limestone plateau/valley, surrounded by the natural barrier of steep mountains.

This soon excited the enterprise of others. Two men from New England, of the name of Jacob Marlin and Stephen Sewell, took up a residence upon Greenbrier river; but soon disagreeing in sentiment a quarrel occasioned their separation, and Sewell, for the sake of peace, quit their cabin and made his abode in a large hollow tree. [NOTE: this location is present-day Marlinton, West Virginia.]

An old cabin rebuilt just outside of Marlinton, WV, along the Greenbrier River, probably very close to where the Marlin/Sewell cabin was.

In this situation they were found by the late General Andrew Lewis, in the year 1751. Mr. Lewis was appointed agent for a company of grantees, who obtained from the Governor and Council of Virginia, an order for one hundred thousand acres of land lying on the waters of Greenbrier river,— and did, this year, proceed to make surveys to complete the quantity of said granted lands ; and finding Marlin and Sewell living in the neighborhood of each other, inquired what could induce them to live separate in a wilderness so distant from the habitations of any other human beings.

On October 6, 1751, Col. Lewis marked two great oak trees as a corner of his survey. These two trees became the “Corner Oaks” and stood marking the corner of Col. Lewis’ survey. The Oaks stood in what became the town of Marlinton in the early part of the century, until one was cut down in the 1920s and the other died in the Great Drought of 1930. The stump of the second tree remained, standing about twelve feet high until it was removed in 1979. See http://www.traveling219.com/stories/elkins-marlinton/marlinton-west-virginia-history/


They informed him that difference of opinion had occasioned their separation, and that they had since enjoyed more tranquillity and a better understanding ; for Sewell said, that each morning when they arose and Marlin came out of the great house and he from his hollow tree, they saluted each other, saying— good morning Mr. Marlin, and good morning Mr. Sewell, so that a good understanding then existed between them; but it did not last long, for Sewell removed about forty miles further west, to a creek that still bears his name. There the Indians found him and killed him. [NOTE: he re-settled, and was killed, near present day Rainelle, West Virginia, in western Greenbrier County.]

Previous to the year 1755, Mr. Lewis had completed for the grantees, under the order of council upwards of fifty thousand acres;— and the war then commencing between England and France, nothing further was done in the business until the year 1761, when his majesty issued his proclamation commanding all his subjects within the bounds of the colony of Virginia, who were living, or who had made settlements on the western waters, to remove from them, as the lands were claimed by the Indians’ and good policy required that a peaceable understanding should be preserved with them, to prevent hostilities on their part. The order of council was never afterwards carried into effect, or his majesty’s consent obtained to. confirm it.

At the commencement of the revolution, when the state of Virginia began to assume independence, and held a convention in 1776, some efforts were made to have the order of council established under the new order of things then beginning to take place. But it was not confirmed; and commissioners were appointed, in 1777, to grant certificates to each individual who had made settlements on the western waters, in the state of Virginia, previous to the year 1768 and since, with preference according to the time of improvements, which certificates gave the holder a right to four hundred acres for his settlement claim, and the preemption of one thousand more, if so much were found clear of prior claims , and the holders chose to accept it.

The following year, 1778, Greenbrier was separated from Botetourt county, and the county took its name from the river, which was so named by old Colonel John Lewis, father to the late General, and one of the grantees under the order of council, who, in company with his son Andrew, exploring the country in 1751, entangled himself in a banch of greenbriers on the river, and declared he would ever after call the river Greenbrier river.

After peace was confirmed between England and France, in the year 1761, the Indians commenced hostilities, in 1763, when all the inhabitants in Greenbrier were totally cut off, by a party of Indians headed by the Cornstalk warrior. The chief settlements were on Muddy creek. These Indians, in number about sixty, introduced themselves into the people’s houses under the mask of friendship,— and every civility was offered them by the people, providing them victuals and accommodations for their entertainment, when, on a sudden, they killed the men and made prisoners of the women and children.

[NOTE: there’s a marker honoring the victim’s of the Muddy Creek Massacre, at the site of Arbuckle’s Fort, 2.5 miles from Alderson, WV.]

From thence they passed over into the Levels, where some families were collected at the house of Archibald Clendenin, (where the Hon. Balard Smith now lives.) There were between fifty and one hundred persons, men, women and children. There the Indians were entertained, as at Muddy creek, in the most hospitable manner. Clendenin having just arrived from a hunt, with three fat elks, they were plentifully feasted. [NOTE: this is a drone view of the spot:]

A drone view of the “Levels” of Greenbrier. to the right of the photo, in the field about where that white barn is, is the site of the Clendenin Massacre by Cornstalk, in 1763.
A drone view from the levels looking South towards Monroe County. Flat Mountain can be seen , and then faintly you can see the “Knobs” mountains, and then way back to the left in the distance is Peters Mountain – mostly the dividing line between present day Virginia and West Virginia.

In the meantime an old woman, witha sore leg, was showing her distress to an Indian, and inquiring if hecould administer to her relief; he said he thought he could— and drawing his tomahawk, instantly killed her and all the men almost, that were in the house. Conrad Yolkom only escaped, by being some distance from the house, when the outcries of the women and children alarmed him. He fled to Jackson’s river and alarmed the people, who were unwilling to believe him until the approach of the Indians convinced them. All fled before them; and they pursued on to Carr’s creek, in Rockbridge county, where many families were killed and taken by them.

At Clendenin’s a scene of much cruelty was performed; and a negro woman, who was endeavoring to escape, killed her own child, who was pursuing her crying, lest she might be discovered by its cries. Mrs. Clendenin did not fail to abuse the Indians with terms of reproach, calling them cowards, &c. although the tomahawk was drawn over her head, with threats of instant death, and the scalp of her husband lashed about her jaws.

A closer drone view of the actual site of the Clendenin Massacre on the big “levels.” Somewhere around the barn to the left of the house in the trees is the site where it occurred. Around the crest of the hill. To the right, if you look closely you can see a pond with a fountain. That was a spring which was Cornstalk’s campsite at the time.

The prisoners were all taken over to Muddy creek, and a party of Indians retained them there till the return of the others from Carr’s creek, when the whole were taken off together. On the day they started from the foot of Keeney’s Knob, going over the mountain, Mrs. Clendenin gave her infant child to a prisoner woman to carry, as the prisoners were in the centre of the line with the Indians in front and rear, and she escaped into a thicket and concealed herself until they all passed by. The cries the child soon made the Indians inquire for the mother, who was missing; and one of them said he would soon bring the cow to her calf. Taking the child by the heels he beat its brains out against a tree, and throwing it down in the path, all marched over it, till its guts were all trampled out with the horses. She told me she returned that night, in the dark, to her own house, a distance of more than ten miles, and covered her husband’s corpse with rails, which lay in the yard, where he was killed in endeavoring to escape over the fence, with one of his children in his arms; and then she went into a corn-field, where great fear came upon her, and she imagined she saw a man standing by her, within a few steps. [NOTE: that’s the end of that story. Some people are expecting there to be more about the man standing by her… but there’s not.]

The Indians continued the war till 1764, and with much depredation on the frontier inhabitants, making incursions as far as within a few miles of Staunton. An end, however, was put to the war in the fall of that year, by the march of an army under the command of Colonel Bouquet, a British officer, who assembled, with his regular troops, at Fort Pitt, some companies of militia from Augusta county and other places, — which, I believe, either volunteered their services or were such as were ordered on the frontiers to protect the inhabitants during the war.

Colonel Bouquet held a treaty with the Indians somewhere near Muskingum, and the Indians delivered up many prisoners, who returned to their friends, and a peace was consolidated, which continued until the year 1774. I do not remember of hearing it alleged by any one, what occasioned the war of 1763, being then very young. But about that time the British government had passed an act to tax the American colonies; but on the remonstrance of the people and the opposition of some of the British politicians, they repealed the law. I have since thought that they were urged to it by private British agency, as it is well known that they were influenced that way to commence the war in 1774.

In the spring of that year, General Lewis represented the county of Botetourt in the Assembly, and his brother, Colonel Charles Lewis, represented the county of Augusta, at Williamsburg, then the capital of our government. During the sitting of the Assembly, in the month of April, or May, government received intelligence of the hostile appearance of the Indians, who had fallen upon the traders in the nation and put them all to death, and were making other arrangements for war.

A pic from the time I drove to BFE Virginia to find the site of Col. Charles Lewis’ fort on the Cowpasture River. One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
The site of Fort (Charles) Lewis, where he lived, on the Cowpasture River, circa 1756.


General Lewis and his brother Charles sent an express immediately to the frontier settlements of their respective counties, request ing them to put themselves in a posture of defence. They had, each of them, the command of the militia in their counties, at that time; and I was ordered by General Lewis, to send out some scouts to watch the warrior path beyond the settlements lately made in Greenbrier, which had recommenced in 1769. ‘We were few in number, and in no condition to oppose an attack from any considerable force.

The Cowpasture River near the site of Fort Lewis.
The Cowpasture River looking the other direction – West, I believe.
The site of Fort Lewis from the historical marker. The Cowpasture River runs at the base of the ridge in the background.

But succor was promised us as soon as they could arrive from the Assembly; and, in the mean time, arrangements were made for carrying on an expedition against the Shawanese, between the Earl of Dunmore, who was the Governor of Virginia, and the Lewises, before they left Williamsburg: the Governor to have the command of a northern division of an army of volunteer militia,—or otherwise drafts to be collected from the counties of Frederick, Shenandoah, and the settlements towards Fort Pitt; General Lewis to have the command of a southern division of like troops, collected from the counties of Augusta, Botetourt, and the adjacent counties below the Blueridge. Colonel Charles Lewis was to command theAugusta troops, and Colonel William Fleming the Botetourt troops, under General Lewis. The Governor was to take his route by the way of Pittsburg, and General Lewis down the Kenawha—the whole army to assemble at the mouth of the Great Kenawha, on the Ohio river.

Two original Lord Dunmore signatures we have in the Scavengeology Museum Collection. The framed one, with the seal intact, is currently on display at the Fort Pitt Museum.
A closer look at Lord Dunmore’s signatures, and seal.

General Lewis’s army assembled in Greenbrier, at Camp Union, (now Lewisburg) [parenthetical original] about the 4th September, 1774, amounting in all, to about eleven hundred men, and proceeded from thence on their march, on the 11th day of said month. The captains commanding the Augusta volunteers, were Captain George Mathews, Captain Alexander M’Clenachan, Captain John Dickenson, Captain John Lewis, Captain Benjamin Harrison, Captain William Naul, Captain Joseph Haynes, and Captain Samuel Wilson. Those commanding the Botetourt companies, were Captain Matthew Arbuckle, Captain John Murray, Captain John Lewis, Captain James Robertson, Captain Robert M’Clenachan, Captain James Ward, and Captain John Stuart.

A view of the Greenbrier River, where most of the militia, and their families in tow sometimes, would have crossed the Greenbrier River, on their way to Camp Union, aka, Fort Savannah, in 1774. This is the site of “Matthews Ford,” as well as “Matthews Trading Post.” The original road to Lewisburg ran through here – whether you were coming from the Union, WV area, or even if you were coming down Howard’s Creek from White Sulphur Springs.
A view looking directly across the Matthews Ford to the gap where the road used to go, up the hill to Camp Union, on top. Now Lewisburg, WV. There is no longer a road there.
A view of what it looks like at the site of the Matthews Ford. Roads from two directions came together at the treelike to the right, then crossed this bottom, and the river, then climbing up the gap shown in the pic above. Somewhere here was the famous Matthews Trading Post – but it hasn’t been actually located. I metal detected the field, and found only decades worth of beer cans washed around in periodic flooding.

In the course of the summer, and not long after we received notice of the hostile appearance of the Indians, they came up the Kenawha, and killed Walter Kelly. Kelly had begun a settlement about twelve miles below the Great Falls. When they made the attack, Colonel John Fields, of Culpeper county, was at Kelly’s, about to make some surveys on military claims, or otherwise. He had with him, several of his neighbors and one or two negroes. I had sent an express to them, with advice to remove immediately, as it was apprehended that the Indians were about to breakout, and I expected they were in great danger.

Kelly was, I believe, a fugitive from the back parts of South Carolina, of a bold and intrepid disposition, received my intelligence with caution, and sent off his family and stock for Greenbrier, with his brother, a young man of equally suspicious character. But Fields, trusting more to his own consequence and better knowledge of public facts, endeavored to persuade Kelly there was no danger, as nothing of the kind had been before heard of, and our Greenbrier intelligence not worth noticing.

The mouth of Kelly’s Creek, where Walter Kelly had his cabin. As it appears today. 20 miles upriver of Charleston, WV on the Kanawha River.

On the evening of the same day, and before Kelly’s brother and the family had got out of hearing of the guns, the Indians came upon Kelly and Fields where they we’re taking leather from at an trough, at a small distance from their cabin, fired on them, and killed Kelly upon the spot. Fields ran into the cabin, where their guns were, all unloaded. He picked up one, and recollecting it was not charged, ran out of the house into a corn-field within a few steps of the door, and left his negro girl and Scotch boy crying at the door. The boy was killed, and the girl carried off. Fields made his escape, but never saw an Indian. Kelly’s brother informed me that he heard guns fire shortly after he had started with the family, and expected his brother and Colonel Fields were killed.

I prepared to go and see what was the consequence; raised about ten or fifteen men, an proceeded on’ our way to Kenawha about ten miles, when I met Colonel Fields naked, all but his shirt. His limbs were grievously lace- rated with briers and brush, his body worn down with fatigue and cold, having run in that condition from the Keha’wha, upwards of eighty miles, through the woods. He was then, I guess, upwards of fifty years old, of a hardy, strong constitution. He was afterwards killed in the battle of the 10th of October following [The Battle of Point Pleasant]. A fatality pursued the family of Kelly ; for the Indians came to Greenbrier, on Muddy creek, and killed young Kelly and took his niece prisoner, about three weeks after they had killed her father. [Walter’s brother, William Kelly, was killed near Arbuckle’s Fort, on Muddy Creek, near present day Alderson, WV.]

The site of Arbuckle’s Fort, at the confluence of Mill Creek and Muddy Creek. That’s a marker for the fort, and for the Muddy Creek Massacre.

About this time the disputes between the British government and the colonies began to run high, on account of the duties upon tea imported into this country; and much suspicion was entertained that the Indians were urged by the British agents to begin a war upon us, and to kill the traders then in the nation. However that might be, facts afterwards corroborated the suspicion.

Mill Creek at the site of Arbuckle’s Fort. Note the roadway to the left, likely used by Gen. Lewis’ army on the way to Point Pleasant. This is about the site of their first night’s camp – which is supposed to be in nearby Asbury, WV.
The view looking the other direction towards Mill Creek’s confluence with Muddy Creek.

Memoirs of John Stuart – Part 2 of 3

Memoirs of John Stuart – Part 3 of 3

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