The Attack on Donnally’s Fort – a Revolutionary War Battle in the Greenbrier Valley

Few people realize that there was a Revolutionary War battle in West Virginia’s Greenbrier Valley. It wasn’t fought between the British and Americans, but rather between the native allies of the British and the frontier settlers and militiamen of Virginia’s Greenbrier Valley. I’ve previously researched the site, and even found a human tooth, possibly from the battle. Check out the recent drone footage of the site, which provides a unique perspective on one of West Virginia’s few Revolutionary War sites.

Donnally’s Fort was a Revolutionary War era frontier stockade log fort, located on the very fringe of the mountainous Virginia frontier, in the Greenbrier Valley. Built sometime between 1771 and 1776, it was the site of what is perhaps the second largest and most significant Indian attack on the Virginia frontier, in what is modern day West Virginia. It’s now located in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, in an area now known as Rader’s Valley.

Donnally’s fort itself comprised of a stockade of vertical logs, sharpened at the point, roughly in the shape of a square, with sides 82 feet by 90 feet, having two 10 foot square bastions on opposite ends, and having Donnally’s log home built into one of the remaining corners, with the two outer walls of the house also comprising the exterior corner walls of the fort’s stockade.

Shawnee Chief Cornstalk was murdered at Fort Randolph at Point Pleasant on November 10, 1777. By the following May, in 1778, Shawnee Chief Black Fish collected around 400 warriors and set out for the site of the murder, to attack the fort and take revenge. However, they were unsuccessful, and so war parties reportedly set out in different directions, with a substantial force of warriors heading up the Kanawha River towards the Greenbrier Valley. 

Seeing the party headed in that direction, two men were set ahead to warn the Greenbrier settlements. They successfully passed the war party and warned the first fort in their path, Donnally’s Fort. The large war party, estimated by historians of anywhere between 50 to 500 warriors, the truth likely being somewhere in between, reached and attacked the fort on May 29, 1778. Being warned ahead of time, nearby settlers “forted up,” into Donnally’s Fort, with the total number being around 60 men, women and children inside the fort. They spread news of the enemy’s approach to other larger nearby forts, each comprising men of the local militia companies. Before anyone could come to their aid, the attack began. 

Eyewitness, John Stuart, founding father of Greenbrier County, gave us a first hand account, first-hand as far as grammar and spelling is concerned as well:

The next year, 1778, in the Month of May, a small party of Indians again appeared near the Garrison, and showed themselves, but soon decamped apparently in great Terror; but the Garrison was aware of their Seduction, and no one was ordered to pursue them. Finding their Scheme was not likely to succeed, all their whole Army rose up at once, and showed themselves, extending across from the Bank of the Ohio, to the Bank of the Kanahway, and commenced a fire on the Garrison, which lasted several Hours, but without Effect. At Length, one of them had the Presumption to advance so near the Fort, as to request the Favour of being permitted to come in, to which Capt. McKee granted his Assent, and the Stranger very composedly walked in. Capt. Arbuckle was then absent on a Visit to Greenbrier to see his Family. During the Time the strange Gentleman was in the Fort, a Gun went off in the Fort by an Accident. The Indians without raised a hideous Yell, supposing the Fellow was Killed in the Fort; but he instantly jumped up in one of the Bastions and showed himself, giving the sign that all was well, and reconciled his Friends. 

Finding they could make no Impression on the Garrison, they concluded to come on to Greenbrier, and collecting all the Cattle about the Garrison for provision on their March, started up the Kanahway in great military parade to finish their Campaign, and take Vengeance of us for the Death of the Cornstalk; but Capt. McKee perceiving their Design by the Route they were pursuing, despatched Philip Hammon and John Pryor, after them with Orders, if possible, to pass them undiscovered, and give the inhabitants notice of their Approach. 

This hazardous Service they performed with great Fidelity. The Indians had two Days start of them; but they pursued with such Speed and Diligence, that they overtook and passed the Indians, at the House of William McClurg, at the Meadows about twenty Miles from Lewisburg. It was in the Evening of the Day and McClurg’s Family had previously removed further in amongst the Inhabitants for Safety, as they were on the Frontier-House, on the way to Point Pleasant. At this place Hammon and Pryor had a full View of them, as they walked upon a Piece of high Ground between the House and the Barn, and appeared to be viewing the great Meadows, lying in Sight of the House. Hammon and Pryor were in the Meadows concealed in the Weeds, and had a full View of their whole Party undiscovered by them, and calculated the Number of the Indians, by their Estimation at about two hundred Warriours. They, having passed the Indians at the Meadows, came on with great speed to Col. Andrew Donally’s and gave the Alarm of the Approach of the Indians. Col. Donnally lost no Time in collecting all his nearest Neighbours that Night, and sent a Servant to inform me.

Before Day, about twenty men, including Hammon and Pryor, were collected at Donally’s, and they had the Advantage of a Stockade Fort around and adjoining the House. There was a Number of Women and Children, making in all about sixty persons in the House. On the next day they kept a good Lookout in momentary Expectation of the Enemy. Col. Samuel Lewis was at my House, when the Messenger came with the Intelligence, and we lost no Time to alarm the People, and collect as many Men for Defence as we could get at Camp-Union all the next Day; but all were busy, some flying with their Families to the inward Settlements, and others securing their property, so that in the Course of the next Day, we had not collected near one hundred Men. On the following Day, we sent out two Scouts to Donally’s, very early in the Morning, who soon returned with Intelligence that the Fort was attacked. The Scouts had got within about one Mile, and heard the Guns firing briskly. We determined to give all the Aid to the besieged that we could and every man who was willing to go, was paraded. They amounted to sixty-eight in all, including Col. Lewis, Capt. Arbuckle, and myself. We drew near Donally’s House about 2 o’clock P. M. but hearing no firing. For the sake of Expedition we had left the Road for a nearer Way, which led to the back side of the House, and escaped falling into an Ambuscade, placed on the Road, some Distance from the House, which might have been fatal to us, being greatly inferior to the Enemy in Point of Numbers. We soon discovered Indians, behind Trees, in a Rye-Field, looking earnestly at the House. Charles Gatliff and myself fired upon them, when we saw others running into the Rye near where the others stood. We all ran directly to the Fort. The People, on hearing the Guns on the Bck side of the House, supposed it was another party of Indians, and all were at the Port holes ready to fire on us, but some discovering that we were their Friends, opened the Gates, and we all got in safe. One man only was shot through the Clothes. When we got to the Fort, we found there were only four Men Killed. Two of them were coming to the Fort, fell into the midst of the Indians, and were Killed. A Servant of Donally’s was Killed early in the Morning, on the first Attack, and one man was Killed in the Bastion, in the Fort. The Indians had commenced their Attack about Day-Light in the Morning, while the people were in Bed, all but Philip Hammon and an old Negro. The House composed one Part of the Fort in Front, and was double, the Kitchen making one End of the House, and there Hammon and the Negro were. A Hogshead of Water was placed against the Door, and the Enemy had laid down their Guns at a Stable about fifty yards from the House, and made their Attack with Tomahawks and War-Clubs. Hammon and the Negro held the Door until they were splitting it with their Tomahawks. They suddenly let the Door open, and Hammon Killed the Indian on the Threshold, who was in the Act of Splitting the door. The negro had a Musket charged with Swan shots, and was jumping about on the Floor, asking Hammon where he should shoot. Hammond bid him fire away amongst them, for the yard was crowded thick as they could stand. Dick fired away and I believe with good effect, for a War Club lay in the yeard and a Swan shot in it. He is now upwards of eighty years old; has long been abandonod by his Master, as well as his Wife, who is as old as himself; but they have made out to support their miserable Existence many years past, with their own Endeavours. And this is the Negro, to whom, our late Assembly, at their last Session, refused to grant a small Pension, to support the short Remains of his Wretched Days, which must soon end, though his humble Petition was supported by the Certificates of the most respectable Men in the County, wherein his meritorious service was done, on the trying Occasion, which saved the lives of many Citizens then in the House.

The firing of Hammon and Dick awakened the People in the other End of the House and up- stairs where the chief of the men were lying. They soon fired out of the Windows on the Indians so briskly, that when we got in the Fort, seventeen of the Enemy lay dead in the yard, one of whom was a boy about fifteen or sixteen years old. His Body was so torn with the Bullet, that a Man might have run his Arm through him, yet he lived almost all day; made a lamentable cry, and the Indians hallowed to him to go into the House. After dark a fellow drew near the Fort, and called out in English, and said, “I want to make peace.” We invited him to consult on the Terms; but he declined our Civility. They departed that Night, after dragging eight of their slain out of the yard; and we never found afterwards where they had buried them. Neither did they ever afterwards visit Greenbrier more than twice, and then in very small parties, one of which Killed a Man and his Wife, of the name of Monday, and wounded Capt. Saml. McClung. The last Person Killed was Thomas Griffith, and his son was taken; but going down the Kanahway, they were pursued, and one of the Indians was Killed, and the Boy relieved.

“Narrative by Captain John Stuart of General Andrew Lewis’ Expedition Against the Indians in the Year 1774, and of the Battle of Pleasant Point, Virginia,” in Magazine of American History, November 1877

I’ve previously written about the possibility of Dick Pointer’s wall gun being the early Dutch flintlock in the current ownership of the Greenbrier County Historical Society:

Also, read more about the narrative of John Stuart, who had quite an interesting life: