The Site of The Clendenin Massacre on the Big Levels of Greenbrier County – 1763

An early 20th century monument to the Clendenin Massacre along the road near Lewisburg, West Virginia. The actual site is about 3/4 of a mile North or so.

The Clendenin Massacre, also sometimes referred to as the “Muddy Creek Massacre,” took place in July of 1763 about 2 miles Southwest of what is now Lewisburg, West Virginia (not itself created until 1774). I always wondered why this was referred to as part of the “Muddy Creek Massacre” when Muddy Creek itself is actually in the valley on the other side of the mountain from the above photo. In actuality, there were two main attacks: first the Yoakum Family, on Muddy Creek itself, and then at the Clendenin Homestead, which wasn’t on Muddy Creek at all, but what was referred to as the “Big Levels.” These were basically plateaus of hills and sinkholes containing rich limestone soil.

The actual spot where the Clendenin cabin stood. Cornstalk is said to have made camp just to the right of the photo where, if you look closely, you’ll see a pond with a fountain.

The Clendenin Family, led by Archibald Clendenin, settled on the “Big Levels” of Greenbrier County, Virginia (now West Virginia) within what was then Augusta County, Virginia, probably around 1763, along with others in a wave of settlers that year. Also settling, in the lower end of the county – the Sinks of Monroe – was James Byrnside, who had a son early in 1763, John Byrnside, who is one of the first two white children born in present day Monroe County, West Virginia. James Byrnside was the stepson of Archibald Clendenin, who had married Archibald following the death of James’ father.

Looking Southeast, towards Peters Mountain, and present day Virginia, beyond that. That’s Peters Mountain you can barely make out in the haze in the distance.

There are multiple old accounts of Cornstalk’s 1763 expedition into the Greenbrier Valley, but this 1936 article may be the best recount that I’ve found, because it analyzes the various narratives. The main one seems to have always been by John Stuart – the “father of Greenbrier County,” who was the first clerk of Greenbrier County. He had a first hand experience with many events in this area, including being a participant in the Battle of Point Pleasant, and the attack on Donnally’s Fort in 1778. He likewise knew the Clendenin family, and probably was given first-hand information

Looking South towards the Greenbrier River, and Flat Mountain beyond that. To the very left is “Swope’s Knobs” in present day Monroe County.

John Stuart’s Account.

A.T. Holcomb’s Account.

Cornstalk’s Raid on the Greenbrier – 1763, by A. E. Ewing, West Virginia Review, June 1936, pp. 266-168

The story of Cornstalk’s Raid on the Greenbrier settlements in 1763 has been told by Stuart, Parkman, Withers, Doddridge, Waddell, Price, Lewis, Chalkley, Morton, and others. Captain John Stuart, who founded a new settlement at the Big Levels about 1770, seems to have been the first scribe to give the story to the world, and, apparently, he did not put the story in writing until more than fifty years after the event. He claimed to have received his information from relatives of Mrs. Clendenin, and it is entirely possible that he may have interviewed Mrs. Clendenin personally, as she remarried about 1767 and later moved back to the Levels from the Jackson River country. Moreover, he may have heard the story from Mrs. Clendenin’s brother, William Ewing, who served in Captain Stuart’s company at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774.

The text of the monument next to the road.

All the other accounts, except the Holcomb story, appear to be recasts of the Stuart version. The Holcomb story purports to have been dictated by a grandson of John Ewing, who had heard the story related by John Ewing, himself. John Ewing, a brother of Mrs. Clendenin, also a fellow captive and eyewitness to some of the atrocities, was well qualified to tell the story correctly. The several stories agree on major points, but diverge somewhat on certain minor details. This sketch is drawn from all the authorities on the subject, with all doubts and discrepancies resolved in favor of the Stuart and Holcomb versions.

The view from about 400 feet above the historical marker, looking towards the actual site of the Clendenin Massacre.

We may sing about our Georgia, Colorado, Michigan and other moons, but the Pontiac moon of May, 1763, had blood on it. The Algonquin chieftains, in secret council near Detroit, summoned by king Pontiac April 27, 1763, agreed to attack all the English posts recently surrendered by the French. A certain phase of the moon in May was to be the signal for a concerted attack. This was the beginning of Pontiac’s War. The plan was so successfully executed that nine or ten English posts from western New York and Pennsylvania to northern Michigan fell to the Algonquins [sic] practically without a struggle. Fort Pitt and Detroit alone held out. That fact changed the history of the American colonies. Had those strongholds fallen, Pontiac’s warriors could easily have swept the country clean of palefaces from the Mississippi to the Allegheny front. As it turned out, Pontiac’s army was engaged in besieging Fort Pitt and Detroit. Meantime, as a part of the original plan, the interior tribes fell savagely upon the trans- Allegheny settlers nearest to them.

A pic I took earlier of exactly where I was told Cornstalk made camp. Maybe a few hundred yards East of the Clendenin cabin.

These settlers, be it remembered, had no business in those parts at that time. Virginia lands west of the “front” were not then open to settlement and could not be purchased at any price. The Indians, particularly the Algonquin tribes of Ohio, had never ceased to claim them. The vast region constituted their prize “game preserve.” They even regarded Virginia hunters as trespassers, and permanent settlers as outlaws to be shot down at sight. Moreover, all this was well known to Virginians.

A pic I took this winter showing a close-up of the actual spot where the Clendenin cabin stood.

By 1760, however, the French and Indian War was practically over. Frontiersmen east of the “front,” anticipating that the Indian border would be pushed back to the Ohio, lost no time in heading their wagon trains for new pastures on the Greenbrier and by 1763 were raising fields of wheat and corn, wholly ignorant of Pontiac’s diabolical designs. Two or three years of quiet and safety had led them to regard Indian troubles as things of the past. The Indians well knew of these growing settlements, having visited them as hunters, while the palefaces had come to regard the redskins as harmless nuisances.

Another drone shot from about 400 feet up of the Big Levels of the Greenbrier Valley. To the right in the pic is the actual site of the Clendenin Massacre.

The business of scalping the Greenbrier settlements fell to Cornstalk, the Shawnee chieftain, who, with his warriors, resided on the Scioto, in Ohio, some sixty miles from the Virginia border. The two white settlements which gained historical fame were the Muddy Creek settlement lying north of the Greenbrier and west of Muddy Creek Mountain, and the Clendenin settlement on the Big Levels near Lewisburg. They were about twenty miles apart, and the people comprising them have been variously estimated at from one to two hundred. Both settlements probably took root in 1760 and 1761.

Cornstalk did not strike the Greenbrier settlements when blood was on the May moon. Apparently he waited for the June or July moon. Historians have not been specific as to the date of the Cornstalk Raid. Holcomb’s version of the Clendenin massacre as published in the West Virginia Historical Magazine in July, 1904, unequivocally states the date as June 27, 1763. Since that version purports to have been inspired by John Ewing, one of the captives, that date ought to be regarded as correct. However, Judge Chalkley, in his Abstracts of Augusta County Records, has uncovered two sworn depositions which seem to challenge the correctness of the Holcomb date. These depositions were used in a lawsuit about 1804. One of them was made by John Ewing himself subsequent to 1803, in Gallia County, Ohio, forty years after the occasion. In it he states that he and his niece, Jane Clendenin, were made captives and carried away by the Indians July 15, 1763.

Looking South from the site.

The other was made by James Burnside of Monroe County, in 1803. In it he states that Archibald Clendenin was killed July 15, 1763. This, then, appears to be the correct date of the Clendenin massacre, and the Muddy Creek massacre was probably July 14, 1763. [NOTE: I wish I could find more on this. Supposedly Byrnside’s cabin, on the same site as the later Byrnside’s Fort, was also burned during this expedition by the Shawnee.]

On this premise, and allowing the Indians two weeks or more for covering the two hundred miles distance, they must. have started on their tomahawking expedition on or before July 1, 1763. At that time Pontiac’s main armies were besieging Detroit and Fort Pitt, from which fact it may be concluded that Cornstalk and his Shawnees were left to attend to western Virginia.

Authorities agree that Cornstalk’s scalping band consisted of about sixty warriors. Crossing the Ohio in canoes, which they sank at the mouth of the Kanawha, they proceeded overland a distance of about 160 miles, to Muddy Creek, where several scattered families were living in imagined peace and security, Here they broke up into small parties and, under the guise of friendship, secured entrance into the various homes, where, according to Withers, “every civility and act of kindness which the new settlers could proffer were extended to them.” Then, “in a moment of the most perfect confidence in the innocence of their intentions, the Indians rose on them and tomahawked and scalped all save a few women and children of whom they made prisoners.” Thus, in one short day, the Muddy Creek settlement was literally annihilated. No one but the captives was left to tell the story and they had no one but themselves to whom to tell it.

It was a glorious day for the Shawnees. It is reasonable to assume that they encamped for the night at Muddy Creek and feasted on domestic fowl and beefsteak. Leaving a few Indians to guard the hapless captives, the band proceeded up the Greenbrier about twenty miles to the Big Levels.

Here the Shawnees had the time of their lives. The leading citizen of this settlement was Archibald Clendenin, who had but recently been appointed constable of the Greenbrier district. He had come over from the Cow Pasture about 1760. He had married Ann Ewing about 1756, and they brought with them their first child, Jane, born early in 1758. Two other children were born to them at the new settlement. John was about two years old at the time of the raid, the other a young baby. Clendenin was likely about twenty-eight, and was famed as a hunter. There may have been a dozen or more families comprising what was known as the Clendenin settlement, and it is reasonable to suppose they were scattered over considerable territory.

For one reason or another, it appears that all the settlers were assembled at Clendenin’s on that fateful July 15,1763. Several historians have it that Clendenin had bagged three fat elk and had invited his neighbors in for a feast. Another one states that the neighbors flocked to Clendenin’s through curiosity to see the Indians. Strangely enough, the John Ewing story as handed down by Holcomb makes no mention of any feast or of any other prearranged meeting of the neighbors. Yet, the neighbors were there – all of them – as it has repeatedly been written that Con Yoakum was the only man of the settlement to escape slaughter. He hastened to the Jackson River settlements east of the divide and gave the alarm that frustrated the Indian attack upon the settlement at Carr’s Creek. Otherwise, the “cleanup” of the Big Levels was as complete as the one the day before at Muddy Creek. Certain it is that the Big Levels people had not heard of the Muddy Creek disaster. It also seems improbable that the entire neighborhood could have congregated after the Indians arrived, moved by curiosity, for how did they know the Indians were there? There is plenty of room for speculation pro and con, and the student of the event is free to draw his own conclusions.

Let Captain John Stuart speak: “From Muddy Creek the Indians passed over into the Levels where some families were collected at Clendenin’s, numbering between fifty and one hundred persons, men, women, and children. There they were entertained as at Muddy Creek, in the most hospitable manner. Clendenin had just arrived from a hunt with three fat elk, and they were plentifully feasted.” This massing of neighbors – whatever the reason – made it easy for the Shawnees. Instead of breaking up into small parties and visiting each household separately, as at Muddy Creek, they found their quarry rounded up for them. Great luck for the Shawnees!

Hear Captain Stuart again: “In the meantime an old woman with a sore leg was showing her distress to an Indian and inquiring if he could 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.” Withers adds: “This seemed to be a signal of a general massacre, and promptly was it obeyed. Nearly every man of the settlement was killed and the women and children taken captive.”

Hear Holcomb: “Her (Ann Clendenin’s) story of the surprise was as follows: On the day of the capture, while she was getting dinner, a seemingly friendly Indian entered, and soon after him another, followed at intervals by still others, until the house was filled with nineteen Shawnee warriors. Then Clendenin saw their imminent danger, and determined to make his escape. Watching his chance, he darted through the open door and ran. But he was too late. Almost the same instant two Indians fired, both balls hitting him in the back, and he fell forward on his face dead.”

Bear in mind this is the story claimed to have been handed down by John Ewing himself, and it is noticeable that no mention is made of any general slaughter. Nor did John Ewing witness the slaughter. As the story goes, he was out of sight of the house hoeing corn with two negro boys. About noon they heard a rifle shot (probably the two fired simultaneously at Clendenin) in the direction of the house. While surprised, they were not frightened, as they thought Clendenin might be shooting wild turkeys or other game. Hear Holcomb: “However, they determined to go to the house. On arriving at the top of the hill they saw several Indians near the house. Even this did not alarm them, as it was common for friendly Indians to visit the settlements. John and one negro (Tom) proceeded to the house, fearing no danger. On their approach, two of the Indians met them in the most friendly manner, greeting them in broken English with ‘how de do?’ and offering to shake hands. The boys found themselves in the clutches of a foe. Then they realized the horror of their situation.

“Mrs. Clendenin was bound to a shaving horse in the yard, her little boy and girl clinging to her in terror, while one of the Indians was swinging her helpless infant in the air. When she saw her brother, she exclaimed: ‘Oh, John, they have killed Archie. Why have you come, too?’ Just at that moment one of the warriors came up with the reeking scalp of her husband and slapped it against the side of the burning dwelling.” As stated by Captain Stuart: “Mrs. Clendenin did not fail to abuse the Indians, calling them cowards, etc., although the tomahawk was drawn over her head with threats of instant death, and the scalp of her husband lashed about her jaws.”

Without doubt, the “Clendenin Massacre” was a midday affair. The men were killed, the women and children made captives, the homes plundered and burned, and the horses stolen. It was a day of fiendish terror, especially to the survivors. Stuart says: “The prisoners were all taken over to Muddy Creek and a party of Indians detained them there till the return of the others (warriors) from Carr’s Creek, when the whole were taken off together.” [NOTE: the band who left for Carr’s Creek and the Jackson River settlements are likely the group who burned the James Byrnside cabin near Union, West Virginia].

No writer has told us how long the Carr’s Creek raiders were gone, but, as the distance covered by them going and returning was a hundred miles or more, the captives must have remained at Muddy Creek two or three days at least. But the “slaughter of the innocents” was not yet finished. On the first day of the retreat, Ann Clendenin escaped. This so angered the Indians that they promptly killed her little baby. Her little two-year old John was carried through to the Ohio County, where his captor turned him over to two squaws who quarreled over him. To settle the dispute, the warrior tomahawked him.

This, in brief, is the story of the Cornstalk Raid on the Greenbrier settlements during the Pontiac War in 1763. Scarcely a white man survived, and not a drop of Indian blood was shed. The only person knownto have offered even the slightest resistance was Ann Clendenin, the young wife and mother. The Greenbrier Valley was completely desolated and so remained for six or seven years.

Henceforth the frontiersmen of Virginia nursed an undying grudge against the Shawnees. Many of the soldiers who assisted in the defeat of Cornstalk at Point Pleasant in 1774, were but paying off an old score. And – from one way of looking at it – when Cornstalk and his son were murdered at Fort Randolph in 1777, the child-stealing, baby-killing old chieftain was but being paid an old standing debt in his own coin.

An article about John Ewing’s life, who was captured in this raid:

Historical Sketches, No. 6: John EwingGallipolis Journal, April 21, 1870, Gallipolis, Ohio

CLENDINEN’S little girl who had been EWING’s special care during the long and tiresome journey, was adopted by a family in Delaware Town. He often met her during their captivity, a source of great pleasure to both. The little boy, John, a namesake of EWING’s and a great favorite withal, for he was a bright, intelligent little fellow, just old enough to win the love and admiration of those around him by his pretty boyish ways, was presented by his captors to two squaws, who had a kind of joint interest in him. On a quarrel rising between them as to who should have possession, the Indian, to settle the dispute, struck him dead with a tomahawk.

Having a retentive memory and an observing eye, EWING soon became master of the Indian language and manners. On one of their predatory excursions among the white settlements of Tennessee, the Indians became the unwitty [sic] possessors of two articles, the nature and uses of which they did not quite comprehend – the Bible and the small pox. The Bible was delivered to THOBQUEB, (Hole in the day), the great council chief of the Shawnees. His age, which he reckoned by many hundreds of moons, was nearly a hundred years. He carried the honorable scars of many a border war, and had in his wigwam scalps and trophies innumerable.- He commanded the Indians at the battle of Monongahela, and among his trophies from that field were a number of watches, shoe buckles, buttons and other ornaments taken from the ill-fated officers of that disastrous day. EWING represented him as a man remarkable for his sagacity in council, his constant zeal, his active spirit, and brilliant eloquence, all heightened by the impression of his personal appearance, which age made still more striking. But with all his cunning, the white man’s book was to him a perplexing mystery. He summoned EWING to his wigwam and commanded him to explain. He began at the first and translated it into the Indian tongue. All seemed satisfactory to the chief until he came to man’s wonderful creation: “And the lord God form man out of the dust of the earth and” – “stop!” thundered the chief. “You say the Great Spirit made man out of the dust of the ground, now, was that man a white man or an Indian? EWING, in his natural simplicity, said he supposed it meant a white man of course. The joke tickled THOBQUEB immensely, and he forgave the boy’s presumption- Said he, “I pity your ignorance, but you ought at least to have sense enough to know that the Great Spirit never made the poor, ignorant, cowardly white man before he did the red man. But go on, I will listen to a little more of you nonsense, though I don’t believe a word of it.” All went well until he came to the description of the Deluge. Here he was obliged to interpret the work ark by the Indian for canoe, and thus arose another stumbling block to the chief’s understanding of the Scriptures. After reading the dimensions of the “great cane,” and the number of persona and animals put aboard, the old chief exclaimed: “Now you know that’s a lie, there never was a tree on the Scioto bottoms big enough to make such a canoe as that!”

When the small pox broke out among them their fear knew no bounds. The most skillful medicine men among them, with roots of wondrous, power, were unable to stay the sweeping pestilence. It carried them off by hundreds. The warrior whose heart was never wont to quake with fear now threw himself into the river, preferring a speedy death, rather than fall at the hands of the ghastly foe. EWING’s adopted mother and sister were among the victims. When he felt the disease fastening itself upon him, he repaired to a field of growing corn and squashes which he had on the river bank a short distance below the village. Here beside a spring of sparkling water, he cut down a large dead shell bark hickory and set it on fire. With buffalo robe and blanket for a bed and roast squashes and cold water for a diet, with neither nursing nor medicine, he passed through the ordeal in safety, with scarcely a mark to mar his features. He said he never found a better remedy for small pox.

He remained with the Indians about three years, as near as he could recollect, but during that time he lost all account of the days of the week and month. He was employed principally in farming and hunting, but he had a great deal of leisure time. At last, by a provision of one of the many treaties of peace he was released, and started on his return to home and friends. The first white settlement he reached was Pittsburg. Here he was furnished with shirt, pant and shoes. When he reached home he found there his mother and sister. He asked for some dinner, which they prepared before he made himself known.- His sister first recognized him.- Their mutual joy at so unexpected a meeting after so long a separation may be better imagined than described. He married in Greenbrier county, Va, and after raising a family of five children, he removed to this county in 1801, and settled on George’s creek, where he lived until his wife died, when he went to Huntington township to live with his son, Andrew EWING, and his daughter Sarah, wife of the late General Sam’l R. HOLCOMB. Here amid the quiet enjoyment of a circle of loving friends and relatives he spent the remainder of his life.- Although quiet and unassuming, he possessed all the qualifications of a citizen of sterling worth. It is one thing to play an active part on the great forensic stage, it is another and often a nobler thing to act an honorable part in the humbler walks of life. In the latter John EWING was truly a bright star. He died on December 23d, 1824, and was buried on the estate of Gen. Anselm T. HOLCOMB, near Vinton. It is but just to state here that for all the information upon which the foregoing sketches are founded, I am indebted to Gen. A. T. HOLCOMB, grandson of John EWING.

3 thoughts on “The Site of The Clendenin Massacre on the Big Levels of Greenbrier County – 1763

  1. Carr Creek is known as Kerr’s Creek near Lexington it has a marker off 64 on Route 60. That is the furthest point east that Cornstalk went. Many citizens went to Staunton to escape his assault. I wrote of this attack in Captain Jack. My 4th great grandfather that Williamsburg, WV is named for was killed in that attack near Cornstalk WV.

  2. Yeah, the same group that hit Carr’s Creek burned the Byrnside Cabin on my property, which I believe many of our finds resulted from in the collapsed cellar.

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