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The Revolution:
The Frontier, The Ocean
and the South

Introduction; Border War in the South and West
Wyoming Valley | War on the Sea | Treason of Arnold
War in the South | Yorktown | Observations

THE story of the Revolution would be incomplete without some notice of the border warfare that raged at intervals through the half-settled wilderness of the frontier. The dreadful massacre of the innocents during that period by the savage natives of the forest is usually laid at the door of George III, and it is certain that the bloody work was approved by him and instigated by his still more heartless minister, Lord George Germain; but in fairness to the British people it must be said that most of them, on both sides of the Atlantic, were not in sympathy with this cruel business. Nor can we believe that the hellish work was carried on usually from a spirit of vindictive cruelty, as many think, but rather to terrify the patriots into submission and to break the spirit of rebellion.1 The result, however, was favorable to the Americans, for it unified them, and even turned many loyalists against the English cause.

Border War in the South and West

At the very threshold of the long war, even before the battle of Lexington, there occurred at Point Pleasant, on the Great Kanawha River, near its junction with the Ohio, one of the most desperate battles with the Indians ever fought on American soil. A thousand Virginians lay sleeping under the trees, when at daybreak they were surprised by a larger body of Indians who had crept with catlike tread upon the sleeping army. They were led by the fierce warrior, Cornstalk, and his lieutenant, the famous and eloquent Logan,2 chief of the Mingos. The battle raged till toward evening, when a detachment of the whites gained the rear of the Indians and opened a deadly fire. The Indians, panic-stricken, broke and fled in every direction. About one fifth of each army was slain; but the rout of the red men was complete.

The Indians were now willing to make peace, and five months after the battle, on a sunny day in March, twelve hundred warriors gathered on the green at the white settlement of Watauga; and here they were met by some hundreds of white men, among whom were John Sevier and James Robertson, the great colony builders of the Southwest, and Daniel Boone, the most famous of American pioneers.3 Here again the children of the forest promised to live at peace with their pale-faced brethren, and they ceded to the latter the broad and beautiful tract south of the Ohio, the paradise of the buffalo, Kentucky. But the peace was short-lived. A month after it was made came the fight at Lexington; the royal governor of North Carolina declared the treaty illegal, and soon again the Indians were on the warpath. A desperate attack was made on the Watauga settlement by the Cherokees and loyalists in 1777, but Sevier and Robertson saved the colony from destruction, and at length forced the Indians to give up all their lands between the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. A stream of emigration soon began to pour into the great Tennessee Valley, and the memory of General Nash, who perished in the battle of Germantown, has been kept green by the beautiful town founded on the Cumberland, and called, after him, Nashville.

The temporary peace after the Point Pleasant affair enabled Daniel Boone to move into Kentucky with his family, where he founded a settlement and built the fort called Boonesborough. Born and reared in the forest, Boone loved above all things a wild life in the wilderness, untrammeled by the restraints of civilization. The roaring of the wild beast and the yells of the Indian had no terrors for Boone, and the screaming of the wild bird in the lonely night was music to his ears. He lived in the wilderness because he loved it; and when civilized society grew up about him, he moved farther into the vast solitudes of the unbroken forest. Boone was not a colony builder nor a state founder in the true sense, nor had he a thought, perhaps, of leaving a name in history. He was simply a frontiersman, a hunter, an Indian fighter; and in these respects, and in woodoraft, his skill was so marvelous as to attract the attention of the world. During the last years of the Revolution Boone figured in various battles with the Indians, the most destructive of which was the battle of the Blue Licks, fought on the banks of the Licking River, in August, 1782. Soon after this George Rogers Clark led a thousand men into the Indian country of western Ohio and spread havoc on every hand. So weakened were the Indians by this raid that they never again led an army into Kentucky. But the greatest achievement of Clark, and that which gave him a permanent name in our history, had already been won. Late in the autumn of 1777 the thrilling news of Burgoyne's surrender spread through the South. At this time, George Rogers Clark, a young surveyor, a member of the Virginia assembly, stalwart, brave, and patriotic, conceived the plan of conquering the Illinois country from the British. His plan was approved by Patrick Henry, then governor of Virginia; and in the following May Clark floated down the Ohio, from Pittsburg to its mouth, with one hundred and eighty picked riflemen. After an incredible march across the prairie and through swamps, this little band captured, without bloodshed, Kaskaskia, Vincennes, and adjacent posts, and the country was annexed to Virginia as the county of Illinois. The inhabitants were chiefly French, and they welcomed the change of rulers when they learned of the American alliance with France. This achievement of Clark was of the greatest importance, for it enabled the Americans at the close of the war to claim successfully the vast prairie region of Illinois as a possession of the United States.


1The patriots enlisted some Indians also in the war; but in no case are they known to have aided or encouraged the massacre of women and children, as was frequently done by the enemy. [return]

2Logan's famous speech is well known. It was not Colonel Cresap, as he believed, that murdered his family, but a heartless wretch named Greathonse. [return]

3See Gilmore's "Rearguard of the Revolution," p.97. [return]

Source: "History of the United States of America," by Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Chapter XIV p. 290-292. Transcribed by Kathy Leigh.

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