A series of encounters on the Virginia
frontier in 1757 starts the Cherokee
An incident in the
French and Indian Wars
"Gentlemen we come in a brotherly manner
to ask you for our horses …"
Bloody Drama on the Frontier:
… death comes May 1, 1757.
The "Grandfather's' story begins on the banks of the Staunton (Roanoke) River in Bedford county in the colony of Virginia the first of May, 1757. + The backwoodsmen-settlers on the then-frontier are fighting Indians.
At the moment this story opens, they are in retreat, dodging back from tree to tree, loading and firing their guns, seeking to re-cross the river for safety and to re-group their forces. They leave one of their number on the ground, wounded, dying; his name is William Hall.
They had been tracking the Indians, seeking to recover stolen horses and other 'plunder'. Their first encounter with the savages was a defeat; they were to come back to wage a second engagement, and to find the Indians they had killed and scalp them! They were to re-capture their horses and bring back the body of their fallen companion. + +
Cherokee Indian War
With this horse-hunting expedition, the death of William Hall - he was probably about fifty years of age - and the battle across the Staunton River, a minor war was started. A war, known in the Annals of Virginia as the Cherokee Indian War: it was a small part of a greater war called in the history books, the French and Indian War.
The French and Indian War was the struggle that started George Washington on his way to military fame and, for most, the story of Braddock's defeat is the principal event to be remembered.
Many of the men in the Bedford county battle, far to the South of Washington's exploits, were to know more about General Washington twenty years later in a far greater struggle, of which the Indians Wars along Virginia's borders were only a preliminary set of skirmishes.
The small group of settlers in Bedford county were pawns in a greater game that was being played in London, Paris and at Williamsburg, the colonial capital of Virginia. It was an action using the Indians as troublemakers, and they had plenty of grieviances, against the white settlers who were usurping their lands. It was promoted by the French to keep Great Britain from extending its western frontiers in the New World.
The British, too, were playing a game, filling up the frontier counties with settlers seeking homes and land to give a bulwark against the Indians and the French and at the same time helping those colonial real estate promoters who had huge 'patents' or land grants from the Crown to make great fortunes by opening up the border counties for settlement.
At Williamsburg, the various colonial Governors were playing it smart. On the one hand, encouraging migration by the not-so-affluent colonists into the frontier and at the same time treating with the Indians to ally them against the French, all the while slowing down military assistance to the people in the frontier counties on the pretext that in so doing, they would be promoting hostilities. After all, the action scene was a long way from the genteel life in Williamsburg!
The War and Bedford County
Along the southern frontier the English were unsuccessful in aligning the Cherokees and their allies for their side, and in the Spring of 1757 the Indians turned on the settlers. By the month of May, four hundred Cherokee warriors had come up from the Carolinas.
When they reached western Halifax and Bedford counties, 'they became bolder in their defiant attitude and robbed the inhabitants of their horses, plundered their homes, and offered brutal insults to their persons.'
Previously, the citizens of Bedford county had petitioned Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia and asked (please note), 'to be allowed to kill Indians' and also requested 'that soldiers be stationed among them for protection.' This petition was denied in the hope of preventing open conflict.
The depradations of the Indians prompted the settlers along with local militia companies to participate in three engagements with the Indians. (In the first engagement William Hall was killed.) This series of actions was against the policy and without permission of the colonial government at Williamsburg.
Early the next year (in 1758) a hearing about the killing and unrecognized war in Bedford county prompted by an official investigation was held in the area and at which 'depositions were taken of those who had suffered from Indian outrages or taken part in conflicts with them.'
Among those sworn in for testifying on the three engagements of May, 1757 was John Hall, son of the William Hall killed and several others of families in that area of Bedford county which had been involved in the battles.
In order that the attitudes and actions of these frontiers-men can be fully appreciated a portion of the testimony at the hearing is reproduced. While it is difficult to put in modern type the quaint expressions of the 1758 reporter, enough is used to keep the flavor of the expressions somewhat contemporary. Only the first hearing will be reported in detail:
'As to the first of the three engagements they deposed in Substance as followeth:
'First John Wheeler aged about 50, John Hall ++++ and Richard Thompson aged about 25 each,* swore that having been robbed of some horses, sometimes in the beginning of May (1757), being at a neighbour's house, were informed by him, that several Indians were seen to pass through the Neighborhood with a great number of packed horses, and that several other Horses were missing of that Neighborhood, to the number of 20 at least that they had robbed several houses, and had as was supposed murther'd or - Captivated a family in the Neighbourhood, as the family was missing, and could not be heard of, and that they called themselves Shawnees; Whereupon these three Deponents with four others agreed to go after the Indians, and in a friendly manner demand the Horses, and other things Stolen. That these Deponents being on horseback, the rest on foot, came upon the Indians, And the Deponent Wheeler calling them Brothers, desired to treat with them.
'The Indians painted and sullen, put themselves in a position for Battle, And sternly asked if they were for War, the Deponents replied they were not. That they were friends and brothers and desired peace and quiet delivery of their Horses, and asked the Indians of what Nation they were; upon that they instantly
set up the War Whoop. The deponent Wheeler seeing his Horse in the Hands of an Indian took hold of the Bridle, and whilst they were struggling for him, other Indians came up and seized him and the Horse he rode, which he was forced to give to them after receiving several blows with a Tomahawke - fled on foot, three Indians pursued him, and three Guns were fired, as he supposed at him and his Companions, as he heard a bullet whistle by him, and he and his Companions made their escape, Without any other hurt or loss, then that of two more Horses, Which were taken from them by the Enemy, That in their flight they met the rest of the Company on Foot, coming to them upon which reinforcement they come to the resolution once more to follow the Indians, and being joyned by a few others, did so, making up the Number Eleven tho some of the Eleven were without Guns, That they came to the Staunton River, and when there, these several Deponents to wit: John Wheeler, William Verdiman, John Hall, Richard Thompson, William Verdiman, Junior, Robert Jones, Junior and Henry Snow, Swear that when they arrived at the River Bank they as they imagined heard the Indians War Halloo on the other side, that they proceeded to pass the River, that when they gott over, on rising the bank on the other side, they found a small fire just kindled, and at some distance from thence, they observed the Enemy, upon which all the Deponents say that Old William Verdiman aged about sixty, went foremost, and that they all followed close at his heels, that when they come up to the Enemy, they found they had tyed their Horses, pretty many in number to the Bushes, that most the Indians were painted and others then painting, some black on Red, but mostly Black, that when they come near Old Verdiman pulled off his Matt and Bowed and accosted them in terms of peace, and Friendship, and said Gentlemen we come in a Brotherly manner to ask you for our Horses, and other Goods, that you have taken from us, that the Indians gave a kind of a Grunt, and appeared determined for mischief, stripped themselves threw out the priming of their Guns, fresh primed and cocked them, struck their Tomahawks into Trees, and in an angry manner demanded of the Deponents if they would fight, that whilst Verdiman who was still uncovered Bowing and Treating with them, the Enemy indeavoured to Inviron the, and had actually got them in a half Circle before the Deponents were aware upon which, and young Verdiman observing that two Indians had pointed their Guns, they the Deponents all retired backwards with their Faces to the Enemy, and took to trees, that on their retreat, the Indians threw their Tomahawks, and that two of them narrowly missed two of their men, that one of them would have hitt Old Verdiman, but that he luckily parried it with an Elder stick he had in his hand (for he was one of those that had no Gun) and the Indians pursuing and they retreating in Order, they were drove to the River Banck, where they must have inevitably perished had they then attempted to have crossed, that on the retreat a Gun was fired upon which the Engagement issued, and many Guns discharged both sides, in which Engagement the Father of John Hall one of the Deponents fell, and being mortally wounded soon after died, that during the Engagement those of the Deponents who had Guns were obliged to fly from tree to tree to one another for a shott of Poweder and Lead both being very scarce among them, that in the Engagement three Indians fell, that at last their Powder and Lead being Expended they fled back over the River in different places, and being all met again on the other side, they went to a Neighbour's House, supplied themselves with more Ammunition and went back again to the place where the Engagement was to look for their wounded friend, who they found expiring, three Indians dead in the Field and much plunder, that they scalped the Indians, threw their dead Bodies in the River, and that their Friend soon dyed. The account of Spoil found in the field consisting of Horses, Saddles, Bridles, Mens and Womens aprarelt, etc., is herewith sent Contained in two papers Numbers 1 and 2.'
How's that for a 'Grandfathers' Indiana Story? We shall learn more of John Hall who participated in the battle.
But --- to continue with the reports:
The War Continues
Following the incident of killing the elder Hall, the local militia joined by many aroused residents who were not members of the original company started in pursuit of the Indians, finding deserted cabins, all sorts of depradations throughout the countryside. Those men who were ordered to approach the Indians and treat with them were held and tortured. All the action of the second engagement occurring the next day after William Hall was killed.
The force consisted of fifteen militiamen who were joined by about twenty-five volunteers. Among those testifying at the hearing about the second day's fighting was a Thomas Overstreet, of whom more will be learned in a subsequent chapter. From his testimony it is evident that Overstreet was not a militiaman but one of the settlers who had joined up.
The second battle appeared to be more of a chase than the first, although some Indians were killed. The settlers were still in doubt as to the identity of the Indians, a matter that was not cleared up until the third engagement of this unofficial war.
The Third Engagement
The third battle occurred on the 23rd day of May, 1757 and at this time the Indians were identified as Cherokees, supposedly to be living peacefully south of Virginia in the Carolinas. Again it was the story of trying to treat with them and the attempts ended up in shootings. The reports including the second and third tangles with the Indians cover many pages. Complete inventories of stolen and recovered property were made and a long list of stories of troubles with the Indians recorded. The final report made on May 1, 1758 was duly signed and eventually found its way back to the government at Williamsburg.
Later, historians appraising this series of incidents in the early stages of the Cherokee War 'indicated that the inhabitants of Bedford county had exercised great restraint and perhaps the results would have been happier if they had been firmer in their dealings.'
Affairs dragged on and one, ending in the Cherokee War having full support and consent of the Virginia Colonial government. A regiment of 1000 men under Col. William Byrd was sent to put the Indians down. The Cherokees were finally defeated in the Battle of Etohoe in 1761 and peace followed in 1762 --- five years after the killing of William Hall. The end of this War quieted things down on the Virginia frontier until near the outbreak of the American Revolution.** The successful completion of the Cherokee War by the Virginians opened the way for the flood of emigrants, funneling West through Bedford count into Kentucky.
Prior to the French and Indian War things had been developing peacefully in Bedford county; homes and farms were being established, a county government formed; however, these peaceful pursuits were upset by the constant fear of Indian attacks and no doubt the entire area was much as an armed camp.
A measure of the extent to which the Halls participated in these Indian scares can be obtained from the records of pay given the men for their services; provisions supplied and other activities. These monies were paid by the Virginia colonial government. The men had to prove their identities at various courts held at the county seats and also establish their records of participation. The men furnished their own equipment, wore no uniforms and the militia organization was very informal. The pay for service was one shilling per day for a private soldier.
Hall family members received pay from courts held in both Lunnenburg and Bedford county, as during this period they were residents of two counties --- Bedford being formed from Lunnenburg.
From the records of Bedford county men who were soldiers during the colonial Indian Wars we find the names of: John, Leonard, Thomas, Hezekiah, Aquilla and Robert Hall.** Some of these names will not appear in this family history, but it is a good possibility that they were related as there was likely a family migration to Virginia.
The pay lists seem to indicate two basis for payment: one, for the time spent in the field as a soldier and the second, for the extra services rendered or provisions provided. Some of the men received as little as four shillings, indicating only four days of active duty: other received up to 10 and 19 shillings.
Leonard Hall*** received 1 pound 10 shillings for conducting Indians taking prisoners to camps. John, Aquilla and Hezekiah Hall received in excess of 10 pounds each, indicating that they were providing provisions.
No record is found for the compensation of the death of William Hall, but a rather large amount received by John Hall (12 pds. 18 sh. plus other pay) may indicate some sort of payment to the family. ****
Participation by the grandfathers in this very early war in our country's history, set a pattern to be followed by generations of their descendants, as members of the Hall family have participated in every war, declared or undeclared in the nation's two hundred years of history.
Of importance to the story of the 'Grandfathers' is the ultimate effect of the Cherokee War on the attitudes of the residents of Bedford county toward the government of colonial Virginia and the events that were to take place during the period of the American Revolution.
Colonial Virginia was transplanted England - the mother county that the earlier Halls and many of their neighbors had left to find greater opportunities. They were not among the more prosperous nor members of a favored group, such as their Tidewater counterparts. Virginia society was highly stratified as exhibited by the Bedford county residents and those living at Williamsburg.
Those settling the frontier counties had been offered 'haven and relief from taxes' and the venturesome had come to the frontier in the years between 1740 and 1750. Coming into the area were those of English Origin: Germans, Quakers and the Scotch-Irish who were to form a new breed of Americans. The routes they followed were the ancient Indian trails: they walked with packs on their backs and guns ready. Or, they rode their horses followed by pack animals. At times the women and children rode, often they walked too! There were no roads and few, if any, wagons.
Some came as squatters, settling in rude shacks built along the streams: others traveling or gathering in small groups erected cabins along the waterways, began clearing the timber for small patches on which to raise their food and for market crops. The region abounded in game, the nearness to the mountains assured plenty of deer and, of course, bears. The streams furnished drinking water, food and power for their mills.
The elite on the seaboard, who controlled vast acreages of the region through their Crown grants, represented the combined bureaucracy of government and the established church (there was much absentee ownership)*****: many were motivated by 'self-aggrandisement' at the expense of the pioneers who were providing the buffer against the Indians and ultimately against the French.
Eventually, the residents of this region (The Piedmont) were to rally around a home-grown leader, Patrick Henry, who lived there and knew their thinking and aspirations. To overthrow the existing conditions, during the Revolution they aligned themselves with Washington, a Tidewater man, and sought to rid the colony of the restraints of class and to separate from the mother country. They wanted to open the lands to the West and to be masters of their own destiny.
The death of William Hall was to have profound results. William's son, John, was now the head of the family - a great responsibility for one of his years, but not uncommon on the frontier.
John did not fail his family, although we may not approve of how he solved his problems. He handled the property profitably and well. He fathered a family that became prominent in Bedford county. He became a man of property; his children and grandchildren became typical pre-Civil War Southerners. His descendents pioneered to the west.
Of especial interest to the Halls descendants of those who pioneered to Illinois is the fact that we are not descended from John, but from his brother, Hezekiah. Hezekiah was a teen-aged boy at the time of the death of his father, William. He took part in the Indian skirmishes and was to make Bedford county his life-time home.
+ the upper end of the river is known as the Roanoke; the lower end as the Staunton.
++ William Hall was scalped by the Indians.
+++ The 'Wild West' of America in the 1750's was the Virginia frontier.
++++ throughout the text underlining will be used for emphasis
*John Hall was likely nearer twenty-one years of age.
** Battle of Point Pleasant, 1774
*** exact relationships not determined
**** possibly a brother of William
*****many property owners stayed in England, using agents for their lands.