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Chapter 9

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Indian Wars in North Carolina

E. Lawrence Lee

The Carolina Charter
Tercentenary Commission
Raleigh, 1963

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 11
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p64  Chapter X

The French and Indian War

The French and Indian War began at the head of the Ohio, but it was a struggle between English and French colonists for possession of the vast area to the west of the mountains. By the spring of 1756, it had developed into a formal war between England and France in Europe, and other parts of the world, to determine which would remain a dominant colonial power. The colonies of the loser, including those in America, were to be the rewards of the victor.

[image ALT: A summary map of (what is now) the eastern United States in the eighteenth century, showing five major Indian tribal groups: from west to east, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw, the Creek and Cherokee, and the Catawba.]

Theater of the French and Indian War 1754‑1763

Showing location of principal southern Indian tribes
and European fortifications

[A larger, fully readable version opens here (647 KB).]

In the beginning, the primary objective of the English in North America was to drive the French from Fort Duquesne. Since the area was claimed by Virginia the accomplishment of this objective was primarily the problem of that colony. Help came from England and from other colonies but even so, four years of poor leadership and failures passed before success came with the capture of Fort Duquesne in November, 1758. Two more years of fighting passed before the English won complete victory and took over all French possessions east of the Mississippi.

During the first four frustrating years of French successes, the Virginia frontier suffered the horrors of Indian warfare. North Carolina, however, was spared all but fleeting touches of this terror. This was fortunate, because she was ill‑prepared to defend herself. The only military force in the colony was the militia, with a regiment in each county. By law every man, except slaves, between sixteen and sixty years of age was required to serve in time of emergency and without pay. The militia, however, was of little use, because it was poorly organized and was not adequately supplied with arms and ammunition. As a result, it was necessary from time to time  p65 during the war to raise companies of paid troops, known as "provincials." Such units were authorized by special laws for specific purposes and for stated periods of time. They were composed of North Carolina men and were led by North Carolina officers.

At the outbreak of the war, several coastal installations were manned to defend against an invasion that never came, but the western frontier was left exposed. The best defense there, it was believed, was to prevent the war from reaching the colony by defeating the enemy beyond its bounds. For this reason, North Carolina troops were sent to Virginia and even to New York to join in the fight against the French. Within the colony, guns and ammunition were sent to the frontier counties for the use of the needy there, but otherwise action was taken only when occasional threats to the peace demanded it. The first violence came in the autumn of 1754, when a band of Indians, believed to have been French allies, raided along the Broad River and killed sixteen settlers, and took ten others as captives. Because of the lack of other defenses, Arthur Dobbs, Governor of North Carolina, rushed a company under Captain Hugh Waddell to patrol the frontier as far west as the mountains.

Perhaps the greatest source of security to the North Carolina frontier was the presence of friendly Indians. The Catawba were the nearest to the white settlements and were the most helpful. On several occasions they proved the value of their nearness. For example, Catawba warriors went out after the hostiles guilty of the Broad River killings. They failed to catch the enemy but no doubt they prevented greater harm being done. The Cherokee were farther removed from the white settlements, but they were nevertheless a protection against invasion from the west.

 p66  As important as the Catawba and Cherokee were to North Carolina, their help was needed much more in Virginia where the Indian allies of the French, especially the Shawnee who had shifted their loyalty to the enemy, were ravaging the frontier almost at will. Virginia's governor, Robert Dinwiddie, had sought the aid of both tribes but without success. As "South Carolina Indians," the Catawba and the Cherokee were under the influence, if not the actual control, of Governor James Glen of South Carolina. Glen was not on friendly terms with Dinwiddie and did not approve of his conduct of the war in Virginia. In addition, Glen believed the safety of his own colony required the presence of the Indians, especially the Cherokee, in their own country as a safeguard against invasion from the west. The failure of an expedition under general James Braddock to take Fort Duquesne in July, 1755, was blamed by Dinwiddie on the absence of the Catawba and Cherokee who, as scouts, might have prevented the fatal ambush suffered by Braddock. The Virginia governor, in turn, held Glen responsible for the absence of the Indians.

At the time they might have been with Braddock in Virginia, many headmen and warriors of both tribes were meeting with Glen on the South Carolina frontier. To the Catawba, Glen reaffirmed their right to the land within thirty miles of their towns. To the Cherokee he promised arms and ammunition to protect themselves against the French, in return for their promise of continued loyalty to the English. He also renewed the promise of a South Carolina fort in the Overhills country. At the same time, the Cherokee surrendered to the English king sovereignty over all their land. Unlike the earlier conveyance of the land to the east of Long Canes Creek for "the use" of the whites, the conveyance of sovereignty transferred only the right to govern the  p67 area. Glen's purpose in acquiring this right was to strengthen the claim of the English to the disputed area beyond the mountains.

After Braddock's defeat, the Virginia frontier was even more exposed to the violence of the Indians. Terror seized the people and as one traveller observed, "A cold shuddering possessed every breast, and paleness covered nearly every face." The chill of this fear reached down into North Carolina but, fortunately, the violence did not. In Virginia, however, the help of the Cherokee and Catawba was needed more desperately than ever. Dinwiddie had reason to believe the continued failure of South Carolina to build a fort in the Overhills country was causing the Indians there to lose faith in the South Carolinians. He also feared that this loss of confidence might drive the Cherokee into the arms of the French. To hold the Cherokee to the English cause and also to obtain their help, Dinwiddie ignored Glen and arranged a meeting between his agents and headmen of the Cherokee on the Broad River in North Carolina in March, 1756. At this meeting the Cherokee promised to send a large number of warriors to help protect the Virginia frontier but only after the completion of an English fort to protect their women and children while the warriors were away at war. The Virginians agreed to help South Carolina build the fort already promised.

The assurance of continued Cherokee loyalty that seemed to come from this meeting was soon a matter of doubt. Even before the meeting, a large number of Cherokee warriors had gone to Virginia to take part in an attack on the Shawnee on the Ohio. The expedition ended in disaster when the food supply was lost while crossing a river and the men were reduced to eating their horses. Hungry and disappointed Cherokee warriors returned home across the  p68 North Carolina frontier and wherever they passed they took food, clothing and horses from the white settlers. As they had at the time of the Broad River raid of 1754, many people gathered together in fortified houses or fled to the Moravian settlement. Angered, some of the men prepared to go out after the Indians but were restrained from doing so by Arthur Dobbs, Governor of North Carolina. Dobbs feared that private vengeance might result in a disastrous war with the Cherokee, and he believed the French had encouraged the Indians to act as they did with that purpose in mind. This suspicion was confirmed by King Haigler of the Catawba who revealed that the Cherokee had confided in him that they were considering an alliance with the French. By summer there was a rumor that the alliance had already been made.

Because of the danger of a French-Cherokee alliance and also because of the fear that the French Indians would extend their destructive raids southward from Virginia, steps were taken to protect the North Carolina frontier even though the Catawba again proved their loyalty by helping to recover much of the stolen property from the Cherokee. The North Carolina government promised to build a fort in the Catawba nation to protect their women and children in order to encourage the warriors to continue their active support. The Moravians were forbidden to fight because of religious principles, but they did build a log palisade around their town of Bethabara for protection. As it had from the beginning of the war, the town continued to serve as a refuge for neighboring settlers. Many left their homes and went to Bethabara, and also to Salisbury, for safety. Others sought even greater security by leaving the frontier altogether.

The North Carolina government also contributed to the defense of the frontier by building a fort in the wilderness  p69 between the Third and Fourth Creeks of the South Yadkin, a short distance from where Statesville now stands and about forty miles southwest of Bethabara. The structure, named Fort Dobbs, was fifty-three feet by forty feet and was built of oak logs. As small as it was, it served as a garrison for the troops patrolling the frontier and also provided a refuge for the widely scattered settlers of the outer frontier in times of danger.

In the same summer of 1756, a group of Virginians arrived in the Overhills country to join South Carolinians in building the fort that had been promised for so long. When the South Carolinians did not arrive, the Virginians were persuaded to erect a separate fort on the Little Tennessee River about a mile above the Town of Chote. The fort, a log palisade slightly more than 100 feet square, was completed in early August. The Cherokee headmen were then asked to furnish the 400 warriors they had promised at the Broad River meeting. They were evasive, however, and only seven men and three women returned to Virginia with Major Andrew Lewis who had supervised the construction of the fort. Even more disturbing than the unkept promise was the growing anti-English feeling that was apparent among the Cherokee. Because of this feeling Virginia troops were not sent to occupy the fort and it was never active.

The hostility towards the English reflected, of course, an increasing friendliness for the French and no doubt this shift in sentiment resulted from the successes of the French in the early years of the war. It became most apparent soon after they captured Fort Oswego from the English and thereby gained undisputed access to the Ohio Valley. All the southern colonies, including North Carolina, now seemed in danger of enemy invasion, and the Cherokee wanted to avoid ties with the losing side. The pro‑French feeling was  p70 strongest in the Overhills Settlement which was most exposed to French influence and pressure. For a while it appeared that all the Overhills towns were united against the English, but as time went by, it became clear that pro‑French sympathy was centered in only a few of the towns. Accordingly, in the fall of 1756, the South Carolinians finally began the construction of a fort in the Overhills country, on the Little Tennessee River near the town of Tomatley. Named Fort Loudon, the structure was much larger and stronger than the Virginia fort and was to play an important part in later English-Cherokee relations. The fact that many of the natives welcomed the fort while some opposed it revealed the disunity of the Indians. By the spring of 1757, however, it appeared that the English supporters had won out and that the danger of an alliance between the Cherokee and the French had passed. In any event, Cherokee warriors went to Virginia in the spring of 1757 and again the following year.

In their willingness to fight for the defense of Virginia, the Cherokee were not motivated by an affection for the cause. George Washington, then colonel of the First Virginia Regiment, reported that they "are mercenary; every service of theirs must be purchased; and they are easily offended, being thoroughly sensible of their importance." The Cherokee did indeed understand the importance of their services and they expected to be adequately paid for them, as well as for the fact that they were required to neglect their farming and hunting while away at war. When they failed to receive what they thought was just, they returned home in 1757 and again in 1758 without having contributed a great deal in the struggle against the French.

The fact that the friendship of the Cherokee still could not be taken for granted was shown in 1758 when the warriors  p71 who had gone to Virginia returned home. While passing through the Virginia frontier they took horses from the settlers. When the settlers used forceful means to recover their property, the result was the killing of both whites and Indians. North Carolina was spared this trouble, and much of the credit for this good fortune must be given to the Moravians. Hundreds of the natives going to and from Virginia in 1758 were fed as friendly allies at Bethabara and they responded to the hospitality by peaceful conduct. To the grateful Indians, Bethabara became known as "the Dutch fort where there are good People and much bread."

The feeling of the Cherokee, especially the young warriors, for the people of Virginia, however, was one of bitterness and a desire for revenge. They were restricted from seeking such revenge only by their elder leaders and by Governor Glen of South Carolina. Glen warned them that war against the people of Virginia would mean the destruction of the Cherokee. On the other hand, for peaceful acceptance of their loss he promised "presents to the Relations of your People who have been slain sufficient to hide the bones of the dead Men and wipe away the tears from the eyes of their friends." In November, 1758, representatives of the tribe travelled to Charles Town and received the presents. A few days later the French abandoned Fort Duquesne as a large army of English and colonial troops approached. Peace it seemed had once more come to the southern frontier. For the people of the Carolinas, however, the worst was yet to come.

Page updated: 7 Jul 13