Monday, December 16, 2013

Forts in Southwest Virginia

Native Americans had a network of trails throughout the mountains, gaps, and waterways. The early settlers realized the importance of these networks so a clash occurred when both wanted to be in control. As the settlers moved into western Virginia, and what is now Tennessee, they traveled, settled and crossed many of these main Indian trails.

The French were located to the north and west, with Shawnee and others siding with them. They had settlements at French Lick (now Nashville) and east of Knoxville, at the French Broad River. The Spanish were to the south; Cherokee were also south of these settlements. Mingos were in now West Virginia. The Spanish and French befriended the Indians and tried to stop the settlers. East Tennessee was still part of North Carolina with the Virginia boundary coming as far down as possibly RogersvilleTennesseeNorth Carolina could not take care of her far-flung western territory, so the Virginia militia did. 

Lord Dunmore’s War, in 1774, caused a lot of confusion with the Shawnee and Mingo attacking and killing so many. The settlers decided at that time to build the first forts in Clinch Valley. In late 1775 militia forts were built in Lee CountyVirginia. Attacks on settlers were coming from the north and south, so beginning with the Cherokee War in 1776, the settlements were largely abandoned in Lee County and western Scott County and in the main Valley of the Houston from Kingsport to Abingdon. Eventually thirty-six forts were built in southwestern Virginia; all were a day apart or closer if a warning militia was hurrying to alert another fort. These thirty-six forts were strung from Wynne’s Fort in TazewellVirginia, to Martin’s Lower Station near Cumberland Gap.

The fort that interests Melungeon researchers a little more than others is Fort Blackmore. Lewis Jarvis said the Melungeons were “friendly Indians” who came with the white settlers. “They came from the Cumberland County and New RiverVirginia, stopping at various points west of the Blue Ridge. Some of them stopped on Stony Creek, Scott County, and Virginia, where Stony Creek runs into Clinch River. The white emigrants with the friendly Indians erected a fort on the bank of the river and called it Fort Blackmore and here yet many of these friendly ‘Indians’ live in the mountains of Stony creek, but they have married among the whites….” Jarvis then adds, “They all came here simultaneously with the whites from the State of Virginia, between the years 1795 and 1812 and about this there is no mistake, except in the dates these Indians came here from Stony Creek.”

There is a lot we don’t know about all these old forts, yet we do know several things about them. A recent book I found has many historical documents in it, “The Forts of the Holston Militia,” authors Lawrence J. Fleenor, Jr. and Dale Carter. An online site has Emory Hamilton’s work: FRONTIER FORTS By Emory L. Hamilton

Penny Ferguson

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