The American Revolution in the east has its share of founding fathers while war in the west has its share of legendary characters. Few could claim to be both. Isaac Shelby was born in western Maryland in 1750 and migrated with his family farther south and west in 1770, near Bristol Tennessee. Shelby in Lord Dunmore’s War and became a surveyor for North Carolinian Richard Henderson’s Transylvania Company, created to secure land west of the Appalachians just before the American Revolution. (Daniel Boone was the best known of Henderson’s surveyors).
When the Revolution broke out, Shelby served first with the Virginians and then accepted roles handling logistics for Virginians, Continentals, and North Carolinian units operating along the frontier. Organizational structures were fluid along the Appalachians, more often centered around communities and available manpower than formal state boundaries, and Shelby participated in a variety of actions against British and Loyalist forces in North and South Carolina. The personal nature of the partisan conflict eventually led Shelby and others on the frontier, including John Sevier, to organize the so-called “Overmountain Men” in a pursuit of Loyalists led by British Major Patrick Ferguson. The two sides eventually clashed in the Battle of King’s Mountain, a resounding victory for American forces in October 1780.
In 1774, frontiersman James Harrod led a surveying party from western Pennsylvania to the region south of the Ohio River known as Kentucky. The group laid out a small fort, started their first buildings, and staked out claims to larger farms beyond the town’s walls but left the area with the start of Dunmore’s War between Virginia and the Shawnee Native Americans living north of the Ohio.
Harrod returned in the spring of 1775 with a group of settlers. Greater numbers made a larger fort and town necessary. Harrod’s return to the area coincided with the outbreak of the American Revolution, which quickly led renewal of intense fighting between Native Americans and whites living on the American frontier. British support for the Native Americans, particularly after 1777, made Kentucky an extraordinarily dangerous place to live. Together with Boonesborough and Logan’s Station, Harrodstown, also known as Harrodsburg, constituted the bulk of white settlement in Kentucky during the war’s early years.
“[T]he poor Kentucky people, who have these twelve months past been confined to three forts, on which the Indians made several fruitless attempts. They [the Indians] have left us almost without horses sufficient to supply the stations, as we are obliged to get all our provisions out of the woods. Our corn the Indians have burned all they could find the past summer, as it was in cribs at different plantations some distance from the garrisons, & no horses to bring it in on. At this time we have not more than two months bread,–near 200 women & children; not able to send them to the inhabitants; many of those families are left desolate, widows with small children destitute of necessary clothing.”
Despite continuing violence on the frontier, the prospect of land and escaping the war in the east led immigration into Kentucky to outpace population outflows while military success under George Rogers Clark ensured that the frontier settlements survived and increased.
Harrodsburg became the capital of Kentucky County when Virginia asserted ownership of the area and is still the seat of Mercer County. To commemorate Kentucky’s frontier history, the state established Old Fort Harrod State Park, which encompasses a recreated fortified town complete with period buildings, furnishings, and crops. Living historians and artisans demonstrate the 18th century skills needed to survive and flourish far from the eastern seaboard. Several exhibits help explain the frontier experience before, during, and after the American Revolution. Additionally, the park incorporates several later buildings as a museum of local history and monuments to George Rogers Clark and Abraham Lincoln’s family.
Every year the historians of Emerging Revolutionary War take a fall trip to research, visit Revolutionary War sites/battlefields and to promote our museum partners and preservation. The trip usually is a follow up to our Annual Symposium, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, that has been moved to May 22nd (you can get more information on speakers, topics and registration on our Symposium link from our main page).
After much discussion, we have decided to keep our annual fall trip tradition, but a more scaled back version. Don’t worry there will still be revelry and Facebook lives! Our original plan was to head to North and South Carolina, as a follow up to our visit there in 2018. In lieu of COVID-19, we have decided to keep it more “local” by focusing on sites in and around Yorktown, VA (many of our contributors are based in Virginia and Maryland). We will visit sites such as Gloucester, Yorktown, Spencer’s Ordinary, Green Spring, Great Bridge and Williamsburg.
We will be posting FB Live videos the entire trip, bringing you some behind the scenes opportunities with our museum partners, some exclusive talks with historians and we will wrap up the trip with a special Sunday Night Rev War Revelry. Stay tuned to our blog and social media pages starting on November 6th and continuing on to our Sunday Night Rev War Revelry on November 8th.
Our goal is not just to share with you great information and encourage support for historic sites/museums but also to share with you the fun and passion we have for interpreting the events around the American Revolution. As a public history focused effort, we feel making history fun and accessible leads to a great appreciation for our shared history. We hope you join us virtually on our trip this November.
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Joshua Shepherd
For most history enthusiasts, a visit to a battlefield is simply a diversion that very often takes place during an annual vacation. But the pleasant surroundings of America’s historic parks belie the terrifying sights that greeted a battlefield’s first visitors.
On December 24, 1793, a detachment of American troops under the command of Major Henry Burbeck arrived at an insignificant knoll deep in the wilderness of present-day Ohio. Tasked with constructing a timber fortification on the site, the troops first had to attend to the unenviable task of clearing the remains of over six hundred men who had been killed there two years earlier. Burbeck reported that the battlefield “had a very melancholy appearance – nearly in the space of 350 yards lay 500 skull bones – 300 of which we buried.” Most of the skulls, it was reported, appeared to have been smashed by tomahawk blows.
The odds are good that you haven’t been able to visit some of your favorite Revolutionary War sites during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of these locations rely on foot traffic for their annual income and may be struggling to stay afloat amidst various state lockdowns and a smaller number of visitors. (We left out many national, state, and local parks, which sometimes have access to government funds. But, they often have partnerships with non-profit foundations that provide vital support for their activities.) So, we decided to start a list of museums and parks that you can help out now and visit as circumstances allow. No doubt it will grow. The list does not constitute a solicitation or endorsement, but many of our historians visited some of these museums in the past and found them really helpful to our own work. (You may need to copy and paste some links.) If you search our “weekender” posts, there are even more sites to support and visit when you can.
Marquis de Lafayette was a French aristocrat serving in the French army, and recently married, when the Revolution broke out in America. He followed events with interst, and was motivated to come and fight with the Americans.
He arrived in March, 1777, nineteen years old and eager. He immediately formed a friendship with Washington, and was an aide on his staff. In the meantime British forces had invaded Pennsylvania, intent on capturing Philadelphia. Washington’s army took a position behind Brandywine Creek, and the British attacked on September 11, 1777. British troops had flanked the Americans, and reinforcements were rushed to the threatened sector, making a stand on Birmingham Hill.
Eager to get to the fighting, Lafayette and a group of French officers rode to the unfolding battle at Birmingham Hill, arriving as the action was at its hottest. Approaching from the south, they rode up the Birmingham Road, and turned to the left, coming in behind the brown-coated troops of General Thomas Conway’s Pennsylvania brigade.
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Jon-Erik Gilot. A short bio is attached at the bottom of this post.
Though perhaps more widely known as the birthplace of West Virginia during the Civil War, Wheeling and its environs retains several significant sites associated with the Revolutionary War. The name itself is translated from the Delaware language meaning “place of the skull,” legend having that the severed head of a white settler was placed on a pole by local Native Americans as a warning to others to stay away.
Wheeling was founded in 1769 by Colonel Ebenezer Zane and his brothers Jonathan and Silas. Five years later in 1774 Fort Henry (originally called Fort Fincastle) was built overlooking the Ohio River to protect the growing numbers of settlers from attack. The fort was twice attacked during the Revolutionary War, first in 1777 and again on September 11 – 13, 1782, when a force of British loyalists (Butler’s Rangers) and Native Americans (under the command of outlaw Simon Girty) attacked the fort’s 47 defenders. The fort was besieged over two days, culminating in Betty Zane’s heroic run for gunpowder in a nearby cabin. The British and natives broke off the battle with the arrival of Virginia militia reinforcements. Fort Henry is acknowledged as one of the final battles of the Revolutionary War.