John Wayne, Colonel James Smith, and the Black Boys Rebellion

AlleghenyUprisingposterAllegheny Uprising, starring John Wayne and Claire Trevor, is an overlooked Revolutionary War movie.  I first watched the 1939 film as a kid on a local UHF station, but never quite realized how closely it tracked with the memoir of a colonial and Revolutionary War soldier, Colonel James Smith.  So, I decided to take a look.

For a significant portion of the last century, no actor signified “the American Century,” more than John Wayne. But, in the 1930s, he was a former-stuntman-turned-B-grade-actor churning out movies as a contract player for RKO Pictures.  Born in Iowa as Marion Morrison, Wayne’s family made its way to California during World War I and he eventually attended the University of Southern California as a pre-law student.  When an injury sidelined his football career, he did odd jobs in Hollywood for a friend-of-a-friend, eventually taking on bit parts and extra work before getting his first starring break in The Big Trail, a 1930 epic that flopped horrendously.  Morrison needed a more impressive name for the movie—Marion Morrison apparently not being heroic enough for the character he would portray. So, Morrison, still in his 20s, suggested Anthony Wayne after the Revolutionary War general himself.  The studio passed on “Anthony,” but settled on John Wayne.  Newly named, Morrison went back to work, settling for the lead in a bunch of forgettable westerns.

Continue reading “John Wayne, Colonel James Smith, and the Black Boys Rebellion”

Book Review: Young Washington by Peter Stark

erw-book-reviews-11Peter Stark, Young Washington: How Wilderness and War Forged America’s Founding Father, Kindle ed., (New York: HarperCollins, 2018).

While traveling in southwestern Pennsylvania, outdoor writer Peter Stark discovered the region’s deep history and the central role it played in transforming George Washington from a callow young man on the make to the kind of leader who could forge a nation. Stark was not accustomed to thinking about Washington on those terms.  He decided to study the younger man in greater detail, retracing Washington’s steps as a surveyor and explorer, messenger for Virginia’s colonial governor, defeated commander at Fort Necessity, aide to General Braddock, commander in the Virginia militia, honorary brigadier during the Forbes Campaign, frustrated suitor of his neighbor and best friend’s wife, and prickly colonial frustrated with ill treatment at the hands of the British empire.  While Stark includes chapters that cover Washington’s early life and the circumstances that brought him to the frontier, Young Washington revolves around the period of Washington’s service just before and during the French and Indian War. Continue reading “Book Review: Young Washington by Peter Stark”

Captain John Ashby

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Travis Shaw. 

Part One

As he looked northward across the open ground in front of his position, Captain John Ashby could see the advance guard of the British army moving steadily closer. They came on in a loose, open line, taking time to return the fire of Ashby’s men. Made up of red-coated light infantry and their German counterparts, the rifle-armed Jaegers, the advance guard were the cream of the Crown forces – men chosen for their fitness, marksmanship, and ability to endure hardship. Ashby and his men were veterans, so they must have known they’d be in for a fight. As the battle intensified around him, one wonders if Captain Ashby’s thoughts turned to home. The Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania was a long way from his native Virginia Piedmont.

The Crooked Run Valley in northern Fauquier County looks much as it did when John Ashby lived there two centuries ago (Author_s photo)
The Crooked Run Valley in northern Fauquier County looks much as it did when John Ashby lived there two centuries ago (Author’s photo)

John Ashby was born in 1740 in northwestern Fauquier County, among the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The son of Robert Ashby and Rosanna Berry, he grew up at Yew Hill, the family estate that lay just a few miles from the Gap that bears the family’s name to this day[1]. John’s uncle and namesake, Captain “Jack” Ashby commanded a company of Virginia rangers during the French and Indian War, where he made the acquaintance (and drew the ire) of a young George Washington[2]. Continue reading “Captain John Ashby”

Review: Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution, by David Preston. Oxford University Press, 2016. Reviewed by David A. Powell

Emerging Revolutionary War is honored to welcome back guest historian David A. Powell. 

When George Washington opened fire on a small party of Canadian militia commanded by Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville in May of 1754, he fired the first shots of what would eventually become the French and Indian War – and the Seven Years War across the rest of the globe. Many scholars have also acknowledged that this incident set the spark for what would become our own American Revolution.

Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution, by David Preston.

Of course, Washington intended none of those things; instead he was carrying out the British Crown’s policy of staking claim to and defending the Ohio Country, lately disputed between France and Britain.  However, Jumonville’s death set irreversible forces in motion, not the least of which was the capture of Washington’s own company of Virginia Colonial Militia at Fort Necessity by a much larger French response in June of 1754.

The direct consequence of that encounter was the creation of a new British army, including two regiments of regulars and a train of artillery, rushed from Ireland and England to re-assert Crown control over the forks of the Ohio. Command of this new expedition fell to Major General Edward Braddock. Arriving in 1755, Braddock’s mission was to lead this new force from Fort Cumberland, in western Maryland, to the site of the French Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh.) That campaign ended in disaster on July 9, 1755 when Braddock’s column collided with a combined force of French and Indians just a dozen miles short of Duquesne, resulting in horrific British losses – including Braddock.

Not surprisingly, this story has been fertile ground for historians. Fine monographs have already been written on the campaign, as well as on the French and Indian War as a whole. Having a particular interest in the period, I have read a number of those works. Naturally, I was curious when I first heard of Dr. David Preston’s new book exploring the campaign.

Preston, a professor at the Citadel, has delivered a tremendous book. Combining new research and close analysis of previously known sources, he provides fresh new perspective on General Edward Braddock, his ill-fated expedition, and the French & Indians opposing him.

Preston finds that Braddock, far from being an unyielding martinet uninterested in either the “savages” or using Colonials, worked hard (if unsuccessfully) to bring Indian warriors into his force, and showed more respect for the colonial elements under his command than some previous historians have portrayed. A number of factors precluded Braddock’s success here, but it was not for want of trying.

Where Preston’s interpretation really shines is in exploring the French and Indian sides of the war. A new account of the battle, located in a French archive, casts new light on the French efforts to defend Fort Duquesne – a venture whose success was by no means a sure thing. Preston also explores the Indian Nations’ complex and diverse reasons for casting their support with the French, which was also not certain. Preston makes it clear that the French defense was in many ways based on fortuitous circumstances rather than planning, especially in regards to the timing of the campaign.

Preston’s detailed description of the battle in question on July 9 presents a clear and detailed exploration of the sequence events as far as they can be known; where the author speculates he notes that, and explains the basis of his interpretation. Above all, his narrative is well-written, exciting and drama-filled.

Preston also excels in his summation of the long-term impact of Braddock’s defeat, both on the fortunes of British North America in the two years following the battle (which ran from bad to disastrous) and on the longer term consequences: the development of light infantry and ranger tactics, leadership, and the growing rift between American colonials and England.

Students of both the Seven Years War in America and the American Revolution will want to read Braddock’s Defeat. Get your copy today.

Congratulations to William Griffith

Our enthusiastic congratulations to Emerging Revolutionary War’s William Griffith on the release of his new book, The Battle of Lake George, England’s First Triumph in the French and Indian War. The book, published by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, is now available for sale in books stores and online.9781467119757

From the press release of the book,

“In the early morning of September 8, 1755, a force of French Regulars, Canadians and Indians crouched unseen in a ravine south of Lake George. Under the command of French general Jean-Armand, Baron de Dieskau, the men ambushed the approaching British forces, sparking a bloody conflict for control of the lake and its access to New York’s interior. Against all odds, British commander William Johnson rallied his men through the barrage of enemy fire to send the French retreating north to Ticonderoga. The stage was set for one of the most contested regions throughout the rest of the conflict. Historian William Griffith recounts the thrilling history behind the first major British battlefield victory of the French Indian War.”

Recently, ERW had the chance to sit down and talk with William about the book.

Q: This book fills an important gap in the French and Indian War, why has this campaign been overlooked for a publication like this?

W: I think that the Battle of Lake George has been overlooked for multiple reasons. When we think of the opening years of the French and Indian War we tend to immediately think of the events transpiring in western Pennsylvania (i.e. Jumonville Glen, Fort Necessity, and the Battle of the Monongahela), and do not really place Lake George at the forefront until the surrender of Fort William Henry in 1757. The significance of the Battle of Lake George has also been up for debate by historians, many whom believe it was a stalemate or inconsequential engagement, but in my opinion they are entirely incorrect. Because of these sentiments, when looking at the year 1755 the predominant focus has been placed on Braddock’s Defeat. Tragedy draws attention, and that is exactly what the Battle of the Monongahela was. Not only has scholarship relating to the Battle of Lake George been placed on the backburner to Edward Braddock, but it has also been pushed aside by the Siege of Fort William Henry and the subsequent “Massacre” – another tragic event. The Battle of Lake George is a prime example of history overshadowing history, and hopefully my book will be able to bring the event out of the darkness and into mainstream French and Indian War scholarship.

Q: Why did you choose the campaign to Lake George as your first book?

W: Even before I was born my family vacationed every year along the western shore of Lake George. When I was five years old my father brought me to my first historic site – Fort William Henry – and from then on my passion for history began to blossom. After that each trip to the lake during the summer caused my interest in upstate New York’s colonial history to grow and it soon became a big part of my life. There are some places on this earth that have the power to transport you to another time or place. Lake George is one of them. It truly forms a connection with people and for me, so did its history – especially the 1755 battle, which I could find no substantial work done on. In a quest for myself to learn more about the event, I determined in high school that when I was to write my first book it would be on the long neglected battle. I ended up writing it a lot sooner than I imagined I would.

Q:If there was only one thing a reader took away from this book, what would you want it to be?

W: An interest in the French and Indian War and a desire to learn more about this period in our history. If a visit to Amazon, the bookstore, or Lake George occurs after reading my work, then I succeeded.

Q:How accessible are the sites attributed to the campaign to visitation?

W:Extremely accessible. All three sites associated with the Battle of Lake George are preserved to some extent or at least enough so to interpret and visit. The battlefield of the main engagement fought during the afternoon is the largest and is preserved as the Lake George Battlefield Park at the southern end of the lake astride the reconstructed Fort William Henry and busy Lake George Village. Interpretation here is really bad though. Only one sign actually explains the 1755 battle although there is an impressive monument serving as the centerpiece of the site. Along present day Route 9 roughly three miles or so south of Lake George is the site of the morning engagement, the “Bloody Morning Scout,” and an obelisk dedicated to Colonel Ephraim Williams of the 3rd Massachusetts Regiment who was killed during the opening engagement. About a mile or so closer to the lake along Route 9 is a pond with signage interpreting it as “Bloody Pond,” the site of the final confrontation during the battle. It is possible that this could be the actual pond, but there is speculation that it was actually located several hundred yards further into the woods and is now dried up

Q:What is next book or publication you are working on?

W: I am currently not working on any publications. As I complete my master’s degree at Norwich University this next year and a half or so I plan on focusing on my studies, maybe doing a bit of research here and there when I am free. I do have aspirations to publish more, however, and would like to write a biography of George B. McClellan (my historical idol) focusing on his life from November 1862, when he was removed from command of the Army of the Potomac, to his death in 1885. I would also like to create some sort of guidebook for the Battle of Lake George, Siege of Fort William Henry, Battle of Carillon, and the 1759 British capture of Fort Ticonderoga.

Q:How does one get a copy?

W: The History Press usually distributes locally, so if you live in the upstate New York area near Albany/Lake George you can probably run down to your nearest bookstore and purchase one. If not, then it is available on Amazon and other major retailers online. If you happen to attend a signing or talk that I am doing then you can certainly also pick one up from me.


A Quick Trip to Fort Ticonderoga

Emerging Revolutionary War is honored to welcome guest historian David A. Powell to the blog. A biography of David is at the bottom of this post. 

The Hudson Valley in upstate New York is one of my favorite historical places – which might come as a surprise to some, given that my usual historical beat is the 1861-1865 time-frame. There are a handful of Civil War related sites along the Hudson, but not many.

But for two centuries before our war between the states, the region was the pathway for commerce, settlement, and conflict. The banks of the Hudson, Lakes George and Champlain, and the St. Lawrence are all dotted with crucial reminders of a violent historical past.

Ruins Crown Point
Ruins of Crown Point

I’ve been to most of these sites; West Point, Bennington and Saratoga battlefields, the site of Fort William Henry, Crown Point, and plenty of other locations. One of them, however, fixes my attention beyond all others:

Fort Interior
Interior of Fort Ticonderoga

Fort Ticonderoga.

The fort occupies a strategic place on Lake Champlain, were a land portage connects Champlain to Lake George, and ultimately, the Hudson River.

<Lake Champlain from Fort, looking south>

Originally called Carrillon by the French, who built it in 1755; the fort changed hands several times during the ensuing 25 years. It was unsuccessfully attacked by the British in 1758, and finally captured the next year, part of the British “Annus Mirabilis,” that string of decisive triumphs over the French that reached their crescendo with Wolfe’s victory at Quebec. Two decades later, it figured in the American Revolution; it was wrested from British control by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold in 1775. Its heavy artillery was sledged across many miles of Wilderness snow and ice to reinforce the Rebel army besieging Boston by Henry Knox, which forced the British to abandon that city. In 1776 Ticonderoga was a bulwark of the Patriot defenses on Lake Champlain. In 1777, it was easily re-captured by the British under Burgoyne, but returned to American control after Burgoyne’s disasters of Bennington and Saratoga.

Ticonderoga is fully restored now, owned and maintained by a private foundation that has done an outstanding job of presenting and preserving the Fort’s history. The town and the fort grounds are also dotted with interesting monuments, many erected by British regiments, mainly placed to honor their troops who fought in the Fort’s bloodiest single battle, that of 1758.

British General James Abercrombie led 17,000 troops – colonials and British regulars – against a much smaller garrison of between 4,000 and 5,000 French, Canadian Militia, and Indian Allies. The French, under the Marquis de Montcalm, defended an entrenched line outside of the fort walls, which Abercrombie obligingly assaulted. The British lost 2,000 men, and Abercrombie retreated.

My favorite monument at Ticonderoga is actually paired with another monument erected by the American Colonists in Westminster Abbey (left to right in picture below). They both commemorate the death of Lord George Howe, a Brigadier General in Abercrombie’s army (and elder brother to the Howes of Revolutionary War fame) who embraced irregular warfare.



Go spend an afternoon at Ticonderoga. You won’t be disappointed.



*David A. Powell is a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute (1983) with a B.A. in history. He has published numerous articles in various magazines, and more than fifteen historical simulations of different battles.

For the past decade, David’s focus has been on the epic battle of Chickamauga, and he is nationally recognized for his tours of that important battlefield. The result of that study was his first published book, The Maps of Chickamauga (Savas Beatie, 2009).

His latest book is Failure In The Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joe Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry In the Chickamauga Campaign (Savas Beatie, 2011). He is currently working on a full length monograph of the battle of Chickamauga. The first volume of that work, entitled The Chickamauga Campaign: A Mad Irregular Battle, is scheduled for a 2014 release.

David and his wife Anne live and work in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. He is Vice President of Airsped, Inc., a specialized delivery firm.

Review: The French and Indian War and the Conquest of New France, by William R. Nester. Published by the University of Oklahoma Press, 2014 (paperback).

Both the American Revolutionary War and the French and Indian War (as it was called in North America) have been the subject of many history books.  The original American sources have been pretty much culled through, as have many of the British sources.  But French sources have not received the same scrutiny.  Why this is the case, is not clear.  Of course, the French language is a barrier to English-speaking historians.  I believe another factor is that French historians have not shown much interest in either war, and when they have, they have failed to use adequate footnotes, making it difficult for other historians to follow up on the sources they have used and confirm their credibility.  In the French and Indian War and the Conquest of New France, William R. Nester, a professor at St. John’s University in New York City, helps to address this imbalance.  His history of the French and Indian War (called the Seven Years’ War in Europe), which was fought from 1754 to 1763, is from the French perspective and he has relied on many original French sources.  Interestingly, despite the title of the book, about half of the book, if not more, occurs in France and the rest of Europe.   This decision is understandable; paraphrasing one contemporary, Canada was lost on the battlefields of Germany.

“The French and Indian War and the Conquest of New France”

Nester starts his history by explaining the disorganized and weak state of the French political system.  One might believe that because France had a monarchial system, its government was efficient, but the contrary was true.  For one, the French legislature, dominated by merchants, lawyers and the middling classes who suffered the burden of heavy taxation (aristocrats were not taxed), frequently hesitated or refused King Louis XV’s constant requests for more funds to fight his wars and pay for his extravagant lifestyle.  As a result, his administration was constantly deep in debt and always short of funds it needed to fight.

The court of King Louis XV was a convoluted maze of intrigue, dominated by the king’s beautiful but conniving mistress, Madame de Pompadour.  Due to her heavy influence on King Louis XV, if she did not approve of a general or a foreign diplomat, that individual would either never be retained or would eventually be fired.  This was no way to run a great country.  Continue reading “Review: The French and Indian War and the Conquest of New France, by William R. Nester. Published by the University of Oklahoma Press, 2014 (paperback).”

The Greatest Leaders of the American Revolution You Have Never Heard Of

Sitting under a tree in north-central New York, suffering from a painful and mortal leg wound, yet still managing a successful defense after a powerful ambush, is a characteristic of a great military leader. All the while nonchalantly smoking his pipe!

General Nicholas Herkimer (courtesy of the NPS/Fort Stanwix and Oneida County (NY) Historical Society)

Nicholas Herkimer was the epitome of a successful militia commander. The Battle of Oriskany was a turning point. Herkimer, sitting on a once innocuous hillside, was a major reason why.

Even George Washington recognized the importance of Herkimer and made mention of his decision to not seek a commission in anything more than the militia of his home state. Not only that simple fact of service recognized by the commander-in-chief, but also his pivotal role in the Northern campaign of 1777.

“It was Herkimer who first reversed the gloomy  scene of the Northern campaign. The hero of the Mohawk Valley served from love of Country, not for reward. He did not want a Continental command or money.”

Herkimer would succumb to the mortal leg wound ten days after the battle, but his role in what was described as “one of the bloodiest battles of the war” solidified his place in the category of “greatest leaders of the American Revolution you have never heard of.”

Born in the Mohawk Valley of New York to Palatinate immigrants, Nicholas was described as a slender built, dark complexioned, dark haired individual. When he was finished growing, he stood near six feet tall, a rather tall height in 18th century Colonial America. He could also boast of being multilingual, fluently speaking English, German, and Iroquois.

He saw action in the French and Indian War, helping to repel the French and Native American attack on German Flatts, New York on November 12, 1757. Although a disastrous day for the German community, as many were taken prisoner by the French and Native Americans, Herkimer’s role led to his promotion to captain in the militia within two months of the fighting on January 5, 1758. Thirty-years after his promotion to captain the town would be renamed “Herkimer” for the actions of this New Yorker during the subsequent war.

In April of 1758, Herkimer was present and assisted in the successful repulse of the French and Indian force.

With peace established in 1763, Herkimer looked toward personal matters, building a house on the south side of the Mohawk River in 1764. He married two ladies, both named Maria. One died and the other would remarry and move north of the border to Canada, after Herkimer’s death in 1777.

With tensions increasing in the 1770s between Great Britain and the colonies, Herkimer led the Tryon County, New York Committee of Safety and was elected colonel of the local militia. The Provincial Congress on September 5, 1776 promoted him to brigadier general of the militia. One of his first roles was to meet with Joseph Brant, a Mohawk military and political leader in an effort to try and keep the Native Americans neutral in the conflict between the colonies and Great Britain. He was unsuccessful.

During the Northern Campaign of 1777, with the thrust southward by British General John Burgoyne being the main column on its way to its destiny at Saratoga, a secondary column entered the Mohawk Valley under British General Barrimore”Barry” St. Leger. The combined British, German, Loyalist, and Native American force laid siege to Fort Stanwix, in present-day Rome, New York.

Herkimer heard about this and marched his militia to help raise the siege. His force was ambushed on August 6, as they were nearing Fort Stanwix. After the initial surprise, in which Herkimer received his wound, the militia responded well and a drawn out battle ensued.

Part of the reason that the majority of the militia recovered from the shock and endured the ensuing bloody carnage was directly related to the inspired leadership of Colonel Samuel Campbell who led one of the militia regiments in the force and Herkimer himself.

Herkimer, after having his horse shot and receiving his mortal wound in the opening shots of the engagement asked to be propped under a tree on the hillside his forces had utilized for their defensive stand He then calmly lit a pipe and with a continued cool demeanor directed the rest of the engagement.

Famous painting depicting the mortally wounded General Nicholas Herkimer directing his militia from his position seated under a tree, during the Battle of Oriskany on August 6, 1777. (Painting by Frederick C. Yohn)

After the day-long battle, Herkimer ensured he was the last to leave the field, after all the wounded that could be collected had been removed.

Although his wound was dressed on the field, the injury became infected and amputation was the only course of action. In the woods of western New York, the surgeon doing the operation was inexperienced and the wound bled tremendously. Herkimer would succumb to the wound on August 16, at the age of 49. He was buried near Little Falls, where he had built his home in the 1760s. The cemetery today is known as the “Herkimer Home Burial Ground.”



*Nicholas Herkimer’s role in the war and the Battle of Oriskany and the St. Leger campaign is described wonderfully by Michael O. Logusz in Volume 2 of “With Musket and Tomahawk” published by Savas Beatie LLC in March 2012.*




“The Old Wagoner”

Part One

The last battle of the Revolutionary War was fought in 1951 in Winchester, Virginia. Daniel Morgan, the “Old Wagoner” or ‘Old Morgan” as he was known to his soldiers, was front and center of the maelstrom once again just as he was on many a battle field from Quebec to South Carolina during the War for Independence.

Daniel Morgan Statute in Winchester, Virginia (courtesy of Winchester Star)
Daniel Morgan Statute in Winchester, Virginia
(courtesy of Winchester Star)

Residents of Cowpens, South Carolina, a small town near Spartanburg named for Morgan’s dramatic and strategically critical victory of 1781, arrived in Winchester, Virginia to claim the earthly remains of their revered hero. Morgan’s grave was overgrown and in decrepit condition. In Winchester, only one out of forty people queried by the Carolinians knew who Morgan was. Armed with shovels, a mortician, and a letter of authorization from Morgan’s great-great granddaughter, the Carolinians showed up at Mount Hebron Cemetery to dig up the general, take him “home” and reinter him at the site of his greatest victory. There he could rest among a populace that revered his name and cherished his significant contributions toward American independence. However, word of the Carolinians’ attempted exhumation of Morgan quickly spread through town and a contingent of devoted local admirers quickly headed to Mt. Hebron to stop the Carolinians initiative. In the end, a court ruled that the “Old Wagoner” would remain interred at Mt. Hebron in Winchester. Not only did he stay, but this episode kindled a reverence for the General’s legacy and place in history among Winchester’s populace.

Seventeen year-old Daniel Morgan moved into the Shenandoah Valley in 1753, with nothing but sheer determination to carve out a life for himself in the rugged frontier of western Virginia. His early years are shrouded in mystery that Morgan himself kept secret from even his closest associates throughout his life. He was born of Welsh parentage in 1836 in Bucks County Pennsylvania or Hunterdon County, New Jersey, the fifth of seven children. It was a hard life of work on the family farmstead with no opportunity for even a rudimentary education. His time was spent chopping wood, hoeing fields and other taxing physical labor. His mother died when he was young, and his father remarried. A dispute with his father prompted the fiery Morgan to head west on the Great Wagon Road to Carlisle, Pennsylvania where he worked briefly during the winter of 1752-53, before continuing south to the Shenandoah.

Although Morgan lacked an education, the work on the family farm had hardened his six-foot, two-hundred pound frame into a powerful and muscular young man who was well suited for the physicality of life on the frontier. The blue-eyed youth initially obtained employment as a farm laborer in eastern Frederick County in what is now Clarke County. He worked hard and soon earned an offer of better employment. In spite of his youth, Morgan eared employment as the overseer of a saw mill where he learned to manage older and more experienced men, developing his leadership ability. Morgan’s energy and work ethic impressed Robert Burwell who offered Morgan a position as a teamster hauling valley produce across the Blue Ridge to Fredericksburg and other towns in the Virginia Piedmont and carrying badly needed supplies back to the frontier that was the Shenandoah Valley of the 1750’s.

Morgan enjoyed the freedom of the open road and in less than two years had earned enough money to buy his own team and Conestoga wagon. During this time, Morgan had become close friends with fellow teamster John “Captain Jack” Ashby, grandfather of the Virginia Civil War cavalryman. Ashby was noted for his “horsemanship, marksmanship and daring exploits.” Ashby taught Morgan to shoot, hunt, ride and live in the wilderness along the Blue Ridge.  The two men were kindred spirits and became good friends.

In 1755, the French and Indian War came to the Shenandoah Valley when British Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock’s column passed through the Winchester area on its way to wrest Fort Duquesne from the French at the “Forks of the Ohio,” now the site of Pittsburgh. Morgan signed on the haul supplies to Fort Cumberland in western Maryland and soon found himself as a teamster with the army, rolling into western Pennsylvania. When the French and Indians routed Braddock at the battle of the Monongahela in July, the teamsters emptied their wagons of supplies and carried wounded soldiers back to Fort Cumberland. At some point in this campaign, Morgan’s actions or words angered a British officer who violently chastised the young teamster and struck him with the flat of his sword. Morgan’s temper exploded, and the young wagoner knocked the officer out with one strong punch. A court martial sentenced Morgan to 500 lashes, a punishment that often killed its recipients. The stout Morgan endured the suffering and noted that the drummer miscounted and he had only received 499 lashes. He would proudly wear the scars suffered at the hands of the British for the rest of his life.

Depiction of Daniel Morgan on the frontier (courtesy of Fort Edwards)
Depiction of Daniel Morgan on the frontier
(courtesy of Fort Edwards)

With Braddock’s devastating defeat, the French and Indians went on the offensive raiding into western Virginia. Morgan enlisted in a Ranger Company commanded by his friend, “Captain Jack” Ashby. Morgan spent much of his time patrolling the wilds of the Allegheny Mountain posts of Hampshire County and building stockades to defend against the marauding French and Indians. On one occasion while carrying messages to one of the forts along with two other men, Indians waylaid his party at Hanging Rock on the Cacapon River, killing his comrades. They shot Morgan in the neck, but he raced away on his horse, narrowly escaping the tomahawk of a pursuing Indian. Morgan lost consciousness from blood loss, but luckily the horse had the path to fort ingrained in her memory and carried him back to safety. Morgan remained in the Ranger Company until Col. George Washington disbanded it in October. Morgan began a period of multiple pursuits. He sojourned himself in the wilds for several months trying his hand as a hunter. He likely spent time as a militiaman in Frederick County. By 1758, however, he almost instinctively returned to the open road, hauling wheat, tobacco and hemp across the Blue Ridge to eastern Virginia commercial centers such as Alexandria, Dumfries or Fredericksburg. In driving the wagons, Morgan had found his calling. The harsh life of the teamster suited his rough and tumble personality. He quickly gained a reputation as on the leading pugilists of the Shenandoah Valley. He could often be found at Berry’s Tavern in what is now Berryville but at the time was known as Battletown because of the constant brawling that occurred at the tavern. These were brutal affairs that included wrestling, punching, choking and gouging of eyes, but Morgan reigned as the champion. Although not always victorious, the stout teamster made sure there was a rematch which he usually won. In spite of his reputation for drinking and fighting, Morgan prospered as a successful teamster, even if his brawling occasionally landed him on the docket of the Frederick County Circuit Court. In 1762, he found love with Abigail Curry who became his common-law wife, introduced him to the Presbyterian religion and bore him two girls. At her request, he cut back on drinking and brawling. He also rented a tract of land began farming marketable crops. Morgan had finally found the good life he sought in the Valley of Virginia.

With talk of independence in the air in 1774, Morgan participated in Lord Dunmore’s War. He was part of a column that operated in the Wheeling, Virginia area. They attacked Indians along the Muskingum River in the Ohio Country and drove them off, but he did not participate in that war’s decisive action at Point Pleasant. As the war drew to a close, word of the troubles in Boston circulated among the men, and Morgan was among those who committed to solidarity with the Massachusetts patriots.

Part Two will cover Morgan in the opening years of the American Revolution, so check back next week.

A life-long student of military history, Scott C. Patchan is a graduate of James Madison University in the Shenandoah Valley. He is the author of many articles and books, includingThe Forgotten Fury: The Battle of Piedmont (1996),Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign (2007), andSecond Manassas: Longstreet’s Attack and the Struggle for Chinn Ridge (2011).

Patchan serves as a Director on the board of the Kernstown Battlefield Association in Winchester, Virginia, and is a member of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation’s Resource Protection Committee.

Robert “King” Carter and the Father of our Country – Connecting the Dots of History

A lot of understanding history is understanding connections. Making relevant connections

Robert "King" Carter
Robert “King” Carter

and interpreting those connections to people. Recently I played a part in curating a new exhibit at the Manassas Museum. This exhibit “A Virginia Aristocracy: The Carters of Virginia” focuses on the Carter family in Virginia and their vast influence. Beginning with Robert “King” Carter, the Carters amassed great wealth and land in Virginia. The Carters were one of the leading families in colonial Virginia and their influence was felt all the way up to the Civil War.

As I was leading an exhibit talk last weekend, I started to make some of those connections that I love to share with the public. One that I knew about, but didn’t really contextualize until talking to a small group was how the Carters influenced the course of American history. In a way beyond their ancestry to future U.S. Presidents, but in a connection that “King” Carter never intended.

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