On New Year’s Day, 1783, the senior-most major of the Virginia Continental Line wrote to the commander in chief asking for permission to resign his commission. David Stephenson had been in the army for seven years, beginning as a Captain of an Augusta County company in the 8th Virginia Regiment. His service had, in monetary terms, cost him everything.
“When I entered the service my fortune was very small and is now entirely expended,” he wrote. “Extravagance has been no cause of my present situation, nor is it from interested motives I would now wish to retire; but it is as really out of my power to equip myself decently as it is to purchase the Indies.”
Stephenson was, in fact, not far from home. He wrote to Washington from Winchester, Virginia where he may have been guarding prisoners or performing other duties in the Shenandoah Valley’s largest town.
Stephenson had traversed the former colonies from New York to Georgia, survived battles, malaria and capture by the enemy. Penniless, he told Washington that he could not even afford to clothe himself. “Conscious that your Excellency will never wish to continue an officer in Service whose appearance must be so inferior to his rank, I rest satisfied of your approbation to retire.”
The war was essentially over, anyway. Within months, there would be a treaty to formalize it. When Stephenson returned home he was about 38 years old. Before the end of the year he married Mary Davies. They were married for 27 years before he died about 1810. Mary died in 1815. An unproven account that they had one son together is challenged by Mary’s will, in which all of their property was given to nieces and nephews from both sides of the family. She also directed that their slaves were “to be liberated and transported to some free State.”
In 1791 the Commonwealth of Virginia chartered a new town in Berkeley County and named it after former 8th Virginia Captain William Darke. He deserved it, but the honor was born of deep personal tragedy. The 55 year-old veteran of three wars would absolutely have forgone the distinction if he could have turned back the clock.
Darke fought in the French & Indian War as a young man and may have been at Braddock’s defeat in 1755. He raised one of the first companies for the 8th Virginia in 1776 and was promoted from captain to major in 1777 shortly before his capture at Germantown. That was followed by three years in British captivity. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel while in enemy hands. He was exchanged late in 1780 and returned home just before Lord Cornwallis invaded Virginia. Darke helped General Daniel Morgan recruit a militia army in the lower Shenandoah Valley and was present for the victory at Yorktown.
A decade later, in 1791, he was appointed by President Washington to lead a regiment of federal troops on short enlistments in an expedition to defeat the Indians in northeast Ohio. The expedition, under the command of General Arthur St. Clair, was a complete disaster. American soldiers ran for their lives as Indians butchered their comrades to pieces in the forest. Hundreds of bodies were left behind, mutilated and frozen, through the winter. It was the greatest victory for an Indian army ever and a major setback for the Washington Administration.
Those who survived, however, made it out alive because Lt. Colonel Darke led one last desperate charge through the Indian line, opening a hole through which the panicking soldiers could flee. Darke himself was wounded in the leg. His son, Captain Joseph Darke, was shot in the head and would die after a month of “unparalleled suffering.” Colonel Darke returned home just in time to witness the death of another of his three sons. (Darke’s last surviving son died five years later, leaving the hero with no one to carry on his name—something that bothered him greatly.)
Many lives were lost at St. Clair’s Defeat. Reputations were ruined as well. Darke, however, survived with his reputation improved. A month after the battle, Virginia created Darkesville to honor him. Two years later, after Virginia reorganized its militia system, Darke was made a general in command of a regional brigade. According to tradition he kept his headquarters in Darkesville, which was 13 miles west of his home south of Shepherdstown. He remained a militia general until his death in 1801.
Darkesville grew into a respectable town, but never prospered to an extent that would have required the destruction of old houses to make room for larger and taller ones. In 1980, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on the basis of its “45 historical or architecturally important buildings or sites.” As of that date, there were 25 log houses dating from between 1790 and 1810 and another five stone ones built before 1830. Among them was the house believed to be Darke’s headquarters, though it was moved and altered in the 20th century. Near it is another log building known as “the barracks.” Most of these log houses are covered with siding, as they likely were soon after their construction. Still, the logs are visible on houses that have had their siding removed or where it has deteriorated.
I recently stopped in Darkesville (now in West Virginia) to look around. For the casual observer, there is little to distinguish the village from more modern development along the road (Route 11). Even the state historic marker appears to be missing. I wasn’t able to find General Darke’s Headquarters, though I was later able to find its apparent location on a map.
Here at Darkesville, mostly concealed under clapboard or off the main road, is an early American frontier town, complete with log houses and stone fences. It is hiding there barely noticed by the drivers of the cars that whiz by going fifty miles an hour. Many of the houses date to a time when George Washington was in his first term as president and Americans were still fighting with the Shawnee for control of Ohio. Though they have survived for more than two centuries, these structures won’t survive forever. Already, a few appear to have been left to deteriorate. The name of Darkesville was born of tragedy. It would be another tragedy if this unique and special place were to be lost to development or to neglect.
In 1855 an elderly widow named Jane Roberts applied for bounty land for her husband’s service “in the war with the Cherokees & British in the year 1776.” We don’t often think of the Revolution as a two-front war, but it really was. Americans fought the British and Hessians in the east and the Indians (who were egged on by the British) in the west. In the northwest territory claimed by Virginia, the Shawnee were the most fearsome.
An 8th Virginia soldier like Captain George Slaughter might have seen the Revolution as one chapter in a six-decade fight with the Indians for control of Kentucky and Ohio. The territories were the scenes of nearly constant bloodshed from the defeat of General Edward Braddock in 1755 to the defeat of Shawnee chief Tecumseh in 1813. Slaughter and his comrades suffered from no moral anguish when it came to killing Indians. In 1781 he wrote Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson from Kentucky, “The Savages have been very troublesome this Spring; almost every other day we have accounts of some one being either kill’d or Captured; upwards of 40 Men, Women and Children have fallen a prey to them within the County of Jefferson in the course of 2 Months past and we have not had the satisfaction of getting but one of there Scalps.”
George Slaughter was born in Culpeper County, Virginia in 1739. He was probably a descendent of early settlers of the Germanna Colony. When he was 25 years old, he volunteered to help put down a major Indian uprising known as Pontiac’s Rebellion—which was a sort of postlude to the French and Indian War. Colonel Henry Bouquet led nearly 1500 militiamen out of Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) in 1764 and subdued the Indians in Ohio. Bouquet required the Indians to return 200 white people who had been kidnapped over the years. This liberation was in fact a tragedy: most of the captives had been taken as small children and were fully assimilated into the tribes.
A decade later, Slaughter participated in Dunmore’s War. This was another campaign, led by the royal governor of Virginia, to “pacify” the Indians. After a lengthy and bloody battle at Point Pleasant on the Ohio River, the Virginians were victorious. After the battle, Slaughter explored Kentucky for a while and planted some corn—perhaps to lay claim to some land.
A year later, in 1775, Slaughter recruited one of the first companies for the famous Culpeper Minutemen which probably means he participated in the Battle of Great Bridge—an early patriot victory in Virginia. The minute battalions were replaced in 1776 by additional full-time regular regiments, including the 8th Virginia. Slaughter recruited a company in Culpeper County, including an unknown number of former minutemen. Slaughter remained with the regiment through Charleston and Brandywine and was then promoted to major of the 12th Virginia just before the Battle of Germantown.
At Valley Forge, in December of 1777, he learned that his family in Culpeper had lost their house in a fire. That, and a smallpox epidemic (against which he, but not his family, had been inoculated), prompted him to request a furlough from General Washington. When the furlough was turned down, he resigned his commission on December 23 and headed home. On February 1, he contritely wrote to Washington begging to be reinstated. “If my reenstation can take place with propriety,” he wrote, “it will afford me great satisfaction; if not, I hope I can Acquiesce without murmuring.” The request was denied.
An 1897 history by William Hayden English reports that Slaughter was “a colonel of volunteers in 1778” and then “in Shelby's Chickamauga campaign” against the Cherokee. It is difficult, however, to see how he could be in the latter campaign and also “at Vincennes in May, 1779.” Vincennes, a British outpost in what is now Indiana, was taken that year in a siege led by the brothers of two 8th Virginia officers: General George Rogers Clark and Major Joseph Bowman. (Bowman was mortally wounded.) English’s date suggests that Slaughter arrived sometime after the victory, perhaps to help hold the position. Other sources don’t mention Slaughter in connection with these campaigns at all.
In the summer of 1779, Slaughter recruited 150 men in Virginia to reinforce Clark’s western army but was bogged down by mountain snow on his return. In the spring, he made it to Fort Pitt and boated downstream to the falls of the Ohio River. This site is now Louisville, Kentucky, a city of which Slaughter is considered a founder. Slaughter joined Clark on a 1780 campaign against the Shawnee in Ohio. Clark then left for Virginia and left Slaughter in command. Slaughter oversaw the construction of Fort Nelson at Louisville. It was from there that he reported to Jefferson on the dangerous situation with the Indians. Safety was not his only problem. He also reported, “We are here without money, Clothing, or any thing else scarsely to subsist on. By the fault of the Commissaries, Hunters or I cannot tell who upwards of One hundred and Thirty Th[ousan]d weight of meat was intirely spoiled and lost.”
Things improved for Slaughter and his neighbors from there. This can be seen in a letter his old 8th Virginia commander Colonel Abraham Bowman (who moved to Kentucky in 1779) sent home on October 10, 1784. Bowman wrote to a brother that "General Clark has laid off a town on the other side of the Ohio, opposite the falls, at the mouth of Silver creek, and is building a saw and grist mill there." This was Clarksville, in Clark County, Indiana. The same year, Slaughter was elected to the Virginia legislature. In 1792 Kentucky became its own state.
Slaughter eventually followed Clark and moved across the river. This was land that had been set aside for Virginia soldiers who had participated in “the reduction of the British in the Illinois.” Slaughter was not one of them. Nevertheless, he moved to Charleston, Clark County, in his last years and died there in 1818. No grave marker survives, but (according to a genealogy website) he may be in the Shelby Family Cemetery.
Like many 8th Virginia veterans who were prominent and important in their day, Slaughter has been largely forgotten. It is never too late for Louisville (or Culpeper) to memorialize him.
When the 8th Virginia headed south into the Carolinas in 1776, they were heading into deadly territory. Those who were born and raised in the Shenandoah Valley and the mountains around it had absolutely no resistance to malaria. Large numbers of men, living together outdoors in the summer heat of the swampy coastal south, created the perfect conditions for an epidemic. According to one South Carolina officer, “14 or 15 [soldiers] were buried every day” for awhile that summer.
The 8th Virginia’s third-ranking officer, Major Peter Helphinstine of Wichester, was one who fell dangerously ill. At 52 years old, he was the oldest officer in the regiment. He resigned his commission and headed for home, perhaps in the back of a wagon. He continued to slowly deteriorate and died a couple of years later, leaving a widow who struggled to survive without him.
Helphinstine was buried in the graveyard of Winchester’s Lutheran Church, which is now part of a large and unique cemetery. In Winchester’s early days, the Lutheran, German Reformed, and Presbyterian churches were all on the edge of town. Only the Church of England was allowed to have a building in the center. After the Revolution, new churches were built in town and the graveyards of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches were combined with additional tracts of land to form a large public cemetery. Graves from the old Presbyterian Church (including that of General Daniel Morgan) were later reinterred in the new cemetery. After the Civil War, a large section was added for Confederate dead.
Helphinstine’s grave is close to the one remaining wall of the old Lutheran Church, though his marker is long gone. It may be that his widow could not afford a proper stone for him. Other prominent 8th Virginia veterans are buried in what is now known as Mount Hebron Cemetery. Chaplain Christian Streit, later the long-serving pastor of the Lutheran Church, is buried close to Helphinstine. Surgeon Cornelius Baldwin, originally buried in the Presbyterian graveyard, was relocated to the cemetery in 1912.
Other graves in the cemetery have been ascribed to 8thVirginia veterans, but may be in error or belong to veterans of the 12th Virginia Regiment (which was redesignated the “8th” when regiments were consolidated late in 1778). Winchester was the home of Daniel Morgan and was George Washington’s base of operations for much of the French and Indian War. It is full of history and deserves a visit. If you do visit, a stroll through Mount Hebron is worth thirty minutes of your time.
In 1781, the traitor Benedict Arnold was sent to Virginia by the British to disrupt American supply lines supporting patriots farther south. Opposing him was Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenberg, the 8th Virginia’s original colonel. Gov. Thomas Jefferson gave Muhlenberg instructions to capture Arnold and specified that the plan should be carried out by “men from the western side of the mountains.” As a former pastor from Woodstock and colonel of the 8th Virginia, Muhlenberg knew many such men.
Arnold wasn’t captured. His security was too tight. Some histories, however, report rumors of a failed attempt. Edward Hocker’s 1936 biography of Muhlenberg, for example, documents a “tradition” that Col. George Rogers Clark (who had two brothers in the 8th Virginia) was tapped to lead the mission. Clark was newly famous for his successful campaign against the British in Illinois.
According to Hocker’s narrative, one of Clark’s men was captured and taken before Arnold, who asked him, “What would be my fate if the Americans caught me?” The prisoner replied, “We would cut off that shortened leg wounded at Quebec and Saratoga and bury it with the honors of war, and then hang the rest of you.”
Ironically, it was George Rogers Clark who ultimately had his leg cut off. Many years later, after a having a stroke and in a drunken stupor, he fell into a fireplace and severely burned himself. When gangrene set in, he was told a leg would have to be amputated. On the day of the procedure, he arranged to have fifers and drummers from the local militia come and play martial tunes to celebrate. He reportedly tapped his fingers in time with the music as they sawed off his leg, “effected more by the music than the pain.”
On May 15, 1776 the provisional government of Virginia voted to instruct its Congressional delegation to propose and support a declaration of independence from Great Britain. This was two days after the 8th Virginia marched south with General Charles Lee to meet the enemy in the Carolinas. However, a few of the regiment’s soldiers—stragglers and sick men who were left behind—may have witnessed the celebration on May 16. The Union Jack was lowered from the capital and replaced with the Grand Union flag. The men were paraded to nearby Walter’s Grove, attended by the commander of the provincial army (General Andrew Lewis), the Committee of Safety, the Virginia Convention, and members of the public.
The resolution was read aloud, followed by three toasts. The first was to “The American independent states.” The second was to “The Grand Congress of the United States and their respective Legislatures.” The third was to “General Washington, and victory to the American Arms.” Each toast was saluted by the firing of cannon. After the reading, an outdoor “refreshment” was held for the soldiers. When the sun set, illuminations were lit to celebrate. The next day, May 17, was set aside as a day for fasting and prayer.
Three weeks later, the Virginia delegation complied with its mandate, proposing independence to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Less than a month after that, Independence was formally declared. It took until early August for the 8th Virginia to hear the news in far-off Charleston, South Carolina.
Meanwhile, 8th Virginia stragglers continued to arrive in the capital, including an entire company under the command of Captain William Croghan from Fort Pitt. These men were present when two truly world-historical events occurred in Williamsburg: the June 12th adoption of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (a precursor to and model for the Declaration of Independence), and the June 29 adoption of a new, written (rather than evolving or “living”) constitution which declared the people rather than a monarch to be sovereign.
The May 15 resolution and the Virginia Declaration of Rights are both worth the few minutes it takes to read them. The Declaration was written by George Mason with revisions from Robert Nicholas and James Madison. It is clear how much Thomas Jefferson depended on Mason’s writing in drafting Congress’s declaration for the colonies. Mason's declaration was a template for the Bill of Rights as well. Similarly, the Virginia Constitution was, at least in some respects, a template for the U.S. Constitution--though other states can claim that as well. For the United States, July 4 is celebrated as Independence Day. Virginians should also celebrate--or at least remember--May 15.
The May 15 Resolution
Forasmuch as all the endeavours of the United Colonies, by the most decent representations and petitions to the King and Parliament of Great Britain, to restore peace and security to America under the British Government, and a reunion with that people upon just and liberal terms, instead of a redress of grievances, have produced, from an imperious and vindictive Administration, increased insult, oppression, and a vigorous attempt to effect our total destruction. By a late act all these Colonies are declared to be in rebellion, and out of the protection of the British Crown, our properties subjected to confiscation, our people, when captivated, compelled to join in the murder and plunder of their relations and countermen, and all former rapine and oppression of Americans declared legal and just; fleets and armies are raised, and the aid of foreign troops engaged to assist these destructive purposes; the King's representative in this Colony bath not only withheld all the powers of Government from operating for our safety, but, having retired on board an armed ship, is carrying on a piratical and savage war against us, tempting our slaves by every artifice to resort to him, and training and employing them against their masters. In this state of extreme danger, we have no alternative left but an abject submission to the will of those overbearing tyrants, or a total separation from the Crown and Government of Great Britain, uniting and exerting the strength of all America for defence, and forming alliances with foreign Powers for commerce and aid in war. Wherefore, appealing to the Searcher of hearts for the sincerity of former declarations expressing our desire to preserve the connection with that nation, and that we are driven from that inclination by their wicked councils, and the eternal law of self-preservation:
Resolved, unanimously, That the Delegates appointed to represent this Colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain; and that they give the assent of this Colony to such declaration, and to whatever measures may be thought proper and necessary by the Congress for forming foreign alliances, and a Confederation of the Colonies, at such time and in the manner as to them shall seem best: Provided, That the power of forming Government for, and the regulations of the internal concerns of each Colony, be left to the respective Colonial Legislatures.
Resolved, unanimously, That a Committee be appointed to prepare a Declaration of Rights, and such a plan of Government as will be most likely to maintain peace and order in this Colony, and secure substantial and equal liberty to the people.
The Virginia Declaration of Rights
A DECLARATION OF RIGHTS made by the representatives of the good people of Virginia, assembled in full and free convention which rights do pertain to them and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of government.
Section 1. That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
Section 2. That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants and at all times amenable to them.
Section 3. That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community; of all the various modes and forms of government, that is best which is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety and is most effectually secured against the danger of maladministration. And that, when any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community has an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.
Section 4. None of mankind is entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services; which, not being descendible, neither ought the offices of magistrate, legislator, or judge to be hereditary.
Section 5. That the legislative and executive powers of the state should be separate and distinct from the judiciary; and that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression, by feeling and participating the burdens of the people, they should, at fixed periods, be reduced to a private station, return into that body from which they were originally taken, and the vacancies be supplied by frequent, certain, and regular elections, in which all, or any part, of the former members, to be again eligible, or ineligible, as the laws shall direct.
Section 6. That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people, in assembly ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community, have the right of suffrage and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for public uses without their own consent or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented for the public good.
Section 7. That all power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by any authority, without consent of the representatives of the people, is injurious to their rights and ought not to be exercised.
Section 8. That in all capital or criminal prosecutions a man has a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence in his favor, and to a speedy trial by an impartial jury of twelve men of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty; nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself; that no man be deprived of his liberty except by the law of the land or the judgment of his peers.
Section 9. That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Section 10. That general warrants, whereby an officer or messenger may be commanded to search suspected places without evidence of a fact committed, or to seize any person or persons not named, or whose offense is not particularly described and supported by evidence, are grievous and oppressive and ought not to be granted.
Section 11. That in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man, the ancient trial by jury is preferable to any other and ought to be held sacred.
Section 12. That the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.
Section 13. That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.
Section 14. That the people have a right to uniform government; and, therefore, that no government separate from or independent of the government of Virginia ought to be erected or established within the limits thereof.
Section 15. That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.
Section 16. That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.
On the topic of Maxwell’s Light Infantry, Lt. Col. William Heth’s views were crystal clear. “Maxwells Corps ’Twas expected would do great things,” he complained in a letter, “we had opportunities—and any body but an old-woman, would have availd themselves of them—He is to be sure—a Damnd bitch of a General.”
The subject of his ire was New Jersey Brig. Gen. William Maxwell, who led the temporary light infantry unit for one critical month in the fall of 1777. Maxwell’s Light Infantry is mentioned in most histories of the Philadelphia Campaign, but deserves a closer look. It played a key role in two significant engagements and performed quite well. Maxwell himself deserved criticism, though exactly how much is hard to determine now. His second in command, Indian fighter Col. William Crawford, likely deserves more recognition than he has received.
For the American army early in the war, “light infantry” usually meant “riflemen.” Though accurate at long range, rifles took longer than muskets to reload and could not carry bayonets. They were good for sniping at, harassing and delaying the enemy. However, in a traditional line of battle they were inferior weapons. In close combat, they were almost useless. Riflemen were sometimes issued spears to defend themselves from bayonet charges. They had other problems, too. Col. Peter Muhlenberg of the originally all-rifle 8th Virginia Regiment told Washington in February, “The Campaign we made to the Southward last Summer fully convinces me, that on a march where Soldiers are without Tents, & their Arms continually exposd to the Weather; Rifles are of little use.”
...continue to the Journal of the American Revolution
We only know the history that is written down. Some of the 8th Virginia’s most valiant warriors left sparse records and have consequently been forgotten. One of the best parts of this project is the opportunity to bring some of their stories back to life. A case in point is the story of Captain James Knox.
Knox lived an amazing life. He used his inheritance to come to Virginia from Northern Ireland at the age of 14. He evidently entered Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap before Daniel Boone did. He was the leader of the famous “long hunts” into Kentucky in 1769, 1770 and 1771 before serving in Dunmore’s War against the Shawnee in 1774. He then led the Fincastle (Kentucky) County company for the 8th Virginia in 1776. After his company was decimated by malaria in south, he was detached to lead a new company in Morgan’s Rifles and took part in the first major American victory of the war at Saratoga. After the war, he served in the legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky (after it separated from Virginia) and served in the Kentucky militia as a colonel. In 1805 he married the widow of his neighbor and friend, Benjamin Logan.
Knox died on Christmas Eve in 1822 and was buried near his wife and Logan. From there, this once-prominent frontier hero slowly slipped into obscurity. In 1923, a Kentucky historian reported that Knox’s gravestone had “fallen from its base to the earth” where it lay “forgotten” in a “neglected and overgrown” graveyard. In 1964, the Commonwealth of Kentucky placed a historic marker two miles away on the Louisville Pike (Route 60). One side memorialized Benjamin Logan, the other (the back, officially) memorialized Knox.
On a recent trip to Kentucky, I decided to find the marker and—if I could—Knox’s grave. The Kentucky Historical Marker Database said the Logan-Knox sign was four miles west of Shelbyville. I drove ten miles west of Shelbyville, but couldn’t find it. An internet search found a newspaper account of the 2015 rededication of the Logan family burial ground (where Knox is buried), with vague directions. I thought, perhaps, the sign had been moved there—somewhere on Brunerstown Road.
Driving south from Shelbyville, Brunerstown Road was easy to find and the sign was right there at the intersection. Though happy to find it, I was disappointed to see it was literally posted in a ditch. Worse, it was falling over and situated so that the only way to read Knox’s side was to get out of your car and walk into the field behind it.
Several shutter-clicks later, I drove the length of Brunerstown Road looking for the cemetery but couldn’t find it. After a mile, the road narrowed and lost its markings—looking, probably, just the way it had in Knox’s day but for the pavement. On my second pass, I encountered a man checking his mail box. He happily told me where the graveyard was—up on a hill overlooking the Bullskin Creek. Far from the road, it was inaccessible except through a neighbor’s property, and they were not home.
I drove by the creek one more time and looked high up on the bluff on the opposite side. Through the trees, I could just make out a monument. Recognizing it from FindAGrave.com, I knew it was Benjamin Logan’s grave marker. Knox’s grave is up there too, but can’t be seen from the road.
The Logan cemetery was cleaned up in 2015. Already “neglected and overgrown” in 1923, in 2015 it was described as “in complete disrepair; you couldn’t even walk through it, you had to spread the trees and the bushes and the vines apart to even get through it.” My search for Knox’s grave is a perfect allegory for the story of the 8th Virginia. The story is out there, but it’s frequently very hard to find.
No other place does more to tell the story of the 8th Virginia Regiment than the house and museum at Locust Grove, near Louisville, Kentucky. It does this almost unintentionally. Locust Grove was the after-war home of Captain William Croghan (who was a major when the war ended). He married the sister of fellow 8th Virginia Captain Jonathan Clark and lived not far from Clark at the fall-line of the Ohio River (Louisville). This was a roughly 400-mile boat ride from his old home at Pittsburgh.For many 8th Virginia men, the opening up of Kentucky was their main reason for fighting in the war. Colonel Abraham Bowman, captains Croghan, Clark, James Knox, and George Slaughter all moved to Kentucky after (or during) the war. So did a large number of the regiment’s junior officers and enlisted men.
I have compared this research to a jigsaw puzzle—the compilation of thousands of discrete bits of information from a multitude of sources. It was a bit of a shock, therefore to visit Locust Grove and find a place that seemed in so many ways to be a memorial to the 8th Virginia Regiment and its veterans. It isn’t actually that, of course. I don't think the regiment itself is even mentioned. Much more is said about Croghan's brother-in-law George Rogers Clark. But the museum’s exhibits wonderfully contextualize and illustrate the world of the 8th Virginia, before, during and especially after the war.
Croghan was a very important man in Kentucky. He had money, land, and relationships. Much or most of that—including his marriage—came to him through his service in the war. The same could be said for many of his 8th Virginia comrades who prospered in the west. It was in large measure what they fought for during the Revolution: opportunity.
George Washington, like many 8th Virginia men, was a Indian fighter. His first war was the French and Indian War--a war, it is frequently said, he personally started. Washington's last war was the Northwest Indian War, which he oversaw as President and commander in chief. The latter war was bloodier than any other Indian conflict before or after. The Battle of Wabash in 1791 featured higher American casualties than any other battle until Shiloh in 1862. (The 8th Virginia's William Darke played a central role at Wabash and, though injured, made it home.)
The Revolution itself was an Indian war, especially in 1779. The following Speech to the Delaware Chiefs reveals the importance of Indian relations in the war. It shows a side of Washington we rarely see--the frontiersman, surveyor and Indian fighter who knows how to communicate with Indians and which buttons to push for maximum effect. When he delivered it in New Jersey, many 8th Virginia men had already finished their Continental Army service and moved to Kentucky where Indian warfare was an ever-present threat.
Head Quarters, Middle Brook, May 12, 1779.
Brothers: I am happy to see you here. I am glad the long Journey you have made, has done you no harm; and that you are in good health: I am glad also you left All our friends of the Delaware Nation well.
Brothers: I have read your paper. The things you have said are weighty things, and I have considered them well. The Delaware Nation have shown their good will to the United States. They have done wisely and I hope they will never repent. I rejoice in the new assurances you give of their friendship. The things you now offer to do to brighten the chain, prove your sincerity. I am sure Congress will run to meet you, and will do every thing in their power to make the friendship between the people of these States, and their Brethren of the Delaware nation, last forever.
Brothers: I am a Warrior. My words are few and plain; but I will make good what I say. 'Tis my business to destroy all the Enemies of these States and to protect their friends. You have seen how we have withstood the English for four years; and how their great Armies have dwindled away and come to very little; and how what remains of them in this part of our great Country, are glad to stay upon Two or three little Islands, where the Waters and their Ships hinder us from going to destroy them. The English, Brothers, are a boasting people. They talk of doing a great deal; but they do very little. They fly away on their Ships from one part of our Country to an other; but as soon as our Warriors get together they leave it and go to some other part. They took Boston and Philadelphia, two of our greatest Towns; but when they saw our Warriors in a great body ready to fall upon them, they were forced to leave them.
Brothers: We have till lately fought the English all alone. Now the Great King of France is become our Good Brother and Ally. He has taken up the Hatchet with us, and we have sworn never to bury it, till we have punished the English and made them sorry for All the wicked things they had in their Hearts to do against these States. And there are other Great Kings and Nations on the other side of the big Waters, who love us and wish us well, and will not suffer the English to hurt us.
Brothers: Listen well to what I tell you and let it sink deep into your Hearts. We love our friends, and will be faithful to them, as long as they will be faithful to us. We are sure our Good brothers the Delawares will always be so. But we have sworn to take vengeance on our Enemies, and on false friends. The other day, a handful of our young men destroyed the settlement of the Onondagas. They burnt down all their Houses, destroyed their grain and Horses and Cattle, took their Arms away, killed several of their Warriors and brought off many prisoners and obliged the rest to fly into the woods. This is but the beginning of the troubles which those Nations, who have taken up the Hatchet against us, will feel.
Brothers: I am sorry to hear that you have suffered for want of necessaries, or that any of our people have not dealt justly by you. But as you are going to Congress, which is the great Council of the Nation and hold all things in their hands, I shall say nothing about the supplies you ask. I hope you will receive satisfaction from them. I assure you, I will do every thing in my power to prevent your receiving any further injuries, and will give the strictest orders for this purpose. I will severely punish any that shall break them.
Brothers: I am glad you have brought three of the Children of your principal Chiefs to be educated with us. I am sure Congress will open the Arms of love to them, and will look upon them as their own Children, and will have them educated accordingly. This is a great mark of your confidence and of your desire to preserve the friendship between the Two Nations to the end of time, and to become One people with your Brethen of the United States. My ears hear with pleasure the other matters you mention. Congress will be glad to hear them too. You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention; and to tie the knot of friendship and union so fast, that nothing shall ever be able to loose it.
Brothers: There are some matters about which I do not open my Lips, because they belong to Congress, and not to us warriors; you are going to them, they will tell you all you wish to know.
Brothers: When you have seen all you want to see, I will then wish you a good Journey to Philadelphia. I hope you may find there every thing your hearts can wish, that when you return home you may be able to tell your Nation good things of us. And I pray God he may make your Nation wise and Strong, that they may always see their own true interest and have courage to walk in the right path; and that they never may be deceived by lies to do any thing against the people of these States, who are their Brothers and ought always to be one people with them.
is researching the history of the Revolutionary War's 8th Virginia Regiment. Its ten companies formed on the frontier, from the Cumberland Gap to Pittsburgh.
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