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.
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.
© 2015-2019 Gabriel Neville