All ten companies of the 8th Virginia hadn’t even arrived yet when Maj. Gen. Charles Lee took the regiment south to face the enemy. Suffolk, Virginia was the designated place of rendezvous. The ten companies came from all but one of the counties along Virginia’s 350-mile frontier, stretching from the Cumberland Gap to Pittsburgh. They traveled to the rendezvous on foot, stopping in Williamsburg to collect company officers’ commissions. Col. Peter Muhlenberg and the early-arrived companies were posted at Kemp’s Landing, near Norfolk.
British Gen. Henry Clinton was sailing south with a significant force to meet with Gen. Charles Cornwallis, who was sailing from Britain with a fleet of warships and still more men. North Carolina was their target and a Tory uprising was their goal. On May 11, Lee impatiently wrote to the post commander at Kemp’s landing, inquiring, “[H]ave you order’d Muhlenberg’s Regiment to march to Halifax? I hope to God you have, for no time is to be lost, as we have certain news of the Enemy’s arrival in the River Cape Fear.”
Lee wrote to John Hancock, “As the Enemy’s advanced Guard…is actually arrived—I must, I cannot avoid detaching the strongest Battalion we have to [North Carolina’s] assistance; but I own, I tremble at the same time, at the thoughts of stripping this Province of any part of its inadequate force.” Battalions and regiments were essentially synonymous at this time. Lee was, in fact, calling the 8th Virginia the “strongest” of the province’s nine regiments. He would later confirm this assessment when he wrote to Muhlenberg, “You were ordered not because I was better acquainted with your Regiment than the rest--but because you were the most compleat, the best arm’d, and in all respects the best furnish’d for service.” To Congress he reported, “Muhlenberg’ s regiment wanted only forty at most. It was the strength and good condition of the regiment that induced me to order it out of its own Province in preference to any other.”
This was evidently true despite the absence of two complete companies. Lee may have extrapolated to account for the absent companies. Alternately, at least one of the present companies (Captain Jonathan Clark’s) appears to have enlisted numbers beyond its quota. When Muhlenberg set off on May 13, Capt. James Knox’s southwest (Fincastle County) company had not yet arrived. It was close, though—probably at Williamsburg. Or perhaps it had just arrived and needed to rest. Lee wrote, “Capt[ai]n Knox will follow the Regiment, so the Colonel must not wait for him.” Capt. William Croghan’s Pittsburgh (West August District) company, however, was even farther behind. Lee took the regiment anyway. There was no time to spare. Consequently, it would be an entire year until Croghan’s men joined the regiment.
The other nine companies marched for Cape Fear via Halifax, North Carolina, joined by a North Carolina Regiment that had come north to Virginia’s aid. Unlike every other Virginia regiment, the 8th Virginia men all carried rifles. No muskets also meant no bayonets, which were—at the end of the day—often the real implements of war. Lee compensated for this by issuing pikes (he called them “spears”) to some of the men. “I have formed two companies of grenadiers to each regiment; and with spears of thirteen feet long, their rifles (for they are all riflemen) slung over their shoulders, their appearance is formidable, and the men are conciliated to the weapon.”
Meanwhile, the British commanders were learning that the Patriot victory at Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge had quelled their hoped-for Tory uprising. They opted, therefore, for an alternate target. Just as the 8th Virginia arrived at Cape Fear, the enemy was sailing off for Charleston, South Carolina. Muhlenberg’s men continued the chase, now at a forced-march pace. A very difficult and deadly summer lay ahead of them.
The soldiers of the 8th Virginia were, typically, Presbyterian or Lutheran--that is to say Irish or German. There were others, including Anglicans, German Reformed, Baptists, and a Jew. There were probably no Catholics, though they would serve under one (the Marquis de Lafayette) and by "Irish" we have to say "Scotch-Irish," "Irish Protestant," or "Ulster Irish" to distinguish these men from later Irish Catholic immigrants. At the time, though, they were usually just called "Irish," despite the Scotch heritage many of them had.
When these soldiers or their parents first settled in the parts of today's Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania that then made up the Virginia frontier, their respective churches helped them in their travels and new settlements. The "Great Philadelphia Wagon Road" was the "Oregon Trail" of the colonial era--immigrants arrived in boats at Philadelphia or the nearby Delaware ports of New Castle or Lewes and then, often with church support, headed west along a road that stretched through Lancaster and York into Pennsylvania's Cumberland Valley. That valley continues south to become the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. The Wagon Road followed it and continued on, eventually all the way to Georgia. After the French and Indian War, the Forbes Road could be followed from the Cumberland Valley as far as Pittsburgh, though that wasn't strictly legal. In the 1770s, other settlers took another branch through the Cumberland Gap in southwest Virginia to Kentucky. (The Cumberland Valley and the Cumberland Gap are far from each other, but both are named for Prince William, the Duke of Cumberland--the youngest son of George II and the victor of the Battle of Culloden in 1746.)
The Derry Church in what is now Hershey, Pennsylvania supported Scotch-Irish Presbyterian settlers as they headed west and seeded new churches for them as new communities formed. These new churches were often just log houses, but a number of them survive. It was precisely the same pattern of activity in the Lutheran Church that brought Peter Muhlenberg down the Wagon Road to Woodstock, Virginia in 1772. When he arrived, the Woodstock church was a simple log chapel in the middle of the central intersection. In 1774, land was given to build a new log church at the Southeast corner of the intersection--a project that was overseen by the young rector. It was from that new church that he gave his famous recruiting sermon in 1776.
The central role of religion in history is sometimes overlooked or disregarded, especially by elite historians who look too cynically at it. Religious leaders, like Muhlenberg, were not just pastors but also pioneers, political leaders, and soldiers as well. That might seem strange to some people today, but it wasn't strange at all in the 18th and 19th centuries.
I’ve written twice before about Private William Eagle, who enlisted into the 8th Virginia late in 1777 and joined at Valley Forge just before the two-year enlistments of the original men expired. He was evidently just 16 years old. He was the son of very early settlers of Pendleton County, West Virginia’s remote Smoke Hole Canyon and returned there after the war.
He was buried in the beautiful canyon facing a remarkably vertical rock formation that now carries his name: Eagle Rock. Over the years Smoke Hole Canyon became a pocket of Unionism in a region of otherwise intensely pro-Confederate sentiment, a haven for moonshiners, and eventually part of the Monongahela National Forest. His grave, perhaps not permanently marked, was lost for many years until discovered by Forest Service surveyors about 1930 when a new stone was set in the ground.
Photos of the spot on the internet show a pretty and bucolic setting. The stone sits under a sycamore tree and appears well-attended with a crisp and clean American flag. Returning recently from a family vacation, however, I stopped by the site and discovered that it looks nothing like those images. In mid-January the stone was half-buried in frozen debris at the end of a virtual river of ice descending from the ridge of North Fork Mountain. The base of the sycamore’s trunk is rotting. It looks as though an impromptu hiking trail has become a path for water runoff. On a 20-degree day following two days of rain, Private Eagle’s grave was covered by forest debris that had washed down the mountain. Attempts to clear it were fruitless. It was frozen solid.
Perhaps this is a purely seasonal phenomenon, but a Revolutionary War veteran’s grave deserves better care. It appears to me that thoughtless hikers are the culprits. Someone—the Forest Service, Pendleton County, neighbors, a Boy Scout looking for an Eagle Scout project, the DAR or the SAR—should find a way to protect the grave from what seems like inevitable serious damage.
In a 2016 post, I asked, "How close was William Darke to George Washington?" That question was prompted in part by a sword Darke gave the general that is now in the collection of Morristown National Historic Park. Two years of additional research resulted in this essay, just published in the Magazine of the Jefferson County Historical Society (edited by Jim Glymph). Jefferson County, West Virginia--then part of Berkeley County, Virginia--was Darke's home throughout his adult life.
A Forty Year Bond
William Darke and George Washington
in Politics, Business and War
By Gabriel Neville
When George Washington arrived in Williamsburg in September, 1781 an old associate from Berkeley County approached him, causing a stir. Without being summoned, Lieutenant Colonel William Darke broke protocol by walking right up to the commander-in-chief to initiate a conversation. “I have never been able to account for such a motion,” wrote a junior officer who witnessed it. “I suppose it was the Colonel’s usual fire and rashness…. It was in my opinion an extraordinary and, I think unnecessary temerity.”
Darke lived near Duffields, which is now in Jefferson County. Initiating a conversation with the commander in chief was inappropriate then and would still be today. Darke, however, was no respecter of persons. Moreover, he and the general had known each other for twenty years and would remain connected for twenty more. In his own mind, he did not need anyone’s permission to talk to George Washington.
Darke and Washington had much in common. They both grew up in Virginia on the south bank of the Potomac River in Lord Fairfax’s vast proprietary lands. They were both physically large men and belonged to the same generation, born just four years apart. They were both veterans of the French and Indian War and they both committed themselves to the War for Independence in 1775.
There was much that separated them as well, including seventy-five miles of river between their homes. Wealth, education, social standing, and military rank all put the colonel below the future president. Their personalities were almost opposite—Darke had that “fire and rashness” while Washington was famously patient and reserved. Washington was refined, while Darke was described as having “unpolished manners.” Nevertheless, war, business, and politics bound them together off and on throughout their adult lives.
The French and Indian War
They first encountered each other during the French and Indian War. Washington established his military reputation in Major General Edward Braddock’s disastrous expedition to Fort Duquesne in 1755. Darke’s earliest biographer dedicated nearly a fifth of his 1835 essay to describing the expedition and its outcome, asserting that in “the nineteenth year of his age” Darke “united himself to the army under the ill-fated Braddock.” The biographer, who is identified only as “a Citizen of Frederick County, Maryland” may have known Darke. A Charlestown Free Press account cited in (and published sometime before) an 1858 Harpers New Monthly Magazine article asserted that Darke “was one of the Rangers of 1755 (then nineteen years old), serving under Washington, in Braddock’s ill-managed march toward Fort Duquesne.” The idea that Darke was with Washington under Braddock has been doubted by some, including Shepherdstown historian Danske Dandridge. She, in 1910, acknowledged the tradition but made a point of saying she had “seen no proof.” Supporting the tradition, however, is Darke’s own statement in a 1791 letter to President Washington that he had “bean in the Service of my Country in allmost all the wars Since the year 1755 in one Capassoty or other.”
After Braddocks’ defeat, the western frontier exploded in violence and Washington “retreated” to Winchester where he established Fort Loudoun as a base of operations. We have firmer documentation of Darke’s rank as a corporal in Captain Robert Rutherford’s Rangers in 1758 and 1759, still during the French and Indian War. Governor Robert Dinwiddie authorized Washington to form this unit to patrol the woods with the goal of encouraging settlers to remain on their homesteads. Rutherford thought highly of Darke, who was his neighbor. Three decades later, he wrote to President Washington recommending him for a high-level command.
How much Corporal Darke and Colonel Washington actually interacted with each other during this period of service is hard to say.It is safe to say that Darke was more aware of Washington than vice versa. Washington was in active command at Fort Loudoun until he left at the end of June, 1758 to join the successful Forbes Expedition against Fort Duquesne. His orders to Captain Rutherford as he left were to appoint his 20 “worst” rangers at the fort, while the rest were “to be employ'd in the Ranging Service as they now are, or otherwise, as shall be judg'd most conducive to the safety of the People.”
Darke’s French and Indian War service evidently concluded in 1759; Washington’s ended the year before. They had both gained valuable military experience. Still in their twenties, they now focused on their domestic lives. Washington married Martha, the widow of Daniel Parke Custis, in January of 1759 and spent the next fifteen years at Mount Vernon. Darke also married a widow, Sarah Deleyea, whose husband had been scalped and killed by Indians while sleeping under an elm tree. Darke and Washington both raised the sons of other men. Unlike the Washingtons, however, the Darkes also had four children of their own. Nothing else is known of Darke’s life in the 1760s other than an unsupported 1888 assertion that he “was engaged in defending the Virginia frontier against the incursions of the savages.”
The Upper Potomac region responded enthusiastically to the call for troops in 1775. Among the first units to be authorized by Congress was Hugh Stephenson’s company of riflemen from Berkeley County, which competed with Daniel Morgan’s Frederick County company in a race to Boston. Two more companies were raised across the river in Frederick County, Maryland. At the same time Virginia organized two regiments of provincial regulars, some independent companies for the defense of the frontier, and a network of minute battalions. When six more regiments were authorized by the Commonwealth in December, Darke was ready to go with a company of men. It became the first newly-created company of the 8thVirginia Regiment of provincial regulars and he was commissioned to be its captain.
The 8th Virginia was commanded by Colonel Peter Muhlenberg, the “fighting parson” who was at the time of his appointment the rector of Beckford Parish, the Anglican Church name for Dunmore County (now Shenandoah County). The regiment was conceived as a “German” one and was mostly recruited west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This region was ethnically, culturally, and religiously distinct from tidewater and piedmont Virginia. The regiment’s original field officers were German but the company officers and enlisted ranks included other ethnicities, notably many Scotch-Irish. The recruitment zone was huge, including all but one of the counties stretching from the Cumberland Gap to Pittsburgh (which was claimed by Virginia). In time, the regiment was transferred into Continental service.
The regiment’s rendezvous point was Suffolk, a choke point in Virginia’s terrain between Williamsburg and Tory-dominated Norfolk. In the spring of 1776, they kept watch over Tories and stopped slaves from joining Governor Dunmore’s army of Loyalists. After the arrival of Major General Charles Lee, commander of the Southern Department, they marched south to protect Charleston, South Carolina. Darke’s men were present for (but probably not directly engaged in) the Battle of Sullivan’s Island on June 28. Other 8thVirginia men helped fend off an enemy landing on the north end of the island but they were not involved in the famous defense of Fort Moultrie at the island’s southern end.
After they fended off the British a greater danger appeared: malaria. Most of Muhlenberg’s men had no resistance to it. As he headed farther south to attack Florida, Lee left a large group of sick men behind in Charleston. The advance never made it past Sunbury, Georgia. According to an 1802 account, “The troops that went to Georgia, suffered exceedingly by sickness; at Sunberry, 14 or 15 were buried every day, till they were sent to the sea Islands, where they recruited a little.” Darke lost nearly half his company to the disease.
Among the first to get sick was 8th Virginia major Peter Helphinstine, who returned home to Winchester and died. On the day the army marched south from Charleston, Lee appointed Captain Richard Campbell to replace Helphinstine. In doing so, he passed over Darke, who was the senior eligible captain. No reason is given in the record, but the best explanation is that Darke was sick, left behind, and perhaps not expected to recover. Congress confirmed Campbell’s new rank.
The promotion became a source of controversy when the regiment returned to Virginia and Campbell began to oversee recruitment for the 1777 campaign. Unable to address the matter himself, Muhlenberg appealed to Washington for help. An aide de camp responded to him, writing, “Congress having confirmed Majr Campbell in his Office, leaves his Excellency no power to remove him, but for the Commission of some Offence.”
Controversies related to rank and promotion were common in the Continental Army. Muhlenberg himself was made a brigadier general at this time, which caused problems of its own. Darke’s case was handled delicately. On May 13, Congress gave Washington the authority to look into Darke’s case and resolve it. Explicitly authorized to make the decision, Washington promoted Darke to major. For purposes of seniority, the promotion was made retroactive to January 4, but its effective date was delayed until the end of September. This was evidently Washington’s way of looking out for a trusted soldier and compensating Darke for an injustice. Major Campbell kept his rank but was transferred to another regiment.
While the controversy was sorted out, Darke was put on detached duty, sometimes performing jobs that might have been assigned to a major. In June, Washington put Darke in command of 150 Virginia riflemen alongside General Anthony Wayne and Colonel Daniel Morgan. They harassed the enemy as Howe withdrew from New Jersey and they were centrally engaged in the Battle of Short Hills.
When Howe’s army sailed away, Washington sent Morgan’s Rifles, an elite unit, north to join the forces under Major General Horatio Gates opposing British General John Burgoyne. Howe, however, was headed in the opposite direction. When that was discovered, Washington rushed his army south and on August 28 ordered his brigades to each supply 117 of their most capable men to form a new light infantry force under the command of New Jersey’s General William Maxwell. Specifically, each brigade was to provide“one Field Officer, two Captains, six Subalterns, eight Serjeants and 100 Rank & File.” William Darke was chosen for this service by General Charles Scott, his brigade commander, possibly at Washington’s direction. Maxwell’s Light Infantry was the sole Continental unit at the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge and played an important role on both sides of the river at Brandywine a week later.
Maxwell’s Light Infantry was disbanded late in September. After months of controversy and delay, Darke at last became the major of the 8th Virginia. He was entitled to it by seniority and had earned it through capable service, but he acquired it only through patience—which does not seem to have been his strong suit. Yet, after all it had taken to get the promotion, he served in the role for less than a week. At the Battle of Germantown Major Darke boldly led a forward detachment of men into the thick morning fog and did not return.
Darke spent the next three years in captivity. He was initially kept on a prison ship and was then moved to Long Island, New York in the company of other American officers. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel while a prisoner but would later have to defend the promotion’s validity since he had been unable to perform his duties.
In May of 1780, Darke and other captive officers wrote to Governor Thomas Jefferson asking for financial support. The only thing of real value Virginia could offer them was tobacco, which the prisoners could barter with or sell. Jefferson wrote to Washington, who was encamped near New York, advising him that the Virginia legislature had authorized a shipment of tobacco for the prisoners and asked him to see if the British would allow it. If not, the tobacco was to be sold for hard money, which would then be sent to the men. Washington advised that the latter course would have to be followed. 
The general and the governor were both interested in getting Darke and his comrades home, perhaps on parole (honor bound not to fight) or properly exchanged (free to take up arms again). Jefferson had the necessary leverage. In February, 1779 Virginia state troops had captured Henry Hamilton, the lieutenant governor of Quebec and the Crown’s superintendent of Indian affairs. Based at Fort Detroit, Hamilton had been in command of British military efforts in the northwest and was hated by Virginia frontiersmen. On October 25, 1780 Jefferson played this valuable card. Hamilton and a few other British prisoners were traded for several American officers on Long Island.At last, Darke was free. Washington wrote to Congress that a total of fifteen American officers were on their way home. “The Military Chest being totally exhausted,” he wrote, “they will with difficulty be enabled to get as far as Philada. I must solicit you to procure them a supply there, sufficient to carry them home. Their long and patient sufferings entitle them to attention and to every assistance in getting themselves and Baggage forward.”
Darke returned home just as the British were making their first forays into Virginia. The war had shifted to the south and the British saw an invasion of Virginia as necessary to keep the Old Dominion from sending supplies into the Carolinas. An initial invasion under British General Alexander Leslie was recalled after the patriot victory at King’s Mountain on October 7. Then, on December 30, just a few weeks after Darke arrived at his home in Berkeley County, the traitor Benedict Arnold (now a British general) arrived with 1800 troops on thirty ships with orders to control the mouth of the Chesapeake and to make forays up the James River toward Richmond. Arnold sacked Richmond, the new state capitol, in January. An army of mostly inexperienced Virginia militia was defeated near Petersburg in April.
Things escalated significantly in May when Lord Charles Cornwallis invaded Virginia and occupied Richmond with a large army. The Virginia legislature fled to Charlottesville, but was pursued by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarlton’s dragoons. The alarmed legislature appealed to the recently-promoted General Daniel Morgan for help. The hero of the Battle of Cowpens (January 17, 1781) had returned home to Winchester suffering from sciatica and other ailments. Governor Jefferson wrote to him on June 2, urging him to raise an army in the Shenandoah Valley and come to the commonwealth’s rescue. Morgan agreed, but found men reticent to leave home as the harvest season approached. This led him to “call on the best aid I could possibly get” in convening a group of “Gentlemen who I esteem of most influence.” This group met on June 15 to plan and prepare. Among them were General Gates, Lieutenant Colonel Darke, and a handful of other prominent military men from Frederick and Berkeley counties. 
They set about recruiting men to defend the Commonwealth, urging the legislature to “provide some decisive measure for procuring the number necessary.” Properly equipping the recruits also proved challenging. At last, Morgan and Darke arrived with reinforcements on July 7, the day after the Battle of Green Spring. Morgan’s health, however, soon forced him to return home again. For the time being, the Americans remained in camp near Williamsburg while Cornwallis established a base at Yorktown. Meanwhile, the French persuaded Washington that there was an opportunity in Virginia, and they proceeded south with the main army from New York.
Washington arrived in Williamsburg on September 14. The troops formed up so he could review them. Many or most of these soldiers had never seen the great general before. The following day the officers lined up to greet Washington at a reception. It may have been at this event that Darke inappropriately “made the first motion” to the commander-in-chief. It was George Bedinger, one of Darke’s captains, who wrote, “I have never been able to account for such a motion. I suppose it was the Colonel’s usual fire and rashness,and, that Washington perhaps had a desire to know what the enemy would do on such an occasion. It was in my opinion an extraordinary and, I think unnecessary temerity.” Darke may simply have been eager to express his gratitude for his freedom.
“A few days after the review,” remembered one of Darke’s soldiers, “we started for Little York and there joined the main American Army under the command of Ge[nera]l Washington. After we joined the army, we went to entrenching. …The British kept up a Cannonading on us, and while we were entrenching every now and then a man was killed. One man was killed a rod or two from me.” Once again in a malarial region, many of Darke’s men predictably contracted the disease and were sent home. Captain Bedinger was hauled home in a wagon. Darke, however, was present for the history-making surrender of the British on October 19.
Business and Politics
After the war, Colonel Darke focused on his home and his family. He and his wife raised their own four children, an older son from Sarah’s first marriage, and a local orphan. In addition to whatever farming he engaged in, Darke made forays into both business and politics. He was now a man of stature in his community.
He became deeply involved in America’s first interstate public works project, working closely with (and for) Washington. As the Kentucky country filled up with settlers, it became apparent that there were economic, political, and strategic imperatives for connecting the Ohio watershed with the east. For Kentuckians, it was significantly easier to transport goods down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to Spanish New Orleans than it was to transport them upstream and overland to ports on the Atlantic coast. To counteract this, there was intense interest in creating a junction between the Ohio and Potomac Rivers via the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers. Success would keep Kentucky tied to the United States and keep the value of its produce headed east.
In 1785, the Potomac Company was formed, with George Washington as president and William Darke as the company’s key upriver agent at Shepherdstown. An essential first step in the plan was making the upper Potomac navigable, which meant clearing it of rocks and debris and digging canals around its waterfalls. The location of Darke’s home near the mouth of the Shenandoah put him in a position to personally profit from the project. Washington and Darke worked together, meeting at least three times between 1786 and 1790 to plan and coordinate.
In 1789, the river was sufficiently clear for Darke to make news in Richmond’s Virginia Gazette and Weekly Advertiser.
We cannot but congratulate our readers on the fair prospect of Patowmack, becoming soon the common channel of conveyance for the produce of the fertile country through which it runs. The water carriage is already so far established, that five wagons are kept constantly plying between waters’s branch, the common landing, of George-Town. Colonel Darlk’s boat last week, brought down a load of 262 barrels of flour from Shepherds-Town, in Virginia, and passed Shanandoah and Seneca Falls, with safety and ease.
Ultimately, the project was unsuccessful. Dry weather left the river impassible while too much rain flooded the bypass “canals.” The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was later built to replace it (on the other side of the river). Even that canal never connected the Potomac and Ohio rivers.
Washington’s other great project during this period was the drafting and ratification of the United States Constitution. The proposal was controversial in Virginia, with leading figures like Patrick Henry and George Mason opposed to it. A convention was called to ratify (or reject) the document and Darke was elected to be one of two delegates from Berkeley County. His partner was retired Major General Adam Stephen, who had ordered Darke into the fog at Germantown. Both of them supported the Constitution, prevailing in an 89 to 79 vote.
Washington was elected President in 1789. At his inauguration in New York City, he wore a sword that had been given to him by Darke and is believed to have been the President’s favorite. It was not a gentleman’s ornamental sword, but rather a type of smallsword known as a spadroon--double-bladed and designed to be lethal in battle. A tradition that the sword was used “to kill Indians” has been discounted as romantic but is in fact entirely plausible.
After taking office, President Washington signed legislation authorizing the location of a new capital city on the Potomac River “at some place between the mouths of the Eastern-Branch and Conogocheague.” In other words: somewhere between Georgetown (then in Maryland) and Williamsport (still in Maryland), an 85-mile stretch of river. In October of 1790, Washington visited Shepherdstown and met with Darke and other locals to discuss the possibility of locating the capital at Sharpsburg—just across the river. He also visited Hagerstown and Williamsport, but ultimately selected the Georgetown location.
War with the Indians
In 1791, Darke was elected to the Virginia General Assembly. His time in that office was short, however, because Washington had other plans for him. Rapid settlement of Kentucky had enraged Indians in Ohio who used Kentucky as their hunting grounds. By one account, as many as 1,500 settlers were killed over a period of just a few years. A campaign against the Indians in 1790, led by Brigadier General Josiah Harmar, had been a failure. An earlier campaign under Colonel William Crawford had resulted only in the colonel’s capture, brutal torture, and execution. Shortly after Darke’s election, he received a letter from President Washington asking him to lead a regiment of “levies” in a major new campaign. Levies were federal soldiers on short-term (six month) enlistments. Washington asked Darke to “appoint from among the Gentlemen that are known to you, and who you would recommend as proper characters, and think likely to recruit their men, three persons as Captains, three as Lieutenants, and three as Ensigns in the Battalion of levies to be raised in the State of Virginia, for the service of the United States.”
The army that ventured into the Ohio wilderness was composed of two regiments of full-time, professional troops (though one was new), two regiments of levies, a company of dragoons, and militiamen from Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Darke commanded the 1st U.S. Levy Regiment, which included three battalions of Maryland, Virginia, and “overmountain” men from the frontier. Darke reported to Major General Richard Butler, who had command of all the levies. The entire force was commanded by Major General Arthur St. Clair, a Pennsylvanian who was also governor of the Northwest Territory. George Bedinger served again under Darke, this time as the regiment’s major. Darke’s son, Joseph, was a company captain in the Virginia battalion.
The advance looked much like General Braddock’s march of 1755, and concluded much the same way. They cut a road through the wilderness as they went, needing it to run a supply train. Insufficient supplies, poor morale, expiring enlistments, bad weather and bickering officers all contributed to a horrific defeat on November 4. Surrounded, General St. Clair’s army—camp followers included—was sniped at and then butchered to pieces by the Indians as men fled in panic back down the road. Their flight was made possible by a desperate charge through the Indian lines led by Colonel Darke. General Butler and Darke’s son were both among the hundreds of dead who made up the largest loss for any U.S. Army in any war before the Battle of Shiloh in 1862.
Though painfully wounded in the leg, Darke was the only senior officer to survive the massacre with both his life and his reputation intact. This was in part because of his conduct and in part because he sent his own report on the battle to the President in a letter he made sure was public. This enabled him to influence public perception of the disaster before any investigations or recriminations began. In his letter to Washington Darke was critical of General St. Clair but placed the greatest blame on Major John Hamtramck of the 1stU.S. Regiment, whom he openly accused of cowardice. Two months later, on his way home, he sent a blistering criticism of St. Clair to a member of Congress who leaked the letter to the press.
Darke wasn’t just playing the blame game. He was angry and he was grieving. His son, Joseph, died “after twenty-seven days of unparalleled suffering.” Another of Darke’s three sons, John, died shortly after the colonel returned home from the battle. John’s death was probably a coincidence, but at least one historian seems to have interpreted it as another battle casualty. Darke’s old French & Indian War commander, Robert Rutherford, reported the second death to President Washington in March. “I Indeed sympathize Very tenderly with him on the death of his sons,” he wrote, “as that of his youngest was followed by the death of his eldest son, a few days after his return home and who left a small family.”
St. Clair’s terrible defeat was the subject of the first Congressional oversight investigation. Darke left home for Philadelphia in mid-March and testified against St. Clair. The general was exonerated, but his reputation never fully recovered. Darke also visited the president during this trip and had a private conversation with him about the next campaign. Washington asked Darke for his views on who should command. Darke recommended Daniel Morgan, Charles Scott, and Henry Lee—all Virginians. Darke did not realize, and Washington did not say, that for political reasons the commander could not be a Virginian. Lee, known as “Light Horse Harry” from his service in the Revolution, was well regarded but had only been a lieutenant colonel in the Revolution. Washington said he was concerned that officers, including Darke, who had outranked Lee would refuse to serve under him. Washington pressed Darke on the question. Darke does not seem to have given a clear answer, which apparently confirmed the president’s view. Washington, however, told Darke that he had a high opinion of Lee, and Darke left with the impression that Lee was going to get the job.
Darke then spoke separately with Secretary of War Henry Knox, who was less guarded and told Darke that Lee would not get the job. Darke thought he knew otherwise and that Knox was wrong. Darke later admitted to Lee that he didn’t give a clear answer to Washington about the rank issue. “I did not answer though I Confess I think I Should,” he wrote in letter. He blamed it on “being so distressed in mind for Reasons that I need not Mention to you,” but said he “Intended to do it before I left town.” Instead, on his way home from Philadelphia, Darke wrote to the President, saying, “I wanted much to have seen you before I left the City but judging you were much ingaged in business of grate importance, did not wish to intrude. I wanted to know who would Command the army the insuing Campaign and I am informed Genl St. Clear has resigned…. Should you think me worthy of an appointment in the army I should want to know who I was to be Commanded by.”
Washington chose General Anthony Wayne, of Pennsylvania. Wayne was a controversial choice, especially in Virginia, and Darke was surprised. He said so to Lee, telling him that Washington had expressed a high opinion of him. He also noted that Knox had indicated Lee would not get the job. Lee took that to mean that Knox had undercut him, and complained to the President in a letter that Knox had “exerted himself to encrease certain difficultys which obstructed the execution of” Washington’s wishes.
Read together, the letters can be interpreted to indicate compounding misunderstandings and perhaps an overreaction on Lee’s part. Nevertheless, Washington was clearly annoyed with Darke. He told Lee that it was all nonsense and “declared” that “the conduct of Colo. D___ is uncandid, and that his letter is equivocal.” Wayne went on to achieve a major victory against the Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. Darke was not asked to serve.
The Whiskey Rebellion
He did, however, get a chance to serve under Henry Lee. While Wayne’s campaign was the largest military enterprise of 1794, it was not the only one. Darke and Washington were both more directly involved in another: the Whiskey Rebellion. A new federal excise tax on distilled spirits was seen as unfair by western farmers, who found whiskey far easier to transport and sell to eastern markets than raw grain or flour. When the Whiskey Rebellion grew out of control, Washington ordered a military operation to suppress it.
Since the entire American Army was in Ohio, Washington had to create a new one. The Militia Acts of 1792, passed in response to St. Clair’s defeat, allowed this to happen. These federal statutes created uniform standards for state militia and empowered the President to federalize the militia to respond to invasions or insurrections. The militia of Virginia’s counties were organized into brigades of two to six counties each. The brigades were organized into four divisions. The Virginia assembly made Darke a brigadier general and made Daniel Morgan a Major General, the former commanding a brigade and the latter a division. When Washington decided to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion at Pittsburgh, the militia under Dark and Morgan were activated.
The entire Virginia force was under the command of the man Darke had recommended to Washington. Henry Lee was now the Governor of Virginia and decided to personally lead the Commonwealth’s forces. Lee estimated in a letter that the Pittsburgh tax protestors had about 16,000 men in arms, but predicted, “The division of sentiment among them will greatly diminish this force, and 8 or 9,000 will probably be the ultimate point they can reach. They abound in rifles, and are good woodsmen. Every consideration manifest the propriety of hurrying the march of the troops….”
Morgan ordered his men to rendezvous at Winchester on September 15. Darke and his men arrived on time, but “having neither arms, ammunition, or any kind of military stores” General Morgan thought it best to furlough them for a week. Finally, on October 6, another officer reported, “The State Arsenal has furnished us with 3,000 stand” of arms. “This supply enabled us to forward 2,000 men completely equipped on Saturday last. They marched under the command of General Dark. General Morgan follows to-day.”
President Washington personally led the advance of other troops from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Darke and the southern troops rendezvoused with Washington at Cumberland, Maryland, and were reviewed there by the president. Washington then returned to Philadelphia, but left a letter commending the soldiers for their “patriotic zeal for the Constitution and Laws” of the nation. “No citizen of the United States can ever be engaged in a service more important to their country,” he wrote. “It is nothing less than to consolidate and preserve the blessings of that Revolution, which at much expense of Blood and Treasure constituted us a free and independent nation. It is to give to the world an illustrious example of the utmost consequence of the cause of mankind.”
Washington was very concerned about maintaining the moral high ground, seeking only to quell the uprising and enforce the tax law. He warned about acts of extrajudicial “justice” against the whiskey rebels. Daniel Morgan personally intervened to prevent such acts. Moreover, William Findley recalled that Morgan’s left wing (Darke’s men included) behaved better than the right wing of Pennsylvania and New Jersey troops. Findley wrote:
In one or two instances, where there was danger of some foolish men who mixed with that wing being skewered, general Morgan, by pretending to reserve them for ignominious punishment, saved them, till they could be safely dismissed, or kept his men from killing them by threatening to kill them himself.
No accounts of General Darke’s conduct during the operation have been found, but the record shows that the men under Morgan restrained themselves. Findley noted that, “There was not so much of the inflammatory spirit observable in the left wing of the army as in the other, nor was there any persons killed by them, by accident or otherwise.”
Before the army left, a separate corps was formed to encamp near Pittsburgh and “cause the laws to be duly executed.” It was a combination of men from the expedition force and of locals, some of whom “were said to have been the most troublesome of the insurgents.” It is not known if Darke was part of this force, which remained behind for another three months.
Nor is it known whether Darke and Washington spoke to each other at Cumberland when the President reviewed the troops there. Some contact seems almost certain given their relationship and Darke’s new rank as a general. Either way, it was probably the last time they encountered each other. The Indian war in the Northwest Territory was over and Washington was half way through his second and final term as President. Five years after the rebellion was put down the Father of the Country was dead. Two years after that, in 1801, Darke was dead as well. His last public office was an appointment to the court (government) of the newly-formed Jefferson County. The court met for the first time just two weeks before Darke died.
On January 19, 1800, Henry Holcombe—a Revolutionary War officer turned Baptist preacher—delivered a prominent sermon on the life of Washington. He observed that Washington’s greatness was rooted in his freedom from pride and his trust in God. He said Washington’s “boldness and magnanimity, could be equaled by nothing but his modesty and humility.” Moreover, “he displayed an equanimity through the most trying extremes of fortune, which does the highest honor to the human character. He was the same whether struggling to keep the fragments of a naked army together in the dismal depths of winter, against a greatly superior foe, or presiding under the laurel wreath over four millions of free men!”
General Darke had his own virtues. He was brave, determined, and loyal. He was, however, sometimes also guilty of these virtues’ darker cousins: he could be reckless, stubborn, and prejudiced. Washington, though not perfect, was the better man. Still, Darke achieved more than most men of his time. He served his country in four conflicts over four decades and he helped ratify the Constitution. He oversaw a significant part of the nation’s first major interstate infrastructure project and he raised six children, including a stepson and an orphan. It is true that he started out with a few advantages: some inherited land, basic literacy, and perhaps some connections. Those gifts had little to do with his most important achievements or his perseverance through great adversity.
Danske Dandridge, Historic Shepherdstown (Charlottesville: The Michie Company, 1910), 261.
Peter Force, ed., American Archives, (Washington: M. St. Clair Clark and Peter Force, 1837), 4th Ser., Vol. VI, p. 1556.
“From John Hurt,” January 1, 1792, The Papers of George Washington, W.W. Abbott, et al., eds. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987-),Presidential Series, 9:358-366.
“Biographical Sketch of Gen. William Darke of Virginia by a Citizen of Frederick County, Maryland” in The Military and Naval Magazine of the United States, 6 (1835): 1-9; Dandridge, Historic Shepherdstown, 256; William Darke to George Washington, July 25, 1791, Jefferson County Museum manuscript collection, Charles Town, West Virginia; “Memoirs of Generals Lee, Gates, Stephen, and Darke,” HarpersNew Monthly Magazine,17 (1858): 509-510.
David Preston, Braddock’s Defeat (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 180-182, 338-340; René Chartrand, Monongahela 1754-1755: Washington’s Defeat, Braddock’s Disaster (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2004), 56-57; Samuel Kercheval, A History of the Valley of Virginia (Winchester: Samuel H. Davis, 1833, repr. Heritage Books, 2001), 67; Robert Rutherford affidavit, Berkeley County Land Bounty Certificate, 1780, cited in William Armstrong Crozier, Virginia County Records(Baltimore: Southern Book Company, 1904; reprinted as Virginia Colonial Militia: 1651-1776, Genealogical Publishing, 2000), 2:44; “From Robert Rutherford,” March 13 1792,” Papers of Washington, Presidential Series, 10:97-100.
 “To Robert Rutherford,” June 24, 1758, Papers of Washington, Colonial Series, 5:239.
Kercheval, History of the Valley of Virginia, 86-87;Virgil A. Lewis, “General William Darke, A Distinguished West Virginia Pioneer,” reprinted in F. Vernon Aler, Aler’s History of Martinsburg and Berkeley County, West Virginia (Hagerstown, Md.: Mail Publishing, 1888), 193-199.
Robert K. Wright, Jr., The Continental Army (Washington: Center for Military History, 1986), 24-25; William Walter Hening, The Statutes At Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia from the First Session of the Legislature in 1619 (Richmond: J. and G. Cochran, 1821) 9:16-25, 78, 80; Force, American Archives, Ser. 4, 6:1556; Guide to Military Organizations, 43. On June 8, the Virginia Convention heard a claim for expenses incurred by Darke and by Isaac Beall “for the expenses incurred in supporting their two Companies of Riflemen from the time of their being imbodied till the passing of the Ordinance directing the same to be raised.” Darke’s company was junior in seniority by John Stephenson’s company, which was transferred from independent service into the regiment.
Jonathan Clark, Diary,June 24, 1776, Filson Historical Society manuscript collection, Louisville, Ky.; Charles Lee to John Armstrong, July 14, 1776, in The Lee Papers,Henry Edward Bunbury, ed., 4 vols. (New York: New York Historical Society, 1871-1875), 2:139-140; William Moultrie, Memoirs of the American Revolution, So Far as it Related to the States of North and South Carolina, and Georgia, 2 vols.(New York: David Longworth, 1802), 1:186; George M. Bedinger, The George Bedinger Papers: Volume 1A of the Draper Manuscript Collection, transc. Craig L. Heath (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 2002), 68; John Robert McNeill, Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 203,229. Lee had other regiments under his command, so the deaths of 14 or 15 men a day does not reflect mortality rates in the 8thVirginia alone.
Peter Muhlenberg to James Wood, September 29, 1801 and Peter Muhlenberg affidavit, December 10, 1802, both in Peter Helphinston file, Revolutionary Bounty Warrants, Library of Virginia; Journals of the Continental Congress, 7:52. Captain John Stephenson was senior to Darke, but his company’s term ended in the fall of 1776 and he left the regiment.
George Johnston to Peter Muhlenberg, March 9, 1777, Papers of Washington,Revolutionary War Series, 8:429.
“To Brigadier General William Woodford,” March 3, 1777, Papers of Washington, Revolutionary War Series, 8:507-508; JCC,7:351-352; John Fitzgerald to Richard Campbell, August 4, 1777, George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, Series 3b, Varick Transcripts, Letterbook 4:13; “To John Hancock,”May 16, 1777, Papers of Washington, Revolutionary War Series, 9:438-439; Washington, General Orders, September 29, 1777, Papers of Washington, Revolutionary War Series, 11:343; Compiled Services Records of American Soldiers Who Served in the Continental Army During the Revolutionary War, 1042:116, 118-119, 134, 146.
“Narrative of Sergeant William Grant,” in John Romeyn Brodhead, ed., Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York Procured in Holland, England, and France, (Albany: Weed, Parsons and Co., 1857), 8: 728-734; Clark, Diary,June 22-24; “To Major General Israel Putnam,”August 16, 1777, Papers of Washington, Revolutionary War Series, 10:642; McGuire, Philadelphia Campaign, 1:45-52.
“General Orders,” August 28, 1777, Papers of Washington,Revolutionary War Series, 11:81-82; “Narrative of William Grant,” 733. Grant describes how, in a skirmish, Darke “divided his men into 6 parties of 25 each.”
“From Major General Adam Stephen,” October 9, 1777, Papers of Washington, Revolutionary War Series, 11:468–470.
Elizabeth Paschal O’Connor (Mrs. T.P. O’Connor), My Beloved South(New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1913), 100-101; CSR, 1042:120, 121, 129, 133.
“Memorial of the Officers of the Virginia Line in Captivity,” May 24, 1780, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951), 3: 388-391; “To Benjamin Harrison,” June 22?, 1780, Papers of Jefferson, 3:458; “To George Washington,” July 4, 1780, Papers of Jefferson,3:481; “To Governor Thomas Jefferson,” August 29, 1780, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1937), 19:468.
“To George Washington,” October 25, 1780, Papers of Jefferson, 4:68; “To the Board of War,” November 4, 1780, Writings of Washington, 20:291-292.
Michael Cecere, The Invasion of Virginia 1781 (Yardley, Pa: Westholme, 2017), 8-10, 13-14, 22-23.
“To Daniel Morgan,” June 2, 1781, Papers of Jefferson, 6:70-71; William P. Palmer, ed., Calendar of Virginia State Papers (Richmond: Sherwin McRae, 1881), 2:162-163.
Don Higginbotham, Daniel Morgan: Revolutionary Rifleman (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961), 161-166, citing Morgan to Nelson, June 26, 1781, Charles Roberts Autograph Collection, Haverford College Library.
Ebenezer Denny, Military Journal of Major Ebenezer Denny (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1859), 38-39; James Carter pension, 1833, C. Leon Harris, transc., revwarapps.com (viewed 12/17/17); Dandridge, Historic Shepherdstown,261.
James Carter pension, 1833; Dandridge,Historic Shepherdstown, 260-261
Oliver Evans, The Young Mill-Wright and Miller’s Guide (Philadelphia: Oliver Evans, 1795), 500-507.
Sarah Peter, Private Memoir of Thomas Worthington, Esq. of Adena, Ross County, Ohio (Cincinatti: Robert Clarke & Co., 1882), 4, 9-10; Douglas R. Littlefield, “The Potomac Company: A Misadventure in Financing an Early American Internal Improvement Project,” The Business History Review, 58 (1984): 562-585. An Ohio-Potomac junction would certainly have required an overland portage as well, but the sources consulted don’t mention one.
Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds, The Diaries of George Washington (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia: 1979), 5:6,151-152; “From Henry Bedinger and William Good,” Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, 7:1.
Virginia Gazette and Weekly Advertiser, May 14, 1789.
Littlefield, “The Potomac Company,” 576, 583-584.
Hugh Blair Grigsby, The History of the Virginia Federal Convention of 1788 (Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 1891), 2:363-366; Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776-1918 and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond: Davis Bottom, 1918), 34, 36, 243, 366.
Erik Goldstein, Stuart C. Mowbray, and Brian Hendelson, The Swords of George Washington (Woonsocket, RI: Mowbray Publishing, 2016), 63-68; Merrill Lindsay, “A Review of All the Known Surviving Swords of Gen. George Washington: How Many Swords Did George Washington Wear at His Inauguration?” American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin, 32 (Fall, 1975), 37-49.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/19/Residence_Act_of_1790.jpg; Kenneth R. Bowling, The Creation of Washington D.C: The Idea and Location of the American Capital (Fairfax, VA: George Mason University Press, 1991), 123-125, 210-211.
Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776-1918 and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond: Davis Bottom, 1918), 34, 36, 243, 366; “To William Darke,” April 4, 1791, The Papers of George Washington,Presidential Series, 8:55-57. Darke’s appointment was made after two higher-profile officers declined the job.
John Winkler, Wabash 1791(Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011),21, 29.
Wilson, “St. Clair’s Defeat,” 379; Winkler, Wabash,59-73; “Shiloh,” American Battlefield Protection Program, https://www.nps.gov/abpp/battles/tn003.htm(accessed 7/27/18).
Dandridge, Historic Shepherdstown,261; “From William Darke,”November9-10,1791,” Papers of Washington, Presidential Series, 9:158-168; Arthur St. Clair, Narrative of the Manner in Which the Campaign Against the Indians in the Year One Thousand Seven Hundren and Ninety-One, Was Conducted, Under the Command of Major General Arthur St. Clair (Philadelphia: Jane Aitken, 1812), 29; “Extract of a letter from Colonel ____, Commanding Officer of a Frontier County, to a Member of Congress—dated Lexington, January, 1792,” Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser,February 10, 1792, cited in Papers of Washington, 10:156-157.
“Biographical Sketch,” Military and Naval Magazine,8; Wiley Sword, President Washington’s Indian War: The Struggle for the Old Northwest, 1790-1795 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press), 193; “From Robert Rutherford,” Papers of Washington, Presidential Series, 10:97-100. John Darke is not included on Ebenezer Denny’s list of officers wounded and killed in the battle. (Denny, Military Journal, 172-173.) Darke’s third son, Samuel, died four years later.
“From Robert Rutherford,” March 13, 1792, Papers of Washington, Presidential Series, 10:97; “To Henry Lee,” June 30, 1792, Papers of Washington, Presidential Series, 10:506-509.
“From William Darke,” circa April 25, 1792, Papers of Washington, Presidential Series, 10:314-315; “From Henry Lee,” June 15, 1792, Papers of Washington, Presidential Series, 10:455-457.
“To Henry Lee,” June 30, 1792, Papers of Washington, Presidential Series, 10:506-509.
“To Henry Lee,” June 30, 1792, Papers of Washington, Presidential Series, 10:506-509.
 A Collection of All Such Acts of the Virginia General Assembly of Public and Permanent Nature as are Now in Force(Richmond: Samuel Pleasants, Jr. and Henry Pace, 1803), 282, 310; Brent Tarter,"William Darke (1736–1801)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2015 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Darke_William, accessed January 14, 2017); Don Higginbotham, Daniel Morgan: Revolutionary Rifleman (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961), 184, citing “Morgan’s militia commission” in the Myers Collection, New York Public Library. The General Assembly transferred the power to appoint future militia generals to the governor on December 10, 1793.
“Henry Lee, Governor to General Wood, Lieutentant-Governor,” September 19, 1794, Calendar of Virginia State Papers, 7: 318. Henry Lee was the father of Robert E. Lee, who was born in 1807.
Daniel Morgan to the Governor, September 16, 1794, Calendar of Virginia State Papers, 7: 315-316, 341-342.
George Washington to Henry Lee, October 20, 1794, Calendar of Virginia State Papers, 7:356.
William Findley, History of the Insurrection in the Four Western Counties of Pennsylvania in the Year MDCCXCIV (Philadelphia: Samuel Harrison Smith: 1796), 148. See also Hugh H. Brackenridge, Incidents of the Insurrection in the Western Parts of Pennsylvania, in the Year 1794 (Philadelphia: John McCulloch, 1795), 61.
Findley, History of the Insurrection, 148.
Findley, History of the Insurrection, 321.
Tarter, “William Darke.”
Henry Holcombe, “A Sermon Occasioned by the Death of Lieutenant-General George Washington; first delivered in the Baptist Church, Savannah, Georgia, January 19, 1800, and now published, at the request of the Honorable City Council” (Savannah: Seymour and Woolhopter, 1800), (text posted at www.consource.org/document/a-sermon-occasioned-by-the-death-of-washington-by-henry-holcombe-1800-1-19/).
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. Jefferson wrote:
You will readily suppose that it is above all things desireable to drag him from those under whose wing he is now sheltered. ... Having peculiar confidence in the men from the Western side of the mountains, I meant as soon as they should come down to get the enterprize proposed to a chosen number of them, such whose courage and whose fidelity would be above all doubt. Your perfect knowlege of those men personally, and my confidence in your discretion, induce me to ask you to pick from among them proper characters, in such number as you think best, to reveal to them our desire, and engage them [to] undertake to seize and bring off this greatest of all traitors. Whether this may be best effected by their going in as friends and awaiting their opportunity, or otherwise is left to themselves. The smaller the number the better; so that they be sufficient to manage him. Every necessary caution must be used on their part to prevent a discovery of their design by the enemy, as should they be taken, the laws of war will justify against them the most rigorous sentence. I will undertake if they are succesful in bringing him off alive, that they shall receive five thousand guineas reward among them, and to men formed for such an enterprize it must be a great incitement to know that their names will be recorded with glory in history....
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 and his capture of Gov. Henry Hamilton, the coordinator of Indian attacks on the frontier.
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.”
Updated August 24, 2019
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.
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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