Sunday, May 13, 2018

Episode 044: Lord Dunmore’s War

The last few weeks have been all about Boston and New England, and so will the next few weeks as well.  Today though, I want to step away from Boston and spend some time on another incident further south that flared up around the same time.

Lord Dunmore

While agents, mostly from Pennsylvania, were trying to set up the colony of Vandalia that I discussed back in Episode 37, Virginians hoped to make their own advances into the same region.  These attempts led to what became known as Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774.

I mentioned Lord Dunmore back in Episode 38 when he served briefly as Governor of New York and tried to get rich selling land already owned by the New Hampshire farmers who became the Green Mountain Boys.  I promised then that I’d give a little more background on Lord Dunmore at some point, and today that point has arrived.

Battle of Point Pleasant (from Virginia SAR)
John Murray, the 4th earl of Dunmore came from a prominent Scottish family.  His father made the mistake of supporting the Jacobite Rising of 1745-46.  You may recall that the Duke of Cumberland, uncle of the future King George III, had built his military reputation by crushing these rebels in the battle of Culloden in 1746.

John’s father survived that battle, only to be thrown into the Tower of London.  John’s uncle the second earl of Dunmore did some heavy lobbying to keep his brother alive and to protect the family title.  As part of that effort, John joined the British Regular Army in 1750 at age 19.  That same year, the King pardoned his father and allowed him to return home.  A few years later the uncle died childless and John’s father became the third earl of Dunmore.

When his father died in 1756, John became the fourth earl of Dunmore and soon took a seat in the House of Lords.  For Scottish aristocracy, a seat in the House of Lords was not automatic.  Only 16 of around 90 Scottish Lords got to sit in Parliament.  All the other Scottish Lords voted on who would get to go, but even that was a technicality.  The King issued a list of recommended members and the Lords almost always rubber stamped that list.  The king recommended Dunmore, and Dunmore went to London.

Although Dunmore had a title, the lands that went with that title brought in almost no income.  Dunmore needed to find a way to support himself.  His lifestyle was putting him deeper in debt with no serious income.  Fortunately, his wife’s family had connections in the Privy Council.  Dunmore used those connections to finagle an appointment as the new Governor of New York in 1770.  Unlike Parliament, a Royal Governor got a substantial annual salary, in New York £2000.  A governor could also earn extra money from fees for issuing land patents or other official actions.

Dunmore traveled New York, where he immediately got into that fight with Lt. Gov. Colden about dividing up fees on land patents New York was selling in what would later become Vermont.  Dunmore wanted to go halfsies on all the fees Colden collected since Dunmore had received his appointment but before he arrived in the colony to begin work.  We are talking a fair amount of money.  Dunmore got his appointment in December 1769, but did not arrive in New York until October 1770.  During that time Colden had been distributing land grants as fast as he could.

Dunmore had the law on his side for claiming half.  However, Colden told him that’s not how we do it in New York.  When the issue came up once before a Governor had tried to collect half the fees from the Lt. Governor and had not gotten it, despite the law.  Neither side wanted to compromise, and both sent letters to London demanding their position prevail.  In the end, the dispute lasted for years.  Colden never turned over a penny before he died a few years later.

That Dunmore immediately picked this fight with the Lt. Governor as soon as he arrived, and would not back down, shows just how concerned he was with getting money.  Going forward, Dunmore would get all the fees for new land patents.  Despite the ongoing dispute with colonists with New Hampshire grants, Dunmore immediately started granting land and collecting fees.

In February 1771, only four months after he had arrived, Dunmore received word from London that, Lord Botetourt the forgettable Governor of Virginia, had died suddenly. Dunmore got promoted to Governor of Virginia.  Although Virginia was a promotion, and paid more, Dunmore did not want to leave.  He mostly argued that he did not like the Virginia climate.  His real concern though, was that he was in the middle of an illicit land deal that would give him over 50,000 acres of land in what would later become Vermont.

Lord Dunmore
(from Wikimedia)
Dunmore sent word back to London that thanks but no thanks, I’d like to stay in New York.  But his protests fell on deaf ears.  Lord Dartmouth told him his replacement, Lord Tryon from North Carolina would be the new Governor of New York.  Tryon arrived in July 1771, but Dunmore refused to leave.  He eventually allowed the new Governor to be sworn in, but Dunmore stayed in New York, hoping that word would arrive from London that his request to stay New York Governor had been approved.  When that did not happen, Dunmore finally packed his bags and headed for Virginia.

When he arrived, the House of Burgesses only seemed to want to pass resolutions complaining about how Parliament was infringing on their rights, and trying to coordinate with New England radicals.  Like most colonies, Virginia had an appointed council and an elected assembly, called the House of Burgesses.  In case you were wondering, the term Burgess comes from Scotland and originally referred to a free citizen living in a Burg or Borough, a walled city from medieval times.  Eventually the term evolved to mean city leaders, and later members of parliament who represented Boroughs.  Virginians adopted this term when they set up their first elected legislature in 1619.

Dunmore occasionally tried to convene the Burgesses to get them to appropriate funds to run the colony and attend to matters, but he usually had to dissolve the sessions within days because the Burgesses insisted on using the session to complain about London.  As a result, little got done in his first few years.  Gov. Dunmore and the leading colonists simply had different views on how to run the colony, and neither seemed ready to compromise.

One area, though, where the Governor and legislature did agree, was on westward expansion.  As he did in New York, Dunmore pursued land speculation, this time in western Virginia.  Again, he would hope to make a fortune from changes in land ownership rules that he would have a hand in creating.  The conflict of interest rules that we have today were just not a thing during this era.

There was, however, a big problem with this plan.  While Dunmore and the Virginians were eager to push westward, King George’s Royal Proclamation of 1763 still made it illegal to settle west of the Allegheny mountains.  A decade after that Proclamation, everyone seemed to be jockeying for position for when that ban finally fell.  Other land speculators knew that if the Governor had some skin in the game, he would be much more helpful in getting these lands opened for settlement.  Dunmore had no problems receiving a personal interest in several land speculation companies.

Dunmore began granting land patents west of the Alleghenies to veterans of the French and Indian War.  He also renewed claims for Pittsburgh to be part of Virginia.  These moves were popular in Virginia and one area where he could work with the colonists.  The legislature even named a county after him in the Shenandoah Valley, though the county would be renamed a few years later after Dunmore became a hated figure during the Revolution.  In the early 1770’s though, Dunmore seemed helpful in assisting with Virginia’s claims to more western lands.

Lord Dunmore’s War

As I mentioned back in Episode 37, despite the Proclamation of 1763, the Iroquois had sold out the Indians living in what is today West Virginia at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768.  The local Shawnee, Delaware, and Mingo who actually lived on this land did not accept that treaty and were prepared to fight over it.  In the fall of 1773, a hunter named Daniel Boone led a group of about 50 colonists to settle in some of these disputed lands.  A local tribe captured several of them, including Boone’s son.  The Indians proceeded to torture and kill them, in order to send a message.  Message received, Boone and his party abandoned their expedition and pulled out of the region.

Over the next few months, Indians and settlers attacked and killed each other.  Virginians were trying to occupy western territories while the local tribes made every effort to stop them.

Yellow Creek Massacre

In April 1774, a group of Virginia frontiersmen, responding to a Cherokee raid that stole several horses and killed two men, moved in on what was by all accounts a small peaceful Mingo settlement on Yellow Creek, in what it today West Virginia.  As with many of these frontier accounts, there are very different stories depending on who is writing them.  Some shade the facts clearly in favor of the colonists, others in favor of the Indians.  I’d urge you to check out the variety of accounts available it you want to get a better idea.  What follows is simply my best interpretation of events.

Map of area of Dunmore's War (from
The Virginians settled into camp on one side of the creek where a tavern and trading post run by a man named Joshua Baker lived.  According to settler accounts, the group of 21 Virginians led by a man named Daniel Greathouse came to Baker’s rescue after he had received a report that the Indians were planning to kill him and destroy his tavern.  At least that was their claim later.  The group of Indians that came to the tavern did not seem particularly threatening.

A group of Mingo, five men, one or two women, and a baby, crossed the creek to visit the tavern.  Three of the indians began drinking with the white men, and everyone seemed to be getting along.  The men then set up targets for a shooting contest.  The Indians shot first.  As soon as they had emptied their guns by firing at the targets, the Virginians opened fire on the Indians.  Those not killed instantly, were finished off with tomahawks or knives.  They killed the unarmed women too.  The only survivor was the baby, who the Virginians believed had a white father living in Pennsylvania.

Next, the Virginians crossed the creek where there were still a few other Mingo men, women and children.  The Indians fled for their lives, downriver seeking places to hide.  The Virginians hunted them down, killing anyone they found.  In total, they killed about 15 people, mostly women and children.

The next day, the same men also attacked a party of Shawnee seeking to trade at Fort Pitt, killing one and wounding two others.

These events became known as the Yellow Creek Massacre.  The Mingo victims were the family of a fairly powerful Mingo Chief named James Logan.  Some sources refer to him as John Logan.  Others use a variety of Indian names, all of which are disputed and which I would probably butcher if I attempted to pronounce them.  So I’ll just call him Logan.  Logan was the son of a Cayuga Chief, who by some accounts was a Frenchman, adopted by the tribe as a young boy.  Logan had been living on friendly terms with the colonists, that is until they massacred his family.  As you might guess, that set him off.  He led a war party that killed dozens of colonists along the Virginia frontier over the next few weeks.

Call to War

Dunmore and Lewis Routes
(from WV Encyclopedia)
Gov. Dunmore was not going to allow this killing to continue.  Regardless of who started the fighting, and it was the Virginians who started it, Dunmore’s military instincts kicked in.  He called on the Virginia House of Burgesses to raise three regiments of militia.  They would invade the territory and pacify the Indians through military intimidation.  A successful war might result in the native tribes ceding more land to Virginia for colonization, meaning money for speculators like Dunmore.  It would also help secure Virginia’s claims to land that Maryland and Pennsylvania also claimed.

Dunmore got the Burgesses to raise his regiments to fight the Indians, who had the audacity to be upset about being massacred and about colonists encroaching on land which the King had guaranteed they would not.  Dunmore personally led two of the regiments down the Ohio River from Fort Pitt.  Col. Andrew Lewis led a third regiment from near where what is today Lewisburg West Virginia, to Point Pleasant on the Ohio River.  Like most wars with Indians, this would be one without much respect for the enemy. If they found any Indians, they would kill them.  If they found any Indian property, they would destroy it.

Battle of Point Pleasant

By October 1774, Lewis reached Point Pleasant and awaited Dunmore’s larger force.  Once he arrived, the two groups would cross the Ohio River to take out several Shawnee villages.

Shawnee Chief Cornstalk received intelligence about this.  He decided to attack Lewis before the larger force could join him.  Around dawn on October 10, Cornstalk’s warriors attacked Lewis’ Regiment.  Lewis had about 1100 men while Cornstalk controlled an estimated force of 900-1000 warriors.  Mostly of them were Shawnee, but other local warriors were in the mix as well.

Battle of Point Pleasant, artists conception (from Wikimedia)
Cornstalk’s warriors attempted to push back the Virginians against a bluff, but hit a stiff resistance.  Fighting continued all day, some of it hand to hand.  Late in the day, one company of Virginians was able to sneak away to one side, circle around and hit the Shawnee from behind.  Fearing this was the first wave of a relief force, and because it was near dusk, Cornstalk pulled his force back across the river.

Both sides suffered major casualties.  As with a great many battles, I see a range of estimated casualties that don’t seem to agree.  As best I can tell, the Virginians lost about 75 killed and another 140 wounded.  The Indians lost between 50 and 230 casualties -- again, estimates vary greatly.  Among the Indian dead was the father of Tecumseh, the famous warrior who would fight the Americans later in the War of 1812.  Because the Virginians held the field at the end of the day, they are considered the winners.  The local tribes would not be able to mount another major battle against the Virginians.

Treaty of Camp Charlotte

A few days later, Dunmore’s reinforcements arrived.  Dunmore had been delayed because he was concluding treaties with the Delaware at Fort Pitt, agreeing to end hostilities.  Dunmore’s arrival forced Cornstalk to sign the Treaty of Camp Charlotte.  Cornstalk agreed not to allow Shawnee to hunt east of the Ohio River, and not to harass shipping along the River.  The Treaty effectively pushed Virginia’s western border from the Allegheny mountains to the Ohio River.

This did not end all fighting though.  Chief Logan and his small band of Mingo refused to surrender or come to terms.  Funny how having the enemy wipe out your whole family makes you stubborn like that.  The Mingo continued to fight until the Virginians destroyed their main village of Seekunk a few weeks later.  Logan survived that battle and continued to raid settlements along the Pennsylvania and Virginia frontier for years to come.  When the Revolution began, he fought with the British to kill more colonists.  His end is unclear.  Some sources say he was murdered, others claim he died of natural causes, perhaps related to heavy drinking, around 1780.


Lord Dunmore seemed to hope his leading the Virginians to victory and expanding their territory would win him some support in the colony.  The events of 1774 became known and Lord Dunmore’s War.  The colonists were generally happy with his victory and his attempts to convince London to open up the new territory to settlement.  But by the end of fighting in late 1774, other political issues had taken center stage.  Dunmore continued his hard line  by shutting down the House of Burgesses, and working to squash any protest over British policies in the colonies.  Any harmony the Governor and colonists could have established over their shared interest in killing Indians and taking their land would be overshadowed quickly by events in Lexington and Concord a few months later.

James Logan
(from Ohio Supreme Court)
There were also contentions over the war itself.  Col. Lewis complained that Dunmore had set him up at the Battle of Point Pleasant.  When Cornstalk attacked Lewis, and Dunmore was miles away at Fort Pitt, Lewis accused the Governor of setting him up for failure. He said Dunmore expected Lewis and his regiment to be wiped out at Point Pleasant.  This would have allowed Dunmore to avenge the massacre and make himself a hero. Although there is no good evidence that these accusations were true, the stories did nothing to help Dunmore’s standing in the colony.

Some historians argue that the Battle of Point Pleasant should be considered the first battle of the American Revolution.  Like the Battle of Alamance Creek that I discussed back in Episode 35, I think that characterization is wishful thinking by locals who want that claim to fame.  Point Pleasant saw British authorities and colonists fighting on the same side against Indians.  If anything, the battle links up better as part of the French and Indian War or Pontiac’s Rebellion than it does the Revolution.  In any event, it was the last major battle with Indians prior to the outbreak of war between Britain and its colonies.

Next week: As Massachusetts suffers under the Coercive Acts, Gen. Gage attempts to get tough with the colonists and discovers they are not the pushovers he had hoped.

Next Episode 45: Governing from Salem

Previous Episode 43: Colonies React to Coercive Acts

Visit the American Revolution Podcast ( for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading:

Web Sites

Lowe, William C. John Murray, Fourth earl of Dunmore :

Schenawolf, Harry “John Murray, Lord Dunmore – the Last Royal Governor of Virginia and the First to Offer Freedom to American Slaves” Revolutionary War Journal, 2015:

Lord Dunmore’s War:

Garnett, James Mercer “The Last Fifteen Years of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1761-1776” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1910, pp. 213-223:

Fleenor, Lawrence J., Jr. The History of Yellow Creek, 2014:

Yellow Creek Massacre:

Yellow Creek:

Gallo, Louie P. The Yellow Creek Massacre, 2014:

Yellow Creek Massacre, links to primary documents:

Logan’s Lament:

James Logan, Biography:

Dunmore Proclamation:

McAllister, J.T. “The Battle of Point Pleasant” from The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography , 1902, pp. 395-407:

McAllister, J.T., “The Battle of Point Pleasant (Continued)” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1902, pp. 75-82:

Battle of Point Pleasant:

VIDEO: Glenn Williams discusses his book, Dunmore’s War: The Last Conflict of America’s Colonial Era. C-SPAN, 2017:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Bailey, Kenneth The Ohio Company of Virginia and the westward movement, 1748-1792, Glenndale, CA: Arthur H Clarke Co. 1939.

Kerchieval Samuel History of the Valley of Virginia, Winchester: Samuel M. Davis, 1833.

Lewis, Virgil A. History Of The Battle Of Point Pleasant, Charleston, WV: Tribune Printing Co. 1909.

Simpson-Poffenbarger, Livia Nye The Battle of Point Pleasant; a Battle of the Revolution, October 10th 1774, Point Pleasant, W. Va. The State Gazette, 1909.

Sipe, C. Hale Indian Wars of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg: Telegraph Press, 1929.

Thwaites, Ruben G. Documentary History of Dunmore’s War, Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 1905.

Whittlesey, Charles A Discourse Relating to the Expedition of Lord Dunmore, Cleveland, Sanford & Co. 1842.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Badgley, C. Stephen A Point of Controversy: The Battle of Point Pleasant, Badgley Publishing, 2010.

David, James C. Dunmore’s New World, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013.

Knollenberg, Bernhard Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1975.

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. I, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

Swisher, James The Revolutionary War in the Southern Backcountry, Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2007.

Williams, Glenn Dunmore's War: The Last Conflict of America's Colonial Era, Yardley: Westholme Publishing, 2017.

* (Book links to are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links). 

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