Commentary Copyright: Lawrence J. Fleenor, Jr.
All rights reserved
Big Stone Gap, VA
Following below is a letter written by Benjamin Sharp in 1842 to the editor of a history magazine entitled “The American Pioneer”, and which was published in Cincinnati, Ohio by John S. Williams. The letter was printed in the June 15th issue of that periodical. It tells first hand accounts of the Battles of Long Island Flats at Kingsport, and of the Indian fighting around Black’s Fort in Abingdon, both during the early phases of the Cherokee War that started as a part of the American Revolution. Following the text of the letter will be a summation of what little biographical material exists on Benjamin Sharp, himself.
MR. SHARP’S LETTER
Warren County, Missouri, June 15th, 1842
Dear Sir – In the year 1776, about the time American independence was declared, all that part of West Virginia now contained in the counties of Wyth, Smyth, Washington, Russell, Lee, and Scott, with the adjoining counties in North Carolina (now Tennessee) of Sullivan and Washington, were broken up and the inhabitants driven into strongholds. About the last of June or the first of July, the traders fled from the Cherokee nation with the alarming news, that the Indians were coming in great
force, and in a few days would break into the settlements. A few of the
militia, perhaps one hundred and fifty or two hundred, hastily assembled
under the command of captains James Thompson, James Shelby, and William
Cook and proceeded to the frontier house, about fifteen miles in advance
of the settlement, and begun to build a kind of stockade fort with fence
rails; but before they could finish their fort their spies gave them
notice that a large Indian force was within a few miles. It was then
debated, which would be the most prudent, to await their coming in their
crazy fort or march out boldly and meet them in the woods. The latter
proposition prevailed, and before they had proceeded more than five
miles, they discovered nine or ten Indians, who threw down their budgets
and fled. This threw the men into disorder, curiosity drawing them
around the Indian plunder in a crowd; but presently they heard a noise
like distant thunder, and looking round they saw the whole Indian force
running upon them at full speed – they made a hasty retreat to a rising
ground, where they rallied; and the Indians came running up with savage
yells, as if intending to rush among them with their tomahawks. A sharp
engagement ensued, lasting from one-half to three-quarters of an hour,
when the Indians disappeared, as if by magic, leaving the white men
masters of the ground. Of the whites none were killed and only four
slightly wounded. Eleven or twelve Indians lay dead upon the field and
many trails of blood were found where the dead were carried off or the
wounded had escaped. My oldest brother and a brother-in-law were in the
A curious incident occurred during the engagement. An Alexander Moore,
a strong, athletic, active man, by some means got into close contact
with an Indian of nearly his own size and strength; my brother-ion-law,
William King, seeing Moore’s situation, ran up to his relief, but the
Indian adroitly kept Moore in such a position that King could not shoot
him without shooting Moore. The Indian had a large knife suspended at
his belt, for the possession of which they both struggled, but at length
Moore succeeded and plunged it into the Indian’s bowels; he then broke
his hold and sprung off from Moore, and King shot him through the head.
The victorious party now returned to the fort, and instantly dispersed
to take care of their own families and concerns. In the meantime the
whole settlements were breaking up and the people fleeing from every
quarter. We had collected some horses and loaded them with such
necessaries as we could hastily pack up, and about the middle of the day
my father, an old man, set off with them and the females of the family
to seek a place of safety, he know not where. I was dispatched on foot
to accelerate the escape of a brother’s and sister’s families, the one
living four and the other six miles directly toward the point of
danger. I was a little turned of fourteen years of age; the day was
warm, but I was light and active and had no encumbrance but my gun and
shot-pouch, and I traveled rapidly.
On my arrival I found the families had fled, and I turned to pursue my
father. I had twelve miles to go to gain the great road, which I did as
the day was nearly closing. In my whole route I not seen a human face,
but here the road was full of people moving hastily along; they were all
strangers to me, but learning my situation one man generously proposed
to carry me behind him till I could regain my friends or hear some
intelligence of them. This offer I gladly embraced, and after some time
we came to the farm of a captain Joseph Black, where Abington now
stands, where we found four or five hundred souls of all descriptions
collected together to build a fort, and here I found my connections.
The next day, when all hands were engaged in procuring materials and
building fort Black, we received the news of the battle of long Island,
which gave us much encouragement, and business was suspended till a
prayer of thanksgiving was offered up by the Rev. Charles Cummings, a
Presbyterian minister. Not more than two or three days after this a
captain James Montgomery, who lived about eight miles off, came to the
fort; he had concluded, with two other families, to defend his own
house, but not knowing what was going on he had rode out to try to find
some people or get some intelligence. He was earnestly beset to bring
the families instantly to the fort, and men and horses were sent to
assist him. They soon returned with the families and some of their
effects, and went back for more, but to their surprise they found the
houses plundered and all in flames. They retreated hastily to the fort,
and spies were appointed and sent out – but for several days they made
no discovery, but at length they came in one night after dark and
reported that they had discovered afire on the bank of the river above
Mongomeies, which they supposed to be the Indian camp. An express was
sent off to another fort, requesting their men to meet our men at a
certain place at a certain hour that night. A party set off with the
spies and was met by the men from the other fort according to
appointment, and the spies conducted them to the spot. They cautiously
surrounded them from the river below to the river above them with strict
injunctions to preserve a profound silence till the report of the
captain’s gun should give the signal for a general discharge, and in
this position they waited for day. As soon as day had fairly dawned
the Indians arose and began to move about the camp, when the crack of the
captain’s rifle was followed by a well directed fire from every quarter;
the Indians fled across the river, exposed all the way to the fire of
the whites, if any fell or sunk in the river it was not known, but if I
recollect right eleven lay dead at and around the camp. The men crossed
the river and found various trails of blood, one of which they traced up
to where the fellow had crept into a hollow log; they drew him out by
the feet and found him mortally wounded: he requested them by signs to
shoot him in the head, which request they granted.
When the men returned all safe, with the Indian spoils and scalps,
there was great rejoicing, and the scalps were suspended to a pole and
fixed as a trophy over the fort gate. But we did not enjoy this triumph
long, for shortly after a different scene took place. One morning three
parties prepared to go out; one in which were my father, my two
brothers, and two brothers-in-law, went early and was unmolested, they
went to visit some plantations twelve miles off, and knew of nothing
that had happened behind them, and did not return till late at night.
Of the other two, one went to a field about a mile off, I think to
secure some flax, and the other about the same distance to the house of
the Rev. Charles Cummings, to bring his books, and some of his effects
to the fort. Both these parties were attacked at the same time in full
hearing of the fort; and here an undescribable scene of disorder took
place, the women and children screaming, wives clinging to their
husbands, mothers to their sons, and sisters to their brothers, to
prevent them from going out, and crowding the fort gate, so that the men
could hardly pass or repass. However a number of the men broke through,
and ran to the rescue as fast as possible, but before they could arrive
the Indians had done their work and were gone; one man was killed and
one wounded in each party. A man by the name of Blackburn, was shot,
tomahawked, and scalped, and yet was found alive, brought in, and
recovered of his wounds. He was a long time an object of compassion.
The gallantry of two young men in this affray deserves to be recorded
here. William Casey had a sister, a beautiful little girl, about
sixteen years of age, along with the party at the field; and as he was
running for his life, discovered the Indians in close pursuit of his
sister; and at that moment his eyes falling upon another young man, by
the name of Robert Hasold, he called to him to come and help him to save
Nancy; Hasold obeyed, and although there were four or five Indians in
pursuit, (some said seven,) they rushed between them and the girl, and
by dexterously managing to fire alternately, still keeping one gun
loaded when the other was discharged, they kept the Indians at bay till
they gave up the pursuit, and they brought the girl in safe. Such acts
of generous bravery ought at all times be held up as examples to our
youth. Ever after, these two young men stood prominent in society.
During the summer several murders were committed; two men were killed
almost in sight of the neighboring fort, who had gone out to bring in
their horses. Of two men who went with an express from fort Black, one
was killed and the other made his escape. It had been early determined
to carry an expedition into the Indian country: and troops begun to
assemble at the long Island, the place of rendezvous, and build a fort,
which was called fort Henry. A company was enrolled at fort Black, and
taken under pay, to guard the fort and escort the provision and baggage
wagons going to, and returning from the rendezvous. In this company I
engaged, which was the first of my military service.
I think some time in November, the army, one thousand five hundred, or
two thousand strong, under the command of colonel William Christian, of
Virginia, moved on the Indian towns. I cannot recollect that this army
killed any Indians, or took any prisoners; but they burned down all
their villages, destroyed their corn, and every article of subsistence
they could find, which reduced them to such a state of starvation, that
before spring they sent in a flag for peace, which resulted in the
treaty of the Long Island, in 1777.
I attended this treaty only one day, and that before the conferences
begun and can report nothing of my own knowledge; I will only mention an
oratorical figure in a speech of the Raven, the principal Indian chief.
A great many Indians with their squaws and children had collected, and
were quartered in the island, surrounded by a guard to prevent improper
intercourse with the whites; but notwithstanding this precaution, some
abandoned fellow shot across the river and killed an Indian. This
produced great confusion; the Indians thought they were betrayed, and
prepared to fly, and it was with much exertion the officers and
commissioners could convince and pacify them. Afterwards when the
council met, the Raven opened the conference on the part of his people
by a speech, in which he reverted to the case of the murdered Indian.
He said, least that unhappy affair should disturb the harmony and
sincerity that ought to exist at that time between the white and red
brethren, each party ought to view it as having happened so long ago, as
if when the Indian was buried an acorn had been thrown into his grave,
which had sprouted and grown, and become a lofty spreading oak,
sufficiently large for them to sit under its shade, and hold their
talk. This speech was much talked of at the time, and many thought it
equal to any thing in the celebrated speech of Logan. Thus ended the
first Cherokee war.
I am, with much esteem &c.
Benjamin Sharp is a phantom of our regional past, a sense of whose importance to our heritage needs to be regained. The only widely known reference to him in our historic literature is his cryptic commentary on the death of Chief Bob Benge recorded in Summer’s History Southwest Virginia and of Washington Co. and in the author’s Benge!
Benjamin was born in Lancaster County Pennsylvania on January 23, 1763. He was the son of John Sharp, who was born in Scotland about 1720, and who died in Sullivan County Tennessee July 1796. John’s home, where Benjamin was raised, was on the South Fork of Holston River, a few miles above the present dam.
Benjamin acquired excellent social and business contacts by his and his family’s’ marriages. He married Hannah Fulkerson, who was the daughter of James Fulkerson, and the niece of Abraham and sister of Peter Fulkerson. Her mother was Mary Vanhook, whom his father had married when this assortment of families were living in North Carolina. The Fulkersons were Dutch Huguenots, and were part of that group that migrated across America to finally settle in Washington County, Virginia, after having first settled in Elk Garden, Russell County. Other clan names that were in that group of wandering Huguenots were the Dyes and the Vanhooks.
The Fulkersons were high up in the social structure of Washington Co, and Abraham became a Colonel in the Holston Militia, a rank usually reserved for the Scots-Irish. The Fulkersons seemed to serve as intermediaries between the Scots-Irish community and the sizable German one. As a ranking officer in the Holston Militia, Abraham had been a special target of Chief Benge on his last raid in 1794, when Benge sought to attack Abraham’s house near Hiltons, Va.
The Fulkersons were aggressive and prosperous land speculators in Washington, Scott, and Lee Counties, Virginia. Benjamin would profit much from this connection.
Benjamin was also the brother-in-law of one of the several William Kings, whose family is connected with the salt works at Saltville, King College, Kingsport, and Steel Creek in Bristol. They were easily the wealthiest family in the region at that time.
Early records of Benjamin’s activities in the Holston Valley are sketchy. He got a land grant in Elk Garden amongst his wife’s relatives, he got land on Beaver Creek, and moved to the Mendota Community on the North Fork, according to the historian Goodpasture. This made him neighbors with the Livingstons, Benhams, and the Hobbs, all of whom were to be swept up in the infamous last raid of Chief Benge.
Virginia made money in two ways off of its land sales on the frontier. First of all, it issued land warrants which entitled the holder to claim a specified acreage of unpatented land. These warrants were traded for cash on the secondary market. Then, of course, the Virginia Land Office charged a fee for the land itself, after the purchaser had presented a warrant and a survey of his claim. The land could, then, be sold on the secondary market. The Fulkersons were aggressive traders of both Land Warrants and of Land.
About 1790 several families from the Mendota community moved to Turkey Cove (Dryden) in Lee County. Their motives involved land speculation, hunting, and community defensive needs. The Cherokee War had raged in sanguine passion since 1776, and in 1777 the Cherokee had run all the settlers out of Lee County save for the eastern most garrison at Rocky Station. Late in that war the Holston Militia decided to deploy a rapid deployment force of rangers at Yoakum’s Station in Turkey Cove. Among those settlers of the Mendota Community that relocated to Dryden were the brothers Absolum and Vincent Hobbs, Jr, and likely Vincent Hobbs, Sr., John Benham, and Benjamin Sharp, who bought 620 acres as the assignee of his brother-in-law Peter Fulkerson. The land was next to Absolum Hobbs.
This started a process that was oft repeated. He either bought warrants or the land itself from Peter Fulkerson, all through Lee County. The land was spread throughout the county, and often was the less desirable left overs after wealthier speculators had gotten the cream. Before the process was over he had acquired 2,622 acres in Lee County in his own right, and was part owner of 1,083 more. He also bought 273 acres on the North Fork of the Clinch near Duffield in Scott County.
He followed the common pattern of that era, and sold his Lee County holdings so that he could reinvest his profits in land further west, and wound up dying in Warren County, Missouri on January 1, 1844.
His only claim to lasting fame is his commentary on the actions of the Yoakum’s Station Militia in the killing of Chief Bob Benge in Wise County in 1794. That party was composed of his neighbors Absolum and Vincent Hobbs, Jr., and James Huff and others of the Turkey Cove community. His narrative is written with such authority that one could think that he was one of the members of that party whose name James Huff could not remember half a century later, when he told of that event to a Louisville Newspaper.
Sharp’s narrative of the Benge killing is rumored to be somewhere in the same periodical that this letter of his was published in. “The American Pioneer” is on microfilm at Alderman Library at the University of Virginia, the source of this narrative. Perhaps someday someone will be able to locate it. In the meantime, this article will serve to restore the memory of Benjamin Sharp to its rightful place in local history.
special thanks to Dale Carter for his help on this article, and to the
Lonesome Pine Regional Library for its help in procuring a photocopy of
the microfilmed Sharp document.