ARTICLE FOR THE WEB SITE OF THE
DANIEL BOONE WILDERNESS TRAIL ASSN.
FORD, FORT & BRIDGE AT THE WILDERNESS TRAIL CROSSING OF
THE NEW RIVER
FORT FREDERICK / DUNKARD’S BOTTOM FORT
Copyright and all Rights Reserved
Lawrence J. Fleenor, Jr.
November 13, 2014
Big Stone Gap, Virginia
Updated Feb. 5, 2015
No river crossing on the entire Wilderness Trail had such historic significance as the New River Crossing at present Radford. The fort that guarded it, though of significant use during three wars, is little known. This original article explores that river crossing, and the fort that guarded it.
The New River cuts south to north through the Alleghanys, and thus provides passageway through the mountains of the east where the rivers otherwise flow generally either east or west. It furthermore transects the Great Valley of Virginia, and naturally forms a hub of Indian trails that connect the Seneca of the Buffalo, New York area, the Shawnee of Ohio, the Delaware of Pennsylvania, and the Cherokee of the Smokeys. It was, therefore, natural that when the Indians of the Ohio Valley began to resist the pressure of English settlement into the Mississippi watershed, that the intersection of the Great Warrior’s Path (the Wilderness Trail) and the New River at present Radford, Virginia should become the hub of frontier warfare.
This situation is accentuated by the existence of the Little River (in earlier times called the Middle River), which provides a natural corridor connecting the lower Roanoke River Valley of Southside Virginia with the New River. By 1654 the English settlement around the mouth of the James River had stabilized and expanded to the point that there was an official legally designated trading center set up at present Petersburg for commerce with the Indians in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina, and beyond. It was that year that Col. Abraham Woods sat a coarse west from Petersburg to seek out new opportunities of commerce to the west. Coming to the west from present Floyd County he crossed the Blue Ridge at Wood’s Gap, and thus passed to the head of the Little River. Following this river to its mouth into the New River at Radford, he became the first European to see that river. He named it Wood’s River, a name that the upper reaches of that river carried for many years.
According to Major Jed Hotchiss of Staunton, Virginia, a man named “New” maintained a ferry on the Wilderness Trail near Radford in the days before the Ingles family became involved in that business. The upper reaches of Wood’s River became known as the New River, while its lower end which was accessed from the Ohio River was called the Kanawha.
In 1749 German Moravians, Sabbatarians, and Brethren from Pennsylvania were settling Dunkard’s Bottom (Radford, Virginia) on the New River, and found there a “kind of white people who wore deer skins, lived by hunting, associated with the Indians and acted like savages.”
Early references note the “Cherokee” village at Dunkard’s Bottom. The ‘Dunkers – Dunkards’ were a variety of German Brethren, who practiced baptism by total immersion. The settlement at Dunkard’s Bottom had close ties with Brethren communities in Pennsylvania and in the Winston-Salem area of North Carolina. The word ‘dunken’ is the old German form of the modern German ‘tunken’, which has come into American English as ‘dunk’. The Brethren called their settlement on the New River at Radford ‘Machaniam’, which is a place name taken from the Book of Genesis. The ‘Cherokee Village’ and the Dunkard’s Bottom community of Machaniam seem to have become one and the same place.
Dunkard’s Bottom is usually said to have been covered by the lower reaches of Claytor Lake, whose dam is just upstream (south) on the mouth of Little River. The land patent of 1753 to Garratt Zin (also spelled Garrett Zinn) LO 32-148 covered 900 acres on the west bank of the New River opposite the mouth of the Little River, and extended north to include what was to become the western side of the Ingles Ferry / Bridge operation. The patent for this land specified that the place was called ‘Machaniam’, thus proving that the community of Brethren extended further north along the New River than is generally accepted. Title to this land was clouded by the Royal Proclamation, which was the implementation of the treaty that ended the French and Indian War in 1763, and which annulled all the land patents west of New River. Exactly how it passed to the Ingles Family is unknown.
In the 1740’s and early 1750’s King George II had set up large land companies, such as the Ohio Company and the Loyal Company, to encourage settlement in the Mississippi Valley. This was English policy to counter the French claims to the area. The settlements included Reedy Creek to Kingsport, the Valley of Virginia, the Valley of the Greenbriar, and the New / Kanawha River settlements. In July 1755 the main British army under General Braddock was wiped out near Pittsburgh by the French and Indians. This disaster opened up the Virginia frontier to raids by the Shawnee Indians of Ohio, who felt that the New River Valley was theirs. Later that year numerous settlers were killed, and the old trader Samuel Stahlnacker of Chilhowie, and Mary Draper Ingles were kidnapped and taken to the Ohio villages. Mary had been living at Draper’s Meadows, or present Blackburg, and was involved in the Draper’s Meadows Massacre. Her mother had been killed. Upon making her escape, Mary was taken to the “fort at Dunkard’s Bottom, on the west side of New River, near Ingles Ferry.” It is very improbable that there were two forts so close together. It is very likely that the “fort at Dunkard’s Bottom” and “Fort Frederick” were one and the same.
In Feb. 1756 the Augusta County Militia mounted “The Shawnee” campaign to pacify the Shawnee Indians who were running amok in western Virginia. It is not known when it was built, but likely it was in response to the Draper Meadows Massacre. Fort Frederick was built “opposite the mouth of the Little River”. Otis Rice quoting the Draper Manuscripts further states that Fort Frederick was “near Ingles Ferry, and “was up river from Ingles Ferry at Little River”. This is all that is known of its location, but it is a reasonable supposition that it lay on the Wilderness Road, and guarded the western approaches to the ford which was just to the north of the mouth of the Little River. It is not known for whom it was named, but Capt. Archibald Alexander of Rockbridge County is a likely candidate, as he was a part of the militia party from Fort Alexander that became known as the Sandy River Expedition.
Overall command of the expedition was under Major Andrew Lewis of Salem, Virginia. Capt. William Preston and Capt. Archibald Alexander were part of its officer corp. The expedition consisted of about two hundred militiamen, and one hundred Cherokee (actual total said to have been 340). William Ingles, husband of Mary, was in the party. They took 27 packhorses. The plan was to avoid the customary routes in order to avoid detection. They left Fort Frederick the 18th or the 19th, and cut across Burke’s Garden and into Abb’s Valley. They reached the headwaters of the Big Sandy River Feb. 28th. The rivers were flooding, and on March 12th Major Lewis’s canoe, and also another, sank with many of their provisions lost. Game was more scarce than they had imagined. Their provisions were cut in half. They refused the order to kill and eat their horses, and on March 13th there was something of a mutiny, as the men refused to go further. They had gotten as far as the general vicinity of Logan, West Virginia. They boiled and ate the rawhide laces that held their harnesses together. These strips of rawhide were called ‘tugs’, and thus the place where they ate their tugs became known forever more the ‘Tug Fork of the Big Sandy’.
The party broke up into small units, and on the way home many froze to death, and many were killed by Indians. They returned to Fort Frederick. The House of Burgesses held a formal hearing, but cleared Lewis of any wrongdoing.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 placated the Shawnee for a while, but when the settlers began to creep back into the country west of the New River, the Shawnee again made a bid to clean out the New River Valley. The result was Lord Dunmore’s War of 1774, and its single battle, the Battle of Point Pleasant.
Indeed, part of that resettlement of the western bank of the New River was made by the Ingles family, who in 1762 opened up a ferry on the Wilderness Road, which is still named as such, and whose State # is 611.
In 1774 the Shawnee made no secret of their plan to invade Virginia and to enforce the terms of the Royal Proclamation. Once again the Western Virginia Militia under Andrew Lewis and William Christian congregated at Fort Frederick (“the New River Ford, later known as Ingles Ferry”). Lord Dunmore and the Eastern Virginia Militia marched to the fort at the forks of the Ohio at Pittsburgh. It was the old French Fort Duquesne, which Dunmore renamed after himself. It later became known as Fort Pitt.
In recent years, Claytor Lake was drained in order to effect repairs to the dam. During this event a modern archeological evaluation of the community of Dunkard’s Bottom, including the home of William Christian, was made. No remains of a fort were found under Claytor Lake.
Sept. 12, 1774 Andrew Lewis and his militia left Fort Frederick for Lewisburg, W. Va. (Camp Union), where the general muster was to take place. The force mustering at Fort Frederick included companies from East Tennessee, Clinch Valley, Powell Valley, and Holston Valley. No exact count of the number of men involved was kept, but a reasonable estimate would be 300-400. This is the last mention of Fort Frederick in the available historic documents.
In July 1776 William Christian, who was married to Patrick Henry’s sister, led the New River Militia to the rescue of the Holston Valley Militia after the Great Cherokee War. It is likely that Fort Frederick was the site of the muster of the New River Militia. The result of this effort was Christian’s Campaign against the Cherokee in the fall of 1776.
The operation at Ingles Ferry prospered through the years. It is known that the Ingles family started a commercial ferry operation at the ford of the New River made by the Wilderness Road in 1762. The acquisition of the Zin land on the west side of the ferry has been discussed. The Ingles did not gain title to the land on the east bank of the ferry / ford until 1782. This time lag was not unusual. The Virginia Land Office was closed from 1774 until 1778. Even then people were afraid to register their land with the Rebel Land Office, for fear that their claims would be nullified if the British won the war. When Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in 1781, there was a flood of claims for land title filed with the Land Office.
The Ingles House on the East Bank
Note that there are two Additions to the Original House on its Left
In 1782 William Ingles filed claim to 300 acres (LO G–230) located on the east bank of Wood’s River (New River) below (north) the mouth of the Middle River (Little River). This was based on an assignment made by Dr. Thomas Walker of the Loyal Company, which was later tied up in the estate of his son, and who failed to pay quit rent (real estate taxes). Ingles paid these taxes, and gained title to the land. Both the Zin and Walker lands are still in the Ingles family.
This ferry was one of several at Radford. If one were travelling toward the Narrows, one was likely to take Pepper’s Ferry located on the northern side of Radford. However, if one were taking the main Wilderness Road and its parallel route, the Island Road, which started at Fort Chiswell, on to the Holston Valley, one used the ford at Fort Frederick, later Ingles.
In 1842 the Ingles family built a large covered bridge between the ford and the ferry. A period drawing shows the bridge to have been of three arched spans supported by cut stone abutments on either bank, plus two pylons in mid stream. There was a ‘bridge house’, which functioned as a tollbooth, in the northern corner of the western abutment.
Lewis Miller’s Sketch of the Ingles Home and Covered Bridge looking Upstream (south)
Note that the Original House is Missing its later two Additions, which were Evidently Built After the Bridge was Built in 1842
The family built an inn on the western bank just opposite the ferry landing, and a couple of hundred yards down stream from the bridge, which was a couple of hundred yards down (north) from the ford.
Ingles Ferry Inn & Tavern
West Abutment and the Foundation Rubble of the Bridge House, or Toll Booth
Looking Upstream to the South
In May 1864 Union General George Crook burned both the railroad and turnpike (Ingles Ferry) bridges at Central Depot (Radford). This was part of Grant’s campaign to starve Lee out of his positions at Petersburg by denying him substance from Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee. He was opposed by Confederate General John McCausland, who commanded invalid units from Washington County, Virginia.
Union General George
Crook, who Burned the Ingles Ferry Covered Bridge in 1864
After the burning of the Ingles Bridge the ferry was reopened, and operated until 1948, when it sank with a truck on board. Today, both US 11 and I-81 have modern bridges across the New River at Radford.
Confederate Brigadier General John McCausland, Whose Brigade of Invalids from Washington Co., Va. Opposed Crook
This remarkable constellation of historic artifacts is viewable from a public road, State 611 (officially named ‘The Wilderness Road’, which in historic fact it is). To get there EXIT I-81 at the interchange just west of the Ingles Ferry Bridge over the New River at Radford. The distance is approximately two miles. This exit is labeled as access to Claytor Lake State Park, and as State 660. Turn north onto State Park Road (State #660) and proceed about a half mile to its intersection with the Wilderness Road (State # 611). Turn east onto the Wilderness Road and proceed to its dead end, which is about three miles. You will pass the Claytor Dam Road, which is the pioneer road to Dunkard’s Bottom. It is the author’s speculation that the most likely site for Fort Frederick is the two hundred yard stretch from this intersection to the collapsing log cabin on the south side of the Wilderness Road, right where the field turns into a deep hollow which contains the old Wilderness Road that approached the ford on the river. The beaten dirt of the old road still can be seen in the bottom of this gorge like hollow, and observed to disappear into the river at its edge.
Note two physical attributes of this hollow. It ends on the only shoal of rocks crossing the river all the way from the dam to well past the site of Ingles Ferry, there being deep pools of water both above and below this rock ledge. It is the only possible site for a ford. Secondly, note that the western river bank is too steep to allow horse or buffalo passage in all places except here at the head of this hollow, and at the ferry site downstream, where the water is too deep to allow fording. The State highway on both sides of the river is currently named ‘The Wilderness Road”.
Also note that the hollow is too deep to make it possible to have built a fort down in it until one comes to the head of the hollow at the collapsing log cabin. Note that the corner joints of this cabin are V – notched, and not half dove tailed. This dates the construction of the cabin to before 1820. The only spring on this stretch of road that runs between the head of the hollow and the intersection with the road to Dunkard’s Bottom is the spring that supplied this old cabin. It is the only possibility for the Spring of Fort Frederick, and is located as close to the ford as practical.
The Battle of Point Pleasant – A Battle of the American Revolution
Manufactured History – Refighting the Battle of Point Pleasant
Lewisburg – The West Virginia Encyclopedia
Lewisburg as the intersection of two Indian Trails –
Camp Union due to muster of militia in 1774
pro Dunmore Book
Treaty of Fort Stanwix 1768
Ohio’s Hx Lord Dunmore’s War
State Park at Point Pleasant
list of participants
Fort Savannah and Lewis Spring and Pontiac’s Rebellion
Cherokee town at Fort Frederick
Dunker’s (Dunkard’s) Bottom
Andrew Lewis & Fort Frederick
Big Sandy Expedition
Dunkers & Machaniam
Johnston, David E. – A History of the Middle New River Settlements & Contigious Territory
Library of Virginia Land Grants – http://lva1.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/F/?func=file&file_name=find-b-clas30&local_base=CLAS30
Caucasians and Indians at Dunkard’s Bottom
Mary Draper Ingles
Annals of Augusta County, Virginia From 1726 to 1871 pg. 115
The burning of the Ingles Ferry Bridge
Walker, Gary C. – Hunter’s Fiery Raid Through Virginia Valleys pg. 11
USGS topographic map prepared by Edgar A. Howard
Waddell, Joseph A. – Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, From 1726 to 1871 pg. 115
Rice, Otis K. – Frontier Kentucky page 15
West Virginia, a History page 149
Jones, Heather & Harvey, Bruce – “Dunkard’s Bottom: Memories on the Virginia Landscape, 1745-1940”
“Virginia Historical Markers”
Kegley, Mary – Finding Their Way From the Great Road to the Wilderness Road 1745-1796
Special thanks for the help so freely given by Mr. Scott Gardner, Curator of the Glencoe Museum at Radford