There was perhaps no more seminal and tumultuous decade of America’s early history than the 1770’s. On the brink of independence and in the midst of impending rebellion, young Americans also faced the threat of vengeful and angry Native Americans. One of the most critical battles between settlers and natives took place in what later became West Virginia—a battle which set the tone for future negotiations and conflicts between the parties and, in the opinion of many historians, essentially served as the unofficial inauguration of the Revolutionary War.
In 1763 Shawnee Indians, led by infamous leader Cornstalk, attacked the first settlement of Europeans around Lewisburg in an act known as Pontiac’s Rebellion. The massacre decimated the early settler population and thoroughly discouraged the immigration of others, leaving the fertile lands unsettled for years. In 1768 Iroquois leaders signed a treaty giving the British rights to lands east and south of the Ohio River—lands that were not actually included in Iroquois territory. Indians who did possess rights to the land, including Delaware, Seneca-Cayugat, and Shawnee, felt the bitter insult of the Iroquois and refused to honor the treaty.
In 1773 a relatively unknown hunter by the name of Daniel Boone led a group of settlers into the disputed lands surrounding the Ohio River with the intention of establishing a colony. While on a hunting expedition, a contingent of Boone’s group, including his son, was viciously attacked by Native Americans. Boone’s son and another young settler were kidnapped and tortured to death. News of the brutal attacks soon reached major news outlets and, along with a string of similar events, inspired the ultimate act of retribution: war.
John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore, was the current governor of Virginia. Murray asked the Virginia House of Burgesses to declare war against the bellicose natives, but his move was also a political one: the war, he hoped, would help distract his increasingly frustrated constituents from their arguments against royal governance. As a royally-instated ruler, Murray feared the consequences of America’s rebellion against her king and wished to avert one revolt with another.
Once the war was approved, Murray connected with Andrew Lewis—who had established the first settlement in the area in 1751 and for whom the current town of Lewisburg is named—and implored him to gather an elite militia to combat the hostile Indians. While marching to meet with Murray and his troops, Lewis and his forces were attacked by Cornstalk and his formidable Shawnee army at Point Pleasant. The Battle of Point Pleasant, which took place on October 10, 1774, proved to be an unequivocal victory for settlers’ forces.
Days later, Shawnee leaders met with settlers to sign the Treaty of Camp Charlotte. Fearing the decimation of their families by British forces (who had already taken advantage of the natives’ weakness to enact a string of brutal killings), Cornstalk and his compatriots quickly agreed to rules outlined in the previous treaty. The signing of the treaty signified the end of Lord Dunmore’s War, but the conflicts were far from over. Indian rebels continued to act out against settlers, and when independence was declared soon after, they used Americans’ weakness to their advantage.
And despite Dunmore’s intentions, his hasty war completely backfired. Rather than quell the uprising of his protectorate, his call to war acted as a rebellion in itself and inspired his constituents to throw off the shroud of the British government. In their open conflict against natives, American settlers had mutinied against their sovereign royal government since, after decades of pleading for help from an unresponsive power, they had finally taken the matter into their own hands and fought their own war. Lord Dunmore’s War could just as easily go by another name, a name that would shame the royalist Dunmore: Lord Dunmore’s Revolution.
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