Prelude to Independence
The Ohio frontier of 1774 may seem to be an unlikely place for this early declaration of liberty, penned eighteen months before the Declaration of Independence. The Royal Governor of Virginia, John Murray the Earl of Dunmore, may seem to be an even more unlikely character to rally the militia of revolutionary-minded colonists who put these thoughts into words. Nevertheless, "Lord Dunmore" recruited more than 2,000 Virginians to skirmish with the resident Native Americans, eventually opening the Ohio Country1 for an expanded homeland free of threats from Indians-and, as it turned out, free from the far-reaching and heavy handed rule of England's King George III.
European settlers and adventurers knew that traveling the Ohio River Valley was risky, but in the spring of 1774, hostilities between the Native Americans and the newcomers reached a crescendo. The violence had escalated after an act of murder that was shocking for its senseless brutality-even by frontier standards-and shameful betrayal of trust. The victims were the family of the Mingo Chief Logan, who was well known for his friendly hospitality to the settlers, and the perpetrators were a band of frontier outlaws. After the murders, Chief Logan abandoned his pacifist philosophy and vented his fury with vicious attacks on settlements in Virginia. In the bloody aftermath of Chief Logan's deadly rampage, the pioneer families demanded action to make the region safe.
Lord Dunmore seized the opportunity to recruit a small army and march into the untamed Ohio Country-not only to calm the fears of his panicked subjects, but to acquire some of the vast new territory himself in the name of the British Crown. Dunmore quickly assembled a militia that included the frontier's finest-living legends including Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone, influential land surveyors George Rogers Clark and William Crawford, road builder Ebenezer Zane,
"Resolved" as the Love of Liberty and attachments to the real interest and just rights of America outweigh every other consideration, we resolve, in that we will exert every power within us for the defense of American liberty and for the support of her just rights and privileges, not in any precipitous, riotous or tumultuous manner, but when regularly called forth by the unanimous voice of our countrymen..."
The Fort Gower Resolves
and the controversial scout and interpreter, Simon Girty. In all, nearly 2,000 settlers from the Shenandoah Valley and Western Pennsylvania took up arms and joined Dunmore and his second-in-command, Colonel Andrew Lewis.
In September 1774, Lord Dunmore and his contingent trekked along the Ohio River from Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) to Fort Fincastle (present day Wheeling, West Virginia), and along the Ohio River Valley frontier to the mouth of the Hockhocking (known today as the Hocking River). They hastily erected a crude fortification and named it Fort Gower (near Forked Run State Park at present day Hockingport, Ohio). Meanwhile, Colonel Lewis and his men followed the Kanawha River from its headwaters near Camp Union (now Lewisburg, West Virginia) to its mouth at the Ohio River (near present-day Gallipolis). The original plan was for Dunmore to meet Lewis on the Ohio River at the mouth of the Kanawha, and for the combined forces to engage the Indians along the Scioto River Valley.
We have lived three months in the woods, without any intelligence from Boston, or from the delegates at Philadelphia...that we are a respectable body is certain, when it is considered that we can live weeks withgout bread or salt; that we can sleep in the open air without any covering but that of the canopy of heaven; and that we can march and shoot with any in the known world.
Having arrived at the mouth of the Hocking River a few days ahead of the scheduled rendezvous with Lewis, Dunmore took a detour up the Hocking River to explore potential real estate in the Hocking Hills region. Dunmore's detour proved to be Lewis' undoing. When Lewis arrived at the designated meeting place on October 6 and found no sign of Dunmore, he sent scouts up the Ohio River to investigate. On October 9, the scouts returned with a message from Dunmore advising Lewis of his revised plan to travel overland from the Hocking Valley to the Scioto River, and instructing Lewis to cross the Ohio River and meet him outside the Shawnee towns along the Scioto. Unbeknownst to Dunmore and Lewis, Shawnee scouts under the leadership of Shawnee Chief Cornstalk were monitoring their movements, and had a surprise in store for Lewis.
On the morning of October 10, Lewis and his men were preparing to ford the river into the Ohio wilderness when they were greeted by a war whoop and stinging arrows from Chief Cornstalk and a thousand Shawnee warriors. Lewis' and Cornstalk's forces were nearly equal in number, and the battle raged for several hours. Near sunset, a surprise flank movement tricked the Shawnee into believing that reinforcements had arrived to assist the colonists, and the Indians retreated. Nearly one-fifth of Lewis' men were killed or wounded in the intense fight, dubbed the Battle of Point Pleasant, but the colonists held the battlefield and claimed victory.
General Lewis pressed on with his remaining men toward the Scioto River to continue the campaign against the Indian towns. Lewis terrorized the Indians along the way, and established a camp on the east side of the Scioto Valley along Congo Creek (north of Great Seal State Park) as a staging area for a major attack on the Shawnee town of Old Chillicothe (southwest of Circleville, at present day Westfall). As Lord Dunmore progressed toward the Scioto River, however, he reconsidered his strategy and concluded that negotiating peace with the Shawnee would better suit his goals than waging war. Recent events had provided Dunmore with the leverage he needed to force the Shawnee's hand and to control his own angry colonel; the threat of Lewis and his revenge-seeking militia would keep the Indians at bay-and the possibility of Dunmore's own collusion with the Indians would keep Lewis in check.
Dunmore stopped short of the Shawnee territory, and paused on the Pickaway Plains along Scippo Creek to establish Camp Charlotte (south of A.W. Marion State Park), where he would attempt to broker the peace. Cornstalk and representatives of the Mingo and Delaware met with Dunmore, and Cornstalk agreed to abide by a treaty established six years earlier, the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1768), which forced the Indians to relinquish all of their lands east and south of the Ohio River. Notably absent from the meeting was Chief Logan, who instead of negotiating, delivered his poignant speech - "Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one"-to Dunmore's courier while camped in solitude on the bank of Congo Creek, under the shade of the Logan Elm.
"Gentlemen, having now concluded the campaign, by the Assistance of Providence, with honor and advantage to the colony and ourselves, it only remains that we should give our country the stronger assurance that we are ready at all times to the utmost of our power to maintain and defend her rights and privileges."
Address to compatriots at Fort Gower, speaker unknown
In November 1774, with triumph in their hearts and winter on their heels, Dunmore and his army marched back to Fort Gower, where they had secured boats and canoes to paddle back up the Ohio River. For both the seasoned frontiersmen and inexperienced militiamen among the ranks, the victory over their Native American rivals on the Ohio frontier sparked deepening resentment of their oppressor overseas. While the colonists sought to broaden their horizons in the New World, King George III and the British Parliament had been taking measures to limit the colonist's freedom.
At the outset of "Dunmores' War" against the Indians, trouble had been brewing back in the colonies over taxation without representation. Since the Boston Tea party protest bubbled over in December 1773, Britain had retaliated in the spring of 1774 with the regressive "Coercive Acts" that further limited the colonists' rights. While Dunmore's militia was marching toward the Ohio Country in September of 1774, the First Continental Congress was gathering in Philadelphia to protest the unpopular laws with boycotts of British goods.
"Resolved, that we will bear the most faithful allegiance to his majesty, King George the Third, while his majesty delights to reign over a brave and free people; that we will at the expense of life and everything dear and valuable, exert ourselves in the support of his crown and the dignity of the British empire.
But, as the love of liberty and attachments to the real interest and just rights of America outweigh every other consideration, we resolve, that we will exert every power within us for the defense of American liberty, and for the support of her just rights and privileges, not in any precipitous, riotous or tumultuous manner, but when regularly called forth by the unanimous voice of our countrymen.
Resolved, that we entertain the greatest respect for his excellency, the Right Honourable Lord Dunmore, who commanded the expedition against the Shawanese, and whom, we are confident, underwent the greatest fatigue of this singular campaign from no other motive than the future interests of the country."
Before heading home, the militia convened a meeting to share their concerns about recent events in the colonies, and their fresh perspective from their frontier experience.
While encamped at Fort Gower, they drew up this statement of their shared convictions and intentions, dubbed the "Fort Gower Resolves", which would be published in the Virginia Gazette in February 1775:
The carefully worded pledge of conditional allegiance introduced a brilliant statement of independence that set the stage for the better known declaration of 1776. Whatever his motives for the "singular campaign," Lord Dunmore had become an unwitting ally of liberty. Upon his return to Virginia, Lord Dunmore was applauded for the battlefield victory, but his popularity quickly faded when he moved the gunpowder in the Williamsburg arsenal to a British warship to prevent a possible overthrow of royal authority. In 1776, Dunmore fled Virginia and returned to native England, where he watched the revolution unfold from a comfortable seat in Parliament.
While attempting to further his own, and by extension Britain's, influence in the untapped wilderness, Lord Dunmore opened the door for settlement by the patriots he had attempted to control as loyal subjects of the crown. His imperial ambitions laid the groundwork for Ohio's eventual statehood in the new nation.
- The Ohio Country encompassed a vast area including most of the present-day state of Ohio, as well as land on either side of the Ohio River that today is part of western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia.
- Despite official policy preventing settlement north of the Ohio River. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 set aside land west of the Appalachians and east of the Mississippi, south of Quebec and north of Florida. The proclamation was issued to pacify the Indians after several British forts along the Great Lakes were attacked during Chief Pontiac's Rebellion.
- Chief's Logan's story and the complete text of his speech are retold in the feature story "Who Mourns for Logan" in the Fall/Winter 2002-2003 issue of Ohio State Parks
- Some sources identify the courier(s) as John Gibson and/or Simon Girty.
- Bond Jr., Beverly W., The Foundations of Ohio, Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1941
- Henderson, Archibald, The Conquest of the Old Southwest, Century Company, New York, 1920
- Howe, Henry, Howe's Historical Collections of Ohio, Volume II, The Laning Printing Company, Norwalk, Ohio, 1896
- On-line Resources:
- Ohio History Central: An Online Encyclopedia, Ohio Historical Society 2005
- Charlotte's Little Histories, Chief Logan and Lord Dunmore's War