The Battle of Point Pleasant

It's influence on Kentucky, and involvement of our McAfee Ancestors

(written by )

By 1763, The French and Indian War had came to an end. The McAfee Brothers or at least the older ones had all served along side their father in the Colonial Militia in this conflict, and for this service they were awarded lands in the wilderness over the Blue Ridge Mountains in Kentucky. However, it would be sometime before any attempt to lay claims to these lands could be made. Not all of the Indians who had allied with the French had accepted defeat. Among these was a powerful war chief named Pontiac who stirred the tribes into a frenzy and propelled them into a war to drive the English settlers from lands long considered their own. For nearly a year a bloody war raged all along the frontier from western Virginia to the Great Lakes. Several British forts were attacked and burned, settlers were murdered by the hundreds, and far more fled from their homes for sanctuary in the east. Ultimately the hostiles could not sustain the warpath, and a combination of military might and amendments to British policies toward the natives had pacified them into a peace. (It is my opinion that John McAfee the oldest brother killed by Indians 1763 was a casualty of Pontiac's War).

The close of Pontiac's War had established a "guarded peace" with the Indians. Colonists once again returned to the frontier outposts, and from here the more adventurous fellows quickly moved into the wild lands to explore. Reports of these expeditions reached the McAfee's who determined the time was right to go themselves to survey and claim the land guaranteed them by virtue of their militia service. Of course we all know the trials and tribulations suffered by them during the summer of 1773 while engaged in this activity. They returned home with renewed hope of prosperity, and planned to soon establish themselves in the "Garden of Eden" over the mountains.

Often the best laid plans go awry, and before preparations could be finalized to relocate, the peace enjoyed since Pontiac's Rebellion had been shattered with a massacre at Yellow Creek. It was here that a group of Virginia frontiersmen fell upon and murdered a camp of Indians, most of whom were blood relatives of the Mingo leader, Chief Logan. Influential tribal leaders managed to avert an all out war, but Indian custom granted Logan the "right of retaliation" and as a result led his own personal war on western Virginia. Logan's warriors were merciless in their attacks, and held no regard in their vengeance for age or gender. As the settlers fled from their homes, pleas were made to the government for help. Lord Dunmore, British Governor of Virginia, acted by calling the militia into service, setting in motion events that eventuated in a frontier war between the colonists of Virginia and the allied Indian tribes of the Ohio River Valley.

Largely forgotten by history, Dunmore's War and the treaty that followed could arguably be considered the major catalyst in the American victory in the Revolution (outlined below). Its one major battle at Point Pleasant was a decisive victory for the colonists, and it's conclusion opened the way for settlement into lands that were previously viewed by only by the most daring men The Treaty of Camp Charolotte between Lord Dunmore and Chief Cornstalk solidified a peace that would remain in tact until the chief's death. Almost immediately, settlers poured into Kentucky, and by the end of 1775 Harrodsburg, Boonesboro, and a handful of other stations had been established.

Cornstalk was the primary chief of an Indian Confederation of several allied tribes. In the years following the defeat at Point Pleasant, He did everything in his power to honor the treaty he signed, resisting pleas from his sub chiefs to renew the war path, and refused attempts by British agents to ally with them against the American Rebellion. Not to say that these pioneers were immune from Indian depredations, in fact this was a very bloody time for the Kentucky settlers, but these attacks were made primarily by individuals or small war parties, and no all out Indian war existed at this time along the frontier, but following the great chief‘s death in 1778, the warriors needed little prodding to flock to the British standard. As the Indians concentrated their every effort to drive these pioneers from their hunting grounds, men of the eastern settlements from Georgia to New York who were once confined to a local area for home defense, were now free to fill the ranks of the Continental Army. Furthermore, Kentucky would become the base of operations from which George Rogers Clark would launch his campaigns into the Ohio Valley, and in which the Kentucky settlers were quick to enlist.

I apologize for the history lesson, but felt that in order to fully appreciate the service that our McAfee ancestors gave at Point Pleasant, it was necessary to detail the impact that the battle had on the country.

It has always been excepted that the brothers were at this battle, and the writings of Robert B. McAfee tells that his father and uncles all took part in this conflict, and we as their decendants have long considered this to be fact with little or no documentation to verify. I myself have often wondered if any paper trail could be found to confirm this and without too much effort managed to locate reliable proof. In fact our McAfee ancestors are actual called by name in a historical account. Found in the pages of "Dunmore's War" a letter is found written by Capt. John Floyd to Col. Preston, "Since arriving here (Camp Union) I have joined by three of the McAfee's and Samuel Adams. Some been were not allowed by Col. Christian to join the Fincastle companies, but he insists I shall not loose these". I had long thought that this letter pertained to the brothers James, Robert, and George, but have since learned that James was not with his brothers in this company and the third was in fact Samuel. The muster roll for this company still exists and can be found in the archives at the Virginia state library. The actions of Floyd's company is also recorded, and from these accounts, it can be determined that Robert George, and Sam were not actually under fire at Point Pleasant. Their company was among those who marched to the aide of those engaged, but arrived after the outcome had already been decided. However they were responsible for setting up a perimeter around the encampment, cared for the wounded, and buried the dead.

The battle of the point was fiercely contested and casualties had been high. Some fine and able officers had fallen, ranks of enlisted were decimated, and soon enlistments began to expire. As a result, it became necessary to reorganize the army, young officers were promoted and companies combined. At that time Capt. Floyd was promoted, and our own Robert McAfee received position of Captain of a company. A muster roll also can be found at Virginia archives for this company as well that clearly shows George and Samuel as privates joined by a brother in law Thomas Guant.

Although James is not listed as serving with his brothers in Floyd's company, it does not mean he was not at the point, in fact James was an actual combatant in the battle. James had associated with the militia of Botetourt County as early as 1770, when he stood before the court with a commission from the Governor as a captain, but in this campaign he served as a private under the command of his friend Matthew Arbuckle. A roll of Capt. Arbuckle's company is also found in the Virginia archives. The actions of Capt. Arbuckle's men are also recorded in various accounts. As the battle opened, the advance of the Indian army was discovered in the pre-dawn, two columns moved forward to meet them. These detachment sustained heavy losses, and were slowly pushed back, before being reinforced by several companies which included Arbuckle's. The enemy could not sustain their attack and in turn forced to give way until reaching a more advantageous position and formed a general line of battle over a mile long. A general fight was maintained and as evening approached the outcome was still very much in doubt. It was not until after sunset when a detachment circled behind the Indians, whom the perceived to be the relief column arriving, and left the field to the Virginians.