Generation V: Thomas & Millie Penley
Native Uprisings in Russell County
Indian Uprisings Along the Holston and Clinch Rivers
The Shawnee, as well as many Cherokee warriors objected with great hostility to the sale negotiated by Henderson for the risings against the settlers took place along the frontier lines in Virginia and North Carolina from the end of the French and Indian War until 1794. The Shawnee and Cherokee also fought against each other in various wars during this time.
During these uprisings, colonists often vacated their claims and headed for forts or more populated settlements. In some cases, settlers worked on their farms during the winter months, planted their crops in the early spring, and then deserted their land until the fall harvest time. Indian attacks were far too common during the warm summer months, and the frontier was safer when cold weather made the mountain paths difficult to traverse.
The Natives were coerced into signing many treaties during this era, but not all of the tribes agreed to the terms, and militant warriors from various tribes who objected to the treaties and sale of hunting ground banded together in hostile attacks on settlements. The various tribes also fought wars against each other as well, particulary the Shawnee and Cherokee.
Dragging Canoe, a Cherokee who believed the sale was illegal because it lacked unanimous consent refused to accept the Cherokee pact, stating, “Such treaties may be alright for men who are too old to hunt or fight. As for me, I have my young warriors about me. We will hold our land." He warned all that he would fight and he told the white colonists they were buying “dark and bloody ground”.
Shortly thereafter Dragging Canoe moved his people out to Chickamauga Creek, and formed the Chickamauga band of the Cherokee. During the Revolution, he sided with the British and wreked havoc on the frontier areas. Well supplied by the British, he killed white colonists anywhere he could find them and burned their houses and crops. At various times, he formed alliances with the British, Spanish, French and other tribes including the Shawnee, and continued to harass white settlements long after the Revolution ended in 1781, until his death in 1792.
The most feared Indian in the Scott/Russell County area was Chief Robert Benge, whose father was a white trader who lived among the Natives with his Cherokee wife. Benge’s European looks, perfectly good English, and brilliant red hair belied his angry Cherokee heart. His size, incredible strength, swift speed and endurance as a runner were legendary. He had an uncanny ability to sneak in and out of settlements without detection, and he was nearly impossible to track. Benge joined Dragging Canoe’s disconted band of renegades to wreak havoc along the frontier, and as many as one hundred vicious attacks along the Holston and Clinch Rivers were blamed on him. Benge struck such fear in the hearts of Virginians that he may have received credit for some attacks committed by others.
In April of 1794, Benge attacked the Livingston homestead near Abingdon and kidnapped the entire family and slaves while the men were away. Mrs. Livingston helped the children escape while the natives were distracted. Militias were mounted from Lee, Russell, and Washington County, and a Lieutenant Hobbs from Lee County was successul in killing Benge in a well planned ambuscade. Colonel Arthur Campbell, senior militia officer, sent Benge’s scalp to the Governor of Virginia with this message:
"The scalp of Captain Benge, I have been requested to forward to your Excellency, as a proof that he is no more, and of the activity and good conduct of Lieutenant Hobbs, in killing him and relieving the prisoners. Could it be spared from our treasury, I would beg leave to hint that a present of a neat rifle to Mr. Hobbs would be accepted, as a reward for his late services, and the Executive may rest assured that it would serve as a stimulus for future exertions against the enemy."
The General Assembly of Virginia sent Mr. Hobbs a silver-mounted rifle. The frontiersmen heard many rumors of retaliation for the death of Chief Benge, but they never materialized. The deaths of Dragging Canoe in 1792 and Chief Robert Benge in 1794 deprived the renegades of their leadership, and the 1794 attack on the Livingston home proved to be the last attack in the area.
Soon after Benge’s death, settlers returned to their homesteads in Washington, Russell and Scott counties. Some found their crude cabins occupied by squatters and their land grants in question. Thousands more flooded into the area, many on their way through the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky.