Pendleton and McDowell, Farris and Wharton Families Killed

By Emory L. Hamilton

From the unpublished manuscript, Indian Atrocities Along the Clinch, Powell and Holston Rivers, pages 211-218.

On October 6, 1791, (1) Henry Smith, County Lieutenant of Russell Co., VA, wrote to Governor Randolph, the following:

Immediately on the receipt of your Excellency's instruction of the 25th of April, 1791, I gave orders to the commanding officers of the companies to raise their proportion of 50 men, which I judged absolutely necessary for our defense, but not one man would serve. The approaching expected peace, to be made the last of May with the Cherokees, seemed to look with a favorable aspect on troubled country.

I, not willing to trust my own judgement called a council of officers, whereupon it was advised to be unnecessary to order any more men until it was known whether the Indians would accept the terms of peace offered them at the expected treaty. After this we remained tolerable peaceful, except some horses stolen, till about the last of August, when part of two families were killed; (Pendleton & McDowell), the week following (early September) Elisha Farris and three of his family were killed, and his daughter, a young woman, was taken prisoner. About a fortnight ago, James Wharton, Esq., and his family was killed, and a Negro taken prisoner.

In this unhappy situation I cannot raise a man in this county for its defense. No man is willing, nor, I believe, can be forced to strip his unguarded family, equally exposed to dangers, of the only help and comfort they have in himself, to defend others more distant, but less dear to his natural feelings.

A very considerable part of the country is at this time, instead of taking up arms to defend themselves, employed in moving their families to the interior parts of the country, out of reach of savage cruelty...

In the foregoing letter Colonel Smith points up the understandable reluctance of the settlers to abandon their own families to serve in the militia as common defenders of all. Undoubtably the killings mentioned in his letter were perpetrated by the cunning half-breed Indian Chief Benge, for at this time he was leading most of the forays against the settlers. Benge was an uncanny cunning and cruel savage, using secret routes to fall upon the unsuspecting settlers, hurriedly committing his atrocious murders and then vanishing into the wilderness over routes exceedingly hard to find or follow.

The Elisha Farris family lived on Moccasin Creek a short distance fro the present town of Gate City. Although much closer in time than many of the other massacre, I have not been able to determine the names of those slain or the details, nor the name of the daughter taken prisoner and her ultimate fate.

Of the James Wharton family not a lot more is known than that of the Farris family, and just where his descendants emigrated to is unknown to this writer. James Wharton had settled on a large tract of land lying on the south side of Clinch River, near, and below Moore's Fort in Castlewood in the year 1769, at the time of the first settlers in this area. He had lived through twenty-two years of Indian raids before finally being killed, just three years before the last Indian raid on Southwest Virginia. He seems to have been a highly respected personage always referred to as "Esquire", a term of esteem and respect as then used. Just the year before he had been one of the appraisers of the estate of his neighbor Thomas Osborne, whose home was visible from his own, and just across a narrow valley on one of the beautiful blue grass hills of lower Castlewood, who had suffered the same fate as the Wharton family.

Tradition has it that a woman had been hired by Mrs. Wharton to do some weaving and was at work in the loom house, which was slightly east of the Wharton home, when she looked out a small window in the loom house and saw the Indian approaching. She crawled through the window and started running across a field where she met a man riding by the name of Smith. Mounting the horse behind him they rode away to Moore's fort, two mile distant to get help. A company of men accompanied Smith back to the Wharton home where they found the family murdered.

Early records shed no light on the number of people killed in the Wharton family, and little is known of the early life of James Wharton other than that his wife was named Margaret, (2) and that he had a daughter named Margaret who married William Robinson, Jr., (3) and a son named William whose wife was named Jemima. (4)

The Wharton heirs sold their home place to Stephen Gose on the 5th of January, 1799, (5) probably shortly thereafter leaving the area and no known descendants live in the area today.

A small stream running down to Clinch River at Burton's Ford is still known as "Wharton's Branch" and local residents still refer to the farm as the "Wharton Lands."

James Wharton was one of the first Constables of Washington Co., VA, being appointed to that office on the second day of the meeting of that body on the 29th of January, 1777.

Ramsey's, Annals of Tennessee, page 557, states: "In 1791, on the Russell County side of Moccasin Gap, Mrs. McDowell and Frances Pendleton were killed and scalped."

A letter from James W. Phillips of Farmersville, Texas dated 25th of April, 1964, to the writer: Now I shall give you the data that I have on the Indian raid:

My first knowledge of the raid came from a note of W. P. Bickley, (a grandson of William and Jane Kilgore Bickley) in which he stated that Allison Pendleton told a story of Reuben Pendleton and a sister involved in an Indian raid. My mother talked to a granddaughter of Reuben's, a Mrs. Wells, who lived here, and she told her that she knew that her grandfather's hand was injured as a result of an arrow wound. Mrs. Wells (Patience Pendleton) lived with her grandfather until her marriage and removal to Texas, a short time before the Civil War. She was very old when my mother talked to her and did not recall many things. She was a great disappointment to us all for she surely knew more than she communicated.

This letter from my grandfather, written in 1885, next came to light. I do not quote all of it because it is of little interest, relates who his parents were and something about the Civil War:

Farmersville, Texas
October 19, 1885

Mr. C. H. Pendleton
Berkley Springs, VA

Dear Sir:
Your favor 30th Sept. Rec'd. I herewith hand you as best I can, claims of relationship. First, my grandfather John Pendleton of Scott County, Virginia, a minister of the Gospel for fifty years (of the Methodist persuasion ) emigrated to Texas in 1858. Died two years later here. Had eight sons. Five came to Texas in '57 or '58. Three have since died, my father being one, one other lives here, the other one in Jack County. Another Ivey T. Pendleton lives in Boonesville, Kentucky. Jackson and H. K. Pendleton live in Scott County, Virginia, Rye Cove, P. O. My grandfather had a half-brother Reuben Pendleton, older than himself.

When I was twelve years of age, I well remember my old great uncle "Rube" reiterate instances of his boyhood. He died twenty-five years ago at an age of 90 years. An indelible occurrence with Uncle Reuben was when a boy of 12 or 15 years old. He and his sister went to an old peach orchard to get fruit. But few settlers in that country. While gathering peaches the Indians crept stealthily up and demanded their surrender. Old Uncle Reuben, then a boy, seeing them seize his sister, took flight and made his escape, pursued even to the yard fence. When he sprang over the fence, threw up one hand and received a severe wound in the hand from an arrow (the orchard being some six hundred yards from their house.) An improvised scout was at once summoned and pursued the hostiles, two or three days, but returned without the rescue of his sister - however, the young girl strewed many strips of her apron, bonnet and dress, that the party in pursuit might know she was alive and they were on the right trail.

Mr. Phillips continues:
This is an official report from William Blount to the War Department. It was first printed in 1831. It could have bene printed earlier in a newspaper, but I have not located the earlier printing, if there was one. I requested a copy of the original from the National Archives, but it is missing from that place.

Washington District
(1) Mrs. McDowell, killed 23 August 1791, near Moccasin Gap, Clinch Mountain by the Bench (Benge) who has attached himself to the Shawnees.
(2) Frances Pendleton, killed August 23, 1791.
(3) Reuben Pendleton, wounded August 23, 1791.
(4) Mrs. Pendleton, prisoner August 23, 1791.
(5) A boy, eight years old, prisoner, August 23, 1791.

(American State Papers, Indian Affairs, Vol. 1, page 331).

This is also told in Haywood's History of Tennessee (1826). Also substantially the same in Goodpasture's History of the Indian Wars.

John T. Moore, Tennessee, The Volunteer State, Vol. 1, page 228, reads:

His (Bob Benge's) first enterprise in this quarter was undertaken in the summer of 1791. Notwithstanding the treaty of July 2nd, on August 23rd he startled the settlements in the neighborhood of Moccasin Gap of Clinch mountain, by a sudden and unexpected assault on the house of the McDowells and Pendletons. Mrs. William McDowell and Frances Pendleton, the seventeen year old daughter of Benjamin Pendleton, were killed and scalped. Reuben Pendleton was wounded, and Mrs. Pendleton and a boy of eight years of age were carried into captivity.

This last is a rewrite of Haywood. I add that the paragraph in Haywood sounds to me as if Haywood lifted it from a contemporary newspaper account of the raid. Although Haywood could have interviewed Reuben.

I think the location of the raid incorrect, or rather vague. Benjamin Pendleton came to Southwest Virginia in 1782 or early 1783; he is on the tax list for 1783 and was living in the Ft. Blackmore area. He had a survey for 70 acres of land on the Clinch in 1784. This land was originally granted Alexander Ritchie, Sr., and confirmed in a grant to Benjamin Pendleton in 1793. The exact location of his house is not known, but his seventy acres included an island int he Clinch, which island today on the U. S. Geological Survey map is shown as Pendleton's Island.

A note before I get further lost. Reuben Pendleton died March 3, 1860, 86 years old, according to his tombstone. My grandfather was some 4 years in error giving Reuben's age.

I have some misgivings about Frances Pendleton being the daughter of Benjamin Pendleton. I have even suspected that Frances was Mrs. William McDowell. My reason for doubting the relationship of Frances to Benjamin is based upon a single unsolvable fact. Reuben Pendleton sold land in 1826 which had been granted an Edmund Pendleton in 1799 and there is no recorded transfer of this land from Edmund to Reuben. It would appear that Reuben inherited the land from Edmund. The above named John Pendleton who is said by my grandfather to have been the half brother of Reuben is the only child of Benjamin Pendleton of whom there is any recorded proof of relationship. There are two deeds in Russell County which prove this relationship. There was a relationship between Edmund, Benjamin, Reuben and John, but the degree of relationship between Benjamin and John only can be established. I doubt my grandfather's statement because it would have been quite simple for him to have missed a generation in his calculation; for my grandfather was reared by his grandfather and was quite near the same age as the youngest uncles and aunts - his own first cousins thought my grandfather their uncle. I think that Benjamin, Reuben and Frances were the children of Edmund, but I cannot prove it; I have only the unexplained land of Reuben. And since Reuben was never taxed for land nor was Edmund, it will probably have to rest there. The knowledge of their relationship comes from a letter written by A. J. Pendleton (a son of John) in 1885 in which he stated he was the son of John Pendleton. Benjamin and Edmund Pendleton died 10 miles from here. Reuben died here (Rye Cove). I could never decide where 10 miles from Rye Cove was. This letter was a reply to an inquiry concerning the family. In this letter A. J., also wrote that he came from Amherst County.

The earliest comprehensive history of the Pendleton family was written in 1858. In that history a note concerning the four eldest sons of William Pendleton of Amherst County, states that the wife and some of the children of either Benjamin, Edmund, John, or Isaac, were captured by the Indians and never heard of again.

(1) Virginia State Papers, Vol. V, page 375.
(2) Russell Co., VA, Order Book 2, page 283.
(3) Deed Book 3, page 25 and Deed Book 2, page 68, Russell Co., VA.
(4) Russell Co., VA Order Book 2, page 283.
(5) Ibid.

NOTE: Benjamin Pendleton is also shown in the 1784 tithable list of Captain Alexander Barnett's Company of Russell Co., VA, and both Benjamin and Edmund Pendleton are listed in the 1784 tithables in the company of Samuel Ritchie. This latter will also place them in the Dungannon-Ft. Blackmore area.



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