Killing of John Davidson

By Emory L. Hamilton

From the unpublished manuscript, Indian Atrocities Along the Clinch, Powell and Holston Rivers, pages 241-242.

Pendleton, in his History of Tazewell County, page 235, (1) quoting from Bickley's History of Tazewell County, 1853, says:

Sometime in either 1789, or 1790, John Davidson, a man advanced in years, was killed by the Indians on Clinch River, half a mile above the present town of North Tazewell. Mr. Davidson had been on a business trip to Rockingham Co., VA, and was returning to his home when the murder was committed.

The circumstances connected with the tragedy were afterwards made known by white people who had been in captivity, and who were told by the Indians, when they were prisoners, how, and why, Mr. Davidson was killed. He had stopped at a deserted cabin to feed his horses, and while thus occupied was shot to death. The Indians also said that a white renegade was with them when the deed was done. It seems that the crime was a double one, as the Indians and their companion found a considerable amount of specie in the saddle bags of the old man which was stolen by the murderers. Bickley says: ' A few days after, his son, Col. Davidson, became uneasy on account of his absence, and raising a small company went in search of him. Luckily, when they got to the cabin, they found a hat band, which, being of peculiar structure, was recognized as that worn by Mr. Davidson. After considerable search, his body was found stripped of clothing, and somewhat disfigured by birds. As the Indians had too long been gone to be overtaken, Mr. Davidson was taken home and buried.

Both Pendleton and Bickley are in error on their date of the killing of John Davidson. A letter written by Daniel Trigg, to the Governor of Virginia, under date of April 10, 1793, (2) he writes: Since the 20th of march, they (Indians) have been constantly hovering over this part of our frontiers. John Davidson murdered by them, and a number of horses stolen from Wolf Creek, Bluestone and Island Creek, for and with all which they have escaped, with impunity, except the party entrusted with the care of conveying away the horses from Island Creek, who have been pursued, the horses retaken, together with the arms and blankets of three warriors, who were killed and scalped by the justly incensed followers at the mouth of Little Cole.

The number of Indians concerned in the murder of Davidson, at the Laurel Fork of Wolf Creek, was judged about twelve, who carried off a number of horses from the neighborhood, and passed with them in daylight through the heart of the Bluestone settlement.

From the above letter it can be safely assumed that John Davidson was killed at some time between the 20th of March and the 10th of April, 1793. Also it seems unlikely that Davidson could have been missing as long as Bickley says, since the Indians passed through the Bluestone settlement with stolen horses in open daylight. Surely the whole countryside must have been alerted and Trigg says in his letter that he Indians had been hovering over the frontier since March 20th which conveys the knowledge that the settlers were aware of their presence.

Judge Johnson in his History of the New River Settlements says that John Davidson was called "Cooper" Davidson, being thusly labeled because by trade he was a cooper.

(1) Pendleton, History of Tazewell County, page 461.
NOTE: John Davidson had 124 acres surveyed for him April 3, 1775 in Wright's Valley on Bluestone Creek.
(2) Calender Virginia State Papers, Vol. V, page 334.



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