Scott County Historical
Scott County, Virginia
SKETCHES OF SOUTHWEST
3 - 1967
BENGE'S LAST RAID
By Luther F. Addington
April 6, 1794 the half-breed Cherokee chief Benge, and his band
of frontier marauders entered the quiet little settlement fifteen miles
west of the present town of Abingdon and attacked the home of Peter
Livingston. At the time Peter and his brother Henry were out on the farm
and the women folk, children and a few slaves were in or near the house.
Peter Livingston and Henry were the sons of William Todd and
Sarah Livingston who had come to Botetourt County, Virginia, around 1765
and had settled on the North Holston near the present town of Mendota.
This area in 1772 lay in Fincastle County, 1776 in Washington County.
Over the ensuing yeas Peter became the owner of the entire
estate; furthermore, he accumulated nearly 2,000 acres additional. (2)
Because of his vast land holdings he needed many farm workers.
This was done by relatives, neighbors and slaves. At the time of the
Indian attack his brother Henry and Henry's second wife, Susanna, were
living with him and his wife, Elizabeth. Also in the home was Peter's
mother who at the time of the attack was tomahawked, resulting in her
death four days later. (3)
Chief Benge was particularly interested in capturing and taking
North Negroes whom he could sell for a price, and the presence of slaves
on the Livingston plantation had interested him in risking the attack.
Now, let's have the story as told by Elizabeth Livingston, wife
of Peter Livingston, to Arthur Campbell, military officer of the area,
and certified by him to the Governor of Virginia, April 15, 1794.
It ran as follows:
"April 6, 1794, about 10 o'clock in the morning, I was
sitting in my house when the fierceness of the dog's barking alarmed me.
I looked out and saw seven Indians approaching the house, armed and
painted in a frightful manner. No person was within but a child ten
years old, another of two, and my sucking infant.
"My husband and his brother Henry had just walked out to a
barn at some distance in the field. My sister-in-law, Susanna (Henry's
second wife) was with the remaining children in an out-house.
"Old Mrs. Livingston (Sarah, Peter's mother) was in the
"I immediately shut and fastened the door; they (Indians)
came furiously up and tried to burst it open, demanding several times of
me to open the door, which I refused.
"Then, they fired two guns; one ball pierced through the
door but did not harm. I, then, thought of my husband's rifle, took it
down; but, it being double triggered, I was at a loss. At length I fired
through the door; but, it not being well aimed, I did not execution.
"However, the Indians retired from that place and soon after
I found an adjoining house was on fire; and I and my children were
suffering much from smoke. I opened the door; and an Indian immediately
advanced and took me prisoner, together with the two children. (There
were three children in the house, one an infant; this one she carried
"I then discovered that they had my remaining children in
their possession, my sister-in-law Susanna, a Negro wench and her young
child, a Negro man of Edward Callahan's, and a Negro boy of our own
about eight years old.
"They (Indians) were fearful of going into the house to
plunder, supposing that it had been a man that had shot at them and he
was yet within.
"So our whole clothing and household furniture was consumed
in the flames, which I was then pleased to see, rather than it should be
of use to the savages.
"We were all hurried a short distance, where the Indians
were busy dividing and putting in packs for each to carry his part of
the booty taken.
"I observed them careless about the children, and most of
the Indian being some distance off in front, I called with a low voice
to my eldest daughter (Susanna), gave her my youngest child (Henrietta),
and told them all to run toward neighbor John Russell's. They with
reluctance left me, sometimes halting, sometimes looking back. I
beckoned them to go on, although I inwardly felt pangs not to be
expressed on account of our doleful separation. The two Indians in the
rear either did not notice this scene, or they were willing the children
might run back.
"That evening the Indians crossed Clinch Mountain and went
as far as Copper Creek, distance about 8 miles.
"April 7. Set our early in the morning, crossed Clinch River
at McClain's fishdam (just below the present town of Dungannon) about 12
o'clock, then steered northwardly towards the head of Stony Creek. Then,
the Indians camped carelessly - had no back spy nor kept sentries out.
This day's journey was about twenty miles.
"April 8. Continued in camp until the sun was more than an
hour high; then, set out and slowly traveled five or six miles and
camped near the foot of Powell Mountain.
"This day Benge, the Indian chief, became more pleasant and
spoke freely to the prisoners. He told them that he was about to carry
them to the Cherokee and Shawnee towns, that in his route in the
wilderness was his brother with two other Indians hunting, so that he
might have provisions when he returned; that at his camp were several
white prisoners taken from Kentucky, with horses and saddles to carry
them to the towns.
"He made inquiry of several persons on Holston, particularly
Old General Shelby, and said he would pay him a visit during the ensuing
summer and take away all his Negroes. He frequently inquired who had
Negroes and threatened he would have them all off North Holston. He said
all the Chickamooga towns were for war and would soon be very
troublesome for the white folks.
"This day, April 8, Benge sent two of the Indians ahead to
"April 9. After traveling about five miles, which was over
Powell's Mountain and near the foot of Stone Mountain, a party of 13
men, under command of Lieutenant Vincent Hobbs, of the militia of Lee
County, met the enemy in front, attacked and killed Benge the first
fire. I was at that time some distance off in the rear. The Indian who
was my guard at first halted on hearing the firing. He, then, ordered me
to run, which I performed slowly. He, then, attempted to strike me in
the head with the tomahawk, which I defended as well as I could with my
arm. By this time two of our people came in view, which encouraged me to
struggle all I could. The Indian at this instant pushed me backward; and
I fell over a log, at the same time aiming a violent blow at my head,
which in part spent its force on me and laid me out for dead. The first
thing I afterward remembered was my good friends around me giving me all
the assistance in their power for my relief. They told me I was
senseless for about an hour.
"Certified this 15th day of April, 1794.
Eventually Peter and Henry Livingston saw smoke boiling above the
low rolling hills between their barn and their home; they ran homeward
but when they arrived the houses were nearly burned down. Lying on the
ground were the bodies of Sarah Livingston and one Negro child, each
having been tomahawked.
The Livingston men knew there were about three trails the Indians
could take across Clinch Mountain, or they could go by way of Moccasin
Gap and there take the Wilderness road. Trail signs showed they had
likely gone toward Hamilton
Gap in Clinch Mountain.
The little settlement did not have enough men to pursue and hope
to get in sight of the party. But, they could hurry to other settlements
and get enough help to overpower the Indians if they cut them off
somewhere to the north.
So, one man, John Henderson, was sent on horseback to alert the
settlers in Powell Valley, about seventy miles to the northwest on the
Wilderness Road. The two Livingston men, Peter and Henry, set off in the
direction of Castle's Woods to the northeast. It was their plan to get
help at this settlement and to block all trails in the Cumberland
The Livingston men, knowing that the Indians had taken white
women, and Negroes whom they could sell, would not likely kill any of
them on the march. Believing this, the men decided to risk going long
distances for help rather than to try to pursue directly. If just a few
men should have overtaken the savages, the women would have been killed,
Now, let's examine the records and try to straighten out a few
points of contention existing even today in the area where Chief Benge
To begin with, several years ago a marker was put up just south
of Norton, Virginia, saying that a little way above it, at the base of
High Knob, the highest peak of Powell Mountain, Benge was slain by
Vincent Hobbs of the Lee County militia. The little stream which flows
out of the mountain at this point bears the name Benge's Branch.
The facts do not bear out the correctness of this marker. We can
see by Mrs. Livingston's account of the 9th day's traveling that, after
camping the night before at the base of Powell Mountain, they went about
five miles, which was over Powell Mountain and to the foot of Stone
Mountain, where Hobbs and his men met them. Stone Mountain has its
beginning west of Norton and continues until it is broken by the
well-known Big Stone Gap, situated just north of the town of Big Stone
Gap. The mountain here has been worn into a great, rugged, stone gap by
the northern tributary of Powell River.
Now, it was at this great Stone Gap that Chief Benge was most
likely slain by Hobbs. Charles B. Cole in his account of Mrs. Scott's
capture by Chief Benge in Lee County in 1785, said, "Benge was
killed nine years later (after the Mrs. Scott captivity) as he was
making his way to Big Stone Gap with the Livingston captives." (5)
Summers, quoting a manuscript letter of Benjamin Sharp, further
states, "Vincent Hobbs was a lieutenant in the militia of Lee
County, Virginia, and, at the time in question, he was attending court
of that county which was in session. Upon the arrival of the express
with the news of the Indian invasion, the court immediately adjourned;
and a party was organized upon the spot, under the command of Hobbs, to
waylay a gap in the Cumberlands called Stone Gap, through which the
Indians were supposed to pass.
"In this party, besides Vincent Hobbs, were: John Van Bever,
Job Hobbs, Stephen Jones, James Huff, James Van Bever, Peter Van Bever,
Abraham Hobbs, Adam Ely, Samuel Livingston, George Yokum and _____
Although Elizabeth Livingston in her account said there were
thirteen men in Hobbs party, only twelve are named by Sharp. One of
these had a blank instead of the first name. Since the writer of the
letter was uncertain about the first name, he might also have been
uncertain about the sir name. This was probably Captain William Dorton,
a scout for Andrew Lewis, who was in the party.
Under date of April 19, 1795 Andrew Lewis wrote the governor of
Virginia as follows: "The inhabitants in pursuit of the Indians
retook the prisoners and killed two of them. The rest ran off. Captain
William Dorton, one of my scouts, who was with the party, endeavoring to
head them off, fell in with them that ran off, being three in number,
two of which he killed on the ground; the other ran off mortally
wounded. Only one escaped without a wound." (7)
"Prior to this battle, Lieutenant Hobbs on reaching Stone
Gap, discovered that Indians had just passed through before him; he,
therefore, pursued with eagerness and soon discovered two Indians
kindling a fire; these they instantly dispatched, and finding some
plunder with them, which they knew must have been taken from the
Livingston house, they at once came to the conclusion that these two had
been sent forward to hunt for provisions and that the others were yet
behind with the prisoners." (8)
Now, since Stone Gap was closer to Lee County than any other
Indian trail crossing the Cumberlands and since Benge had come this way
with Mrs. Scott in 1785, it is hardly likely that Hobbs would have gone
beyond this pass up the North Fork of Powell to the present town of
Norton. Furthermore, Peter and Henry Livingston, together with another
posse, had come around through Russell County to examine other trails.
Summers states that Benge was most likely slain at the present
town of Dorchester, about three miles northwest of Norton. (9) However,
Dorchester is about as far from Stone Mountain as Norton is.
Further on this point, Andrew Lewis, military officer in command
of the southwestern Virginia militia, wrote to the governor of Virginia
as follows: "By their (Benge and party) passing through the Stone
Gap in Powell's Mountain suspect they were southern Indians. (10)
It seems that Andrew Lewis knew that there was a Stone Gap, but
he was not acquainted well enough with the geography of the southwestern
mountains of Virginia to know that Powell Mountain has no Stone Gap but
that Stone Mountain, the next range north of Powell, does have one.
As to the trail Benge took after his camping at the foot of
Powell Mountain (southern side) April 7, he must have gone down Hunter's
Valley, alongside the southern foot of Powell Mountain until striking
Cove Creek, thence up it to its headwaters, through Maple Gap, down
Cracker's Neck to the present town of Big Stone Gap, and thence to the
entrance of Stone Gap in Stone Mountain.
Now, let's view the site as described by the last surviving
member of the Hobbs' party, Dr. James Huff of Kentucky, in an interview
1846 for the Jacksonian, a newspaper published in Abingdon and filed in
the Draper Papers." (11)
"Some time in the month of April 1794, just before daylight,
a man by the name of John Henderson rode up to Yokum Station in Powell
Valley and informed the station that Indians had taken the wives of
Peter and Henry Livingston...
"...the writer has seen this spot where Benge was killed; it
is one of those deep, dark mountain passes where the ridge on each side
seems to reach the clouds, an the center of the deep, gloomy valley
below is covered with large masses of unshaken rocks, with a wild
furious stream, tumbling and rolling in the midst.
"These backwoodsmen sat but a short while in their hiding
places until two of them highest up the precipice, V. Hobbs and J. Van
Bever, saw an Indian and the wife of Peter Livingston coming." (12)
However, it was not Peter's wife but Henry's.
Now, there is no such rugged terrain as described here just south
of Norton: no great boulders, no great gorge; no cliffs, merely a small
hump of stone which is claimed to be Hobbs' hiding place; no stream
which could be called a furious one, just a small branch which today is
called Benge's Branch. Now, it must be recognized that there were no
white settlers in Norton until about 1890, nearly a hundred years after
Benge's demise; consequently, traditional stories, and the failure to
study facts as recorded in reports of responsible persons of the time,
have led to errors in designating the scene of Benge's death.
Hobbs and Van Bever reached Elizabeth soon after she was struck
with the tomahawk. An hour later she regained consciousness.
Shortly thereafter, her husband, Peter, together with Henry,
arrived on the scene, happy that their wives had been rescued. Susanna,
Henry's wife (his second wife) had been in the group immediately led by
As soon as Elizabeth was recovered sufficiently to travel, she
and her kinsmen started back home.
Settlers on the frontier rejoiced when they heard that the
renegade, half-breed Chief Benge, was dead.
Arthur Campbell, in a letter to the governor of Virginia dated
April 29, 1794, said, "I send the scalp of Captain (Why he used the
term captain, it is not known) Benge, that noted murderer, as requested
by Lieutenant Hobbs, 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 services, and the executive may
rest assured that it would serve as a stimulus for future exertions
against the enemy." 13)
In accordance with the recommendations of Colonel Campbell, the
General Assembly of Virginia voted Mr. Hobbs a "beautiful
Although there was gladness at the Livingston home on the Holston
over the return of the captives and the killing of the notorious Chief
Benge, it wasn't long until the event brought a threat of war from the
Cherokees and the frontier was again thrown into panic.
Of the pending trouble Arthur Campbell wrote the governor, April
21, 1794, "Although this success (the killing of Benge) lessens the
apprehensions of the inhabitants, yet from the declared intention of the
Chickamooga party of the Cherokees to go to war, and their actually
having lately 200 warriors out in small parties, the western settlements
of this county and the adjoining settlements in Lee County talk of
moving off if there is not some protection by the government afforded
The Virginia government seemed in no hurry to send military help
to the settlers of Washington and Lee Counties and consequently the
state of fear of revenge attacks grew more tense. In regard to the
situation Arthur Campbell tried again.
On July 9th, the same year, he wrote as follows:
"By intelligence from Knoxville, the uncle of Capt. Bench is
out with thirty warriors to take revenge in Virginia. The necessity of
having some men on duty near Moccasin Gap, the former place of his
haunts, and now we suppose of his avengers, seems urgent. Were Captain
Lewis' company so arranged as to cover that settlement, and he be active
in ranging the woods, it might in a degree appease the fears of the
inhabitants. That part of Lee County which turned out so cleverly under
Lieutenant Hobbs in pursuit of Bench, is altogether exposed; that is,
they have no part of the guard on duty nearer than forty miles. My own
conjecture is that, Hobbs and his friends may be the sufferers. All late
accounts say that the whole of the lower Cherokees are for war."
The revenge threat, however, failed to mature; and, to the joy of
the settlers, Benge's was the last invasion by a marauding Indian band
on this, Virginia's last frontier.
Will Book 1, p. 73, Abingdon Court Records;
Summers, L. P., Annals of Southwest Virginia;
Cole, Charles B,. Life of Wilburn Waters;
Calendar Virginia State Papers, Vol. 7, pp. 111-112;
Summers, L. P., Annals of Southwest Virginia;
Draper, L. C., 12CC60;
Virginia State Papers;
Summers, L. P., History of Southwest Virginia, pp. 441-442 further
quoting Sharp's MS;
Ibid, p. 441;
Virginia State Papers, vol. 7, p. 115;
Virginia State Papers, Vol. 7, p. 118;
Ibid, Vol. 1, pp. 117-118;
Ibid, p. 210.