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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wilkes and the Wars: Indian Raids and the French and Indian War (1754-1763)

As I have been expanding my genealogical research, I have begun to delve into other factors that affected the lives of my ancestors, many of whom, in addition to the Wests, lived in the western mountainous counties of North Carolina. The various wars that occurred during the beginnings of Wilkes and other western North Carolina counties undoubtedly impacted those living in the area.  In a series of blogs, I would like to present my limited knowledge of some of those most heinous times endured by those living in Wilkes and its adjacent counties.  This blog post is devoted to the dangers posed by Indian raids and the French and Indian War.
Without doubt the Indians, mostly Cherokee, who lived in the area, presented a constant danger to the settlers.  In fact, according to John Crouch who wrote his essay in 1902, they were quite numerous in what is now Wilkes County with their capital village being in the location of present-day North Wilkesboro.  Crouch indicated that “hundreds of wigwams” lined the bottoms along the Yadkin and Reddies rivers.  According to Crouch, a type of fort named the “Black House” was erected as a refuge for white settlers who were under attack by the Indians.  Apparently, this “fort” was burned by the Indians and another known as the “Red House” was constructed for the same purpose.[i] 
Unfortunately, since Crouch did not provide a time line for these events, we do not know if they occurred before, during or after the French and Indian War.  Mr. Crouch’s essay, although somewhat biased and based on his personal knowledge and handed-down oral histories, interestingly provides an account of those early days.
The first major “war” that affected the country at that time in history was the French and Indian War that spanned the years between 1754 and 1763.  This war, which is often referenced as the Seven Years War and which may be designated as the “first world war,” was basically a global conflict between Great Britain and France which spread to colonial soil.  It was an extension of the greater war between England and France for control of not only North America but also of other parts of the world.  Trouble began when the French embarked on a mission to connect her domains in Canada with those in Louisiana by taking possession of land in between which was claimed by Great Britain to be within their Virginia Colony.  The French began their campaign by establishing military posts from the Great Lakes to the Ohio Valley.  North Carolina volunteers willingly answered the call from North Carolina Governor Dinwiddie for military assistance in order to protect their land.
The two main enemies of the colonists were the French forces and the various Native American forces who were French allies.  The French had gained the support of Indians tribes such as the Shawnees and others from the north.  At the beginning of the war, the Cherokee and Catawba Indians were allies of the English colonists and fought with them to protect North Carolina. Governor Arthur Dobbs, for whom Fort Dobbs was named, signed a treaty with the Cherokee and Catawba Indians securing them as allies of Great Britain.
During the French and Indian War, North Carolina frontier settlements were in constant risk of invasion by bands of Indians friendly to the French.  Therefore, in 1756 Fort Dobbs was constructed in the Piedmont region near the present city of Statesville to protect those settlements on the western frontier of North Carolina from the Indian allies of the French.
In the ensuing years, the Cherokees became embittered over continued harsh treatment by the whites. During the years of 1754 and 1756, the war cries of the Cherokees echoed up and down the Yadkin River Valley.[ii]  Furthermore, the Cherokees were incensed by the killing of dozens of Cherokee warriors by Virginians in 1759.  In 1761, the Cherokees were defeated under the command of Colonel Hugh Waddell. 
In 1763 the Treaty of Paris brought an end to the French and Indian War. However, the contest for North America continued between the British and the Spanish.  In addition, the Proclamation of 1763 signed by King George II of Great Britain prevented settlers from settling in the French territories west of the Appalachian Mountains.  Likewise, this treaty represented an effort to relieve the encroachment of the settlers into Native American territories.  Can we really believe that our independent-minded, adventurous ancestors obeyed this proclamation?  Of course, not!  In fact, in the 1770s, further settlement by the settlers on Indian land brought about additional warfare between the government and the Cherokee Indians.
Where were my West forefathers during this period of history?  They were not in what is now Wilkes County (created in 1777).  Alexander West I was in the North Carolina county of Orange (created in 1752).  In fact, a John West, Sr., presumably Alexander’s father, sold 100 acres of land in Orange County to Alexander West I during the period of 1752-1768.  Likewise, John West and Alexander West are documented in Orange County in 1754 where John West owned land joining William Mills. William Mills’ property was on the Stoney Creek waters of the Haw River which would have been in the Hillsborough Road area.  Alexander West, who was most likely Alexander West II, and William Mills, Jr. served as chain carriers for the survey of the Mills’ property.  In addition, Alexander West is found in the Orange County census for 1755.  According to his military records, Alexander West II, the son of Alexander West I, was born in 1751 in the area that was to become Orange County.  Recorded, oral family history indicates that John West, my 4th great grandfather and also a son of Alexander West I, was born about 1760 in Orange County. 
Even in Orange and Surry counties, these ancestors were not immune to the warfare in North Carolina.  In fact, in 1768, the Regulators, a group of poorly organized and poorly armed farmers who sought relief from unjust taxes and corruption of local officials, staged a protest in Hillsborough, the county seat of Orange County.  The ensuing battle at Alamance on May 16, 1771, claimed several dozen lives; 200 Regulators were wounded; and 15 Regulator leaders were captured with one being hanged “on the spot.”   The remaining 14 were marched back to Hillsborough.  Of those, 12 were found guilty of treason and sentenced to be executed.  Six were pardoned, but the remaining six were publicly hanged.  Some refer to this protest or rebellion as a precursor to the Revolutionary War.[iii]
By 1775 Alexander West I and his son, Alexander West II, are found in the tax records for Surry (created in 1771) and Wilkes (created 1777) counties.  Therefore, we may assume that Alexander and his son emigrated from Orange to Surry about 1775.  Additional documentation indicates that Alexander West [II] was a private from Wilkes County volunteering in service in 1779 [mostly likely, in the militia] in pursuit of Cherokee Indians.
As we examine the way of life during those tumultuous periods of warfare in our country’s history, we must hold in the foremost parts of our minds the hardships, fears, physical atrocities, and deaths that our ancestors endured.

[i] Crouch, John. Historical Sketches of Wilkes County, 1902, published in New River Notes,

[ii]French and Indian War, North Carolina Interactive Video, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources,

[iii]Mobley, Joe A., editor. The Way We Lived in North Carolina. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2003, pp. 99-102.

Additional Sources:
·         French and Indian War,
·         North Carolina in the French and Indian War,

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