“Murder, Murder!”

Dale Carter shouted these words of warning to his companions at Fort Blackmore when he spotted a group of Indians stealthily approaching the fort in an attempted surprise attack. The warning gave sufficient time for the defenders to secure the fort, but Carter was outside of the walls and no one was able to come to his aid as he was disabled by a gunshot, tomahawked, and scalped. Without his alert, everyone at the fort might well have met the same fate.

The year was 1774, and it was a time of great tension and violence on the western frontier of the American colonies. In 1768, a treaty with the Iroquois had officially opened land west of the Appalachians for settlement. However, other Native American nations such as the Shawnee and Mingo did not accede to the treaty, and as settlers began arriving in their hunting grounds they made their displeasure known. Among the first victims was a small party that included a teenage son of famed frontiersman Daniel Boone, killed in a massacre near the Clinch River valley in the fall of 1773 by an attack that brutally interrupted Boone’s very first effort to lead settlers to Kentucky. The broader conflict ultimately became Lord Dunsmore’s War, a military campaign by the royal governor of Virginia which ended in an uneasy peace in late 1774. War would later reignite as one front in the American Revolutionary War.

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Modern photo (2015) of Clinch River at Fort Blackmore via Wikimedia

Fort Blackmore was located on the west side of the crest of the Appalachians, on the Clinch River in what is now the southwest corner of Virginia. Settlers had constructed the fort sometime in late 1773 when a few families crossed the mountains seeking inexpensive new land to farm. It was not unusual for frontier farm families to build some common defensible structure where they could shelter during periodic conflicts with their Native American neighbors.

Among the leaders of the enterprise were two brothers, John and Joseph Blackmore, for whom the fort was named. Both are ancestors of Lula Mai Blakemore (as the surname came to be spelled in later generations). They were sons of Edward Blackmore, an immigrant from the county of Devon in England, who came to Virginia sometime before 1714. He had married Hannah Rogers, the daughter of an established Virginia planter and the granddaughter of Major Edward Dale and Diana Skipwith, British nobility who had fled to the American colonies in the middle of the 17th century to escape Oliver Cromwell’s rule in England.

The Blackmore brothers were persuaded of the Clinch River’s promise by the enthusiasm of David Cox, who had previously explored the region. Settlers of this era were apparently prone to overlook potential downsides to these ventures – Cox had just escaped from several years as an Indian captive. The timing of the Blackmore’s move to the Clinch could not have been worse as the fight between natives and settlers heated up over the next several months. Scattered barbarities became full-scale war after frontiersmen massacred a group of Mingo – including women and children – who had been on a friendly visit with a settler at Yellow Creek in what is now Ohio. Among the victims were family members of Logan, a previously peaceful Mingo leader who was now moved to vengeance. He was joined by other Mingo and Shawnee in attacking frontier farms and communities.

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Statue of Logan at Chief Logan State Park, West Virginia, via Wikimedia Commons

Logan himself appeared outside of Fort Blackmore on September 23, 1774 and captured two of John Blackmore’s slaves. The war chief marched the men up and down in front of the fort, taunting the settlers inside and trying to lure them into attempting a rescue, but with only 11 men at the fort the defenders felt their strength was insufficient and did not take the bait. The captives were taken away and there is no record as to whether their fortunes improved or declined with their new captors. Two weeks later Logan’s warriors returned for the sneak attack that resulted in the death of Dale Carter.

By this time, Fort Blackmore was one of several in the area under the command of Daniel Boone. Boone remained in the Clinch River valley after the death of his son and companions because many of his prospective Kentucky settlers were too sad, discouraged, and fearful to continue westward. He spent the winter of 1773/74 in a cabin just a few miles upstream of the fort, and Boone legends mention times when he visited. After the Yellow Creek Massacre, Virginia officials dispatched him to Kentucky to warn land surveyors about their new danger. After completing the mission he returned to the Clinch at the end of the summer of 1774 and attempted to join Virginia militia that were marching north to join Lord Dunsmore’s force for the battle that would ultimately decide the war. However, local leaders decided his skills were more needed to defend the settlements. So he stayed, and guided the defense of the southwest Virginia frontier through several skirmishes, including those with Logan. The war soon ended, with native leaders asking for peace after the battle of Point Pleasant in October, 1774.

Logan survived the war but did not attend the peace negotiations. He seems to have won great respect from the American settlers as indicated by the number of monuments and places that bear his name, even though he fought in opposition during both Dunsmore’s War and the Revolutionary War which followed. He is best known for Logan’s Lament, a speech he gave at the end of Dunsmore’s War that was printed in colonial newsletters and appears in Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia. It reads:

I appeal to any white man to say, if ever he entered Logan’s cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat; if ever he came cold and naked, and he clothed him not. During the course of the last long and bloody war [French and Indian War], Logan remained idle in his cabin, an advocate for peace. Such was my love for the whites, that my countrymen pointed as they passed, and said, Logan is the friend of the white men. I have even thought to live with you but for the injuries of one man. Col. Cresap, the last spring, in cold blood, and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not sparing even my women and children. There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature. This has called on me for revenge. I have sought it: I have killed many: I have fully glutted my vengeance. For my country, I rejoice at the beams of peace. But do not harbor a thought that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. He will not turn on his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one.

The reference to “Col. Cresap” was the result of a mistake. Logan thought that Michael Cresap was responsible for the Yellow Creek Massacre which was not the case. The misunderstanding was later cleared up and the men reconciled, and the next three generations of Cresap’s family each had a boy named Logan.

With the end of major hostilities, Daniel Boone again turned his attention to his dream of settling Kentucky, and began a collaboration with an entrepreneur named Richard Henderson who questionably purchased a large block of land from the Cherokee with Boone’s assistance. Boone then cut his famous Wilderness Road from Virginia to Kentucky  (which passed very near Fort Blackmore on its way to Cumberland Gap) to facilitate travel by settlers, and he himself was among the thousands who moved west to this new land.

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Daniel Boone escorting settlers through the Cumberland Gap by George Caleb Bingham, 1851-52. Painting at Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis

Both John and Joseph Blackmore lost children to battles with Indians during and after the American Revolution. While that war still raged, ever-ambitious pioneers headed further west including John. In the spring of 1780 he commanded a group of flatboats that descended the Clinch River and joined a second group of boats led by John Donelson at the junction with the Tennessee River. Together, the combined flotilla traveled down the Tennessee and then up the Ohio and Cumberland Rivers to the founding of a new settlement on the banks of the Cumberland. Originally called Nashboro, we know the city today as Nashville.

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