PUBLICATION 3 - 1967
CHIEF 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. (1)
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
Indians crossed Clinch Mountain and went as far as Copper Creek,
about 8 miles.
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 Mountains.
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, they knew.
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 was killed.
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.
bear out the correctness of this marker. We can see by Mrs.
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
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
until it is broken by the well-known Big Stone Gap, situated just north
of the town
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 _____ Dotson." (6)
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)
month of April 1794, just before daylight, a man by the name of John
rode up to Yokum Station in Powell Valley and informed the station that
Indians had taken the wives of Peter and Henry Livingston...
"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 Benge.
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 silver-mounted rifle."
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 them." (14)
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.
same year, he wrote as follows:
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.
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