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 Co., VA, around 1765 and had settled on the North Holston near the present town of Mendota. This area in 1772 lay in Fincastle Co., 1776 in Washington Co.
October 4, 1776 the will of William Todd Livingston was probated in the court at Abingdon, county seat of Washington Co. This will stated that his estate was to go to his wife Sarah, and his eight children. (1)
Over the ensuing years 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 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.
story as told by Elizabeth Livingston, wife of Peter Livingston, to
Campbell, military officer of the area, and certified by him to the
of Virginia, April 15, 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 Wood 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.
the records and try to straighten out a few points of contention
even today in the area where Chief Benge was killed.
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, ragged, stone gap by the northern tributary of Powell River.
Now it was at this great Stone Gap that Chief Benge was mostly 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 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 Co., VA, 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 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. This was probably Capt. 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. Capt. 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)
Lieutenant Hobbs on reaching Stone Gap, discovered that Indians had
passed through before him; he therefore pursued with eagerness and soon
discovered two Indians kindling a fire; these they instantly
and finding some plunder with them, which they knew must have been
from the Livingston house, they at once came to the conclusion that
two had been sent forward to hunt for provisions and that the others
yet behind with
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....
However, it was not Peter's wife but Henry's.
is no such
rugged terrain as described here just south of Norton: no great
no great gorge; no cliffs, merely a small bump of stone which is
to be Hobbs' hiding place; no stream which could be called a furious
just a small branch which today is called Benge's Branch. Now it must
recognized that there were no white settlers in Norton until about
nearly a hundred years after Benge's demise; consequently, traditional
stories, and the
reached Elizabeth soon after she was struck with the tomahawk, an hour
later she regained consciousness.
book 1, page 73 Abingdon Court Records; (2) Summers, L. P., ANNALS OF
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