The British Invasion of Kentucky

by Winston Coleman

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With an Account of the Capture of Ruddell's

and Martin's Stations, June, 1780



J. Winston Coleman, Jr., Litt.D.





The British Invasion of Kentucky

During the summer of 1779, as the slowly-moving American Revolution was dragging along into its fifth year, the cause of the British arms was beginning to look desperate and the red-coated soldiery of King George III had gained but few foot-holds in the revolted colonies. To bolster their war effort, the British high command adopted an overall strategy which, among other things, called for an all-out campaign against the American frontier settlements in the West.

Added to the British failure in their struggle against the colonies was Spain's intervention in the war with England. In June of this year (1779), His Most Catholic Majesty allied his government with that of France and the United States, at the same time declaring war against the much harassed George III. The Spanish Dons were eager to recover property formerly seized by the predatory British, and especially to retake the rich lands of the Mississippi Valley. The Spaniards would, as the War Office assumed, quickly launch campaigns against the English posts on the Gulf.

Another cause for British alarm was the rapid influx of "rebel" settlers into the Kentucky region, or the "County of Kentucky"-a vast area beyond the Alleghenies which the state of Virginia had erected by an act of her Legislature nearly three years before. A new and improved Virginia land act of 1779 provided far better pre-emption rights for settlers and more secure land tenure than had previously existed. During the fall, winter and spring of 1779-1780, an unprecedented flow of immigrants came to Kentucky, "with a view of exploring the country, so as to enable them to locate their warrants to the greatest advantage," [1] before the land office (at Wilson's Station, near Harrodsburg) was scheduled to open on May 1st, 1780. This large transmontane immigration from the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia caused undue apprehension among the British officers and greatly accelerated their war activity.

In May, 1780, Major Arent S. De Peyster, Lieutenant-Governor of Canada and commander of the British forces at Detroit, wrote to General Frederick Haldiman, Governor-General of Canada, at Montreal, giving information on the alarming conditions in the Western Country:

"The Delawares and Shawnese are . . . daily bringing in scalps & prisoners . . . those unhappy people being part of the one thousand families who to shun the oppression of Congress are on their way to possess the country of Kentuck[y]. where if they are allowed quietly to settle, they will soon become formidable both to the Indians & to the Posts."[2]

and ten days later, he wrote to Lieut. Col. Mason Bolton, Deputy Indian Agent, at Montreal, telling of the rapidity with which the settlers were gaining foot-holds in the territory beyond the Allegheny Mountains. "They report that the Rebels . . . have now surrounded the Indian hunting ground of Kentuck[y], having erected small Forts at about two days journey from each other." Major De Peyster added, in closing, that this was "the finest country for new settlers in America, but it happens unfortunately for them to be the Indians best hunting ground, which they will never give up, and in fact, it is our interest not to let the Virginians, Marylanders & Pennsylvanians get possession there, lest in a short while they become formidable to this [Detroit] Post."[3]

Thus, by reason of the foregoing circumstances, the British authorities in Canada and Detroit, headquarters for the Northwest, began lavishing large sums of money and presents on the Indians in order to satisfy their evergrowing demands and prepare them to assist in carrying out another part of the comprehensive plan for the conquest of the West. The Indians, in turn, seeing their favorite hunting grounds being taken over by the white settlers, turned to the British for help and Major De Peyster set about retaining their good will on an ambitious scale, as some of his bills for "Indian goods" show. One account for 12,185 pounds included:
"750 lb. vermilion [paint] 750 pounds
8000 lbs. powder 2000 pounds
14,975 ball, lead & shot 1123 pounds
476 doz. scalping knives 428 pounds
188 tomahawks 119 pounds"[4]

And in another account, labeled "Goods suitable for the Indian trade", there is listed a large quantity of vermilion paint, "New Pinsilvania rifles" and "scalping knives [with] good blades & solid handles."[5] Armed with these formidable presents and inspired by rewards of others, the Indians stepped up their scalp-hunting trips to Kentucky. All along the lonely trails, scores of hapless men, women and children were ambushed, murdered and scalped.[6] Their fiendish work done, the savages with such captives as they saw fit to take, would hasten back to Detroit to collect from the British government, money or presents for each scalp or prisoner delivered.

Meanwhile, the British grand strategy provided for a series of far-reaching military operations in the West, embracing the whole area from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Their gigantic plan called for the capture of the stations in Illinois and Indiana, including Kaskaskia, Cahokia and Vincennes, as well as the settlements at the falls of the Ohio; moreover, it contemplated the taking of Fort Pitt (on the Ohio) and Fort Cumberland (on the Potomac); and, furthermore, it involved seizure of the Spanish strongholds along the Mississippi, the principals of which were St. Louis and New Orleans.

However, the prosecution of this ambitious project could not match the boldness of the plan, and it broke down in almost every part. The only successful campaign in 1780 was under the direction of Captain Henry Bird,[7] of His Majesty's 8th Regiment of Foot. And even this enterprise, as executed, was not contemplated in the original planning since the object of the campaign was to attack and capture George Rogers Clark's fort (Tort Nelson) at the falls of the Ohio, after which it was confidently expected that all Kentucky could be swept clear of settlers.

Bird, who had served a number of years in the British army, came to Detroit from Niagara in 1778, and, on May 11th of that year, was promoted to the rank of captain.[8] Later, he assisted in the laying out of a fort on the elevated ground in the rear of the village where the present-day streets of Fort and Shelby intersect. For the next year or so, Captain Bird was stationed at Sandusky, charged with the duty of stirring up Indian war-parties to raid the Ohio frontier and other settlements. In the spring of 1780 he was ordered to lead an expedition against the exposed Kentucky settlements on the American frontier, as a part of the overall British strategy for the conquest of the straggling colonists.

It is apparent that the British knew that the secret plans of their Kentucky invasion had spread throughout the Western Country, as evidenced by one of Captain Bird's letters to his superior officer, Major De Peyster. On May 21st, 1780 he wrote:

"Col. [George Rogers] Clarke is advised of our coming, tho' ignorant of our numbers and artillery. There are ten or fifteen forts near each other, houses put in the form of a square. I keep the little gun [three pounder] for quick transportation from one [place] to the other ... Col. Clarke says he will wait for us, instead of going to the Mississippi. His numbers do not exceed two hundred. His provisions & ammunition [are] short . . . "[9]

On May 25th, 1780, Captain Bird left Detroit with an army of 150 whites and one hundred lake Indians. From the accounts of Macomb, Edgar & Macomb,[10] fiscal agents to the British Government at Detroit, one may read the names and rates of pay of the Detroit volunteers who joined Bird's army of invasion. These were chiefly Frenchmen, since Detroit was still a French settlement "overlaid with a thin veneer of British officialdom." Captain Louis J. Chabert and Lieutenant Jonathan Schieffelin headed the list of the militia muster, with four sergeants and three corporals. Of the 150 white men in the expedition, only thirty appear to have been volunteers; the rest were "ordered out," proving that so far as the French settlers were concerned, they had but little desire to fight the Americans. Bird's motley force left Detroit by water; descended the Detroit River in sailing vessels, bateaux and birch canoes; paddled across Lake Erie to the mouth of the Maumee; rowed up that river to the portage; transported to the Great Miami and dropped down that stream to the Ohio. Bird had considerable trouble in bringing the artillery up shallow rivers in canoes and then portaging the guns over wilderness roads, with so few pack-horses that they had to make several trips back and forth over the portage. Reaching the mouth of the Miami early in June, the main body camped there to await the arrival of certain chiefs from Chillicothe.

By this time the expedition had gathered a large body of Indians from the various nations-Ottawas, Hurons, Shawnees, Chippewas, Delawares and Mingoes. It was unusual in that it carried along two field-pieces, a threepounder and a six-pounder, with a detachment of bombardiers from the Royal Regiment of Artillery to fire them. With such equipment, the British believed the small Kentucky stockades could be smashed with solid shot and the whole thing quickly ended with tomahawk and scalping knife.

Numbered among the white men in this British expedition were several renegade Americans, already notorious on the American frontier: Simon Girty (the "white savage") and his two brothers, George and Thomas; Matthew Elliott and Captain Alexander McKee,[11] renowned like the Girtys for their skill in handling the Indians and exciting them to war against the Americans; also Jacques Duperon Baby, an influential French citizen of Detroit, Philip le Due, Duncan Graham and several others employed by the British Indian department.

Captain Bird's rendezvous at the mouth of the Miami continued for some days; the Indian allies first were late in arriving and then mutinous. In fact, the British themselves were worried over Bird's personal safety at their hands, and General Haldimand, Commander-in-Chief in Canada, expressed concern over "the fickleness of the Indians and their aversion to controul." Captain McKee, a trusted agent of the British and second in command, caught up with Bird's war party on May 31st. Next day a band of 300 warriors joined him and on June 5th there was to be a general rendezvous of all the tribes, from a number of different places on the Ohio River.

On June 3rd, Bird was still delayed at the mouth of the Miami River waiting for the Chillicothe chiefs, though in the meantime a third band of warriors had brought his force of red men up to about seven hundred. He now received information that General Clark with most of his effective fighting force had recently left Fort Nelson, at the falls of the Ohio, and gone down the Mississippi River several miles below the mouth of the Ohio, to erect a fort (Fort Jefferson) at the Iron Banks.[12]

Both Captains Bird and McKee were therefore eager to press on to the falls, hoping to capture it before Clark's return. The former wrote his superior officer in Detroit that it would be "possible for us to get to the Falls by the 10th of the month [June], certain[ly] by the 14th, the Indians have their full spirits, the ammunition & every thing plenty, and in the state we could wish it. After taking the Falls," continued Bird, "the country on our return, will be submissive & in a manner subdued, but if we attack the nearer forts first, the ammunition is wasted, or expended, and our People far from fresh."[13]

A week later, on June 9th, 1780, Bird's army reached the banks of the Ohio River, opposite the mouth of the Licking and went into camp on the present site of Cincinnati. Here again trouble developed between the British officers and their Indian allies. The braves were not convinced that the powerful "Chief" of the "Long Knives" would not be at the falls to greet them and therefore took refuge in delay. A series of powwows and council fires lasted for two or three days. Clark's wide reputation as an Indian fighter seems to have thrown a great scare into the Indians, who now flatly refused to descend the Ohio River to the falls (Fort Nelson), the site of Louisville. Instead, they insisted on ascending the Licking River and attacking the interior settlements of Kentucky, or "the forts on Licking creek," which promised less fighting and more booty than the prospect held out at Fort Nelson. Then too, the chiefs gave as their reason for their opposition to the falls venture that it would leave their own villages on the Ohio "naked & defenseless" in the neighborhood of these forts. Pointing to the fact that several Kentucky stockades lay on Licking River, they contended that settlers from these forts might attack their Ohio villages with success should Bird and his men move down the Ohio. Though warmly pleading the falls venture, neither Bird nor McKee could shake the braves' determination not to attack it. Apparently helpless to do otherwise and thoroughly disgusted, Bird reluctantly consented to the Indian plan of operations.

"After two days councilling whether they would proceed immediately by the Falls, or attack the forts on Licking Creek," wrote Captain Bird to Major De Peyster, "the Indians have determined for Licking Creek & tomorrow [June 12th] by day break we move up that stream. I confess to you," continued Bird the British commander, "my patience have [has] received very severe shocks, and would have long ago [been] exhausted, had I not so excellent an example before me as the one Capt. [Alexander] McKee sets, indeed he manages the Indians to a charm ... it is now sixteen days since I arrived at the Forks, [the place] appointed by the Indians to meet, and by one ridiculous delay & the other, they have prolonged or retarded [the expedition[ to this day."[14]

Above the forks of the Licking River were two fairly strong stations, or pioneer stockades-Ruddell's and Martin's. The first, misnamed "Riddles" by John Filson on his 1784 map of Kentucky, was a stockaded log settlement of the type common in early Kentucky and contained "at least 18 or 20 families, with block-houses and pickets."[15] This station was located on the north bank of the south fork of Licking, three miles below the juncture of Stoner and Hinkston's forks, in present-day Harrison County.[16] It had been established during the year 1775 by John Hinkston, who remained there more than a year, during which time a little community grew up. However, this station was abandoned in the summer of 1776, when Indian raids threatened. In April, 1779, Captain Isaac Ruddell rebuilt the old station, it being variously known as Fort Licking; as Fort Liberty, but most of the time as Ruddell's Station.

Martin's Station[17] was named for John Martin[18] who had erected a cabin on the site in 1775. It was located on a rising plot of ground in a horseshoe bend on the north bank of Stoner Creek, in present Bourbon County, about three and a half or four miles northwest of Paris, Kentucky. In 1779 numerous settlers came in which led to the building of a stockade there, similar in construction and size to that of near-by Ruddell's Station.

By June of 1780, perhaps upwards of three hundred to three hundred and fifty persons resided in the Ruddell's-Martin's community. This increased population was prompted, no doubt, by the new Virginia land act, previously mentioned. It is interesting to note that many of the settlers were Pennsylvania Germans and that some were loyalists, whom the British contended, had moved to Kentucky to escape persecution or the possibility of taking up arms against the British crown. For the most part, the new settlers were not warlike and apparently had little military aptitude. The taking up of land, building homes and tending crops constituted their principal interest, despite the fact that the American Revolution was in full progress and the threat of death from Indian raids and forays ever present.

As previously stated, Captain Bird's discordant party left their camp on the Ohio River in the early morning hours of June 12th, and began paddling up the swollen Licking, or the Nepernine, as the Indians termed it. Their slow trip up that stream in pirogues and canoes, which consumed over a week to the forks, has been vividly described by a modern writer:

"There were no curious eyes to gaze upon this host on rapine, plunder and massacre bent, as it paddled and pushed its slow way up the Nepernine ... A British officer of the King's Regiment, with McKee, a despised and worthless renegade who had deserted his cause and his people, in command of a foreign soldiery--Canadian woodsmen, trappers and regular soldiers and a horde of savages, intolerant of discipline, giving ear to their white leaders only to learn the way to a harvest of bloody scalps, and plundered homes, seen only by the wild deer and the slinking fox, a hundred and fifty years and more ago, they came at last to the forks of the river, and here they landed."[19]

On June 20th, the invaders reached the forks of the Licking, now the present site of Falmouth, in Pendleton County. There was then no settlement in this part of Kentucky. Here the entire force, because of shallow water, was obliged to disembark, where they erected temporary huts and shelters for their boats and stores. Then the army began a slow and tedious overland march to Ruddell's Station, distant forty-five miles, laboriously cutting as they went, a wagon-road sufficiently wide over which the two pieces of cannon were dragged. Judging by the speed of the movement after the 20th, this project along the south fork of the Licking was executed with tremendous vigor.

Captain Alexander McKee, second in command, with a force of about 200 Indians formed an advance unit and surrounded sleeping Ruddell's Station before daylight on the morning of June 24th. In consequence of the rainy season which had lasted for many days, "the men at Ruddle's and Martin's stations, who were accustomed [hunting] to be in the woods, had all come in,"[20] and no scouts had been sent out for several days past. This may account for the fact that, although the British-Indian force had been thirteen days enroute from the mouth of the Licking (a distance of 76 miles), the settlers were entirely unaware of the movement until an Irishman, named McCarty, in Bird's command, disobeying orders, shot into the stockade at dawn.[21]

Firing commenced shortly thereafter on both sides and the little fort defended itself vigorously until noon. About that time, Captain Bird arrived with the rest of his force and the smaller of the two field-pieces, the three-pounder. Two discharges of this gun were sent against the wooden fort, which did nothing more than knock in one of the logs of a corner block-house. The settlers were not too impressed by the small cannon, even less after it had been fired with little effect. But when the large six-pounder was wheeled in sight of the startled Kentuckians and made ready for firing, they realized it was now only a matter of minutes before their stockade would be pounded to pieces and a breach opened for Bird's wild and blood-thirsty Indians.

At this point Captain Bird sent Simon Girty with a flag of truce demanding the surrender of the fort. According to Girty's story, "many rifles were pointed at him as he entered the stockade." He declared he kept cool, and informed those inside the pickets that, "unless they surrendered, they would all be killed; a determination they clearly saw would be carried out in the event of longer resistance, as the other [six-pounder] field-piece was now brought up and the two would soon batter down the frail stockade."[22]

Conscious of their serious predicament, the Americans asked for time to consider the matter and the request was granted. Captain Ruddell and the settlers vigorously discussed the question of defending the fort; some voted for immediate capitulation while a number of others favored making a death stand. At length, however, -it was voted to surrender and the white flag was raised. For the first time in history a Kentucky fort had capitulated. Captain Bird in his official report gives a graphic account of the engagement:

"We arrived before Fort Liberty [on] the 24th of June . . . the three-pounder was not sufficient, our People raised a battery of Rails & Earth within 80 yards of the Fort-taking some advantage of a very violent storm of rain which prevented them being clearly seen -they stood two discharges of the little gun, which only cut down a spar & stuck the shot in the side of a house-when they saw the six-pounder moving across the field, they immediately surrendered, they thought the three-pounder a swivel the Indians and their department had got with them. The conditions granted [were] that their lives should be saved, and themselves taken to Detroit. I forewarned them that the savages would adopt some of their children. The Indians gave in consent the cattle for the good of our people & the prisoners, and were not to enter [the fort] till the next day-But whilst Capt. McKee & myself were in the fort settling these matters, they rush'd in, tore the pore children from their mother's breasts, killed a wounded man and every one of the cattle, leaving the whole [of the carcasses] to stink. We had brought no pork with us & were now reduced to great distress, & the poor prisoners in danger of being starved."[23]

Several versions of the action at Ruddell's Station are extant. James Trabue, present in the fort and captured, stated in 1781 to his brother, Daniel, who wrote a diary, that after Bird arrived with his cannon, a flag was sent in and surrender demanded. This being refused the cannon was fired twice, doing little damage. Trabue declared that Captain Ruddell advocated capitulation while he (Trabue) and Captain John Hinkston strongly insisted on defending the station. "At length," Trabue declared, "Capt. Ruddle got a majority on his side and petitioned Col. Byrd to capitulate." He recalled that the flag was sent "back and forth several times" before "the articles [of surrender] were signed and agreed to." Trabue, who wrote the capitulation agreement, declared that Captain Bird promised that he and his white soldiers would protect the captives who would be held under British protection, march them safely to Detroit and keep the Indians away from them. He said it was even agreed that "the people's clothing and papers should be kept secured to themselves with some little exception."[24]

There seems to be no disagreement about the statement, that when Bird and McKee were yet in the fort signing the papers, the savages charged through the open gates and fell upon the defenseless prisoners. "The Indians came rushing in," Trabue declared, "and plundered the people and they even stripped their clothes off them and divided the prisoners among the Indians." Continued Trabue, "In a few minutes the man did not know where his wife or child was, nor the wife know where her husband or either of her children was, nor the children where their parents or brothers or sisters were."[25]

Each Indian seemed bent upon snatching a prisoner, articles of clothing and trinkets. James Trabue declared that all his clothing was pulled off and that he was given "one of their ragged lously shirts to put on" which failed to prevent the sun from burning his skin. What happened to Trabue happened to the other men also. The wild scene was almost indescribable; mothers hysterical with fright frantically screaming for their children and the pitiful crying of children for their parents. A number of the settlers were killed and mangled on the spot.

Following the savage orgy at Ruddell's, mild-mannered Bird chided the red men for having broken their promise, and Ruddell himself remonstrated against the British commander for the treatment his people had received, but to no avail. In order "to prevent jealousies & dissatisfaction," the leading chiefs agreed to an equal distribution of the plunder, clothes and trinkets. "But the violence of the lake Indians," noted McKee, "in seizing the prisoners, contrary to agreement, threw everything in confusion." However, continued McKee, "the other nations next morning returned all they had taken [prisoners], back to Capt. Bird's charge."[26]

Next day after Ruddell's Station was taken, Captain McKee sent out scouts in the afternoon "towards the enemies second [Martin's] fort," and captured two men "going express to alarm the other forts of our approach."[27] The information received from the prisoners prompted Bird and McKee, and their red allies, to march at once against this stockade, some five miles distant. It was not however, until Bird had exacted another promise from the chiefs that prisoners taken should be entirely under his control and the Indians entitled only to the plunder.

With this assurance from Blue Jacket and the other chiefs, Bird's force set out for Martin's Station and reached it next morning (June 26th) about ten o'clock. One of the prisoners taken the day before was sent in to the fort, under a flag of truce, "to inform them of their situation" and to carry Bird's demand for capitulation. After a brief consultation, held in the absence of Captain John Martin who was away on a hunting trip, the defenders of the fort agreed that it would be useless to fight against such odds. The little garrison surrendered without firing a shot. All the settlers were led out "under a guard of the [white] troops"; the Indians divided the spoil among themselves and Captain Bird took charge of the prisoners.

The carnage at Ruddell's and Martin's stations on those hot June days was no doubt more ghastly than would be depicted by Captain Bird, who could not be expected to dwell too much on the matter of slain settlers, although he thoroughly detested and distrusted his Indian allies. Simon Kenton stated that he and Charles Gatliff passed these two stations soon after the tragedy and found "a number of people lying about killed & scalped."[28] Jeremiah Morrow, whose father, James, was one of the captives, related to Lyman C. Draper, that "the Indians entered the fort [Ruddell's] & commenced a terrible slaughter ... some 20 were tomahawked in cold blood," he declared.[29]

The disgusted Captain Bird wrote a further account after the fall[30] of Martin's Station: "The same promises were made & broke in the same manner, not one pound of meat & near 300 prisoners-Indians breaking into the forts after the treaties were concluded."[31] At Martin's, Bird insisted that the Indians deliver all prisoners with at least a suit of clothes left them and then quietly told the Kentuckians to put on as many clothes as they could wear, one suit over the other. In spite of this measure, prisoners were knocked down and stripped. When the prisoners were removed under the protection of the white troops, the Indians became indignant, "and the great propensity for plunder," observed McKee, "again occasioned discontent amongst them and several parties set out toward the adjacent forts to plunder horses." Two other small forts, or groups of cabins, whose settlers had fled and left everything, were burned.

Before the savages could satisfy their innate thirst for blood and pillage, they "heard news of Col. Clarke's coming against them & [some of the less daring] proposed returning -which indeed," wrote Bird, "had they not proposed, I must have insisted on, as I had then fasted some time & the prisoners in danger of starving."[32] Captain McKee, agreeing with Bird, saw that the large number of prisoners "now amounting to between three & four hundred" was presenting "many other insurmountable difficulties," and this especially with the great scarcity of provisions.

The larger body of the Indians, however, elated at the ease with which the two stations had been captured and caring less for the fate of the prisoners, now pressed Captain Bird to go forward and assist them in taking Bryan's Station and Lexington, some 25 to 30 miles to the southeast. To this proposal, the British commander declined, giving as his reasons the improbability of success; the great necessity for and impossibility of securing provisions for the prisoners already taken and the difficulty of transporting their artillery further inland. As an additional argument against their plan, Bird pointed out the necessity of a quick return on the Licking River before the waters fell, which might be expected to take place in a few days.[33]

These arguments finally prevailed and the invaders, with Simon Girty as the chief interpreter, retraced their steps to Ruddell's, probably to pick up some of their ill-gotten plunder. While resting here, one of their scouts came in with a prisoner from the fort at the falls of the Ohio, with the news that "Col. Clarke was daily expected there & was to command an army against the Indians." Bird would have liked to have moved down the Licking and Ohio rivers, and attack the fort at Louisville, but this was out of the question. His supply of provisions was nearly exhausted, and there was danger of the prisoners starving -all because of the wanton destruction of the cattle at Ruddell's by the Indians. There was no other alternative, but to return, as quickly as possible to Detroit.

After it was decided not to attack Bryan's and the other settlements in central Kentucky, the expedition started back to Canada with its captives, loaded down with their own household goods. Several days were consumed in the overland march back to the forks of the Licking, where Bird and his men had left their boats and baggage. At this place, the Indians deserted the British and took with them the whole of the prisoners captured at Ruddell's Station. However, Captain McKee, who was now ready to leave with the Indians, "engaged a few of the chiefs to stay with Capt. Bird," for as he wrote, "more would be useless & troublesome to him," and especially as there "could be no apprehension of danger immediately from the enemy."[34]

In a short while Bird and his white men and a few of the Indians succeeded in getting their military supplies together and "with all possible dispatch [they] got their artillery and military stores on board, and moved off " down the Licking River, "& having a very high flood would be able to reach the big Miami in a very short time." The Indians, under Captain McKee, with their captives pushed on ahead of Bird's party, as they seemed morbidly fearful of being overtaken by the "Chief" of the "Big Knives," as General Clark was known on the frontier. Moreover, they were eager to reach Detroit to sell to the British and French those captives not wanted as slaves, and to collect on the scalps[36] they had taken at Ruddell's and Martin's. Their general policy seems to have been to sell the men, make slaves of the women and adopt the children into their tribes." A number of the captives, unable to endure the killing-pace required, were dispatched with the tomahawk while enroute.[37]

In fact, the entire journey was, for the captives, one of suffering and horror, made so by the rapid pace set, the brutality of the savages[38] and the scarcity of provisions.[39] Bird realized that if his own prisoners were to reach Detroit alive, the utmost speed in traveling was necessary.

Reaching the "Ohio River, opposite Licking Creek" on July first, the Captain sent De Peyster news of his slow progress homeward: "I marched the poor women & children 20 miles in one day over very high mountains, freightening them with frequent alarms to push forward, in short, Sir, by water & land we came with all our cannon, &c, 90 [761 miles in 4 days, one day out of which we lay by entirely, rowing 50 miles the last-we have no meat & must subsist on flour if there is nothing at [Pierre] Lorimier's.[40] I am out of hope of getting any Indians to hunt, or to accompany us, however, George Girty 1 detain to assist me -1 could Sir, by all accounts have gone through the whole country [Kentucky] without any opposition, had the Indians preserved the cattle. Everything is safe so far, but we are not as yet out of reach of pursuit ... "[41]

Three weeks later, on July 24th, Bird and the prisoners reached the "Ottawa Village, first landing on the [Auglaize] Glaize," and reported that "we have made out so far very well ... with fourteen days hard working arrived at the Standing Stone,[42] which is one hundred and twenty miles against a very bad & rappid river. All other delays were occasioned by the transportation of the artillery, stores, &c, which we have got to Monsr. Lorimier's by going & returning with the few horses Capt. Hare brought us." When Captain Bird, after ascending the Big Miami, reached the trading-post of Loramie, he was forced to leave his two cannon there to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy. William Homan, one of the bombardiers in Bird's outfit, was greatly distressed because the Americans were advancing so rapidly (Clark's retaliatory campaign)[43] that he could not withdraw the guns which had compelled the two Kentucky stations to surrender. He had been left only one horse by the Indians. However, he "drew the Gun a considerable way into the wood, not near any road & digged a hole & buried it so securely, that no one could even suspect of such a thing being concealed there. The smaller ordnance [3 pounder], loose shot, and shells, &c, we concealed in different parts of the woods."[44]

Continuing his slow march, Bird and his nondescript army reached Detroit on the morning of August 4th, 1780, "with about one hundred and fifty prisoners, mostly Germans who speak English,"[45] and some two hundred more were on the way in the hands of the Indians; all of whom were "greatly fatigued from travelling so far, some sick & some wounded." Not all of the group that left Kentucky some five weeks before reached Detroit alive. However, strange as it may seem, many of those that survived the dreadful march were not downcast by any means.

Captain Bird stated that of his group of captives, "I don't believe we have more than two families that are really Rebels, their names McGuire and Mahon." Most of the prisoners, he thought, are "good farmers with industrious families who are desirous of being settled in Detroit with some good land." Of these, he reported, some fled "from persecution & declare if [our] Government will assist them to get on foot as farmers, they will, as military, faithfully defend the country that affords them protection."[46]

This simply means, as mentioned before, that a good many of the prisoners taken at Ruddell's and Martin's stations were not ardent patriots to begin with; they were simply land seekers and happened to find it in Kentucky. Their lack of attachment to the cause of the colonists is further revealed by the fact that thirteen of the men captured, promptly enlisted in the British rangers at Detroit for service against the American frontier.[47] Two daughters of Pierre Faure (or Foree) who were captured in Ruddell's Station later became the wives of British officers, by name Wycoff and Smith.[48]

Most of the Kentucky prisoners remained in British custody for the next two and one-half years. A number of Negro slaves were among the captives from Ruddell's and Martin's stations and these, it seems, were bought for the most part by British officers and French traders. Many of the white men were put to work at small pay; others were kept in jails. Still others escaped and some were ransomed.

On August 31, 1782, Colonel Benjamin Logan, County Lieutenant of Lincoln County, advised the Governor of Virginia of the sad fate of the remaining Kentucky prisoners, stating that "many of the men were taken to Detroit & their wives retained among the Indians as slaves.[49] Some of the men are now at Montreal," continued Logan, "and others in different parts toward the [Great] Lakes."[50] Governor Benjamin Harrison, on October 25th, 1782, relayed these facts to General George Washington, calling attention to an existing cartel "for the exchange & relief of prisoners taken in the Southern department," by which "these poor people [the Kentuckians] have a just cause to their release."[51] However, nothing came of the matter until a preliminary treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States was signed at Paris, France, on November 30th, 1782.[52] Under this treaty, the prisoners taken at Ruddell's and Martin's stations were finally released.

On December 7th, 1782, Governor Harrison wrote that the Virginia Assembly had made an appropriation "for the relief of 200 men, women & children, taken prisoners from Kentucky," who "were now on their way home."[53] After many hardships and untold sufferings, a considerable number of the former captives returned to the settlements of Kentucky, including Captain Isaac Ruddell,[54] commander of the ill-fated garrison. There were a few others, however, who had been adopted into the Indian tribes and were not released until the signing of Wayne's treaty, at Greenville, in 1795.

Bird's excursion was the most successful of all the military expeditions to the Western Country and but for the intractability of his Indian allies, the whole region of Kentucky might have been depopulated. While this frontier disaster changed in no perceptible manner the course of the American Revolution, yet it affected the lives and property of hundreds of hapless victims and wrote a lurid chapter against British arms in the thrilling story of the winning of the West.


1. G. W. Stipp, The Western Miscellany, or, Accounts Historical, Biographical, and Amusing (Xenia, 0., 1827), p. 52. This work contains twenty-two of John Bradford's "Notes on Kentucky," which appeared serially in the Kentucky Gazette, beginning August 25, 1826.

2. The original correspondence of Captain Henry Bird, Major De Peyster, General Frederick Haldiman and other high officials of this period is in the British Museum, London, England. Copies, in the Canadian Archives at Ottawa, are calendared in the Reports of the Public Archives of Canada, 1884-1889. The portions relating to American history, or the "Haldimand Papers," have been published in the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, 38 vols. (Lansing, 1874-1912). These are hereafter cited as Canadian Archives or Michigan Pioneer. De Peyster's letter herewith cited appears in Michigan Pioneer, X, p. 396.

3. De Peyster to Bolton, May 27, 1780. Michigan Pioneer, XIX, P. 519.

4. Canadian Archives, B. 100, p. 103; Michigan Pioneer, XX, p. 271.

5. John Bakeless, Daniel Boone, Master of the Wilderness (New York, 1939), p. 247.

6. "Whole families are destroyed without regard to age or sex. Infants are torn from their mothers arms & their brains dashed out against trees, as they are necessarily removing from one fort to another for safety ... not a week passes without some of our distressed inhabitants feeling the fatal effects of the infernal rage and fury of those exercrable Hell hounds," wrote Col. John Floyd, who moved with his family to Kentucky in the fall of 1779. Draper Mss. No. 17CC130-132.

7. Henry Bird was born in England and served as subaltern, captain and lieutenant colonel in his Majesty's 8th, 31st and 54th Regiments of Foot, for a space of thirty-six years, eighteen of which were spent in America. He died in 1800 while serving in the British expedition to Egypt under Sir Ralph Abercrombie.

8. Letter to the author from William K. Lamb, Dominion Archivist, Ottawa, Canada, May 18th, 1951.

9. Bird to De Peyster, May 21, 1780. Michigan Pioneer, XIX, p. 524.

10. Original in the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library, titled: "Pay Roll of Volunteers with Capn. Bird, from the 25th May to the 4th August, 1780." The total cost of Bird's expedition to Kentucky amounted to 1079 pounds, 12 shillings and 3 pence. Photostat copy in author's collection.

11. McKee, a native of Pennsylvania, sided with the British at the beginning of the Revolution and was quite influential in handling the Indians. The English authorities made him captain in the Indian department and after 1778, deputy agent. He died of lockjaw in Malden, Ontario, in 1799.

12. Clark stressed the need of a fort "to command the navigation of both rivers [Kentucky and Ohio], to defend our trading boats and stop the great concourse of Tories and deserters that pass down the river to our enemies." Clark to Thomas Jefferson, September 23, 1779. Draper Mss. No. 58J99-101.

13. Bird to De Peyster, June 3rd, 1780. Michigan Pioneer, XIX, pp. 528-529.

14. Bird to De Peyster, June 11th, 1780. Michigan Pioneer, XIX, pp. 533-534.

15. L. C. Draper interview with Peter Smith. Draper Mss. No. 18S113-115.

16. An eight foot marble shaft marks the site of Ruddell's Station on the farm known as "The Cedars," or the old John Lair property, now owned and occupied by Claude S. Franklin. it is about one mile below the mouth of Townsend Creek and one and one-fourth miles above the present Lair's Station on the L. & N. Railroad.

17. This station was about one mile northwest from the ParisCynthiana pike and on the rear of the farm now owned by Mr. Beverly Brown, of Charleston, West Virginia. In 1921, the Jemima Johnson Chapter D.A.R., erected a marker to preserve the site, which is several hundred feet east of "Fairfield," the old two-story stone house of Gen. James Garrard, the second son of Governor James Garrard, who lived across Stoner Creek at Mt. Lebanon.

18. John Martin was born in Orange County, New York, in 1736, and early in 1775 he went down the Ohio River with Captain John Hinkston and others to Kentucky. He took part in the defense of Logan's (St. Asaph) Station when attacked by the Indians in June, 1778. "During the winter of 1779-80 he erected Martin's Station, a [3] mile below the present town of Paris, on the Licking, but was not there when it was captured the ensuing year." Draper Mss. No. 4-B-90 1.

19. Shelly Rouse, "Pioneer Forts Sacked by Byrd," Falmouth Outlook, July 9, 1937.

20. Stipp, op. cit., p. 59; Draper Mss. No.17CC130-132.

21. Bird to De Peyster, July lst, 1780. Michigan Pioneer, XIX, pp. 538-539.

22. Consul W. Butterfield, History of the Girtys (Cincinnati, 1890), P. 119.

23. Bird to De Peyster, July Ist, 1780. Michigan Pioneer, XIX, pp. 538-539.

24. "Recollections of Daniel Trabue, Bird's Expedition." Draper Mss. No. 57J51-63.

25. Ibid., Draper Mss. No. 57J51-63.

26. McKee to De Peyster, July 8th, 1780. Michigan Pioneer, XIX, pp. 541-543.

27. Ibid., XIX, pp. 541-543.

28. Lyman C. Draper interview with Simon Kenton. Draper Mss. No. 26JA12.

29. Draper interview with Jeremiah Morrow. Draper Mss. No. 29J23.

30. There is some controversy about the date Martin's Station was captured. Several accounts have it on June 24th; others on June 26, and one a week later. James Trabue in the Journal of the Virginia Land Commission, states that "he was captured with Ruddle's & Martin's Stations, 24th & 26th, June, 1780." Draper Mss. No. 6OJ375. This date (June 26th, 1780) is in accordance with Captain McKee's report to Major De Peyster.

31. Bird to De Peyster, July Ist, 1780. Michigan Pioneer, XIX, pp, 538-539.

32. Bird to De Peyster, Ibid., XIX, pp. 538-539.

33. Stipp, op. cit., p. 61.

34. McKee to De Peyster, July 8th, 1780. Michigan Pioneer, XIX, p. 542.

35. Mrs. James Breckinridge testified that the British authorities in Detroit paid five pounds "for a scalp, or a prisoner either." Draper Mss. No. 11CC35.

36. Two small sons of Capt. Ruddell, who were taken prisoners when the station surrendered, were adopted into Indian tribes and later took Indian wives. One of the sons, Stephen, became a missionary from Cooper's Run Meeting House, in Bourbon County, which was a short distance from Martin's Station.

37. When old Mrs. Burger, a Dutch woman captured at Ruddell's, was unable to keep up with the Indians, "they finished her & scalped her and then raised a dreadful yell." Trabue's Narrative, Draper Mss. No. 57J51-63.

38. "On the return of Bird's army from capturing Martin's & Ruddell's stations, some of the weak children were taken aside & tomahawked & scalps produced." John D. Shane's interview with Mrs. Ledwell, Draper Mss. No. 17S200.

39. "As we were travelling in, Capt. Bird was very ungenerous to us. He measured out to the men only a cup of flour, and the women & children only half a cup. Nor would they allow back rations. We traveled by water, or when by land, had to walk." John D. Shane's interview with Mrs. Wilson, of Woodford County. Draper Mss. No. 11CC276-280.

40. Pierre Loramie (or Lorimier) was a French-Canadian trader, who in 1769 established a frontier trading-post on the banks of Loramie's Creek, fourteen miles from the confluence of this stream and the Great Miami River. During the Revolutionary War, Loramie was in full sympathy with the British and many a savage incursion to the borders was fitted out from his supply of war materials. So noted had his place become as the headquarters "for spies, emissaries & savage borderers," that General George Rogers Clark attacked and destroyed it in the fall of 1782.

41. Bird to De Peyster, July 1st, 1780. Canadian Archives, B. 100, p. 401.

42. A conglomerate outcropping (no longer in existence) on the Great Miami River near the mouth of Loramie's Creek and in the vicinity of the Upper Piqua Indian village. It was about fourteen miles from Loramie's trading-post and a well-known landmark or rendezvous for hunters, traders and frontiersmen.

43. "Clark came and took command of us & led us on to Chillicothe," stated Simon Kenton. "We found the town & fort on fire, and staid near there that night. Next morning we pursued on to a place called Piqua Town, and there the Indians embodied us & fought us all day, and we whipped them. On our return, we stopped and cut down all their corn at Chillicothe, & then returned back to Kentucky." Draper Mss. No. 26JA12.

44. William Homan to Captain Bird, August 15, 1780. Canadian Archives, B. 100, p. 523.

45. De Peyster to Lieut. Col. Mason Bolton, August 4th, 1780. Michigan Pioneer, XIX, p. 553.

46. Bird to De Peyster, July 24, 1780. Michigan Pioneer, XIX, pp. 545-546.

47. De Peyster to Bolton, supra.

48. John M. Gresham, Biographical Cyclopedia of the Commonwealth of Kentucky (Philadelphia, 1896), p. 299.

49. "The mother Mrs. [Joseph] Honn was placed in Blue Jacket's family & kept the cows and made butter. She esteemed it a blessing that she was thus placed there instead of in some other Indian family." Draper Mss. No. 17S200.

50. Benjamin Logan to Benjamin Harrison. James A. James (editor), George Rogers Clark Papers 1781-1784 (Springfield, Ill., 1926), Vol. XIX, p. 104.

51. Benjamin Harrison to George Washington, October 25, 1782. Draper Mss. No. 10S81-83.

52. Samuel F. Bemis, The Diplomacy of the American Revolution (New York, 1935), p. 239.

53. Statement of Governor Benjamin Harrison. Draper Mss. No. 10S93.

54. There is no evidence to indicate that Captain Ruddell was not a loyal "rebel"; in fact, circumstances point to his loyalty. He was confined as a prisoner of war on Hogg Island, near Detroit, for the full time of his captivity which lasted until his release. After his return from Canada, he settled at Ruddell's Mills (about 3 miles distant from Ruddell's Station) in Bourbon County and died there about 1808. He is buried near his home in the old Stonermouth Presbyterian Cemetery where a government-issue tombstone marks his last resting place, with the inscription: "Isaac Ruddle, Va. Mil. Rev. War."