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The Settlement of the Appalachian Frontier: February 2013

The Settlement of the Appalachian Frontier

Sharing information, stories, and ideas for teaching students about the settlement of the Appalachian Frontier. Focusing on the little-known people and history of Southwestern Virginia, Northeast Tennessee, and Eastern Kentucky.

Location: Nickelsville, Virginia, United States

Friday, February 08, 2013

Benge's Attack on the Home of Peter Livingston

The following account tells about an Indian attack on the Livingston's home and was given by Elizabeth (Head) Livingston, wife of Peter Livingston, in more or less, her own words:


After William Todd Livingston's death, Sarah continued living on the farm with her sons, Peter and Henry and their families. In 1794, Benge (or Bench) the half-breed Indian attacked the Livingstons to steal their negroes and plunder their home. The account of the attack, given by Elizabeth (Head) Livingston, wife of Peter, has been printed in several books. Sarah lost her life in the attack when she was tomahawked on April 6, 1794.


"April 6, 1794. About 10 o'clock in the morning, as I was sitting in my house, the fierceness of the dog's barking alarmed me. I looked out and saw seven Indians approaching the house, armed and painted in a frightful manner. No person was within, but a child of ten years old, another of two years, and my sucking infant. My husband and his brother, Harry, had just before walked out to a barn at some distance in the field. My sister-in-law, Susanna, was with the remaining children in an out-house; old Mrs. Levingstone was in the garden. Immediately I shut and fastened the door; the (the Indians) came furiously up and tryed to burst it open, demanding several times of me to open the door which I refused. They then fired two guns, one ball piercing through the door, but did me no damage. I then thought of my husband's rifle, took it down, but it being double trickered, I was at a loss. At length I fired thru the door, but it not being well aimed I did no execution; however, the Indians retired from that place, and soon after I found that an adjoining house was on fire, and I and my children suffering much from the smoke, I opened the door and an Indian immediately advanced and took me prisoner, together with the two children. I then discovered that they had my remaining children in their possession. My sister Sukey, a negro wench and her young child, a negro man of Edward Callahans and a negro boy of our own, about eight years old. They were fearful of going into the house I left to plunder, supposing that it had been a man that had shot at them and was yet within. So our whole clothing and household furniture were consumed in flames, which I was then pleased to see, rather than it should be of use to the Savages.

We were all hurried a short distance, where the Indians were very busy dividing and putting up in packs for each to carry his part of the booty taken. I observes them careless about the children and most of the Indians being some distance off in front, I called with a low voice to my eldest daughter, gave her my youngest child, and told them all to run towards neighbor John Russels. They with reluctance left me, sometimes halting, sometimes looking back. I beckoned to them to go on although I inwardly felt pangs not to be expressed on account of our doleful separation. The two Indians at the rear either did not notice this scene or they were willing the children might run back. That evening the Indians crossed Clinch Mountain and went as far as Copper Creek, distant about eight miles.


April 7. Set out early in the morning, crossed Clinch River at McClean's fish dam about 12 o'clock, then steered northwardly toward the head of Stoney Creek. Then the Indians camped carelessly, with no back spy nor kept sentries out. This day's journey was about twenty miles.


April 8. Continued in camp until the sun was more than an hour high. Then set out slowly and traveled five or six miles and camped near the foot of Powell's Mountain. This day Bench, the Indian Chief, became more pleasant and spoke freely to the prisoners. He told them he was about to carry them to the Cherokee towns. That in his rout in the wilderness was his brother with two other Indians hunting, so that he might have provisions when he returned. That at his camp were several white prisoners taken from Kentucky, with horses and saddles to carry them to the towns. He made inquiry for several persons on Holstein, particularly old Gen. Shelby and said he would pay him a visit the ensuing summer and take all his negroes. He frequently enquired who had negroes and threatened he would have them all of to the North Holstein. He said all the Chicamogga towns were for war, and would soon be very troublesome to the white folks. This day two of the party was sent by Bench ahead to hunt.


April 9. After travelling about 5 miles, which was over Powell's Mountain and near the foot of the Stone Mtn a party of 13 men, under command of Lt. Vinhcent Hotton of the militia of Lee County, met the enemy in front, attacked and killed Bench, the first fire. I being at that time some distance in the rear. The Indian who was my guard at first halted on hearing the firing. He then ordered me to run, which I performed slowly. He then attempted to strike me in the head with the Tomahake which I defended as well I could with my arm. By this time two of our people came into view, which encouraged me to struggle all I could. The Indian making an effort at this instant pushed me backward, and I fell over a log, at the same time aimimg a violent blow at my head, which in part spent its force on me and laid me for dead. The first thing I afterward remembered was my good friends around me giving me all the assistance in their power for my relief. They told me I was senseless for about an hour.


Certified the 15th day of April 1794.

This is an account of the captivity of Mrs. Eliz. Livingstone of Washington County, Va., put down in writing in her presence, and nearly in her own words.

Certified this 15th day of April 1794.


A(rthur) Campbell"

From the following memorial, sent to the Governor by the people of Holsten River area, you will note that the Livingston family had been attacked by the Indians more than once.


"April 14 (1795) The memorial and petition of the subscribers, inhabitants in the Western part of Washington County and the Eastern settlement of Lee near Mockison Gap.


Humbly showeth that although we have been considered as an interior settlement yet from various unfortunate occurrances it must appear that we are equally exposed with the most distant frontier settlements.


July 1793. Bench and two other warriors traversed the settlement on the North Fork of Holstein for upwards of twenty miles probably with the intention of making discoveries where there were Negro property. In this rout they find at one Williams, and took prisoner a negro woman, the property of Peter Livingstone, who after two days captivity made her escape.


6 April 1794. The melancholy disaster which befell Mrs. Levingston's family and property, which has urged this application for assistance to prevent the depopulation of a considerable settlement.


From the above facts, your Excellency and the Council will be a judge of the justice of our claims, that such protection be afforded us as the State may be able to afford as our necessities require.


All of which we submit with deference and your petitioners may ever pray. April 14, 1794.


Signed: A. Bledsoe, G. Wilcox, A. Fulkerson, John V. Coos with James Fulkerson".