The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution
The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution

The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution

Larry Holzwarth - February 1, 2020

The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution
Banastre Tarleton’s Legion captured Daniel Boone on his way to join the Virginia legislature in 1781. Wikimedia

12. Daniel Boone was captured again in 1781, in Virginia

Tragedy continued to stalk Boone in Kentucky when the Shawnee killed his brother Ned while the two were hunting in October. Sporadic raids continued throughout the autumn and winter, though Boone’s Station was relatively untouched. Its militiamen, including Daniel and Israel Boone, responded to several alarms throughout the region. In early 1781 Daniel Boone was elected to the Virginia legislature, as a representative of one of the three counties into which Transylvania had been divided. He traveled toward Richmond to take his seat. That summer raids into the Virginia countryside were conducted by units of Cornwallis’s army.

When Boone was near Charlottesville, he was captured by British Dragoons under the notorious Banastre Tarleton. They were part of the same group which was dispatched to Monticello to attempt to arrest Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson eluded them, and Boone, despite carrying his credentials to the legislature, was held for just five days. He was granted his parole and continued to Richmond. At the end of the year, he returned to Kentucky, the news of Cornwallis’s surrender to Washington at Yorktown preceding him. Yorktown ended the fighting of the Revolutionary War in the east, but along the frontier settlements, there was more to come.

The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution
Raids throughout the frontier kept the militia busy reinforcing stations as they came under attack. Wikimedia

13. The British continued to incite Indian attacks in 1781 and 1782

In August 1782, yet another large Indian force crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky. By that time, the settlers and militia had developed a system of supporting each other. Settlements under attack sent messengers at the first sign of trouble to other nearby stations. Each responded with detachments to the trouble spot, usually on horseback. In this manner, troops could be shifted between the stockaded settlements without overly weakening any of them. The system failed when the British brought regulars along with artillery as part of the attack, since none of the stockades were capable of withstanding artillery bombardment for any length of time.

The force which crossed that August was almost entirely comprised by Wyandot and Shawnee, commanded by William Caldwell of Butler’s Rangers. Simon Girty led the Indians, the majority of them Wyandot. Girty was a hated and feared man in the frontier settlements. Though he had at times intervened on behalf of white captives, saving them from torture or death, he was also well known as a ruthless fighter and the taker of many white scalps. The force led by Girty was nominally commanded by American Loyalists, William Campbell, Alexander McKee, and Matthew Elliott. But it was to Girty that the Indians answered, and the size of their contingent for all practical purposes gave him the command of the powerful force of nearly 400 warriors.

The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution
Builidings outside the stockades were usually simple, one room cabins. Wikimedia

14. The attack at Hoy’s Station began on August 14, 1782

The force led by Girty crossed the Ohio River and a detachment was sent to attack Hoy’s Station. The main force arrived before Bryan’s Station the day after the attack on Hoy’s. Hoy’s followed the pattern established by the militia, sending messengers to other stations, including Bryan’s. Girty had hoped to arrive at Bryan’s Station to find the settlers outside of the stockade, tending to their livestock and crops. Instead, upon arrival he found the majority of the settlers inside the stockade, preparing to send a detachment to relieve Hoy’s, whose messenger had arrived the preceding day. Girty’s diversion had failed to weaken the station, and the men inside were well-armed and ready.

Girty’s force had been detected by a hunter, and word from Bryan’s Station was soon sent out to other settlements, including Boone’s. Bryan’s Station had a significant weakness should it be subjected to a lengthy siege. There was no source of water inside the stockade. Water for the settlement was drawn from a spring outside of the walls. Under a hot August sun, the limited supply stored inside the stockade in barrels was insufficient to provide drinking water for the garrison, let alone fight the inevitable fires the Indians would attempt to set. Bryan’s Station, though not caught by surprise, was nonetheless in serious trouble.

The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution
The women and girls of Bryan’s Station ventured out to obtain water under the eyes of Girty’s warriors. Wikimedia

15. The women supplied drinking water at the outset of the attack

Neither side, on the morning of August 16, had given any indication of each other’s awareness of their presence. The Indian force remained hidden in the woods; the men of the garrison acted as if all was well. It was part of the daily routine of the settlement for the women to gather at the spring each morning and carry pails of water to the fort. Each morning the gathering was as much social as necessary to survival. On that morning the women left the stockade in small groups, chatting amiably as they gathered the water, and returned to the stockade in a leisurely manner, unhurried despite what must have been considerable terror.

Girty, believing his force had not been detected, let them pass. He still hoped to achieve surprise when the men left the fort to conduct their daily business. No men appeared. As the day wore on, Girty’s warriors grew impatient. He finally consented to an attack, or rather, two attacks. The first was a ruse directed at one wall of the stockade. The second, with the main body of Indians, was directed at the opposite wall, with Girty believing the settlers inside would move most of their riflemen to the wall already under attack. The attacks failed miserably, with several warriors lost to the deadly fire of the frontier marksmen. That night 16 horsemen arrived as reinforcements.

The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution
Promises of mercy by the Indians were generally disregarded by the Kentucky settlers. Wikimedia

16. Girty offered mercy for the settlers if they surrendered before his cannon arrived

The following morning Simon Girty identified himself to the besieged stockade, and informed the settlers that cannon was due to be delivered to him that afternoon. He pledged to protect those that surrendered before the cannon arrived. In the event, the garrison refused to surrender he would not guarantee the safety of any man, woman, or child. He also ordered his warriors to burn the crops in the fields and all barns and other buildings outside the walls. The garrison refused to surrender and a frustrated Girty, his bluff called, led his force away from Bryan’s Station, moving in the direction of the Licking River to the northwest.

The following day reinforcements arrived, from Harrodsburg and Fayette County. Daniel Boone arrived with 50 men under him, including his son Israel, three of his nephews, and several cousins. The Lincoln County militia also arrived, and brought with them word that Colonel Benjamin Logan was on the way with another 400 men, from Logan’s Station. Colonel John Todd of Lexington took overall command of the force at Bryan’s Station and suggested the immediate pursuit of Girty’s force, without waiting for Logan to arrive. It was normal procedure for pursuit of raiders to begin immediately, since the Indians usually broke into smaller groups as they moved through the woods, making them harder to track.

The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution
Large war parties usually split into smaller groups when withdrawing after a raid. Wikimedia

17. The Indians remained in a single group as they withdrew to the north

None of the militia officers present at Bryan’s Station voiced much opposition to immediate pursuit, and about 200 men set off after Girty. Shortly after they started out, Boone noticed several strange signs. The Indians had not dispersed, they were traveling in a single large group. Several attempted to conceal their numbers by walking in the footprints of those who preceded them. Boone reasoned that the Indians were deliberately leading the militia into a trap. His warning was debated by his fellow officers, and disregarded. Moving in such a stealthy manner slowed the Indians’ march, and the militia closed on them quickly.

On August 19, 1782, the militia reached Blue Licks, a salt gathering site on the Licking River about fifty miles northeast of Lexington. It was not far from the site where Daniel Boone had been captured five years earlier. Indians were spotted on a hilltop near a ford across the river. Boone knew the area well from his many earlier visits and hunts conducted over the landscape. During an officer’s conference, he warned that the land on the opposite side of the hill on which the Indians were spotted was deeply creviced with several ravines, a perfect spot for an ambush. Boone recommended they wait for Logan to arrive with his larger force. Colonel Todd agreed. But militia discipline differed from regular Army, and Boone and Todd were called cowards by another officer.

The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution
Boone favored waiting for the arrival of a larger force led by Benjamin Logan before attacking at Blue Licks. Wikimedia

18. The militia advanced into an ambush set by Girty and Caldwell at Blue Licks

Major Hugh McGary was well-known among the settlers for his headstrong behavior, which was matched only by his fervent hatred of Indians. Technically McGary was outranked by Todd (and by Boone, a Lieutenant Colonel at the time) and in the regular army, he would have been sent to the rear for insulting his superiors. But militia typically followed individuals, not rank, and when McGary advanced up the hill shouting out to the troops, they followed him. The senior officers had no choice but to follow as well, hoping to maintain order and control their troops. Most of the officers advanced on horseback, the soldiers on foot.

When they reached the crest of the hill overlooking the ford, they were silhouetted against the sky, perfect targets for the Indians undercover in the ravines, as Boone had predicted. Boone’s men provided the left flank and he held his men back, exchanging fire with the Indians, which also included Delaware, Mingo, Miami, and Shawnee. Nearly all of the officers were killed in the opening volley, easy targets on horseback. Those that survived, which included Daniel Boone, dismounted to fight on foot. After the opening volleys, the Indians assaulted the center and right of the militia line, which began to fall back. Boone ordered his men to cover the general withdrawal.

The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution
Daniel Boone attempting to rally his men at the Battle of Blue Licks. Wikimedia

19. The withdrawal became a flight for life through the woods

Daniel Boone ordered his son Israel to mount a nearby horse and retreat across the ford. Some accounts say Israel refused to leave his father’s side, others that he hadn’t time to respond. He was shot through the neck and died on the battlefield. Daniel had no choice but to leave his son’s body on the field as he withdrew with his men. Once across the Licking, the retreat became a rout, with the militia fleeing towards Bryan’ Station, hoping to reach Logan’s force, and the Indians in hot pursuit, eager for scalps. The bodies left on the battlefield were quickly scalped and mutilated by Girty’s men, with several wounded killed by the Indians. Caldwell later claimed, preposterously, there were no wounded on the field.

Several Boone’s fought under Daniel at the Battle of Blue Licks, including his nephew, Squire and another nephew, Thomas, who was killed. A detachment from Logan’s force went to the battlefield several days later to bury the dead. They found the Indians had dismembered most of the dead before fleeing to the north. Official records show that 182 militia attacked the larger force of Indians in what some claim was the last battle of the American Revolution. Others point out it was the first battle of the last campaign of the American Revolution, as revenge for the 72 men killed in the ambush on the Licking River. By comparison, Girty and Caldwell suffered 7 killed, and 10 wounded.

The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution
The Shawnee resisted being evicted from their Ohio lands for another two decades. Wikimedia

20. George Rogers Clark launched a retaliatory campaign in November, 1782

If anyone deserved blame for the disaster at Blue Licks it was Hugh McGary, who survived the debacle in which most of his men were killed. In Kentucky, most of the blame was directed at George Rogers Clark, for not destroying the Shawnee during his 1780 campaign along the Little Miami and Mad Rivers. In November, 1782 Clark again crossed the Ohio River with a militia force of about 1,000 men. They advanced up the Great Miami River, where the Shawnee had relocated several of their towns. The 1782 campaign included the destruction of five abandoned Shawnee towns, but little actual fighting. The Shawnee simply receded further into the Ohio and Indiana country.

Clark destroyed the Shawnee town at Piqua, killing at least five Shawnee, at the loss of one man of his own, before turning back to the Ohio River. The campaign was the last of the American Revolutionary War, but not the last against the Indians of the Ohio Country. Nor was it the end of British support of the Indians in what became known as the Northwest Territory. The British attempted to create a state held by the Indians as part of the Treaty of Paris, to serve as a buffer between the new United States and British Canada. Failing in that, they continued to support the Indians in hopes of deterring rapid American settlement of the west.

The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution
Several brothers, sons, and close relatives of Daniel Boone died during the Indian Wars. Kentucky Tourism

21. Americans moved into the Shawnee lands north of the Ohio River in large numbers

Clark’s punitive expedition in 1782 was the last campaign of the Revolutionary War, but it was far from the last against the Indians of the Ohio Country, and Kentucky. Following the Revolution, veterans of the Continental Army were given land grants in the Northwest and Kentucky. Would-be settlers streamed down Ohio and up its tributaries. Sporadic attacks on settlers continued, particularly in the Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois territories. The Continental Army was disbanded and the Legion of the United States was created, mostly to protect the new settlements along the frontier. Pressure on the Indian lands increased, and violence between Indians and settlers was continuous.

In 1790, despite numerous treaties and agreements between the factions, a report to the administration of President George Washington claimed more than 1,500 settlers and militia had been killed in Kentucky alone since 1783. Hundreds more had been killed in Ohio and Indiana. The Shawnee and their allies had moved most of their towns west, along the Wabash River in Indiana and Ohio. George Rogers Clark was again commissioned to conduct a campaign along the Wabash to destroy the Indian towns in 1786, which though successful in achieving a ceasefire was marked by a mutiny among his troops. Clark was accused of being drunk on duty. His reputation in tatters he left Kentucky, moving to Indiana.

The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution
A survey report by Daniel Boone from June, 1791. Wikimedia

22. Daniel Boone fought one more campaign against the Shawnee in 1786

After witnessing his son Israel’s death, Daniel Boone moved yet again, to Limestone (today’s Maysville) on the Ohio River, where he opened a tavern. In 1786, he joined an expedition led by Benjamin Logan to destroy the remaining Shawnee villages along the Little Miami and Mad Rivers. The campaign led to the capture and destruction of 13 Shawnee and Miami towns, as well as their crops, and the capture of hundreds of Shawnee, including women and children. There were no major battles. Most of the Shawnee warriors had moved to the Wabash area to defend the towns there from Clark’s expedition. Among the captured was the aging Chief Moluntha, who flew an American flag above his lodge.

Moluntha surrendered peacefully. As his village was destroyed Hugh McGary, by then a Colonel in the militia, asked him if he had been in the Indian force at Blue Licks. Moluntha either misunderstood the question, or had in fact been at the battle (most sources state he had not) and answered in the affirmative. McGary killed the Chief with an axe, striking two blows before taking his scalp. McGary’s action was soon known throughout the Shawnee nation, which increased its attacks along the frontier. McGary was not punished. Daniel Boone witnessed the act, and after his return to Limestone, he took no further part in the Indian wars in the Northwest Territory.

The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution
Daniel Boone at Lake Osage in Missouri in the early 19th century. Wikimedia

23. Daniel Boone suffered several financial setbacks near the end of the 18th century

Boone’s tavern was a success, in part due to his fame. Situated in a thriving port on the Ohio River, numerous settlers visited it, eager to meet the famous frontiersman. Legend has it that Boone relocated whenever the population grew too large for his taste, seeking “elbow room”. That legend is false. He was a politically savvy businessman, speculating in land for himself and surveying tracts for others. Boone grew prosperous enough to own seven slaves. He was elected to the Virginia General Assembly three additional times. Land speculation led to several business failures, as disputes over claims led to lengthy legal maneuvers and indebtedness.

In 1788, he sold his tavern and moved to Point Pleasant, where he continued to work as a surveyor and operated a general store and fur trading post. After several years in the river town, he returned to Kentucky in 1795. Legal claims and counterclaims continued to erode his remaining assets. In 1799, frustrated with the American legal process, he moved to Missouri, taking most of his family with him. Missouri was then a part of Spanish Louisiana. The Spanish authorities assigned him as the regional judge, in a legal system in which he was simultaneously the jury, a position known as a syndic. He also received land grants from the Spanish government of Louisiana.

The Events that Led to the Last Battle of the American Revolution
Daniel Boone has two graves, one in Missouri and another in Kentucky. Find a Grave

24. Boone lost his lands in Missouri following its entry into the United States

In 1804, Missouri became a territory of the United States, and Boone lost his position as syndic and most of his land claims. He successfully petitioned Congress to restore his land claims, though the process took years and they weren’t restored until 1814. He then sold his Missouri claims to pay debts in Kentucky, where several warrants had been issued for his failure to appear in legal actions regarding his old Kentucky claims. Boone continued to hunt, fish, and trap for the rest of his life, including one trip in which he ranged as far as the Yellowstone River, if the stories are true.

Daniel Boone died in September 1820, at his son Nathan’s home in Missouri. He was buried next to his wife’s grave (Rebecca Boone died in 1813) near his daughter Jemima’s Missouri home. According to some, both were disinterred and moved to Frankfort, Kentucky, in 1845. Today, two states claim the graves of Daniel and Rebecca Boone, Missouri and Kentucky. Most of Boone’s descendants support the Missouri claim that he is interred in Old Bryan Farm’s graveyard. Kentucky claims he rests at Frankfort Cemetery.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Simon Girty”. Article, Ohio History Central. Online

“Dunmore’s War: The Last Conflict of America’s Colonial Era”. Eric Sterner, Journal of the American Revolution. July 13, 2017

“Transylvania Purchase”. Michael Toomey, Tennessee Encyclopedia. Online

“Stern Measures: Thomas Jefferson Confronts the ‘Hair Buyer'”. Joshua Shepard, Journal of the American Revolution. August 22, 2016

“Man of the Wilderness: Daniel Boone Part III: A Life Well-Lived”. Ron Soodalter, Kentucky Monthly. December, 2018

“Daniel Boone Court-Martial: 1778”. Buckner F. Melton Jr. Online

“Destruction of Ruddle’s and Martin’s Forts”. Maude Lafferty, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. October, 1956. Online

“George R. Clark”. Article, Ohio History Central. Online

“American Revolutionary War”. Article, Kentucky National Guard eMuseum. Online

“Boone: A Biography”. Robert Morgan. 2008

“The Women of Bryan’s Station”. Documentary, Kentucky Education Television, Online

“The Battle of Blue Licks”. James Graves, Military History Magazine. August 2002

“George Rogers Clark”. Article, Encyclopedia Virginia. Online

“Blue Jacket: Warrior of the Shawnees”. John Sugden. 2000

Advertisement