History of Fort Randolph

First Biennial Report of the Department of Archives and History

Fort Randolph

This fort stood on the site of the present town of Point Pleasant, Mason County. The first published suggestion of a fort at the mouth of the Great Kanawha River appears in Lord Dunmore's "Circular Letter to the County Lieutenants," bearing date June 10, 1774, in which he says: ''It has been represented to me that a Fort at the Conflux of the Great Kanaway and the Ohio would answer several good purposes". He does not say who represented or suggested this matter, to him and therefore we do not know who conceived it. In his "Instructions" to Colonel Andrew Lewis, dated June 12, 1774, that officer was directed to collect a body of men immediately; go down to the mouth of the Great Kanaway and there build a fort; and then, if he had force enough to invade the Indian Country, to do so. This was done; the battle of Point Pleasant - the most fiercely contested of any ever waged between White men and Indians - was fought and won; and within the next twelve days a small stockade was erected as a protection around the one hundred and forty wounded Virginians carried within the camp from the battlefield. Then the victorious army pressed on into the Ohio Wilderness, to the Pickaway Plains. Lord Dunmore made a treaty - that of Camp Charlotte - with the Indians. As a result of a consultation between him and Colonel Lewis, it was deemed necessary to erect a fort at the mouth of the Great Kanawha. Captain William Russell, commanding a Company of fifty Fincastle County men, was detailed for the purpose. Colonel Lewis with his troops marched back to Point Pleasant, but Captain Russell with [h]is company accompanied Dunmore's army back to the mouth of the Hockhocking River, where Colonel Adam Stephen, in compliance with an order from the Governor, increased Captain Russell's force to seventy men, and this number was still further increased by a number of artificers to about one hundred men. Descending the Ohio, Captain Russell and his company arrived at the mouth of the Great Kanawha on the 11th of November. Nearly all of Colonel Lewis' men had returned home and Captain Russell found flour enough to last his men only eight days, half rations. But he received a letter from Colonel Lewis stating that his commissary had left one hundred and sixty beeves in the woods at that place, and Captain Russell expressed the hope that half of these might be found. So frail was the little stockade that had been erected for the protection of the wounded, that it was regarded as nothing, and now work began on a place of defense of which Captain Russell was both the designer and builder. The structure thus erected was a small palisaded rectangle, about eighty yards long, with block-houses at two of its corners and cabins for barracks within. To it Captain Russell gave the name of "FORT BLAIR", presumably in honor of John Blair, one of the most prominent men ever in the colony, and who had died but two years before. It stood on the apex of the upper angle formed by the confluence of the Great Kanawlia and Ohio. About the first of January, 1775, Cornstalk, the Shawnee chieftain, arrived at Fort Blair with a number of white persons delivered up in compliance with the terms of the treaty of Camp Charlotte. June 5th ensuing, Lord Dunmore reported to the House of Burgesses that he had continued one hundred men (those under Captain Russell) in service at the temporary fort - Fort Blair - at the mouth of the Great Kanawha, after the campaign of 1774, but that these had been discharged and the fort evacuated. Captain Russell did evacuate the fort in June of this year - 1775. On the 25th of July ensuing, the Virginia Convention ordered that one hundred men should, "with all convenient speed, be stationed at Point Pleasant". But what had been the fate of Fort Blair? Had it been burned by the white men at the time of evacuation? Or, had the Indians laid it in ashes thereafter? None know. On the 16th of May, 1776, Colonel George Morgan, Commandant at Pittsburg, wrote Lewis Morris, saying: "Captain Mathew Arbuckle, with a company of Virginia forces, left here yesterday for tlie mouth of the Great Kanawha where they are to rebuild the fort and remain there until further orders from the Convention". The fort erected by Captain Arbuckle was a large stockade with block-houses and cabins, erected on the site of Fort Blair. It received the name of Fort Randolph in honor of Peyton Randolph, a member of the Continental Congress, who had died the year before. On the 8th of January, 1777, the Continental Congress resolved that for the defense of the western frontier of Virginia against Indian incursion, Fort Randolph should be garrisoned by the Governor of Virginia, at Continental expense, by a company of one hundred men, commanded by one captain, two lieutenants, one ensign, and the usual number of inferior non-commissioned officers. April 9th, ensuing, it was resolved that the men enlisted to garrison Fort Randolph should not be called for any other service without their consent. Captain Arbuckle continued in command throughout the year 1777 and was, therefore, there when the barbarous murder of Cornstalk, the Shawnee chief, occurred. He risked his. life to prevent it, but without avail. At the close of the year he withdrew with his company, and was succeeded in command at Fort Randolph by Captain William McKee of Rockbridge County, with a body of State troops at "Continental Expense." Early in the year 1778, Indians appeared before the fort and Lieutenant Moore was sent out with a detachment to drive them off. The result was an ambuscade in which he and several of those with him lost their lives. In May ensuing, a large body of Indians laid siege to the fort and it was under fire for a week. Then the siege was raised, the Indians driving away all the cattle from about the fort. For some unknown cause, Fort Randolph was evacuated in 1779. Colonel William Crawford, stationed at Pittsburg, wrote General Washington under date of July 12, 1779, and said: - "As soon as Fort Randolph was evacuated, the Indians burnt it". Captain Andrew Lewis, a son of General Andrew Lewis, visited Point Pleasant in 1784 and he said: "There was then but little or no sign of the fort to be seen". Very soon after this, however, probably in 1785, another fort was erected at Point Pleasant for protection of the inhabitants during the later Indian Wars. It was on the Ohio River bank, fifty rods above where its predecessors, Fort Blair and Fort Randolph, had stood. Colonel Thomas Lewis was in command of it most of the time.

SOURCES. - "American Archives," 4th Series, Vol. I, p. 1226; Vol. II, p. 1189; Vol III, p. 370; Vol. VI, pp. 475, 541; "Journals of the Continental Congress," Vol III, (1777), pp. 9, 100; "Calendar of Virginia State Papers," Vol. 1. p. 282; Vol. IV. p. 391; Vol. VI, p. 332; "Washington-Crawford "Letters," p. 72; Withers' "Chronicles of Border Warfare," pp. 173, 209, 211-216, 227, 241-243, 291, (reprint); De Hass' "History of the Early Settlement and Indian Wars of Western Virginia,' pp. 154, ]55, 156, 157, 158, 159, 170, 171, 172, 174; Howe's "Historical Collections of Virginia," p. 366; "Documentary History of Dnnmore's War," pp. 47, 62, 86, 308, 309, 310; Virginia Historical Register, Vol. I, p. 33; Southern Literary Messenger, No. I, Vol. XIV, (1848)) p. 26

Exploration, Settlement and Conflict (1600-1799)