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Needham and Arthur Expedition

Abraham Wood of Fort Henry, Virginia, sent James Needham and Gabriel Arthur, the latter probably an indentured servant of Wood, with eight Indians to explore the southwest interior from Virginia. Needham and Arthur were provided with provisions for a three-month journey. They initially returned just over a month later, and Wood sent them out again and added four horses for their travel. They left this second time on June 25, 1673. The only account we have of this exploration is by Wood, who was not on the trip. He wrote a letter about the exploration on August 22, 1674, to John Richards in England, where the letter remained for many years undiscovered.

Needham and Arthur traveled southwest from Fort Henry, the site of present Petersburg, Virginia, into North Carolina and Georgia. Needham was killed by one of the Indian guides in October. Gabriel Arthur would remain with the Indians, traveling to the present-day states of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina, as well as Virginia including present West Virginia. Arthur visited the Big Sandy River in present Lawrence County, Kentucky, or Wayne County, West Virginia, and is believed to have been the first white person to see the Kanawha Valley. In a remarkable feat of survival and an epic journey, Gabriel Arthur finally returned to Wood’s house at Fort Henry on June 18, 1674, having been away for nearly a year. This ended Abraham Wood’s sponsoring of explorations.

Written by W. Eugene Cox


  1. Briceland, Alan Vance. Westward from Virginia: The Exploration of the Virginia-Carolina Frontier, 1650-1710. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1987.