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The Revolutionary War

The Revolution in Western Virginia featured none of the sprawling battles and large marching armies that characterized the war in the east. Nonetheless, westerners participated on both sides of the conflict and on battlefields throughout the country. Patriotic citizens answered at least 10 troop calls, most famously including the riflemen who rushed from Shepherdstown and Winchester to reinforce George Washington at Boston in the Bee Line March of 1775. Western Virginians supplied the materials of war, as well, including food, clothing, and wagons.

As in other areas, Western Virginians were divided on the question of American independence. Some vainly hoped to find a neutral position while others were Tories or Loyalists, preferring the British side in the struggle. There was considerable, usually nonviolent, resistance to Patriot authorities in the Potomac Highlands, and Col. Zackquill Morgan supressed what he believed to be a serious Tory threat in the Monongahela Valley.

Militarily, the Revolution in present West Virginia was a continuation of the frontier wars, reminiscent of the earlier French and Indian War in that it typically involved Indian raids against the settlers in their homes and forts. The Indians were encouraged and supplied by British authorities in the west, especially General Hamilton at Detroit. Often Indian raiding parties, particularly the Shawnee, acted alone, picking off isolated families and attacking small forts. Larger attacks frequently included British or Tory elements, often leading or advising the native warriors.

The year 1777 was particularly violent. Fort Henry at Wheeling was attacked in late August and early September, and a few weeks later Indians ambushed and killed 20 militiamen in the Foreman Massacre at nearby McMechen. There were numerous smaller raids, particularly in the Monongahela and Greenbrier watersheds. It was brutal guerrilla warfare, catching up the innocent and helpless as well as armed combatants, and our ancestors long remembered the ‘‘year of the bloody sevens.’’

Events continued intermittently in the same vein for the remainder of the war. Point Pleasant’s Fort Randolph was attacked in 1778, as was Fort Donnally in Greenbrier County. Fort Henry was attacked for the second time in 1782, very late in the war, and it was during this siege that Betty Zane made her legendary gunpowder run.

The frontier provided the new nation a valuable western buffer throughout the Revolution, allowing Patriots in the east to concentrate on the British armies confronting them. The line of settlements was pushed eastward by Indian pressure during the war, particularly in the New, Greenbrier, and Monongahela watersheds. But the Northern and Eastern panhandles held firm, and a generation of western leaders was honed by wartime experience. Western Virginians made gains against their Native American adversaries, although Indian warfare continued for several years after the end of the Revolution.

Written by Ken Sullivan


  1. Curry, Richard O. Loyalism in Western Virginia during the American Revolution. West Virginia History, (Apr. 1953).