Killing of William Henry Creswell

Killing of William Henry Creswell

By Emory L. Hamilton

From an unpublished manuscript, Indian Atrocities Along the Clinch, Powell and Holston Rivers, pages 34-36.

Charles B. Coale, in his book, "Wilburn Waters," (1) gives the following story of this tragedy: In the early settlement of the county there was a blockhouse near Abingdon, where Frank Findley's mill now stands, called Black's Fort, into which the families of the scattered settlers gathered when alarmed by Indians. The very year of organization of the county, and upon the very day of the promulgation of the Declaration of Independence, the Indians made a stealthy march into the settlement, caught a small party of settlers on their way from the fort to the clearing of Parson Cummings, two miles off, killed one of them, and the grave in which his dust reposes, marked by a rude stone with the inscription, "Henry Creswell, killed July 4, 1776:, formed the nucleus of the village cemetery, now people by the dead of three generations.

Creswell was slain when a party of Creswell, a Negro slave, and James Piper, (who had his finger shot off) and the Rev. Charles Cummings were enroute to church. The Rev. Charles Cummings had come to Black's Fort as Pastor of the old Sinking Springs Church in 1772 upon petition of the settlers in that area, then known as "Wolf Hills", now Abingdon, VA.

There has been controversy about the actual day in July that Creswell was slain. Militia records show that he was paid for participation in the Battle of Long Island Flats which was fought on July 20, 1776.

On July 11, 1845, Gov. David Campbell of Abingdon, wrote to Dr. Lyman C. Draper, as follows: (2)

I have been endeavoring to procure Mr. Howe's historical collections of Virginia, but have not yet succeeded. I do not know who could have furnished the account he has given of the skirmish with the Indians near the Presbyterian burying ground, but it is all wrong. The inscription given by him is incorrect - the christian name of Creswell is wrong - and no such occurrence took place as Parson Cummings losing his wig. Today I rode to the graveyard and examined the tombstone. I could not make out the inscription. I then rode into the county to see Mrs. Balfour (Sarah, wife of John Balfour), a lady now about 75, and the eldest daughter of Parson Cummings. She was with the family in Black's Fort when the party started for Parson Cummings' plantation and saw them return with Mr. Creswell dead and Mr. James Piper with his forefinger shot off, and from what she then saw and heard and from subsequent conversations, she says she recollects all the circumstances clearly.

I asked what was Creswell's christian name. She said Henry and said further that she felt satisfied no such occurrence took place as her father losing his wig - that she would not have forgotten if it had taken place. She also recollected the name of Logan (James) (3) as being of the party.

On my return home I took my niece with me and went again to the graveyard. Her eyes being better than mine, she made out the inscription - and then I could read it - and it is as follows - "Henry Creswell entered this place July 1776". If the particular day in July was ever engraved it cannot now be perceived. The writing on the enclosed scrap of paper is an exact copy. No one was wounded but Piper - and Negro Tob was the hero of the day.

As Mrs. Balfour's account of this skirmish is somewhat different from the one I have had heretofore, I will her give it to you. She says the party started to her father's farm for grain. Her father, Tob, Mr. Piper, Mr. Logan and she thinks some others were of the party, and all armed, fearing Indians. She does not recollect which of the them drove the wagon. They had passed through the gap of the ridge north of the meeting house spring (4) and were entering a deep valley thickly covered with undergrowth, when the Indians fired upon them and killed Creswell. James Piper raised his rifle to shoot and his finger was shot off. Some of the party ran. Mr. Cummings, Tob, and Piper stood. Tob observed to his master that he saw an Indian. His master told him to fire. He did so and instantly the Indians raised the war whoop and disappeared. This is her account. You can compare it with Colo. Sharps (5). Mrs. Balfour thinks that Creswell was the first person buried in the graveyard and the stone at the head of his grave is such as Mr. Howe describes. The copy of the inscription Governor Campbell sent to Dr. (Lyman) Draper of the epitaph was as follows:

JULY, 1776

Rebecca Creswell, widow of Henry Creswell was granted administration of his estate by the court of Washington Co., VA, on February 26, 1777, with her securities being Samuel Newell and Joseph Black of Black's Fort.

(1) Summers, Annals of Southwest Virginia, page 1561.
(2) Draper Mss 10 DD 52
(3) Probably Nathaniel, a brother of Col. Benjamin Logan. The Logans lived at Abingdon, prior to emigration to Kentucky.
(4) This is the gap where the by-pass from the Sinking Springs Cemetery meets the regular highway that turns off from U. S. Route 11, at the Pet Milk plant in Abingdon. Parsons Cummings lived about a mile north of Abingdon on the road leading to Lebanon, VA.
(5) Benjamin Sharpe, born 1762, who was also in Black's Fort at the time of the attack.

This file contributed by: Rhonda Robertson

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