Henry Harman’s Fight With the Indians

Henry Harman’s Fight With the Indians

By Emory L. Hamilton

From the unpublished manuscript, Indian Atrocities Along the Clinch, Powell and Holston Rivers, pages 164-172.

Walter Crockett, County Lieutenant of Militia for Montgomery Co., VA, wrote to Governor Edmund Randolph, on February 16, 1789, (1), saying:

I take this opportunity to write to you by Captain Sayers, who is going to Richmond on business of his own, to inform you of the state of our frontiers in this county. There has been several of our hunters from the frontier down the Sandy River forty or fifty miles below the settlement on Bluestone on the Clinch, and discovered fresh signs of several parties of Indians, one of the hunters is a brother (2) to Henry Harman, that had the skirmish with them late in the fall, (November 12, 1788) when he and his two sons behaved like heroes, they came immediately in, and warned the frontier settlements, and has applied to me to send out spys. They say that if there was four Scouts that they could confide in, they would endeavor to plant corn this spring, and stay the summer. Otherwise Bluestone settlement will break up, and of course the settlement on the head of Clinch will not stand long. I expect as soon as the winter breaks up, that the Indians will commit hostilities on some part of the frontiers of this county the ensuing spring, but God only knows the event. Whatever orders your Excellency and shall be punctually obeyed.

This family of Harmans were of German origin, Adam Heinrich Hermann emigrating to America in 1726, with a brief stop over the Isle of Man, where Henry Harman of this sketch was born. (3) Seven Harman brothers emigrated from Germany together, Jacob, Valentine, Mathias, George, Daniel, John, and Heinrich Adam. They first stopped off in Pennsylvania, then emigrated to the Shenandoah Valley and some on into North Carolina. At least three of these brothers settled in Southwest Virginia, namely, Heinrich Adam, Valentin and Jacob. They were living in the New River German settlement, the first settlement ever made west of the Alleghenies on the "Western Waters", and were living there prior to 1745. In 1749 Moravian Missionaries conducted the first recorded religious services in Southwest Virginia in the home of Jacob Harman, and Dr. Thomas Walker mentions stopping at the home of Harman on his memorable exploration trip in 1750. Of these three brothers, Valentine and Jacob were both killed by Indians on New River. Valentine was killed on Sinking Creek in what is now Giles Co., VA. In a land suit filed in the High Court of Chancery in Augusta Co., on the 23rd of July, 1807, Taylor vs Harman, (4) Mathias Harman, nephew of the slain Valentine, says: Valentine was killed by the Indians on New River and at the same time his (Mathias’) brother, Daniel Harman and Andrew Moser were taken prisoner. Daniel made his escape, but Andrew was held prisoner.

On the 30th of June, 1808, Daniel Harman, deposes, in the same land suit, saying: In 1757, Valentine was killed in my presence less than a foot away from me, and I was taken prisoner. Valentine Harman, who was slain left a widow Mary Harman, but no children.

Jacob Harman lived on Neck Creek in what is now Pulaski Co., VA, on what is known as Spring Dale Farm. In 1757, he, his wife, and one of his sons were murdered by the Indians.

The Harmans of this sketch are the descendants of Heinrich Adam Hermann who emigrated from Germany, who married Louisa Katrina, October 8, 1723. Louisa Katrina died March 18, 1749. The children of this marriage were: [1] Adam Harman, the eldest, born in Germany in 1724; [2] Henry Harman born on the Isle of Man in 1726; [3] George Harman, 1727 - 1749; [4] Daniel Harman, born Pennsylvania, 1729; [5] Mathias Harman, born near Strausburg, VA, in 1736; [6] Christina Harman, who married Jeremiah Pate, and lived on Little River in Montgomery Co., VA; [7] Catherine Harman who married Ulrich Richards in Rowan Co., NC; [8] Phillipina Harman, who died in 1751; [9] Valentine Harman who settled on the upper Clinch River in 1771, and moved to Lincoln Co., KY, about 1775, and was a member of the Henderson Legislature at Boonesboro in May, 1775; [10] A daughter, name unknown, married a Mr. Looney; [11] Jacob Harman, perhaps the Jacob who settled in Tazewell Co., VA in 1771.

The sons of old Heinrich Adam Hermann, the German emigrant, became great hunters and Indian fighters. While most of them were great hunters, one in particular became one of the noted Long Hunters. It is hard to determine just which son this was, but evidence points to the youngest who was Jacob.

Henry, the second son of Heinrich Adam, owned land in North Carolina, Giles and Tazewell counties in Virginia. Sometime in the 1750s, he was married to Anna Wilborn of the Moravian settlement in North Carolina, and died at his home at "Holly Brook" on Kimberlin Creek in present day Bland Co., VA, in 1822. In 1789, he and his son, Mathias, founded Harman’s Station in Kentucky. There is much evidence in the records to prove the great prowess of the Harmans as hunters and Indian fighters. In another land suit in the High Court of Chancery of Augusta Co., Wynn vs Inglish heirs, (5) it is stated: that Henry Harman was in the habit of collecting the men and fighting the Indians. In a land dispute case filed in Augusta (6), Samuel Walker states on May 30, 1805, that he came to the head of Clinch in 1771 and met Valentine Harman. In the same suit Mathias and Daniel Harman, brothers of Henry, state that they were on the land in dispute on a hunting trip in 1760. This statement proves that the Harmans were familiar with the country at the head of Clinch and Bluestone Rivers long before they made actual settlement in the area. In the Minutes of the Court of Montgomery County for May 26, 1790, is found this entry:

Inhabitants of Bluestone ordered to show cause why they should not work on that part of the road between Rocky Gap and the head of Clinch. The following were appointed overseers of the road, among whom was Captain Henry Harman.

Details of the fight between Henry Harman and the Indians are taken from Bickley’s History of Tazewell County, with the correct date added.

On the 12th of November, 1788, Henry Harman, and his two sons, George and Mathias, and George Draper left the settlement, to engage in a Bear hunt on Tug River. They were provided with pack horses, independent of those used for riding, and on which were to be brought in the game. The country in which their hunt was to take place, was penetrated by the "war-path" leading to and from the Ohio river; but as it was late in the season they did not expect to meet with Indians.

Arriving at the hunting grounds in the early part of the evening, they stopped and built their camp; a work executed generally by the old man, who might be said to be particular in having it constructed to his own taste. George and Mathias loaded, and put their guns in order, and started to the woods, to look for sign, and perchance kill a buck for the evening repast, while Draper busied himself in hobbling and caring for the horses.

In a short time, George returned with the startling intelligence of Indians! He had found a camp but a short distance from their own, in which partly consumed sticks were still burning. They could not, of course, be at any considerable distance, and might now be concealed near them, watching their every movement. George, while at the camp, had made a rapid search for sign, and found a pair of leggins, which he showed the old man. Now old Mr. Harman, was a type of frontiersman, in some things, and particularly that remarkable self-possession, which is so often to be met with in new countries, where dangers are ever in the path of the settler. So taking a seat on the ground, he began to interrogate his son on the dimensions, appearance, etc., of the camp. When he had fully satisfied himself, he remarked, that, "there must be from five to seven Indians", and that they must pack up and hurry back to the settlements, to prevent, if possible, the Indians from doing mischief; and, said he, "if we fall in with them, we must fight them."

Mathias was immediately called in, and the horses repacked. Mr. Harman and Draper, now began to load their guns, when the old man observing Draper, laboring under what is known to hunters as the "Buck Ague", being that state of excitement, which causes excessive trembling, remarked to him, "My son, I fear you cannot fight."

The plan was now agreed upon, which was, that Mr. Harman and Draper should lead the way, the pack horses follow them, and Mathias and George bring up the rear. After they had started, Draper remarked to Mr. Harman that he would go ahead, as he could see better than Mr. Harman, and that he would keep a sharp lookout. It is highly probable that he was cogitating a plan of escape, as he had not gone far before he declared he saw the Indians, which proved not to be true. Proceeding a short distance further, he suddenly wheeled his horse about, at the same time crying out, "Yonder they are - behind that log." As a liar is not to be believed when he speaks the truth, so Mr. Draper was not believed this time. Mr. Harman rode on, while a large dog, he had with him, ran up to the log and reared himself upon it, showing no sign of the presence of Indians. At this second, a sheet of fire and smoke from the Indians’ rifles, completely concealed the log from view, for Draper had really spoken the truth.

Before the smoke had cleared away, Mr. Harman and his sons were dismounted, while Draper had fled with all the speed of a swift horse. There were seven of the Indians, only four of whom had guns; the rest being armed with bows and arrows, tomahawks and scalping knives. As soon as they fired, they rushed on Mr. Harman, who fell back to where his two sons stood ready to meet the Indians.

They immediately surrounded the three white men, who had formed a triangle, each man looking out, or, what would have been, with men enough a hollow square. The old gentlemen bid Mathias to reserve his fire, while himself and George fired, wounding, as it would seem, two of the Indians. George was a lame man, from having had white-swelling in his childhood, and after firing a few rounds, the Indians noticed his limping, and one who had fired at him, rushed upon him thinking him wounded. George saw the fatal tomahawk raised, and drawing back his gun, prepared to meet it. When the Indian had got within striking distance, George let down upon his head with the gun, which brought him to the ground; he soon recovered, and made at him again, half-bent and head foremost, George sprang up and jumped across him, which brought the Indian to his knees. Feeling for his own knife, and not getting hold of it, he seized the Indians’ and plunged it deep into his side. Mathias struck him on the head with a tomahawk, and finished the work with him.

Two Indians had attacked the old man with bows, and were maneuvering around him, to get clear fire at his left breast. The Harmans, to a man, wore their bullet pouches on the left side, and with this and his arm he so completely shielded his breast, that the Indians did not fire till they saw the old gentleman’s gun nearly loaded again, when one fired on him, and struck his elbow near the joint, cutting one of the principal arteries. In a second more, the fearful string was heard to vibrate, and an arrow entered Mr. Harman’s breast and lodged against a rib. He had by this time loaded his gun, and was raising it to his face to shoot one of the Indians, when the stream of blood from the wounded artery flew into the pan, and so soiled his gun that it was impossible to make it fire. Raising his gun, however, had the effect to drive back the Indians, who retreated to where the others stood with their guns empty.

Mathias, who had remained an almost inactive spectator, now asked permission to fire, which the old man granted. The Indian at whom he fired appeared to be the chief, and was standing under a large beech tree. At the report of the rifle, the Indian fell, throwing his tomahawk high among the limbs of the tree under which he stood.

Seeing two of their number lying dead upon the ground, and two more badly wounded, they immediately made off; passing by Draper, who had left his horse, and concealed himself behind a log.

As soon as the Indians retreated, the old man fell back on the ground exhausted and fainting from the loss of blood. The wounded arm being tied up and his face washed in cold water, soon restored him. The first words he uttered were, "We’ve whipped them, give me my pipe." This was furnished him, and he took a whiff, while the boys scalped one of the Indians.

When Draper saw the Indians pass him, he stealthily crept from his hiding place, and pushed on for the settlement, where he reported the whole party murdered. The people assembled and started soon the following morning to bury them; but they had not gone far before they met Mr. Harman, and his sons, in too good condition to need burying.

Upon the tree, under which the chief was killed, is roughly carved an Indian, a bow and a gun, commemorative of the fight. The arrows which were shot into Mr. Harman, are in possession of some of his descendants. David E. Johnston in his History of the Middle New River Settlements, page 96, gives a ballad which he says was composed by Captain Henry Harman, herein inserted to show the correct date and add interest to the details of this story


Come all ye bold heroes whose hearts flow with courage,
With respect pay attention to a bloody fray.
Fought by Captain Harman and valiant sons,
With the murdering Shawnees they met on the way.

The battle was fought on the twelfth of November,
Seventeen hundred and eighty-eight.
Where God of his mercy stood by those brave heroes,
Or they must have yielded to a dismal fate.

Oh! Nothing would do this bold Henry Harman,
But down to the Tug River without more delay,
With valiant sons and their noble rifles,
Intending a number of bears to slay.

They camped on Tug River with pleasing contentment,
Till the sign of blood thirsty Shawnees appears,
Then with brave resolution they quickly embark,
To cross the high mountains and warn the frontiers.

Brave Harman rode foremost with undaunted courage,
Nor left his old trail these heathen to shun;
His firm resolution was to save Bluestone,
Though he knew by their sign they were near three to one.

The first salutation the Shawnees did give them,
They saw the smoke rise from behind some old logs;
Brave Harman to fight them then quickly dismounted,
Saying, "Do you lie there, you save, murdering dogs?"
He says, "My dear sons stand by me with courage,
And like heroes fight on till you die on the ground."
Without hesitation they swiftly rushed forward,
They’d have the honor of taking their hair.

At first by the host of red skins surrounded,
His well pointed gun made them jump behind trees,
At last all slain, but two, and they wounded,
Cherokee in the shoulder, and Wolf in the knees.

Great thanks to the Almighty for the strength and the courage,
By which the brave Harmans triumphed ‘oer the foe;
Not the women and children then intended to slaughter,
But the bloody invaders themselves are laid low.

May their generation on the frontiers he stationed,
To confound and defeat all their murdering schemes,
And put a frustration to every invasion,
And drive the Shawnees from Montgomery’s fair streams.

(1) Calender Virginia State Papers, Vol. IV, page 564.
(2) Probably Mathias Harman, brother of Henry.
(3) Harman Genealogy by John Newton Harman
(4) Augusta Court Causes Ended, Taylor vs Harman.
(5) Augusta Court Causes Ended, Wynn vs Inglish heirs.
(6) Ibid, Maxwell vs Pickens.

This file contributed by: Rhonda Robertson

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