Historical Society of Southwest Virginia


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By Emory L. Hamilton

It is a common tradition in Lee County, Virginia, that a low gap in Wallen's Ridge called Lovelady Gap was so named because the family of Thomas Lovelady was massacred there by the Indians.

Research does not bear out this traditional belief, but known facts about the life of Thomas Lovelady, though meager indeed, while disproving the tradition, do reveal other interesting facets of early Powell Valley history not heretofore known. It is the belief of this writer that the gap was so named because Lovelady used it as a passage in his travels to and from Powell Valley to the settlements on the Clinch River.

Lovelady, a native of Guilford County, North Carolina, was born around 1750. Perhaps no man on the southwest frontier had a more illustrious war record. He fought the Indians, British and Tories until the country was secure, and despite all, lived to the ripe old age of 90 years. He outlived two wives and had a third named Nancy Briggs whom he married in Floyd County, Kentucky, August 20, 1821. He died in Russell County, Virginia on June 10, 1840.

His first war service in the Revolution was performed while living in Guilford County, North Carolina, where he was drafted and sent against a band of Tories on Cross Creek near New Bern, which was headed by a Tory named Fannin, and called by them "Colonel". After the Tory campaign he again enlisted and served out a term which took him into the state of South Carolina. When returning in a company of twelve men from this campaign, tired and hungry from marching, they stopped by the home of an old Dutchman named Adam Appel, who was also a Tory, to ask for food and lodging, which was refused. Pinched by hunger, and fatigue, they entered and helped themselves to food, after which all but Thomas Lovelady lay down upon the floor to sleep. The Dutchman's daughter refused to go to sleep despite his promise that she would not be harmed. He decided to stay awake and watch that she did not slip away and report their presence to the Tories. He, however, overcome by fatigue, fell asleep, and upon awakening sometime later found the young lady gone.

He immediately awakened his companions and advised them to leave the house which they refused to do. About daybreak a band of Tories, commanded by Fannin and a major Bill Nickels, came up and surrounded the house. Fannin shot one of their company named Johnston Tyler, and was in the act of shooting Lovelady when Major Bill Nickels intervened, being a former acquaintance of Lovelady. The remaining eleven men got off by taking the oath of allegiance to the King of Great Britain, which was administered by Fannin. They probably never intended to keep the oath, but they were nevertheless released upon a parole of honor.

The little band set out on their way homeward and soon met with a party of Whigs who joined them. Together they returned to see the old Dutchman, his daughter, and the Tories, but Fannin and his followers had fled. They took the young lady to Stinking Creek, a tributary of the Big Alamance River, gave her a sound dunking, and in the words of Thomas Lovelady: "Left her in a situation not the best suited to carrying speedy expresses."

Shortly after this he came to what is now Scott County, Virginia, to visit her sister, the wife of Amos Allord who lived on Copper Creek. Allord was killed in April of 1786 by a group of settlers after having stolen horses belonging to Patrick Porter and his son, Samuel Porter. In league with John Watts Crunk and some man named Shelley, he was engaged in stealing horses and selling them out of the area. He was corralling these horses in a ravine where a stream empties into a cave, near Trimbles Creek in Scott county. This cave is yet known as Amos' Cave, but the name Allord has long been forgotten by people living in the area.

While visiting his sister, Thomas Lovelady volunteered to go on General Evan Shelby's Chickamauga Campaign of 1779 against the Cherokee Indians. After this campaign, he returned to Guilford County, North Carolina and, at the request of his father he went into South Carolina to help an uncle whose property had been taken away by the Tories, to move to Guilford County.

While in South Carolina he again volunteered, and, after being marched from place to place chasing the British and Tories, he fought int he battle of Cowpens. After this nine month tour of duty he again visited his relatives in Virginia. Remaining at home for the winter, he again volunteered at Abingdon, Virginia, under General William Campbell, and marched twelve hundred strong against Lord Cornwallis. He then joined the command of General Greene, and fought in the battle of Guilford Courthouse. He then pursued Cornwallis to Ramseur's Mill, where he was again discharged.

After peace was declared he moved to the state of Georgia, where his house was burned by a band of Indians. When he returned to Virginia is not known, but he was living in Russell County, Virginia in 1834, when he applied for a pension, and he died there in 1840.

With regard to Thomas Lovelady's settlement in Powell Valley there is some factual evidence to prove his settlement there. Alfred Huff, nicknamed App, who lived near Elk Knob some four miles east of Pennington Gap, Virginia, was a grandson of James Huff. He was reared by his grandfather, who was a member of the posse that killed the half-breed Indian Chief Benge in 1794, and who was still living in Harlan County, Kentucky, in 1845. App Huff remembered many Indian stories told to him by his grandfather James Huff. 

One of the stories told by App in 1922 to the late Mr. Winfield S. Rose, of Big Stone Gap, Virginia, associates Thomas Lovelady with an Indian massacre on Big Black Mountain in the year 1788. The story, as related by App to Mr. Rose, was that a man named Breeding, his two sons, and two other men, who were thought to have been sons-in-law of Breeding, had set up a ginseng camp on Black Mountain. One day they decided to go down to Poor Fork in Harlan County, Kentucky, to do some fishing. Upon returning to camp that night they heard owls hooting around the camp and were told by Thomas Lovelady that the owls were Indians. The ginseng diggers refused to believe him, but Lovelady was convinced they were Indians and slipped out of camp and hid himself in a hollow log where he soon became witness to the massacre of his companions. Huff further states that at the time Lovelady lived in a cabin on the site of the P. Litton farm in Lee County, Virginia, where he traded with the Indians of the Shawnee nation, with whom he was on friendly terms. The writer has been able after much painstaking research to verify the truth of Huff's story of the Indian massacre and that Lovelady really did at one time live in the Turkey Cove of Lee County.

In 1788 a letter written to the Governor of Virginia, found in the Calendar of Virginia State Papers, and signed by Major Anthony Bledsoe, Thomas Carter, and other prominent citizens of that day mentions that "one of the Elams, Neal Roberts, and three of the Breedings of the New Garden section of Russell County had been massacred at a ginseng camp on Big Black Mountain."

The writer has not been able to verify the first name of the Elam, or the three Breedings, but it is known that a Richard and John Breeding were on the 1778 campaign of General George Rogers Clark to Kaskaskia, Illinois, and that they both enlisted at Cowan's Fort in Russell County, Virginia. After much research Neal Roberts has been proven to have been Thomas Cornelius Roberts who owned much land in the Glade Hollow section of Russell County. On November 19, 1788, Richard Thompson was granted administration on the estate of Thomas Roberts by the court of Russell County. Roberts' widow, Mary Roberts, later married John Frost, a preacher who lived on the North Fork of Holston River. Some of Neal Roberts' descendants were living recently in Oklahoma, where the writer had reached them through correspondence.

The site on Black Mountain where these pioneers were killed is a memorial to them, and the stream still bears the name Breeding's Creek.

To further prove Thomas Lovelady's presence in the Turkey Cove we go to Washington County, Virginia, Land Entry Book 1, where we find this entry: "Entered for James Thompson, 200 acres in Powell Valley in Turkey cove, near the lower end, known by the name of "Lovelady's Place," and to include his improvement and also a spring about a half mile above said improvement."

The second entry is in the same book and same page, but dated September 18, 1780, and reads: "Entered for Captain James Thompson, assignee of Colonel William Preston, 100 acres of land in Powell Valley about one mile beyond where the old wagon road crosses the South Fork of Powell River and lying on both sides of the road and including the improvement made by one Lovelady, which he (Lovelady) sold to one Gatlif, and to include the spring of said settlement."

These entries show that in 1780 Thomas Lovelady was not living, but had lived on these two land claims, and the question still remains to be answered: When did he first settle upon them?





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