By Emory L. Hamilton

Several years ago the writer was most fortunate in procuring a copy of the diary of Samuel Harvey Laughlin, born in 1799, and a grandson of Captain John Dunkin. The diary was written in 1845 by Laughlin, a well- educated man, from details related by his mother and grandparents who were prisoners of the British in Canada during the Revolutionary War. The contents of this paper are the unedited words of James H. Laughlin, and a copy of the diary is filed in the Southwest Virginia Historical Society Archives at Clinch Valley College, Wise, Virginia.

Captain John Dunkin (1743-1818), who settled in Elk Garden about 1769, was an only son of Thomas Dunkin. Earlier in life this Thomas Dunkin had immigrated from Scotland to Ireland, where he later married Elizabeth Alexander (born about 1710), also of Scottish descent. About 1740 he emigrated to Pennsylvania, eventually settling in Lancaster County where he died in 1760, leaving a wife, one son, and four daughters.

Captain John Dunkin, subject of this sketch, married Eleanor Sharp, daughter of John Sharp, and sister of John, Jr., Thomas, and Benjamin Sharp. The latter was a King's Mountain soldier. The Sharp family were also immigrants from Pennsylvania, who settled near Wallace, in Washington County, Virginia, before moving on to Kentucky and farther westward. Captain Dunkin died on Spring Creek in Washington County, Virginia, in 1818. His wife Eleanor had died in 1816. 

The sisters of Captain John Dunkin were Elizabeth, who married Samuel Porter and lived at Castlewood, in Russell County, Virginia. Martha married Solomon Litton and lived at Elk Garden, Russell County. Mary Jane married James Laughlin, son of John and Mary Price Laughlin, and lived in Washington County, Virginia. There was a younger sister (name unknown), who married a Mr. Robinson in Russell County, Virginia, and later returned to Pennsylvania.

By 1769 young John Dunkin, with his mother, his wife and children, three of whom were born before leaving Pennsylvania, had reached Elk Garden, where he was made a first Sergeant, and later a Captain in the frontier militia of Washington County, and was very active in protecting the frontier against Indian forays from 1774 to 1778. When Powell Valley was evacuated in 1776 because of the Cherokee War, he led a party of settlers and militia into the valley and guarded the settlers while they brought out their personal property, which they had been unable to do because of the sudden evacuation of the valley. 

Samuel Harvey Laughlin states:

On one occasion while he (Captain Dunkin) lived on the Clinch, a predatory band of Indians came into the settlement and murdered a man named Bush and his wife, and took their children, three daughters and a son, prisoner. The son was nearly grown. Captain Dunkin with a few men followed the trail and, by hard marching, overtook them, killed three of the Indians, and rescued the prisoners without losing a man.

Further to the northwest where Powell Valley had begun to be settled, in what is now Lee County, Virginia, the Indians were in the habit of murdering travellers. Before settlement had become permanent, the great buffalo trace to Kentucky, or that part of Virginia forming Kentucky - by way of Cumberland Gap, from 1766 to 1775 was a route for hunters and adventurous explorers on whom numerous murders and robberies were committed by various tribes of Indians, but mostly by Cherokee and Shawnee. Captain Dunkin and his little faithful band frequently went out and remained for different periods on tours of duty in protecting the settlers of this valley and on the road.

On one of these tours, he and his company fell in with a band of Indians whom they instantly attacked, killing four and wounding a fifth. They followed the wounded Indian some distance to a place where he had entered a cave. Captain Joseph Martin (builder of Martin's Station in Lee County, Virginia) was along with other Rangers, having met Captain Dunkin, and was with him when it was agreed between the two that while others kept guard outside, they would enter the cave and take the Indian or kill him.

They entered each with a blazing torch in one hand a pistol in the other, cocked and primed. After going in sixty of seventy yards, Captain Dunkin saw the Indian's eyes shining in the distance and taking deliberate aim, not knowing but that the Indian had a gun, and supposing others to be with him, was so lucky as to shoot him through the head.

In the year 1777 he went to Kentucky, raised corn, and made improvements by raising a cabin in the forks between Hingstons and Stoners Forks of Licking River. After thus preparing in Kentucky in 1777 and 1778 he moved his family, including his aged mother, and two sisters and their husbands, Samuel Porter and Solomon Litton, out from the Clinch to Kentucky in 1779. I say he removed them, for besides being the head of his family, he was the commander and leader of the immigrants, though Porter and Litton, and others who went along, were men of enterprise and good soldiers and woodsmen. These two (Porter and Litton) had farms begun also by improvements near Martin's Station. Martin's Station was on Stoner's river (or fork of Licking) five miles above its confluence with Hingston or Licking River. Ruddle's Station (pronounced Riddle's) was three miles below the junction or forks, consequently the forts were eight miles apart.

The winter of 1779 and 1780 was unusually severe and is remembered in the history of the time, and traditionally as the "hard winter". The rivers and the streams were all frozen - cattle and domestic animals died by the hundreds and thousands, as doubtless did the wild game. Wild meat, when it could be procured by the border settlers was very poor, and the corn and grain were early consumed, and the people put to great straits to procure subsistence of any sort, however common or coarse. Settlers were reduced to the very point of starvation, so much so that they were compelled to live on the most unwholesome meats without bread.

Many families travelling out to Kentucky by way of Cumberland Gap and the Wilderness Road were compelled to encamp, erect huts and such other shelter as they could obtain, and subsist on the dead carcasses of their cattle, sheep, etc., as died from the effects of the weather and want.

When the spring of 1781 was ushered in there was an unusual bustle among the new settlers of Kentucky. They had the finest land in the world to cultivate, much of it easily cleared so as to fit it with corn crops, potatoes, etc. The previous winter had admonished them of the necessity of making as much provisions for the next winter as possible. In the spring there seemed to be but little danger from the Indians. In the vicinity of the forts, the planters pitched or planted large crops and everything seemed to smile and promise future prosperity. They seemed to be removed from the constant dangers and troubles with the Revolutionary War, still in progress, brought to the neighborhood of their brethren in all the country east of the mountains. 

Early the crops of corn began to ripen and heaven seemed to be suspending the cornucopia over the famished land. There was a smile on every man's countenance, as he looked out upon the luminescence of the growing Indian corn. There was happiness and security in the forts. Happiness there really was, and security there seemed to be where they all lived, each fort like a great family. While living there in the snug and fancied security, they sang their domestic tedeums around blazing wood fires. While this happy sylvan state of things existed upon the fair frontier Colonel Byrd was busily employed at Detroit, plotting their destruction in combination with the northern nations of Indians in alliance with Great Britain in our Revolutionary War, a conspiracy against the peace and happiness of these unoffending frontier settlers which was soon to turn all their rejoicing and supposed security into a scene of sorrow and mourning.

On or about the first of June, 1780, Colonel Byrd, a British officer, collected a body of about 600 Canadians and Indians at or near Detroit, and after marching by land to the Great Miami where it was navigable, they took canoes, boats, pirogues, etc., and floated down the river to the Ohio. They rowed up the latter river to the mouth of Licking River, opposite to where Cincinnati now stands, and on the banks of which at its mouth now stands the thriving town of Newport and Covington; thence up the Licking River to the north fork of that river, a short distance below Ruddle's Station and thence by land. On the 22nd of June they appeared suddenly before Ruddle's Station as if they had fallen from the clouds or rose out of the ground by enchantment. The people hastily closed their gates and began to prepare for defense, but the show of artillery and the overwhelming number of the enemy appalled the stout hearts. Therefore they surrendered on pledges of personal safety from the Indians, but the whole of their property was given up to the plunder and rapine of the savages. After the fort was sacked, and the march was commenced, many prisoners were forced to carry the spoils on their backs for their captors. Every kind of property was taken.

Hearing the roar of artillery at Martin's Station which greatly surprised the people, two runners, a man named McGuire, and Thomas Berry, a relation of my grandfather, were dispatched to ascertain what was the matter at Ruddle's Fort. They were met on the way by the enemy, and on attempting to retreat were fired on. McGuire's horse was killed and he was taken prisoner. Berry escaped back to the fort.

On the next day (June 23, 1780) the enemy appeared before the fort and summoned them to surrender. Two hours were given these brave men in Martin's Station to consider - and they were notified if they did not surrender that the Indians would be let loose upon them to deal with as they pleased. They surrendered without firing a gun. (Withers in his History of Border Wars, says that Colonel Byrd took pain and had to exert all his authority to save their prisoners from slaughter.)

The prisoners taken at Martin's were united with the prisoners from Ruddle's There was understood to be an agreement between the British and Indians that the prisoners taken at Ruddle's should belong to the Indians, and those at Martin's to the British. Let this be as it may; according to Marshall, Butler, Withers, and other historians of these times the whole of the property of the Americans, including their Negroes, was given to the Indians. 

My grandfather Dunkin likely had ten or twelve Negroes, and a fine personal property in stock and furniture, etc., of which he was altogether plundered. After the treaty of Greenville, he got back an old African woman named Dinnah, and a boy. This robbery and captivity reduced my grandfather to poverty. 

The prisoners were all taken down the Licking River, by the route which the British had ascended to the Ohio, down that river to the mouth of the Great Miami, up that river as far as navigable, and thence to Detroit, and then to Montreal. My grandfather and my mother who was old enough to remember, often described to me the sight of the falls of the Niagara, as they passed round by a portage on their way to Detroit. In recounting these adventures to me and my brothers, my mother used to dwell upon the hardships of the whole journey from Kentucky. When the march started, my grandfather carried one of his children. All packed what few clothes were allowed them. She said the British treated them humanely. The Indians who had the Ruddle's Fort prisoners sold most all of them to the British for trifles. The British wanted them to exchange for their own prisoners, then in possession of our armies in the colonies.

I do not know, nor do I remember from the relations of my grandfather, or from the statements of my mother or her older sister, Aunt Betty Laughlin (wife of James Laughlin), whether all the prisoners were carried to Montreal. My grandfather was, however, with his family, and a letter from Uncle Benjamin Sharp gives the reason why he was imprisoned in jail at that place. His eldest son John Dunkin, Jr., made his escape from the British at Montreal, and his father who was known to have been an officer of standing, was suspected of having aided his son to escape to carry communications across the wilderness through New York to General Washington's army, the headquarters being then perhaps in Pennsylvania. John Dunkin, Jr., reported personally to General Washington, by whom he was well provided for until his father and family were exchanged and met him in Pennsylvania on their return home, they having come through western New York and by Philadelphia, through Pennsylvania and Maryland and to that part of Washington County in western Virginia where, or nearly where he had moved from when he went to Kentucky, and there he continued to live for the rest of his life.

After his return he never went back to Kentucky to look after his land and improvement, and thereby lost a "head right" to one of the best tracts of land on Licking River.

My great grandmother, the mother of my grandfather Dunkin, came from Pennsylvania with him, removed to Kentucky with him, was a prisoner with him in Canada, and returned to Holston with him, being seventy when captured, and lived many years after their return.

On return from Canada the prisoners came by way of Lake Champlain, by Saratoga, down the Hudson by water and across New Jersey to Philadelphia. My mother has often told me of the astonishing scenes of rejoicing in Philadelphia at the final achievement of our national independence as they passed through that city, and of the kindness everywhere of the people to them on their journey.

On the march to Canada and a Detroit and Montreal, my grandfather often saw among the Indians, and associating with the British officers of rank the renegade and incarnate devil, Simon Girty. This demon in human shape dealt in the scalps of American men, women, and children, bought and paid for by the British authorities. Girty's influence among the Indians was very great. In history his name descends embalmed in the execrations of all mankind.

My grandfather Dunkin, ever after I knew him, was a taciturn, serious, and rather melancholy man. He was a large stout man, and in his younger days, and until his spirit was broken and his health impaired by his Canadian captivity, and the loss of his property, had been a man of great vigor of mind and body, and fond of hazardous and arduous adventure.

Historical Summary: 

The first mention of John Dunkin is found in an old Fincastle Court record for May 5, 1773, when he was appointed on a road commission to "view" a road from the Townhouse (Chilhowie, VA) to Castlewood. Then on January 29, 1777 he was recommended by the court of newly formed Washington County, Virginia, as a member of the Commission of Peace, serving on that body through November 1778. He was recommended by the court of Washington County for a Captain of Militia on February 26, 1777, although he had long been in the frontier militia for we find him as a Sergeant in command of Glade Hollow Fort when it was first garrisoned in 1774.

At a court held for Washington County, Virginia, on the 20th of March, 1781, there is entered this interesting order:

On motion of James Litton (brother of Solomon) and James Laughlin, and by consent and order of the Court they are appointed guardians of the estates of Captain John Dunkin and Solomon Litton, prisoners of the enemy in Canada, and to use all legal methods for saving and securing the said estates, whereupon they, together with William Davidson and John Vance entered into and acknowledged their bonds for eight thousand pounds for the faithful performance of the same.

After returning from captivity Captain Dunkin went to live on Spring Creek near Abingdon, Virginia. Solomon Litton returned to his old home at Elk Garden, and Samuel Porter to Temple Hill, Castlewood, VA, but the latter was not returning to the peace he probably anticipated. Shortly after his return Samuel Porter was charged by Col. Arthur Campbell for Courts martial on charges of treason while a prisoner in Canada.

Campbell's reasons for charges of treason seem vague and obscure and may have been groundless, for none other than that great patriot Gen. William Russell very indignantly interceded to the Governor of Virginia on behalf of Porter, who was his closest neighbor. To history buffs the record of this charge found in the Calendar of Virginia State Papers should make an interesting study.


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