The Massacre of Kerr’s Creek

Jeannette Holland Austin
4 min readApr 14, 2022
Kerr’s Creek in Augusta County, Virginia

The first settlers of Kerr’s Creek occurred in 1736 as the result of a land grant in old Augusta County, Virginia. But the Shawnee were active in that region of the frontier, and frequently conducted raids. Records show that the Shawnee’s came against the settlers from 1759 to 1763. According to an old family bible of the McKee family, Jenny McKee is recorded as having been murdered by Indians in 1763. Thomas Gilmore, his wife and son, were also killed at the time that Jenny was carried off by Indians. Among the spoils was the scalp of James Sitlington which was recognized by the flowing locks of red hair. Thomas Young, the brother of John, was slain in a fight. His body was buried in the field, but his scalp, torn from the head by the Indian who killed him, was buried in the Glebe graveyard.

A smaller band of Indians made their descent upon Kerr’s Creek on July 17th. Several weeks before, two boys named Telford had reported that upon returning from school that they had seen a naked man near their path. This report was not much thought of until the massacre when it was supposed that the man seen by the boys was an Indian spy sent out to reconnoiter. From Millsborough, the saves passed over Mill mountain at a low place known as an Indian Trail, crossed the waters of Bratton’s Run and North mountain where the trail crossed a road leading from Lexington to the Rockbridge Alum Springs. Bear a large heap of stones piled up by the Indians, they had a full view of the valley of Kerr’s Creek.

The Indians scampered down the mountains, coming upon the house of Jacob Cunningham who was away from home. His wife was killed and his daughter, about ten years of age, scalped and left for dead. The daughter revived, however, and was carried off as prisoner in the second invasion.

The Robert Hamilton house consisted of ten persons, and half of them were slain. By this time, the alarm had alerted the neighbors, who were running in every direction. But for some reason, the Indians hastened their departure.

The Wilson family suffered severely from the July raid. An extract of the account was published in The Kanawha Gazette on December 27, 1887 as follows:

“John had gone to Dickinson’s Fort, not far away, to get some help for the house-raising next day; while William Jr. (called Thomas by others), had gone to a little mill, about a mile distant, to get some meal ground for the house-raising party. Two of the sisters, Margaret and Elizabeth, were out on the river bank washing flax-tow; Mrs. Wilson, who was in feeble health, had walked out to where they were at work; an Irishman had a loom in the yard and was weaving; two of the sisters, Susan and Barbara, were in the cabin ironing the family clothes, and the father, with some other men, were at work on the new house logs, when the attack was made.”

“In returning from the Fort, John encountered the Indians suddenly, in the turn of the road. They fired on him, and a ball passed through his clothes just under his arm, cutting the gusset of his shirt. He wheeled his horse quickly and fled back to the Fort to get immediate help to go to the rescue of the family, and about twenty returned with him.:

“The Indians had passed on the cabin. The girls at the river washing, saw them coming and started to run, and at the same time tried to help their mother run away, but she told them to go and save themselves and leave her. In passing, an Indian threw a tomahawk at the old lady, and severely wounded her in the wrist as she threw up her hand to save her face. The Indians did not pursue them, but hurried on the cabin. They fired at the Irish weaver, but he escaped with a flesh wound in his shoulder.”

“As they entered the cabin, one of the girls, Barbara, ran out and was knocked down and her skull probably fractured, but she was not scalped. The girl remaining in the cabin, Susan, closed the door, and when an Indian put his hand in to try and open it, she mashed and burned his fingers with a hot smoothing iron.”

“By this time, the father and his men from the new house foundation came up, and attacked the Indians with hand-spikes and footadze; the latter, in the hands of Mr. Wilson, and drove them off.”

At dawn the next, John and his party searched for the missing people. He tracked his mother by her blood about a mile up the river to where she had walked and crawled. He found her entirely out of her mind; the woman did not recognize her son and friends, supposing them to be Indians. However, the mother rallied and lived many years afterward.

The hard shoe-tracks of William Wilson, Jr. were located where he had attempted to run, had slipped and fallen and captured by the Indians. Further along, the Indians had tied him to a tree, and afterwards taken him with them.

In later years, a returned prisoner reported to the family that she had seen William Jr. at the Chillicothe towns, but was not allowed to talk with him. She said that he had been adopted by a widow who had lost a son, and was kindly treated. William Jr. never got home and died in captivity!

Source: Annuals of Augusta County Virginia 1726–1871 by Joseph A. Waddell, pages 171–176.

Jeannette Holland Austin

Author of 100+ genealogy books. Owner of 8 genealogy websites available by subscription.