Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Birthplace of Kentucky: The Corn Crib Skirmish or the Battle of Cove Springs

Old, Black and White Illustration of Agricultural Scene, From 1800's
Photo by Ideabug/Getty Images

During September 1773, Chief Cornstalk broke the uneasy truce with the white men and directed a massacre of families on the Greenbriar and other outlying stations. This is about the same time Daniel Boone had decided to move his family from the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina to Kentucky with the intent of making a permanent settlement. On September 25, 1773 the Boones and five other families sat out, and upon reaching Wolf Hills at present day Abingdon, Daniel dispatched his seventeen-year-old son, Jamie, and several others to Russell’s Fort to retrieve supplies. On October 9th, Jamie and his group were attacked by bands of Delawares, Shawnees, and Cherokees. 

Harrod was not going to let the Native Americans prevent him from returning to Kentucky. As he continued with his plans, Colonel William Preston, surveyor of Fincastle County refused to enter any of Captain Bullitt’s surveys. He said Bullitt refused to hire Fincastle deputy surveyors as required by Virginia law, and he had staked his surveys in Shawnee land under treaty to the crown. Bullitt also failed to tip Preston a little gratuity for his trouble in overseeing Fincastle’s disputable claims. Colonel Preston demanded the surveys had to be redone under his supervision, and he doubted the men had a legal right to survey below the Kentucky River.

In Harrodstown, during September 1775, they erected more cabins around the Town Creek, chinked the older buildings, and worked on construction of Fort Harrod. By the end of summer, Harrodstown boasted a seventy-acre cornfield and eight to ten cabins.

During Harrod’s years in Kentucky, his first loyalty was to the men who had chosen him as their leader. However, some of his men were unwilling to obey what they considered unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on their movements. Newcomers, seeing the muddled situation in the Transylvania colony, choose to ignore the rulings or returned to their old homes in the east rather than risk their efforts on uncertain claims.

The Transylvania Company announced an increase in land prices from twenty shillings to two pounds ten shillings per one hundred acres. Joining Daniel Boone on his second expedition to Boonesborough was a hot-tempered, loud talking but able Scotch-Irishman named Hugh McGary. After passing through the Cumberland Gap, McGary finally settled himself and his new family near Harrodstown in September 1775.

When Hugh McGary’s party arrived, they selected land about three hundred yards farther west as a more suitable location, on account of a spring which issued from the foot of a rocky bluff on the north side. There McGary, Denton, Harrod, and three others erected cabins. When the Poague party finally arrived in February 1776, the Hugh Wilson family were the only ones residing in the old cabins.

The Kentucky frontiersmen could plow the ground, fence in new clearings, and erect cabins, but only the arrival of women and children could give stability to the settlements. The women and children began arriving in September 1775. There was also resurgence in the work of completing Fort, which the increasing number of the Indian attacks rendered a necessity. The construction on the stockade began and it was completed by early spring. The fort enclosed an area of about one and a half acres, with a spring and a stream running through for fresh water. Settlers were warned of an Indian attack by a large cedar horn sounded from the fort.  Fort Harrod was a defensive, arsenal fortification and its walls served as a stronghold ready to protect settlers living on the outside. It became an important haven to the pioneers of Kentucky because, as the American Revolution intensified, the British encouraged the Native Americans to raid the Kentucky settlements.

Harrodstown had lush grass and abundant water, and the limestone soil made great pastureland for grass eating animals that was without parallel in pioneer history. Bears provided an excellent meat substitute for bacon.  Game was plentiful but so were Indian raids. The new fort was nearly completed and conveniently located it provided refuge for both the people of Harrodstown and other settlers when the Native Americans were on the warpath.  The fort of 1775-1776 was located about one-half mile south of the Big Spring and was built on higher ground than the 1774 Big Spring’s encampment.

The first court in Kentucky County was held on September 2, 1776. George Rogers Clark, Isaac Hite, Benjamin Logan, Robert Todd, Richard Callaway, John Kennedy, Nathaniel Henderson, Daniel Boone, James Derchester, and James Harrod were named justices of the peace. Levi Todd was appointed Clerk of Court.

George Rogers Clark was still in Williamsburg for the fall legislative session and on the opening day John Gabriel Jones joined him. They presented the two Harrodsburg petitions to the Assembly. They also requested to be seated as delegates from the Western Part of Fincastle County; the council refused to grant the request. Henderson, upset that his purchases had been voided, tried another attack by attempting to have his claims validated under Virginia law at the expense of Harrod’s company.

Thomas Slaughter, a past opponent of Harrod, also had a petition on behalf of himself and others near Kentucky. It turned out Slaughter not only reinforced the Harrodstown pleas but called attention to the need for organized militia. By highlighting the danger of Native Americans, the Kentuckians showed they would be a barricade for the older settlements in the east. This argument was a success and the House of Delegates began considering a bill for creation of the new county.

The Indiana Company also protested Virginia’s claim to the western lands, and Judge Henderson, who did not want a new county created out of his territory, lobbied hard to protect the fading prospects of the Transylvania Company. Clark and Jones did receive support from Thomas Jefferson and George Mason, strong allies with Harrodstown, and they fought valiantly to get Kentucky created as a county with its own local government. Jefferson agreed with Governor Henry about the Transylvania-Harrodstown controversy and helped Clark successfully argue that Kentucky settlements were essential for the protection of the Virginia frontier.

The corn crib skirmish of Harrodsburg occurred on September 22, 1777 but started on September 11. A party of 37 men under Colonel Bowman went to Captain Joseph Bowman’s settlement at the Cove Spring, five miles southeast of Harrodsburg to shell corn and bring back to the Fort. The “corn crib skirmish” occurred on when a party of Kickapoos stole up through a canebrake and fired upon the whites as they were shelling corn. Bowman gallantly hallooed to his men, “Stand your ground! – we are able to beat them, by the Lord!” Squire Boone and six others were injured (one later died that night). Eli Gerrard was killed. This spirited little affair was known among the frontiersmen of the day as the Battle of Cove Spring.

Corn had been raised at the Cove Spring near Harrod’s run, and some five miles northeast of Harrodsburg. A party went there to shell corn – in the cribs, and the Native Americans came upon them. James Berry very severely wounded, and two killed and another wounded who subsequently died. The men fought – Nathaniel Randolph ran all the way to Harrodsburg, got help and returned – the men were still in possession and the Native Americans were moving off – saw bloody signs.

 A boom of children was being born in Kentucky. James and Ann Harrod had been married seven years before finally in September 1785 Margaret Harrod was born; Ann’s second child, and only child of her marriage to Harrod.


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