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The Border Series - The Moore Family Massacre

An excerpt from, "Pendleton's History of Tazewell County and Southwest Virginia."
By William C. Pendleton © 1920

Issue: December, 1989

Editor's Note: The strength and courage of those who first ventured into the border region cannot be over stated. In search of a place to call their own they faced hardships that we today cannot imagine. Between the "Nations", as the Indian held frontiers to the west were known, and the civilized atmosphere of colonial towns far to the east was a no mans land known as The Border. Inhabitants of The Border were alone and subject to the evil whims of man and the ravages of nature. Yet they endured hardships and horrors and because they persevered the development of this nation forged westward.

As dusk settles over the New River Trail or a secluded section of Jefferson National Forest this writer cannot help but let fantasy mix with reality and the whisper of a breeze through the tree tops becomes the footsteps of countless forgotten pioneers. Suddenly the clock is rolled backward 200 years and this region is once again "The Border."

It is in moments like these that the pages of local history come alive and the stories of people like the James Moore family are no longer "just history" but a living part of our heritage and a reminder of the legacy of strength and courage they left to each us.

The following stories of the Moore family are taken from "Pendleton's History of Tazewell County and Southwest Virginia" by William C. Pendleton published in 1920. This is an excellent history of The Border region and although it is rare, we highly recommend you read it. Libraries occasionally have a reference copy available for in-house use.

[Update 2012: "Pendleton's History of Tazewell County and Southwest Virginia," by William C. Pendleton has been reprinted and is now available through]

The Captivity of James Moore

"The pioneer family that suffered the most at the hands of the Indians was that of Captain James Moore, who moved with his family from what is now Rockbridge County to Abb's Valley, in 1772. Bickley says: 'In September, 1784, a party of Indians had entered the present limits of Tazewell [County], and dividing themselves into small parties to steal horses and to annoy the settlers, three had entered the Abb's Valley settlement, in which resided Capt. James Moore and a brother-in-law named John Pogue (Poage). The Indians had been for a day or two lurking round, waiting, and looking for an opportunity to seize horses or murder the settlers.'"

"These three Indians were Black Wolf and two youths about eighteen years old, one of them a son of the Wolf. While they were lurking round in Abb's Valley, Captain Moore one morning sent his son, James, a lad about eighteen years old, to a distant pasture to get a horse to take a bag of corn to mill. While James was on his way to the pasture, he was suddenly set upon by Black Wolf and his companions and made a captive. He was taken by his captors to the Indian town in Ohio and adopted by a half sister of the Wolf, she giving the chief an old horse in exchange for the boy. It was five years before James Moore got back home, and three years after the massacre of his father and his family. He had many thrilling experiences while with the Indians. In the spring of 1775, he was so fortunate as to get away from the Indians, and several years after his return home he related the following incidents in connection with his captivity:"

"When we returned from hunting, in the spring, the old man gave me up to Captain Elliot, a trader, from Detroit. But my mistress, on hearing this, became very angry, threatened Elliot, and got me back. Some time in April there was a dance at a town about two miles from where I resided. This I attended, in company with the Indian to whom I belonged. Meeting with a French trader from Detroit, by the name of Batest Ariome, who took a fancy to me on account of my resemblance to one of his sons, he bought me for fifty dollars in Indian money. Before leaving the dance, I met with a Mr. Sherlock, a trader from Kentucky, who had formerly been a prisoner to the same tribe of Indians, and who had rescued a lad by the name of Moffit, who had been captured at the head of Clinch, and whose father was an intimate and particular friend of my father's. I requested Mr. Sherlock to write to my father, through Mr. Moffit, informing him of my captivity, and that I had been purchased by a French trader, and was gone to Detroit. This letter, I have reason to believe, father received, and that it gave him the first information of what had become of me.'"

"'Mr. and Mrs. Ariome were to me parents indeed. They treated me like one of their own sons. I ate at their table, and slept with their sons, in a good feather bed. They always gave me good counsel, and advised me (particularly Mrs. Ariome) not to abandon the idea of returning to my friends. I worked on the farm with his sons, and occasionally assisted him in his trading expeditions. We traded at different places, and sometimes went a considerable distance in the country.'"

"On one of these occasions, four young Indians began to boast of their bravery and among other things, said that one Indian could whip four white men. This provoked me, and I told them that I could whip all four of them. They immediately attacked me, but Mr. Ariome, hearing the noise, came and took me away. This I considered a kind providence; for the Indians are very unskillful in boxing, and in this manner of fighting. I could easily have whipped all of them; but when they began to find themselves worsted, I expected them to attack me with clubs, or some other weapon, and if so, had laid my plans to kill them all with a knife, which I had concealed in my belt, mount a fleet horse, which was close at hand, and escape to Detroit.'"

"'It was on one of these trading expeditions that I first heard of the destruction of father's family. This I learned through a Shawnee Indian, with whom I had been acquainted when I lived with them, and who was one of the party on that occasion. I received this information some time in the same summer after it occurred. In the following winter, I learned that my sister Polly had been purchased by Mr. Stogwell, an American by birth, but unfriendly to the American cause. He was a man of bad character - an unfeeling wretch - and treated my sister with great unkindness. At that time he resided a considerable distance from me. When I heard of my sister, I immediately prepared to go and see her; but as it was then in the dead of winter, and the journey would have been attended with great difficulties, on being told, by Mr. S., that he intended to remove to the neighborhood where I resided in the following spring, I declined it. When I heard that Mr. Stogwell had removed, as was contemplated, I immediately went to see her. I found her in the most abject condition, almost naked, being clothed with only a few dirty and tattered rags, exhibiting to my mind, an object of pity indeed. It is impossible to describe my feelings on that occasion; sorrow and joy were both combined; and I have no doubt the feelings of my sister were similar to my own. On being advised, I applied to the commanding officer at Detroit, informing him of her treatment, with the hope of effecting her release. I went to Mr. Simon Girty, and to Col. McKee, the superintendent of the Indians, who had Mr. Stogwell brought to trial to answer the complaint brought against him. But I failed to procure her release. It was decided, however, when an opportunity should occur for our returning to our friends, she should be released without remuneration. This was punctually performed, on application of Mr. Thomas Ivins [Evans], who had come in search of his sister Martha, already alluded to, who had been purchased from the Indians by some family in the neighborhood, and was at that time, with a Mr. Donaldson, a worthy and wealthy English farmer, and working for herself.'"

"'All being now at liberty, we made preparations for our journey to our distant friends, and set out, I think, some time in the month of October, 1789; it being a little more than five years from the time of my captivity, and a little more than three years from the time of the captivity of my sister and Martha Ivins [Evans]. A trading boat coming down the lakes, we obtained a passage, for myself and sister, to the Moravian towns, a distance of about two hundred miles, and on the route to Pittsburgh. There, according to appointment, we met with Mr. Ivins [Evans] and his sister, the day after our arrival. He had, in the meantime procured three horses, and we immediately set out for Pittsburgh. Fortunately for us, a party of friendly Indians, from these towns, were about starting on a hunting excursion, and accompanied us for a considerable distance on our route, which was through a wilderness, and the hunting-ground of an unfriendly tribe. On one of the nights, during our journey, we encamped near a large party of these hostile Indians. The next morning four or five of their warriors, painted red, came into our camp. This much alarmed us. They made many inquiries, but did not molest us, which might not have been the case, if we had not been in company with other Indians. After this, nothing occurred, worthy of notice, until we reached Pittsburgh. Probably we would have reached Rockbridge that fall, if Mr. Ivins [Evans] had not, unfortunately, got his shoulder dislocated. In consequence of this, we remained until spring with an uncle of his, in the vicinity of Pittsburgh. Having expended nearly all his money in traveling, and with the physician, he left his sister and proceeded on with sister Polly and myself, to the house of our uncle, William McPhaetus, about ten miles southwest of Staunton, near the Middle river. He received, from uncle Joseph Moore, the administrator of father's estate, compensation for his services, and afterward returned and brought in his sister.'"

Massacre of The Moores

"Of the many cruel massacres committed by the Indians within the bounds of the present Tazewell County that of the Moore family was the most tragic and pathetic. Captain Moore had shown such wonderful fortitude as a frontiersman, and proved himself such a gallant soldier in the Indians Wars and in the Revolution, that his death was a grievous loss to his county and State. Dr. Bickley's [Bickley's History of Tazewell County] account of the tragedy is based upon information he received from the immediate descendants of Captain Moore, and from contemporary written narratives. Therefore it must be an accurate narrative of the terrible affair, and I will reproduce it in full, as follows:"

"In July, 1786, a party of forty-seven Indians of the Shawnees tribe, again entered Abb's Valley. Capt. James Moore usually kept five or six loaded guns in his house, which was a strong log building, and hoped, by the assistance of his wife, who was very active in loading a gun, together with Simpson, a man who lived with him, to be able to repel the attack of any small party of Indians. Relying on his prowess, he had not sought refuge in a fort, as many of the settlers had; a fact of which the Indians seem to have been aware, from their cutting out the tongues of his horses and cattle, and partially skinning them. It seems they were afraid to attack him openly, and sought rather to drive him to the fort, that they might sack his house."

"On the morning of the attack, Capt. Moore, who had previously distinguished himself at Alamance, was at a lick bog, a short distance from his house, salting his horses, of which he had many. William Clark and an Irishman were reaping wheat in front of the house. Mrs. Moore and the family were engaged in the ordinary business of housework. A man, named Simpson, was sick upstairs."

"The two men, who were in the field, at work, saw the Indians coming, in full speed, down the hill toward Captain Moore's who had ere this discovered them, and started in a run for the house. He was, however, shot through the body and died immediately. Two of his children, William and Rebecca, who were returning from the spring, were killed about the same time. The Indians had now approached near the house, and were met by two fierce dogs, which fought manfully to protect the family of their master. After a severe contest, the fiercest one was killed, and the other subdued. I shall again use Mr. Brown's narrative, it being quite authentic."

"The two men who were reaping, hearing the alarm, and seeing the house surrounded, fled and alarmed the settlement. At that time, the nearest family was distant six miles. As soon as the alarm was given, Mrs. Moore and Martha Ivins [Evans] (who was living in the family) barred the door, but this was of no avail. There was no man in the house, at this time except John Simpson, the old Englishman already alluded to, and he was in the loft, sick, and in bed. There were five or six guns in the house, but having been shot off the evening before, they were then empty. It was intended to have loaded them after breakfast. Martha Ivins [Evans] took two of them and went upstairs where Simpson was, and handing them to him, told him to shoot. He looked up, but had been shot in the head through a crack, and was then near his end. The Indians then proceeded to cut down the door, which they soon effected. During this time, Martha Ivins [Evans] went to the far end of the house, lifted up a loose plank, and went under the floor, and requested Polly Moore (then eight years of age) who had the youngest child, called Margaret, in her arms (which was crying), to set the child down, and come under. Polly looked at the child, clasped it to her breast, and determined to share its fate. The Indians, having broken into the house, took Mrs. Moore and children, viz; John, Jane, Polly, and Peggy prisoners, and having taken everything that suited them, they set it and the other buildings on fire, and went away. Martha Ivins [Evans] remained under the floor a short time, and then came out and hid herself under a log that lay across a branch, not far from the house. The Indians, having tarried a short time, with a view of catching horses, one of them, walked across this log, sat down on the end of it, and began to fix his gunlock. Miss Ivins, [Evans] supposing that she was discovered, and that he was preparing to shoot her, came out and gave herself up. At this he seemed much pleased. They then set out for their towns. Perceiving that John Moore was a boy, weak in body and mind, and unable to travel, they killed him the first day. The babe they took two or three days, but it being fretful, on account of a wound it had received, they dashed its brains out against a tree. They then moved on with haste to their towns. For some time, it was usual to tie, very securely, each of the prisoners at night, and for a warrior to lie beside each of them, with tomahawk in hand, so that in case of pursuit, the prisoners might be speedily dispatched."

"Shortly after they reached the towns, Mrs. Moore and her daughter Jane were put to death, being burned and tortured at the stake. This lasted sometime, during which she manifested the utmost Christian fortitude, and bore it without a murmur, at intervals conversing with her daughter Polly, and Martha Ivins, [Evans] and expressing great anxiety for the moment to arrive, when her soul should wing its way to the bosom of its Savior. At length an old squaw, more humane than the rest, dispatched her with a tomahawk."

"Polly Moore and Martha Ivins [Evans] eventually reached home, as described in the narrative of James Moore."

"Several incidents, in this narrative, have been left out. When the Indians set fire to the house and started, they took from the stable the fine black horse Yorick. He was a horse of such a vicious nature, that no one could manage him but Simpson. The Indians had not proceeded far when one mounted him, but soon the horse had him on the ground, and was pawing him to death with his feet; for this purpose a few strokes were sufficient. Another mounted him and was served in like manner. Perfectly wild with rage, a very large Indian mounted him, swearing to ride him or kill him; a few plunges and the Indian was under the feet of the desperate horse, his teeth buried in his flesh, and uttering a scream as if he intended to avenge the death of his master; he had just dispatched the Indian, when another running up, stabbed him, and thus put an end to the conflict. Alas! poor Yorick."

"It is said that Mrs. Moore had her body stuck full of lightwood splinters which were fired, and she was thus tortured three days, before she died."

When Martha Evans and Polly Moore were among the French, they fared much worse than when among the Indians. The French had plenty, but were miserly, and seemed to care little for their wants. The Indians had little, but would divide that little to the last particle."

"A song, in commemoration of the Moore captivity, is sung by some of the mountaineers to this day, but as it is devoid of poetical merit I omit its insertion. It may be seen in Howe's History of Virginia."