(Ed. Note: Much as The Star did 25 years ago, in celebration of Winchester's 250th birthday, the editorial page will offer stories or commentary pieces on Winchester's history. A few differences: Whereas this series of articles did not begin until March back in 1994, this year the series will begin in January. Also, during this 275th commemoration, the stories will appear but once a month, on the second Saturday, whereas in 1994, the articles ran every Saturday from March until the end of the year. Finally, given the notion that Winchester's history, however memorable, has not changed in the last 25 years, stories from 1994 will be reprised this year. We trust that enough time has passed for these articles to have regained their freshness -- or, for those who've come to our verdant Valley in the past quarter-century, they will boast a genuine newness.)
In his estimable recounting of those "worthy lives" of Winchester, Garland R. Quarles told us about everything we need to know about Gen. Jojn Smith, the soldier-legislator who devoted much of his adult life to the service of his country.
As Quarles relates it, Smith was born at Shooter's Mill in Middlesex County and moved to Frederick in 1771 at the age of 23, having acquired 1,400 acres "on the drains of Opequon Creek." His star rose quickly; he was appointed a county justice in 1773 and then county lieutenant (by Gov. Patrick Henry) in 1777. As lieutenant, he oversaw the transfer and confinement of a large number of British and Hessian prisoners, many of whom he hired out -- or so it is said -- to build Hackwood, his stone mansion on Red Bud Run.
In later years, Smith was named a lieutenant colonel of militia by Gov. Henry Lee (1793), a brigadier general by Gov. James Monroe (1801), and, finally, a major general in command of the Third Division of Virginia State troops (1811), a post he held until his death in 1836.
Politically a Democrat, Smith represented Frederick County in the House of Delegates from 1779 to 1783 and then in the state Senate between 1792 and 1795. In 1801, he was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served until 1815.
Smith's life was not without tragedy. One of his eight children, Peyton Bull Smith, died from wounds sustained in a duel with a certain Joseph Holmes. At the age of 80 in early 1831, the general was committed to jail in Frederick County for failure to pay on a debt of $30. He died -- "dispirited and aged," notes Quarles -- five years later at the home of his granddaughter, Mrs. Isaac F. Hite. Initially buried in in the family graveyard at Hackwood, he is now interred at Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester.
A full life, indeed, but what I found intriguing was a minor reference, made by Quarles, of Smith's participation in Lord Dunmore's War. A series of events frequently overlooked by Virginia and national historians alike, Dunmore's War against the Shawnees of Chief Cornstalk turned on the Battle of Point Pleasant, a running fight at the confluence of the Great Kanawha and Ohio rivers that some consider the "first battle of the Revolution." There's reason aplenty for such a contention, but more on that later.
The question I posed: Did Smith fight at Point Pleasant? As I discovered, no. The men of Frederick County, whose ranks included the likes of Daniel Morgan, James Wood Jr., and Joseph Bowman, were part of Dunmore's Northern Division, led by the royal governor himself, which marched northwest to Fort Pitt and then south down the Ohio. The Southern Division, roughly 1,150 men commanded by Gen. Andrew Lewis, encountered Cornstalk at Point Pleasant on Oct. 10, 1774, and, after 12 hours of battle that saw 46 Virginians killed, pushed the Indians back across the Ohio. Dunmore eventually made peace with the warring tribes.
But history -- save for a congressional resolution in 1908 recognizing the battle as the first in America's War of Independence and a speech on the Senate floor by Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia in 1991 -- history has not been kind to Lewis and the heroes of "The Point."
Still, there is ample evidence that this battle -- and not Lexington and Concord, which occurred more than six month later in 1775 -- sounded the initial volleys of the Revolution. After all, as any host or hostess at the log Mansion House at Tu-Endie-Wei in Point Pleasant will tell you, the British equipped Cornstalk, who was, in effect, their agent on the West Virginia battlefield hard by the meeting of the Great Kanawha and the Ohio.
One thing is for certain, though, John Smith of Hackwood was marching with Dunmore further up the Ohio when those first shots rang out on Oct. 10, 1774.
This article first appeared in The Star on Saturday, March 12, 1994. Adrian O'Connor is editorial page editor of The Star.