In the summer of 1786 a large war party of Shawnee Indians entered Abb’s Valley, Virginia, and descended on the household of militia officer Captain John Moore which included members of his immediate family together with hired labourers. The family occupied a substantial log building and were well armed, so Moore believed that his family was well placed to fight off a small Indian attack. The nearest homestead was six miles away and Moore, relying on his own abilities, thought it unnecessary to follow the example of neighbours by taking refuge in the nearest fort. The attack achieved complete surprise and Moore was killed before he could reach the safety of the house. What followed was an appalling, but typical, Indian massacre of the colonial period frontier in the 18th century. Various family members, young and old, were slaughtered on the spot, the property was set alight and a substantial herd of livestock was taken. Surviving members of the Moore family were taken as captives to the Indian townships, several of them being murdered on the journey. Once the survivors reached the Indian village there followed another period of torture which for Mrs. Moore and a teenage daughter proved fatal. Two young women survived their ordeals to eventually be ransomed. The story of this notable frontier tragedy was written by James Moore, a son of Mary Moore, who was one of the two ransomed captives. This a vital account of the struggles endured by the early settlers of the American wilderness and will be of essential interest to anyone interested in the early history of the state of Virginia.
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Daylight dawned on a happy family in Abb’s Valley on the morning of the 14th. They rose early, and engaged in their respective employments. It was the busy, joyous season of harvest. Two men were reaping wheat a few hundred yards from the house. Mr. Moore was giving salt to some young horses not far off. Two of the children had gone for water to the place from which the supply was usually obtained, and which was somewhat in the direction of the spot where their father was. Another had gone to the fence which enclosed the yard to give the signal to Mr. Moore and the reapers to come to breakfast. In this juncture, the fearful war-whoop was heard, and the savages were seen rushing down two ridges of the mountain, one party to the salting blocks, where Mr. Moore was, and the other to the house.<br>
At the first alarm, Mary, who was calling to her father and the reapers, ran into the house, in which were her mother, Margaret, John, and Jane; and Martha Evans, a young woman from Walker’s Creek, in what is now Giles County, who happened to be at Mr. Moore’s at this time. The house, like almost all the frontier houses of that period, was constructed with a view to defence against the Indians, and was what was called a blockhouse cabin. Amongst other things, the doors were made of plank too thick to be penetrated by a rifle ball, and were furnished with strong fastenings in the inside; and the windows were high and small, and could be secured instantly. In the confusion of the moment, Mrs. Moore and Martha Evans shut the doors and secured the windows, without it once occurring to them that they were shutting out Mr. Moore and the other children.<br>
As soon as he heard the yell of the savages, Mr, Moore started to the house with his utmost speed, and could have got in, if the door had been open; but seeing it closed, he ran past the end of the house, and halted for a moment on the yard fence. This halt was fatal to him, for he was pierced with seven balls. Springing from the fence he ran about forty paces and fell. He was immediately tomahawked, and his scalp torn off. Had he succeeded in getting into his house, the opinion of those who well knew him was, that the issue of the attack would have been very different from what it was. There were six or seven rifles in the house, and with the advantages which the construction of the house gave, the defence would have been such as to cost the assailants dear, even if it had not been successful.<br>
The Indians said afterwards that he might have escaped, had it not been for his halt on the fence. Why he made that pause we cannot know. Did he think of some way to rescue his family? Was it only the promptings of an agonized heart without any definite object? We may conjecture about his thoughts in that bitter moment, but we never can know what passed in his mind. William and Rebecca, who had gone for water, were overtaken before they reached the house and killed, and another son Alexander, was killed nearer the house. Simpson, the Englishman spoken of in the former part of this narrative, was in the upper part of the house somewhat indisposed; and Martha Evans, taking two of the guns in her hands, went up where he was, and called to him to fire at the Indians, but found that he was lying on his bed dying. He had been looking out through a crack between two of the logs, and was shot in the side of the head.<br>
When she came down, she raised a plank in the floor, and crept under. Mary was going under with her, but had in her arms the youngest child, an infant, which was crying from the pain of a wound in its shoulder. Martha remonstrated against its being brought under, as it would betray them, and Mary would not leave it. The plank was replaced, concealing only Martha. In this trying moment, when two fierce dogs that had defended the door had been killed, and the Indians were at work with their tomahawks cutting it down, Mrs. Moore kneeled with her children, and having commended all to God, rose and removed the bars from the door; and herself and her four children became captives.<br>
There was one son of the family that twice escaped captivity or death. On the day that James was taken, Joseph, his younger brother, was anxious to go with him to bring the horse, but for some reason his parents would not permit him; and thus he escaped at that time. He was not at home on this melancholy day. In the previous spring he had accompanied his father to Lexington, where he had gone to barter the productions of the valley, and procure necessaries for his family. On the way he took the measles, and being too unwell to travel, was left at his grandfather Poage’s; and thus made his second escape.<br>
The Indians, having everything now in their power, went leisurely to the work of gathering the spoil. The breakfast which had been prepared for the family, with such additions as were required by the increase of numbers, became the repast of the hungry savages. They were in no fear of any interruption, for several hours at least; for their numbers were such that the few scattered families in the valley thereabout could not muster a force sufficient to attack them with any hope of success. They took out of the house everything they wished to carry away.<br>
Indeed, they first brought out everything, and then made a sort of partition of the spoils amongst themselves, leaving the remainder in a pile to be burned. They then spent some hours in killing all the stock of every kind they could find; and then in the afternoon started for the Ohio, after setting on fire the dwelling house, and all the out-buildings of every description. While they were busily engaged in the division of the spoils on one side of the house, Martha Evans crept from her place of concealment, and unobserved by them, made her way to a ravine not far off, and concealed herself under a shelving rock, on which rested the end of a fallen tree that lay across the ravine. About the time that the party were starting off, one of the Indians passing that way, seated himself on the log, and commenced working with the lock of his gun. He had not noticed her, but she supposing that he had seen her, and was about to kill her, came out and gave herself up, and thus became a fellow captive with the survivors of the family.