After driving the scenic, winding, mountain roads of Oglebay Park, the scene changed to one resembling a Revolutionary War Camp. We had arrived at Fort Henry Days celebrating life as it was on the frontier in the late 1700’s. Fort Henry was built as protection from the Indians during Dunmore’s War and also used during the Revolutionary War. Originally it was called Fort Fincastle in honor of Viscount Fincastle, Lord Dunmore, Royal Governor of Virginia. Later the name was changed to Fort Henry, to honor Patrick Henry, the Revolutionary Governor of Virginia.
A stroll through the grounds indicated there would be a variety of ideas to explore with people who were very knowledgeable regarding the war as well as life during that time. Everyone was camped in tents using only supplies and equpment that would have been available during the late 1700’s. One family told of seeing deer grazing nearby and even having a red fox and her cub come into their tent.
Near the center of the encampment, benches had been placed to face a platform made of bales of straw covered with sheets of plywood. This was the spot for today’s presentations. Dan Cutler, dressed in Indian garb with a headdress made of antlers, portrayed Chief John Logan. This mild-mannered chief extended a wampum belt of friendship to the white man. His kindness shone through when he made a pair of beaded deerskin moccasins for a barefoot, little girl of the settlers.
Chief Logan told of the Indians’ struggles with the settlers at Yellow Creek after they had killed his brother and other female relatives. Chief Logan, who by Indian custom had the right to retaliate for their murders, then raised a hatchet that had long been buried. His hatchet handle contained fourscore notches – one for each scalp taken in their subsequent attacks on settlers.
Later in the afternoon, Dan Cutler also portrayed Chief Cornstalk and told tales of the chief’s adventures at Fort Randolph on the Scioto River, where they floated quietly on rafts of driftwood to surprise the settlers. Having the standing of warrior was very important, but some felt it important for the young men to get an education. When the educated returned to their tribe, they were considered “good for nothing” …no longer warriors.
Chief Cornstalk told of the Ohio Company promising the land to the Indians, but then supporting the British and pushing the Indians off their promised land. He vividly remembered the first surveyor of the Ohio Company, George Washington, who didn’t even know how to read and write…according to Chief Cornstalk..
The grounds at Oglebay Park were filled with battle re-enactors, people depicting life of the times, and vendors selling wares. Under the pavilion were located Sons of the American Revolution, Daughters of the American Revolution, Wheeling Area Historical Society, and authors selling their books. One of these authors was Alan Fitzpatrick, author of Wilderness War on the Ohio and In Their Own Words. His tales of life at that time are based on written records he has found. Anyone in that era who could read and write was very highly sought after with quill, ink, and tablet. There was also beautiful handmade Native American jewelry for sale…my Fort Henry Days’ remembrance – a thunderbird necklace!
Musical entertainment was provided by Gallowglass, a lively group playing and singing period music as well as old Irish tunes. There seemed to be a lot of drinking ballads in the mix.This group has been performing at Fort Henry Days for several years and their performance contained not only songs but humorous stories as well. Included in their performance were: Welcome Home, Nancy Whiskey, and several reels. A member of the Wayward Companions joined in on many of their songs by playing a bovine jawbone with a period bone toothbrush that he had brought from Gettysburg.
An interesting frontier dentist informed those gathered at her office about dental practices of that time. Arsenic was one favorite remedy for a toothache. Their favorite mouthwash was a combination of mint or rosemary in orange water or rose water mixed with alcohol, of course. When someone died or was killed, their teeth were removed to replace those lost by the living. ..an early concept of “tooth implants”?
The culmination of the day was a Battle Re-enactment, unlike any I had ever seen before. This recreation told a true story, which was narrated over a loudspeaker. This event occurred back in 1782 at Sandusky, Ohio where the frontiersmen were attacking an Indian village. The natives were doing their normal chores with children playing in the cornfields. An Indian warning call was the sign for everyone to run for cover. They even set the cornfield on fire! Many were captured but some fled to freedom.
Not much is left of the old Fort Henry, but locals are trying to keep alive the memories. There is a granite Fort Henry marker in the parking lot on the right hand side just past Capitol Theater. A list has been started, but not complete by any means, of those who were in Wheeling at the time of the American Revolution. All these names have been placed on a wall, which is being displayed throughout the Ohio Valley. Should your family name be there?
Fort Henry Days are held the first weekend of September annually. Celebration is held in Oglebay Park at Wheeling, WV. Once you get to the park, signs will direct you to the activities. If you know of any names that need to be added to the wall or wish to display the Fort Henry Wall, contact the Fort Henry Living History board by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.