Forting was a formative experience for frontier West Virginians. Pioneer families moved from their homesteads to the safety of a nearby refuge fort when threatened by Indian war parties. If time permitted, the families brought food, clothing, and valuables with them. ‘‘They leaped from corn shuck beds and grabbed / The things they treasured most,’’ as poet Louise McNeill said in her poem, ‘‘Forting.’’
Usually, they remained at the fort only as long as necessary. Typical stays ranged from several days to several weeks. On occasion, families lived in a fort for months. When the Indians left the immediate area, the settlers returned home. Forting was a seasonal activity. The greatest need for the shelter of a fort occurred between the months of April and October every year, the period of Indian raiding. Difficult travel made winter warfare relatively rare.
Life in a refuge fort could become quite uncomfortable. Rarely were the forts actually besieged, and families moved about the vicinity during daylight hours. Nonetheless, overcrowding was a problem. A fort measuring 50 feet on a side might hold 200 people. Periodic outbreaks of smallpox and other diseases also made fort life difficult.
Refuge forts first came into general use in Western Virginia during the French and Indian War (1754–63), though it was during the Revolutionary War (1775–83) that the practice reached its zenith. Indians took a vigorous part in both these wars and in many smaller campaigns of the same era. Following the defeat of the Ohio Valley Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, the forts fell into disuse.
This Article was written by John M. Boback
Doddridge, Joseph. Notes on the Settlement and the Indian Wars. Pittsburgh: John S. Ritenour & Wm. T. Lindsay, 1912.
Bond, Donovan H. "Frontier Forts of Monongalia County," in Earl L. Core, ed, The Monongalia Story. 5 vols. Parsons: McClain, 1974-84.
Cook, Roy Bird. Virginia Frontier Defenses, 1719-1795. West Virginia History, (Jan. 1940).