General Joseph Martin Chapter

Cumberland Gap, TN


Cumberland Gap Patriot

William Russell

William Russell, a Revolutionary war hero at Kings Mountain who helped explore the Cumberland Gap region, and help blaze a new trail so other settlers could come to KY.

 Russell was born in Culpepper VA on March 6, 1758. In 1773, Russell met Daniel Boone for the first time and went on a mapping expedition of the Powell valley region of Cumberland Gap later that year on October 10, 1773. Powell valley had been first explored by the English as early as 1680.  In March 1750 Thomas Walker explored the Powell valley region and discovered the Gap in the Cumberland Mountains which would later be called Cumberland Gap. Boone first came through the region in 1769. During the Boone expedition to Powell Valley of 1773, Indians killed 6 members of Boone’s party including Boone’s son James was killed.

 In June 1774, Russell led a survey tour along the Ohio River to the falls of the Ohio near Louisville KY.  In April 1775, Russell along with 30 other men cut a path over 150 miles long through the Gap to Boonesborough KY. They called it the Wilderness Road.

 The Wilderness Road had first been a trail used by the buffalo and later the Indians. The Indians called it “the trail of the armed ones” because the trail was used by Indian Hunting and war parties. During the years of 1775-1796 the trail was barely wide enough to ride a horse through or even walk through.   It is estimated that 70000 people came through the Gap before Kentucky became a state in 1792. It wasn’t until 1796 that the trail was widened enough to bring a wagon through.

During the month of July 1777, Kentucky settlements sustained more Indian attacks that month than any other month previously. Between July 4-19, 1777, Boonesborough, Harrods Fort and Logan’s Fort were attacked by the Shawnee.

 One settler wrote in his diary after the attacks” We have passed through a scene of attacks that exceeds description.”

 During the years of 1780-1781, Russell participated in the battles of Kings Mountain, Wetzel Mills, and Guilford Courthouse during the Revolutionary war.

 After the war during the years of 1785-1795 Russell participated in several Indian battles in the Northwest Territory which was comprised of the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. These battles included the Mad River Campaign of 1786 where Benjamin Logan burned several Shawnee Indian Towns along the Mad River near Dayton Ohio in retaliation for their attacks in KY. Later that year in 1786, Russell married Nancy price and had 16 children from this union

 In 1790, Miami Indians attacked Kentucky settlements killing nearly 2000 settlers. In October 1790 Russell joined the Harmar campaign where they burned the Indian Village of KiKionga, their main Indian Village. On the way home 100 warriors attacked and defeated Russell the 400 other frontiersmen with him.

 On November 1791, Russell participated in the battle of the Wabash near Fort Recovery Ohio. It was the worst defeat ever suffered by the US Army in an Indian attack. 52 Officers were killed along with 632 men killed and 264 wounded. These 682 men comprised one fourth of the standing army that the US Government had at the time. There was 3 times the amount of soldiers killed here than there were at Custer’s last Stand fought at the Little Bighorn 85 years later.

 In 1792, Russell was elected to the Virginia legislature. He helped pass through a law separating Kentucky from Virginia and granting Kentucky Statehood.

 On August 20, 1794, Russell participated in the battle of Fallen Timbers near Toledo Ohio. This was the last Indian battle of the Northwest campaign. On April 3, 1795 the Treaty of Greenville signed in Greenville Ohio ended the hostilities between the Indians and he settlers.

 From 1792-1808, Russell was reelected to Kentucky House of Representatives several times.  In 1808 Russell was appointed colonel of the Kentucky 7th Infantry regiment.

 On November 6, 1811, Russell participated in the battle of Tippecanoe in Indiana.

Here William Henry Harrison defeated a Shawnee village comprised mostly of women and children.

In 1812, Harrison made Russell Militia commander for al of Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. During the years of 1813-1818, Russell fought the Kickapoo and Peoria Indians. In 1875, the Kickapoo were finally expelled from Illinois and sent to Indian Reservations.

In 1820, Russell had moved back to Fayette county Kentucky. Russell died in Fayette County on July 3, 1825.

 During the Civil war, Russell’s descendents fought on both sides. Of the 453 Civil war battles that occurred in Kentucky 16 were in Fayette County KY. There were more Civil war battles fought in Kentucky than in Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina or Maryland.

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