Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dick Pointer

Dick Pointer marker in Lewisburg, WVGreenbrier County, WV

Marker Text: Enslaved African, noted for bravery in defense of Fort Donnally during Shawnee attack May 29, 1778. He was granted his freedom by James Rodgers in 1801. Land granted to other defenders; his 1795 pension petition, supported locally, denied. Reportedly, citizens built cabin for Pointer, who died in 1827. Buried with military honors in the African-American cemetery on Church St.

Location: On Church Street, Lewisburg, across from the Old Stone Presbyterian Church and Cemetery, within the boundaries of an old African-American cemetery. Erected by the WV Celebration 2000 – West Virginia Division of Archives and History in 2003.

  Dick Pointer was described as a large powerful man with very black skin, he was the slave of Colonel Andrew Donnally. Dick Pointer was credited with saving more than seventy human beings, the greater number being women and children from the tomahawk and scalping knife of the Indians.

Dick Pointer marker and monument in African-American cemetery in Lewisburg, WV

The Dick Pointer marker and to the left is a stone monument dedicated to Pointer as well.  Photo of the brass plaque is below.  Click any photo to enlarge.

  Donnally owned the valley, or at least a large part of it, where he erected the stockade to protect the settlers from Indian forays. The fort was a single log house, two stories high, and a kitchen one and a half story high, with a passage way of eight feet between them. The stockade was eight feet high made of split logs. The fort stood on the east side of Raders creek, in Williamsburg District, ten miles north of Lewisburg. According to a newspaper article in 1969, it is reported that the door from the old Fort Donnally may be seen in the State museum in the Capitol at Charleston.

  Andrew Donnally was a colonel by virtue of his being sheriff of Greenbrier County when it was formed in 1778, the year of the attack on Fort Donnally. Being sheriff of a Virginia county automatically made him the commander of the county militia. Thus making him a colonel.

  In the month of May, 1778, a band of Indians crossed the Ohio river at the mouth of Campaign creek, about seven miles up the river from the mouth of Great Kanawha river. This band of Indians started immediately for the Greenbrier county. Two men set out from the fort at Point Pleasant to notify the settlement of the advance of the Indians. After following them several days they became frightened and returned to Point Pleasant. Two other men volunteered, John Pryor and Philip Hammond stepped forward to go to Greenbrier county and notify the people of their danger.

  Though the Indians had several days head start, the men by traveling day and night were able to overtake the Indians at the mouth of Big Clear creek, only twenty miles from Fort Donnally. The two men determined that the Indians were preparing to attack, Fort Donnally and they started out to warn the people living around the fort.

  Pryor and Hammond warned the following men along with their families: Col. Andrew Donnally, Capt. Jack Williams, William Blake, William Hughart Jr., William Hughart Sr., John McFerrin, William McCoy Sr., William McCoy, Jr., Henry Hedrick, James Jordan, Thomas George, William Hamilton, John Pryor, James Graham, William Strickland, Griffith, Philip Hammond, Dick Pointer, William Prichart, Alexander Ockeltree and James Burns were notified of their danger and with their families came to the fort.

  Before the arrival of the families above there were only three persons in the Fort, Col. Donnally, his slave Dick Pointer, and a white woman. What I found interesting is when the Indians attacked according to one source, Dick Pointer needed the consent of his master, Col. Donnally to fire an old flint-lock musket loaded with nails, lead, and everything destructible that could be raked and scraped up in the Fort.

Dick Pointer stone monument brass plaque near state marker

Brass plaque on the stone monument from above photo dedicated to Dick Pointer.

  William Prichart, an Irish servant of Col. Donnally, on the morning just before daylight, went across the run, he had left the stockade gate open and was tomahawked by the run. No one knew of his going out, therefore, his absence created no alarm.

  The evening before battle, the Indians had come to the top of Brushy ridge at a point called Bald Knob, one mile from the fort. In the morning they left the ridge, then followed the creek down to the fort then finding the stockade gate was open, made a sudden rush for the fort. William Hughart, who was standing at the door, saw the Indians and instead of firing his gun to give the alarm he yelled out, "Yonder they come," and pushed the door shut.

  The Indians made a rush for the door and began to cut it down with their tomahawks. Dick Pointer had seized an old musket loaded heavily with swan shot, etc., and was trying to decide what to do. At this the Indians had partly forced the door open. Philip Hammond cut down the first Indians with his tomahawk and Dick Pointer fired, mowing a swathe to the stockade gate, the recoil of the gun knocking him over. This awakened the people above, and springing from their beds, they grasped their rifles and opened fire, which drove the Indians outside the stockade.

  Some of the Indians before they retreated got under the floor, and tried to set the building on fire. The striking of the flint and steel attracted attention, and when they tried to raise the floor, the whites helped them, and all the Indians under the floor were killed.

  The Indians continued the battle, using every conceivable method to capture the fort. By climbing a tree one of the Indians was enabled to glance a bullet so it struck William Blake on the forehead and gave him a scalp wound. About the same time, another Indian had gotten under the floor. A kettle of boiling water or soap scared him out and a bullet from Hammond's gun stopped him as he started to climb the stockade fence. The settlers loses were four men killed and two wounded.

  The news reached Fort Savannah (now Lewisburg) by a scout sent out for the purpose by Capt. John Stuart. He and Col. Lewis, accompanied by sixty-six men, started about noon, arriving at the fort about 4 p.m. When they approached they thought the Indians had withdrawn, as firing had ceased, but seeing an Indian behind a tree Capt. Stuart and Charles Gatliff fired killing the Indian. The people within the fort thought the Indians were mounting another charge but soon discovered them to be friends, and threw open the doors. Although the Indians opened fire upon Capt. Stuart and his men, and many of them had their clothes pierced by bullets, not one was injured.

  The Indians continued firing slowly from an old barn 200 yards northwest from the fort, and at dark withdrew. A few minutes before dark, an old Indian approached the fort and said they "wanted peace" but the whites could not induce him to enter the fort. The Indians carried away all their dead accessible to them, but seventeen were left within the stockade fence. These Dick Pointer buried the next day in a hole, about thirty yards south of the fort.

  Dick Pointer was later in 1801 granted his freedom for his work on the day of battle. John Davis gave him a life lease to a piece of land and on this people built him a cabin. There Dick Pointer made a modest living for himself, and was described by others in his later years to be a rather riotous individual. At his death in 1827, they buried him with "honors of war" in Lewisburg Cemetery fulfilling the saying "Man's good deeds are never known through life, but they live after death."


  1. This is quite a good read, however it is my knowledge that Dick Pointer, or Peter as he was sometimes called, while holding the punt gun was calling out "where should I shoot" and Philip Hammond (Hamman as he spelled it) said "There!! at them damn you" and Pointer then fired.
    I am a direct descendent of Philip Hamman

    1. Thanks for your comments on this marker. As I read the accounts of this event, I would have been scared out of my wits, so the ability to fire at all would have been a good thing. Glad you found my blog. I am sorry I did not post your comment sooner, but I have been out of town for a few weeks taking more photos of other markers.