In the 1700s, one of my relatives became one of the most feared figures east of the Mississippi. An Indian warrior, he was described as having red hair, fair complexion, and a good command of the English language. He could, and in fact often did, pass as a white man. Robert Benge (aka Capt. Benge; aka The Bench) was the son of a Scots-Irish trader named John Benge who, while being married to Elizabeth Lewis, was at the same time married to and having children with a Cherokee woman named Wurtah (allegedly the mother of famed Cherokee linguist Sequoyah which would make them half-brothers). When the Lewis family found out about John’s Indian family, they had the marriage dissolved and Elizabeth was free to remarry.
Capt. Benge lived amongst the Cherokee for most of his life and grew to become respected by his fellow tribesman for his leadership abilities, his courage, and his ferocity in battle. He had a great dislike for white settlers and vowed to remove them from his land by any means possible. His reputation grew to the point that white mothers would invoke his name to threaten their children, saying if they weren’t good “Capt. Benge will get them.”
He conducted many raids against white settlements whose residents often, when hearing that Capt. Benge was heading their way, would abandon their homes and farms never to return. In April of 1794, he raided a settlement in Southern Virginia and, on his way back to the Cherokee camp with his prisoners, he was intercepted, shot and killed by a militia of thirteen men who were in pursuit. The militia took his scalp and sent it to the governor of Virginia who had it forwarded to President George Washington. Vincent Hobbs, the man who fired the fatal shot, was awarded a rifle for services rendered.
Robert Benge was the nephew of my 2nd cousin, Susannah Lewis.
Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.
A while back, I wrote about my 5th great grandfather, John Blakemore, and the role he played in the settlement of what was to become Nashville. It turns out that my daughter-in-law’s 7th great grandfather, William Austin Cooper, may have known him.
Cooper was a trader, guide, scout and commissioner for Daniel Boone. He was paid to assist Boone and others in clearing the Wilderness Road and escorting families from Clinch Mountain to the Cumberland Settlements in Tennessee. In December of 1779, the new settlers were divided into two expeditions. Cooper and most of the men took the land route to Nashville while Blakemore travelled via his ill-fated river journey. But the two groups eventually met up at their final destination, the bluffs of the French Salt Springs where they built their settlement, Fort Nashborough. It was a palisaded log fort, made entirely of wood without metal nails or fixtures.
Cooper, who had married Malea Labon of the Chickasaw Nation, died in 1781 defending Fort Nashborough from attacking Cherokee Indians being led by Chief Dragging Canoe. In recognition of his service and sacrifice, his heirs were granted 640 acres of land situated on the north side of the Cumberland River.
Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.
America’s treatment of its indigenous people was undeniably cruel and severe, culminating in the decades long practice of Indian removal, relocation, and ethnic cleansing. Between 1830 and 1850, approximately 60,000 Native Americans of the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw) were forcibly removed from their homelands in the Southeastern United States and relocated to a designated Indian Territory west of the Mississippi. Thousands died from exposure, disease and starvation either before, during or shortly after their grueling journey.
What some forget is that the experience caused a major rift within the ranks of the Indian population itself. There were a few who relocated voluntarily. They were known as the “Treaty Party,” as they obeyed the terms of the Echota Treaty which exchanged Cherokee tribal lands in the east for lands in the west. While the federal government viewed this treaty as valid, it was never formally accepted by recognized Cherokee leadership and the majority opposed its provisions. Those who did not relocate of their own volition began being forcibly removed in 1838 via an overland march that has become known as the “Trail of Tears.” The ones who survived that march, when they arrived in the western territory, clashed with the smaller “Treaty Party” who were already there, killing many of them.
Benjamin Cooper ( my daughter-in-law’s 5th great grandfather) and his wife Oowoduageyutsa (Pretty Girl of the Cherokee nation) voluntarily left for the Indian Territory in Oklahoma in 1834. They both died there in 1852. His son, Cornelius Benjamin Cooper, and his family decided to avoid the possible violence awaiting them in Oklahoma and instead set their course for Rusk, Texas where they settled among other native families who made the same choice.
Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.