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Toms Creek Hundred: The Wild Frontier  

John Miller

 Western Frederick County, 1748

The old Monocacy and Braddock trails were the two major roadways in the mid 1700's. The Monocacy trail led from Philadelphia and crossed into Maryland near Taneytown. The trail then led to the village of Monocacy that is known today as Creagerstown. Monocacy village is considered the first known settlement in Frederick County, which consisted of a few log cabins, a crossroads with a blacksmith shop. It is believed that the Monocacy path followed parallel to Route 15 and parts of Old Frederick Road. Then, from there it traveled to Frederick and connected with Braddock Road and ran through South Mountain. Immigrants that were traveling from Pennsylvania to Virginia used the Monocacy Trail. Many of these immigrants that traveled the Monocacy Trail settled in the area that is known today as Frederick County.  The northern most settlement was known as the Tom's Creek Hundred.  It encompassed a wide area, stretching from Thurmont to the Pennsylvania border, and from the Monocacy to the Catoctin Mountains.

Prior to European settlement, the area was inhabited by members of the Ottawas and Mohicans, which were part of the Algonquin Family. Other groups of Indians known as the Susquehannocks, Tuscaroras, and the Hurons were mainly from the Carolinas, but as people moved south these tribes moved north toward Pennsylvania. The Tuscaroras settled in the area north of Frederick that is today called Tuscarora. The Monocacy River or "Monnokkesy", as it was pronounced then, was named by the Tuscarora Indians. These were the Indians that roamed the area outside of Emmitsburg.  One reason the Indians settled near the base of the mountain is because they believed the water that flowed through the mountains had magical healing powers. The only traditional appearances that are left by the Indians today are the names of the land, rivers and mountains such as Catoctin, Monocacy, and Tuscarora. 

Protecting the Settlements

The wild frontier of the Colonies of Western Maryland and Pennsylvania could be a dangerous place to live. Between 1754 and 1755, fortifications in Western Frederick County (present day Washington County) Maryland were built in rapid succession by settlers to protect themselves from the Indians. 

  • Thomas Cresap's Fort was built in 1742, located along the Potomac River near Oldtown.  Also known as Fort at Cresap's.  This stockade fort was originally used as a trading post in 1755. It was also used as a supply base for several expeditions, and it was attacked several times.  Fort Cresap in Williamsport, Maryland was built in the 1750’s.  Consisting of a stone house with a spring cellar, it was built by Daniel Cresap, son of Thomas. It was attacked in 1756.

  • Allen Killough's Fort was built in 1754 near Indian Springs and was also a stockade settler's home.  It is located four miles south of the Mason-Dixon line. 

  • Thomas Mills' Fort was built in 1754 near Millstone, one mile from the Potomac River.  In 1756 the Maryland Militia took over this settlers' fort.  

  • Fort Nicholas is located in Cresaptown, Maryland and was built in 1755.  Not much has been recorded about this fort.  However, it was used as a settlers' stockade with four blockhouses. A year after completion it was attacked in 1756 by Indians.

  • Anderson's Fort was built along North Branch in 1755.  All that is known about this fort was that it was used as a settlers' fort.

  • Tonoloway Fort is located at Hancock, Maryland.  The colonial militia stocked the blockhouse that was built for protection of settlers from Indian Raids. It was also known as Stoddert's Fort. It was probably located on the east bank of Little Tonoloway Creek. It was attacked several times and abandoned after the completion of Fort Frederick.

  • Isaac Baker's Fort was built in 1755 near Fairview.  Originally used as a settlers' fort on Baker's Ridge, 11 miles northeast of Fort Frederick, it was soon taken over by the Maryland colonial militia after 1756.

  • Evan Shelby's Fort was built near Clear Spring 1755.  This was a log house that was a stockade in 1755 and it burned down in 1763.  It was located three miles south of the Mason-Dixon line, on Mount Peiler, about five miles west of Baker's Fort.

  • Lancelot Jacques' Fort is located near Big Pool and was also built in the mid 1700’s.  This fort was built as a log house just east of Fort Frederick, four miles west of Prather's Fort.  Thomas Prather's Fort was built in 1756 near Big Spring.  Considered as a settler's home, it was used as a military depot.

All of the settlements of present day Washington and Frederick County repeatedly came under attack by Indian war parties.  Monocacy (believed to be located a short distance from the present day Creagerstown) was burned until only the old log Church and a few nearby buildings were left standing. The war was eventually won through the efforts of the colonial army with little actual help from the British regulars.

By early 1756, the Pennsylvania General Assembly finally decided to take action and defend the settlers.  Pennsylvania voted to build a chain of forts along the Blue Ridge Mountains from the Delaware River to the Mason-Dixon Line.  These forts were to serve and protect communities from Indian attacks.  William McCord and his brothers built Ft. McCord in 1756 as part of this line of Pennsylvania’s frontier forts. It is well known and memorialized in Pennsylvania history where 26 people lost their lives or were captured on April 1, 1756 in an attack by the Indians backed by the French.

The Washington Affair

On May 28, 1754, a group of colonial militiamen encountered 30 French troops preparing breakfast near the Ohio River in present day Pennsylvania. When 22-year-old Lt. Col. George Washington ordered his men to open fire on the French, thus beginning the French and Indian War.

Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia had ordered Washington to build a chain of forts along the Ohio River before the French could establish forts of their own. After learning that the French already were settling the river valley, Washington took it upon himself to drive them out. After the May 28th skirmish that killed 10 Frenchmen, including the group's leader, Coulon de Jumonville, Washington learned that he had attacked a diplomatic party. The French army, led by Jumonville's brother, intended to retaliate.

Washington moved his troops and supervised the hasty construction of wooden ramparts in the Great Meadows naming it Fort Necessity. Defending the fort would be difficult. It was built in a creek bottom with no tactical advantage for defense. To make matters worse, forested hills surrounded the fort on three sides and the defensive perimeter was cut too close which allowed attackers to approach the fort. The fort also did not have enough supplies to withstand a siege. When the French arrived on July 3rd, the colonists found themselves outnumbered and Washington's force suffered 100 casualties in one day of fighting. Washington was forced to surrender the following day.

The French drew up a treaty that Washington thought was generous.  Washington and his men were allowed to keep one cannon and march with flags flying. With Washington's signature on the treaty this meant that he had admitted to assassinating a French diplomat. The British were outraged with Washington's mistake allowing the France to justify a war in North America by arguing Washington’s actions had demonstrated Britain's hostile intent. Ridiculed in Europe as an inept colonial and demoted to captain, Washington then resigned from the militia.

In the early part of 1754 the Indians suddenly disappeared from Western Frederick County. The emissaries of France had been among them and had enlisted their aid in their scheme to take possession of the full Mississippi Valley. England was laying claim to virtually all of North America. However, the French had a well-established colony at New Orleans, and they were steadily extending their influence northward through the Mississippi Valley. When the English government made a grant of certain privileges beyond the Allegheny Mountains to the Virginia Ohio Company, the French increased their efforts to establish a chain of forts from Canada to their Mississippi settlements. The object was to confine the English colonies to the Atlantic slope. The French had a long-standing treaty with the Iriquois Indians, and the Iriquois were greatly feared by every other Indian tribe in the whole area, including Western Maryland. Thus the French and the Iriquois were able to intimidate the greater part of the Indian tribes of the area to make war upon the English colonies.

The French and Indian War 

During the French and Indian War (Seven Years War) many settlers in Western Maryland were killed. Several forts were built to help provide protection. Fort Necessity was built at Great Meadows in Pennsylvania, and Fort Cumberland, in Maryland, was built around what is now the present day Cumberland. Many Western Maryland settlers were frightened by all the killings, and fled their homes and farms, seeking safer areas. Most went to Frederick, Annapolis or Baltimore. Finally, after England won the war most of the settlers who had left their homes in Western Maryland never returned.

Several fortifications were built for the protection of Frederick County. By 1758 forts located near the Emmitsburg settlement were Abram's Delight in Winchester, VA, George Washington's Office in Winchester, VA, Fort Edwards in Capon Bridge, VA, Fort Frederick at Big Pool, MD, the Jonathan Hager House in Hagerstown, MD and Fort Loudon, PA. These forts were built to protect the English Crown and her properties from the French and Indians who might try to claim the land. 

Since the Toms Creek Hundred Settlement, which included the 21727 zip code area, was not significant enough in size, no forts were built either by the General Assembly of Pennsylvania or Maryland.  Instead residents of Tom's Creek were  expected to seek shelter at Fort Loudon or the Jonathan Hager House in Elizabeth Town (present day Hagerstown), about a day's ride on horseback away. This left the settlement of the Tom's Creek defenseless against Indian raids and attacks. 

George Washington was no stranger to Frederick County during the French and Indian War.  In 1755, one year after his defeat at Fort Necessity and the start of the French and Indian War, the British were resolved to eliminate the French from North America. British officer Major General Edward Braddock was selected to lead the campaign. Colonel Washington accompanied Braddock as his aide.

General Braddock wanted to split his army into two columns allowing him to have a column on each side of the Potomac River for a portion of their journey to Fort Duquesne.  Colonel Thomas Dunbar commanded column one consisting of his 48th Regiment, and was given instructions to proceed to Frederick, then cross South Mountain at a location that is present day Braddock's Heights. They were then to pass through Boonsboro and cross the Antietam Creek at the Devil's Backbone then re-crossing the Potomac River joining forces with Sir Peter Halkett's 4th Regiment near Winchester, Virginia. With a combined force, they proceeded to Wills Creek, then onto Pennsylvania to Fort Necessity preparing to move to Fort Duquesne. As they made their way through the thick forest, they were instructed to cut a road for future use. This would be the first major roadway leading west which called the National Pike.  Near Fort Duquesne, General Braddock became frustrated with the slow pace and decided to detach about 1,500 men and advance onward, leaving his supplies and support to the rear.

On July 9, 1755, General Braddock and his men were about seven miles from the fort when disaster struck. Without warning the French and their Indian allies attacked from three sides, causing mass confusion for Braddock and his men. Retreating to the rear, Braddock's men were also confronted by gunfire from their own men who were advancing from the rear. During the fight, General Braddock was mortally wounded; along with 63 of his officers and 914 others were either killed or wounded.  

On their retreat on July 13th, the British camped about one mile west of the former Fort Necessity when Braddock succumbed to his injuries. The General was buried under the road to obliterate any traces of the grave's whereabouts, fearing that a marked grave would only permit the Indians to uncover and desecrate the remains. The British Army then continued its retreat on to eastern Pennsylvania.  General Braddock had been schooled in the art of Warfare in England; his tactics were no match for the French and their Indian allies in the wild frontier.

General Braddock's defeat near Fort Necessity in the western area is known as Westernvania, or Pennsylvania. Indian raids were common in the smaller communities, which led the people to flee for their lives, until a company of troops was raised to protect the villages until the war with France had ended. 

Unfortunately, it was Braddock's defeat when forts became more apparent. Following his defeat, the Indians were very active in support of their French allies. The frontier of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania were basically at the mercy of the savage Indians. Massive stockades such as Fort Frederick proved to be invaluable in helping to defend and turn the tide against the murder and violence.

Fort Frederick 

Fort Frederick is located in an excellent strategic location at the highest point of the area.  Fort Frederick is settled on the highest elevation so no army would have an advantage of attack, as the cannon emplacements would see the enemies every move.  One of its major functions was to maintain communications between Fort Cumberland and Fort Conococheague, as well as provide a safe place for civilians and soldiers against the raiding Indians. Work on Fort Frederick took up the better part of two years. Mounting expenses finally compelled the Maryland Assembly to cut off funds in 1758, although the fort does seem to have been substantially complete by that time.

With completion of Fort Frederick there were only a few accounts of any Indian attacks that occurred near the Emmitsburg settlement.  In 1763, during the last year of the French and Indian War, one of the famous attacks occurred seven miles west of the Tom's Creek Hundred settlement in present day Waynesboro.

The raid started on the west side of Waynesboro and claimed the lives of Enoch Brown, a schoolmaster, and ten of his eleven students.  Later that same year two Indians attacked the Renfrew sisters, Jane and Sarah, while they were washing clothes in the Antietam Creek.  As local accounts state, some of the settlers were able to track the Indians held responsible and returned the scalps of the two sisters and also the scalps of the Indian attackers in time for the funeral.

The English capture of French Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh) late that same year relieved the pressure on the Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia frontiers. The war continued further north and on the high seas until 1760 when the English finally took the last major French strongholds in Canada. In 1763 the Treaty of Paris formally ended the struggle with England taking possession of most of France's empire, including Canada.  This left the frontiers of Western Maryland safer to live in.

Read other articles on the Revolutionary War

Read other articles by John Miller