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Local History Notes

Notes about the history of Iredell County by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian.

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Dec 30

Fort Dobbs Attacked

Posted on December 30, 2019 at 9:11 AM by Jenny Levins

On February 27, 1760 Robert Campbell stood in the dark with about nine other provincial soldiers outside Fort Dobbs on the outermost edge of the western frontier. Advancing fast in front of them was a large band of more than sixty Cherokee warriors. Campbell and his fellow soldiers were under the direction of Fort Dobbs commander Captain Hugh Waddle.


The Captain ordered his men to hold their positions in a line and not fire until he gave the order. The approaching warriors fired their weapons and then charged with their tomahawks for hand to hand combat. Waddle waited until they were about 12 steps away before ordering his men to return fire. At close range their fire was deadly and several of the Indians fell. Waddle and his men then retreated into the fort which was also being attacked separately.


The attack on Fort Dobbs by more than seventy Cherokee warriors was successfully repulsed with Waddle’s report saying that at least 10 or 12 Indians had been either killed or wounded. The Indians used six horses captured from the fort to carry off their wounded. The following day Waddell and his men found a great deal of blood outside the fort along with the body of one warrior whom it was assumed the Indians had been unable to find in the night. 


During the attack one colonial boy was killed and two soldiers and one volunteer were wounded. One of those injured was Robert Campbell who according to Waddle was wounded and scalped.  Though it was feared he would die Campbell did recover and was afterwards awarded 20 pounds on account of his wounds from the Colonial Assembly.


I have always wondered what Campbell thought of Waddle’s plan of waiting till the Indians got close before firing. Considering what happened I can just see him sitting on the ground and feeling the top of his head where his scalp used to be and sarcastically saying, “Gee Captain, maybe we ought to fire before they get so close next time.” Campbell later left the New World and returned to Europe where holding on to your hair was not such a problem.


On Sunday, Dec. 16, at 3 pm the staff at Fort Dobbs will be providing a special program at the Iredell County Public Library on the French-Indian War and the role Fort Dobbs played for early settlers in the Iredell County area. Presenting the program will be Scott Douglas, the forts historic interpreter and Beth Hill, the Fort Dobbs Historical Site Manager. The program is free and no pre-registration is required.


Mr. Douglas has many years of experience as a historical interpreter who brings history alive with his demonstrations and knowledge of historical weapons, shoemaking, tailoring, farming, food preparation, and 18th century business practices. He has assisted in interpretations of both Revolutionary and Civil War history having worked at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, Bennett Place State Historic Site, Bentonville Battleground State Historic Site, Pamplin Historic Park, and Old Salem.  Beth Hill has led the efforts to further archeological investigations at Fort Dobbs and develop the site as a prominent and important part of the North Carolina Historical Parks system.


Fort Dobbs was the only frontier provincial fort in the colony of North Carolina and served as the outermost defense for early setters in what would become Iredell County. At that time this area was part of Rowan County and the settlers here were subjects of the King of England. The battle that occurred was one of many in what became known as the French-Indian War (1754-1763).  Most of the fighting in North America ended on September 8, 1760 with the surrender of Montreal by the Marquis de Vaudreuil giving virtually all of Canada to the British. The war officially ended on February 10, 1763 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris which ceded all of Canada and all of France’s holdings in North America east of the Mississippi with the exceptions of Saint Pierre and Miquelon and two small islands off Newfoundland.


The British and the Cherokee signed a treaty at the end of the French-Indian War agreeing that the British would settle no further than the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A smallpox epidemic hit the Cherokee Nation soon after the attack on Fort Dobbs killing far more than the war itself did. They continued to have trouble with the settlers who wanted to move west and acquire more land and did not feel obligated to honor the treaty the British had signed.


When the American Revolution began the Cherokee sided with the British believing they would be the more likely of the two sides to honor the treaty and protect their lands. In 1776 General Griffin Rutherford led a band of 5,000 militiamen against the Cherokee burning thirty of their towns and destroying their crops. The Cherokee Nation was devastated and most were left without food or shelter for the winter. It was an early example of “scorched earth” warfare descendants of these same early settlers would experience under General Sherman in the Civil War.  


 Joel Reese, Local History Librarian

Iredell County Public Library


This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Fort Dobbs staff to give war presentation” on Dec. 12, 2007