POINT PLEASANT, WV (WOWK) – If you’ve traveled to Krodel Park in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, chances are you’ve seen an old wooden fort standing in the back corner. This structure is a replica of Fort Randolph, which stood in Point Pleasant in the late 1700s.
The fort has a short, but storied history in the area, and May 16 marks the anniversary of the 1778 siege on Fort Randolph.
The original Fort Randolph was built in 1776 under the direction of militia commander Captain Matthew Arbuckle close to the site of the former Fort Blair. Tensions in the area between settlers and Native Americans were tense due to issues stemming from the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix. In the treaty, the British had obtained the lands that would become West Virginia from the Iroquois Confederacy, however, Native tribes in what would become Ohio were not consulted. Those tribes often traveled across the Ohio River and used the land around what would become Mason County, West Virginia, as hunting grounds.
Fort Blair, which stood near the confluence of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers, had been built in Point Pleasant soon after the Oct. 10, 1774, Battle of Point Pleasant. According to the City of Point Pleasant’s website, the garrison at Fort Blair was removed by Colonial Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, in the summer of 1775 shortly before he was removed from office by revolutionaries. The fort was burned down by Native Americans a short time after the garrison left.
Due to the warfare between colonial settlers and Native Americans, Captain Arbuckle and a company of men were sent out to Point Pleasant, leaving Pittsburgh on May 15, 1776, to construct a new fort. The new Fort Randolph was larger than Fort Blair and was slightly upriver along the Ohio from where the original fort had stood and in the vicinity of what is now the Mason County Courthouse. It was named for the President of the First Continental Congress and Virginia aristocrat Peyton Randolph.
Fort Randolph became known as the “backdoor of Virginia” and was garrisoned throughout the remainder of the American Revolution to guard the colonies against the British troops and their Native American allies. According to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, it was at Fort Randolph that Shawnee Chief Cornstalk, his son Elinipsico, and Red Hawk, of the Delaware tribe, were detained in October 1777 due to several of their warriors choosing to join the British in the war. The three men and another Native American were later murdered on Nov. 10, 1777, in retaliation after Native Americans shot and killed a soldier nearby, according to the Library of Virginia.
Tensions in the Point Pleasant area continued, and on May 16, 1778, an army of around 200-300 Native Americans surrounded the fort. The attack turned into a week-long siege on Fort Randolph in which the Native American warriors were unable to overtake the fort. In his letter to General Edward Hand, Captain William McKee, who was in charge of the fort at the time, claims he had “previous notice” of the impending attack, which he believed helped prevent the siege from being successful.
According to McKee’s account, from his company, a Lieutenant was wounded and a private was killed, and at least two Native Americans were possibly wounded or killed.
The letter further states that near the end of the siege, a Native American came forward in the evening to discuss peace. McKee said he had the man return the next morning, and he sent an interpreter, Nonhelema, sister of the murdered Chief Cornstalk and known as the “Grenadier Squaw,” to read a letter from the governor of Virginia. He stated in the letter to General Hand that the Native tribes “seemed very well pleased,” promising to move across the Ohio River that night.
While some accounts date the siege as May 20, several sources, including the letter from Captain McKee, state that the initial attack happened on May 16.
Following the siege, the fort stood in Point Pleasant until it was abandoned by American settlers in 1779. As with Fort Blair, the structure was burnt down by Native Americans. However, as tensions and violence between settlers and Native Americans again grew, it was rebuilt in 1785. According to the City of Point Pleasant’s website, the second Fort Randolph stood through at least 1792. One of the last known accounts of the fort is when two daughters of the Tyler family, residents of Fort Randolph, were kidnapped by Native Americans that year.
In the 1970s, the replica that now stands in Krodel Park was built and dedicated on Oct. 10, 1974, which was the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Point Pleasant, according to the Fort’s Wikipedia page.
Each year on the third Saturday in May, the Fort Randolph Committee, a nonprofit organization of volunteers, hosts a Commemoration of the Siege of Fort Randolph, which is an immersive reenactment of the siege, at the fort in Krodel Park. For more information on the Fort’s annual events and tour hours, visit the Committee’s website or on the Fort Randolph Re-enactors and Friends Facebook page.