New Book Examines Ohio Valley Forts

Most Ohio Valley residents have heard of Fort Pitt and Fort Henry, but might be unaware of the many other frontier forts and blockhouses in the region.

To fill that gap of knowledge, Weirton attorney Michael Edward Nogay has written an informative new book, “Every Home a Fort, Every Man a Warrior.” The subtitle of the 128-page volume is “Stories of the Forts and Men in the Upper Ohio Valley During the American Revolutionary War.”

Nogay shared accounts from his research for a Lunch With Books session at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling Tuesday, Sept. 8. The author graduated from West Virginia University and earned a law degree from Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va.

“We need to preserve history,” he commented. “We need to rebuild some of these forts. Tour buses will stop.”

Nogay envisions synergy developing if Fort Henry were rebuilt in downtown Wheeling and if Holliday’s Cove Fort were recreated in Weirton. He cited the “incredible” example of the reconstructed Fort Steuben that attracts 40-50 tour buses a month to Steubenville.

The original Fort Steuben, built after the Revolution, was open for only seven months to protect surveyors, and was “not nearly as historically significant as Holliday’s Cove Fort or Fort Pitt,” he commented.

The title of Nogay’s book is adapted from a description of the late 1700s Ohio Valley in “The History of the Pan-Handle,” an 1879 volume by J.H. Newton. Newton wrote, “At that time the country was an unbroken wilderness – the haunt of wild beasts and savages. Every home was a fort, and every man was a warrior.”

In 2008, Nogay published a limited-edition booklet, “Holliday’s Cove Fort,” to raise money for the Weirton Area Museum. After 1,000 copies were sold in 90 days, the author realized there was considerable interest in the topic. He decided to expand upon his already-collected notes and to write a history of other forts that once existed in the Northern Panhandle and in western Pennsylvania.

Nogay, whose book includes 162 footnotes, said one of his primary sources was Dr. Lyman Draper, “a giant in world history,” whose cousin’s wealthy husband paid him a stipend to collect history of the Ohio Valley over 20 to 30 years in the early 1800s. Draper, who later headed the Wisconsin Historical Society, left all of his papers to the University of Wisconsin, which published a series of Ohio Valley books.

“Oral history is usually reliable for one generation,” Nogay observed, noting that Draper “was able to interview original soldiers (from the Revolutionary War) or their children.”

Another valuable source of information was a two-volume set, “Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania,” published by the state legislature in 1896 and containing old maps and a synopsis of each fort, he said.

Nogay explained that there were two primary types of forts: public forts such as Fort Pitt, Holliday’s Cove Fort and Fort Henry, that were built at public expense, and private or family forts, that began as fortified stockades to which families belonged. For example, he said, Dr. Joseph Doddridge wrote in his 1824 book that his family belonged to a fort and they were protected as a group when Indians were on attack.

Tracing the development of forts, Nogay told the library audience that Fort Pitt in Pittsburgh was “the main staging point for embarkation to the new world.” Pioneers settled in coves and valleys because the Ohio River banks were too dangerous, leaving settlers wide open to attack by Native Americans, he explained. At that time, the region probably was the most dangerous place in which to live because Indians “weren’t fair fighters” and it was a “very savage, dangerous place,” Nogay commented.

John Holliday and Harmon Greathouse founded the Holliday’s Cove Fort on Harmon Creek in northern Ohio County, Va. (in the area of the present-day Hancock-Brooke county line). At the time, Ohio County, formed out of Virginia’s West Augusta District, encompassed the whole panhandle, he said.

The history of Fort Henry in Wheeling was preserved to a much greater degree than other area forts because Fort Henry had its own biographer, Zane Grey, a descendant of the founding Zane family. First known as Fort Fincastle, it was renamed in honor of patriot Patrick Henry.

Nogay’s chapter on family forts and blockhouses contains information on six such facilities in Hancock County, 11 in Brooke County, five in Ohio County, 13 sites in Marshall County and 14 forts in Washington, Beaver and Greene counties in Pennsylvania.

In addition to describing area forts, Nogay’s book includes tales of several colorful characters and stories of dramatic incidents that took place in the region during the Revolutionary War era. For instance, the first chapter is devoted to Capt. Samuel Mason, “the criminal commander” of Fort Henry, who, six months after the first siege of the fort, was court-martialed and later became a notorious river pirate.

The second chapter recounts the murders of Chief Logan’s family members at Baker’s Tavern, which was located at Yellow Creek near the present-day Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort. Calling it his favorite story in the book, Nogay relates the conflicting accounts of who was to blame for the murders, and notes the massacre prompted the chief’s speech, known as “Logan’s Lament,” later published in the McGuffey Reader and made famous for the final lines: “Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one.”

Nogay said there are 80,000 pension affidavits from Revolutionary War veterans on file in the National Archives. One of those veterans, John Struthers, offered a fascinating account of traveling from Fort Pitt to Holliday’s Cove and down to Wheeling, said Nogay, who wrote a chapter on Struthers.

A chapter examines the infamous Simon Girty, “a man between” the white and Indian cultures, who was “revered by Indians” and hated by white men as a notorious turncoat. Another chapter tells of Big John Wetzel’s sons, including “the exceedingly brave” Lewis Wetzel.

In the final chapter, Nogay argues that the famous “Kentucky rifle” should be called the “Pennsylvania rifle” because it originated in Lancaster County, Pa.

“Every Home a Fort, Every Man a Warrior” is available for purchase in a number of area locations, including Words and Music at Stratford Springs, Wheeling Artisan Center, Moundsville Pharmacy, Traubert’s Pharmacy in Wellsburg, Weirton Book Co., Weirton Area Museum and Historic Fort Steuben in Steubenville.