Thorns in the side of patriotism: Tory activity in southwest Virginia, 1776-1782

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The activity of southwest Virginia (Botetourt, Montgomery, and Washington Counties) Tories is important because of the presence of the all-important Lead Mines in what was then Montgomery County. During the Revolution the Montgomery Mines supplied the needs of the Continental Army, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the state of North Carolina. Along the frontier itself, the threat of Indian attack loomed as an ever-present fear and made protection of the lead works essential to the safety of its inhabitants.

This study discusses Loyalism in general, as well as the presence of Loyalists in Virginia and the other twelve colonies. The work then focuses on the people who settled in and the environment of southwest Virginia. Characteristics of some ethnic groups, especially the Germans, made them more susceptible to becoming Tories; while traits of other groups made them likely to support independence.

Throughout the Revolution frontiersmen faced a dual threat from Indians and Tories. It was in 1779 that the southwest Virginia Tories began their campaign to destroy the Lead Mines. Undaunted by failure, they attempted once more in 1780 to wrest the Mines from the Patriot's seemingly iron grip. Principal figures involved in suppressing these uprisings were Colonels Arthur and William Campbell of Washington County; Colonels Charles Lynch, Manager of the Mines, and William Preston of Smithfield in Montgomery County. The dearth of Tory success disheartened many, and no further attempts of any seriousness were launched.