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The Longhunters

Privacy Level: Public (Green)
Date: 1761 to 1774
Location: Virginiamap
Surnames/tags: Southern_Colonies Southern_Pioneers
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Contents

The Long Hunters of the Southwestern Virginia Frontier 1761-1774

Background

Beginning in the early 1760s, a small group of rugged backwoodsmen who lived on the remote southwestern Virginia frontier began to launch a series of "long hunts" further west into a disputed no man's-land, rich hunting grounds exploited by both the southern Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw tribes and those of the northern Algonquin and Wyandot nations. These men have come to be known as the Long Hunters.

The Long Hunters endured hardships and dangers in the pursuit of adventure, the spirit of the hunt, and the significant wealth that could be captured at that time from the frontier fur trade. They would set out in October and hunt through the Winter, returning the following Spring (if the hunt was successful) with hides and pelts worth $1600-1700, a fortune that dwarfed almost any other endeavor available to them. But the risks were also great. Theft of their valuable cargo before they could bring it to market was not uncommon. Many succumbed to sickness, exposure, accidents, and Indian attack.

The first well-documented long hunt occurred in 1761, led by Elisha Walling (abt.1734-1814). Accounts differ, but it appears likely that most of his group of about eighteen to twenty hunters lived in the same general region of Virginia. A company led by Daniel Boone traveled with them as far as what is now Abingdon, Virginia; then Wallen led a group across Moccasin Gap near what is now Gate City, Virginia, and into the Powell River Valley. They reportedly established a camp on Wallen's Creek, near the spot where the modern-day state highway 70 (Trail of the Lonesome Pine Road) crosses the creek in Lee County, Virginia. From this base camp, the hunters likely fanned out in groups of two or three to hunt in this wilderness until Spring, perhaps as far west as the Cumberland River. Similar hunts were launched by these and other long hunters in the decade that followed. Eventually, however, increasing settlement in the area chased off the game and the era of the Long Hunter on the southwestern frontier came to an end.

Sorting Out the Long Hunter Legends

The folklore concerning these early long hunts has evolved considerably over the decades. Many historical accounts embellish or confuse the details. For a summary of the literature and outstanding critical discussion of where the various historians may have mixed things up, see:

  • Blevins, Robert P. The Blevins Men of the Holston: Theoretical Structures of the First Blevins Families of Tennessee. Acme, PA: s.p., 2020. Digital images. https://www.rpblevins.com/ : accessed 26 June 2021. [See pps. 121-36, "The Blevins Longhunters."]

Original Source Material

The key original source materials on which nearly all historical accounts of the Longhunters are ultimately based include:

  • Haywood, John. The Civil and Political History of the State of Tennessee from its Earliest Settlement up to the Year 1796. 1823. Reprint, Nashville, Tenn.: Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1891. Internet Archive. Digital Images : accessed 24 Apr 2021. [See pps. 45 et seq.]
  • Redd, John. "Reminiscences of Western Virginia, 1770-1790." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 6 (Apr 1899): 337-346. JSTOR. Digital Images  : accessed 25 Apr 2021. [First hand account by John Redd of his recollections of many of the Long Hunters.]
  • Redd, John. "Reminiscences of Western Virginia, 1770-1790 (concluded)." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 7 (Jan 1900): 242-253. JSTOR. Digital Images : accessed 25 Apr 2021.

Additional Reading

A list of additional historical sources giving various accounts of the decade of the Long Hunters on the southwestern Virginia frontier is collected below. These sources are widely cited by researchers as fact, but they should all be used cautiously, for the reasons discussed above.

  • Arnow, Harriette Simpson. Seedtime on the Cumberland. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1960. [See Chapter VII, "The Shirttail Men," 134-171.]
  • Maude Carter Clement, The History of Pittsylvania Virginia, (Lynchburg, VA: J.P. Bell Company, Inc., 1929), 89-91; FamilySearch, Digital Images : accessed 20 Sep 2021.
  • Henderson, Archibald. The Conquest of the Old Southwest: The Romantic Story of the Early Pioneers into Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Kentucky 1740-1790. New York: The Century Co., 1920. Internet Archive. Digital Images : accessed 10 May 2021. [See "Chapter VIII: The Long Hunters in the Twilight Zone."]
  • Roosevelt, Theodore. The Winning of the West (Illustrated). 1904. Reprint, Kindle Edition, Amity EBooks (2016). [See Vol. I, Chap. VI, "Boon and the Long Hunters; and their Hunting in No-Man's-Land, 1769-1774.]
  • Williams, Samuel Cole. Dawn of Tennessee Valley and Tennessee History. Johnson City, Tenn.: Watauga Press, 1937. Hathitrust. Digital Images : accessed 25 Apr 2021. [See "Chapter 27: The Long-Hunter's Decade"].

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