Benjamin was born approximately 1739 in Pennsylvania. A letter written by his
son-in-law, Elijah Callaway, to the famed historian Lyman Draper on 30 JUN 1845 states;
"Benjamin Cutbirth, the great hunter and explorer of the West was born in Augusta
County VA, about the year 1740." Quite a definite statement, yet Elijah's son James
Callaway writes to Draper in his letter of 19 FEB 1852; "My grandfather, Benjamin
Cutbirth, as I have always heard my mother say. came from Pennsylvania to the fork of the
Yadkin...." James story is enhanced by the fact that his mother Mary, was one of
Benjamin's daughters and that in the middle Eighteenth century there was a Great Road
which led from central PA to the Yadkin Forks area of NC.
According to Elijah Callaway , when Benjamin was a boy his father died, and in
Elijah's words; "...and his widowed mother married when he was grown to manhood, and
his being an enterprising nature, he early left his step-father's house and emigrated to
Rowan County NC." He arrived in Rowan County by at least 1761, for he is listed in a
1761 Rowan County tax list. Exactly where he settled in uncertain. Church records
mention him living near Mocksville in what is now Davie Co. This is the same area
several hardy pioneer families had settled; The Bryants, Callaways, Boones and many
others. Reuben Twaite's book Daniel Boone describes Benjamin's entry into the Yadkin
Forks region; "At the end of the French and Indian War. there arrived a Scotch-Irishman
named Benjamin Cutbirth, aged about 23 years. He was a man of good character and a
fine hunter. Marrying Elizabeth Wilcoxson, a niece of Daniel Boone, He and Boone went
upon long hunts together, and attained that degree of comradeship and trust that life in a
wilderness camp is almost certain to produce."
Benjamin evidently was a very quiet man, well suited to the long hunting trips he
took. James Callaway said he was "a man of strong mind and body, a man reserved in
conversation, not at all disposed to be communicative I have very often heard my mother
saying that her father said very little..." His personality must have been very similar to
Daniel Boone's for they became fast friends. They both enjoyed solititude and went on
many hunting excursions into the Watauga region of Western NC and Eastern TN.
Because of these long trips the Indians called such men as these "long hunters" and
because of their large hunting knives were known as "long knives." On one of these trips
to the Watauga area, Benjamin and Daniel had been quite successful and left their kill in
camp while they went out for more. They were frequently attacked by Indians, but on this
time when they returned to camp, found the meat had been taken by wild animals. They
whimsically named this place "Meat Camp" which it is still called in Watauga County NC.
Benjamin and Elizabeth soon began their family. In about 1763 they had their first
child, a son they named Daniel Boone Cutbirth. A couple of years later they had another
son, Benjamin Jr. Although things were seemingly going well for Benjamin and his family,
there was a new development in the Yadkin Forks; it was quickly becoming crowded,
which meant one thing to a hunter: more competition for a dwindling amount of game.
So in 1767 Benjamin set out to find a land less crowded and better hunting than Rowan
Co. With him he took three young men from the Yadkin; John Stuart, John Baker, and
John Ward. Daniel Boone spent the whole winter that year berating himself for not going
along, and eventually convinced himself he was to old and that Benjamin hadn't even
asked him to go on the journey, (he had.) They went Westward along a little known
Indian trail, crossing the Appalachians and hunting bear and buffalo across Southern KY
and Northern TN. In the autumn of 1767, they came upon the Mississippi River,
becoming the first white man ever to accomplish this feat overland from the East. They
probably first viewed the Mississippi River near the MO Bootheel, and then went North
up the big river to a tributary, more than likely the Ohio River, and in this vicinity they
wintered. The next few months were spent descending the Mississippi, encountering
whirlpools, storms, snags, river banks shelving in and Indians. They finally reached New
Orleans where they sold their furs, skins, and meats at good prices. In the words of a
reporter of the day, said they gained "quite a respectable reward." Their expedition having
been a tremendous financial success, they headed home through Indian territory, now the
sites of Alabama and Mississippi. Their trip back was not without incidence however,
somewhere en-route they were robbed of all their earnings by either Choctaw or Creek
Indians. When the band of hunters reached home broke, they vowed never again to repeat
Upon his return home, Benjamin settled down for a time, turning his attention once
more to his family and involving himself in the church. 1770 brought the birth of his first
daughter, Mary. In 1771 Benjamin welcomed a Moravian Home Missionary, Reverend
George Soelle to preach in his home. 1772 saw the birth of another daughter, Sarah.
Sarah and Benjamin had another minister in his home to preach, Reverend John Mclamore
of the Dutchman Creek Congregation.
1763 promised to be another quiet year. On 7 Mar 1773 Benjamin was baptized
by the Reverend William Cook. However, a few months later, Ben was on his way to
Kentucky with a band of men led by Daniel Boone. This trip was not destined to fare
well. Soon after they left, a scouting party was attacked by Indians. After the fighting at
Walloon's Ridge was over, five of Bone's men were dead, including his son James, who
was tortured to death. Benjamin had passed that very spot only hours before, looking for
a place to make camp for the night, but decided to move on a head of the others.
Shattered by this event, Daniel and the rest turned back for home with Daniel, Benjamin,
and Will Grant returning a short time later to bury James Boone. Saddened, but not
beaten, the group soon set out again for KY reaching Little Hickman Creek in what is
now Jessemine Co. There they wintered in a cave where Daniel Boone observed his
custom of carving his initials and the year into the cavern wall.
Once Benjamin returned home, it looked once again like he was in the process of
settling down. On 7 AUG 1774, his wife Elizabeth was baptized. And in Mar 1775, Ben
was performing routine tasks for the church. But by 1775 was to become more eventful
for him than 1767 & 1773 combined.
The 10 of Mar 1775 found Benjamin embarking for KY with a group of seasoned
backwoodsmen, led by Daniel Boone on an expedition to cut a great road, through the
KY wilderness. opening up KY for colonists to settle, and to build a fort to protect the
settlement. They blazed a trail through Powers Valley, and passed through the
Cumberland Gap, then widened the old Warrior's Path for about 50 miles before heading
West near Hazel Patch. Following an ancient buffalo trace Northwest. they came upon
the Rockcastle River, where they had to cut their way through twenty miles of country
covered with dead brush, which according to Felix Walker, the chronicler of the group,
"was a difficult and laborious task". They then had to cut through thirty miles of thick
cane and reed before they eventually reached their objective, the mouth of the Otter Creek
on the South bank of the Kentucky River in April. When these brave men had cut their
road and built their fort, America had two more national treasures, the Wilderness Road
Their journey had not been without trouble. On March 24 camped outside what is
now Richmond Kentucky, they were attacked by Indians. They beat the Indians back, but
suffered injuries and deaths. It was here that Benjamin was about to be killed by an
Indian, when Daniel Boone saved his life.
As event filled as the undertaking already was, it was just beginning. Many of the
men, including Benjamin and Daniel, returned East to bring their families back to
Boonesborough. Indian attacks began and the Continental Congress refused to recognize
the settlement as the Fourteenth Colony. The dream of Transylvania was destroyed. All
of this before 1775 was through. The year of 1776 was to be no exception. Outside the
fort, during the summer, Boone's daughter and two Callaway girls were kidnapped by
Indians, but subsequently rescued by Daniel Boone and others. 1777 brought more of the
same. Indian raids mounted in ferocity and Daniel was wounded and nearly killed in one
attack on the fort. The settlers suffered through a salt shortage so severe, they drafted a
petition to Congress asking the government to take over the salt licks owned by
individuals so that the salt could be evenly distributed to everyone. This petition was
signed by, among others, Daniel Boone, Richard Callaway, Benjamin Cutbirth, Benjamin
Logan, and George Clark.(brother to William Clark of Lewis & Clark)
Encouraged by the British, the Indians renewed their attacks throughout 1778. So
intense were the attacks, Boone went to the British and the Indians, staying among them
for several months trying to persuade them not to attack the fort. His efforts proved
fruitless however, and the Indians attacked Boonesborough but could not capture the fort.
After Boone returned he was court-martialed for treason at the instigation of Col. Richard
Callaway, who was intensely jealous of Daniel Boone. During the trial Benjamin Cutbirth
was the first witness in Boone's defense. Boone was found innocent, promoted to Major,
and Callaway was killed by Indians two years later.
Benjamin lost his land in Kentucky (500 acres) and probably having had enough of
Indians and land speculators, decided in late 1778 to move his family back to North
Carolina, this time to the Blue Ridge Mountains. His new home was situated on the South
Fork of the New River some three or four miles above an area called "Oldfields", which
was an old Indian camp or clearing. This area was near the present day boarders of Ashe
and Wilkes Counties.
The American Revolution had been raging since 1775 and much of the new nation
was divided between its loyalties, those favoring independence, and those remaining loyal
to the Crown. Even though the majority favored independence, bands of armed Tories
roamed the area. The British paid well for Rebel prisoners. In April 1781 a Tory leader
Captain William Riddle, came through Wilkes County with his band of armed band of
men, bringing Rebel captives with them and looking for more. A local Revolutionary
hero, Col. Benjamin Cleveland was in the area and Riddle set out to capture him. Riddle
came upon Ben Cutbirth's place looking for information, as described in John Crouch's
Historical Sketches of Wilkes Co.: "Riddle, with his party of six or eight men, reached
Benjamin Cutbirth's some four miles above Oldfields, a fine old Whig and an associate of
Daniel Boone, who was just recovering from a spell of fever, the Tory captain, probably
from Cutbirth's reticence regarding solicited information, shamefully abused him and
placed him under guard..." In the meantime, Daniel Cutbirth, Benjamin's eldest son who
was absent from these events, returned home. Angered, eighteen year old Daniel and a
friend of his named Walters armed themselves and immediately set out to ambush Riddle
on his return. However when the boys saw how many men Riddle had with him, they
decided to wait until later, allowing Riddle and his party, including the captured Col.
Cleveland, to pass undisturbed. Once again coming upon Ben Cutbirth's, Riddle ordered
dinner for himself, his men and his prisoners. One of Ben's daughters, not willingly
serving the Tories, received verbal abuse and then kicks from Riddle. Leaving Ben's
place, Riddle's group proceeded fourteen miles along New River to a place near Elk Creek
called the Wolf's Den. But they had been followed on this trip. Young Daniel Cutbirth,
this time with six of his friends, attacked Riddle and his group, mortally wounding a
member of the Tory party, Zachariah Wells. Although Riddle managed to escape with his
men, he had to leave behind Col. Cleveland and the wounded Well's. Daniel and his
friends then returned home, also deciding to leave Well's behind. Shortly thereafter,
Riddle and two of his men were captured and summarily hung by order of Col. Cleveland.
With the successful conclusion of the War for Independence, Benjamin's life began
to become a bit more tranquil. In a 1782 Wilkes Co. tax enumeration, Col. Cleveland's
brother, Captain Robert Cleveland. lists Benjamin Cutbirth living in his district/ Benjamin
had little or no knowledge of letters, and the enumerators had to spell his name as it
sounded to them. Consequently, Ben's last name had many variations through the years.
The next mention of Benjamin is in a 1787 Wilkes Co. North Carolina census, Captain
Vane's district, as follows:
Benjamin Cutbirth one male 21-60
two males under 21 or over 60
Daniel Cutbirth one male 21-60
two males under 21 or over 60
In 1789 Benjamin was still in Wilkes Co. Court records show that a seven year
old girl, Elender Hill, was bound to Benjamin Cutbirth. And in April of that year, Ben's
eldest daughter, Mary, was married to Elijah Callaway.
The first United States Census, taken in 1790, lists Benjamin still in Wilkes Co.,
Ben Culberth one male 16 and up
one male under 16
Daniel Culberth one male 16 and up
one male under 16
Benjamin next shows up in 1794, just across the border in Johnson Co. TN.
Goodspeed's History of Johnson Co. TN lists him as one of the first settlers on the Laurel
River. Also on that list is Joseph Wilson, who married Ben's daughter Sarah in August.
That same year the fledgling Roane Creek Baptist Church listed Benjamin as one of it's
first members. Ben's son Daniel was in nearby Washington Co. in 1794.
1795 finds Benjamin and both his boys in Washington Co. TN. Ben was
apparently doing better financially this year, for he had land in North Carolina and had
acquired a slave. The reader will have to use a little imagination on this next tax list. It is
Captain Reuben Thornton's district, 1795 Washington County TN:
Cutbarth, Banj. Sen. 1 black poll
Culbouth, Bugn. 1 white poll
Cutbuth, Donnel 1 white poll 100 acres
In 1796 all three Cutbirths are still together, but are now listed in Carter Co. They
are probably still in the same area, noting that county boundaries and names changed quite
often those days. The following is the 1796 Carter Co. tax list:
Benjamin Cutbirth Sr. 1 black poll
Benjamin Cutbirth Jr. 1 white poll
Daniel Cutbirth Sr. 1 white poll
Benjamin acquires more land in North Carolina in 1797 and is listed as having one
slave by a Carter Co. slave owner's list. In 1798 Ben was granted 200 more acres located
in Washington County and a tax list for that year has the Cutbirths still in Carter County.
As evidenced by this next tax list, Benjamin and his brood were still in Carter
County when 1799 began:
Daniel Cutbirth 100 acres 1 white male 21-50
Benjamin Cutbirth 1 white male 21-50
Ben Cutbirth Sr. 200 acres 1 slave 10-50
But as 1799 wore on, Benjamin divested himself of his all his lands and he left East
Tennessee. He shows up next in Maury County, in South central Tennessee, in 1807
when he signed a petition to form Maury County.
It would seem that Benjamin, now about 70, would settle down and relax in his
golden years. He had seen and done things that most men only dream about. He had as
full a life as a man could have and now it should be time to rest. Well, in May of 1809.
Benjamin was living on the West Fork of Shoal Creek in Northern Alabama. The only
problem was it wasn't Alabama then. It was part of the Cherokee Nation, and the Indians
took exception to him being there. They complained to the Indian Agency and U.S.
Government authorities had to force Benjamin off the Indian's land. Benjamin then moved
back to Maury County, an 1811 tax list mentions Benjamin and his son Daniel. Ben Jr.
had moved to Knox County in Southeastern Kentucky.
Mentioned in the August 25, 1814 issue of the Columbia TN Chronicle was a
petition sent to the U.S. Government from the men, including Benjamin Cutbirth, forced
of the Shoal Creek land.
Although the DAR states that Benjamin died in 1817, an 1816 Maury County tax
list shows Daniel Cutbirth but not Benjamin. He apparently died between 1814 and 1816.
His son-in-law Elijah Callaway, describes his place of burial; "He and his old lady....has
long since laid down their bodies upon Elk Ridge in Tennessee after living in the Baptist
Church for about 40 years."
This narrative can not be complete without mentioning Benjamin's personality,
physical appearance, and what peers and historians said of him. Taking into consideration
these events occurred 180 to 250 years ago, we are indeed fortunate to have the following
quotes. From his grandson James Callaway, "I have no recollection of ever seeing him,
but I have heard my mother say that he was a stout, square built man of about five feet-ten
inches high-dark hair, and a rather dark complexion. That he was a man of most
undaunted courage-of great industry and perseverance-an honest man and a good Whig.-
he was a man of very few words-of rather morose and taciturn disposition... he talked very
little except when he met with some old acquaintance or associate from a hunting trip or
excursion into the wilderness, and that on such occasions he would set up all night, on
religious matters or the Scriptures. He liked to talk with such of his old acquantices, and
that was the way the family learned about most of his trips. He was a man of
irreproachable character and undoubted veracity." And from Allan Eckert's The court
martial of Daniel Boone; "Clad in faded gray lindsey-woolsey shirt and trousers, Cutbirth
was a medium man in most physical respects. Of medium height and weight, his features
were regular and undistinctive, his hair a pale brown, and his complexion tanned. He
smiled easily, showing even, white teeth that were a trifle to small. He was neither tense
nor to nonchalant, but simply calmly alert... On advice from Sam, Daniel Boone had
immediately recalled Benjamin Cutbirth. He established the fact that Cutbirth was noted
for his veracity, and would never had colored his testimony in favor of Boone, even
though a relationship through marriage did exist, and despite the fact that Boone had
saved his life. Benjamin Cutbirth was shown to be a man of high moral character, a very
From Billington's Westward Expansion: "Even more spectacular were the exploits
of another expedition led by Benjamin Cutbirth of North Carolina...the principle
importance of this bold journey was to interest Daniel Boone in Kentucky."
And from Clark's Kentucky: A Land of Contrast; "Among them came Casper
Mansker, Elisha Walden, Jack Blevins, Benjamin Cutbirth, Henry Scaggs, William
Newman, and William Pittman. These men were more than hunters, they were the
forerunners of Anglo-American civilization..." and, "Long hunting was not an unknown
pastime for Daniel Boone. He had hunted with such seasoned woodsmen as Benjamin
Cutbirth for game and land along the Watauga in Eastern Tennessee."
The DAR have Benjamin listed as a Revolutionary Patriot, and erected a marker in
Kentucky commemorating the exploits of all those who helped cut the Wilderness Road.
Among the names is Benjamin Cutbirth. The marker reads: In testimony of the gratitude
of posterity for the historic service of cutting the Transylvania Trail for that company,
the first great pathway to the West, March-April 1755, from Long Island of the Holston
River, Tennessee, to the Otter Creek in Kentucky by a gallant band of axemen, pioneers,
and Indian fighters who at the risk of loss of life opened the doors of destiny to the White
race in Kentucky and the West.
© 1983 Daniel Cutbirth, Independence MO. Page created March 1997, by J. Cochran.
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