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The Journey of Captain John Dunkin & Family
While Prisoners of War during the American Revolution

Map obtained from The Perry-CastaŮeda Library Map Collection, The University of Texas at Austin
Lines showing Dunkin family route and site names in red added by Gregory Kent Laughlin
Other Sites of Significance in the Life of John Dunkin

  • Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where John Dunkin was born around 1743 and where he spent his youth.6

  • Elk Garden, Virginia, the home of Captain John Dunkin and his family prior to their move to Martin's Station in Kentucky.6

  • Spring Creek, near Abingdon, Washington County, Virginia, to which John Dunkin and his family returned following his release by the British at the end of the American Revolution and where he died about 1818.6, 7

  • Hillsborough, North Carolina, the site of the 1788 North Carolina Constitutional Ratification Convention at which John Dunkin and his brother-in-law, John Sharp (brother of Elinor (Sharp) Dunkin), voted Antifederalist. Neither were delegates to the 1789 convention at which North Carolina accepted the United States Constitution after the addition of the Bill of Rights (the absence of which was the primary objection of the Antifederalists).8, 9


Teal = Approximate path of group of migrants led by Captain John Dunkin through the Powell Valley and Cumberland Gap to Martin's Station (no detailed description of trail followed has been located to date).

Blue = The path of Captain Bird's Forces from Detroit, (across Lake Erie, see Yellow below), up the Maumee River to the mouth of the Auglaize River, up the Auglaize to Wapakoneta (where they portaged to Piqua, see Dark Green below), from Piqua down the Great Miami River to its mouth at the Ohio River, up the Ohio River to the mouth of the Licking River, up the Licking, taking the south fork, to the area of Ruddle's and Martin's Stations and the reverse course of the captives back to Detroit.1, 2, 3

Dark Green = The portage from the Auglaize River at Wapakoneta to the Great Miami River at Piqua. (The captives portaged in the reverse direction.)1, 2, 3

Yellow = The crossing of Lake Erie by Captain Henry Bird's forces from the Detroit River to the Maumee and back by the captives.1, 2, 3

Red = The path of the captives from Detroit across Lake Erie to Fort Erie, (skipping journey from Fort Erie to Fort Niagara, see Light Green below), across Lake Ontario, up the St. Lawrence, to Montreal.3

Light Green = Path from Fort Erie on Lake Erie, down and along the Niagara River, around Niagara Falls, to Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario.3

Dark Purple = The path of the released prisoners from Montreal down Lake Champlain, then down the Hudson River, across New Jersey, to Philadelphia.4

Light Purple = Approximate path of returning captives from Philadelphia to Spring Creek, near Abingdon, Washington County, Virginia (only general description of return route exists).5

Excerpts from British Attacks Against Ruddle's & Martinís Stations In June 1780
by Don Lee and Martha Pelfrey

Orginally appearing in The Ruddlesforter, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 2-3

"In the summer of 1780 a large force of British and Indians swooped down on the American frontier forts in Kentucky, killing more than 24 men, women and children. In just two days, the tiny forts of Ruddleís and Martinís stations were destroyed and more than 400 prisoners were taken on a death march to Detroit. Many of the old, the young and the weak died during that grueling march of 600 miles.

"During the Revolutionary, war there were three invasions by the British and Indians against the American Forts in Kentucky. The most significant of these was the attack on Ruddleís and Martinís forts by British Captain Henry Bird. This second invasion was a well-planned counter attack by the British Command at Detroit in retaliation for General Clark'svictory at Vincennes and the capture of Lt. Governor Hamilton of Detroit. The plan was to destroy the Kentucky forts and drive the settlers back over the mountains to the East Coast.

* * *

"Captain Bird left Detroit in the middle of May with 200 Canadian Regulars, Tories and about 300 Lake Indians, mostly Ottawas, Hurons, Taways, and Mingoes. He had with him several cannon. Some accounts say he had six, others accounts say he had three.

"Allan W. Eckert in his book The Frontiersmen says he had six. Five French swivels mounted on horseback and one large brass cannon on wheels. He went south by boat on Lake Erie and entered the mouth of the Maumee River where present-day Toledo is located and went up stream or south into central Ohio. At the mouth of the Auglaize River a force of about 300 warriors of the Delawares, Hurons, Wyandots, Ottawas, Chippawaa, Tawas, Miamis and Potawatomies met him. From there, they paddled their boats south on the Auglaize to a portage point called Wapakoneta by the Indians. Boats, supplies and cannons were carried south over a portage trail to the Great Miami. The portage was difficult and took him two weeks to travel the twenty miles. By the time he reached the mouth of the Great Miami at the Ohio River the Shawnee had joined him giving him eight hundred and fifty Indians and a total force of about twelve hundred fifty men. With the Shawnee came four white men: the Girtys-Simon, James and George and the Indian agent Alexander McKee. The four kept the Indians keyed up in furious anger by reminding them of the murder of their Chiefs Cornstalk, Pucksinwah and Black Fish.

"From the mouth of the Great Miami, the army turned up stream to a point where Cincinnati now stands, across from the mouth of the Licking River. They went up the Licking about forty Miles to the forks of the Licking where the City of Falmouth is now Located. Here huts were built to store most of their supplies. Here they left the River and traveled over land east of and parallel to the South Fork of the Licking. As they went they carved a wide wagon road through the woods along a Buffalo Trace, now known as the Broadford Road. Bird's War Road took them down the dry bed of Snake Lick Creek past the abandoned Boyd's Station. They crossed the South Licking at a broad ford in a great bend of the River. The place is still known as Bird's Crossing. They encountered much difficulty in the crossing and built a temporary log roadway to cross. The road paralleled the South Licking and numerous Streams were crossed including Raven Creek and Mill Creek. Gray's Run was forded near the present City of Cynthiana. At Lair station they again crossed the South Licking and went south to Ruddles Station.

"In the dim light of morning in a heavy downpour of rain, they crept up to the field in front of the fort. A guard sounded the alarm and in a few minutes, the faces of 100 men peered over the wall. Some accounts say they exchanged rifle fire until Bird had his cannon in place. A shot was fired from a smaller cannon and the ball only imbedded into the wall of the stockade with little damage. Immediately Bird ordered the big wheeled cannon loaded and aimed. Panic swept the fort at the sight of the huge gun. The ground shook and the sound thundered up the valley from the roar of the great gun. The north wall of the stockade was shattered as the cannon ball torn it's way through the logs. It was the first time a cannon had been used against a Kentucky fort. As Captain Bird ordered the Cannon reloaded a white flag began to wave over the stockade. The gate opened slightly and several men emerged. They met outside the fort and talked in the rain. Capt. Bird ordered in the name of King George III that the fort be immediately and unconditionally surrendered.

"It was agreed that Ruddell and his men would be taken prisoner and the women and children would be allowed to travel on their own to the safety of the nearest settlement. There being no other choice, the surrender was accepted. The agreement did not set well with the Indians because it did not give them the opportunity to get revenge for the deaths of their Chiefs and for the burning of their villages. As soon as the gate was opened, they rushed in, seizing people and claiming them as prisoners. * * * It is said the lives of 24 or more men, women and children were taken in those brief moments. The prisoners, called slaves by the Indians, were divided up as was the plunder from the cabins. The prisoners were required to carry the loot and plunder on their backs while the Indians rode the horses taken from the fort.

"Captain Bird and his men were so outnumbered by the Indians that he had no control over the outrages that were committed. He was so disgusted with the turn of events he wanted to return to Detroit right away, however, the Indians were pleased with their success at Ruddles and wanted to attack Martin's Station some five miles south on Stoner Creek. Martin's were a new station with a large population. The American Captain Gatliff had been called up in March to defend Martinís fort, but was away from the fort with Simon Kenton hunting when Capt. Bird and his men arrived. Martins had heard of the Ruddles surrender and decided to do the same with the assurances there would be no more killing. Again, the Indians broke their promise. Bird was able to convince the Indians that he would take charge of the prisoners from Martins and they could have the prisoners from Ruddles. By this time, Bird had seen enough of the barbarous conduct and feeling he could no longer trust his allies that he gave orders for the whole force to return to Detroit. He wanted to take advantage of the high waters for his return trip. Word had also reached him of General Clark's return to Louisville and being much encumbered by the large number prisoners and plunder, he had no wish to fight Clark at this time. Detachments of Indians went on to other forts to plunder and steal horses. When the people of Bryan's Station heard of the defeats at Martins and Ruddles they abandoned the Station and fled. The Indians burned it. On June 27, with some 400 captives the British and Indians began a death march to Detroit. The Indians had killed all the cattle at the forts leaving little food and few supplies. Some records are very critical of Bird saying he placed the prisoners on a ration of 1 cup of flour per day for men and 1/2 cup for women and children. They followed their old wagon trail north to the forks of Licking. At the place known as Birdís Crossing one of the canons fell into the River and could not be retrieved. Some say it is still there to this day. The captives loaded down with plunder from their own homes were forced to walk as much as 20 miles per day. * * * The Prisoners were forced to cross the Licking River a number of Times.

"Many prisoners died along the way from exhaustion, illnesses, wounds and starvation. Some prisoners stayed at Detroit while others were taken to live among the Indians and others were sent on to Montreal. Many families were divided. At Detroit prisoners worked as carpenters, farmers, stonemasons and other trades. Women worked at housekeeping or sewing for the officers of the fort. Some lived as captives for years. * * * Some stayed in Canada while others continued to live among the Indians."

Sources for the Routes and Locations Described in the Map Legend

  1. Don Lee & Martha Pelfrey, "British Attacks Against Ruddle's & Martinís Stations In June 1780," The Ruddlesforter, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 2-3.

  2. From Urgent Dispatch [from Lt. Solomon Litton] Shannee Town near ye Fort Detroit In Providence ye Canada 1st ye March 1781 To my Kinsmen at ye Fort Elk Garden in ye Washington County Virginia. John Litton, Father & James McLaughlin [sic], Brother in Law, "Ruddles and Martins forts were cannoned balled and after surrender most inhabitants were massacred. * * * Fort burned and stock and fowl slautered. A horrible massacre not yet equaled in this country. * * * On ye 27th June we marched down ye Licking 70 miles to ye big Miami (down ye Ohio) thence, up ye Miami to ye head of, thence over land 18 miles to ye Glaise [Auglaize] thence down it ye Lake Erie, put aboard ye boat Goge, floated across to ye River Detroit thence put aground at ye Fort Detroit. At which place I was taken to ye Shawnee Town, twenty miles distant. Of the 300 marchers taken 90 were count of reaching Fort Detroit."

  3. Maude Ward Lafferty, "Destruction of Ruddle's and Martin's Forts in the Revolutionary War," The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 54, No. 189, Oct. 1956, page 312. ("Upon returning to Kentucky after being held captive in Canada, Capt. John Dunkin made the following statement: 'June 26, 1780, I was taken from Licking Creek in Kentucky County by Captain Henry Bird of the 8th Regiment of his Majesty's forces in conjunction with about eight hundred Indians of different Nations--Viz. Mingoes, Delawares, Shawnees, Hurons, Ottaways, 'Taways and Chippeways. We marched from our village the 27th, being in number 129 men, women and children. We marched down Licking about 50 miles to the Ohio and from thence up ye Big Miami River about 170 miles to the Standing Stone, and from thence up said river to Larramie's (Lorimer's) Store 14 miles on the head of the Miami; and from thence across by land 18 miles to the Landing on the River Glaise [Auglaize]--and from thence down said river passing a Taway village and to the mouth of said river about 80 miles at a small village to Miami Indians on the River Miami [Maumee]; from thence down said river about 40 miles to an Indian village called Rose de Boo--and from thence down said river about 18 miles to Lake Erie, where we went on board the Hope, mounted six pounders, Captain Graves, Commander; and so across the said lake to the mouth of Detroit River, and 18 miles up to the same to the fort and town of Detroit, which place we arrived at the 4th of August, 1780--where we were kept until the 24th when 33 of us were put on board the Gage, Captain Burnit commander, mounted 8 guns, and from thence to Fort Erie and thence in battles 18 miles down the River Niagara to Fort Slusher, at the head of the great fall--and from thence in wagons, 9 miles, where we again went in battles down said river to Fort Niagara at the mouth of said river on the 19th; and on the 5th of September we were again put on board the Ontario, Captain Cowan commander and so across the Lake Ontario to Carlton Island on the 8th, and on the 10th we sent off down the long Sac and into Sandijest Lake, and so down Rapids into Grand River and through a small lake and so the Lasheen. From thence by land 9 miles to Montreal on the 14th of September, 1780, and on the 17th we were sent into Grant's Island and remained there until the 25th of October, when we were again taken back into Montreal and billeted in St. Lawrence suburbs. I was put in confinement in the Long Gaol (???gh) September 1st, and remained in close confinement until the 17th day of October, when I was permitted to go and live with my family with the privilege of walking the town and suburbs.'") In his diary, Samuel Hervey Laughlin records the following: "[A] letter from Uncle Benjamin Sharp gives the reason why [John Dunkin] was imprisoned in jail at [Montreal]. His eldest son, John Dunkin, Jr., made his escape from the British at Montreal, and his father who was known to have been an officer of standing, was suspected of having aided his son to escape."

  4. Diary of Samuel Hervey Laughlin, ("On return from Canada the prisoners came by way of Lake Champlain, by Saratoga, down the Hudson by water and across New Jersey to Philadelphia. My mother has often told me of the astonishing scenes of rejoicing in Philadelphia at the final achievement of our national independence as they passed through that city.")

  5. Emory L. Hamilton, "Captain John Dunkin of Elk Garden," The Ruddlesforter, Vol. 1, No. 1, p. 16 (quoting from Samuel Hervey Laughlin's Diary, "[T]hey having come through Pennsylvania and Maryland and to that part of Washington County in western Virginia where, or nearly where he had moved from when he went to Kentucky, and there he continued to live for the rest of his life.")

  6. Emory L. Hamilton, "Captain John Dunkin of Elk Garden," The Ruddlesforter, Vol. 1, No. 1, p. 14.

  7. Emory L. Hamilton, "Captain John Dunkin of Elk Garden," The Ruddlesforter, Vol. 1, No. 1, p. 16.

  8. Diary of Samuel Hervey Laughlin.

  9. Proceedings and Debates of the Convention of North-Carolina, Convened at Hillsborough, on Monday the 21st Day of July, 1788, for the Purpose of deliberating and determining on the Constitution recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia, the 17th Day of September, 1787, Edenton, 1789 (On Friday, August 1, 1788, the convention met according to adjournment, and voted on a motion "on behalf of the state of North-Carolina, and the good people thereof, and by virtue of the authority to them delegated," to ratify "the constitution proposed for the future government of the United States of America by the federal convention, lately held at Philadelphia, on the 17th day of September last." On a voice vote, the motion failed. The delegates were then polled, with "Iohn Dunkin" and "Iohn Sharpe" listed as nays.)

Copyright © 1996-2001 by Gregory Kent Laughlin