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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Nancy Skaggs DeSpain, Daughter of The Long Hunter!

Dear Grandchildren of the Durham/DeSpain line:

Your Eighth Great Grandfather was Peter DeSpain, a 5' 5 3/4" farmer born in NC in 1764, before the Revolutionary War. 8GGdad Peter did grow in Virginia where he enlisted as a private for 18 months in the Revolutionary War. Peter served in Capt. Bentley's Company and Colonel Hawes Virginia Regiment and saw several battles including Camden, Guilford Courthouse, Ninety-Six SC and Eutaw Springs SC.  His last battle was in 1781.

Ten years later he married Nancy Skaggs in Green County, KY.  

8GGmom NANCY SKAGGS DESPAIN, born in SW Virginia in 1759,  had an interesting history also.  She was the daughter of Henry Skaggs, a Scotch-Irish pioneer known as The Long Hunter who lived to be 86...from 1724 VA to 1810 KY.  When Nancy was born her dad was 35; her mom Mary Skaggs was 20. 

As a Long Hunter, your 9GGdad Henry was a hunter, explorer and a pioneer who traveled for long periods in the frontiers of Kentucky and Tennessee during the 1700s.  Henry would be gone for months upon months for hunting in the Trans-Allegheny wilderness.  He eventually worked as a land agent with Daniel Boone, exploring Middle Tennessee and Eastern and Central Kentucky.  Henry became a veteran tracker as well as an Indian Fighter.  


An exploring party of 13 "Long Hunters," so named because of the long periods of time spent away from home, camped along Barren River in 1775. Their names were carved on a beech tree, a silent record of the first white men in this area. 9GGdad Henry Skaggs and Joseph Drake of this group had been among the first Long Hunters, 1769 - 1771, whose exploring helped open mid-Kentucky.  

This drawing depicts how 9GGdad might have look on the trails. 


One of your 9GGdad's many adventures was when he helped Mrs. Jenny Wiley in her escape to avoid recapture by the Shawnees in October 1789.

Jenny Wiley married Thomas Wiley, an Irish immigrant and they built a log cabin.  On October 1, 1789, her husband road to a trading post on a horse laden with ginseng.  He would barter the ginseng for necessities and would be back late that day.  He had been gone only a few hours when Thomas' brother-in-law John Borders was searching for sheep that had escaped their fencing, and heard what sounded like owl hoots when he approached his Thomas' cabin.  John knew the hooting could be caused by owls and the dreariness of the cloudy day or could be well be pre-attack signals of Native Americans who would attack at dark.  He got Jenny to agree to go to his home as a precaution.  Since attacks were fairly common and occurred at night, she lingered to do a final few minutes of weaving on a piece of cloth she was creating and to feed the livestock.  Mistake!

Eleven indians (2 Cherokees, 3 Shawnees, 3 Wyandots, 3 Delawares) stormed their Virginia log cabin during daylight, mistaking the Wiley cabin for one where an enemy lived.  Though they tried to barricade the door to the cabin, and then to fight the indians, her younger brother and all but one of her children were slain.  Jenny who was pregnant and her youngest child of fifteen months of age were taken captive. Her child became ill and he was killed while Jenny slept.  She gave birth to her baby but he was was ultimately scalped.  Jenny still lived.  She was a captive in what is now Little Mud Lick Creek in Johnson County KY.    

Jenny finally escaped when left alone, bound with rawhide, while the Indians hunted.  It was raining hard and she was finally able to escape by stretching the rawhide ties and began her arduous flight to freedom. As she neared a fort blockhouse, she screamed her name and situation.  Out of the fort emerged your elderly 9GGdad Long Hunter Henry Skaggs whom she knew as a friend of her father's!  Henry was in his 80s by now but was not daunted in his efforts to save Jenny. They both knew she was in imminent danger of recapture. To get to Henry she would have to cross a river.  Others at the fort had taken the only canoes on a hunting trip, so Henry and one of the women at the fort had to construct a rough raft as quickly as possible. Henry told Jenny to try to ford the river herself if the Indians found her before he could get to her.

Skaggs and the woman felled a dead mulberry tree which broke into three fairly even pieces, wrapped it tightly with grapevines, gathered his rifles, and he took off across the overflowing river to get to Jenny. The raft drifted far down river but Jenny kept pace and hopped onto the raft when it was finally made shore. The river was still raging enough to carry them further adrift, and the raft tried to break apart about mid-river, but they got near enough to shore to grab overhanging branches on the fort side about a half mile downriver.  

Jenny  was returned to her husband, eventually moving to Kentucky themselves.  

Harpe Brothers, America First Serial Killers (PIC BELOW):

Upon the request of Governor Gerrard in 1799, 9GGdad Henry Skaggs led an attempt to capture America's first reputed serial killers, the Harpe Brothers in Western Kentucky.  Several posses had been assembled to capture the brothers, but the only posse that found them ended up fleeing to safety.  Skaggs was "enraged" and tried to reassemble to scattered posse, to no avail.  Henry went after the brothers on his own! Henry came upon drunken men celebrating after a house raising. When hearing the news of the Harpe brothers not being captured, the drunks grabbed liquor and rifles and began the search.  The euphoria of the expedition quickly died and Skaggs had to go on alone once again.  He arrived at the cabin of Col. Daniel Trabue, another old Indian fighter, and Trabue agreed to join Henry as soon as his 13 year old son returned from an errand to borrow flour and beans from a neighbor.  The son did not return; the Harpes killed him first and discarded his body in a sinkhole.  The son's dog arrived home instead. Trabue and Skaggs hurried to find Trabue's son, finding instead his body which had been beaten and tomahawked.  Though the enraged Skaggs and Trabue searched for days, the Harpes were evidently long gone.  The attempt was woefully unsuccessful.

Your 9GGdad "Henry Skaggs was a "bold, enterprising and fearless" man, a true adventurer of the early frontier"  (Thwaites and Kelloggy, Dunmore's War p. 239).

"Be safe and keep your powder dry" *

Henry Skaggs family is Scotch-Irish.  He was not part of the Irish Catholic immigrants who came to America due to the late 1840s potato famine. Instead, they were of Presbyterian background