The story of this family appears in many books of West Virginia history. However, there are many inaccurate accounts. To avoid speculation, the Revolutionary Pension file of Phebe is presented here. It gives at least a glimpse into their lives.
PHEBE (WIDOW OF THOMAS) CUNNINGHAM.
"Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application File, 1800-1900;"
National Archives Microfilm; Call No. M804; Roll No. 713.
Phebe Cunningham widow of Thomas Cunningham Decd. who died on the 2d day of June 1826, of Lewis Co in the State of Virginia who was a private in the company commanded by Coe in the Virginia Militia time for 14 months.
Inscribed on the Roll of Wheeling at the rate of 46 Dollars 66 cents per annum to commence on the 4th day of March, 1831.
Certificate of Pension issued the 22d day of April 1840
--- Hon. Jos. Johnson
House of Representatives.
Arrears to the 4th of March 1840 $420.00
Semi-annual allowance ending 4 Sep 40 23.33
Act July 4, 1836
Section the 3d
Book A, Vol. 2, Page 191.
Lewis County ss
In the County of Lewis Count at the Term thereof begun & held on the 13th day of November 1839.
On this 13 day of November in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty nine personally appeared in open court Phebe Cunningham a resident of the County aforesaid aged about 79 years, who being duly sworn, according to law, doth, on her oath, make the following declaration, in order to obtain the benefit of the provision made by the act of Congress, passed the fourth day of July 1836 entitled "An act granting half pay to widows or orphans, where their husband and Fathers had died of wounds received in the military service of the United States in certain cases, and for other purposes."
That she is the widow of Thomas Cunningham deceased who was a private in the army during the revolutionary war, and served thirteen months, under Captain James Booth, in an expedition against the Indians, as will appear by reference to an Act of the Legislature of Virginia passed March 13, 1834 a copy of which is hereunto annexed.
She further declares that she was married to the said Thomas Cunningham on the (blank) day of April in the year seventeen hundred and Twenty six or seven that her said husband the aforesaid Thomas Cunningham died on the Second day of June one thousand eight hundred & Twenty Six that subsequent to her marriage viz: in the year seventeen hundred & eighty five, after she had given birth to four children, she the said Phebe Cunningham was taken prisoner by the Indians and carried into captivity, and her children murdered as will more fully appear by reference to a narrative contained in the Chronicles of Border Warfare, commencing on page 272, a copy of which is also hereunto annexed.
Phebe (her X mark) Cunningham
Copy of Narrative contained in the Chronicles of Border Warfare commencing on page 272.
In 1785, six Indians came to Bingamon creek, (a branch of the West Fork) and made their appearance upon a farm occupied by Thomas and Edward Cunningham. At this time the two brothers were dwelling with their families in separate houses, but nearly adjoining, though not in a direct line with each other. Thomas was then on a trading visit east of the mountain, and his wife and four children were collected in their room for the purpose of eating dinner, as was Edward with his family, in their house. Suddenly a lusty savage entered where were Mrs. Thomas Cunningham and her children, but seeing that he would be exposed to a fire from the other house, and apprehending no danger from the woman and children, he closed the door and seemed for a time only intent on the means of escaping.
Edward Cunningham had seen the savage enter his brother's house, and fastened his own door, seized his gun and stepping to a small aperture in the wall next the house in which was the Indian, and which served as well for a port hole as for the admission of light, was ready to fire whenever the savage should make his appearance. But in the other house was a like aperture, and through it the Indian fired at Edward, and shouted the yell of victory. It was answered by Edward. He had seen the aim of the savage only in time to avoid it, -- the bark from the log close to his head, was knocked off by the ball and flew into his face. The Indian seeing that he had missed his object, and observing an adze in tbe room, deliberately commenced cutting an aperture in the back wall through which he might pass out without being exposed to a shot from the other building.
Another of the Indians came into the yard just after the firing of his companion, but observing Edward's gun pointing through the port hole, he endeavored to retreat out of its range. He failed of his purpose. Just as he was about to spring over the fence, the gun was fired and he fell forward. The ball however only fractured his thigh bone, and he was yet able to hobble over the fence and take shelter behind a coverlet suspended on it, before Edward could again load his gun.
While the Indian was engaged in cutting a hole in the wall, Mrs. Cunningham made no attempt to get out. She was well aware that it would draw down upon her head the fury of the savage; and that if she escaped this, she would most probably be killed by some of those who were watching around, before the other door could be opened for her admission. -- She knew too, that it was impossible for her to take the children with her, and could not brook the idea of leaving them in the hands of the savage monster. She even trusted to the hope that he would withdraw, as soon as he could, without molesting any of them. A few minutes served to convince her of the fallacy of this expectation. When the opening had been made sufficiently large, he raised his tomahawk, sunk it deep into the brains of one of the children, and throwing the scarcely lifeless body into the back yard, ordered the mother to follow after. There was no alternative but death, and she obeyed his order, stepping over the dead body of one of her children, with an infant in her arms and two others screaming from horror at the sight, and clinging to her. When all were out he scalped the murdered boy, and setting fire to the house, retired to an eminence in the field, where two of the savages were, with their wounded companion. -- leaving the other two to watch the opening of Edward Cunningham's door, when the burning of the house should force the family from their shelter. They were disappointed in their expectation of that event by the exertions of Cunningham and his son. When the flame from the one house communicated to the roof of the other, they ascended to the loft, threw off the loose boards which covered it, and extinguished the fire; -- the savages shooting at them all the while, and their balls frequently striking close by.
Despairing of accomplishing farther havoc, and fearful of detection and pursuit, the Indians collected together and prepared to retreat. Mrs. Cunningham's eldest son was first tomahawked and scalped; the fatal hatchet sunk into the head of her little daughter, whom they then took by the arms and legs, and slinging it repeatedly against a tree, ended its sufferings with its life. Mrs. Cunningham stood motionless with grief, and in momentary expectation of having the same dealt to her and her innocent infant. But no! She was doomed to captivity; and with her helpless babe in her arms, was led off from this scene of horror and of wo. The wounded savage was carried on a rough litter, and they all departed, crossing the ridge to Bingamon creek, near which they found a cave that afforded them shelter and concealment. After night, they returned to Edward Cunningham's, and finding no one, plundered and fired the house.
When the savages withdrew in the evening, Cunningham went with his family into the woods, where they remained all night, there being no settlement nearer than eight or ten miles. In the morning, proceeding to the nearest house, they gave the alarm and a company of men was soon collected to go in pursuit of the Indians. When they came to Cunningham's and found both houses heaps of ashes, they buried the bones which remained of the boy who was murdered in the house, with the bodies of his brother and little sister, who were killed in the field; but so cautiously had the savages conducted their retreat that no traces of them could be discovered, and the men returned to their homes.
Some days after, circumstances induced the belief that the Indians were yet in the neighborhood, and men were again assembled for the purpose of tracing them. They were now enabled to distinguish the trail, and pursued it near to the cave, where from the number of rocke on the ground and the care which had been taken by the Indians to leave no vestige, they could no longer discover it. They however examined for it in every direction until night forced them to desist. In thinking over the incidents of the day; the cave occurred to the mind of Major Robinson, who was well acquainted with the woods, and he concluded that the savages must be concealed in it. It was examined early next morning, but they had left it the preceding night and departed for their towns. After her return from captivity, Mrs. Cunningham stated, that in time of the search on the day before, the Indians were in the cave, and that several times the whites approached so near, that she could distinctly hear their voices; the savages standing with their guns ready to fire, in the event of their being discovered, and forcing her to keep the infant to her breast, lest its crying might point to the place of their concealment.
In consequence of their stay at this place on account of their wounded companion, it was some time before they arrived in their own country; and Mrs. Cunningham's sufferings, of body as well as mind were truly great. Fatigue and hunger oppressed her sorely, -- the infant in her arms, wanting the nourishment derived from the due sustenance of the mother, plied at the breast for milk, in vain -- blood came in stead; and the Indians perceiving this, put a period to its sufferings, with the tomahawk, even while clinging to its mother's bosom. It was cast a little distance from the path, and left without a leaf or bush to hide it from beasts of prey.
The anguish of this woman during the journey to the towns, can only be properly estimated by a parent; her bodily sufferings may be inferred from the fact, that for ten days her only sustenance consisted of the head of a wild turkey and three papaws, and from the circumstance that the skin and nails of her feet, scalded by frequent wading of the water, came with her stockings, when upon their arrival at a village of the Delawares, she was permitted to draw them off. Yet was she forced to continue on with them the next day. -- One of the Indians belonging to the village where they were, by an application of some sanative herbs, very much relieved the pain which she endured.
When she came to the town of those by whom she had been made prisoner, although receiving no barbarous or cruel usage, yet everything indicated to her, that she was reserved for some painful torture. The wounded Indian had been left behind, and she was delivered to his father. Her clothes were not changed, as is the case when a prisoner is adopted by them; but she was compelled to wear them, dirty as they were, -- a bad omen for a captive. She was however, not long in apprehension of a wretched fate. A conference was soon to take place between the Indians and whites, preparatory to a treaty of peace; and witnessing an uncommon excitement in the village one evening, upon inquiring, learned that the Great captain Simon Girty had arrived. She determined to prevail with him, if she could, to intercede for her liberation, and seeing him next day passing near on horseback, she laid hold on his stirrup, and implored his interference. For a while he made light of her petition, -- telling her that she would be as well there as in her own country, and that if he were disposed to do her a kindness he could not as his saddle bags were too small to conceal her; but her importunity at length prevailed, and he whose heart had been so long steeled against every kindly feeling, every sympathetic impression, was at length induced to perform an act of generous, disinterested benevolence. He paid her ransom, had her conveyed to the commissioners for negotiating with the Indians, and by them she was taken to a station on the south side of the Ohio. Here she met with two gentlemen (Long and Denton) who had been at the treaty to obtain intelligence of their children taken captive some time before, but not being able to gain any information respecting them, they were then returning to the interior of Kentucky and kindly furnished her a horse.
In consequence of tbe great danger attending a journey through the wilderness which lay between the settlements in Kentucky and those on the Holstein, persons scarcely ever performed it but at particular periods of the year, and in caravans, the better to defend themselves against attacks of savages. Notice of the time and place of the assembling of one of these parties being given, Mrs. Cunningham prepared to accompany it; but before that time arrived, they were deterred from the undertaking by the report that a company of travellers, stronger than theirs would be, had been encountered by the Indians, and all either killed or made prisoners. Soon after another party resolved on a visit to Virginia, and Mrs. Cunningham was furnished a horse belonging to a gentleman on Holstein (which had escaped from him while on a buffalo hunt in Kentucky and was found after his return,) to carry her that far on her way home. Experiencing the many unpleasant circumstances incident to such a jaunt, she reached Holstein, and from thence, after a repose of a few days, keeping up the Valley of Virginia, she proceeded by the way of Shenandoah, to the county of Harrison. Here she was sadly disappointed in not meeting with her husband. Having understood that she had been ransomed and taken to Kentucky, he had, some time before, gone on in quest of her. Anxiety for his fate, alone and on a journey which she well knew to be fraught with many dangers, she could not cheerily partake of the general joy excited by her return. In a few days however, he came back. He had heard on Holstein of her having passed there and he retraced his steps. Arriving at his brother Edward's, he again enjoyed the satisfaction of being with all that was then dear to him on earth. It was a delightful satisfaction, but presently damped by the recollection of  the fate of his luckless children -- Time assuaged the bitterness of the recollection and blessed him with other and more fortunate children."
Lewis County Court, November Term 1839
Phebe Cunningham personally appeared in open court and made a Declaration in order to obtain the benefit of the Act of congress of the 7th July 1838 entitles. "An Act granting half pay and Pensions to certain widows" And the Court are of opinion the said Phebe Cunningham is the widow of the late Thomas Cunningham deceased.
A Copy Teste
J. Talbott Clk
State of Virginia
I John Talbott, Clerk of the County Court of Lewis County aforesaid, do hereby certify that the foregoing contains the original proceedings of the said Court in the matter of the application of Phebe Cunningham for a Pension.
In Testimony whereof I have hereunto subscribed my name and affixed my seal of Office at Weston the 22d day of November 1839.
J. Talbott, Clk.
Lewis County Court March Term
Note: This page is illegible but it seems to describe Phebe's eligibility for the pension. it continues on the next page:
....in the War of the Revolution, and that the following is a true copy of said act as filed in this Court. "Be it inacted by the General Assembly, that David W. Sleeth, sole surviving heir of John Sleeth deceased who was a Sergeant in the company commanded by Captain James Booth in an expedition against the Indians during the Revolutionary War, be allowed the sum of one hundred and thirty dollars, for thirteen months servises of his said father as Sergeant as aforesaid, and Joseph Parsons, John Tucker, James Brown, and Phebe Cunningham, widow of Thomas Cunningham, deceased, shall be allowed each, for their services as privates, for the same time in said company; and the audotir of Public accounts is hereby authorized and required to issue a warrant on the treasury, in favor of the said Sleeth, Parsons, Tucker, Brown, Cunningham, respectfully for the same, to be paid to them, or their representatives out of any money therein not otherwise appropriated."
This act shall be in force from its passage.
A Copy Teste
J. Talbott, Clk
Second Comptroller's Office,
November 17th 1841
Under the date of the 6th of April, 1838, entitled "An act directing the transfer of money remaining unclaimed by certain Pensioners, and authorizing the payment of the same at the Treasury of the United States," PHEBE CUNNINGHAM a Pensioner on the Roll of the WHEELING Va Agency, at the rate of FORTY-SIX Dollars and 66 Cents per annum, under the law of the 4th July 1836, has been paid at this Department from the 4th of Sept 1840, to the 4th March 1841.
Hon. K. Parris
Second Comptroller's Office,
October 12th 1842
Under the date of the 6th of April, 1838, entitled "An act directing the transfer of money remaining unclaimed by certain Pensioners, and authorizing the payment of the same at the Treasury of the United States," PHEBE CUNNINGHAM a Pensioner on the Roll of the WHEELING Va Agency, at the rate of FORTY-SIX Dollars and 66 Cents per annum, under the law of the 4th July 1836, has been paid at this Department from the 4th of March to the 4th Sept 1841.
Hon. K. Parris
WOOD COUNTY to wit
Personally appeared before me the subscriber a justice of the peace for the County aforesaid MARY ANN McKINNEY who being sworn deposeth and saith that she is seventy four years of age October last past, is SISTER to PHEBE CUNNINGHAM widow of THOMAS CUNNINGHAM deceased who now resides in LEWIS COUNTY Virginia and is now applicant for a pension. that she was personally known to Thomas Cunningham and her sister PHEBE leaving COON'S FORT and going to PRICKETT'S FORT on the Monongalia River to be married the day and date not remembered but took place when deponent was yeat a girl and also was personally known to their returning again to COON'S FORT them and the guard that accompanyed them and it was said and understood that they were married - that she has been acquainted with her sister up to the present time who still continues the widow of the aforesaid Thomas Cunningham deceased and she knows her to be the identical Phebe Cunningham named in Border Warfare and further the deponeth saith not.
Mary Ann (her X mark) McKinney
Sworn and subscribed to this 9th day of January 1840
John Harris J.P.
I certify that I am personally acquainted with Mary Ann McKinney who has sworn and subscribed to the above affidavit that she is a respectable woman and that her statement is entitled to credit, Given under my hand this 9th day of January 1840.
John Harris, J.P.
Rev and 1812
August 4, 1928
Mr. L. L. Burlingame, Secretary to
Honorable James James V. McClintic
House of Representatives.
My dear Mr. Burlingame:
In response to your letter of the second instant, I advise you from the papers in the Revolutionary War Pension claim W 4166, it appears that Thomas Cunningham served thirteen months as a private, during the Revolution in Captain James Booth's Company of Virgina Militia in an expedition against the Indians, and also for one month after the surrender of Cornwallis, guarding prisoners at Winchester Barracks, no dates of service given.
He married at Prickett's Fort on the Monongalia River, in April 1776 or 1777, Phebe, her maiden name is not stated.
The soldier died June 2, 1826. She was allowed pension on her application executed November 13, 1839, at which time she was living in Lewis County, Virginia, aged seventy-nine.
It is also stated in said claim that in 1785, Thomas Cunningham and his brotherm Edward, lived in nearly adjoining houses on their farm on Bingamon Creek, while Thomas was away trading, six Indians went there, one of them entered the house of Thomas, where Phebe was alone with her four children; after Edward had fired several shots from his house, the Indians retreated, taking with them Mrs. Cunningham and her baby, having killed and scalped the two boys and girl. Some days later, finding taht Mrs. Cunningham was unable to nurse her baby, they killed it. She was taken to their Indian Town, having suffered frightfully on the march. Soon after reaching there the notorious Simon Girty arrived, who after much importuning effected her escape, she returned to her brother-in-law Edward Cunnungham, where her husband met her. After this they had children, their names are not stated.
It is shown that this incident of 1785 was contained in the "Chronicles of Border Warfare", commencing on page 272, but the names of the author and the publisher are not given.
Note: A letter from Mr. Burlingame to Winfield Scott, dated August 2, 1928 states, "Referring to your etter of the 23rd of July, concerning the record of one Thomas Cunningham who served in the War of the Revolution, I beg to say that this office has just been apprised of the following data:
Thomas Cunningham was born in Ireland in 1761; it is believed that he lived in Culpepper county, Virginia, at the time of his enlistment, and the name of his wife was Phebe Tucker Cunningham......
Thomas and Phebe are both listed in D.A.R. Patriot Index.
Thomas' nephew, William, stated in his pension application that he served as a substitute for Thomas for a period of time during the war. William was the son of Thomas's brother, John, for whom he had also substituted.
Thomas died in Ritchie County, June 3, 1826 [pension application say June 2], and is buried there on the old Frederick Place at Frederick Mill in the Fonzo District. While the location of his grave is not exactly known, a monument was erected in his memory. Photo of Tombstone & Marker
A stone bearing a bronze plaque commemorating the events of the Indian raid has been erected by the descendants of Thomas and Phebe on Cunningham's Run, approximately one mile from Peora and six miles from Shinnston.
Many descendants of Thomas and Phebe are from the Calhoun County, WV area (formerly part of Lewis & Gilmer Counties). Phebe died in 1845 in Calhoun County, where she had been living with her daughter and son-in-law, Rachel and Isaac Collins. She is buried in the *Shimer Cemetery, Center District, Calhoun County, WV. Photo of Tombstone.
(Provided by HERMAN MONROE: Shimer Cemetery, also called Gainer Cemetery, is located on Leading Creek about 1 mile west of Prosperity Church and about two miles west of Rt. 16 on the Leading Creek Road on the north side of the road, with a sign on the drive and with a gate at the road; about 200 feet from the road.)
Thomas and his son, William, became Methodist Ministers. Thomas continued to serve The Lord until his death.
Mount Zion Cemetery in Roane Co. WV has a marker for the grave of Civil War veteran, Rev Joseph Fennel Hardman, born in 1833 and died Oct 19, 1898. See Marker.
Rev. Hardman has several grandchildren surviving, as well as many of their children and grandchildren living in the area. He was the son of Benjamin Hardman and Sira(h) Leah Cunningham Hardman and the grandson of Revolutionary War soldier Thomas Cunningham and Phebe Tucker Cunningham.
SIRA LEAH CUNNINGHAM HARDMAN is buried in the H. C. McWhorter plot at SPRING HILL CEMETERY, Charleston, W. Va. A photo of her tombstone was provided by Jo Ann H. Stephens.
Thomas married Phebe Tucker Apr 1776 or 1777.