On The Trail of - Colonel CHARLES COCKE

A cabin in Jonesboro- almost identical in design to Rocky Station Fort - but only about 1/2 the size. Another difference is that the chimney on the Rocky Station Fort was in the center of the house, offset to the right side.

From at least 1780 to 1782, Charles Cocke was in charge of Rocky Station Fort, one of the string of forts located on the western frontier of Virginia. As can be seen, the "fort" was little more than a fortified house. It was garrisoned by a "company" of Rangers- which in that context meant only a handful of men. There are numerous account of Indian attacks upon the fort, and its Rangers had many encounters with them throughout the valley, especially those bands dedicated to stealing horses, which acts seemed to increase many fold during the Revolution.1 Nevertheless, this was one of the only forts to remain open throughout the revolution. Charles Cocke "was particularly alert, often delegating command of the fort to a subordinate and going out as an Indian spy himself".2 These kind of patrols might have saved the fort from surprise attack.

The fort may have originally been the home of Isaac Chrisman, Jr.3 The Fort sits on top of a rise facing Rocky Station Creek, and beyond that, Wallens Ridge. This fort appears to have been little more than a fortified house and does not appear to have been surrounded by a stockade fence. In case of attack, the men could do little more than retreat to the fort and hold out as long as possible.

1. Emory L. Hamilton, "Frontier Forts of Southwest Virginia", from Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia, Number 4, 1968, pp 1-26, referencing Pension Statement of Alexander Ritchie, National Archives R-8784.
2. Emory L. Hamilton, "Frontier Forts of Southwest Virginia", supra.
3. This should not be confused with the fort built by Isaac Chrisman, Sr. (thought to be the father of Isaac Chrisman, Jr.). That fort was known variously as "Rye Cove Fort", "Chrisman's Fort" and "Fort Lee". Emory L. Hamilton, "Frontier Forts of Southwest Virginia", supra.
  Capt. Cocke was in charge of a company of Rangers.  This was not a large Ranger unit, like "Roger's Rangers", but a smaller unit that fulfilled the traditional role of a Ranger unit - to defend the frontier by scouting the surrounding area.  Such units had been in use since the mid 1600s.  The men in this kind of Ranger unit were self-sufficient and lightly equipped, capable of traveling large distances alone in potentially hostile territory.  They did not wear bright military uniforms.  Instead, they wore forest green uniforms or other irregular clothing that enabled them to blend into the surroundings.

Charles Cocke says that his company was part of the regiment commanded by Col. Arthur Campbell.  The regiment was probably the 70th Regiment of the Virginia militia.


In 1780, the Washington County Court recommended that Charles Cocke be promoted to Captain:

At a Court held for Washington County June 20th 1780.
"Ordered that Charles Cocke be recommended to his Excellency the Governor as a fit and proper person for Captain of the Militia of the County of Washington and that Joshua Bucher Lieutenant and Hugh Campbell Ensign."1

This period of service was described by Charles Cocke in his Pension Application:

That about the month of July in the year 1780, he was commissioned by the Governor of Virginia as a captain of Malitia, in the then County of Washington in the said State of Virginia, over a company of Rangers in the regiment at that time commanded by Col. Arthur Campbell, the number of which, the declarant has now forgotten. That he was stationed, with the company under his command, during the balance of that year, and in 1781 at the Rocky Station Fort, in the County of Washington but now County of Lee, on the old Kentucky trace, on the Southwestern frontier of Virginia, that during that time, which embraced a period of about eighten months, the declarant with some part of his command, was in constant service, either in acting as Spies, in pursuit of the Savages, or in guarding the Fort. That being himself very active and enterprising, and from his infancy accustomed to the woods, and well acquainted with the Indian character and wiley arts, he always himself, when spying was to be done selected two or three men of his command, on whom he could most depend for that Service, and with them acted himself as a spy, intrusting the protection of the Fort to his subordinates and the majority of the company that during this service, the declarant several times pursued the savages when they would make incursions into the settlements, murdering the inhabitants and stealing their property and on several occasions he was engaged in bloody skirmishes with the indians; and can say with certainty that he killed several of them himself on the occasions. That he too, was many times in this most imminent danger, when some times alone, and at other times with but one or two individuals in company and but for his activity and his thorough knowledge of the Indians habits and characters, he must often have fallen a victim of their savage ferocity. This mode of life, and duty continued from the year 1780 until Sinclairs defeat which the declarant thinks was in 1790. But his duties were no so incessant after 1781 as the Settlements were growing more populous, other Stations were created, and Major Andrew Lewis, Capt Hawkins and others were sent out with aids. Major Lewis, with his command visited this declarants station in 1782, which was the only aid he received before the close of the revolution in 1783. when Major Lewis was here in 1782 the declarant joined him in an expedition some distance down into what is now the State of Tennessee, toward the cherokee Towns, but although they were often in the immediate vicinity of the Savages, they had at that time no engagement with them. But the declarant has little doubt that this boldness and show of increased strength intimidated the Savages and made them more cautious and less frequent in their incursions to the settlements, so that subsequently up to the end of the revolutionary war although the declarant was continued in his command as a guard at the Fort. yet his duties were not so laborious, as previously, nor his dangers often so imminent after the revolution ended his duties still continued for some years, during which he has several active, short campaigns.2

His service at Rocky Station Fort was confirmed by affidavits of William Yeary and his brother in law, William Ewing. William Yeary stated that:

This day William Yeary personally appeared before the court of Lee county and made oath that his father, when this affiant was about ten years of age, moved to the Rocky Station Fort, then in Washington, but which is now in Lee county Virginia, in the year 1780. That Col Charles Cocke was then a Capt over a Company of Rangers, in command at the said Fort in which command he continued for many years. And was then and has ever since been computed to be a brave and vigilant officer. That it was then said he was in many indian skirmishes. That he himself has killed several indians, and was a most cunning and active Spy.3

It appears that at least some of the Yeary family served under Charles Cocke.  Henry Yeary is noted as a member of Charles Cocke's company from 1780-1782.4  William's father Benedict may have also served.

The affidavit of William Ewing stated that:

On this 15th day of January 1838 personally appeared William Ewing in open court, before the court of Lee county and made oath that in the year 1782 he came to the Rocky Station Fort, then in Washington but now in Lee county aforesaid at which time Col Charles Cocke was then in command of a company of Rangers at said Fort as a capt of Malitia. That he continued in command at said Fort as a Capt for several years after the affiant came to it and that the affiant was in several expeditions with him, against the indians. That said Cocke was always estimated, a brave and vigilant officer and although in command a vigilant unremitting and active spy.5

These affidavits show that, not only was Charles Cocke placed in charge of a company of Rangers, but that he was the kind of man who was not afraid to put himself at risk. The hazardous nature of this duty is shown by the fact that several of the other Forts were either abandoned or forced to surrender. It is said that Rocky Station Fort was the only Fort that remained open during the Revolution. Much of the credit for this success is undoubtedly due to Charles Cocke's practice of making frequent patrols into the surrounding countryside. As any soldier will tell you, a base commander who makes a routine practice of sending out patrols is less likely to be overrun, both because of the intelligence provided and because of the psychological message which such patrols send- that the troops are not afraid of whatever is out there. And while soldiers do not always appreciate having to go out on patrol, with the constant risk of ambush, these soldiers must have been heartened to find that their commander was not afraid to take on these risks himself.

The dangers associated with this kind of duty were shown by the affidavit of Robert Sinclair, who filed his pension claim in Madison Co., Missouri:

Captain Cox's company rendezvoused at Wolf Hills (Abingdon) and marched to Powell's Valley to guard the frontiers. Sixteen days after marching to Powells Valley, Solomon Kendrick, the Spy, was killed by the Indians and this applicant and Richard Lynam acted as spies.6

The pension statement of Alexander Ritchie is supposed to have listed numerous attacks on the Fort and encounters with the enemy.7

Nor was this the kind of stockade fort commonly seen in the movies. To the contrary, it was little more than a fortified house, but a sturdy one, because the structure is still standing and is located 5 miles east of Jonesville.

1. L. P. Summers, "Annals of Southwest Virginia", Vol. 2, pp. 1056-1057.
2. Pension Application of Charles Cocke, R-2086, filed Lee Co., VA (1838).
3. Pension Application of Charles Cocke, R-2086, supra.
4. Wes Forbis, cited at http://www.my-ged.com/db/page/davidson/00482.
5. Pension Application of Charles Cocke, R-2086, supra.
6. Pension Application of Robert Sinclair, S-17678, filed Madison Co., MO (1832).  This Captain Cox is probably not be our Charles Cocke.  The Pension Application of Edward Dorton (filed Floyd Co, KY (1833)) indicates that Solomon Kendrick was killed in July 1776, which is before our Charles Cocke was promoted to Captain.  This could have been Capt John Cox (1739-1818).
7. Pension Application of Alexander Ritchie, R-8784.  A transcript of the Pension Application does not contain any references to the Fort or to Charles Cocke.  Interestingly, as the "R" prefix indicates, the Application of Alexander Ritchie was also rejected.  Service against the Indians was not considered service in the Revolution.

My Visit to Rocky Station Fort
In July of 1999, I had the good fortune to be able to visit the Rocky Station Fort. Although the Fort was standing and appeared to be sturdy, the owners were planning on tearing it down- a sad fate for a structure which has survived for over 220 years. Nevertheless, the owners quite generously allowed me to go inside and take all kinds of pictures. As soon as I have time, I will include those pictures here. In retrospect, this visit gave me an opportunity that few people have been able to experience- the opportunity to walk on the exact same spot of ground that an ancestor of mine walked on over 200 years ago. Sad to say, I did not have any unusual sensations of ancestors speaking to me from beyond the grave (it was probably too darned hot for them to want to venture outdoors!), but all the same, it was a pretty neat experience.

A Noteworthy Tree
One of the features of Rocky Station Fort is a giant sugar maple that stands in front of the house.  With a circumference of 15 feet 8 inches, it is said to be the second largest sugar maple in Virginia, and may also be the oldest.

An Interesting Find
The following note is posted on the internet: "I had the chance of hunting around an area that was known as Rocky Station fort. The fort was one of many that were used as an over night stop for travelers and settlers during the 1700's. While hunting a tobacco field I found a Spanish piece of eight from the reign of Phillip II (1527-1598). The piece was actually a fourth of the original coin which had been cut to make change."1 It is possible that this fell out of the pocket of one of the Rangers, since Spanish pieces of eight were commonly used as currency in the Colonies.

1. Tom from Va., 9/21/00; http://www.treasurefinders.net/forum/_forum/0000001c.htm.