The Westfall brothers William and Able, and the Deckers Creek Massacre, western Virginia 1759
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PART OF WESTFALLS OF THE OLD WEST
BY RON WALL
A few years ago, I traveled to West Virginia to visit my daughter and her family who had recently moved to Fairmont, not far south of Morgantown. West Virginia is the ancestral home of my maternal grandmother, born Osa Westfall, and her mother’s kin, the Trowbridge family of Kingwood in Preston County. I was determined to make the most of my visit and see as many of my ancestral places as possible in Lewis, Upshur and Preston Counties.
One day we were returning to Morgantown after visiting Kingwood and the Maplewood cemetery, the last resting place for several of my Trowbridge ancestors. The route we were on ran for several miles along Decker Creek, which empties into the Monongahela River just south of Morgantown. As we drove along, I remembered the story of the small settlement by the Decker brothers, their wives and children and other relatives along the then pristine creek that came to bear their name.
In September 2012, my daughter found a newspaper article in the archives at the state capitol in Charleston written by Glenn D. Lough and published in the Dominion-Post on March 24, 1968. The article was the first time that I saw any documentation at all for the story of the Decker Creek massacre. Mr. Lough used historical documents and interviews written by family members, mostly the Cox family, of men who were the immediate descendants of participants in the Decker settlement. He did not just accept the stories at face value, but did extensive research of records in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, which supported the story.
Most versions of the Decker settlement massacre come from, “Chronicles of Border Warfare” by Alexander Scott Withers, first published in 1831. Withers relied on the stories of elderly men who still survived in this part of western Virginia for his source material. The story he published gave an account that had become more legend than fact. Some historians even doubted that the massacre happened at all. Withers account has several factual errors that simply sound too fantastic to be true. However, his became the accepted history. One of the main discrepancies in Wither’s story was that Thomas Decker was the founder. There was no Thomas Decker; it was instead Tobias Decker and brother Garret. Mr. Lough set about to determine first, if the story was true. Second, what were the real facts? I have based my story below on Glenn Lough’s newspaper article printed in 1968.
Among the group
of men, women and children of the Decker settlement were
two Westfall brothers, William and Abel and their wives
and children. William was the brother-in-law of the Thorn
brothers, Tobias, Henry and Lazarus who were part of the
group. William and Abel were probably the sons of either
John Westfall (son of Cornelius and Elizabeth) or Jacob
and Judith (Hornbeck) Westfall. Their story also follows.
In 1757 the conflict between England and France, which we know as the French and Indian War was making life difficult for our families living in the northwestern regions of Virginia. In May of that year, a band of about twenty Indians with two Frenchmen launched a surprise attack on settlers living on the South Branch of the Potomac, near what is today Moorefield, West Virginia. The attackers murdered six men and captured George Delay before the Americans could mount a defense. The attackers took Delay with them as they retreated across the Allegheny Mountains.
Tobias Decker and brother Garret, David Morgan (brother of Zackquill Morgan, the founder of Morgantown) and several other men formed a militia band to revenge the slaughter. The Americans tracked the Indian band across the rugged mountains to the Cheat River where they overtook the marauders. In the ensuing gun battle, the militiamen killed seven of the Indians and one of the Frenchmen before the enemy escaped into the forest. On the dead Frenchman, they found French documents ordering attacks on English settlements on the frontier of Western Virginia.
The only casualty in the gun battle on the American side was George Delay, the man the Indians had kidnapped. He died of his injuries as a party of men carried him back over the mountains to his home on the South Branch. David Morgan, the Decker brothers and several others continued after the Indians and the remaining Frenchman as they fled deeper into the wilderness. The Americans lost the trail after tacking the enemy to Bingaman Creek on West Fork River, about seven or eight miles southwest of today’s Fairmont, West Virginia. The militiamen then hiked north along the Monongahela River and camped for two weeks at the mouth of Decker Creek. During this time, they scouted the area, hunted, gathered ginseng and explored the Decker Creek valley. It was during this peaceful lull after weeks of trailing their enemy that Tobias and Garret Decker decided to make a settlement on Decker Creek and encourage their relatives and friends to do the same.
The following year, in the spring of 1758 Tobias Decker gathered a group of men with their wives and children to go back to Decker Creek and build a settlement. In the group of maybe up to forty men, women and children were the Decker brothers Tobias and Garret. Others in the group were the Decker’s brother-in-law William Zern and his wife and children, Richard Falls and his wife and son, the brothers Tobias, Henry and Lazarus Thorn, their brother-in-law William Westfall, his brother Abel and both their wives and children, father and son Reuben and George Cox and a single man John Statler.
As soon as the settlers reached the spot Tobias Decker had chosen for his settlement, they set about raising their cabins and planting crops. They hunted for game, which was plentiful along the river and creek to supplement their diets with meat, and to carry them through until harvest time. During that year, these pioneers probably began to feel secure in their new home, especially after they brought in their first crop in the autumn of 1758. The year 1759 started out much like the previous year as the families planted their second crop. Unfortunate for the settlement, the Indians could easily spot the cabins from the river. The Monongahela River was the main route for Indian tribes living in Ohio and Pennsylvania used going to their hunting grounds in the river valley in western Virginia. The Indians probably knew about the settlers by the summer of 1758 or spring of 1759.
Just after the second harvest in October 1759, a band of about thirty Delaware and Mingo Indians struck the settlement on the afternoon of October 16th. Withers claims that William Westfall, who happened to be out of the village that afternoon, watched helplessly from the woods as the warriors attacked and killed his family and neighbors, including Mr. and Mrs. Decker.
In fact, the Indians slaughtered all of the livestock, burned the carcasses and the freshly harvested grain and put all of the cabins to the torch. The raiders completely destroyed the village and made it impossible for any survivors of the raid to live through another winter on Decker Creek. The Indians took one captive, William’s brother Abel. The Indians took Abel Westfall to one of their towns in Ohio. After the Treaty of Paris ended the French and Indian War, they released Abel and he returned to northern Virginia and the Westfall settlement on the South Branch of the Potomac.
The legend says that William Westfall, the only free survivor, walked to Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) to report the massacre. Some accounts of this disaster give widely different stories about survivors. The romantic legend claims that William and Abel Westfall were the only survivors. Historians say that, there were thirty-nine survivors and only eight actual fatalities among the settlers. This story of William walking to Fort Pitt is a myth.
Glenn Lough was able to clear up the mystery of survivors. Most of the men of the settlement were hunting along the West Fork River. Some were at the mouth of Ten Mile Creek and the trading post of John Owens. The rest were helping to clear land with the men of Frederick Ice’s settlement on the Cheat River. Most of the women and children were away from the settlement gathering pawpaws and nuts. In the settlement were only Tobias Decker, his wife and their two children, William and Mrs. Zern and Abel Westfall, his wife and son.
The records clearly show that some of the men named as part of the Decker Creek settlement did live beyond the French and Indian War and some even served during the American Revolution almost twenty years later. As to William and Abel Westfall, I am not able to identify them specifically in records of later periods. Those names do show up in the records of Hardy County, the Tygart Valley settlements and the founding of Beverly in Randolph County just prior to the American Revolution.
Ronald N. Wall
Modified: 03 September 2017