Murder of a Van Metre Family
This is the true story of the Murder of a Van Metre Family. This John Van Metre was the son of Henry and Eva (Pyle) Van Metre, and grandson of John and Margaret (Mollenaur) Van Metre. He and his family at one time lived at Van Metre Fort on Short Creek in Ohio County, Virginia (now West Virginia), but in 1789 he lived on a farm nearby where the Indians attacked.
There are several accounts about this incident. Some with a few differing details, one being the number of infants killed with his wife at the cabin: one story says one infant, another says two young sons. Also what the father, John, was doing while away from the cabin: some say he was at a neighbors cutting Flax. This one says he was doing a house-raising. The rest of the story is fairly consistent.
The following account is an excerpt from “History of the Upper Ohio Valley”, Vol. I, page 102, 1890.1 I have formatted it for easier reading and added a couple of headings. My changes / comments are in Brackets [like this].
Table of Contents
1783 - The Murder and Kidnapping
An event which occurred during this year, 1783, and which aroused the indignation of the settlers to a high pitch of excitement was the murder of a portion of the Van Metre family. The following account has been furnished to us by Vincent H. Van Metre, Esq., a descendant of the family now [1891?] living near West Liberty, in Ohio county, W. Va:
In this year , the wife, an infant child and a daughter fifteen years of age, all of the family of John Van Metre, were wantonly and cruelly murdered by a roving band of Indians during the absence of the father at a house-raising.
The wife and child were deliberately butchered at the door of her house. The girl was engaged in washing clothes at a spring some distance from the house, and had on a sun-bonnet, which prevented her from discovering the approach of the stealthy savage before he was upon her, and who tomahawked her while she was in the act of bending over the spring. When the Indians gathered around her as she lay on the ground in the rigidity of death and gazed upon her mute, but young and lovely countenance, even their hard, stern hearts relented and lamented the sad result, saying, “she would have made a pretty squaw.” The information of the expression of their regret at her taking off, was subsequently communicated by the renegade, Simon Girty, who was with the party who committed the murders, to a prisoner who, after his exchange, told it to one of the members of the family.
Three of Mr. Van Metre’s sons, aged respectively, eleven, eight and six years, were at the time playing in a field near to the house, but discovered the Indians in time to attempt an escape in which two of them succeeded, but John, the youngest, not being so active as his brothers, while in the act of mounting a fence was caught and carried away by them.
While these events were transpiring, Mrs. John Spahr, a niece of Mrs. Van Metre, was on her way to visit her aunt. When nearing the house she observed feathers flying in the air, which aroused her suspicions that something was wrong, which were confirmed by more closely observing the surroundings which, clearly to her eye, indicated the presence of Indians. Instantly reaching her hand under the neck of her horse she grasped the clapper of the bell which was suspended therefrom, and held it while she urged her beast to its utmost speed in the contrary direction, and was thus the first one to convey the intelligence of the presence of the red men.
After securing a quantity of bed clothes and other articles, they set fire to the cabin and then made off toward the river with their plunder, and were safely on the western side of it before any organized pursuit could be made to overtake them.
The place where this tragedy occurred is now [1891?] owned and occupied by Eugene Ridgely, being the same farm formerly owned by one Matthews, and is situated on the waters of Short creek, about four miles southwest of West Liberty.
Several years after the murder of his family he married the widow of Mr. John Beekey [Bukey], who was an early emigrant from New Jersey to Western Virginia. Mrs. Beekey [Bukey] had four daughters by her first marriage, named respectively, Mary, Marcy, Jemima and Susan. Mary, the eldest, became the wife of Maj. John McColoch, a brother of the famous Maj. Samuel McColloch, the border scout and hero of the celebrated leap; Marcy, the second daughter, married Col. Harmon Greenhouse, a noted frontiersman, and resided for many years in Lexington, Ky.; Susan, the third one, married John Roland, who resided at West Liberty, Ohio, Co., Va., and Jemima the fourth, became the wife of the Rev. Joseph Doddridge, of Wellsburgt, Brooke Co., W.l Va., the celebrated author of “Notes on western Virginia.” One child was the issue of Mr. Van Meters second marriage, whose name was Sarah. She married Mr. Robert Patterson, of Wheeling, Va., who died a few years since.
1805 - John Van Metre Jr. Found
Some time in the year 1805 a party of Wyandot Indians, from the northern part of the state of Ohio, were on a trading and hunting expedition to the southern part of that state, when they stopped on their return at a trading post, which had been erected and was controlled by Isaac Zane, near the site where the city of Columbus now stands. Mr. Zane had, for a number of years, been a prisoner among the Wyandots, and was well versed in their language and habits, he was engaged in conversing with some of them in their own Tongue, while other white men standing around were talking with some who could speak English. One of the Indians, as he took him to be, addressed Mr. Zane, speaking in broken English and said: “Mr John Metre.” Upon inquiry concerning him, an Indian volunteered to give the desired information about him, and an account of the circumstances attending the capture of the person who had addressed him.
After a time they left and continued their journey. Mr. Zane whom was acquainted with the Van Metre family, at once communicated with them, giving an account of the interview he had had with John Van Metre, for it was no other a person than he, the same who had been captured by them at the time of their making the incursion in the settlements, in the year 1783, and enquiring as to the facts connected with the capture of young Van Metre and the circumstances, and stated that the Indians contemplated returning in about six weeks and that they could see him on that occasion at this spot.
Mr. van Metre, the father, was still living, but was unable at the time to make the journey, and perhaps entertained doubts whether it really was his son. But he sent his two sons at the time when Mr. Zane informed him that the party was expected to return, with instructions that if it was their brother, that they were to urge him to return home and take up a civilized life. But if they could not prevail on hm to return and remain permanent, they were to persuade him, if possible, to visit his parents and his old home.
They arrived at the spot about the same time that the Indians did, and saw John and were convinced of his identity, while he, himself was convinced of the identity of his brothers. But it was with great reluctance and hesitation that he could be prevailed upon to accompany his brothers to return. They represented to him, among other arguments, that their father was a cripple and could not visit him, but that he was young and strong and could easily go to his father, moreover, they portrayed before him the pleasure it would give his aged parent to see him once again. The efforts made by the brothers to induce him to accompany them were seconded by Mr. zane. Finally he consented. In the company there were six or seven squaws, one of whom was John’s wife who, when the determination of John was made known to her, opposed it most strenuously until upon being informed that she could accompany him, yielded her opposition.
At length they started on their journey for Virginia, John and his wife and. His two brothers. That night they camped in the forest, but on arising next morning one of their number was missing. John’s wife had decamped during the night while they slept. He was exceedingly vexed at the discovery. The brothers urged him to continue without her, but he sternly refused. Collecting a bunch of twigs from spice bushes growing there, he stuck each twig on end in the ground, making with them a circle, inside of which he enkindled a fire, and taking a pouch from his person which he said contained a powerful medicine, he sprinkled some of it in the flames and indulged in mysterious incantations and indescribable movements and gyrations, during all of which time he hovered closely over the fire, while his dilated eyes seemed almost ready to burst from their sockets. Suddenly raising himself to an erect posture and straightening himself to his full stature, he announced that his wife would overtake and reach her party in safety, that that her feet would be very sick. After this mysterious performance he announced his readiness to continue his journey, and, in company with his brothers, cheerfully proceeded the remainder of the distance without manifesting any further reluctance.
Hi visit extended over a period of several weeks, but he resisted all appeals to abandon his Indian mode of life and return to his own people. While he seemed much gratified in once again meeting his father, and appeared to enjoy his visit, yet his restlessness and anxiety grew upon him. To such a degree that he could no longer restrain his instincts, but, yielding to their influence, he surprised them all one day by unexpectedly saying, “good-bye,” and bounded away out fo sight at the top of his speed. In the course of two or three years after his unceremonious departure, he made another visit to his early home, remaining, on this last occasion, for some five or six weeks, at the end of which period he again took his departure in much the same manner in which he did on the occasion of the first. In the meantime, however, his father had died. This was his last visit, for shortly after his return to his tribe he died.
Who was Simon Girty?
During the Revolutionary War, Simon Girty served as an interpreter between the British and their Native American allies. American troops considered him a traitor. Girty eventually joined a group of renegade Native Americans. They terrorized white settlers and peddled their scalps to the British for $10 a piece.2
About John Van Metre
John Van Metre was the son of Henry and Eva (Pyle) Van Metre and grandson of John Van Metre .. Born in Virginia, most likely Frederick County, Virginia (now Martinsburg, Berkeley County, West Virginia) in about 1738 and died in Ohio County, or Brooke County, Virginia, about 1806.
John is most likely the Captain John Van Metre who was recorded as being at Beech Bottom, above Wheeling, in 1789.
He first married Rebecca (unknown surname) sometime before 1768; and second married Mrs. Jemima (Dunn) Bukey, widow of John Bukey and mother of Zachariah Bukey, in 1784.
“Several years after the murder of his family John Van Metre married the widow of Mr. John Beekey [Bukey], who was an early emigrant from New Jersey to Western Virginia. Mrs. Beekey [Bukey] had four daughters by her first marriage, named respectively, Mary, Marcy, Jemima and Susan. Mary, the eldest, became the wife of Maj. John McColloch, a brother of the famous Maj. Samuel McColloch, the border scout and hero of the celebrated leap; Marcy, the second daughter, married Col. Harmon Greenhouse, a noted frontiersman, and resided for many years in Lexington, Ky.; Susan, the third one, married John Roland, who resided at West Liberty, Ohio, Co., Va., and Jemima the fourth, became the wife of the Rev. Joseph Doddridge, of Wellsburgt, Brooke Co., W.l Va., the celebrated author of “Notes on Western Virginia.” One child was the issue of Mr. Van Meters second marriage, whose name was Sarah. She married Mr. Robert Patterson, of Wheeling, Va., who died a few years since.”3
“She [Jemima Bukey] was appointed administrator of the will of her former husband, 6 July, 1778; Joseph [Van Metre?] was one of the appraisers of his estate. John Van Metre was granted land by his father, ante 1779, in Berkeley Co., Va., adjoining other lands owned by his brother Isaac and known as Flagg’s mIll; the latter was erected at the mouth of the Tuscarara as it empties into the Potomac, two miles from Martinsburg, W. Va. When Bedford Co., Pa., was organized in 1771 it was of disputed Virginia territory.
John Van Metre was then living in Rosstraevor Township, near his uncle, Jacob Van Metre; here he was rated as taxable. The Virginia-Pennsylvania boundary controversy was settled in 1783 and Washington Co., Pa., was erected out of Bedford County in that year. Rosstraevor Township fell within the limits of the newly created county and John Van Metre’s domicile was located near where Waynesburg, Greene Co., Pa., now stands; he had at this time 300 acres of land and a family of nine persons. A John Van Metre on view of road from Providence Mount’s Mill at Augsburg Ferry to catfish Camp (Augusta-town), was appointed by the August Court 22 February. 1775 (Ann. Carnegie Mus., Vol. I., p. 527). During the period of his residence on the Pennsylvania frontier John Van Metre was very active in the military movements against the Indians. he was appointed ensign of militia of Yohogania Co. (Va.), 28 June, 1779 (Yohogania Court Journal). he commanded a company of Westmoreland Rangers and is variously mentioned in connection with the militia on the western waters between the yers 1778-1783. Also a John Van Metre, Jr., was a member of the Stokeley Rangers during the same period (Penna. Arch., 3d Ser.’ Draper’s Notes; Wither’s Chronicles, and Kercheval’s History of the Valley, 2d ed., p. 204). The records of warrantees for land in Washington Co., Pa., show that John Van Metre, Sr., had 300 acres surveyed to him; and a similar amount to John Van Metre, Jr., in Bedford County, in 1784. John Van Metre later removed with his family to the Ohio country, settling near where Wellsburg, Brook Co, W. Va., now stands, and is supposed to be identical with the Captain John Van Metre who was recorded as being at Beech Bottom, above Wheeling, in 1789.”4 [Rostraver township, Pennsylvania is about 25 miles southeast of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.]
- Murder of a Van Metre Family - History of the Upper Ohio Valley Vol 1, 1890 History of the Upper Oho Valley, Volume 1, Brant & Fuller, Gibson Lamb Cranmer, 1891, page 102 Accessed online at Google Books: https://www.google.com/books/edition/History_of_the_Upper_Ohio_Valley_with_Fa/csoxAQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=John+Van+Metre+family+wantonly+murdered+by+indians&pg=PA102&printsec=frontcover Accessed 16 April 2023)
- Simon Girty (17411-1818) Burough of West View, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania website (Accessed 25 April 2023).
- History of the Upper Ohio Valley, Vol I, 1890, pp. 102-103, Online at Google Books.
- Samuel Gordon Smyth, A Genealogy of the Duke-Shepherd-Van Metre family, pp. 59-60. Online at ancestry.com.