Saturday, March 16, 2013

Thriller Thursday - The Roark Massacre - Sanford Line

James Roark was a first-generation American of Irish descent born in Virginia in 1740.  Marrying in about 1764, he and his wife built a log cabin and started their family in Tazewell County, Virginia.  Their home was at the gap of the dividing ridge between the Clinch and Sandy Rivers where Dry Fork Road passes through.  Today this is at the intersection of State Routes 631 and 637 (see link to map below).  This spot came to be called Roark’s Gap, no doubt in memory of what happened to the Roarks on March 18, 1780.

The harsh winter had not yet snapped in the Baptist Valley of southwest Virginia, and the ground was covered with snow.  Indian predations had been halted since the previous summer when the neighboring Evans family had been massacred by the Shawnee, so James had probably become secure in the relative tranquility of the area.  Because of the long, hard winter, even those pioneers who had livestock were finding that little meat was still available, so James was compelled to set out that morning with his two older sons to hunt for their provisions. 

 However, as Robert Burns once wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men gang oft agley,” and so it was that Thursday morning.  Upon their return, the three hunters discovered that, contrary to their expectations, the Shawnee were, in fact, on the move again in the area, and the worst imaginable disaster had taken place.  In their attack on the Roark home, the Indians had killed and scalped Mrs. Roark and all of her small children.  The best account of the incident indicates that seven children were killed, though names are not provided.  It was originally stated that the Roarks’ baby girl had survived, but, if so, she is thought to have died soon after as there is no further written record of this child. 
Today we probably cannot even begin to imagine how a man could dig eight graves in frozen mountain ground and bury his family and his hopes.  Too distraught to remain living in the cabin where the massacre had occurred, Roark built another home on a strip of land he owned somewhat nearer the river, but "settling" was really no longer an option for him.   Much like Lewis Wetzel, "Dark Hero of the Ohio" (left), Roark and his oldest son, John, devoted themselves to revenge and involved themselves in a number of fights with the Shawnee and other tribes until they were killed in an encounter at Harman’s Station in Block House Bottom of (then) Floyd County, Kentucky.

The fate of Roark’s eleven-year-old son Timothy is told in a separate narrative entitled “Timothy Roark’s Escape from the Shawnee,” The Kith and Kin Chronicles, 16 March 2013.


“Michael K. Hendrix Family.” 27 Mar 2005  Web.  16 Mar. 2013. <>

 Pendleton, William Cecil.  History of Tazewell County and Southwest Virginia:1748-1920.  Web. 16 March 2013.

Truman, Timothy.  Image of Lewis Wetzel, Indian Fighter.  "Lewis Wetzel, Dark Hero of the Ohio." Archiving Early America.  1997.  Web.  17 Mar. 2013.  Used with permission. <>  

Vanderlyn, John.  The Death of Jane McCrea.  1804.  11 Mar. 2013.  Web.  17 Mar. 2013.  <>

© Eileen Cunningham, 2013


  1. I love to hear this. I come from Timothy Roark.

  2. James Roark is my 3rd great grandfather. I'm wondering about the picture on here. Is that supposed to be a painting depicting Jerusha, or is it just a random picture?

  3. The picture of the frontiersman is said to be a picture of Lewis Wetzel.

  4. The picture at the top right is representative of the theme.

  5. The picture at the top right is representative of the theme.

  6. The picture of the frontiersman is said to be a picture of Lewis Wetzel.


Robert Stewart, 1st Earl of Orkney and Lord of Shetland

Robert Stewart (1553-1593) Robert Stewart, Earl of Caithness and Orkney (1553-93),  was a natural son of King James V of Scotland by E...