Two Kentucky Forts Fell To British Forces 220 Years Ago

Defeat Of Ruddle's and Martin's Stations Were A
Low Point In State's Early History


By Martha Pelfrey - 2000

In 1780, along the South Fork of the Licking River in today's Harrison County, a drama unfolded on the cutting edge of the Kentucky frontier. At that time, Ruddle's and Martin's Stations held approximately 300 to 350 soldiers. The inhabitants from the surrounding areas had moved to the stations, because there had been warning signs of problems with the Indians.

In the spring of 1780, British Captain Henry Bird, of His Majesty's 8th Regiment of Foot, and about 150 soldiers and 100 local natives had set out from Detroit, with the assignment to clear Kentucky of settlements. They traveled from Fort Detroit down through Ohio, from the Great Miami River to the Ohio River and onto the Licking River, which enters the Ohio at the site of present-day Covington, Kentucky.

On the trek southward, a large number of Native Americans from the Ottawa, Huron, Shawnee, Chippewa, Delaware, and Mingo nations joined the party; thus, greatly outnumbering the British soldiers. Rare for a frontier raiding party was the three-pounder and the six-pounder cannons that accompanied the troops.

On June 24, 1780, the British-Native American raiding party arrived outside Ruddle's Station and demanded the surrender of the inhabitants. At the sight of the six-pounder cannon, the settlers knew a fight was useless, because a cannon of this size could smash the wooden fort. So, with a promise of humane treatment, protection against this large force of natives, and safe passage as prisoners of war to Detroit, a negotiation of surrender began.

However, while the agreement was being written, the native warriors rushed the gates of the fort, overpowered the soldiers, tomahawked and killed about 20 people, separated families, took captives of women and children, and looted belongings. The British, being greatly outnumbered, were helpless to assist the settlers.

Flush with the success of taking so much plunder and so many captives at Ruddle's Station, the party moved on to Martin's Station, a few miles to the southwest in today's Bourbon County. Again, the same fate befell that settlement. It, too, had surrendered, and while the agreement was being drawn up, the unruly group took prisoners and plundered the station.

On June 27th, the large party of prisoners was forced to march north, and on August 4th, it arrived in Detroit. It was not until the end of the Revolutionary War, in 1783, that many of those families were able to return to Kentucky and their families. Some were detained even longer, and some were never to return home.

220th Year Anniversary

This year marks the 220th anniversary of this event. On Saturday, June 24, 2000, descendants of the survivors will gather at Paris, Kentucky, to learn more about this tragic event, renew the family ties and friendships of their ancestors, have lunch together, and visit the site of these two former stations.


If you are interested in learning more about this celebration of our history, see the web page at http://www.shawhan.com/ruddlesfort.html or e-mail: [email protected] You may also write to the author at: M. Pelfrey, 3 Darrma Court, Cold Spring, KY 41076.


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