WILLIAMSBURG, W.Va. -- When William and Agnes Nancy McCoy arrived in the Sinking Creek Valley of Greenbrier County from Eastern Virginia in 1769, they found a spring bubbling out of a cave, forming a creek that disappeared into the ground a few hundred yards downstream.
They must have envisioned grassy pastures and grazing cattle on the valley floor stretched out before them and on the gentle slopes surrounding the spring. By the time the year ended, they had built a log home on a knoll overlooking the natural font.
The McCoys were part of a second wave of white settlement in the Greenbrier Valley region of what is now West Virginia. Pioneer families began moving into the area in the 1750s, but were driven out by repeated attacks by American Indians during the French and Indian War. After the war ended in 1763, settlers began returning to the Greenbrier country, this time more aware of the likelihood their presence would be challenged by the region's native people.
The McCoys built their two-story home of large hand-hewn logs, sturdy enough, they hoped, for its occupants to survive an Indian attack.
As it turned out, their fortified home, known later as Fort McCoy, not only withstood an attack by American Indians in 1778, but endured the ravages of time, as well. Decades after the fear of Indian attack ended, the log structure was incorporated into the construction plans for a large barn built on the site when McCoy's descendants built a new home a short distance away.
From about 1850 until earlier this year, the former fort served as a storage shed inside the barn, but a tornado in 2006 and last year's derecho severely damaged the old barn to the point of imminent collapse. In 2012, the building was included on the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia's "Most Endangered Properties" list.
The Williamsburg District Historic Foundation acquired the barn and a small tract of adjacent land. Earlier this year, the foundation demolished most of the barn and disassembled the fort inside, saving and numbering its log components for planned re-assembly as an interpretive roadside exhibit.
At that time, the 1769 building was the oldest standing fort in the Greenbrier Valley, where a network of more than 30 similar forts and blockhouses protected settlers during the last half of the 18th century.
"The idea was to have a series of neighborhood forts, built six to 10 miles apart, that would give settlers a place to protect themselves if Native Americans attacked," said Dr. Kim McBride, a Greenbrier County native and now co-director of the Kentucky Archeological Survey.
This past summer, Boy Scouts attending the National Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve helped archaeologists led by McBride begin a sub-surface survey of the fort site. Last week, eighth-graders from Greenbrier County schools helped continue that work, carefully scraping through layers of soil to uncover features, and sifting through that soil to identify artifacts.
"One of the questions we're trying to answer now is whether this building was surrounded by a stockade," a ring of vertical logs anchored in the ground outside the fort, McBride said. "Some of the forts had stockades, while other, smaller, forts were sometimes just the stronger long houses in an area. We know from the work with the Boy Scouts that no stockade connected into this building, but maybe there was one surrounding it."
William McCoy, a lieutenant in the Virginia militia, saw combat during the 1774 Battle of Point Pleasant. During the Revolutionary War, he helped organize defenses in the Greenbrier Valley to protect settlers from attack by the British and their American Indian allies.
On May 29, 1778, Fort Donnally, located one mountain ridge and seven miles away from Fort McCoy, was attacked by a force of more than 50 Wyandot warriors from the Sandusky area of Northern Ohio. About 60 women and children were "forted-up" at Donnally at the time of the attack, along with 20 militiamen and several of Donnally's slaves. One of the slaves, Dick Pointer, fought off the initial attack with the help of a white servant, and managed to awaken the fort's other occupants before another attack could be mounted.
Seventeen Indians were killed in what turned out to be a daylong siege. Following their defeat, the Wyandot divided into smaller groups and either returned home or raided other settlements in the area.