Construction of Fort Lee in 1788 was made possible by George Clendenin, along with thirty other rangers who formed the first permanent settlement in what would later be known as Charleston. The fort was built on land that was purchased by Clendenin, who named it that in honor of General Richard Light Horse Harry Lee. The fort site was an excellent spot for canoeing and offered vantage points up and downstream. When completed in May 1788, the fort was 36 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 18 feet high with a log stockade surrounding it. The fort offered protection to the settlers in the area, but Indians were still a threat until at least 1794. A famous story from the fort claims that while Indians laid siege to the fort in 1790 a woman named Mad Anne Bailey purportedly ran ammunition to the fort all the way from Lewisburg. In 1796, George Clendenin sold the fort property to Joseph Ruffner. John P. Hale bought the lot in 1872 and moved the log fort, which burned down in 1891.
permanent settlement in what would become Charleston was established by an
Irish immigrant, George Clendenin in 1788. Others had tried to settle the land
prior to Clendenin, but were not successful. George was the son of Charles
Clendenin, for whom Charleston, WV is named after. Cuthbert Bullitt sold George
Clendenin the 1,030 acre piece of property in 1787, and Clendenin formed a
company of rangers with intent of frontier defense so that he could establish a
settlement along the Kanawha River. The location of Fort Lee was about 125 feet
above what is now the intersection of Brooks Street and Kanawha Boulevard.
Originally known as Clendenin’s Fort, Fort Lee was completed in
May of 1788 and was enclosed by a stockade stretching 250 feet by 175 feet. The
central structure of the fort belonged to George and his family, and was a
two-story hewn-log building considered to be both bullet and arrow proof. The
“Mansion House” building was 36 feet by 18 feet, had chimneys at each end, and
had two rooms on both the first and second floor. The rangers that accompanied
Clendenin established a blockade a mile above the fort, which was where
Clendenin’s brother lived. The majority of the rangers were among the first
permanent residents of Charleston. In 1972, the fort was renamed Fort Lee in
honor of Robert E. Lee’s father, Governor Richard Henry Lee.
After the establishment of Fort Lee, Clendenin convinced the state
legislature to form Kanawha County from land then owned by Greenbrier and
Montgomery counties. The first county court was housed in the Mansion House,
while the first session was held on October 5th, 1789. The justices present at
the first session decided to establish a court house at the mouth of the Elk
River. Clendenin’s establishment of Fort Lee guaranteed him a permanent
position in local government, and was deemed the county lieutenant. In 1790,
Clendednin and Andrew Donnally Sr. became the Kanawha County representative for
the Virginia House of Delegates.
Fort Lee was established on land belonging to Native Americans
prior to the treaty of Fort Stanwix that once again opened up the
trans-Allegheny region to settlement. Once the Native Americans noticed the new
settlement in the Kanawha River Valley, they began to retaliate to prove that
they would not be moved easily. A local legend was created with one of the
attacks on Fort Lee. “Mad” Anne Bailey was widowed during the battle of Point
Pleasant and after began to wear men’s clothing and drink whiskey to ease her
pain. Legend has it that Bailey saved Fort Lee during an attack by riding her
horse back to the Greenbrier settlement, obtaining gunpowder, and rushing it
back in time to defeat the attackers.
Joseph Ruffner purchase Fort Lee from the Clendenin brothers in
1796, which shortly fell into disrepair. The blockhouse was purchased by John
P. Hale in 1872, and moved the structure. On April 1st, 1891, the blockade
house belonging to Fort Lee was destroyed by fire. There is a table constructed
from the remains of the structure in the State Department of Archives and History.