Russell Whalen, Robert Hill Indian Fort site

Russell Whalen works to preserve the Robert Hill Indian Fort site on Christian Heritage Academy’s campus in Rocky Mount.

Preservation work is continuing at the Robert Hill Indian Fort site on the Christian Heritage Academy campus in Rocky Mount with the assistance of a grant from the Virginia Daughters of the American Revolution heritage organization.

The current grant is the second secured from the state DAR to assist in this ongoing project, which is a cooperative effort between Franklin County Historical Society, Virginia’s Old Carolina Road Chapter DAR and CHA.

Master mason Russell Whalen of the Wade’s Gap section of Boones Mill is restoring part of a back wall of the original structure. Earlier work included rebuilding a portion of the front wall and stabilizing the existing original wall. Rocks from the original fort are being used for the project.

The Historical Society seeks to preserve and interpret this historic site for future generations. The old blockhouse/fort is known as the Robert Hill Indian Fort due to its fortified composition. It was built circa 1743 by Robert Hill to protect his family and neighbors in times of Indian unrest.

Hill and his extended family walked here from Pennsylvania 43 years before Franklin County was formed — 33 years before the American Revolution — and before the establishment of the United States of America with the 1783 peace treaty.

Two Hill sons, Swinfield and Thomas, would be soldiers in the Revolutionary War and Robert Hill’s wife Violet would become a patriot providing material aid to soldiers. Robert himself would die in 1777, a year into the Revolution, and did not serve.

There are varied thoughts, name spellings and more about this family, however, the generally accepted facts are that Robert Hill was born in Ireland about 1713 and came to Pennsylvania, where he married Violet Linus. They and members of their extended families traveled the Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia to the split where it became what we now know as “The Old Carolina Road.” They are thought to have been heading to the Carolinas, where many early settlers went to begin new lives.

For whatever reason, they stopped off in the area that would become Franklin County. They literally carved home sites out of a wilderness, probably squatting for a time until Robert began to amass large land holdings. The important thing is that the Hills did stay, becoming a part of the fabric of the evolving nation, and played a large part in the founding of the nation and county.

The “Indian Fort” was never manned by the military but was “fortified” – built of thick walls using rocks from the river nearby. Despite the precautions of building a strong fortress, the Hill family did suffer tragedy when one Hill son was shot by an Indian’s arrow as he stood in the doorway of the blockhouse. Family tradition has another son killed by an Indian’s arrow in the vicinity of Bald Knob. He was buried near where he fell, which is today the Tanyard Cemetery adjacent to the National Guard Armory.

Robert Hill, who had been a rock mason in Pennsylvania, amassed large areas of land. His holdings extended down Virginia 40, U.S. 220 South and over a large portion of today’s Town of Rocky Mount. Patents (or deeds) to land in his name continued to come in for several years after his death due to the long process of obtaining ownership.

Historical markers have been installed at the fort site recognizing Hill family members’ community service. A planned ceremony to dedicate the final marker, for Violet Hill, has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A new date is yet to be determined.

A project book, wooden shelf sitters and drawings of the latter day house on the fort site are sold by the Historical Society to help fund the project. Many people and organizations have donated to the preservation effort. Donations still are needed and encouraged to help complete the work. Interested people may send donations of any amount to Franklin County Historical Society, P.O. Box 905, Rocky Mount, VA 24151. For additional information, contact or call 483-1890.

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