The following is from Thwaites, 1902:36-40, and is specific to Fort Dobbs, now Statesville, NC, but applies well enough to the stockaded forts of Southwest Virginia.
Upon the arrival of breathless messengers bringing news of the approach of hostile Indians, the men, women, and children of a wide district would flock into such a fort as this. “I well remember” says Dr. Doddridge in his Notes on Virginia, “that when a little boy the family were sometimes waked up in the dead of night by an express with a report that the Indians were at hand. The express came softly to the door or back window, and by gentle tapping waked the family; this was easily done, as an habitual fear made us ever watchful and sensible to the slightest alarm. The whole family were instantly in motion: my father seized his gun and other implements of war; my stepmother waked up and dressed the children as well as she could; and being myself the oldest of the children, I had to take my share of the burthens to be carried to the fort. There was no possibility of getting a horse in the night to aid us in removing to the fort; besides the little children, we caught up what articles of clothing and provisions we could get hold of in the dark, for we durst not light a candle or even stir the fire. All this was done with the utmost despatch and the silence of death; the greatest care was taken not to awaken the youngest child; to the rest it was enough to say Indian, and not a whimper was heard afterwards. Thus it often happened that the whole number of families belonging to a fort, who were in the evening at their homes, were all in their little fortress before the dawn of the next morning. In the course of the succeeding day their household furniture was brought in by parties of the men under arms.’‘
The large public frontier forts, such as we have described, did not house all of the backwoodsmen. There were some who, either because of great distance or other reasons, erected their own private defenses; or, in many cases, several isolated families united in such a structure. Often these were but single blockhouses, with a few outlying cabins. It was difficult to induce some of the more venturesome folk to enter the forts unless Indians were actually in the settlement; they took great risks in order to care for their crops and stock until the last moment; and, soon tiring of the monotony of life within the fort cabins, would often leave the refuge before the danger was really over. “Such families,’‘reports Doddridge, “gave no small amount of trouble by creating frequent necessities of sending runners to warn them of their danger, and sometimes parties of our men to protect them during their removal.’‘