Dale was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia to Scotch-Irish parents from Pennsylvania. As a boy, both he and his parents moved many times with westward border expansion, most notably in 1775 and 1783. With the death of his parents in December 1792, he was responsible for the welfare of eight younger children. From 1793–96 he served as a United States Government scout. He abandoned work as a trader between Savannah, Georgia and the border settlements and as a mill owner-operator to guide immigrants into Mississippi, over Native American lands.
Dale was present in 1811 when Tecumseh enlisted local Alabama Native Americans to fight against Americans, during his campaign to establish a pan-Indian confederacy. He was involved in many of these confrontations, particularly in 1814, when he served as a courier bringing documents to Andrew Jackson in New Orleans, from Georgia in just eight days.
"General Dale, as a scout, a pilot to the emigrants who blazed the first path through the Creek nation, from Georgia to Tombigby, with arms in there hands, and subsequently, as a spy among the Spaniards, at Pensacola, and as a partisan officer, during the most sanguinary epochs of the late war(1813 First Creek War - Red Stick War), present at every butchery, remarkable for "hair-breadth 'scapes," for caution and coolness in desperate emergencies, for exhibitions of gigantic personal strength and great moral courage, his story is studded over with spirit-stirring incidents, unsurpassed by any thing in legend or history. His celebrated 'canoe fight,' where, in the Alabama river, he, with Smith and Austill, fought nine warriors, with clubbed rifles, killed them all, and rowed to shore, would be thought fabulous, if it had not been witnessed by many soldiers, standing upon the banks, who could render them no assistance. Some years before, he was attacked by two warriors, who shouted their war-whoop, as he was kneeling down to drink, and rushed upon him with their tomahawks. He knifed them both, and, though bleeding from five wounds, he retraced their trail nine miles, crept stealthily to their camp, brained three sleeping warriors and cut the thongs of a female prisoner, who lay by their side. While in this act, however, a fourth sprang upon him, from behind a log. Taken at such a disadvantage, and exhausted by the loss of blood, he sank under the serpent-grasp of the savage, who, with a yell of triumph, drew his knife, and, in a few moments, would have closed the contest. At that instant, however, the woman drove a tomahawk deep into the head of the Indian, and thus preserved the life of her deliverer." From "History of Alabama, and incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi, from the earliest period, Volume II" by Albert James Pickett, 1851
Dale was elected to the first Alabama General Assembly in 1817, serving until 1829. As a legislator and distinguished veteran brigadier general, he and four other men received the visiting Marquis de Lafayette of France into Alabama. A decade later, he was accidentally injured and was not able to carry out the illegal (against a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court) forced relocation of the local Choctaw-speaking Indians the complete distance from Alabama and Mississippi to their assigned territories in Oklahoma. General Dale was the first elected member of the Mississippi House of Representatives to come from Lauderdale County, Mississippi. He next visited Washington, D.C., to request compensation for the supplies that were bought for his troops. He was disappointed when he received no recognition from the Federal Government.
General Dale died in Lauderdale County, Mississippi, in 1841, and Dale County, Alabama, has received his name.
- Johnson, Allen & Malone, Dumas, eds. Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1959.
- Johnson, Allen; Dumas Malone, eds. (1959). Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
- Pickett, Albert James (1851). History of Alabama, and Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi, from the earliest period, Volume II. Charleston: Walker and James. pp. 316–317.