Chapter I - Exploration and Settlement

History of Hampshire County West Virginia From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present
By Hu Maxwell and H. L. Swisher
Morgantown, West Virginia; A. Brown Boughner Printer; 1897

PART 1. State History
Pages 13-22

It is impossible to say when and where the first white man set foot on the soil of what is now West Virginia. In all probability no record was ever made of the first visit. It is well known that adventurers always push into new countries in advance of organized exploring parties; and it is likely that such was the case with West Virginia when it was only an unnamed wilderness. Probably the Indians who waged war with the early colonists of Virginia carried prisoners into this region on their hunting excursions. But there is no record of this, and history deals with records and not conjecture. Sixty-five years were required for the colonists of Virginia to become superficially acquainted with the country as far west as the Blue Ridge, which, until June 1670, was the extreme limit of explorations in that direction. The distance from Jamestown, the first colony, to the base of the Blue Ridge, was two hundred miles. Nearly three-quarters of a century was required to push the outposts of civilization two hundred miles, and that, too, across a country favorable for exploration, and with little danger from Indians during most of the time. In later years the outposts of civilization moved westward, at an average yearly rate of seventeen miles. The people of Virginia were not satisfied to allow the Blue Ridge to remain the boundary between the known and unknown countries; and, in 1670, sixty-three years after the first settlement in the state, the governor of Virginia sent out an exploring party with instructions to cross the mountains of the west, seek for silver and gold, and try to discover a river flowing into the Pacific ocean. Early in Jane of that year, 1670, the explorers forced the heights of the Blue Ridge which they found steep and rocky, and descended into the valley west of that range. They discovered a overflowing due north, as far as they could see. The observations arid measurements made by these explorers perhaps satisfied the royal governor who sent them out; but their accuracy may be questioned. They reported that the river which they had discovered was four hundred and fifty yards wide; its banks in most places one thousand yards high. Beyond the river they said they could see towering mountains destitute of trees, and crowned by white cliffs, hidden much of the time in mist, but occasionally clearing sufficiently to give a glimpse of their ruggedness. They expressed the opinion that those unexplored mountains might contain silver and gold. They made no attempt to cross the river, but set out on their return. From their account of the broad river and its banks thousands of feet high, one might suppose that they had discovered the Canyon of the Colorado; but it was only New River, the principal tributary of the Kanawha. The next year, 1671, the governor of Virginia sent explorers to continue the work, and they remained a considerable time in the valley of New River. If they penetrated as far as. the present territory of West Virginia, which is uncertain, they probably crossed the line into what is now Monroe or Mercer counties.

Forty-five years later, 1716, Governor Spotswood of Virginia led an exploring party over the Blue Ridge, across the Shenandoah river and to the summit of the Allegheny mountains near the source of the South branch of the Potomac. It is probable that the territory of West Virginia was entered on that occasion in what is now Pendleton county. It would be unreasonable to suppose that these exploring parties were the real pioneers of West Virginia. Baring hunters, traders and adventurers no doubt were by that time somewhat acquainted with the geography of the eastern part of the state. Be that as it may, the actual settlement of the counties of Jefferson, Berkeley, Morgan, Hampshire and Hardy was now near at hand. The gap in the Blue Ridge at Harpers Ferry, made by the Potomac breaking through that range, was soon discovered, and through that rocky gateway the early settlers found a path into the valley of Virginia, whence some of them ascended the Shenandoah to Winchester paid above, and others continued up the Potomac, occupying Jefferson county and in succession the counties above; and before many years there were settlements on the South branch of the Potomac. It is known that the South branch was explored within less than nine years after Governor Spotswood's expedition, and within less than thirteen years there were settlers in that country.

Lord Fairfax claimed the greater part of the territory in what is now the eastern panhandle of West Virginia; that is, he claimed the territory now embraced in the counties of Jefferson, Berkeley, Morgan, Hampshire, Hardy and Grant. But his boundary lines had never been run. The grant called for a line drawn from the head of the Potomac to the head of the Rappahannock. Several years passed before it could be ascertained where the fountains of these streams were. An exploring party traced the Potomac to its source in the year 1736, and on December 14 of that year ascertained and marked the spot where the rainfall divides, part flowing into the Potomac and part into Cheat river on the west. This spot was selected as the corner of Lord Fairfax's land; and on October 17, 1746, a stone was planted there to mark the spot and has ever since been called the Fairfax stone. It stands at the corner of two states, Maryland and West Virginia, and of four counties, Garrett, Preston, Tucker and Grant. It is about half a mile north of the station of Fairfax, on the West Virginia Central and Pittsburg railroad, at an elevation of three thousand two hundred and sixteen feet above sea level.

George Washington spent the summers of three years surveying the estate of Lord Fairfax, partly in West Virginia. He began the work in 1748, when he was sixteen, and persecuted it with ability and industry. There were other surveyors employed in the work as well as he. By means of this occupation he became acquainted with the fertility and resources of the new country, and he afterwards became a large land holder in West Virginia, one of his holdings lying as far west as the Kanawha. His knowledge of the country no doubt had something to do with the organization of the Ohio company in 1749 which was granted 500,000 acres between the Monongahela and the Kanawha. Lawrence Washington, a half brother of George Washington, was a member of the Ohio company. The granting of land in this western country no doubt had its weight in hastening the French and Indian war of 1755, by which England acquired possession of the Ohio valley. The war would have come sooner or later, and England would have secured the Ohio valley in the end, and it would have passed ultimately to the United States; but the events were hastened by Lord Fairfax's sending the youthful Washington to survey his lands near the Potomac. While engaged in this work, Washington frequently met small parties of friendly Indians. The presence of these natives was not a rare thing in the South Branch country. Trees are still pointed out as the corners or lines of surveys made by Washington.

About this time the lands on the Greenbrier river were attracting attention. A large grant was made to the Greenbrier company; and in 1749 and 1750 John Lewis surveyed this region, and settlements sprang up in a short time. The land was no better than the more easily accessible land east of the Alleghany mountains; but the spirit of adventure which has always been characteristic of the American people, led the daring pioneers into the wilderness west of the mountains, and from that time the outposts of settlements moved down the Greenbrier and the Kanawha, and in twenty-two years had reached the Ohio river. The frontiersmen of Greenbrier were always foremost in repelling Indian attacks, and in carrying the war into the enemy's country.

The eastern counties grew in population, and within a dozen years after their settlement there was an organized church on the South branch, with regular monthly meetings at Opequon. Prior to the outbreak of the French and Indian war in 1755, there were settlements all along the Potomac river, not only in Jefferson, Berkeley and Hampshire, but also in Hardy, Grant and. Pendleton counties. It is, of course, understood that these counties, as now named, were not in existence at that time.

The Alleghany mountains served as a barrier for awhile to keep back the tide of emigration from the part of the state lying west of that range; but when peace was restored after the French and Indian war the western valleys soon had their settlements. Explorations had made the country fairly well known prior to this time as far west as the Ohio. Immense tracts of land had been granted in that wilderness, and surveyors had been sent to mark the lines. About the time of the survey of the Greenbrier country, the Ohio company sent Christopher Gist to explore its lands already granted and to examine West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky for choice locations in view of obtaining future grants. Mr. Gist, a noted character of his time, and a companion of Washington a few years later, performed his task well, and returned with a report satisfactory to his employers. He visited Ohio and Kentucky, and on his return passed up the Kanawha and New rivers in 1751, and climbed to the summit of the ledge of rocks now known as Hawk's Nest, or Marshall's Piller, over-hanging the New river, and from its summit had a view of the mountains and inhospitable country.

In speaking of the exploration and settlement of West Virginia, it is worthy of note that the Ohio river was explored by the French in 1749; but they attempted no settlement within the borders of the state.

Had Virginia allowed religious freedom, a large colony would have been planted on the Ohio company's lands, between the Monongahela and the Kanawha, about 1750, and this would probably have changed the early history of this part of West Virginia. A colony in that territory would have had its influence in the subsequent wars with the Indians. And when we consider how little was lacking to form a new state, or province, west of the Alleghanies about 1772, to be called Vandalia, it can be understood what the result might have been had the Ohio company succeeded in its scheme of colonization. Its plan was to plant a colony of two hundred German families on its land. The settlers were to come from eastern Pennsylvania. All arrangements between the company and the Germans were satisfactory; but when the hardy Germans learned that they would be in the province of Virginia, and that they must become members of the English church or suffer persecution in the form of extra taxes laid on dissenters by the Episcopacy of Virginia, they would not go; and the Ohio company's colonization scheme failed.

Another effort to colonize the lands west of the Alleghanies, and from which much might have come, also failed. This attempt was made by Virginia. In 1752 the House of Burgesses offered Protestant settlers west of the Alleghanies, in Augusta county, ten years' exemption from taxes; and the offer was subsequently increased to fifteen years' exemption. The war with the French and Indians put a stop to all colonization projects. Virginia had enough to do taking care of her settlements along the western border without increasing the task by advancing the frontier seventy-five miles westward. The first settlement, if the occupation by three white men may be called a settlement, on the Monongahela was made about 1752. Thomas Eckerly and two brothers, from eastern Pennsylvania, took up their home there to escape military duty, they being opposed to war. They wished to live in peace remote from civilized man; but two of them fell victims to the Indians while the third was absent. The next settlement was by a small colony near Morgantown under the leadership of Thomas Decker. This was in 1753, while the French and Indian war was at its height. The colony was exterminated by Indians the next spring.

In 1763, October 7, a proclamation was issued by the King of England forbidding settlers from taking up land or occupying it west of the Alleghanies until the country had been bought from the Indians. It is not known what caused this sudden desire for justice on the part of the king, since nearly half the land west of the Alleghanies, in this state, had already been granted to companies or individuals; and, since the Indians did not occupy the land and there was no tribe within reach of it with any right to claim it, either by occupation, conquest or discovery. Governor Fauquier of Virginia issued three proclamation, warning settlers west of the mountains to withdraw from the lands. No attention was paid to the proclamations. The governors of Virginia and Pennsylvania were ordered, 1765, to remove the settlers by force. In 1766 and the next year soldiers from Fort Pitt, now Pittsburg, were sent into West Virginia to dispossess the settlers by force. It is not probable that the soldiers were overzealous in carrying out the commands, for the injustice and nonsense of such orders must have been apparent to the dullest soldier in the west. Such settlers as were driven away, returned as soon as the soldiers were gone, and affairs went on as usual. Finally, Pennsylvania bought the Indian lands within its borders; but Virginia after that: date, never paid the Indians for any lands in West Virginia. The foregoing order was the first forbidding settlements in West Virginia, north of the Kanawha and west of the Alleghanies. Another order was issued ten years later. Both were barren of results. The second will be spoken of more at length in the account of the incorporation of part of Ohio in the Province of Quebec.

Settlements along the Ohio, above and below Wheeling, were not made until six or seven years after the close of the French and Indian war. About 1769 and 1770 the Wetzels and Zanes took up land in that vicinity, and others followed. Within a few years Wheeling and the territory above and below, formed the most prosperous community west of the Alleghanies. That part of the state suffered from Indians who came from Ohio; but the attacks of the savages could not break up the settlements, and in 1790, five years before the close of the Indian war, Ohio county had more than five thousand inhabitants, and Monongalia had nearly as many.

During the Revolutionary war, parts of the interior of the state were occupied by white men. Harrison county, in the vicinity of Clarksburg, and further west, was a flourishing community four or five years before the Revolution. Settlers pushed up the West fork of the Monongahela, and the site of Weston, in Lewis county, was occupied soon after. Long before that time frontiersmen had their cabins on the Valley river as far south as the site of Beverly, in Randolph county. The first settlement in Wood county, near Parkersburg, was made 1773, and the next year the site of St. George, in Tucker county, was occupied by a stockade and a few houses. Monroe county, in the southeastern part of the state, was reclaimed from the wilderness fifteen years before the Revolution; and Tyler county's first settlement dates back to the year 1776. Pocahontas was occupied at a date as early as any county west of the Alleghanies, there being white settlers in 1749; but not many. Settlements along the Kanawha were pushed westward and readied the Ohio river before 1776.

The population of West Virginia at the close of the Revolution is not known. Perhaps an estimate of thirty-five thousand would not be far out of the way. In 1790 the population of the territory now forming West Virginia was 55,873; in 1800 it was 78,592, a gain of nearly forty per cent in ten years. In 1810 the population was 105,469, a gain of thirty-five per cent in the decade. The population in 1820 was 136,768, a gain of nearly twenty-three per cent. In 1830 there were 176,924, a gain in ten years of over twenty-two per cent. In 1S40 the population was 224,537, a gain of more than twenty-one per cent. The population in 1850 was 302,313, a gain in the decade of more than twenty-five per cent. In 1860 the population was 376,388, a gain of more than twenty-two per cent. In 1870 the population was 442,014, a gain in ten years of nearly fifteen per cent. In 1880 the population of the state was 618,457, a gain of twenty-six per cent. In 1890 the population of the state was 762,794, a gain of mere than twenty-three per cent, in ten years.

Land was abundant and cheap in the early days of West Virginia settlements, and the state was generous in granting land to settlers and to companies. There was none of the formality required, which has since been insisted upon. Pioneers usually located on such vacant lands as suited them, and they attended to securing a title afterwards. What is usually called the "tomahawk right" was no right in law at all; but the persons who had such supposed rights were usually given deeds for what they claimed. This process consisted in deadening a few trees near a spring or brook, and cutting the claimant's name in the bark of trees. This done, he claimed the adjacent land, and his right was usually respected by the frontier people; but there was very naturally a limit to his pretentions. He must not claim too much; and it was considered in his favor if he made some improvements, such as planting corn, within a reasonable time. The law of Virginia gave such settlers a title to 400 acres, and a pre-emption to 1,000 more adjoining, if he built a log cabin on the claim and raised a crop of corn. Commissioners were appointed from time to time, some as early as 1779, who visited different settlements and gave certificates to those who gave satisfactory proof that they had complied with the law. These certificates were sent to Richmond, and if no protest or contest was filed in six months, the settler was sent a deed to the land. It can thus be seen that a tomahawk right could easily be merged into a settler's right. He could clear a little land, build his hut, and he usually obtained the land. The good locations were the first taken, and the poorer land was left until somebody wanted it. The surveys were usually made in the crudest manner, often without accuracy and without ascertaining whether they overlapped some earlier claim or not. The foundation was laid for many future law suits, some of which may still be on the court dockets of this state. It is said that there are places in West Virginia where land titles are five deep. Some of them are old colonial grants, stretching perhaps across two or three counties. Others are grants made after Virginia became a member of the United States. Then come sales made subsequently by parties having or claiming a right in the land. The laws of West Virginia are such that a settlement of most of these claims is not difficult, where the metes and bounds are not in dispute.

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