Chapter XXVII - Reminiscences of Washington

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 2 County History
Pages 327-333

Allusion has been made in other chapters of this book to the fact that George Washington earned on the South branch his first money, which became the foundation of his fortune. It is not amiss to enter more fully into details of the great man's visits to Hampshire, when he was a mere youth, and before he had won the justly deserved fame of after years.

"His greatness he derived from heaven alone,
    For he was great ere fortune made him so;
And wars, like mists which rise against the sun,
    Made him but greater seem, not greater grow."

It is the purpose in this chapter to give extracts from Washington's diary and letters, referring to the South branch and neighboring country. Early in the spring of 1748 he made the acquaintance of Lord Fairfax, who had but lately arrived from England to take possession of his vast estate in Virginia. He sent Washington, who was just past sixteen years of age, to examine and survey the lands. George William Fairfax accompanied him. On March 18, l948, Washington entered in his journal: "Thomas Beckwith's on the Potomac. We agreed to stay till Monday. We this day called to see the famed warm springs, and camped in the field all night." These springs are at Bath, in Morgan county. There was high water at that time, and the party did not venture to cross the river, but on March 20, Washington writes: "Finding the river not much abated, we, in the evening, swam our horses over to the Maryland side." March 21, "Traveled up the Maryland side all day in a continual rain, to Colonel Cresap's, over against the mouth of the South branch." March 25. "Left Cresap's and went up to the mouth of Patterson's creek. There we swam our horses over the Potomac and went over ourselves in a canoe and traveled fifteen miles, where we camped." March 26, "Traveled up to Solomon Hedges', one of his majesty's justices of the peace in the county of Frederick, where we camped." The next day the party reached the South branch, and on March 28, this entry was made: "Traveled up the South branch about thirty miles to Mr. J. R.'s (horse jockey), and about seventy miles from the mouth of the river." It is probable that Washington overestimated the distance from the mouth of the river by about ten miles. It is not likely that the distance had been measured at that time. On March 30 he wrote: "Began our intended business of laying off lots." On April 4 he made an entry showing the kind of people who then lived there, and who were all squatters on the lands of Lord Fairfax, or at least on land claimed by him; but some of them considered the land as their own, and in after years suits were brought to quiet the title, some of the suits remaining on the court dockets undecided for a generation. On April 4 he writes: "We were attended with a great company of people, men, women and children, who followed us through the woods, showing their antic tricks. They seem to be as ignorant a set of people as the Indians. They would never speak English, but when spoken to they all spoke Dutch."

To judge from this, the country must have had a considerable population at that time, and this population was largely German. It is also interesting to note that many localities then had the names by which they are still known, such as Patterson's creek, the Trough and South branch Many years after that this river is given the Indian name, Wappacomo, in deeds and other public records, and one might be led to suppose it had no other name; but the journal of Washington shows that in 1748 it was called South branch, the same as now. While surveying in the vicinity of Moorefield Washington boarded at Mr. Van Meter's, a relative of an influential family of the same name which has ever since been identified with the interests of Hardy and Hampshire counties. It appears that, although Washington made his headquarters at Van Meter's he slept in a camp; for, on April 7, he records that he slept at the house of a man named Casey, and says it "was the first night I had slept in a house since coming to the branch." On April 8 Washington wrote in his journal: "We breakfasted at Casey's, and rode down to Van Meter's to get a company together, which when we had accomplished, we rode down below the Trough to lay off lots there. The Trough is a couple of mountains, impassable, running side by side for seven or eight miles, and the river between, them. You must ride round the mountains to get below them." The surveying below the Trough was completed in a couple of days, and on April 10 Washington wrote: "We took our farewell of the branch and traveled over hills and mountains to Coddy's, on the Great Cacapehon, about forty miles." This Coddy was none other than Caudy, a well-known pioneer who was a noted Indian fighter in after years, and from whom Caudy's Castle was named, It is interesting to note how Washington spelled Capon. He was not a very accurate speller, but usually spelled words, as they were pronounced, and it is tolerably conclusive evidence that Capon was then pronounced as Washington spelled it. For the various spellings of the word, the reader is referred to the chapter in this book on early lands and land owners. From Capon, Washington and Fairfax proceeded home, and closed their business in Hampshire for that time. The report to Lord Fairfax proved satisfactory, and Washington was appointed public surveyor. That office was then somewhat different from what it is now. Fairfax owned all the land, or at least had a perpetual lien on all of it, and there was no "public," so far as a surveyor's duties extended.

Tradition has long maintained, and many people believe it, that the bottom lands of the South branch in Hampshire county, both above and below Romney, were laid off into lots by George Washington. Such, however, was not the case. This part of the county was surveyed prior to October 19, 1749, by James Genn, in the employ of Lord Fairfax. It was originally the purpose of Fairfax to retain the level land along the South branch and the adjacent hills, as a manor; but he changed his mind and offered the land for sale.

In the fall of 1753 Washington passed through Hampshire, on his way to the upper tributaries of the Ohio, on his mission from the governor of Virginia to the French in that country. The next year he was in the county again, on his way with troops to build a fort where Pittsburg now stands. In 1755 he passed through the county again, accompanied by General Braddock, on the ill fated expedition which met disaster on the bank of the Monongahela. The road by which this army marched is yet to be seen in some parts of Hampshire county. It passed through Spring gap, and crossing the Potomac near the mouth of Little Capon proceeded to Cumberland on the Maryland side of the river. After Braddock's defeat the Indians became troublesome along the frontier. On October 11, 1755, Washington wrote from Winchester to the governor of Virginia saying: "The men I hired to bring intelligence from the South branch returned last night with letters from Captain Ashby, and other parties there. The Indians are gone off." This refers to an Indian incursion a short time before. "It is believed their numbers amounted to about one hundred and fifty, that seventy-one men are killed and missing, and several houses and plantations destroyed. I shall proceed by quick marches to Fort Cumberland in order strengthen the garrison. Besides these, I think it absolutely essential to have two or three companies of rangers to guard the Potomac waters. Captain Waggoner informed me that it was with difficulty he passed the Blue Ridge for crowds of people who were flying as if every moment was death. He endeavored, but in vain, to stop them, they firmly believing that Winchester was in flames." It can thus be seen that the Indian warfare must have been savage when seventy-one men on the border, perhaps nearer all of them in Hampshire county, were killed in a few days. On November 18, 1755, Washington wrote: "I think, could a brisk officer and two or three sergeants be sent among the militia stationed on the South branch, they would have probable chance of engaging many, as some were inclined to enlist at Winchester." On April 7, 1756, Washington wrote: "Mr. Paris, who commanded a party, is returned. He relates that upon the North river he fell in with a small party of Indians whom he engaged, and after a contest of half an hour, put them to flight." Washington states that he had just sent an officer and twenty men to reinforce Edwards' fort on Capon. Again on April 22, 1756, Washington wrote to the governor of Virginia: "Your honor may see to what unhappy straits the inhabitants and myself are reduced. I see inevitable destruction in so clear a light that, unless vigorous measures are taken by the assembly, and speedy assistance sent from below, the poor inhabitants that are now in fort, must unavoidably fall, while the remainder are flying before the barbarous foe. Ashby's letter is a very extraordinary one. The design of the Indians was only, in my opinion, to intimidate him into a surrender; for which reason I have written him word that, if they do attack him, he must defend the place to the last extremity, and when bereft of hope, to lay a train to blow up the fort, and retire by night to Fort Cumberland."

The Captain Ashby named in Washington's letter was John Ashby, grandfather of General Turner Ashby and of Captain Richard Ashby, both of Hampshire county and both killed while serving in the confederate army. In Washington's letter of April 22, 1756, he speaks of a fight on Patterson's creek: "A small fort which we have at the mouth of Patterson's creek, containing an officer and thirty men guarding stores, was attacked by the French and Indians. They were as warmly received, upon which they retired." Two days later he wrote another letter from Winchester in which he said: "The inhabitants are removing daily, and in a short time will leave this county as desolate as Hampshire, where scarce a family lives. Colonel Martin has just sent me a letter from Fort Hopewell on the South branch. They have had an engagement there with the French and Indians. The waters were so high that, although Captain Waggoner heard them engaged, he could send them no assistance. You may expect, by the time this comes to hand, that, without a considerable reinforcement, Frederick county will not be mistress of fifteen families. They are now retreating to the securest parts in droves of fifties. Fort Cumberland is no more use for defense of the place than Fort George at Hampton. At this time there is not an inhabitant living between this place and Fort Cumberland except in few settlements upon the manor around a fort we built there, and a few families at Edwards' fort on Cacapehon river, with a guard of ours, which makes this town (Winchester) at present the uttermost frontier."

This is a gloomy picture of Hampshire as it existed in the darkest hour of the French and Indian war. When Washington drew that picture he did it with all the facts before him. Only two small clusters of families between Winchester and Cumberland! One of these were seeking protection at Fort Edward on Capon, the others at Pearsall's fort, which stood on the bluff overlooking the present bridge across the South branch, about half mile south of Romney. It is no wonder there is a blank place in the court records of Hampshire county from June 11, 1755, till 1757. Nobody was left in the county to hold court. It is interesting to learn from this letter of Washington that he built the old fort which stood almost on the site of the present town of Romney.

In 1770, on October 9, Washington visited Romney and remained over night in the town, the next day proceeding upon his journey to the west to look at large tracts of lands on the Monongahela and Kanawha rivers. The house in which, he spent the night stood on lot number ninety-six, at present owned by S. L. Flournoy of Charleston, West Virginia.

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