by Scott Powell, 1925


Contributed by Linda Fluharty.


Pages 7-13

Early Settlement of Big Wheeling Creek

The first settlement in what is now Marshall County, West Virginia, was made in the District of West Augusta, Virginia. The country was then a wilderness covered with a growth of heavy timber which is only found where there is a soil of great fertility and a bountiful rainfall. The great abundance of game of all kinds common to this latitude in North America, especially deer and the common black bear, made it a paradise for hunters and also very attractive to those in search of homes for themselves and families, who looked with bright hopes of peace and plenty after the forest had been fallen and cleared away and in its place fields of golden grain, green pastures and beautiful meadows.

The first white man known to have trod upon the virgin soil of this county was Christopher Gist, then in the employ of the Ohio Company, who crossed the Allegheny Mountains in autumn of 1751 to examine land lying between the Great Kanawha and Monongahela rivers. The company had received a grant of five hundred thousand acres of land from the king of Great Britain conditioned upon the company making settlement and certain improvements upon the land and locating one hundred families upon its grant within seven years.

The company made a settlement west of the mountains near the Youghiogheny river in autumn of 1753, and started work early in 1754 to erect a fort at the forks of the Ohio, the key to the West. The fort was captured by the French in April while it was not more than half completed. The settlement made the previous autumn by eleven families and known as the Gist Settlement, was broken up by the French on the fifth of July, the day after the surrender of Fort Necessity.

The capture of the half finished fort was the beginning of the war known in America as the French and Indian War and in Europe as the Seven Years' War. The war did not close until 1763 and conditions had so changed that the Ohio Company did not make further efforts to make settlements and improvements as contemplated by the board of directors. The fact is that the early movements of that company led to the first conflicts of that long and bloody war for the possession of the Ohio Valley.

Ohio County was created by an act of the General Assembly of Virginia in 1776, and the boundaries as designated by the act, was a line commencing at the Ohio River at the mouth of Cross Creek and following the creek to its source and from thence to the top of a ridge or water shed dividing the waters flowing into the Monongahela River from the streams that flow into the Ohio. It followed this ridge to the southern boundary of the District of West Augusta and west on that line to the Ohio River and up it to the starting place, including an area of one thousand four hundred and thirty-two square miles. It was the first county in Virginia organized west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Much of the early history of Marshall County is so closely connected with and interwoven into that of Ohio County, of which it was formerly a part, that it is inseparable. There were few, if any, important events in the early settlement and Indian wars in this section of the Ohio Valley, in which the settlers did not participate. They were usually among the first into the field of action and among the last to leave it; and among the daring scouts and warriors known in border warfare, none were superior to those of what is now Marshall County.

The first settlement made within the limits of this county was made in what is now Sand Hill District, in connection with the settlement at the mouth of Wheeling Creek where the flourishing city of Wheeling now stands.

A writer of early history stated that an amusing incident led to the first settlement made in the county. Dr. De Hash in speaking of it, said, Trivial in its character but important in its result.

The account of the settlement, as given by some of the writers of early history, is that in 1769 Ebenezer Zane left his home on the South Branch of the Potomac, crossed the mountains and reached the Ohio River just above the mouth of Wheeling Creek. Being much pleased with the country he thought to settle there. On his return home he spoke of the country in such glowing terms that he induced a number of farmers of like spirit to join him in seeking homes on the banks of the Ohio River or near them. In the spring of 1770, Ebenezer Zane and his brothers, Silas, Jonathan and Andrew, with John Wetzel, Mercer, Bonnett and some others, whose names are not given, left their homes on the South Branch of the Potomac, crossed the mountains and arrived at Redstone on the east side of the Monongahela River where they thought it best to leave their families until homes were provided for them in the contemplated new settlement. They left Redstone and crossed over the water shed or divide and reached the headwaters of Little Wheeling Creek near Catfish Camp, now Washington, Pennsylvania, and followed the creek, knowing that it would flow into a larger stream. They rode through an unbroken forest and when a short distance from the forks of Wheeling Creek, the saddle girth of John Wetzel, who was some distance ahead of the others of the party, broke and he dismounted to repair it. While he was engaged in making the repairs Silas Zane came along and passed on down the creek. By the time Wetzel had the girth mended ready to mount his horse, the other members of the party arrived and all proceeded down the creek to the forks. Here Silas Zane commenced marking trees with his tomahawk. He took up what was called at that day a tomahawk claim of four hundred acres.

Ebenezer Zane and the other members of the party, except Wetzel, started down the creek towards the river. Wetzel thought that they had gone up the creek and decided that he would beat them to the river and get the choice of the river bottom land and went several miles before he discovered that he was going up the creek and not down it. It appears that he had noticed the water rippling over the stones in the bed of the creek and mistook the direction it was flowing. He found some fine bottom land above the forks of the creek and took up and improved a claim.

Mercer and Bonnett took up claims about eight miles above the forks of the creek near Wetzel and made improvements. It appears clear that none of the party except Ebenezer Zane and his brothers took up any river bottom land.

Several years later Jacob Earliwine and Frederick Sivert settled on ridges not far from Big Wheeling Creek, and Adam Grandstaff settled on a ridge some two or three miles from the forks of the creek. It is very difficult to give a correct account of this settlement and many other events in early settlement of this country as others, as there is such a disagreement of dates and particulars by different authors of pioneer history. It is not uncommon to find instances in which statements of events do not harmonize, or in other words, writers contradict their own statements.

All writers of early border history agree that John Wetzel was the first to take up a claim on Big Wheeling Creek above the forks and that the others named joined him as stated above.

Settlement At The Flats of Grave Creek

THREE brothers, Joseph, Samuel and James Tomlinson, arrived at the Flats of Grave Creek about the year 1771 and took up land and made the first improvements where Moundsville now stands. Joseph Tomlinson, in a statement relative to the settlement at Grave Creek and Round Bottom, said that he and his brothers came to the Ohio River in search of homes for his father's family in March about the year 1771. They built a cabin about three hundred yards north of the mound and spent the summer on the Ohio River. The cabin they built was the first ever erected in the Flats of Grave Creek. They took up a fine tract of land at Grave Creek and also some valuable hill land. They also took a claim on the upper end of Round Bottom the same spring but lost it later.

After building the cabin, Joseph went down the river to examine the country. He found Colonel Crawford at the mouth of the Little Kanawha River with a surveying party, engaged in surveying land. Mr. Tomlinson entered the service of Colonel Crawford and remained with him some time. The surveying party ascended the river and when it reached Round Bottom, Crawford ordered a survey of the river front although Mr. Tomlinson protested against it as he and his brothers had taken up a claim on it.

In autumn they returned to their homes east of the mountains and the following spring Joseph Tomlinson, Jr., and his wife, nee Elizabeth Harkness, his father and mother and two brothers, left the old home east of the mountains for their new homes the young man had provided for them in the Ohio Valley. This was the first settlement at Grave Creek. They remained at the Flats of Grave Creek until death removed them from earth, except for a few years they were compelled to leave on account of Indians and seek safety elsewhere. While the brothers were east of the mountains preparing to remove to their new homes, a man by the name of Con O'Niel remained and took care of the improvement for which he received one hundred acres of land. O'Niel, in addition to the one hundred acres, took up a claim on a ridge between Big Grave Creek and Middle Grave Creek, all of which was fine land.

There is a tradition that O'Niel killed a great many wild turkeys while taking care of the improvement and put the feathers in a corner of the cabin and when the families arrived in the spring Mrs. Joseph Tomlinson, Jr., filled a bed tick which she had used as a saddle cloth for her saddle, upon which she had ridden across the mountains, with the feathers, making the first feather bed in the Flats of Grave Creek. It was said that O'Niel was the only white man in what is now Marshall County that winter and only one was in what is now Ohio County. At the breaking out of war with the Indians in 1777, the settlers at Grave Creek left for places of greater safety. Joseph Tomlinson, Sr., and wife and Isaac Williams and wife went to Redstone and resided there several years. Others of the settlers are thought to have gone to Wheeling. Little is known of them during the war with the Indians which lasted from 1777 till 1795.

Joseph Tomlinson and Colonel Beeler, of Beeler Station, are said to have made a trip to Philadelphia in the winter of 1780, with a petition to tfic Continental Congress, then in session there, requesting that it take some action for the protection of the frontier settlements.

Samuel Tomlinson was at Fort Henry and participated in the bloody conflict which occurred near it on the morning of September 1, 1777. He was one of the party who discovered the Indians that waylaid the path leading from the fort. He and two other men escaped and one of the party was killed.

At the breaking out of Dunmore's War, the cabin of Joseph Tomlinson was fortified by erecting pickets around it for refuge for the settlers. When notice was sent to the settlers of the intended invasion of Northwestern Virginia by Indians, in August, 1777, it was thought the fort was not of sufficient strength to withstand an attack by a large force of Indians, and the garrison being weak, it was thought best to abandon it, and tradition says that the fort was abandoned on the 17th of August and soon after the settlers left that it was burned by Indians, who were thought to have been closely watching the movements of the settlers.

The Tomlinson family returned to Grave Creek about the spring of 1785 and in the spring of 1786, Isaac Williams and wife removed to a tract of land belonging to his wife, which land was situated opposite the mouth of the Muskingum River, where they remained until their death.

Previous to the breaking out of Dunmore's War, Mrs. Rebecca Martin kept house for her brothers Samuel and James Tomlinson in a cabin near the mouth of Big grave Creek and was there alone for weeks while her brothers were a way hunting, trapping or taking up and improving land. The two brothers gave her four hundred acres of fine river bottom land on the Ohio River opposite the mouth of the Muskingum River for keeping house for them. Her brothers took up several tracts of land and made the usual improvements of the day upon them. They were usually occupied in taking up and improving land in the summer and in the winter engaged in hunting and trapping. Samuel and James spent the winter of 1773 trapping on the Great Kanawha River.

When the Tomlinson family returned from Redstone, and elsewhere, to their improvements at Grave Creek, a blockhouse or fort was erected which afforded the settlers protection. After they returned to their improvement, in or about the year 1785, they never left it again on account of danger from the Indians.

Notwithstanding the bloody war with the Indians from the year 1777 till 1795, settlers arrived almost every year and took up and improved land along the streams of water or on ridges near the Ohio River.

Soon after the Tomlinson family arrived others found their way to the country drained by the three Grave Creeks. Stephan Parr settled near Little Grave Creek and his land adjoined that of the Tomlinson brothers. A run and a point bears the name of Mr. Parr.

Harry Clark settled between Little Grave Creek and Jim's Run about the year 1773. He did not like the bottom land as he feared that fever and ague would be prevalent on the bottoms while the hills would be comparatively free from it. He participated in the stirring events of the Indian War. He erected a block-house where the village of Sherrard now stands soon after the siege of Fort Henry in September, 1782.

Nathan Masters was one of the early settlers on the waters of Big Grave Creek. He settled some distance from the mouth. He was a great hunter and frequented some springs on Roberts Ridge where bears came to wallow in the cool water about the springs, and from the number of bears that were found about the springs wallowing in the water the place was called, and has ever since been known, as Bear Wallow.

Roberts, Freeland and Riggs are names that were once familiar among the names of early settlers on the hills south of the Flats of Grave Creek. They came in an early day and many of them were often engaged in skirmishes with Indians.

Settlement at McMechen

William McMechen was the first settler on a bottom about five miles below Wheeling, which bears his name, and on which the city of McMechen now stands. He came from thw South Branch of the Potomac River about the year 1773, and took up a tomahawk claim to a large tract of fine bottom land. His wife, nee Sidney Johnson, came with him and was the first white woman to make her home on that bottom. The land of Mr. McMechen, known as McMechen's Bottom, extended down to the Narrows above the Flats of Grave Creek, and it was on this land that Captain William Foreman and a number of his men were murdered by a party of Indians under Half King, Wyandot chief, on the 27th of September, 1777.

Mr. and Mrs. McMechen were among the many early settlers who endured the horrors of Indian war from 1777 until after the Battle of Fallen Timber in August, 1794, and the treaty at Greenville a year later. They had many unpleasant experiences with Indians. On one of their forays into Northwestern Virginia, they stole all Mr. McMechen's horses. He started in pursuit of them on foot and followed them almost to the Great Lakes but failed to overtake them and recover his horses. When he arrived home he found that his wife and family were gone. They had concluded from his prolonged absence that he had been slain or capyured by Indians, and Mrs. McMechen, with their children and negro servants and property, had removed to Red Stone Old Fort for safety. They remained there for several years and then returned to the bottom and settled there permanently.

FREDERICK SIVERT, one of the early settlers in Sand Hill District, was born in Hesse Casel, Germany, and came to America in the early part of the Revolutionary War. He was a Hessian soldier in the service of Great Britain and was captured by Americans under General Washington on the twenty-sixth of December, 1776, at Trenton, N. J. While he was held a prisoner of war, he learned of the German citizens the real condition of the country and cause of the war and then enlisted in the Continental Army and fought to the close of the war for the independence of the colonies.

After the close of the war he married an American girl by the name of Martha Curtis and removed to the wilds of Northwestern Virginia and settled near Big Wheeling Creek and became identified in the development of the country and changing it from forest to field.