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.
Source: History of Marshall County, by Scott Powell.