It was in the early spring of the year 1852 that I sailed from Liverpool to seek my fortune in the United States.
Those who have not personally watched the growth of that marvelous country cannot relise the chanes those fifty years have wrought, so long in a man's life, so short a span in a nathion's history. Then there were thirty-one States in the Union with a population of about twenty-five millions noth there are forty-one States, and the population verges on eighty million souls. Railways were comparatively few; now there are nearly two hundred thousand miles in operation.
It was in the month of February, 1852, being then a lad of twenty, but with some rough experiences at sea behind me, that I set sail from Liverpool in the Sutlej,, a barque bound for City Point, Virginia.
Amongst the emigrants I found a typical navvy from Lancashire, Jack Galliers by name, who for some reason took to my at once, appointing himself my henchman, looking after my [Manor] dog, and my things, with much assiduity. He was a very fine specimen of that wonderful breed, the British Navvy, which no other country, so far as I know, can produce. He dressed the part, too, to perfection, in massive hob-nailed high-lows and moleskin garments.
His contempt for America, and Americans, and all their ways and doings, was unbounded, nor did he ever attempt to disguise his sentiments. ...
The old Sutlej was loaded with pig-iron and made very bad weather of it, so it was six weeks before we dropped anchor in the James River. It was a Sunday morning and a lovely spring day, so I borrowed a boat and, with a few of my fellow-passengers, pulled ashore.
Returning to the ship, we found a tug waiting to take us all up the river to Richmond, about twenty miles, for the Sutlej could not cross the bar.
These gentlemen [partners in a Richmond merchant firm] kindly gave me full particulars of the route, which was first by canal passenger-boat to Buchanan, the head of navigation, and some sixty miles above Lynchburg, the greatest center of the tobacco trade, and the second largest slave market in the States. From Buchanan we had to make our way across county, some 150 miles on foot, as best we might, to Wyandotte County, Western Virginia.
[skipping, NOTE: there was no county by that name]
Arrived at Buchanan, our voyaged, on which I had made many friends "on board," the next morning after our arrival saw our queer-looking party on the road, with a weary tramp of about 150 miles before us; ...
We proposed to do thirty miles a day, and actually made our first point, Henderson French's [see portrait, below] plantation, on Brush Creek, Mercer County, a distance of 120 miles in five days; not bad going for foot-sore wayfarers, such as we were. How Jack [see below] anathematised the country, its roads, its people, and all therein, as he trudged along with his double burden, and how the simple folk in their solitary farmes wondered at him and all his ways!
French was a well-to-do middle-aged bachelor, a member of the State Senate, and the owner of the lands we had been inveigled out to settle. He was moreover, a very shrewd Yankee. Approaching his plantation, with weary feet, we trudged, for a mile or so, through a fertile valley which had been heavily timbered, but where now the trees had been deadened by "belting," and stood gaunt and sombre skeletons. The undergrouth had been grubbed up, and the grass was springing in its place. Here and there were bunches of cattle, and a few hundred sheep were scattered about.
[skipping, NOTE: "Yankee" is used here as the British would use it, to describe any American, not as an American would use it to describe a "Northerner"]
After a day's rest, a Doctor Cook appeared on the scene to conduct us to French's lands, on which we were supposed to settle. This man was an English medical man, who had been trapped into coming out to Western Virginia, as we had been by the Yankee's London agent; having been an innocent pigeon when first caught, he had now developed into a crook, and acted as French's agent and decoy for simple Britishers.
The lands lay in three different counties, the nearest point being sixty miles distant, so to see them a good long tramp was necessary. Very early in the morning we started off on our journey, all but Cook being on foot. That gentleman knew too much about the country to walk, so took his horse and saddle-bags.
Our route lay over ridges and hills of moderate height intersected by valleys, through which ran clear, bright streams, like English trout brooks, and here and there from out the hillsides burst springs of cool water. By bridle-tracks and forest paths we wandered on under the splendid timber. Glorious oaks were plentiful, of three different kinds, and the rest of the forest growth was mainly chestnut, walnut, maple, sugar maple, and "Wachoo."
Game abounded in these solitudes, and deer would jump up close to the path, whilst turkeys and pheasants would calmly survey us till Manor made a dash and scattered them; but unfortunately no one carried a gun, for we had enough to carry without that.
Settlements were few and far between, and those only log cabins of the poorest. After a twenty-five mile walk, we reached one of these, the owner of which took us in and fed us on bacon and maize corn bread, the staple food of the country. The Doctor took the only bed, and we, his victims, shook down as best we might, on the floor.
The next morning, after a delightful wash at the spring, off we set again, for another twenty or thirty miles' tramp, and after passing through the same lovely scenery and the same heavily timbered country, at nightfall reached the cabin of two English brothers, Walker by name. Those unfortunates had been persuaded by our friend the Doctor into buying some of French's land. The cabin, and all its surroundings, seemed hopeless and wretched, and its owners absolutely unfitted for roughing it in such a country
Our arrival only added to their misery, poor fellows, for I brought with me two of their younger brothers, lads of sixteen and fourteen respectively. They had been sent out by their step-father, who probably didn't care what became of them, so he was rid of them, and had joined our party for the journey from Buchanan.
At our next halt my growing resolve to cut loose from the toils of the wily Cook was confirmed by our host, who was a "Major" Amos Walker, Justice of the Peace, and Surveyor of Wyoming County. The old gentleman (he was nearly eighty) was a very fine specimen of the American of almost pre-revolutionary days. His father had been killed in the Revolutionary war, fighing under General Washington, and he himself had fought under Andrew Jackson ("Old Hickory") in the War with England of 1812.
"Major" Amos Walker mentioned in this chapter is the same Captain Walker who laid out Princeton and for whom North Walker street and South Walker streed in Princeton are named. Council Walker, the son, was the father of C.W.J. Walker of Straly avenue, Princeton, a prominent citizen of the county and a former mayor of Matoaka.
Jack Galliers, the English seaman, settled in Mercer county, and lived and worked here all his life.
He lived on the Belcher farm near New Hope, and Mrs. W. A. Brown of Highland Avenue, now 82, recalls
that he worked for her father, and was a very energetic worker. He married Polly Dillon and his
daughter, Mrs. Dave Ryan, now lives in East Princeton.
--Kyle McCormick.[Mr. McCormick made an understandable error, calling Jack a seaman, but the term "navvy" actually refers to an unskilled laborer, as on canals, roads, etc..
Princeton, our destination, was about forty miles away; but time being no object we took it leisurly, and halted long before sundown at a farm owned by Emmanuel Jenks, a great character, who kept whiskey and sold it. ...
By Jenk's advice we made up our minds to put up the next day at the house of a friend of his, Absalom Lusk by name, about ten miles out of Princeton. ...
After breakfast we set off again on our travels, the good folks utterly refusing to accept any payment for our entertainment, and saying they would be glad to see us again if we passed that way.
Presently we began to hear the tinkle of many cows and sheep bells in the woods, and knew we must be nearing the settlement or town. Coming suddenly upon it, after being buried so many days in the interminable woods, it seemed quite a place, though in reality the houses were but few, and they all frame or log built; not a brick in any of them except in the chimneys, now and then.
We put up at a "tavern," kept by one Joe Alvis, which was a fairly large frame house, painted white, two stories high, and with a wide gallery, or verandah, round it. The host and his wife were pleasnt people, and the terms, $3 a week, all found, reasonable enough; so I soon made up my mind to stay with them while looking about me.
Amongst our visitors was Ben McNutt, the Sheriff of the County; Judge Hale, (Judge Hall) formerly Probate Judge, but now a merchant and practising lawyer, who had come up with us on the canal boat to Buchanan, and was most friendly and cordial in his greeting. ...
Finding I had no use for Jack till I got my land, I paid his bill, gave him a few dollars, and sent him back to Jenks, who wanted him badly for road making. ...
Now the desire came upon me to buy a horse. ... Accordingly, hearing of a colt owned by a man named Carr, which Alvis said was the best in the country, and could be bought for $60, I determined to purchase it.
I bought a saddle and bridle in Vance's store, and set out carrying these, for Carr's place eight miles from Princeton, where I arrived after a terribly hot walk, which the thought that I should ride back helped me to endure.
One good friend I remember making on one of these [now horseback] trips--"Squire" White, who lived about ten miles out. Though his surroundings and mode of life were most primitive, much like Major Walker's, he had been a member of the State Legislature, and was the Chairman of the County Sessions; a position analogous to that of our Chairman of Quarter Sessions, only with more power.
The Absolam Lusk mentioned in the story is an ancestor of the well-known Lusk family of this section. Joe Alvis' hotel was located at the corner of Alvis street and Main street, where the Greyhound bus terminal now stands. The street was named for him. Ben McNutt was the great uncle of the McNutts of Princeton
Judge Hale was really Judge Hall--the "man named Carr" was the ancestor of the Carr family
of Princeton today. He lived near New Hope. Squire White was Cornelius White, member of the
Virginia Legislature of about 1845, and an ancestor of Mrs. Cecil Gore of Princeton.
[Image missing] This "closeup" is of an illustration in the book captioned as follows
The above portrait of Colonel William henderson French is hanging in the parlor of Judge D. M. Easley of Bluefield, who is judge of the circuit court of Mercer and Wyoming counties. Judge Easley is a grand nephew of Colonel French. ... This portrait hung in the home of a relative in Pearisburg [in May 1862], and a Federal officer seeing it --- slashed across it with his sword.
Joe Alvis had mentioned a farm on the Bluestone River, about twelve miles from Princeton, belonging to one Mr. George Bailey, as likely to suit me. The old gentleman, he said was heavily in debt, and anxious to sell out and move West. Bailey and his two sons, Thompson and Council, were presently introduced by Alvis, and of course a move was made to the bar, though the old fellow was already, what shall we say--"forrard"? Next came a most pressing invitation to come out to the farm with them that night and stay as long as I cared to, which I accepted.
George Bailey was a remarkably fine speciment of the Western Virginia farmer, who carried his years (he was about sixty), and his whiskey, wonderfully well. Over six feet in height, spare and straight as a shingle, with finely cut features, dressed in homespun "blue jeans" though he was, he looked a gentleman of Nature's own fashioning.
After breakfast Bailey, finding he could not screw me up to his terms [$2000], accepted mine [$1500]. A piece of paper was found, after considerable search, and I drew up an agreement for sale as well as I could, and paid over my [deposit] $20, for which I took a receipt.
It was agreed he was to give me possession at Michaelmas, and in the meantime Jack Galliers and I were to board with the family as paying guests. Now I said good-bye, mounted by confounded slug of a colt, and set off for Princeton in high feather with myself and all the world.
Next morning I rode off to Emanuel Jenks to look up Jack, ... Arrived at "Flat Topped Mountain," I found Jenks and Jack were both away at the road-making camp. I fed my horse, treated myself to corn and cake an whiskey, and set off on my fifteen-mile ride to find them.
Next morning, after a sound sleep by Emmanuel's side on a shakedown, a rather scanty "pouring," for water was scarce, and a good breakfast of the usual fare, I arranged with Jack to be at the Bluestone in a fortnight's time, there to await my arrival, if I had not returned from Richmond, where I was going to fetch our things.
Then Jenks and I rode off through the forest, following no path but guided by the sun, to the farm of a man names Salisbury, (Shrewsbury) about four miles away, who was said to have a smart little riding mare, which I wanted to swap my unmannerly colt for. ...
The George Bailey farm was located at the mouth of Crane Creek where Montcalm now stands. Council
Baily, the son of George, went to the Civil war and did not return. His relatives never knew what
became ofhim. The purchase of the farm by young Williams is recorded in Deed Book 4, September 21,
1853, of the records of Mercer county. The man named Salisbury, was really Shrewsbury--there being
many members of this family in Mercer, the best known being Postmaster J. B. Shrewsbury of
Nothing befell me on the journey to Richmond and back worth recordinf. ... Returning to the Bluestone I was joined in a couple of days by Jack Galliers, and we soon got to work on the farm. ...
Failing his beloved beer, I regret to say Jack took more and more kindly to the "wine of the country," or corn whiskey, which he got at Richard Bailey's still about three miles down the river. He kept sober enough to do his work, but grew quarrelsom in his cups, and the still led at last to our parting, ... I realised I should have to get rid of him sooner or later, and got a man named Bryant and his wife to come to me as helpers and to live in the house.
As August drew to an end a great event happened, and that was the holding of a Methodist Camp Meeting at Brush Creek, a few miles from the Bluestone. ...
Among the first friends I met at the camp were a Mr. And Mrs. Herndon, who had brought their family two girls of fifteen and sixteen, and two younger boys. ...
The site of the camp meeting on Brush Creek was supposed to be about where the Virginian yards and
station at Princeton are now located. The Arthur Herndons mentioned were the grandparents of the
late Judge Herndon, and the grandparents of Fred T. Herndon of Montcalm, site of the farm the
About the middle of November, there being little or no work to be done on the farm, I went on a shooting trip--"hunting," we always called it--with Burrell Bailey, my old friend's eldest son.
As I have already said, I sold my farm the following summer, and my friend Herndon was the purchaser at $2,000. He was to take possession at Michalmas, and in the meantime let me have three of his negroes to work it--Rhoda, a cook, and two boys, Buck and Sam by name--and very useful they were.
Having sold the farm, and being "foot loose," I made an arrangement with another Bailey, Richard by name, and a J. P., at a place called Rock Settlement, to board with him, whenever I liked, at $2.50 a week, including horsekeep as well. There I made the acquaintance of a man named Burnett, who kept a store in partnership with George Paris (Pearis) of Princeton, one of the few men in the town with whom I was not very friendly. Paris was a well-to-do man, for those parts, but was unscrupulous, overbearing, and harsh in his dealings.
Burnett was, as events proved, an unmitigated rascal, and I, in my simplicity, was made a tool by him. He invited me to join him in a horse selling trip into Eastern Virginia, an I having some fifty horses for sale, agreed to go with him. If his horses sold well he meant to settle up with all his creditors except Paris, who was trying to rob him, and then go west.
We started with a bunch of 125 horses, seventy-five of Burnett's and fifty of my own, and did very well with them till we arrived at a place called Charlotte Court House one Saterday evening, with only about a dozen unsold.
Whilst I was out in the town Paris appeared on the scene, and he and Burnett had a very lively time, I believe. The latter reported that Paris was trying to rob him not only of the proceeds of his horse sales, but of two notes for $1,000 each which he held. Would I hold the notes, which he would endorse to me, ... Of course I would, ... Then my friend Burnett rode off with about $2,500 in his belt, after selling me the four horses he had left, and I never saw or heard from him again.
Well, I soon sold out the rest of my horses and set off on my homeward journey in high feather, with $250 in gold, notes, and silver in a purse in my breeches pocket, and the balance of about $3,000 in a large pocket-book carried in my saddle-bag. ...
My first halt was at King Edward's Court House, and as I walked up the steps of the tavern, I thrust my hand into my pocket to feel for my purse. It was gone! In vain I searched all my pockets. It had vanished.
A day or two after my joyful [return] home I rode out to the Rock Settlement, to put up with Richard Bailey, on my way to Milam's Ridge, to look after my cattle there.
Mr. Paris shortly appeard, with two friends, demanding to see me. Of course, I knew what was coming, and braced myself up for the struggle. I firmly believed I was in the right, and wasn't going to be bullied into giving up my friend's property, so put my Derringer in my pocket, and went out to speak with the enemy in the gate. Probably, if he had quietly explained the true state of affairs, and produced proof that Burnett was in his debt, we might have settled matters on the spot. But instead of that he blustered and bullied, after the manner of his kind, threatening that he would do for me, if I did not at once hand over the two notes for $1,000 and other moneys of Burnett's which he said he knew I had in my possession.
With my hand on my six-shooter, I told him very quietly that I did not admit I had any property of his, and certainly should not hand anything over to him, either now or at any other time. The man was a coward, for finding bullying was no good, he mounted his horse and rode off, vowing he would have me locked up as soon as he returned to Princeton. The folks at the settlement were delighted to see the bully, whom all disliked, so cowed, and I leaped into popularity at once.
[Back in Princeton]
Seated on a verandah, playing backgammon, I saw the Sheriff, Ben McNutt, rode up to him, and announced I had come to give myself up. He shook hands, and said he had a warrant against me right enough, but hearing I was after my cattle on the Guyandotte, hadn't troubled to go out and serve it there, as he knew that I should turn up at the settlement before long.
I was placed in a cell on the ground-floor about ten feet square, the only furniture a rough bed, with mattress and blankets. The window was well guarded by iron bars, and the outer door, for there were two, of which the inside one stood wide open till locking-up time, as protected in like manner on the upper half, but with sufficient width between the bars to admit a hand and a fair-sized parcel.
In this chapter, Williams, a young hothead had been used by the man named Burnett, who was a scamp and a rascal. Burnett was trying to beat Captain George Pearis out of his just dues, and using Williams, who in the modern parlance "did not know what it was all about." Captain Pearis was obviously distrustful of Williams and did not explain the situation to him.
So when Burnett did not return, Captain Pearis had Williams charged with murder--to bluff him into a compromise. He knew the charge would not stick but he scared Williams into a settlement.
The public did not share Williams' views about Captain Pearis but always regarded him as a high-grade
gentleman. Mrs. Burnett lived at Rock the remainder ofher life and never heard from her husband
again. Her son, Bluford Burnett, grew to manhood and worked running a dinkey engin when the
Virginian railway was built into Mercer county--losing a leg. He then went into the artificial limb
business in which he remained until he died.
The next morning the same kind friend [Mrs. Alvis] who had cheered me the previous night sent me an ample breakfast; and the outside door being open, I had many visitors with whom to talk through the open bars of the inner one. ...
The last visitor I had the second evening was a most unexpected one, Jack Galliers of all people in the world. He said he had only just heard of my trouble, and had come to Princeton to see if he could do anything for me. ... and vowed that, if I would give the word, he would soon show that gentleman [Pearis] what he could do with his "fistises."
But about eleven o'clock next morning, my kind friend [Herndon] appeared, in great excitement, grasped both my hands through the bars, and cried, "Bob, my dear boy, what have the rascals done to you? You shan't stop here another half-hour! Go your bail? Of course I will." ...
So, in despite of the advice of a very clever lawyer, Strauss by name, who lived in Taswell [sic] Court House, about sixty miles from Princeton, and who wanted me to fight Paris, I determined to compromise the matter with him, making the best terms I could for Mrs. Burnett. Therefore on my return to Princeton, I talked pretty big of what I would do with Paris by the help of Strauss, and then lay low for the next move of the enemy.
In two days' time he sent his confidential clerk to ask me to meet him, and then I felt sure of victory.
I went to his store, and to cut a long story short, eventually settled with him on the terms that I was to give up the notes on payment of $400; he to withdraw all proceedings, and to write me a letter stating that he had no cause of complaint against me. Next day I rode out to Rock Settlement, with a lighter heart than I had had for many a day, and handed over the $400 to Mrs. Burnett.
About this time, Wyoming Court House was to be opened as the seat of government of a new County, just formed on the Guyandotte River. Everyone from Milam's ridge was going to the function, which would be a great gathering of the neighbourhood for miles around. So with a party of six or seven friends, I rode the fifty miles to the scene of the festivities, through forest paths of the wildest, and overshadowed by the finest of timber.
The lawyer from Taswell county by the name of Strauss, was really fromn Tazewell and was named Stras. His great grandchildren are now among the prominent residents of Tazewell county.
The late A. W. Reynolds, Princeton lawyer, told me that for years after this jail episode, the people repeated a saying of Williams while in jail:
"Kinsman of the Prince of Wales in England--broke and in jail in Princeton--Sic Sempter Tyrannis."
The new courthouse in Wyoming county mentioined [sic] by Williams was the first courhouse at
It was the end of November, in the year 1854, before I could settle up my affairs and make a start, impatient as I was to be on the road to my land of promise. Even then my friend Herndon, to whom I had sold my farm and mill, was not ready with my cash. So to make things easier for him and avoid delay, I agreed to take three young niggers--Ann, a girl of about sixteen, and her two young brothers, Shad and Pete, fourteen and twelve years old--in part payment.
At Princeton I said good-bye to many kind friends who had made the young stranger's life so pleasant to him, and with a "carry-all" to convey my chattels, set off on a fifty-mile ride to the nearest station on the railway to Richmond, the name of which I forget. ...
Updated March 6, 2001