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Sketches of Virginia
Chapter III. - Tinkling Spring


Going down from the splendid prospect on Rockfish Gap, to the edge of the “lake country,” as the Sage of Monticello termed it, you enter the bounds of the oldest congregation in Augusta County, one that contends with Opecquon for the honor of being the first in the great valley, and the first in the State after the days of Makemie,—the congregation of the Triple Forks of the Shenandoah, which formerly stretched across the valley from this Gap to the Ridge, in the western horizon. You are, too, in the bounds of that division of the congregation named Tinkling Spring, which assembled to worship God in the southern part of the settlement, the old stone church being the place for that part that lay along the track of the paved road. Ministers then were few, and men went far to worship ; eight or ten miles were an ordinary ride or walk, to the house of God, on a Sabbath morning. Staunton, in its early days, belonged to Tinkling Spring congregation; and Col. Lewis, the first settler on Lewis’s Creek, and John Preston, “the shipmaster of Dublin,” were among the regular worshippers.

The road from the Gap to Staunton, at first passed near the church. The travelled road now leaves the church some two miles to the south. About three miles from Waynesborough, and six from the village of Asylums, diverging from the turnpike that winds its way among scenery that irresistibly invites your gaze, if you love mountains, you will find upon a hill-side, half concealed by forest trees, the house of worship. To this hill and sweetly flowing spring come in crowds on the Sabbath, the young men and maidens with the old men and matrons, the place where their great-grand-fathers emigrating from the Presbyterian country in the north of Ireland, with their families, their politics, and their religion, came regularly for the services of the sanctuary. There, in a log building finished off by the widow of John Preston, John Craig, the first settled Presbyterian minister in Virginia, after the days of Makemie, preached the gospel for many years. The southern part of the congregation of the Triple Forks, had some difficulty in deciding on the place for their church building, and for a time worshipped in different parts at stands, or tents. Mr. Craig intimates that the rivalry of some individuals, Cols. Lewis and Patton, hindered the congregation in their choice. Tradition says that he himself was a partizan in selecting the site. The larger portion of the southern section of the congregation chose this hill on account of its central position, and the refreshing spring that gushed forth with a peculiar sound— and took the name of Tinkling Spring. Mr. Craig preferred a situation more northwardly, near the residence of James Pilson, and appealing to the old gentleman one day in expectation that he would be favorable to the location nearest his dwelling, received for a reply—that the Tinkling Spring was best for the whole southern part of the congregation—that a more northern locality would give the northern part two places of worship, and the centre one, and the southern part none. “Well, well,” said the disappointed pastor— “are you against me too, Jimmy? Well, I am resolved that none of that water shall ever tinkle down my throat.” He kept his word. Like the leading men of his charge, or more properly like all his charge, he was a persevering man; and while his congregation quenched their thirst in full draughts, he only moistened his lips, and that but seldom.

This congregation was generally with their first pastor, on the “old side,” or with the protectors. The neighboring congregation, New Providence, was generally of the “new side.” There might have been, and probably were for a few years, some heart-burnings confined to a few members. The two congregations have, from time that the present families know not when it was otherwise, been on terms of strictest friendship. Had memorials of the instances of personal piety in each congregation been preserved, the Christian public might have received edification equally affecting from among the children of the old side and of the new. The divisions could never be distinctly marked in the congregations, for any length of time, any farther than accidental circumstances made a perceptible difference in the habits of neighborhoods. "All through the valley were families more strict in their attention to the education of their children" in ways of piety than others, more careful to devote them to God in a way to produce a lasting impression.

In the various Indian wars and in the revolutions this congregation showed its patriotism, and sent forth fathers and sons to meet the enemy in battle. Some of the leading military men in the expedition against the Indians were from this congregation. The Lewis family were famous. Charles A. Stuart, late of Greenbrier, son of John Stuart, who was in the battle of Point Pleasant, tells us that his mother was a Lewis, a grand-daughter of the emigrant John Lewis. On his authority we are informed that John Lewis and Margaret Linn came from Ireland—“but being Presbyterians, were probably of Scottish origin. John Lewis was advantageously a tenant under a Catholic landlord, and for his skill, industry, and fidelity, had the promise of continuance at pleasure. The promise was violated on application for the same place by a Catholic. Upon Lewis’s refusal to give immediate possession, his landlord unlawfully undertook by force to oust him. Resistance, of course, followed. In the affray, Charles, (or perhaps Samuel), a brother to John, an officer in the king’s service; and then sick at John’s house, was killed. . This last act excited John to the utmost pitch of fury, in which he slew one or two of the assailants, and escaping, fled to Portugal. Having remained there two or three years, he privately made arrangements for the removal of his family to America, where he and they were soon reunited. He then came to this part of the country, and settled in what is called Beverly Manor. His first encampment (for so it may be called, although he built a cabin),, was on the bank of Middle, then Carthrae’s river, not four hundred yards from a house now occupied by Charles A. Stuart. Thence he removed to Lewis’s Creek, settled on the tract of land now belonging to the heirs of Robert McCullough, and there built the old stone house, which is still standing, and is probably by far the oldest house in the country. He was the founder of the town of Staunton. This is also in Beverly Manor. He there bred up his family, consisting of four sons and one daughter. His sons were Thomas, William, Andrew, and Charles. John, of the Warm Springs, was the son of Thomas, the surveyor of Augusta, when Augusta extended to the Mississippi river.” All the sons of Col. John Lewis were the parents of a numerous progeny. Andrew Lewis, who was a man of vast energies, both physical and moral, was the commandant of the southern division of Lord Dunmore’s army against the Shawanees, and repulsed the Indians at Point Pleasant, in Oct., 1774. In the very front of this battle, his brother Col. Charles Lewis, sealed his destiny in blood, leaving a name consecrated amongst the dearest and sweetest remembrance of thousands who survive him. Of the 100,000 acres of land said to have been granted to John Lewis, I have no knowledge; but presume that the grant alluded to, is that which was made to the Greenbrier Company, of which he and his son Andrew were members, and the efficient agents.”—William was active in the French and Indian wars—was an. officer in the revolution, in which he lost one son in battle, and had one maimed for life. When the rumor came that Tarlton was approaching the valley, the father was confined by sickness—the mother, with the spirit that dwelt in the breasts of hundreds of mothers in the valley, sent her three sons of 17, 15, 13 years—saying, go my children, I devote you all to my country.— The valley-woman knew the distresses of war; in their childhood, they had known the miseries of savage depredations; and loving their children they preferred an honorable death in the battle-field, to the disgraceful sufferings and death by marauding parties, and the tomahawk of the savage.

When a call was made for militia to aid General Green against Cornwallis, Tinkling Spring sent her sons. Waddell, their minister, addressed to the soldiers at Midway, the parting sermon. In the battle at Guilford Courthouse, these men were found in the hottest of the fight. Some were among the slain. Some brought away deep wounds from sabre cuts; and here the scars through a long life, protracted in some cases to more than fourscore years.

Col. James Patton came from Donegal, a man of property, the commander and owner of a merchant ship. He obtained from the Governor of Virginia, a grant for 120,000 acres of land in the valley for himself and his associates. His residence was on the south fork of Shenandoah. He took up land on the Alleghanies, in Montgomery county, and was killed by the Indians, in one of their plundering incursions, while he was on a visit to that beautiful country in 1753. The Indians came upon him suddenly at Smithfield.

John Preston, a shipmaster in Dublin, married a sister of Col. James Patton; was not successful in his business in Ireland, particularly on account of his religious opinions; came with Col. Patton and resided for a time at Spring Hill, afterwards occupied by Dr. Waddell; and about the year 1743, purchased and occupied a tract near Staunton, lately occupied by General Baldwin. Here he soon died—leaving a widow and five children, all born in Ireland but one. His eldest daughter married Robert Breckenridge, of Botetourt— the grandfather of those ministers, Robert and John, whose acts have been inwoven with the history of the Presbyterian Church since about 1830. The second married Rev. John Brown, pastor of New Providence and Timber Ridge, whose descendants have been famous in Kentucky. The third child, William, was the father of a numerous family, male and female, that have not been unknown in Virginia. The fourth married Francis Smith, and the fifth John Howard, and their descendants are numerous in Kentucky and the south-western States. Devoutly attached to the Presbyterian Church, famed for its vigorous contests for liberty in Scotland, and Ireland, and America; a firm believer in the Calvinistic creed long and well tried as the creed to bear up men in great emergencies; conscientious in his personal religion, estimating the gospel and its advantages to man, a mortal and immortal creature, as beyond all price; devoutly thanking God, before his death, that an orthodox minister was connected with his family, the pastor of a congregation in the wilderness; though cut off in a few years, he impressed a character that has been handed down from generation to generation, by his descendants, for a hundred years, that speaks beyond all argumentation or praise the value of the principles on which the early settlers of the valley built up their society. You may find his son-in-law the first minister of New Providence, the traces of whose labors remain till this day: among his descendants you may find persons in all the varied stations of honest and honorable society, the mountain farmer, the minister of the gospel, the lawyer, the Governor ; you may find near Staunton the vale in which he lived and left his widow, you may see here the spot where he worshipped in the plainness and simplicity of the Presbyterian forms, you look to that yard where his ashes rest, and you find no monument inscribed John Preston.

The Rev. John A. Yanlear that died pastor of Mossy Creek, a part of the ancient bounds of the Triple Forks of Shenandoah, preserved some memoranda of the Yanlear family. John Yanlear, a pious man and thorough Presbyterian, a merchant, emigrated from Holland and settled in Philadelphia. He was one of the company that built the first house of worship for Presbyterians in the city. Feeling the necessity of a house, he willingly exerted himself in the work of collecting funds. Those more nearly interested not being able to raise sufficient money, he applied to a particular friend, a Quaker, for aid—“Well, friend John,” said the Quaker—“thee art engaged in a good cause. I wish thee success. I can’t subscribe to thy paper. But if thee will send to my store, thee shall have nails to do the whole building.” The house was built on the north-west corner of Chestnut and Second streets. This man died in Philadelphia, leaving one son, who removed to Lancaster. He left several sons, two of whom removed to Williamsport, in Maryland, and its vicinity, and one to Christian’s Creek, in Augusta County, about the year 1752. This man left two sons and one daughter; one of the sons, Jacob, lived and died on the place settled by his father. His widow survived him many years, and died at the age of nearly one hundred; a woman of wonderful memory, the relator of many of the traditions respecting the pioneers of the valley. This man left a son on the same place, many years an elder in the Tinkling Spring church. The other son, John, born in Lancaster about 1745, and seven years old when his father removed to Christian’s Creek, married a Miss Allison, in Augusta County, and removed to Montgomery about the time of the revolutionary war, and settled on the north fork of Roanoke, ten miles from Christiansburg, and four from Blacksburg. He served several campaigns during the war, and was present at the siege of York, and the capture of Cornwallis. At the first organization of a church in Montgomery County, he was chosen elder, and officiated till upwards of eighty years of age. Father of ten children, three sons and seven daughters; he trained them up in the old fashioned way of keeping the Sabbath, and saw them all members of the church; two of his sons elders, and one a minister of the gospel, (the collector of these memoranda), and died-at the advanced age of eighty-eight, in the year 1833. “The Bible, and Shorter Catechism, and a sermon from Davies or Burder, on every Sabbath”—says his son, was the order of his house. Other genealogies of equal or greater interest may probably come to light respecting the pious men and women of Tinkling Spring. Let their descendants look for them.

Now let us visit the grave-yard to the west of the church, surrounded by a stone wall, in shape of a section of a horse-shoe, divided at the toe. Let us enter by this gate on the south side nearest the church, and before we go towards the south-west end, we will pause a moment to read the white marble slab to the memory of the third pastor, John M’Cue. Craig, the first pastor, lies near Augusta church ; Waddell, in Louisa, under an apple-tree, in a place chosen by-himself, near where the Counties of Orange, Albemarle, and Louisa meet: M’Cue was suddenly removed Sept. 20th, 1818, in the 66th year of his age. His congregation assembled for worship on the Sabbath morning. His family preceded him a little on their way to the house of God. After a time a messenger informed the gathered people that his lifeless corpse had been found near his own gate. Whether he had fallen from paralysis, or the restiveness of his horse, can never be known. There was no appearance of a struggle after his fall. His ministry extended over 27 years.

A little farther west, and we shall see the marble slab that covers the fourth pastor, James C. Willson, who having served this church 21 years, was suddenly called away on the 10th of January, 1840. He had devoted that day to praying for and writing to an absent son, whom he had hoped to see engaged in the ministry of the gospel. Stepping into the post-office m apparently usual health, he sat down and gasped, and never moved again. No -medical effort could restore the lost pulse. The prayers and tears of the father were a memorial before God. His son followed the father in about two years, giving evidence of acceptance with God. The last prayers of the father were answered in the last hours of the child. These two slabs are a memorial to all pastors of Tinkling Spring—"What thy hand findeth to do, do with all thy might”—“In such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh."

Come down now to the south-west end. In this irregular piece of ground, surrounded on three sides by a stone wall, full of mounds, but not a single inscription,—here is the resting place of the ashes of the ancestors of many of the families in Virginia and Kentucky, men whose names are woven by their descendants in the web of political and religious courts, in colors too vivid to be unnoticed or mistaken. Here are the sepulchres of men that turned the wilderness into habitations, and after assembling on that hillside to worship the God of their fathers, are gathered here to wait the coming of the Son of God, when the graves shall give up their dead. It was a good thought in the conception, and will be patriotic in the execution to raise here in the midst of these crowded mounds, a pillar as simple and unadorned as the manners of that age, and as beautiful and enduring in its simplicity, as the principles that peopled and have governed this valley, inscribed—

Sacred to the Memory
OF THE
Emigrants to this Valley.


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