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Sketches of Virginia


The first habitations of white men, west of the Blue Ridge in Virginia, designed for a permanent residence, were erected upon the waters that flow into the Cohongorooton, and with it form the Potomac. The grant of the northern neck, to the ancestors of Lord Fairfax, claimed for its western boundary a line from the head-spring of the Rappahannoc, supposed to rise in the Blue Ridge, to the head-spring of the Potomac, supposed 'to rise in the same ridge, or not far to the west. The Shenandoah, or more probably the Monoccacy, was reckoned the main branch of the Potomac. As the beauty and fertility of the country, west of the Blue Ridge, became known by hunters and explorers, Lord Fairfax naturally searched for the longest stream that passed through the Blue Ridge at Harper’s Ferry, gave the name of Potomac to the Cohongorooton of the aborigines and looked for its head-spring in the distant ridges of the Allegheny. The name Potomac, became by general use the appellation of the river, that is the dividing line between Maryland and Virginia, from its mouth to its headspring. The western or south-western lines of the grant being extended so far into the Alleghenies, Lord Fairfax claimed that extensive and fertile country embraced in the counties of Jefferson, Berkeley, Morgan, Hampshire, Frederic, Clarke, Warren, Page, Shenandoah and Hardy. While the claims of Fairfax to this extended grant were not admitted in Virginia, or established in En-land, warrants for surveying and appropriating extensive tracts, west of the Blue Ridge, were granted, by the governor of Virginia, to enterprizing men, on condition of permanent settlements being made, on portions of the territory covered by the warrants. John and Isaac Vanmeter obtained, from Gov. Gooch, a warrant for 40,000 acres to be located among the beautiful prairies at the lower end of the valley. This warrant they sold to Joist Hite of Pennsylvania, who proceeded to make locations of the land, and to induce emigrants from the European nations to take their residence on his grant.

Of the streams that water the extensive western section of Fairfax’s grant, all oi* which seek their outlet by the Cohongorooton, at Harper’s Ferry, the Opecquon, taking its rise at the base of the North Mountain a few miles west of Winchester, and winding its way through the middle of the valley to the main river Potomac, claims for her banks the honor of the first settlement. The Cedar creek, rising in the same mountain a little farther south, and winding across the valley into the Shenandoah, divides the honor with the Opecquon, or claims indisputably the second place. The Shenandoah claims the third for its banks above its first forks, in the counties of Page, Warren and Shenandoah. About the same time Linvel’s creek in Rockingham, in Beverly’s grant, was chosen for a settlement. And then in quick succession the adjoining head streams of the Shenandoah and the James, and the waters that run among the Allegheny ridges into the Potomac, and the Potomac itself, were adorned with habitations of white men associated for mutual defence and improvement.

A dispute immediately arose between Fairfax and Hite, and other grantees. Fairfax obtained from the crown the establishment of his boundaries, on conditions,—one of which was that the grants already made by the king’s officers should remain undisturbed by any claim of Fairfax. Hite was thus confirmed in his grant, and those that bought under Trim were secured in their possessions. Fairfax, however, pretended that Hite had not fulfilled the conditions of his grants, for besides the grant obtained from the Messrs. Vanmeter, he had with M’Kay, Green and Duff, received warrants to locate 100,000 acres in the bounds of the so called northern neck; and he proceeded to grant away large quantities of the land covered by Hite’s warrants. This proceeding led to a lawsuit, which was finally settled in 1786, in favour of Hite. While all that bought under Hite were secured by the compromise with the king, those who bought under Fairfax and settled on Hite’s grants, were compelled by this decision to hold their titles from Hite. The lawsuit alarmed many emigrants, and the hopes of greater security allured them on to the head waters of the Shenandoah, and a large region of country, of which Staunton is near the centre, was occupied more rapidly than the lower end of the valley, unsurpassed as it was in beauty and fertility, and untroubled as a great part of it was by the opposing grants and the lawsuit.

Those that first came into the valley for a residence, were Scotch-Irish, more or less direct from Ireland, through Pennsylvania; Germans, also through Pennsylvania, more or less direct trom the parent land; and the Quakers or Friends, of English origin, also from the state of Penn, their American founder. A large part of the valley, from the head springs of the Shenandoah to the Potomac, or Maryland line, a distance of about 150 miles, embracing ten counties, was covered with prairies abounding in tall grass, and these, with the scattered forests, were filled with pea vines. Much of the beautiful timber in the valley has grown since the emigrants chose their habitations.

Joist Hite removed his family to Virginia in 1732, and took his residence on the Opecquon a few miles south of Winchester. The farm and. dwelling of Mr. Hite have been for many years in possession of the Barton family. His sons-in-law came with him : George Bowman was located on Cedar Creek, about eight miles south of Newtown ; Jacob Chrisman at a spring two miles south of Newtown, still called by his name; and Paul Froman on Cedar Creek, some nine miles above Bowman, towards the North Mountain. Other families came with them, making in all sixteen. Peter Stephens took his residence between Hite and Chrisman, and others settling with him, he called the place Stephensburg, now commonly called Newtown. Robert M’Kay made his residence on Crooked Run. Robert Green and Peter Duff came with the company — but preferred locating a part of their grant east of the Blue Ridge, in Rappahannoc County.

Other grants were obtained from the Governor in the region claimed by Fairfax, and were sanctioned by the king; one in 1733, to Jacob Stover, a German, for five thousand acres on the south fork of the Gerando (Shenandoah) and on Mesinetta Creek. In 1734, Benjamin Allen, Riley Moore and William White, removed from Monoeeasy in Maryland, and settled on the north branch of the Shenandoah, about twelve miles south of Woodstock.

Before any settlement had been made in the valley of the Shenandoah, John Vanmeter, from the state of New York, accompanied the Delawares in an excursion to the Catawba. ’Their path led along the south branch of the Potomac. Delighted with the appearance of Hardy County, he, on his return, advised his sons if they turned their steps southward for a home to seek the south branch. His son Isaac visited the country about the year 1736, and made what is called a tomahawk right to Fort Pleasant. lie revisited the country in 1740, and found a cabin built upon the tract. He bought out the inhabitant, and in 1744, removed his family. Between his first visit, and his removal, a number of persons had taken their abode along the branch — Howrard, Coburn, Walker, Rutledge, Miller, Hite, Casey, Pancake, Forman, and perhaps others, had found their way to that beautiful country.

In 1734, Richard Morgan obtained a grant for a tract of land in the immediate vicinity of Shepherd’s town, on the Cohongorooton. The first settlers were Robert Harper (at Harper’s Ferry), Thomas and William Forrester, Israel Friend, Thomas Shepherd, Thomas Swearingen, Van Swrearingen, James Forman, Edw7ard Lucas, Jacob llite (son of Joist), John Lemon, Richard and Edward Mercer, Jacob Vanmeter and brothers, Robert Stockton, Robert Buckles, John Taylor, Richard Morgan, William Stroop and John Wright. Others were soon added: and settlements were made along the hanks of the Cohongorooton, or Potomac, from Harper’s Perry to the North Mountain.

An enterprizing man by the name of Ross obtained a warrant for forty thousand acres. His surveys were north of Winchester, along the Opecquon and Applepye Ridge. The settlers were Friends, and in 1738 had regular monthly meetings.

In 1780, Colonel Robert Carter had obtained a grant for sixty three thousand acres along the Shenandoah, on the west side, from the forks down about twenty miles: some of the finest lands in Warren County were embraced. Another grant of thirteen thousand acres along the same river, next below Carter’s tract, embraced the finest lands in Clarke County. These tracts were not pressed into market, and were not occupied till the rest of the valley was taken up.

Back Creek in Berkeley county, west of the North Mountain, was early settled, being chosen in preference to the lands in the valley between the North Mountain and the Blue Ridge. The settlers were Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. The date of their earliest settlement is not preserved. Harassed by the Indians in Braddock’s war, the greater part went across the North Mountain and took their abode on Tuscarora and along to the Falling Waters, and founded congregations by those names, still known in the Presbyterian Church.

In 1738, the County of Frederick was set off, including all Fairfax grant west of the Blue Ridge, now embraced in ten counties. The preamble of the law says—“Whereas great numbers of people have settled themselves of late upon the rivers Shenandoah, Cohongorooton and Opecquon, and the branches thereof, on the north side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, whereby the strength of the colony, and its security upon the frontiers, and his majesty’s revenues of quit-rents are like to be much increased and augmented,” &c., &c. On Tuesday, November 14th, 1743, eight persons took the magistrates’ oath, and composed the court. Morgan Morgan and David Vance administered the oath to Marquis Calmes, Thomas Rutherford, William M’Mahon, Meredith Helmes, George Hoge and-John White. These, in turn, administered the oath to Morgan Morgan and David Vance. James Wood was made Clerk of the County, and Thomas Rutherford, Sheriff. James Porteus, John Steerman, George Johnston, and John Newport, gentlemen, taking the oath of attornies, were admitted to the Bar. Winchester was the county seat. At the second meeting of the court, December 9th, 1743, the will of Benjamin Burden, who had been named as magistrate, was proved: Barnet Lindsey received twenty lashes on his bare back, at the common whipping-post, for stealing' two pieces of venison from the milk house of Thomas Hart, adjudged to be worth two pence: Henry Howard, servant to James M’Crachan, 'was adjudged guilty of a misdemeanor, on charge of stealing a mare from Samuel Glass, and received ten lashes on his bare back, December 10th. In another case of horse stealing—or rather horse riding — taking a man’s horse without leave, and riding off on a visit for some days—the defendant had his choice of twenty lashes or fifteen shillings fine: the same Henry Howard was complained of by his master, James M’Crachan, that he had been absent eleven days, and that in finding him and bringing him back, the expenses had been twenty shillings, and one hundred and fifty pounds of tobacco; and the court ordered that he serve six months and four days for his runaway time and expenses, after the expiration of his time of servitude according to law, unless he could otherwise satisfy his master. In March, 1744, ordered that James O’Neal keep the Court House clean, and attend on court days to take care of the Justices’ horses during a twelvemonth, for which he is to receive from the county levy c £23 15s. current money.

These servants were persons from the old country, sold to service for a term of time to pay their passage across the ocean. Black slaves were not common in the valley of Virginia, till long after the revolution, except along the Shenandoah river, on the tracts of land owned by persons living east of the Ridge. The public officers were chosen with due respect to the various settlements in the- extended county. The High Sheriff was from Jefferson—the County Clerk from Winchester—Morgan, one of the Magistrates, from Berkeley, Hoge, from south branch of Potomac, and the others from Frederick, and Clarke, and Warren.

Augusta County was set off in 1738, at the same time with Frederick. The two counties were to embrace all western Virginia; Frederick to contain that part of the northern neck west of the Ridge, and Augusta all the rest of the vast western possessions. The dividing line was to run from the head-spring of Hedgeman’s river, a branch of the Rappahannoc, to the head-spring of the Potomac. Augusta contained an area now embraced by four states, and about forty counties in Virginia. The emigrants to this county were like those to Frederick, with the exceptions of the Friends. The Scotch-Irish took the lead.

And now kind reader, you shall be introduced, if you please, to some of these early settlements, made by men of strong minds, ready hands, and brave hearts; the elements of whose character, like the country they chose, have been developed in the prosperity of Virginia.

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