Pendleton County, (West) Virginia - Beginning of Settlement
The spirit of the eighteenth century was aristocratic. The colonial government of Virginia had not risen above the idea that the public domain should be a perquisite to the few. The governor and his council (state senate of that day) would issue an order in favor of a land gentleman, permitting that gentleman to select from the public lands 20,000 acres, or perhaps 100,000 acres.
Sometimes the grantee acted alone and with associates. The tract was probably not selected in a single body, but in a considerable number of choice parcels, the surrounding culls being left on the hands of the state. If saturated with old English ideas to the exclusion of the freer spirit of America, the grantee acted the part of Lord Fairfax and sought to make himself a feudal baron surrounded with a population of tenants, so that he and his might be supported by a tax on their industry.
In 1746 and 1747, Robert Green of Culpeper, entered a number of tracts in Pendleton by virtue of an order of council. With him were associated in a considerable degree James Wood and William Russell, the former of Frederick county. No other surveys are on record prior to 1753. The selections of these men were almost wholly in the middle and lower parts of the South Branch and South Fork valleys, where the bottoms are broadest. They located nineteen parcels of land aggregating 15,748 acres. A few of these surveys extended into the present county of Grant, or were wholly beyond the present boundary line.
The survey of 2643 acres at Fort Seybert was more than six miles in length, the lines being run so as to include the whole bottom within that distance and as little as possible of the hilly upland. The survey of 1650 acres on Mill Creek was nearly as long and consequently narrower. This monopoly of nearly thirty square miles of the very best of the soil, left the three partners in control of the situation. Later comers had perforce either to buy of them, take the odds and ends of bottom land they had not gathered in, or else retire into the mountains.
Robert Green did not confine his operations to Pendleton. On the Shenandoah river he entered the still larger amount of 23,026 acres. Another non-resident speculator was John Trimble, a deputy surveyor of Augusta, who located several tracts toward the Highland line. In 1766 Thomas Lewis of Augusta patented a tract of 1700 acres which had been surveyed the year previous for Gabriel Jones and other persons. This survey was a long narrow strip lying on the crest of South Fork Mountain and described as barren mountain land.
The first bona fide settlers of Pendleton appear to be the six families who on the fourth and fifth days of November, 1747 were given deeds of purchase by Robert Green. The heads of these families were Robert Dyer, his son William, and his son-in-law Matthew Patton; also John Patton, Jr., John Smith and William Stephenson. These men purchased 1860 acres, paying therefore 61 pounds and 6 shillings, or $203.33.
The settlers who had come into the valley of Virginia within just 20 years, were scattered over an area 150 miles long and 50 miles broad. This was an average of only one family to each 5,000 acres. The county organization of Augusta was barely three years old. Staunton had not yet received its name. The locality was known as "Beverly's Mill Place." There was in fact no designated town in the whole valley. The nearest approach to one was Winchester, then only ten years old and not to become a town until 1752.
There was no established road or even bridle path for miles down the South Fork. It would easily have taken a week to ride to Philadelphia, then the metropolis of America.
Roger Dyer was at least on the border of middle age and for that period was a person of quite good circumstances. he went into the wilderness of his own free choice and seemed to have possessed the qualities of leadership. Coming to Virginia from Pennsylvania he first located near Moorefield, but finding the damp bottom land malarious, he moved higher up the valley in search of healthful spot. Two of the other members of the group were of his own family, and the other three were presumably former neighbors if not relatives also.
A pathway to the outer world was of pressing importance, and by county order of May 18, 1749, John Smith and Matthew Patton were appointed to survey and mark a road from the house of John Patton to the forks of Dry River. Other persons east of Shenandoah Mountain were to extend the road to the Augusta courthouse. Two years later, 29 May 1751, in consequence to a petition to the Augusta court, John Patton, Roger Dyer, Daniel Richardson, and Dube Collins, together with the adjacent tithables were ordered to clear a way from Patton's mill to Coburn's mill by the nearest and best way. They were also to set up posts of direction and keep the road in repairs according to law.
Changes in ownership soon crept into the colony. The first was in 1750, when Roger Dyer sold to Matthew Patton his place of 190 acres for the same price he paid for it. The elder man at once bought of Robert Green a new tract of 620 acres. Peter Haws, son-in-law of Dyer, bought an entire Green survey paying only $75.83 for the entire 750 acres.
The South Branch of the valley is the largest of the Green surveys in this section was from the very beginning designated as the upper tract, to distinguish it from a lower tract a little farther down in the Mill Creek valley. That name persisted, and finally became that also of the little village that has grown up on the brow of Tract Hill. The upper survey was the largest single expanse of bottom land in the county, and would have been a shining mark to the land prospector. The tract was known to have been conveyed in part or in whole to one William Shelton, and by him to others, but there are no details in regard to these transaction. The actual time of settlement was anywhere from 1748 to 1751, probably nearer to the first date than the second.
Somewhere within this short period Peter Reed built a mill and gave his name to the small stream that winds lazily through the bottom. By petition of the settlers around him, an order of court was issued November 15, 1752 for the building of a road to Reed's mill. Whether this road was to the Dyer settlement or directly down the South Branch was not stated. The viewers and markers were James Simpson and Michael Stump. The tithables ordered to turn out and build the road were Henry Alkire, H. Garlock, Henry Harris, philip Moore, Henery Shipler, jeremiah and George Osborn, and John, Jacob and William Westfall. The settlements in the two valleys were of similar size.
There was a sudden wave of immigration in 1753. 27 tracts were surveyed for 21 different persons, 16 of whom were newcomers. John DAvis located on the South Fork near the northern end of Sweedland Hill, and Henry Hawes surveyed a plot in Sweedland Valley. West of the Dyer settlement were Ulrich Conrad, Jacob Seybert, John Dunkle, and Jacob Goodman, located on the plateau of the South Fork Moutain. Michael Mallow made a large star-shaped survey at Kline P. O., on Mallow's Run. peter Moser and Michael Freeze settled close to Upper Tract. John Michael Popst settled two miles above Brandywine, and John Michael Simmons went higher up the valley. On Walnut Bottom on the North Fork surveys were made by Benjamin Scott, Frederick Sherier, and John, James and William Cunninham.
Still other settlers were here by this time or else they came quickly afterward. Jacob Zorn lived near Propst. He was seemingly the first settler to pass away. Frederick Keister, another son-in-law to Dyer, had come by 1757 and probably earlier. Michael and Jacob Peterson appeared to have settled near Upper Tract. In 1754 we find mention of Samuel Bright on Blackthorn, Joseph Skidmore and Peter Vaneman on Friend's Run. Skidmore and Vaneman were forehanded and enterprising, and became active in land transactions.
Jacob Eberman was in Augusta by 1750, but may not have come to Pendleton for several years afterward. In 1756 Hans Harper had come from Augusta and was living near the head of Blackthorn. The Indians were now coming on, and until 1761 there was an entire letting up in the matter of surveying, except for the parcels taken by John and William Cunningham on Thorny Branch and those of James and Thomas parsons between Trouth Rock and the mouth of East Dry Run.
There were a few more changes within the Dyer settlement. In 1755 Jacob Seybert purchased John pat ton's farm of 210 acres, and two years later William Stephenson sold his own place to Mathias Dice. In the latter year Roger Dyer fell into a term of ill health and made a will wherein he mentions 29 persons with whom he had business dealings of one sort or another. it is quite impossible to draw the line between those who were living within Pendleton and those who were not. The persons named were: Thomas Capbell, William Corry, John Cravens, Michael Dicken, Patrick Frazier, Michael Graft, William Gragg, jesse Harrison, Johnston Hill, Peter Hawes, Frederick keister, Joseph Kile, Arthur Johnston, James Lock, Daniel Love, Michael mallow, John McClure, John and Jane McCoy, Hugh McGlaughlin, David Nelson, Matthew Patton, John Nicholas, and Thomas Smith, William Semple, Herman Shout, John Saulsbury, Robert Scott and Robert Walston.
It was by the close of 1757, not less than about 40 families (200 individuals) were living in what is now Pendleton county. They were not unequally divided between the South Branch and the South Fork. They were most numerous toward Upper Tract and the Dyer settlement. Nearly all lying on or near the large watercourses. In the clearings were the small houses of unhewn logs. Around the house were small, stump, dotted fields of corn, grain, and flax. The pens for the livestock were strongly built, so as to protect the animals from the bears, wolves and catamounts that were the cause of continual anxiety and occasional loss. The broads leading out front he settlements were simply bridle paths, and commodities were carried on the backs of animals.
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