Highland County Virginia - Under the British Crown
This week's journey through the early days of Highland County and the Valley of Virginia continues with Chapter IX of Oren Frederic Morton's book entitled, The History of Highland County, Virginia. We continue where we left off with the earliest mention of a road in Bath around 1749, when William Jackson was directed to mark and lay off a way from Jackson's River to Colonel Johnson's on the Cowpasture.
The road orders of that time would prove there was a mill at Estill's by 1751, and at Wilson's by 1753. A permission for a mill had to be secured from the county court, but none appears to have been entered on the order book. Andrew Lockridge secured a license in 1753, but we do not know whether it was at the double fords" above Williamsville or on the Calfpasture. The pioneer mill in Bath seems to have been that of Adam Dickinson, licensed in 1746.
The taverns were too few for competition alone to keep down the rates. There were records that Peter Wright took out a tavern license in 1764 with Wallace and Benjamin Estill being his sureties. William Wilson had already taken a license in 1762. They referred to their house of public entertainment has an "ordinary," and the prices it might charge for its services were regulated by the county court.
Religion During the Revolution
After the Revolution there were no church organizations in Highland, Virginia and the nearest "meeting houses" were those at Deerfield on the Calfpasture and at Windy Cove, a few miles above Dickenson's Fort. Even the people most religious attended but rarely.
We find out that all protestants who were not of the Church of England were known as "Dissenters." Protestant houses of worship had to be licensed and registered by the county court. In the Valley they were not fined for not attending the parish church, but they were taxed for its support. Their preachers had to take various oaths and until 1781 they were not permitted to perform the marriage ceremony. It was after the Revolution was under way that all such discriminations were brushed aside and "religion in Virginia made free."
In 1738 the Presbyterian Synod in Ireland had addressed Governor Gooch, "May it please your Honor, we take leave to address you in behalf of a considerable number of our brethren, who are meditating a settlement in the remote parts of your Government and are of the same persuasion as the Church of Scotland. We thought it our duty to acquaint your Honor with this design, and to ask your favor in allowing them the liberty of their consciences and of worshiping God in a way agreeable to the principles of their Education. Your Honor is sensible that those of our profession in Europe have been remarkable for their inviolable attachment to the house of Hanover, and have upon all occasions manifested an unspotted fidelity to our gracious Sovereign, King George, and we doubt not that but these our brethren will carry the same loyal principles to the most distant settlements, where their lot may be cast, which will ever influence them to the most dutiful submission to the Government which is placed over them. This we trust will recommend them to your Honor's countenance and protection, and merit the free enjoyment of their civil and religious liberties. We pray for the divine blessings upon your persons and Government and beg leave to subscribe ourselves your Honor's most humble and obedient servants."
The Governor responded with, "As I have always been inclined to favor the people who have lately removed from other provinces to settle on the western side of our great mountains; so you may be assured that no interruption shall be given to any minister of your profession, who shall come among them, so as they conform themselves to the rules prescribed by the Act of Toleration in England, by taking the oaths enjoined thereby, and registering the place of their meeting, and behave themselves peaceably toward the government."
The Schools In Highland
Schoolmaster's were scattered in different directions, over a wide area in Highland, and almost totally unable to get into the public records. The Scotch-Irish set great store on schooling, but pioneer life in this thinly-peopled wilderness was not favorable. Those that could read and write would give their children rudimentary training. Occasionally, a person appeared in the settlements who was competent to act as a tutor, and was employed for a limited extent. The first classical school west of the Blue Ridge was opened by Robert Alexander in 1749 near Greenville. It continued until the Revolution, when Liberty Academy, which became Washington and Lee University, arose at Lexington.
There was a significant instance that an early constable of the Bullpasture, who of necessity was able to read and write, reared an illiterate family. A signature by means of a mark was very common, although the illiterate person sometimes used the initial letter of his surname or even the initials of both names.
The settlement of Highland and Augusta and the organizing of separate county governments took place at around the same time. The first court met 9 December 1745, but the only member for the district west of Shenandoah Mountain was Adam Dickenson. The courthouse was of hewed logs and 18 by 38 feet in size. There were two little windows unprovided with glass or shutters, but light also came in through unchinked spaces between the logs. Some of the openings being several feet long and several inches wide. The jail was smaller and not well constructed. The county seat was not known as Staunton until 1748, in which year it was laid out as a town. Such was the center of local government for a territory covering a section of the Valley of Virginia 240 miles long.
It was 1776 that the county court was opened by the reading of royal commission to the justices, "Be it remembered,(date) his majesty's commission directed to (justices), to hear and determine all treasons, petit treasons, or misprisons thereof, felonies, murders, and all other offenses and crimes, was openly read."
The court had general police and probate jurisdiction, with control of levies, roads, actions at law, and suits in chancery. A single justice had jurisdiction in matters not exceeding the value of one pound ($3.33). There was no particular limit as to the number of members, and at least 20 were usually in commission at the same time.
A jail in those days was numerously occupied by delinquent debtors. Imprisonment for debt was not put aside until within the memory of people still living. In the order book could be found this form, "Thereupon came, and undertook for the said defendant, incase he be cast in this suit, he shall pay and satisfy the condemnation of the court, or render his body to prison in execution for the same, or that he, the said, will do it for him."
The courthouse yard was supposed to be equipped with whipping post, pillory, stocks and a ducking stool. The whipping post was sometimes a tree. Whipping, up to the number of 39 lashes on the bare back, was much in vogue and administered promptly without regard to sex. The female thief or the mother of a bastard child was often thus punished. sometimes the culprit was unable to pay a fine prayed for corporal punishment and always received what he asked.
The essential feature of the pillory was a pair of short planks, each with a large notch in one edge so that a person's neck might be fitted into the opening. The stocks differed from the pillory in confining the culprits or ankles, or both, and not allowing them to stand. Neither position could be very agreeable, especially if the flies were numerous and the spectators inclined, as in England, to throw mud, sticks, eggs of venerable quality, and epithets as vile as the eggs.
The ducking stool was a long plank, pivoted in the center and furnished at one end with a seat to which the culprit was lashed. The design of the apparatus was to give the person an involuntary bath in a mill pond or river. It was a favorite punishment for a scolding woman.
There was another punishment of branding on the hand with a hot iron and in open court, the criminal being made to say the words, "God save the Commonwealth." For swearing or getting drunk, the penalty was five shillings for each offense or the choice of ten lashes. For working on Sunday the penalty was twice as great. Not a few crimes were punishable with death, and if the offense were regarded as particularly flagrant, it was supposed to make the penalty more impressive by decreeing death without benefit of clergy.
The spirit of the times was harsh and coarse with the severity of the laws and the frequency which even these laws were broken. The public punishment dulled the sensibilities of people and did not reform the law breaker. Men swore and otherwise misbehaved in open court, even to abusing the justices. The ears of criminals were often cropped, In the records of 1746 you can find where Philip Jones lost part of his right ear in a fight and had this fact certified, so that he might not be apprehended as a runaway convict.
In 1750 the path of the constable was not easy, as he was prevented by fist or club from removing a person's goods from his house. In 1750 a constable made the return, "Not executed by reason the Deft with a loaded Gun or Rifle stood in the door of his house and threatened to shoot me or any one that offered to lay hands on any part of his estate. Neither would he suffer me to enter into the House."
This gives us some nature of the times of our pioneers. The offenses most numerous before the court were in addition to debt, assault, trespass, slander, bastardy, drinking, swearing, neglect or road supervision, disturbing public worship and delinquency in paying head tax.
Although the use of liquor was universal, actual drunkeness was rare. Court records prove that alcohol was the same curse in pioneer days that it was in the 19th & 20th century. The voice of decency occasionally heard was shown in the will of John Dickenson of Bath in 1808, whereby he forbids the use of liquor at his interment.
The Augusta people were given to much litigation and the suits, complaints and indictments were innumerable. The settlers on the Bullpasture got into court quite frequently. Burnside and others were contentious, especially in the matter of trespass. The Millers were quarrelsome toward the Bodkins, and several combats between them were recorded. One slander suit brought out a good share of the settlement and the plaintiff gained a verdict of two pounds ($6.67). Two other men misbehaved in court and were given a few hours in jail. Still two other men were fined each 400 pounds of tobacco in 1763, for non-attendance as jurors.
Lawsuits were voluminous and the writing was in very small hand and the lines were near together. The entries were nearly and carefully made. When a coarse pointed quill was used the writing could be read with ease. But when done with a fine pointed quill the writing became almost microscopic. Instead of covering the pages of the order book with an unreadable scrawl, the copyist took time to begin a long entry with a highly ornamented initial letter. Indexing was done with extreme economy of space, sometimes eight lines to the inch. The ink was generally very permanent and the paper was not corroded, as is the case when a steel pen was used. It usually began with a piously worded preamble, which was taken to mean that at heart the settlers were more religious than they professed to be.
The land conveyances before the revolution, followed the English practice of drawing a double instrument (a deed of lease followed at once by a deed of release) so that deeds were recorded in pairs in the deed-book. The deed of lease was valid from the day before the sale for one whole year to be completed and ended, yielding and paying the rent of one peppercorn on "Lady-day next (March 25)," if the same shall be lawfully demanded, to the intent and purpose that by virtue of these presents and of the statute for transferring uses into possession, the said (purchaser) may be in actual possession of these premises, and be thereby enabled to accept and take a grant and release of the possession and inheritances thereof. The consideration named in the paper was five shillings (83 cents).
The deed of release, which was the real and effective instrument, was dated one day later, and mention was made of the purchaser receiving from the seller a twig in token of possession. The Revolution swept away this clumsy practice of giving two deeds in a single transaction.
The man who could prove that he had met the cost of his passage from Europe could enter fifty acres of public domain and have it surveyed by the county surveyor. Later on he received a patent for the land. It was alleged that the Governor did not read the patents he signed and that his secretary did not compare them with the originals. It is also alleged that the grant of fifty acres to each actual settler was evaded or perverted, and that the clerk in the Secretary's office would sell such right for the modest "graft" of one to five shillings.
Prior to 1784, there was no recording of marriages unless by the officiating minister. Prior to 1747 there was no clergyman of the Church of England west of the Blue Ridge, and until 1760 no church edifice. Marriages performed by other persons were illegal in the eye of the Virginia law. This worked a hardship until a more liberal rule came into force, by which a dispensation from the Governor could enable a minister to officiate who was not an Episcopalian.
Indentured white servants were not rare in the Augusta colony. The general influence of the system was not good, it led to black slavery and also fostered immorality. The female servant who became the mother of a bastard was made to serve an extra year. Servants often ran easy, and if captured, they were forced to serve extra time as an offset to the cost of recovery, which was adjudicated by the county court. Wallace Estill made a claim of this sort in 1756, specifying twelve days as spent in the recovery.
James McAvoy and 13 other youths were kidnapped from Ireland and brought to Virginia. Several of the boys were recovered by their parents. McAvoy was sold to Robert Barble, and by him resold to a man in the Valley. While in the service of the latter he married Frances Pritt, but returned to the Bullpasture before his time was out. His owner came and took him back. At length his wife went to where he was, carrying her child, and the morning after her arrival she said she would have to go back. Pritts master offered his servant a horse to take his wife a distance, but she refused the help, and the pair walked slowly out of the settlement.
The wife tucked her cloak into her belt, took her child, and said to her companion, "Now put down your foot," James McAvoy did put down his foot and continued doing so until after walking all day and the following night, when they reached the Bullpasture. McAvoy was not again disturbed, and later on became a resident of Bath.
Negroes were rare in the mountains for some time. The first known to be in Highland was a young woman purchased for Ann Jane Usher by her guardian about 1750.
When the pioneer went to court he took along his long-barreled flintlock rifle, and if possible a wolf head, the latter being a form of currency. The bounty on a wolf at this time was one pound. In 1763 Benjamin Estill turned in 36 assigned wolf heads, these being worth $120. The hemp certificate was also a form of money for paying taxes.
Some of the pioneers brought along a considerable stock of gold and silver coin, but it was not easy to see how money in the wilderness could reproduce itself otherwise than very slowly. There was little to take to the markets except cattle and furs and the market for the former could not have been quick. Nevertheless, land sold at a relatively high price and the goods for sale at a "public sale" found buyers.
The account book of a Staunton merchant who sent goods to Richmond from 1766 to 1775 shows that the leading items were hemp, butter, beeswax, ginseng, cheese and deerskins, the latter being worth in 1774 an average of $1.05. The shipment of flour for the nine years was only thirteen barrels, and in 1767 the price per barrel was $5. Cornbread was the staff of life.
Next week we shall bring you chapter 10, of "A History of Highland County, Virginia," by Oren F. Morton.
View/Write Comments (count 0)
updates (0 subscribers) |
Create Your Badge