In 16__ James Stuart Duke of York granted all land west of the Delaware River to William Penn, a Quaker whose intention was to found a colony in America free of the sectarian strife tearing at Europe. In 16__ Penn bought out the Natives and packed off the original Scandinavian colonists from betweem the Delaware and Schuylkill to twice the amount of land in the interior. He sold their former holdings to British refugees from Stuart persecution who built Philadelphia of board and brick around the Swedes' original log houses.
Swedes declining to adopt British ways tasted the bitterness of dispossession as their property values plummeted. Ninety-one-year-old Nils Gustafson told Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm that his father sold an "estate" for "a cow, a sow, and a hundred pumpkins." In the countryside, however, many British followed the Scandinavians' example of building with logs in a country covered with trees, and when Scandinavians sought a wider country and the freedom to make a living from the woods, a number of British went along. They found the country and the freedom near the disputed Pennsylvania-Maryland boundary where, as late as the 1720s, Irish immigrants kept surveyors at bay with threats of violence.
|A house built in 1735 on Crooked Run (present Cedarville, Va.) by Robert McKay, Jr. of Cecil County, Md. The original log house, with a chimney at each end, is covered with clapboard siding. The stone house was a nineteenth century addition.|
The Finns' slash-and-burn method of relocation proved as influential to the British as it had earlier to the Swedes. By the 1730s there were British settlers—from the Delaware to the mouth of the Susquehanna—poised to break for the interior. One of them was Scots Quaker Robert McKay, who had moved in 1723 from East Jersey to one hundred fifty acres on the Maryland-Pennsylvania border.
By 1731 McKay was eyeing land west of the Blue Ridge where Virginia had already granted land to Pennsylvanians Alexander Ross and Morgan Bryan. McKay joined forces with Joist Hite, a German speculator from Shippack Creek who bought grants in the Valley of Virginia totaling forty-thousand acres from John and Isaac Van Meter. Together, Hite and McKay persuaded Virginia's Governor Gooch to let them have one hundred thousand additional acres in the forks of the Shenandoah provided they seeded the land with one hundred Pennsylvania families they assured him were ready to make homes on Virginia's frontier.
Four years later, however, the partners had only attracted fifty-four heads of households, and were allowed a thousand acres for each of them. In 1732 McKay himself settled on Opequon Creek near Martinsburg, W.Va. before making off again for the South Fork of Shenandoah where in 1735 he was killing wolves.
Before the 1730's the Shenandoah Valley had been virtually empty of humans except for wandering Indian hunters and a few Germans on the South Fork. Virginia's western flank was vulnerable to French Canadians whose trade and sympathy for Indian ways gained them valuable allies among Native peoples. But the right of the Government to grant land in the lower Valley was in dispute. In 1649 future British monarch Charles II had given all land between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers to eight British aristocrats without knowing for sure how far west the Potomac extended. In 1730 only Thomas Lord Fairfax, inheritor from his mother of this vast domain, had the right to dispose of lands there.
Gooch notified British authorities he would continue issuing patents in the territory anyway; the river above of the mouth of Shenandoah might yet prove to be the Cohongaroota, and not the Potomac, which would keep virtually all land west of the Blue Ridge within the Royal Governor's jurisdiction. On October 28, 1730, when Scots Quaker Alexander Ross and Irishman Morgan Bryan dangled one hundred land-hungry families in front of Gooch, he took the bait, giving the entrepreneurs one hundred thousand acres west of "Opeckon" Creek.
In 1732 Alexander Ross left the Maryland border (West Nottingham, Pa.) to settle near present Clearbrook where there was a plain log meeting house that gave way in 1759 to a stone building. Morgan Bryan took a roundabout way into the Valley, from Brandywine Creek where he lived in 1719-20, to Monocacy Creek, and perhaps briefly to Loudon County, Va. where he had surveys made in the Blue Ridge foothills. By 1734 he had established a mill west of the Blue Ridge near Bedington, W.Va.
In 1736 two parties of commissioners—one for the Crown, the other for Lord Fairfax—returned from a fact-finding trip to the Alleghenies with news that the river above the mouth of the Shenandoah was not the Cohongaroota; it was the Potomac. The seventy mostly Quaker families in the Bryan-Ross grant, along with German and Swiss settlers on the south fork of the Shenandoah, suddenly found that they were squatters on someone else's land. But they had built cabins and made crops on it, and they would be first to get killed on it if the French started shooting—a fact the Crown could not afford to ignore. To keep Virginia's frontier from hemorrhaging, Lord Fairfax visited the valley in 1736 and '37 to spread the news he "would not have any poor man quit the place for want of land." He assured settlers that anyone who held a title from Hite would "come off" well, provided the land was surveyed according to Virginia law.
Although Fairfax offered land at lower rates, the settlers got more for the three pounds per hundred acres they paid McKay and Hite. The partners let them go where they wanted, let them gerrymander boundaries to make the most of springs and fertile creek bottoms. Fairfax, however, insisted settlers should be content with tracts that Virginia law said must be at least a third wide as they were long.
A change of owners didn't change settlement patterns. The Ross-Bryan grant continued to draw settlers from north of the Potomac, particularly from the northern terminus of the Delmarva Peninsula where English, Welsh, Irish, Scots, and Scandinavians had been pressed together for so long they had essentially become one people. To these northerners the mountains that stood in their way were a "Blue Ridge," not an impenetrable chain of "Great Mountains," as they were called in the tidewater.
One of the hardy northern breed was Abraham Hollingsworth, an Irish Quaker who had associated all his life with woods-faring Scandinavians. In 1710 he married Ann Robinson of Scandinavian decent and moved from Mill Creek in New Castle County, Del. to Elk Creek in Cecil County, Md. He and Robert McKay were acquainted. In Pennsylvania he had signed a list of witnesses at the Quaker marriage of his brother-in-law George Robinson to Robert McKay's daughter Mary. In 1732 he built a cabin on—and gave name to—Abram's Creek in present Winchester, Va. It was prime real estate, prized earlier by some wandering Shawnee who in the late seventeenth century established a village near Shawnee Springs.
Abraham undoubtedly explored the Valley prior to settlement. The Shenandoah was known territory to English hunters from Pennsylvania at least since 1730 and probably earlier. On December 15, 1730 the Pennsylvania Gazette reported that "John Pemberton kill'd a Buffalo upon Shunadore River [where] 'tis said they frequently see ten or more of these Creatures together." According to family tradition Abraham's father, Thomas Hollingsworth, was trampled and killed in 1733 while hunting buffalo near the North Mountain, nine miles from his son's cabin.
|A log house in Finland (above). The roof of clapboards on the purlins is weighted with horizontal poles and short perpendicular logs between to keep the "weight poles" from sliding off. The bottom rows of clapboards rest against "butting poles" at the eaves. Finns carried this technique into Sweden, then to the Delaware Valley where English settlers adopted it. Below is an illustration of a backwoods cabin with a weight-on roof in Ohio.|
The cabin likely resembled the ones of round logs "Cribb fashion & old" that Joshua Hempstead observed in 1749, only three miles west of Abraham's former home on Mill Creek. Abraham probably used the Finnish method of placing poles on his roof to hold long, overlapping clapboards in place not only because nails were expensive but because it made little sense to waste nails on a cabin that was only the first step toward a hewn log house with rafters and a shingled roof. A witness in an unrelated land dispute testified that in 1747 a "shingled house" like the one he saw on Elk Branch of the Potomac was an "uncommon" sight in the region. By 1755 Isaac Hollingsworth had replaced his father's log house with one of stone, but Samuel Kercheval—born in Clarke County Va. in 1767—recalled that cabins roofed with "split clapboards, and weight poles" were "pretty generally in use" during his lifetime. Such a roof might even come in handy if it needed to be knocked off from inside because it caught fire.
To the basic Scandinavian design the British added their own modifications: stone chimneys on the gable-ends instead of clay chimneys in a corner; doorways under the eaves instead of through the gable-end. Everyone daubed mud over cracks between the logs as an alternative to the moss used in Sweden.
Abraham's cabin east of Town Run was one of only "two small log cabins" an old woman told Samuel Kercheval she saw on the site of Winchester in 1738. The other cabin west of Town Run belonged to another Cecil County emigrant, Isaac Parkins. There was no town yet on Town Run; the court sat seventy miles due south on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge in Orange county, of which the Valley settlements were a part.
Other settlements sprang up around the Parkins and Hollingsworth cabins. Scots Presbyterian William Hoge came from Big Elk Creek near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border to Hoge's Run (present Kernstown, Va.). His son-in-law, Robert White, settled at the foot of the Great North Mountain near Hayfield. In 1734 Benjamin Borden—a Quaker from Freehold Township, Monmouth County, N.J.—settled on Borden Marsh Run near where Lord Fairfax later built a backwoods manse. But, unlike Fairfax, Borden was a plain settler of limited means and education, a Justice of the Peace who begged the indulgence of "the Cort of Orrange County in Verginie" in 1735 for not attending "last Cort [because] all my house kind was poor a coming to this country, [and if] I should not com next Cort I desire the favour of the Cort to excuse me tell I have got better settleed ..."
West of North Mountain Welshmen Owen Thomas near present Gore, Va., and Isaac Thomas above where Isaac's Creek joins Back Creek, hacked homes out of a towering hardwood forest. On December 19, 1734 Owen and Sarah Thomas, with their neighbor Thomas Eades, came down from the hills as guests in Isaac Parkins' cabin, witnesses to an exchange of wedding vows between George, son of Abraham Hollingsworth, and Hannah, daughter of Robert McKay. After the wedding Eades and the Thomases took the path from the grassland back to the deep woods where axmen had made so little progress by 1737 that Owen put his name to a road petition complaining that hill folk could "scarce get bread for [their] children for want of land clear'd."
In 1743 Orange County surveyor James Woods laid off "twenty six [half-acre] lots" on Town Run and divided twenty-two of them among "His Magesties' Justices ... for the use of the [new county of Frederick]." He stipulated that each lot owner must build within two years a house at least "20 feet by 16" of "framed work or squared logs dovetailed," or the land would again become Woods' property. Builders hastily raised log cabins, and a decade saw the number of houses increase to about sixty; but in 1753 Moravians on their way to Carolina noted that most were "rather poorly built."
The first Frederick court convened in 1743 in Woods' home or in a log cabin thrown up for the purpose on his property. At this first session the justices ordered Sheriff Thomas Rutherford to "build a twelve-foot square log house, logg'd above and below, to secure his prisoners." The actual builder was innkeeper Duncan O'Gullion, and the jail he built was so insubstantial that the court determined the sheriff should "not to be held responsible for escapes." A 12' x 12' cabin built by John Hardin of Redbud Run was good enough for the Frederick county court until it was replaced by a 32' x 21' log building with glazed windows that let sunlight into a plastered courtroom. In 1752 the crossroads hamlet acquired the official name Winchester, although locals continued to use the name Frederickstown.
By 1748 there was at least one ordinary in Frederickstown able to set "a good Dinner, Wine and Rum Punch in Pleanty" before sixteen-year-old George Washington, who was one of a company of surveyors for Lord Fairfax. He afterward retired to "a good Feather bed with clean Sheets," a world away from the home of Isaac Pennington on Buck Marsh Run where, "not being so good a Woodsman" as his comrades, Washington stripped before lying down on some matted straw under a blanket crawling with lice and fleas. Pennington's father Abraham was a former Indian trader who moved steadily west from the Delaware to the Susquehanna, then to the Potomac near present Brunswick, Md., and finally to Wheat Spring Branch below the forks of the Shenandoah—long before Thomas Berry built a nearby tavern (present Berryville), and before backwoods roustabout and future Revolutionary general Daniel Morgan christened the tavern "Battletown" with his fists.
In 1752 Fairfax himself took up residence west of the Blue Ridge in present Clarke Co., "beyond all the gentry amongst the Woods." His stuccoed mansion, Greenway Court Manor, wasn't much by tidewater standards, but impressed the locals whom his brother characterized in 1768 as "nothing but Buckskins viz. back woods men and Brutes," their "manner of living ... almost past description." Young Samuel Kercheval was in such awe of the "great folk," whose knee and shoe buckles were set "with brilliant stones," that he believed they were "more than man."
By the 1750s first-comers were drifting off to the Carolinas, and most Pennsylvania emigrants by-passed the Fairfax grant altogether. One reason for moving was because a deed of purchase from Morgan Bryan was no guarantee against having to buy the land a second time from Lord Fairfax to make sure of a title. Another reason was that Fairfax couldn't resist behaving like the landlords settlers had crossed an ocean to escape.
When Owen Thomas died in 1749 his wife was still childless; probably a good thing, because her life was about to become even more difficult. Fairfax ordered new surveys made of Owen and Isaac Thomas' land, arguing that the old surveys were longer and narrower than Virginia law allowed, taking up too much of the bottom land along Back and Isaac's Creeks. Fairfax reclaimed the excess acreage and sold it to an absentee. In 1755 Isaac Thomas sold his remaining land to James Haworth and packed off with Owen Thomas' widow to South Carolina.
In the 1730s William Linville apparently saw no future on land north of Winchester where his Quaker parents John and Anne Linville had lived since moving from Conestoga Creek. Sometime before 1739 William and his wife "Ellender"—the daugher of Morgan Bryan—moved south of the Fairfax property line that sliced through western Virginia from the Blue Ridge to the North Branch of the Potomac west of the Alleghenies. In 1744 Morgan Bryan joined his son-in-law on Linville Creek, and in four years both were off for Carolina.
According to Bernhard Grube—founder of the Moravian settlement of Bethabara (Winston-Salem, N.C.)—Morgan Bryan's journey from the 'Shanidore' to the 'Etkin' [Yadkin]" was a three month ordeal. It became necessary at one point to remove the wheels and haul the wagon over a mountain by mainstrength. It was the last move for Linville who was killed by Indians in 1766 while on a hunt near Linville Falls, N.C.
|Greenway Court Manor west of the Blue Ridge, the residence of Thomas 6th Lord Fairfax. A Loyalist during the revolution, Fairfax was allowed to keep his plantation until his death in 1781, but not his vast western holdings, which the Commonwealth of Virginia confiscated in 1779.|
|The limestone land office Fairfax had erected west of the Blue Ridge in 1759 to keep settlers from having to travel east to transact business at his cousin's Belvoir plantation.|
Moravians Leonhard Schnell and John Brandmueller traveled much the same route in the opposite direction in 1749. Most likely they were ferried over James River by Robert Looney, a Manx Quaker who came from the Fairfax grant before 1740 and opened a grist mill on Looney's Creek. The missionaries crossed to the howling of wolves and for thirty miles (from prestent Buchanan to Fairfield) found "few houses and no bread." The crops were damaged by a flood that Mrs. Looney told them floated a bed in which she and two of her children slept. Four years later, however, Mrs. Looney had flour to bake bread for Moravian Bernhard Grube and his companions after they forded the James on their way to Bethabara.
Other settlers added their tracks to Bryan's, and Braddock's defeat added more. But many Quakers in the lower valley clung to their patches of ground despite the danger. In 1754 James Haworth, who in 1739 came to Frederick Co. from Bucks Co. Pa., bought Isaac Thomas' remaining one hundred eighty-three acres and settled on Isaac's Creek. Jesse Pugh, a Quaker from Montgomery County, Pa., wrote out the transfer agreement and bought Thomas Eades' land on Back Creek for himself. Eades moved to a cave on Cacapon River—in 1755 Indians followed his children as they fetched in the cows and captured the entire family.
Most Quakers were determined not to fight and risked Eades' fate rather than put the Blue Ridge between themselves and danger. An exasperated Washington threatened to flog war-resisters, but referred the matter to Governor Dinwiddie after discovering most would rather be "whipped to death than bear arms, or lend us any assistance whatever upon the fort ..."
Quakers sometimes had more to fear from provincial militia than from the French and Indians. A year after war commenced, Indians hadn't touched Jesse Pugh's house, which doubled as an inn on Braddock's road between Winchester and Fort Cumberland. But on May 4, 1756 a detachment of Virginia militia under Henry Woodward "killed his Fowls, pulled down one of his Houses for firewood; [and] turned the Horses into his meadow and corn; [destroying] them and his Fences."
An Indian uprising in 1763 continued to test Quaker pacifism; in 1764 Indians killed settlers near John White's Fort (Hayfield) and took two scalps from the fractured skull of Esther Lloyd, who recovered. That night the family of Thomas Pugh (Jesse's son) near present Gainesboro awoke to a dog's barking. The family evacuated the house while the dog kept up a ferocious rear guard action. The dog's barking was so fierce Pugh took a chance on returning for some forgotten money, suspecting perhaps that the intruders were robbers prowling the neighborhood disguised as Indians who did not want money. Maybe the Indians didn't kill Pugh because he was a peace-loving Friend, and his house a place of Quaker worship. Whatever the reason, Pugh and his family escaped and the house was spared.
|The North Fork of Shenandoah rises in the Alleghenies (far left center) and pierces Little North Mountain at Brock's Gap before twisting north along the western base of Massanutten mountain (center)—known also as Buffalo, Peaked, and Three Top Mountain. The South Fork skirts the eastern base of Massanutten Mountain west of the Blue Ridge, and joins the main Shenandoah (top right) at Front Royal.|
Other Quakers had no compunctions about taking up arms. In 1765 the Hopewell Meeting disowned Richard Haworth (James Haworth's son) for "scouting after the Indians, bearing arms, and training in the militia." Unlike the Pughs, who were active in the community's economic and political life, the Haworths were backwoodsmen who left their bones under plain, unworded stones that marked their way south and west. In the 1760s Richard's mother Sarah Haworth (widowed since 1757) traveled with kinsmen to the Bush River Monthly Meeting in Newberry County, S.C. Her son remained in Frederick County and married, but in 1769 Richard was off to New Garden Meeting in Alamance County, N.C., and later crossed the mountains into Tennessee where he died in 1811.
Nobody personified backwoods rootlessness more than Job Hobbs, who at the robust age of one hundred chronicled his wanderlust to a Revolutionary War pension examiner. He said he was born in 1759 on the south bank of the Potomac in present Berkeley county, W.Va. to Vinson Hobbs (born in Dorset, England) and Ruth Thomas Hobbs.
Job was taken by his parents first to the North Fork of Holston where, in his teens, he fought one "scrimmage" in which two Indians were killed and seven captives recovered. In 1780 he moved again with his parents to Turkey Cove in Powell’s Valley where he lived for ten years. "I then moved to Madison County, Kentucky. I remained there 4 years. I then moved to Knox County, Tenn, remained there 3 years, then moved to Montgomery County, Tenn, rem there 4 years, then moved to [Daviess] County, Kentucky from there to Spencer County, Indiana, remained 14 years from there I moved to Illinois, Clay County remained there 4 years thence to Marion County 4 years and from there to Washington Co Arks. I do not recollect the time I remained in Washington County. I now reside in Madison County, Arkansas and have about 12 or 15 year." He said he hadn't seen any of his family since his brother Ezekiel paid him a visit forty years earlier. When asked why he left Virginia he replied simply, "I wanted to emigrate to a new country."
Perhaps lack of education unfitted such men for participation in civilized society and kept them on the move; both Hobbs and William Linville were illiterate. But although hunters like Linville never constituted a majority of backwoods society, they were invaluable in breaking the way for settlement in new territory.
|About the year 1745 William Walling settled west of Brock's Gap on a creek that bore his name. In 1748 Moravian Matthias Gottschalk, traveling through Brock's Gap, reported that elk were "numerous in those mountains."|
In 1774 John Redd of Henry County, Va. met forty-year-old Elisha Walling "of the English and Welch Extraction," "a man with darke skin," "square bilt," with "rather cours fetures," who "never cultivated the soil," and "knew vary little about any thing els besides hunting." He always returned "with his horses ladin with skins and furs."
Walling's father (also named Elisha) came from New England and settled among the Scandinavians on Cohansey Creek in southern Jersey, moving later to the mouth of Monocacy Creek in Maryland where his son Elisha was born. In 1745 Elisha, Sr. and his brother William moved south. William settled on the north fork of Shenandoah beside an "elk trail" that led to a salt lick near Adam Rader's cabin (now Timberville, Va.); his brother kept to the Great Road, crossing the Blue Ridge at Maggody Gap, settling in the foothills along Smith River near present Martinsville, Va. There Elisha, Jr. grew to manhood, leading a party of hunters through Cumberland Gap in 1761—beating Boone to Kentucky by eight years. Like Boone, he "followed up hunting as long as he was able," dying "on the fronteers of Misoura at a very advanced adge."
Daniel Boone was born in 1734 on Owatin Creek, near the Schuylkill River, in a log house his father built German-style over a spring that ran through an arch in the stone cellar. Germans may have initiated the boy into the mysteries of the rifle, and neighboring Finns and Swedes from Manatawny Creek may have helped with his apprenticeship as a woodsman and hunter. It's unlikely his father, Squire Boone—a weaver, dairy farmer, and blacksmith—could have provided such instruction.
In 1750 Squire Boone took his family out of Exeter Township to the comparative freedom of Linville Creek in the Virginia Valley where he need not answer meddlesome questions about his children marrying outside the Quaker faith. But the Boones were only passing through. By 1752 they had settled on Dutchman's Creek near Mocksville, N.C., neighbors to Morgan Bryan. And in 1756 Squire Boone, justice of Anson County, presided over his son Daniel's marriage to Bryan's granddaughter, Rebecca.
Fairly typical of settlers who followed hunters into new country, John Lincoln came to Linville Creek in 1768 from Exeter Pa. He had a brother Abraham who married a cousin of Boone's in Pennsylvania, and his son Abraham was a captain in the Augusta County militia and helped burn Cherokee towns in 1776. In 1778 Abraham survived on wild roots and moccasin hide when the Shawnee laid siege to Fort Laurens in what is now Ohio. In 1782 he settled on Long Run in present Jefferson County, Ky. where Indians killed him in May of 1786. His son Josiah ran to Hughes' Station for help while in the cabin another son, Mordecai, drew a bead on a "silver pendant" dangling near the heart of the Indian who was reaching for his youngest brother Thomas. Mordecai's ball killed the warrior, and Thomas grew up to marry Nancy Hanks, mother of President Lincoln.
Three successive generations of Quakers had come to Linville Creek as the settlement progressed from wild frontier to peaceful backwater, and still the Blue Ridge was a barrier to Episcopalian settlement from the east. Perhaps Tuckahoes were simply fastidious about settling among Protestants in a country the dissenters called "New Virginia."
Backwoods Protestants were not so particular. Beginning in the 1730s they pushed east through the mountain gaps, chopping trees, hewing and notching logs, and building cabins in great leaps south and east of the Blue Ridge. As early as 1734 Irishman Michael Woods led kinsmen and neighbors from the Paxtang settlement in Pennsylvania up the Shenandoah Valley and east to Mechum's River in the western piedmont, a country as wild then as the Shenandoah. Farther east in 1738 Richard Kennon—owner of land between Turnip and Cub Creeks in present Charlotte County, Va.—welcomed Irishman John Caldwell and two hundred Presbyterian families who had been living in Pennsylvania since 1726.
Other speculators succeeded in enticing northern Protestants to their own holdings. The ones we know about were legal settlers. But squatters like those driven south by the hard winter of 1739-40 were never recorded in a county deed book. In 1755 Caldwell's colony took in huge numbers of illegal immigrants who scurried east of the Blue Ridge and south along the Carolina Road (Highway 15) as part of a mass migration swept along on a wave of hysteria following Braddock's defeat—a blow to British imperialism that meant a population boom for safer regions east of the mountains. In 1755 Presbyterian minister Samuel Davies tallied the results of the frontier's calamity when he reported large congregations in Charlotte County, "2,000 hearers and about 200 communicants [at the sacrament in the wilderness]."
It was impossible for native Virginians in the foothills to avoid these "mixed people ... from Pennsylvania," as William Byrd called them. Many Episcopalians were impressed by the efficiency with which the northern strangers built homes of logs "laid horizontally in pens," and soon learned what Presbyterians and Quakers already knew, that log homes were "warmer in winter, and cooler in summer, than the more expensive constructions of scantling and plank."
|Reconstruction of a small lowland farm at the Yorktown Victory Center. The house and tobacco barn are constructed of boards nailed to a wooden frame. The house has a brick chimney, but the inside walls are not yet plastered with lime. Such houses were fewer near the mountains where dissenters from the west built corner-notched log houses like the ones they had known in the Great Valley of the Appalachians.||
James Robertson, the founder of Nashville, always cleimed that his Scots Presbyterian grandfather settled in Ulster, and his father immigrated from Ireland to Philadelphia. But records of Bristol Parish in Virginia prove that Robertson's father was born in tidewater—Prince George county (now Dinwiddie)—and show he was a Baptist, not a Presbyterian. James Robertson grew up in eastern Virginia and Carolina, and didn't made his first trip to the frontier until 1768, getting lost while hunting land in East Tennessee. After his death, his widow Charlotte and children Felix and Lavinia continued to perpetuate the fiction that he was a Cohee.
Whatever liberties Robertson took with the facts, he was a Cohee in temperament if not by birth, "plain, and blunt spoken," living even after pioneer days in what "polite" society called "the Old Vulgar style." He wore moccasins when they weren't fashionable, hunted and ate bear whose meat he prized above any other, and had more in common with his friend Griffith Rutherford—a true Cohee born aboard an immigrant ship from Ireland—than with fellow Cumberland settlers Anthony Bledsoe, a religious Episcopalian vain enough to cover his baldness with a wig, or Marylander James Winchester, who was "not a man of the woods, but efficient in everything else."
It was the opinion of most backwoodsmen that flatlanders—known as Tuckahoes—didn't count for much on the frontier. One such example was "light—vain—assuming—good humored—jocular" William Cocke of Amelia County, who "tried to be a lawyer [and] made a poor hand of it," but was "swift on foot, and pretty much of a man to fight fisticuffs." It may have been his temper as well as his education that got him elected Captain of militia near his home on Renfro Creek of Holston.
His baptism of fire came on July 20, 1776 when he commanded one of four militia companies that marched in two columns from Amos Eaton's fort on Reedy Creek after spies reported seeing three hundred Cherokees on Long Island of Holston (Kingsport, Tenn.). When Lyman Draper suggested to David Campbell that Cocke's warlike rhetoric may have persuaded his father, John Campbell, and the other commanders to take the field, he scoffed, "Capt. Cocke came ... from low down in old Virginia and was not the man whose opinions would in any way influence the conduct of ... experienced indian fighters [who] knew what they were about when approaching indians ..."
During the battle Cocke and a few of his men were cut off from the rest of their company, but instead of trying to re-group in the face of an on-rushing enemy, they ran to Eaton's where Cocke collected a few more men and started back. He must have been mortified when his small party met the victorious Holston men, including most of his own company, returning to the fort with four slightly wounded, and others with holes in their clothes, but also with eighteen Cherokee scalps as trophies. There was an inquiry into Cocke's conduct. He pleaded it was impossible to rejoin the fight. He even claimed to have shot one of the Cherokees while on the run, even went back with the judges to show them the spot, and "they found the Indian accordingly." But his appeals were useless, and Cocke was forever after branded as "slack-twisted" by the mountaineers.
But frontiersmen never looked down even on a Tuckahoe if he proved himself worthy of respect. In 1778 when nineteen-year-old Daniel Trabue from near Richmond crossed the mountains to Kentucky as assistant to his brother, who was a commissary officer for the Virginia militia, he often felt "chikinhearted" at the sight of Indian sign, and "wished [he] was back in Old Virginia." It wasn't long, however, before Trabue's bravery and woodsmanship won over the Cohees as surely as his "first-rate bull Dog ... that would seize any Ox or bull or horse [in Old Virginia]," and soon learned to tackle bear in Kentucky. He "become to be one of the best hunting Dogs at [Logan's] fort," said Trabue. Every hunter wanted him in his pack "when they was a going out."
Nevertheless, class animosities persisted, and verbal barbs had the power to hurt, as when a young Irishman—who contended "with the other young men ... from Old Virginia about words and customs"—quit Trabue's company of salt-makers after they mercilessly plagued him about being chased by a buffalo, and about his Cohee way of saying "O Lard" for "O Lord." "He had nothing against me," Trabue said, "but would not go with such fools as these boys weare." Trabue was equally disgusted when his "tuckeyho boys" wouldn't go hunting with him at night in the snow but sat complaining by the fire. "One of them said he would return to Old Virginia as quick as he could and them that liked Kentucky might enjoy it ..."
But despite being accepted by the backwoodsmen, Trabue was at heart a Tuckahoe who, even in the wilderness, preferred "shews" to moccasins, and on a journey east was glad to get coffee at a New River tavern after enduring hominy, "mush and the sowerest milk I have ever tasted" in the cabins of simple folk.
Episcopal minister Charles Woodmason blamed Irish barbarism for the Cohees' fondness for buttermilk and clabber (curdled milk), and traveled the South Carolina backwoods with his own stash of "Chocolate—Tea, or Coffee." Likewise, in the Valley of Virginia Presbyterian Philip Fithian lamented the absence of coffee and chocolate among the things he "allow'd to be needful in polite life," but saw nothing barbarous about it. He enthusiastically reported "plenty of rich Milk in large Basons & Noggins," and "supped & breakfasted on buttered Paste, of wheat Meal" at the home of Mr. Rhea, "a stiff Quo-He" who lived on Calfpasture River. Fithian said it was "almost Treason against the Country to mention [tea], much more to drink it—nor any superfluous, vaporous, Nick-Nack ..."
Pennsylvanian Joseph Dodderidge echoed these sentiments, saying "a genuine backwoodsman would have thought himself disgraced by showing a fondness for" such "slops" as tea or coffee. In Kentucky a Cohee named Sullivan traded blows with one of Trabue's Tuckahoes over whether coffee and tea made a better breakfast than fried hominy. In the wilderness, where woodsmanship was worth more than fine clothes or manners, Sullivan stood up for his way of life against the tea-drinkers whom plebeian backwoods society derided as "people of quality, who do not labor."
The real reasons for conflict rose to the surface in 1785, on a September Sunday in the mountains between Winchester and Redstone (Brownsville), Pa., when "two young men Dressed [in] their sermon-sunday clothes" stopped Daniel Trabue's party of "5 or 6 white men" and twice as many slaves from driving wagons to the Monongahela for a flatboat voyage to Kentucky. The men insisted Trabue appear before a backwoods magistrate for violating local laws against toiling on the Sabbath. Trabue was about to obey the summons when one of the black men spoke up, "'I spose you is sich good fokes hear you will let us all stay ... and won't charge any thing for it.'" One of the men "cursed the negro" and threatened to knock him in the head. But Trabue wasn't in the mood to take any lip from yokels. He commanded his slaves "to Drive on," upon which they "cracked their whips and ... broake out in laughter" at the confusion of the two white men.
Trabue's tacit approval of his slave's disrespect for free white men seemed to confirm what the poorest members of frontier society feared, that their status would suffer as large numbers of slaves were imported by planters from down the country to clear land for a fraction of what it cost to hire free men. And when the threat of Indian attack ended, woodsmen who had successfully demanded generous terms from landlords for risking their lives to hunt game and fight Indians either had to remain locked in poverty where they were, or find other frontiers where they could employ their unique talents.
Episcopalians who ventured into the upper Piedmont lived on the edges of a Cohee culture that spilled through the mountain gaps from New Virginia. In 1728 Abraham Bledsoe of Northumberland County—the easternmost county in Virginia's Northern Neck—patented land on Rapidan River in the piedmont. By 1734 his son Thomas Bledsoe was on the tax list of Orange County, which at that time stretched as far west as the Mississippi, embracing German and Irish settlements on the Shenandoah.
On court days Thomas and his brother Abraham, Jr. no doubt came into contact with settlers from beyond the mountains, and may have been enticed west by the money to be made in the deerskin trade. Abraham, Jr. became a noted hunter, and in 1756 scouted down Sandy Creek for Andrew Lewis' ill-fated campaign against the Shawnee in Ohio. In 1758 Virginia's government allowed him a scalp bounty of twelve pounds for killing two Indians before he himself was killed in the campaign to capture Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh).
|Deerskin was a common medium of exchange on the frontier, as tobacco was in the tidewater. Hides were worth more in summer when deer's coats were thin and red. The skins decreased in value as cold weather caused the hair to fade into "short blue" and "long gray" coats that took firmer root in the hide. A horse load of one hundred half-dressed skins (about two hundred pounds) was worth from eighty to one hundred dollars.|
Thomas Bledsoe was swept up in the southern migration and set down in 1748 at the foot of the Blue Ridge in what became Patrick County where he married Susanna Fulkerson, whose unkind treatment of her step-sons, Anthony, Isaac, and Abraham III, caused them to leave home when Anthony was just fifteen. According to Anthony's daughter Sally, her father made the acquaintance of "a gentleman ... who took a liking to him and persuaded him to go to school to him [for two years], and if he ever got able he might pay for it ... then at 17 [Anthony] went into the mercantile establishment of Mr. McDaniel, and remained 7 years ... till he was 24—1757."
In 1758 the sons of Thomas Bledsoe crossed the mountains to Fort Chiswell in present Wythe County where Anthony became "a business man ... not a gunman." Isaac and Abraham, however, were expert woodsmen and hunters who spent seven months in 1769-70, and twenty months in 1771-2, hunting throughout Kentucky and Tennessee with Henry Skaggs, Joseph Drake, James Knox, and other Cohees. Between hunts Abraham was appointed constable "for that Precinct he lives in upon Reed Creek [Wythe County]," and in 1772 he moved to the north fork of Holston's River, east of Moccasin Gap in what later became Scott County, Va.
In 1785 Isaac Bledsoe settled east of Nashville, Tenn. at a buffalo lick he discovered in 1770 and there built what his niece Sally Shelby described as "a large old fashioned Virginia double house, with a passage between." William Hall, who lived in Bledsoe's Station in the summer of 1788, called the house a "a large double cabin," its unfloored passage forming the entrance of "a regular stockade [that] compactly enclosed" the cabins of other settlers. The two log pens of Bledsoe's house must have had mud-and-stick chimneys, because "Indians prowling about the place found a hole in the back of one chimney" big enough to poke through a gun and shoot schoolmaster George Hamilton in the chin as we was singing "at the top of his voice." "The Indians then cut down one of the window shutters with their tomahawks" but Mr. Hugh Rogan "raised a musket well loaded and put it out at the window and fired among them which induced them to leave that position."