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A History of The Middle
New River Settlements
and Contiguous Territory.

By David E. Johnston (1906).


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Chapter 1.


Vast unexplored domain West of the Alleghanies-Crowing and Crossing the same-First White Man to see New River-First White man West of this River-Origin of Name-Porter Settles at Mouth of East River-Salley, Howards and St. Clair on Middle-Lower New River-Clinche and Castle in Clinch Valley prior to 1748-Thomas Walker and party cross New River, 1748-Same year Draper's Ingles' settlement made-Adam Harman at Gunpowder Spring-1750 Dr. Thomas Walker and others on the Holstein and at Cumberland Gap-Chistopher Gist on the Ohio and visits Mountain Lake-Philip Lybrook settles at Mouth of Sinking Creek-John Lewis and his son Andrew on the Greenbrier-James Burke discovers Burke's Garden-Samuel Culbertson on Culbertson's Bottom-Thomas Farley on New River-Builds a fort-James Ellison born in Farley's Fort-French and Indian War-Washington on the Ohio-Indian Depredations.



The country embraced by the New River Valley belonged, at the time the first settlements were made therein by white people, to that vast unknown domain in Augusta County, beyond the Alleghanies, which was sometimes erroneously called "West Augusta," stretching from the top of the Alleghanies Westward to the Mississippi River--if not to the uttermost sea.

The country at the time mentioned was a vast unexplored wilderness about which the people East of the Aleghanies had very vague and indefinite ideas. Immediately in and near this valley, about or a little before the white people came, the Canawhay tribe of Indians occupied the valley and plateau, now in Carroll and Floyd Counties, Virginia, and from the name of which tribe of Indians, the New and Kanawha Rivers took the name of Kanawha.

Where or when the upper part of this same river came to be called New River is not altogether agreed. The late Capt. Charles R. Boyd, upon the authority of Judge David McComas, says it was an Indian name meaning "New Water." Hardesty in his geographical history, says that "Captain Byrd, who had been employed in 1764 to open a road from the James River to where the town of Abingdon now stands, probably using Jefferson's map of Virginia engraved in France in 1755, and on which this river did not appear, named it New River. The late Major Jed Hotchkiss of Staunton, Virginia, attributed the name to a man by the name of "New," who at an early day kept a ferry at or near where "Ingle's Ferry" was afterwards established.

The first white man who is supposed to have entered this valley, was Colonel Abraham Wood in 1654. Wood lived at the Falls of the Appomatox near where the present city of Petersburg, Virginia, now stands, and being, as said, of an adventurous turn of mind, obtained from the Government authority to open trade with the Western Indians. It is supposed, in fact stated, that Colonel Wood came over the Alleghanies at a place now and long known and called Wood's Gap in the present county of Floyd, and passed down Little river to the river now known as New River, and seeing a river flowing in a different direction from those up the course of which he had just traveled, he took it to be a new river and gave to it his own name "Wood's River," and it so appears on some of the oldest maps of Virginia.

So far as known, between the date of the discovery of this river by Colonel Wood, Captain Henry Batte in 1666, Thomas Batte and party in 1671, John Salling who was captured by the Indians and carried over this river to the West thereof in 1730, Salley, the Howards and St. Clair in 1742, Dr. Thomas (note: Upon the authority of Haywood, Vaughan of Amelia County, Virginia, with a number of Indian traders crossed New River about Ingle's ferry in 1740.) Walker, and his parties in 1748-1750, are the only white men that had seen or crossed New River, or penetrated this vast wilderness country prior to 1748, unless it were the three men whose names are hereinafter mentioned.

It is now more than a century and a half since the first white settlement was made in the New River Valley. It has been claimed, in fact conceded, that the first white settlement was made in the year of 1748 by Ingles, Drapers and others near where Blacksburg, in Montgomery county, Virginia, now stands, but this claim is now and has been for many years disputed and upon an investigation it appears from discoveries made at the mouth of East River at its junction with New River in Giles County, Virginia, that in the year of 1780, when Mr. John Toney (note: Built the brick dwelling house at mouth of East River, the first brick house built in Giles County.) and his family, from Buckingham County, Virginia, settled at that place, they found the decayed remains of a cabin and evidences that some of the land around the same had been cleared, and nearby they found a grave with a rough stone at the head, on which was engraved, "Mary Porter was killed by the Indians November 28, 1742. (note: This stone with engraving thereon often seen by Dr. Phillip H. Killey and Mr. G. W. Toney.) "Then followed something respecting Mr. Porter, but the crumbling away of the stone during the century and a half which has elapsed since its erection, has rendered it illegible."--Hardesty's Geographical His. 405.

This Ingles-Draper settlement was called "Draper's Meadows," but we are told that the name was changed by Colonel William Preston to "Smithfield," in honor of his wife, who was a Miss Smith of Louisa County, Virginia.

While the Draper's Meadows" settlement was not made directly on the New River, it was not far away and the drainage of the waters in the vicinity is into this river.

Adam Harman, who came with the Ingles, Drapers and others form Pattonsburg, in the Virginia Valley, shortly after the planting of the Colony, located, probably in the Spring of 1749, on New River at the place now known as Eggleston's Springs, but called by the early settlers "Gunpowder Spring," from the resemblance of its odor and taste to that of gun powder. This settlement of Harman, save that of Porter at the mouth of East River, is believed to be the oldest settlement made by white people in what is now the territory of Giles County.

Philip Lybrook, from Pennsylvania, but most likely born in Holland, and of whom we shall have occasion to hereafter speak, settled at the mouth of Sinking Creek on the New River, a short distance below Harman's settlement, about 1750. It is not believed that Lybrook, the correct spelling of whose name in his native tongue is "Leibroch," came with the Drapers Meadows settlers, but subsequently. His was the third settlement made by the whites in what is now Giles County.

It was upon Harman at Gunpowder Spring in April, 1749, that the Indians committed depredations by stealing his fur skins, but they remained peaceable and quiet until the breaking out of the French and Indian war in the year of 1753, which continued on the border for more than ten years.

It seems that Harman suspected a man by the name of Castle as being in league with and as prompting the Indians to steal his fur skins. Castle was at the time on a hunting expedition with the Indians, who were now friendly, in what is now called Castleswoods on the Clinch River in the Western portion of the now County of Russell. Harman obtained from a magistrate of Augusta County a warrant for the arrest of Castle, and with a posse, among them a large, stout, athletic man by the name of Clinche, who had been a hunter in that section, he set out to accomplish his purpose, but met with serious resistance from Castle and the Indians with whom he was engaged in hunting, and forced to beat a retreat, in which his man Clinche was thrown from his horse in crossing the river. Being a lame man from an attack of white swelling, the Indians supposing him disabled from the fall, one of them dashed into the river and seized him, but the great, strong man was an over match for his Indian enemy, and succeeded in drowning him, hence the name "Clinche River" was given, as the story goes. Dr. Thomas Walker in his journal kept of his journey to and through Cumberland Gap and return in 1750, says: "Clinche River was named for a hunter whose name was Clinche." It therefore seems altogether probable that, except Salling, Porter, Castle and Clinche were the first white men to cross the Middle-New River and to explore the territory West thereof. It is stated upon the authority of Mr. Virgil A. Lewis in his recent history, as well as by others, that in 1742, Salley, the Howards and St. Clair crossed the New River below the mouth of Greenbrier and passed over on the Coal River, to which they gave that name.

In the year of 1748 Dr. Thomas Walker, of Albemarle County, Colonel James Patton, Colonel John Buchanan, Colonel James Wood and Major Charles Campbell, from the neighborhood of Pattonsburg, on the James River, made an excursion into what is now known as Southwestern Virginia. The precise route this party traveled after leaving the New River, or how far they went Westward, seems to be left in doubt. This trip must not be confused with Dr. Walker's second one across the New River westward through Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky in 1750, in which his companions were Ambrose Powell, William Tomlinson, Colby Chew, Henry Lawless and John Hughes. This party on this trip in 1750 gave names, in some instances their own, to several mountains and streams, and on their return home came by way of the site of the present city of Pocahontas, Virginia, and along the Bluestone and Flat Top mountains near the present town of Hinton, and thence up the Greenbrier. See Appendix to "His. Southwest Virginia," by Summers.

From sketches taken from the diary of Dr. Walker and published by Major Jed Hotchkiss some years ago, it appears that Dr. Walker was the first white man to discover the great coal deposit in the Flat Top region. In his dairy he says that near the mouth of a small creek at the base of a mountain he discovered a large bed of stone coal lying to the north and northwest.

As already stated the Drapers Meadows settlement was made in 1748. Whether the settlers made this location prior to Dr. Walker's first journey across the New River or after his return, does not certainly appear, but it is evident that some of the parties who established themselves here must have had some knowledge of the country before the date of settlement.

In 1750-1751 Christopher Gist, the employee of the Ohio Company, explored the country west of New River through a portion of Kentucky, returning through what is now Wise County, Virginia, giving his name to a river now in that county, as well also as a station, moving east along the watershed dividing the Clinch, Sandy and the Bluestone, he passed through the territory of what is now the County of Mercer, crossing New River about eight miles above the mouth of Bluestone, and not far below the lower part of Culbertson's Crump's Bottom, now in Summers County, and on the 11th day of May discovered on top of a very high mountain a lake or pond about three-fourths of a mile long, northeast and southwest, and one-fourth of a mile wide, which is supposed to be what is now known as Mountain Lake, in Giles County, Virginia.-- "His. So. W.Va.," Summers.

If tradition well authenticated is to be taken when supported by well attested evidence, then Christopher Gist never saw Mountain Lake in Giles County. (note: If Gist really saw this lake in 1751, then it is evident that water had escaped before 1768.) The earliest settlers in the vicinity of the lake and who lived longest, left the unbroken tradition that when they first knew the place where the lake now exists there was a deep depression between the mountains into which flowed the water from one or more springs which found its outlet at the northeastern portion of the depression, and in this gorge or depression was a favorite salting ground in which the settlers salted their cattle by whose continual tramping the crevices through which the water from the springs found an escape, became closed and the depression began to fill with water. This filling began in 1804 and by 1818 the water in the depression had risen to about one-half its present height.

Kerchival in his "History of the Valley," at page 343 gives a conversation had by him in the year of 1836 with Colonel Christian Snidow and John Lybrook, which fully substantiates the statement above made, that the lake did not exist when the first settlers knew the place. To reconcile this statement with that of Gist it is fair to presume that after he saw this lake in 1751, the water had escaped through the crevices of the rocks and had disappeared before Snidow, Lybrook, and others saw it in about 1768, and that afterwards it repeated the process of refilling. It is reputed to be rapidly receding, having fallen several feet within the past two years.

In 1753, Andrew Culbertson settled on New River on what has been known since his settlement as Culbertson's, or Crump's Bottom, now in Summers County, formerly a part of the territory of Mercer County. This was the first white settlement made within the boundaries of Mercer County.

Andrew Culbertson, who lived in Pennsylvania, near to or where the town of Chambersburg is now situate, was compelled on account of the breaking out of the French and Indian war and fear of Indians to leave his land. He sold his claim to Samuel Culbertson, perhaps his brother. The country for some years was so infested with Indians from northwest of the Ohio, that the property appeared to be deserted and abandoned and in fact was. In the meantime other persons began to assert claim to the land, until finally the claims of all became vested in Thomas Farley who in March, 1775, procured the land to be surveyed, took a certificate thereof in order to obtain a grant from the Virginia Land Office, then expected to be shortly opened, and then assigned his right to James Burnsides. (Byrnside.)

Long litigation followed over the right and ownership to this land or a part thereof between the Culbertsons, Reid, and Byrnside.--Wythe's Chancery Reports, 150.

Thomas Farley from Albemarle County, Virginia, came to New River Valley shortly after the coming of Culbertson and immediately on locating on the land referred to, erected a fort near the lower portion of the bottom on the south bank of the river, near what is known as "Warford." (note: Shortly after the opening of Dunmore's war in 1774, a fort was erected at the mouth of Joshua's Run, on Culbertson's Bottom, called Fort Field.)

This fort was known as Farley's and in which James Ellison, whose father came from the State of New Jersey, was born in May, 1778. The father of James Ellison was in the battle of Point Pleasant, and after his return to his home on Culbertson's Bottom, was on the 19th day of October, 1780, while at work about a corn crib, attacked by a party of seven or eight Indians, wounded in the shoulder, captured, and carried some fifteen miles, escaping the day after his capture. In 1774 a woman was killed on Culbertson's Bottom, by the Indians, and about the same time a man by the name of Shockley, on a hill above the bottom, which still bears the name of Shockley's Hill."

The James Ellison spoken of, became a distinguished and successful Baptist minister, and was instrumental in planting a number of Baptist churches in this section, among them the Guyandotte Baptist church, in 1812, where Oceana, in Wyoming County, is now situated. He was the father of the late Matthew Ellison, of Beckley, West Virginia, and who was regarded the most distinguished Baptist preacher in this section in his day.

James Burke, who was one of the Drapers Meadows settlers, on a hunting expedition in 1753, wounded an elk and followed it through what is now called Henshue's Gap, into that beautiful body of magnificent land which has since borne the name of Burke's Garden, about which and the discoverer more will be said later on. The Indian (note: When first seen by white men, contained a large number of acres of wet, marshy land, evidently once a lake.  The waters flowing out of Burke's Garden are the head springs of Wolf Creek.) name for this beautiful land was "Great Swamp."



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