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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 IV.  1775 - 1794  (Part 8)

 

Manners And Customs Of These Border People

When these people left their homes for new ones in the wilderness, they took with them the manners and customs of the people among whom they had lived, and upon their settling down in their adopted abode made such changes in these manners and customs as their new situation, surroundings  and necessities required.  It often happened that the new emigrant on selecting his proposed future home, found himself very far removed from any one he called neighbor.  From whence he removed, he was occasionally honored with a visit of his friends and neighbors, who could come and go without hindrance or fear of molestation.  In this wilderness country he must travel with his trusted rifle, even as against wild beast that filled the forest.  Later on, after the country had began to settle up, new comers were joyfully received, and the young people on hearing of the approach of the new people coming to the neighborhood, would often go a day's journey in order to meet and welcome them.  The young women would make this trip barefoot, with their dresses so short they reached but little below their knees.

A wedding was always a time of high glee.  Usually the groom and his friends rode horseback to the house of the bride's father, where there was generally plenty of applejack, and every body would take a drink, even the ministers of that day thought it nothing a miss for them to take a toddy.  At the bride's house and ceremony performed, came the dinner, after which the fiddling and the dancing, the songs and plays among the young folks of "Old Sister Phoebe," would begin:

"I'll put this hat on your head to keep your head warm,
I'll give you a sweet kiss, 'twill do you no harm."

The neighbors soon gathered, chopped logs and erected a house for the young couple.    At a log rolling and house raising there was generally a quilting, and at night a dance.  It was no easy matter for the young people, who wished to get married to procure the license, for as a rule they lived a long distance from the clerk's office.    For many years after the formation of Giles County, it was the habit of Captain John McClaughtery, who was both deputy clerk and deputy sheriff of that county, to go once, and occasionally twice a year down on to the waters of the Coal and Guyandotte, either to collect taxes or to serve process, and he made it a rule to fill his pocket with blank licenses, in order to accommodate the young people, who had always to put off their weddings until the Captain put in his appearance, and when he did, it was soon noised abroad, and the young men about to be married hurried to the Captain to get the necessary papers.

There were no schools in that day, and but few boys learned even to read or write.    Afterwards, if a school teacher came into the neighborhood and was employed to teach school, he usually boarded around among the families; that is, after settlements had progressed far enough for him to do this.  Each family was largely a little independent colony of itself.  The father and sons worked with mattock, axe, hoe, and sickle.  A loom in every house was a necessity, and almost every woman was a weaver, and wove the linsey-woolsey made from flax cultivated by her own hands, and from the wool of sheep--when they had any.  The man tanned or dressed the buck skin, the woman was the tailor and shoemaker, made the deer skin sifters to be used instead of bolting cloths.    For the table ware generally wooden trenchers, platters, noggins, and bowls.    The cradle of pealed hickory bark or a sugar trough, and plowshares were made of wood, chaff beds if the man had been fortunate enough to raise any small grain, otherwise leaves were substituted.  Then there was the hand mill, and the hominy block with a hole burned in the top as a mortar where the pestle was worked.  Some times a gritting board was used, and later a pounding mill was invented which was operated by water instead of muscle.  For sugar resort was had by tapping the sugar maple trees, and boiling down the water.  Salt and iron could not be had in the backwoods, and each family gathered up its furs and peltries, and later ginseng, which were carried out on horses to some coast town, and exchanged for salt and iron.  Some, among them Captain James Moore of Abb's Valley, raised considerable number of horses, which they drove to the markets  east of the Alleghanies.

It was no common thing at that time, for a man on the New River waters to drive a two year old steer to Fincastle and exchange the same for a bushel of salt, and bring it back on a pack horse.  Their horses were usually unshod.  Captain William T. Moore, of Abb's Valley, told of a horse that the Indians had taken from his Grandfather, James Moore, but which had been recovered, and which he had plowed, and which lived to the age of thirty five years, and never had a shoe on its foot.

After the backwoodsman had gotten to raising hogs, for at the beginning he could not do so on account of the bears destroying them, he would drive his hogs to market, selling and exchanging them for needed articles at home.  The life of these people was a long and dangerous struggle, they had to fell the forests, encounter the forest fires, deep snows and freshets. Swarms of deer flies and midges rendered life a torment in warm weather.    Rattlesnakes and copperheads were plentiful, and constant sources of danger and death.  For an antidote for the bite of a poisonous serpent bear's oil was freely applied, and some times salt, when they had it.  Wolves and bears were inveterate foes of the live stock, and the panther occasionally attacked a man.  In the early settlement of the country near the mouth of Wolf Creek in what is now Giles County, the dogs of Mr. Landon Duncan drove a panther up a tree.  Mr. Duncan being from home, his wife took his rifle gun and shot and killed the animal; it measured nine feet in length.    Every backwoodsman was a hunter, and the forest were filled with deer, turkeys and pigeons, and out of these and the bear, buffalo and elk he made not only his meat, but largely his living.  The black and grey squirrels were very numerous, sometimes destroying fields of corn, and at times in immense companies would migrate, and cross mountains and rivers.  A race of men unused to war and ever present dangers, would have been helpless before such foes as these wild beasts and Indians.

People coming from the old world, no matter how thrifty and adventurous, could not hold their own on the frontier.  They had to seek protection from the Indians by a bold living wall of American backwoodsmen.  These border men were hunters, wood choppers, farmers and soldiers.  They built and manned their own forts, did their own fighting in their own way under their own commanders, when they had such, but generally every man was his own commander.  There were no regular troops along the frontier, and if the Indians came into the country, each border man had to defend himself, until, there was time to arouse the country and gather help to repel the foe.  Every man from his childhood was accustomed to the use of the rifle, and even a boy at twelve years was regarded old enough to have a gun, and was soon taught how to use it.  He at least could make a good fort soldier.  The war was never ending, for even the times of so-called peace were broken by forays and murders.  A man might grow from boyhood to middle age on the border, and yet never recall a single year in which some of his neighbors were not killed by the Indians.  As the settlements continued to grow they each had their various officers, who in fact exercised but little authority, as they had no way of enforcing orders, and all services rendered were merely voluntary.

When a group of families moved out into the wilderness, for protection they would build for themselves a block house or stockade, a square palisade of upright logs, and looped it with port holes, with a large gate that could be strongly barred in case of necessity.    This fort or stockade was generally safe from any attack the savages might make upon it, unless they could take it by surprise.  This backwoodsman was generally an American by birth and parentage, and of mixed race, but the dominant strain in their blood was that of the Scotch-Irish, so called.  The Irish Presbyterians were themselves already a mixed people, though mainly from Scotch ancestors, who came originally from both lowlands and highlands, for among both were Scotch Saxons and Scotch Celts.  From this Scotch-Irish stock, came David Crockett, (Note: David Crockett is said to have learned the hatter's trade at Christiansburg, Virginia) John Robertson, Andrew Lewis, Andrew Jackson, Samuel Houston, the Prestons, Cummings, Johnstons, Shelbys, Campbells, Grahams, Banes, Gillespies, Georges, McDonalds, McKensey and McComas'.

No great number of them came to America prior to 1730, but by which time they came by multitudes; (Note: Roosevelt's "Winning of the West.") for the most part, in two streams; the larger to Philadelphia, the lesser to Charleston, South Carolina.  Those from Philadelphia soon made their way southwest into the valley of Virginia and to the Piedmont region; while those from Charleston soon pushed their way up to the mountains and with those in Virginia became the advanced posts of civilization.    They were wholly a different people in manners, customs and temperament from the people of the tidewater region, in which there was a large admixture of Germans from Pennsylvania, especially so in the Virginia Valley.  Some of this German population came across the Alleghanies, and settled in part, in what is now Montgomery County, and in the eastern portion of what is now Giles County, among them the Kinsers, Bargers, Highbarges, Shufflebargers, Hornbargers, Phlegars, Sibolds, Surfaces, Snidows, Straleys, Boltons, Clyburns, Noslers, Decks, Millers, Honakers, Keisters, Croys, Worleys and Woolwines.  There came also some of the Scotch-Iris people into the same territory, among them the McDonalds, Blacks, McKenseys, Johnstons, Christians, Prestons, Craigs, Triggs, McGavocks, Wileys, and Whitakers. (Note: The Wileys and Whittakers came from North Carolina.) Some Hugenots also came into the territory of what is now Giles County, among them the Pearis, Hares and DeCamps; and in the same territory came some Hollanders, among them the Lybrooks (Leibrock), Mosers, Walls, Decks and Douthats.    Most of these people brought with them their Bibles, which was as a usual thing the guide of their lives, and although they at first had but few, if any ministers among them, yet as a rule they were religiously inclined, many of them coming from countries where they had been taught religious principles, but those coming direct from the old world did not comprehend what religious freedom and soul liberty meant in its fullest sense and its fullest extent, until they reached the wilderness country, where every man could worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience.  They had no church buildings, but gathered in the groves, "God's first temples" and in dwelling houses to have worship.

Captain James Moore, and also Zechariah Munsey, grandfather of the distinguished William E. Munsey, were Christian men and had worship in their families.  Munsey was an early Methodist Preacher.

The first preachers that came into the wilderness country, and in fact all who came up to a  period long after the close of the American Revolution, were Dissenters, who found perfect freedom in the wilderness from molestation, interruption or arrest.    The nearest church of England man to this wilderness country for many long, long years, was located at Fincastle, but so far as known he never ventured across the Alleghanies.  Among the first if not the very first, preachers of the Gospel that ever stood on or reached the banks of the New River were the two who accompanied Lewis' Sandy expedition in 1756 and whose names were Brown and Craig. (Note: They were Presbyterian ministers from the Valley.) The first minister to permanently locate in this wilderness section, was the distinguished and learned Presbyterian, Charles Cummings, who came to a place near the present town of Abingdon in 1772.  Six years thereafter came Elder Tidence Lane, a Baptist Minister who is believed to have founded the Baptist church at St. Clair's bottom in 1777 or 1778, and who organized two churches on the Holstein waters, one on Buffalo ridge six miles east of Jonesboro, and Cherokee Baptist church four miles east of Jonesboro, both now in Tennessee.  In 1773 came Squire Boone from the Yadkin in North Carolina, and whether he was regularly ordained Baptist Minister or not, he at least preached the Gospel.  He spent the winter of 1773-4 in Castle's woods, now in Russell County.  A little later came James Abbott, a Baptist Minister from Culpeper County, to the New River section.  And in 1777 came John Alderson, a Baptist Minister from the Valley of Virginia and located on Greenbrier River, a little late came a Mr. Johnston, Baptist preacher who subsequently went to the Kanawha Valley, and then on to Kentucky.  Later still came Josiah Osborn, Lewis Alderson and James Ellison, all Baptist Ministers who located in the Greenbrier section.

The early Baptist preachers, in southwest Virginia, were Elders Jonathan Mulkey, Andrew Baker, Edward Kelley, Barnett Reynolds, John Bundridge, ----- Colley, Jesse Senter, and -----Edwards.  In the year of 1788, came the Rev. Francis Asbury, the first Methodist Bishop of America.  He reinvigorated the itinerant system, and sent missionaries into wide ranges of country to preach and found new societies.  And it is said of him that in 1785 he laid the foundation for the first Methodist College in America, and organized many societies throughout the country.  There were practically no church buildings in the wilderness in the days of Bishop Asbury and other early preachers; now the country is dotted over with numerous church buildings of nearly all religious denominations.

Landon Duncan, born in Fauquier County, Virginia, removed from thence to Stokes County, North Carolina, and from there to what is now Giles County, about the close of the 18th century, became a Baptist preacher of the order of New Lights, but in 1818 changed his views, and united with the followers of those who adopted the doctrines taught afterwards by Alexander Campbell.  Mr. Duncan was an earnest, faithful preacher during the greater part of his life, which ended about 1967.  For many years of his young life he was a school teacher, having among his pupils the late General John B. Floyd, and others who became prominent in their day.  Mr. Duncan was for many years, the
Commissioner of the Revenue for Giles County.

Except in portions of Greenbrier, Monroe, Montgomery and Tazewell, Presbyterianism had but little footing for many years.  Methodism seemed to be well adapted to the soil, and took root quickly, sprang up and grew vigorously.  Among some of the early preachers of that denomination was Rev. George Eaken, an Irishman, and most usually called "Father Eaken;" quaint and peculiar was his style.  There was held in the days of Methodism in its early beginnings in this section, near the residence of the late Colonel John S. Carr, in what is now Mercer County, a campmeeting, which Father Eaken attended year by year.  Of those who came to the meeting, as regularly as the meeting was held, were people of the country, known and designated as "Todds," and so designated on account of their foxey and frolicking disposition, that is they were drinkers, fighters, gamblers, horse racers and wits generally. These Todds always got happy at campmeeting, and usually professed to have gotten religion.  Father Eaken was an observant man, and having seen these same people engaged in drinking and general carousal shortly after the close of the meeting, he prepared himself for them at the next and while the meeting was well under way the Todds in a good way shouting, he suddenly arose, and cried out in a loud voice, "Would that the good Lord would take a liking to these Todds just now, for if they ever get to heaven it will be from a campmeeting."  The distinguished William G. Brownlow was once in the County of Tazewell and preached at Bluestone.  Among the early Methodist Ministers who were highly esteemed in this section of the country were Thomas K. Catlett and Jacob Brillhart.    The Methodist had class leaders and exhorters, among the latter was one Abraham Garretson, who lived on the East River and whose custom was to go on the Sabbath into the different  neighborhoods in what is now Mercer County and exhort.   Garretson had a neighbor by the name of Blankenship, who though not a Christian, yet a constant attendant at his Sunday Exhortations and who always took his position near the speaker and during the service frequently said "Amen! Amen!"

 

 

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