Monday, June 19, 2006

River Settlements

As you may have figured out by now, my Appalachian experience started and continues to be anchored in the flowing waters of the New River. One area of interest for me over the past few days has been the history of the settlements in the valley of Virginia. I just came across a gem of a site detailing this such subject. A History of The Middle New River Settlements and Contiguous Territories by David E. Johnston was published in 1906. Thanks to the Kinyon Digital Library, we can flip through the pages of this 100 year old document.

Here's a brief passage from Johnston's writings on the earliest settlements in the region:

"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."

1 comment:

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