The History of Taylor County Chapter One


The White Man Comes to Taylor County

*Editor’s note: This is a special installment of The History of Taylor County. The following piece was the first of Charles Brinkman’s articles and was published 81 years ago, on April 18,1939.

That portion of West Virginia which is now Taylor County was part of that vast domain of Virginia known as West Augusta, prior to the War of the Revolution.  It was an unbroken, trackless wilderness, whose only stillness was broken by the shrill battle cried of the savage bands of Delaware, Huron and Massawomie Indians, whose tribal wars were waged throughout this section— battles perhaps, over the abundant wild life that made the region truly a great hunting ground. 

The first record of white men in what is now Taylor County is that of David Tygart and Robert Files, who journeyed westward together from the south branch of the Potomac river and they were credited with being the white discoverers of that beautiful stream we now know as the Tygart Valley river, which Tygart is said to have named for himself.

 As the continued southward along the stream, so greatly attracted were they by the region, the decided to settle along its banks. Files erected his cabin home on the site of Randolph county, while Tygart erected his long home some three miles upstream. Those two hardly pioneers and their families built their homes in 1751.

Two years later, in 1753, the cabin of Files was raided by the Indians, who butchered all of the family except one son, who fled to the home of Tygart and his family, realizing the grave danger to which they were exposed in the wilderness, left the Tygart valley, accompanied by the young Files and returned to the safer country from which they had come.

The year 1761, ten years after Tygart and Files, found William Childers, Joseph Lindsey, and John and Samuel Pringle, British soldiers stationed at Fort Pitt, becoming irked at military discipline, deserting and coming southward through the Monongahela valley, settling in the White Day section of what is now Taylor County, eking out their livelihood for three years, unmolested, by hunting, trapping and fishing. 

A troop of British soldiers surprised the quartet while they were on a hunting expedition, arrested them, and escorted them back to Fort Pitt.

The two Pringles, however, were not destined to remain long in the service of the British. They soon escaped and speedily returned to their hunting ground.

In 1764, the Pringles became acquainted with John Simpson, a hunter and trapper in the employ of the Hudson Bay company, who had come over the mountains from the east in search of furs and they parted company. 

John Simpson came to the Tygart Valley river, crossed the stream at Pleasants Creek, journeyed westward, and finally settled on a stream he named Simpson creek. For two years, Simpson lived there, never meeting a human being, and when the fur was trapped out, he again moved westward settling on the land now covered by the city of Clarksburg. Simpson lived there until 1770, but of his further movements, this is no historical record.

 The Pringle brothers, after trapping out the region around White Day, moved to the waters of the Buckhannon river. In 1767, they journeyed to the Shenandoah, where they learned of the peace treaty with the Indian nations. 

The Pringles told of the wonderful country in the western wilderness, its abundance of wildlife, which could provide a settler with plenty of fresh meat, the great fertility of its soil, and the great amount of wood available for fuel. Their alluring picture of this hitherto unknown region created much interest among the people of the Piedmont and Tidewater sections, particularly among the younger class, many of whom were laboring on the extensive plantations of wealthy landlords. 

The first mentioned settler in what is now Taylor County  was Thomas Merrifield, who settled on the waters of Booths creek in 1766. Two years later, the famous Captain James Booth came to that region, settling on land adjoining the holdings of Merrifield. Captain Booth, a natural leader, appears to have been better educated than some of the other early settlers, and, as consequence, acted as an unofficial magistrate, or arbiter, in the settlement of disputes among the settlers.

The year 1773 saw many families moving into Taylor County. The families of Thomas Batton, John Clifford, John Thomas, and William Tucker settled on Booths Creek, and John Wickwire established his home on the stream that now bears his name in Fetterman district. 

Thomas Parkenson, in this same year, settled on the land in the vicinity of Valley Falls, and William Robinson made his home on the land that is now West Grafton. He erected his cabin at the west end of McGraw avenue, now in the city of Grafton, overlooking this present high school athletic field and the old Taylor county fairgrounds. Robinson constructed a second cabin on the site now occupied by the old stone shops of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and in these two cabins he sought sanctuary when he was pursued by Indians on either side of the river. 

More families came to Booths creek in 1774— those of David Evans, John Goodwin, Simon Hendricks, John Miller, John Stackhouse, George Tucker, and John Tucker, Jr. The following year saw Thomas Harris settle on Glady creek and in 1776, the families of James Current, Thomas Powers, and John Tucker III, were on Booths creek; Moses Templin and Richard Merrifield on Lost run, and Mayor William Powers and William pettijohn on Glady creek.

The rich alluvial soil and the abundance of wild game afforded those pioneer settlers a very good living for those times. Iron, powder, lead and salt were their greatest needs and could only be procured at great risks in far distant towns of the Tidewater section, with Indians a constant menace.

Roving bands of Indians frequently made their appearance at these outposts of civilization. A lone hunter had no chance against these savages, and many a dead body was found horribly slain in the early days of the county.

The year 1777 was known in Western Virginia as the “Bloody Year of the Three Sevens,” as Lord Dunmore, British governor of Virginia, had employed the Indians to exterminate the frontier settlements and force General George Washington to divide his forces and send part of the Continental army to protect these outposts.

The settlers, many of them anxious to fight in the field with Washington, but at the same time desirous of protecting their loved ones at home, constructed strong log forts on the waters of Booth and Simpson creeks, in which women and children of the settlements sought sanctuary when scouts reported the presence of Indians in the vicinity.

On June 16,1778, Captain Booth and his neighbor, James Cochran, were cultivating a field of corn on Booth’s land. They leaned their guns against a nearby stump, for use in case of emergency, but they became so engrossed in their tasks they failed to notice the approach of a band of Indians, who fired on the two men before they could reach their own firearms.

Captain Booth was instantly killed and scalped. Cochran, who was slightly wounded, attempted flight, but was overtaken and captured, being taken to the village of Indians tribe on the Maumee river in Ohio, and was later exchanged for a British soldier held by the settlers, returning to the settlement and being hailed one long since believed dead.

One week after this tragic affair, William Gundy, Benjamin Shinn, and Benjamin Washburn started out on a hunting expedition along Booths creek. They were ambushed by a band of Indians, hidden in the bluffs above the stream, and Grundy was killed. But Shinn and Washburn, old-time Indian fighters, rushed the savages, overpowered them, and killed them. The body of Grundy was carried to the Booths creek settlement, where his remains were interred with Christian rites.

Soon after this occurrence, James, the 16-year-old son of John Owens, while returning on horse from Powers fort to Simpson creek, stopped the animal to tighten a loosened saddle girth. He was fired on by hidden Indians, was instantly killed and his horse died from the same guns. 

These are but a few of the stories of the struggles of the early settlers of Taylor County, related by descendant of those hardy men and women who braved the new frontier.

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