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History of
Berkeley County, WV
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Berkeley County was created by an act of the House of Burgesses in February 1772 from the northern third of Frederick County (Virginia). At the time of the county's formation it also consisted of the areas that make up the present-day Jefferson and Morgan counties. Most historians believe that the county was named for Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt (1718-1770), Colonial Governor of Virginia from 1768 to 1770. West Virginia's Blue Book, for example, indicates that Berkeley County was named in his honor. He served as a colonel in England's North Gloucestershire militia in 1761, and represented that division of the county in parliament until he was made a peer in 1764. He claimed the title of Baron Botetourt as the lineal descendant of Sir Maurice de Berkeley, who died in 1347. Having incurred heavy gambling debts, he solicited a government appointment, and in July 1768, was made governor of Virginia. In 1769, he reluctantly dissolved the Virginia General Assembly after it adopted resolutions opposing parliament's replacement of requisitions with parliamentary taxes as a means of generating revenue and a requirement that the colonists send accused criminals to England for trial. Despite his differences with the General Assembly, Norborne Berkeley was well-respected by the colonists, especially after he sent parliament letters encouraging it to repeal the taxes. When parliament refused to rescind the taxes, Governor Berkeley requested to be recalled. In appreciation of his efforts on their behalf, the colonists erected a monument to his memory which currently stands in Williamsburg, and two counties were later named in his honor, Berkeley in present-day West Virginia and Botetourt in Virginia.

Other historians claim that Berkeley County may have been named in honor of Sir William Berkeley (1610 to 1677). He was born near London, graduated from Oxford University in 1629, and was appointed Governor of Virginia in 1642. He served as Governor until 1652 and was later reappointed Governor in 1660. He continued to serve as Virginia's Governor until 1677 when he was called back to England. He died later that year, on July 9, 1677.

The first settlers

According to missionary reports, several thousand Hurons occupied present-day West Virginia, including the Eastern Panhandle region, during the late 1500s and early 1600s. During the 1600s the Iroquois Confederacy (then consisting of the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Seneca tribes) drove the Hurons from the state. The Iroquois Confederacy was headquartered in New York and was not interested in occupying present-day West Virginia. Instead, they used it as a hunting ground during the spring and summer months.

During the early 1700s, West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle region was inhabited by the Tuscarora. They eventually migrated northward into New York and, in 1712, became the sixth nation to be formally admitted into the Iroquois Confederacy. The Eastern Panhandle region was also used as a hunting ground by several other Indian tribes, including the Shawnee (then known as the Shawanese) who resided near present-day Winchester, Virginia and Moorefield, West Virginia until 1754 when they migrated into Ohio. The Mingo, who resided in the Tygart Valley and along the Ohio River in present-day West Virginia's Northern Panhandle region, and the Delaware, who lived in present-day eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, but had several autonomous settlements as far south as present-day Braxton County, also used the area as a hunting ground.

Following the French and Indian War, the Mingo retreated to their homes along the banks of the Ohio River and were rarely seen in the Eastern Panhandle region. Although the French and Indian War was officially over, many Indians continued to view the British as a threat to their sovereignty and continued to fight them. In the summer of 1763, Pontiac, an Ottawa chief, led raids on key British forts in the Great Lakes region. Shawnee chief Keigh-tugh-qua, also known as Cornstalk, led similar attacks on western Virginia settlements, starting with attacks in present-day Greenbrier County and extending northward to Berkeley Springs, and into the northern Shenandoah Valley. By the end of July, Indians had destroyed or captured all British forts west of the Alleghenies except Fort Detroit, Fort Pitt, and Fort Niagara. The uprisings were ended on August 6, 1763 when British forces, under the command of Colonel Henry Bouquet, defeated Delaware and Shawnee forces at Bushy Run in western Pennsylvania.

During the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the Mingo and Shawnee, headquartered at Chillicothe, allied themselves with the British. In 1777, a party of 350 Wyandots, Shawnees and Mingos, armed by the British, attacked Fort Henry, near present-day Wheeling. Nearly half of the soldiers manning the fort were killed in the three-day assault. The Indians then left the area celebrating their victory. For the remainder of the war, smaller raiding parties of Mingo, Shawnee, and other Indian tribes terrorized settlers throughout northern and eastern West Virginia. As a result, European settlement throughout present-day West Virginia, including the Eastern Panhandle, came to a virtual standstill until the war's conclusion.

Following the war, the Mingo and Shawnee, once again allied with the losing side, returned to their homes. As the number of settlers in present-day West Virginia began to grow, both the Mingo and Shawnee moved further inland, leaving their traditional hunting ground to the white settlers.

Early European settlers

In 1670, John Lederer, a German physician and explorer employed by Sir William Berkeley, colonial governor of Virginia, became the first European to set foot in present-day Berkeley County; their safety was not guaranteed. John Howard and his son also passed through present-day Berkeley County a few years later, and discovered the valley of the South Branch Potomac River at Green Spring. The next known explorer to traverse the county was John Van Meter in 1725. He came across the Potomac River, at what is now known as Shepherdstown, then he made his way to the South Branch Potomac River. When he returned to his home in New York, Van Meter advised his sons to purchase land in the area.

In 1726, Morgan Morgan, moved from Delaware and founded the first permanent English settlement of record in West Virginia on Mill Creek near the present-day Bunker Hill in Berkeley County. The state of West Virginia erected a monument in Bunker Hill commemorating the event, and placed a marker at Morgan's grave, which is located in a cemetery near the park. Morgan Morgan and his wife, Catherine Garretson, had eight children. His son, Zackquill Morgan, later founded present-day Morgantown.

In 1730, John and Isaac Van Meter, two of John Van Meter's sons, secured a patent for 40,000 acres (162 km˛) at the South Branch Potomac River, much of it located in present-day Berkeley County, from Virginia's Colonial Lieutenant Governor William Gooch. The brothers sold the land the following year to Hans Yost Heydt, also known as Joist Hite. In 1732, Joist Hite and fifteen families set out from York, Pennsylvania, passed through present-day Berkeley County, and settled near present-day Winchester, Virginia. In 1774, John Van Meter moved to a site near Moorefield, then part of Hampshire County, but now in present-day Hardy County. His brother, Isaac Van Meter, settled further to the west.

18th Century Berkeley County

In 1748, George Washington, then just sixteen years old, surveyed present-day Berkeley County for Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron. He later returned to Bath (Berkeley Springs) several times over the next several years with his half-brother, Lawrence, who was ill and hoped that the warm springs might improve his health. The springs, and their rumored medicinal benefits, attracted numerous Native Americans as well as Europeans to the area.

19th Century Berkeley County

Berkeley County was reduced in size twice during the 1800s. On January 8, 1801, Jefferson County was formed out of the county's eastern section. Then, on February 9, 1820, Morgan County was formed out of the county's western section and parts of Hampshire County.

Berkeley County was of strategic importance to both the North and the South during the American Civil War (1861 to 1865). The county, and Martinsburg, the county seat, lay at the northern edge of the Shenandoah Valley, and Martinsburg was very important because the main line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad ran through the town. The rail line was of great importance to both armies. Also, Martinsburg was close to the Union arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Control over Martinsburg changed hands many times during the war, especially prior to the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. After Gettysburg, the city remained mostly under Union control.

Most of Berkeley County's residents were loyal to the South during the American Civil War. There were seven companies of soldiers recruited from the county: five for the Confederate Army and two for the Union Army. At least six hundred men from Berkeley County served in either the Confederate or Union Armies.

Berkeley County was also the home of Maria Isabella "Belle" Boyd, a famous spy for the Confederacy. She was born in Martinsburg on May 9, 1844, and lived there until the outbreak of the war. Her espionage career began on July 4, 1861 when a band of drunken Union soldiers broke into her Martinsburg home intent on raising the United States flag over the house. As the soldiers forced their way into the house (one account has a soldier pushing Belle's mother), Belle drew a pistol and killed him. A board of inquiry exonerated her actions as justifiable homicide, but sentries were posted around the house and officers kept close track of her activities. She befriended the officers, and at least one of them, Captain Daniel Keily, shared with her military secrets. She conveyed those secrets to Confederate officers via her slave, Eliza Hopewell, who carried the messages in a hollowed-out watch case. She later moved to Front Royal, Virginia to live with an aunt. One evening in mid-May, 1862 General James Shields and his staff conferred in the parlor of the local hotel. Belle hid upstairs and overheard Shields mentioning that he had been ordered east, a move that would reduce the Union Army's strength at Front Royal. Belle reported the news to Colonel Turner Ashby, a Confederate scout. He relayed the information to General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, commander of the Confederate Army. After Jackson took Front Royal on May 23, he penned a note of gratitude to Belle, and named her an honorary Captain. Belle was later arrested by the Union Army for espionage, spent a month in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. and was freed in a prisoner exchange. In June 1863, she was arrested again for espionage by the Union Army during a visit to Martinsburg. She remained in custody until December 1, 1863 when, suffering from typhoid, she was allowed to travel to England to regain her strength. While there, she began a stage career and penned her memoirs. After the war, she returned to the United States, toured the western states recounting her exploits as a spy during the war, and died in 1900 in Evansville, Wisconsin.

Berkeley County remained in the Confederacy throughout the Civil War, and was not part of the formation of the State of Kanawha, renamed West Virginia, when it was admitted to the Union with 48 former Virginia counties on January 1, 1863. Rather, after the War, during Reconstruction, in 1866, two more counties decided in local referendums that they also wanted to be part of the new state of West Virginia, bringing the total to 50. These last 2 counties were Berkeley County and Jefferson County. -- Wikipedia.com - Berkeley County West Virginia


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