Early Border History and Genealogical Notes of Prominent Border Families
by Margaret Hanna
Reprinted in the "Kanawha Gazette", 27 Dec 1887 by an unknown author
and reprinted from that newspaper in the "Staunton Spectator", January 11, 1888;
transcribed for Genealogy Trails by Gladys Lavender
From the Kanawha Gazette, Dec 27th 1887
SOME SCRAPS OF EARLY BORDER HISTORY HITHERTO UNPUBLISHED.
GENEALOGICAL NOTES OF PROMINENT BORDER FAMILIES - AN INTERESTING OLD BOOK
The writer is just in receipt of an interesting old book printed in Dublin, Ireland, in 1702. It is a compilation of the laws then in force relating to Government revenues, with instructions, tables, forms, examples, &c, for the guidance of the collectors of the excise and customs duties. It is a volume of about 400 pages, well printed and bound in leather. It is in a fine state of preservation, with not a page missing.
With this book is received a roll of manuscript notes and sketches by the late Mrs Margaret Hanna, of Greenbrier Co, W. Va. Mrs Hanna was a woman of remarkable breadth of mind and force of character. She passed away in 1878, after an eventful life of 87 years. (She was born Feb. 13, 1797 and died Jan. 21, 1878.) Her earlier M.S. notes were written at the dictation of her father, Col. Jno. Wilson, who with his father's family settled on the frontier wilds of Augusta county, Va., "in an early day," and who, later, became Col. of cavalry and fought with distinction through the Revolutionary war. The events sketched by Mrs. Hanna came within her own cognizance, or that of those were her cotemporaries.
I am permitted to extract from, copy, or otherwise use these historical notes and genealogical sketches for publication. They largely relate to family history, and have never before been made public; but they contain so much of interest relating to the early Virginia border settlements , and the family history of so many prominent people who helped to settle, subdue and populate the then "wilds of the West, " that I believe a publication of the facts will interest many persons and families descended from these worthy old pioneers ; as many of the present generation from the prevalent carelessness about keeping genealogical records now know but little of their origin or early ancestry. There are also related facts in regard to the Indian raid to Jackson's river in June 1763, and a later raid to the Greenbrier settlements in May 1778, which will interest that portion of the general public that takes an interest in the annals of our early border settlements with their dangers, privations and hardships.
In 1729, William Wilson, the founder of this Wilson family in America, then a young man left Dublin, Ireland to seek his fortune and a new home, beyond the broad waters. On the 9th of August he landed in Newcastle, Del., and recorded the fact and date with his own hand, in a book he brought with him and which is the same old book above mentioned, and now before me. The family tradition is, that he smuggled this book out of Ireland, it then being contrary to law to bring such books out of the country and to America.
William Wilson soon moved to Chester county, Penn., where he married. His wife was an orphan who had been reared by an uncle, whose property she inherited at this death, he being childless. But little is now known of their after life while they remained in Chester, except that they reared a family of two sons and four daughters, named as follows; John, William, Margaret, Elizabeth, Susan and Barbara.
Early in 1753 the family removed to Augusta county, Va., where they at first located in the settlements, while the sons, John and William, went into the wilderness, some twenty miles or more from the other settlements, where they located on the head waters of Jackson river at a point now in Highland county, Va. Here they cleared some land and planted and raised a crop or corn, thus securing what was known in those days as a "corn-right title" to so much land, say 400 acres.
In the following year, (1754) Wm. Wilson, Sr., and the remainder of the family all moved to this settlement for a permanent home.
Here they lived in comparative peace and quiet with such comfort and contentment as a frontier settlement afforded until 1763, when the youthful brave, Cornstalk, afterwards to become so famous a historical character, led his memorable Indian raid against the fated Greenbrier and Jackson river settlements.
After exterminating the Muddy Creek and Big Level settlements, about one hundred souls, all told, a portion of the raiding party passed on up the Greenbrier river, through what is now Pocahontas county, and crossed over to attack the Wilson Settlement and others on Jackson's river.
Just at this time the Wilsons were erecting a new and larger log house than the original cabin that had hitherto served them.
John had gone to Dickinson's Fort, not far away, to get some help for the house-raising the next day, while William had gone to a little mill, about a mile distant to get some meal ground for the house-raising party.
Two of the sisters, Margaret and Elizabeth, were out on the river washing some flax-tow. Mrs Wilson, who was in feeble health had walked out to where they were at work. An Irishman, who was a weaver, had a loom in the yard and was weaving; two of the sisters, Susan and Barbara, were in the cabin ironing the family clothes, and the father and some other men were at work on the new house logs when the attack was made.
In returning from the Fort, John encountered the Indians suddenly, in a turn of the road. They fired on him and a ball passed through his clothes just under his arm, cutting the gusset of his shirt. He wheeled his horse quickly and fled back to the Fort to get immediate help to go to the rescue of the family, and about twenty returned with him.
The Indians had passed on to the cabin. The girls at the river washing saw them coming and started to run, and at the same time tried to help their mother away, but she told them to go and save themselves and leave her. In passing, an Indian threw a tomahawk at the old lady and severely wounded her in the wrist as she threw up her hand to save her face. The Indians did not pursue them, but hurried to the cabin. They fired at the weaver, but he escaped with a flesh wound in his shoulder.
As they entered the cabin, one of the girls, Barbara, ran out and was knocked down and her skull probably fractured, but she was not scalped. The girl remaining in the cabin, Susan, closed the door and when an Indian put his hand in to try and open it, she mashed and burned his fingers with a hot smoothing iron.
By this time, the father and his men from the new house foundation came up, and attacked the Indians with hand-spikes and foot adze; the latter, in the hands of Mr. Wilson, and drove them off.
When John and his party arrived it was dark, and they were unable to see what mischief had been done. They ascended an elevated point near by to see if they could discover any fire light or other evidences of life about the cabin.
Seeing none, they concluded, or feared, that the family had all been destroyed. In nearing the cabin other dangers suggested themselves. The family had several fierce dogs, which had been trained to great watchfulness; some were taught to sleep at the back door of the cabin and some at the front, so as to give warning of approaches from either direction; it also occurred to them, that if any of the family survived, they would have sentries stationed out to watch for a possible return of the Indians during the night and that these sentries might fire on them. John Wilson, himself, took the lead, cautiously approached the cabin, and succeeded in reaching it without accident or alarm.
Upon entering the cabin he was rejoiced to find his father and sister Susan alive, present and unharmed, but was at the same time pained to find his sister Barbara badly wounded, and his mother, two sisters, his brother, William, and the Irish weaver, all missing and their fates unknown.
At early dawn the next morning, John and his party started out to search for the missing ones. He tracked his mother by her blood about a mile up the river, to where she had alternately walked and crawled, probably not knowing whether she went. When found she was entirely out of her mind, and did not recognize her son and friends, supposing them to be Indians still pursuing her; she rallied, however, and lived for many years afterward.
William, Jr., though he usually wore moccasins, had, on the day before, put on a pair of shoes. Going toward the mill, the searchers found by his shoe tracks where he had attempted to run when the Indians discovered him - where he had slipped and fallen and been captured by them; where, further along, they had tied him to a tree, and afterwards loosened him again, and taken him off with them. His father always thought that if he had had on moccasins instead of shoes, he would have escaped and avoided capture. His pursuers were confident that he had made his shoe track "sign" as conspicuous as possible, so as to enable them to follow the trail; but they never overtook him, and he was carried off to the Indian towns beyond the Ohio.
A returned prisoner, reported to the family some time after, that she had seen him at the Chilicothe towns, but was not allowed to talk with him. She said that he had been adopted by a widow who had lost a son, and was kindly treated. He never got home, but died in captivity.
What became of this party of Indians after the attack on the Wilson home, and what befell other border settlements in that region, the Wilson-Hanna notes do not relate; but a portion of them are told in the border history of the times.
About 1762, or, perhaps, early in 1763, John Wilson, with a view to selecting a new site for a new home and settlement, came over on to the Greenbrier waters and made a location, cutting his initials plainly on a sugar tree at the head of a large spring that empties into a large creek. He intended soon to open up a farm and settle here, but after the raid on their Jackson river home in 1763, his mother prevailed upon him to abandon it.
When this section was settled, years after, the large spring was found, and "J. W." still plainly showing in the bark of the sugar tree.
John Wilson married Sarah Alexander, daughter of William Alexander, who was said to have been the first man to teach Latin in the Valley of Virginia, and probably the first in America west of the Blue Ridge. As books were very scarce in those early days, he wrote out, in manuscript, from memory, some schools exercises from books he knew, for the use of his pupils. Many afterwards prominent men in Virginia received their early training from him in this primitive way.
About this time, John Wilson went into the army. He became Col. of cavalry, and commanded a regiment during the Revolutionary war. He died January 24th, 1821.
He never asked for, but declined to accept a pension for his services. He said he did not think that any one who was able to do without it should ever receive pay for defending his country.
He, (Col. John Wilson) was for many years a magistrate in Bath county, under the old Virginia system.
At one time, on the occasion of an approaching presidential election, the auditor of the State sent out to the county magistrates, blank paper upon which to write out election tickets, with proper forms in which to make them out. There were no printing offices in Bath county in those days, and to hire clerical force to write out all these tickets would have cost money which the tax-payers could ill afford to pay, as money in those days was very scarce. - Col. Wilson proposed to his associate magistrates that they would divide out the paper amongst themselves and each undertake to write up his proportion of the tickets and thus save all expense.
Col. Wilson's then 13 years old daughter, Margaret, (afterwards Mrs. Hanna) wrote out for her father, his portion of these tickets.
The election referred to was the one in which Mr. Jefferson was elected to his first presidential term.
The children of Col. John Wilson and Susan Alexander, were John, William, Sarah-Charlotte, Susan-Esther and Margaret.
John died in New York, unmarried. - William married Sarah McClung, daughter of John McClung of Bath county. They lived and died within 4 miles of the old Wilson cabin on Jackson's river.
At an early time, the date not now known, three brothers McClung emigrated to America, two of them stopping in Virginia and one going on to Tennessee. The John McClung above mentioned was a son of one of the Virginia brothers, and he had the following brothers and sister: Edward, William, James, Joseph and Samuel and one sister, name not known.
Edward made the first settlement near "Kealer's Cross Lanes" in now Nicholas county. (See early recollections and reminiscences of the late Col. Edward Campbell, of said Nicholas county.) On the next day following the murder of Henry Morris' children, on Peters Creek, McClung and Henry Morris moved down on to Kanawha river, where McClung was, soon after, accidently drowned.
The widow of McClung removed to Gallipolis where she afterwards married a Mr. Cherington, by whom she left a large family.
The only sister of the McClung brothers married Gen. Andrew Moore, of Rockbridge county, Virginia.
The histories of the remaining brothers are not given, but I learn from family connections here, that Madison McClung, son of Joseph, above mentioned, married Margaret Hanna, daughter of William and niece of Capt. David Hanna. Their children were: Eliza J., Joseph A., Mason M., Rebecca, William M., Charles, Virginia, Lewella and Oscar.
The eldest daughter, Eliza J., was the first wife of Mr. Job E. Thayer of this city, and Joseph A., is now a resident of this county.
Mr. S.M. Campbell of Fayette county, tells me that he is also a descendant of Joseph McClung.
Returning to the family of Col. John Wilson; his eldest daughter, Sarah-Charlotte, married Andrew Stephenson, a prominent gentleman of Highland county, his second, Susan, married Mr. Frederick Hull of Pendleton county. She died leaving three children, the youngest of whom, Susan-Esther, married Washington Stephenson, brother of Adam Stephenson. He is deceased, but his widow with an only son, lives on the "old cabin farm".
William Wilson, Sr., who lived to be beyond 90, left his farm to his three unmarried daughters and when they passed away, it fell to the children of his son, John Wilson and his (Wm. Wilson's) eldest daughter, Margaret, or "Peggy," who had married Mr. William Green. She left an only child, a daughter, who married Mr. John Stephenson.
William Wilson, Sr., left some servants to his children to serve them during their lives, but provided by will that the servants should go free at the death of his children. One of these servants, "Jerry," was quite a noted character in his day, about the Warm Springs, Va., and lived to over 100 years.
The remainder of the servants removed to the vicinity of Gallipolis, Ohio, where their descendants still live and retain the Wilson family name derived from their former owners.
Col. John Wilson's daughter, Esther, married Maj. John Baller of Bath county. They left one son and five daughters, all of whom died unmarried, except the youngest daughter, who married Mr. Revercombe of Bath county.
Margaret, the youngest daughter of Col. John Wilson married Capt. David Hanna of Greenbrier county. They left six children, three sons and three daughters. John Wilson Hanna, the eldest son, married Miss Rebecca Dietz. She died leaving two children: the eldest, Dr. David Floyd Hanna , is a surgeon in the U.S. Army; the daughter married Mr. John T. Bowen of Galletin, Mo.
After the death of his wife, Mr. James Wilson Hanna, married Mrs' Pettis, a daughter of Mr. Thomas Henning of Lewisburg. There were no children by this marriage.
The second son of Capt. David Hanna, James, married Miss Adelaide, daughter of Mr. John Joseph Remley of Greenbrier county. He died in 1861 leaving six children, of whom, Horace, Theodore, Joseph and Augustus, died unmarried.
John Brown Hanna went West and Mary Margaret married Mr. Burns of Greenbrier county.
Nathan Augustus Hanna, youngest son of Capt. David, married Miss Anna Eliza, daughter of Mr' Andrew Johnson of Greenbrier. They are both divorced, leaving a son and daughter; the son David married a daughter of Mr. Alexander Anderson, of Greenbrier; and the daughter married a Mr. Leach of Monroe county.
Sarah Jane and Esther, the eldest and youngest daughters of Capt. David Hanna died unmarried; the remaining daughter, Elizabeth Gillian Hanna, married Mr. Archibald Alexander of Rockbridge county. He was a descendant, on his father's side, of Archibald Alexander , and on his mother's side of William Alexander. For an account of both of whom, see Foote's Sketches of the Valley of Virginia.
This William Alexander, (being the same referred to above, as the first person who taught Latin in the west,) left seven sons and four daughters, as follows: Archibald, William, Robert, Peter, Thomas, Samuel and Hugh; Margaret, Ellen, Esther and Anne.
Archibald married a lady in Maryland, name not remembered; William married Miss Susan McClung; Robert married a Miss Austin of Campbell county, Va. He was long clerk of that county and was succeeded in office by his son. Col. R.E. Withers, late U.S. Senator from Virginia, is a grandson of this Robert Alexander.
Peter married Miss Steele and moved to Kentucky. Thomas was twice married; his descendants live in the vicinity of Letart falls, on the Ohio river, and probably in the Kanawha Valley. James married Miss Margaret Lyell, of Rockbridge county, and was the ancestor of the wife of the late Dr. Henry Ruffner, L.L.D., first President of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University, at Lexington, Va.
Of the daughters of the elder William Alexander, Susan, as herein above stated, married Col. John Wilson; Ellen married a Mr. Wilson, but of a different family, and not connected. Esther married Mr. William Austin, of Campbell county, and Anne married a Mr. Ballou.
William Alexander, (a son of the above William who married Susan McClung) married Miss Sallie Henry, a daughter of Bettie Henry, who, while captive among the Indians, was the wife of a Delaware chief, who was a half breed French and Indian.
Bettie Henry was captured when a little girl, then living in western Pennsylvania, and taken to the Indian towns beyond the Ohio, where she was brought up among them, and became the wife of the chief of the tribe.
After the defeat of the Indians by Gen. Wayne's army in 1794, she came with her husband and others, to Fort Pitt, where, by treaty arrangement, all white prisoners were to be delivered up; but they were given their choice to return to their former homes or go back with their Indian friends. Bettie Henry decided to remain with her husband and Indian friends; but her brother, after much persuasion, prevailed upon her to go with him to see her aged mother, who, he said, could not die in peace without seeing her, and he promised that he would himself take her back to her Indian home and friends; a promise he never fulfilled, and she grieved over the separation until she died.
Her brother, James Henry, and her mother, had removed from Pennsylvania to Augusta county, Virginia, after her capture.
Bettie took with her, on this supposed visit to her mother, her little six weeks old babe called Sallie, who was kept and reared to womanhood by her (Bettie's) brother, when she became the wife of William Alexander, as above stated. The issue of this marriage was a daughter, who married Joseph Alexander, who was a descendant of the first Archibald Alexander, (and it may be here stated that the eminent Rev Dr. Archibald Alexander was also a descendant of the first Archibald Alexander herein mentioned.
The issue of this Joseph Alexander, descended, as stated, from the elder Archibald, and Sallie Alexander descended from the elder William, was Archibald Alexander, who married Miss Elizabeth Gillian Hanna, daughter of Captain David Hanna, of Greenbrier county. From this marriage there resulted five children, three sons living, and one son and one daughter who died young.
This Archibald Alexander died in Greenbrier county, W. Va., August 7th 1872. - The widow, Mrs Elizabeth Gillian Alexander, resides on her estate on Little Sewell Mountain, Greenbrier county. Of her three living sons, David Reed Alexander, lives in Bates county, Missouri; the other two Nathan Wilson Alexander and Otto Alexander reside with their mother in Greenbrier.
The Hanna Family
David, the founder of the family in America, came over from Ireland to Virginia, about 17-. He left five sons, Joseph, James, David, William and John.
Joseph died on Spring Creek, Greenbrier county; William lived and died in Nicholas county; John went to Lawrence county, Ohio, where he died, leaving a family.- James married Miss Eliza Gillian, of Staunton, Virginia. Their children were David and Nathan, twins born the day of Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown, Joseph, James, William, Andrew, Jane, Nancy and Betsy.
Captain David Hanna, son of James, married Margaret, the youngest daughter of Colonel John Wilson, as above stated and their genealogies given.
John Hanna died on Spring Creek, Greenbrier county, leaving a family. Joseph went to Ohio, in 1812, and died there.- James died young. William went to Iowa and left a family, and Andrew died in Greenbrier leaving a family.
Of the daughters, Jane married Mr. James McMillan, of Greenbrier, and left a large family; Nancy married Mr. William McCoy, and moved to Missouri, where they left a large family; and Betsy married Mr. Alexander Kernes of Monroe county, and left a family.
On the death of Mr. John Welch, an early Surveyor of Greenbrier county, Capt. David Hanna was appointed in his stead.
In those early days of frontier settlements, land entries, surveys, &c., this was a very important, responsible and lucrative office.
So active was the business that Capt. Hanna and his deputies were kept almost constantly employed in locating and surveying lands, while his wife, who possessed, in large measure, the business and executive qualities of her Wilson and Alexander ancestors, aided him by attending to the office duties; and so expert and familiar did she become, from long experience in all ordinary questions relating to land entries, surveys and titles, that she was regarded as a very good land lawyer, and her information and opinions were often sought. She was not only proficient in her office duties, but she took charge of and successfully managed their farm, to which her husband could give but little attention, and, with all, she was noted for her superior housekeeping and general domestic qualities.
For many years, Capt. Hanna was a Magistrate under the Old Virginia County Court system, in which position he proved himself a most active, useful and satisfactory officer.
He is believed to have been the first person to bring to public notice the superior smithing and coking qualities of the Little Sewell coal, the development of which, on New river, has now assumed such extensive proportions. In politics, Capt. Hanna was an "old line Whig," and felt a lively interest in the political questions of the day. (He died June 16, 1858.)
The Greenbrier raid of 1778
Mrs. Hanna's notes contain much that is interesting in relation to the attack on Donnally Fort in the Spring of 1778. Substantially, they are in accordance with, and corroborative of, the published accounts of Colonel John Stewart and others, and need not here be given in full.
Mrs. Hanna had her facts from eye-witnesses of and personal participants in the events related, among whom were William McClung, Mr. Hughart and others, and are no doubt accurate.
The elevation ascended by Hammond and Pryor, the brave messengers sent from the Fort at Point Pleasant to notify the Greenbrier settlements of the movements of the Indians, was a high point called "Elk Knob," from the fact that the last elk killed in the Greenbrier region was killed on it. This Knob is on the Little Sewell Mountain, and is part of the estate now owned by Mrs. Elizabeth Gillian Alexander.
As is well known, Hammond and Pryor from this point discovered the Indians down below them in the Meadow River Valley and succeeded in flanking and passing them, and in reaching Donnally's Fort in time to notify and save the settlements.
IN passing the house of a Mr Hughart they found his wife sick in bed, but being notified of the approach of the Indians Mrs. H. was put upon a sled and hauled to the Fort, her two daughters following on foot.
An interesting incident, not mentioned elsewhere, I think, is that these two daughters of Mr. Hughart, who were in the Fort at the time of the attack, which was about early daylight, sprang out of bed, and in only their night clothes, not taking time to dress, made themselves useful to the male defenders of the Fort. One moulded bullets, while the other re loaded the rifles as fast as discharged and handed them back to the men. They deserve to be remembered with Betty Zane, the brave heroine of Wheeling and others.
Dick Pointer, the colored servant of Col. Donnally, got hold of a musket during the attack; but as he was not accustomed to shooting at such game he was a little uncertain as to whether he should fire until he appealed to Marse Andrew, who yelled back to him , yes shoot, d-----n you, shoot! and shoot he did, and it was claimed with good effect.
In the neighbourhood of Donnally's Fort on a ridge between the houses of McCoy and Blake was a small fort, called the McCoy-Blake Fort. On Muddy creek, too, there was a local fort called Hamilton's Fort. Neither of these Forts, I think, are mentioned in any of the published accounts on the Greenbrier raids.
On the morning of the attack on Donnally's Fort, two men who were out from the McCoy-Blake Fort heard the firing, and not knowing of the presence of Indians in the settlement, supposed it was a shooting match going on and went on towards Donnally's Fort. They were discovered by the Indians as they approached through a rye field, fired on and both killed. Their names were Alexander Ochiltree and Thomas Burns, both Scotchmen. Their names suggest relationship, one to the somewhat renowned and eccentric Thomas Ochiltree, of Texas, and the other to the immortal "Bobby" Burns. I am told that there are descendants of both still living in Greenbrier.
To recapitulate, in short, the history of the interesting old book referred to in the beginning of this article and of its owners. It was published in Dublin, Ireland in 1702. It was brought over to America by William Wilson in 1729, and by him to Augusta county in 1753. It was in the Wilson cabin, when attacked by the Indian - Jackson River - raid 1763 and escaped many other border dangers.
It was left by William Wilson, Sr., to his son, Col. John Wilson; by him to his daughter, Mrs. Margaret Hanna, of Greenbrier county; and by her, to her daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Gillian Alexander, of Little Sewell Mountain, Greenbrier county, by whose kindness it is sent to the writer, through the courtesy of Mr. S.M. Campbell, of Fayette county, a gentleman who takes a lively interest in all matters relating to the early settlement and history of Virginia and West Va.
Mr Campbell is an educator of large experience in West Virginia and thinks that many of the tables, forms &c., of this book are so plain, practical and useful that they might, with advantage be adopted in the standard school books of this day.
I shall preserve the book carefully in my cabinet, along with other interesting relics connected with the early history of this region; and thereby return thanks to those through whose kindness and courtesy the book has come into my possession.