Welcome to West Virginia Genealogy Trails!

Part  14

BERKELEY COUNTY.                                                     231

before the court and agreed to provide at his own expense all the plank and scantling for the building of the court-house, and have the same ready at his mill when he should be called upon, and that he would also donate an acre of ground upon which the proposed buildings should be placed.  This generous proposition was made, it appears, with the provision that work should immediately commence by the county.  Work did not begin, however, for the records state that Sheriff Stephen appeared before the justices on the 19th of January following and canceled a portion of his proposed gift.  He would give the stone and an acre of land, but not the lumber, which made a vast difference, when one considers with what prodigality nature has blessed this particular locality with fine building limestone, and as to an acre of land at that date, it was a mere bagatelle.  Anybody could have an acre or more anywhere, almost, if he would put a building upon it.  

At this same session of the January court, the justices promulgated the following order: "That Van Swearingen, Thomas Swearingen, James Nourse and James Strode, gents., or any two of them, do, on the 19th day of April next, let to the lowest bidder, the building the court-house and gaol for the county, agreeably to the plans which are now lodged in the clerk's office; and it is ordered that the said gents., if they think it necessary to make any little alteration in the said plans, at the letting the said building, that they are hereby empowered so to do; and it is further ordered that the clerk of the court do advertise the letting the said court-house and gaol in the Virginia and Maryland Gazettes if he can conveniently do it."

The contract was duly advertised, but no bidder came forward, and in June the sheriff was again ordered to advertise the matter.  Contractors seem to have been scarce, and not until August were the justices able to get any one to undertake the job.  William Brown agreed to accept the contract, with the proviso that he receive in advance half the stipulated sum to be paid therefor, which sum (400) was handed to him on the 18th of August.  The remaining 412 was to be paid him as the work advance.  An alteration in the original plan of the court-house was made, so that the seat of the justices and the back wall of that building should be circular in form, instead of square, as at first proposed.  The building of the court-house moved along slowly, but by December of the next year, 1774, the jail was completed and turned over to the authorities.  Robert Cockburn, the county surveyor, was ordered to lay off ten acres as prison bounds to include the court-house and jail, and that a stone be set up at each of the four corners of the "bounds", to mark the same.  Stocks and a pillory were erected about this time.  In this connection it is appropriate to state that the thoughtful justices ordered that the price of liquors in Berkeley should be the same as in Frederick County.

Work on the court-house must have progressed exceedingly slowly, or to have ceased entirely for several years, for as late as March 18, 1778, the justices ordered a committee of their board to agree with workmen to finish the court-house, "in accordance with the plans of the original contractor, who had gone into the service of his country," which slight entry on that old order book tells a tale highly honorable to the old contractor, William Brown, who prefered helping his struggling countrymen on the field of battle to making money at home.

In September James McAllister was ordered to procure window glass for the use of the court-house, and the "finishing the court-house" was ordered to be let to the lowest bidder on the third Tuesday of March, 1779, 500 being appropriated for that purpose.  The contract was advertised three times in the Virginia Gazette.  By 1780 the building was completed at last and was used till the present one was built.
January 15, 1773, Horatio Gates, afterward a noted general in the Revolutionary army, was appointed a justice in the new commission of the peace, among a number of others.  Gates was also appointed to take the list of tithables and wheel-carriages from Opeckon, where the Warm Spring road crosses up the same to Jonathan Seaman's, thence down the road to the county line at Vestall's ford; thence to Potomac and up the same to Mecklenburg; thence up the road to Robert Lemmon"s; thence with the Warm Spring road to Opeckon.  Later on an allusion is made to another historic character, one of the famous trio who came out of the Revolution in disgrace, and who lived in Berkeley County at the time indicated; In laying off roads and appointing overseers of the same, a road is specified as running "from the cross roads opposite Gen. Horatio Gates to the bridge, including the bridge at Gen. Charles Lee's plantation."  These old extracts take one back to historic times, and bring fresh to the mind scenes that were not only fraught with moment to the struggling colonies, but painful to all concerned.
A case involving a nice point of law came up before the court of justices in 1773: John Potts was arrested and arraigned for feloniously assaulting Jude Mackail, and her evedence was alone and unsupported.  Jude was a Roman Catholic, so Pott's attorney sprang the point on her that before she could testify she must take the oath of "allegiance, abjuration and supremacy," which was necessary on the part of all who sought anything at the hands of the supporters of King George.  The oath indicated avowed entire adherence to the English sovereign, and rejected the Pope and all things papistical.  The attorney knew she would not dare, in the face of her religion, take such an obligation, and the point was admirably taken, but the old justices with singular justice admitted her testimony without the "test", yet when they came to a verdict they pronounced Potts not guilty, evidently balancing matters, as it were, and reconciling their conciences for having permitted themselves in the cause of justice to swerve away from the landmarks established by their divinely appointed sovereign.
Martinsburg was so known by name at this time, 1773, and long before that period, as is shown by various parties being made overseers of roads in that town,  although its establishment and regular christening did not occur till 1778.
At March court, "On the motion of Richard Stephenson, ordered that John Sevanick serve his master, Valentine Crawford, 196 days after his time of indenture has expired, agreeable to act of assembly, for absenting himself from his master's service; and three years and a half and thirty-one days, or pay fifteen pounds, thirteen shillings and three pence, for expenses and apprehending him."  That was the plan by which when a servant once became indentured, he was held frequently for the natural term of his life.  The greater number of these indentured persons were brought from Ireland.  They were too poor to pay their own passage money and sold a stipulated portion of their time to men who made a business of bringing them over.  But woe to the poor man or woman who would fall into the hands of such tyrants as the Stephenson named above.  In cases of that character the servant was as much a slave to his master as any negro ever was.  There was no escape for him, for the law upheld the master.  In many cases where these servants ran away the master was privileged to put an iron collar upon the unfortunate, to place fetters about their wrists, and to shave their heads and eyebrows, as has been shown in another portion of this work.  There was a bonus offered to persons who would bring into the colony these servants, and an item of the proceedings of a session of the court held January 17, 1775, shows the fact.  It reads:  "James Nourse made oath that he had imported fourteen persons into this colony from Great Britain, and that he had not as yet received the land to which he was entitled for so doing."
The first case of murder after the creation of the county occurred in April, 1776, as on the 27th the prisoner was arraigned before the justices, who, after an examination, sent her on to Williamsburg for trial.  The person charged was Mary Howard, and her alleged victim was her own infant.  What became of the case is not stated.
It may be a matter of interest to the reader to know the process by which the transition from monarchial to republican allegiance was effected.  The records show the transformation, but it is all so much a matter of course, and so easily done, that one would pass over it, were he not looking especially for the facts in relation thereto.  The old justices and all the balance of the other officers stepped so imperceptibly into the new harness and began to pull the other way so readily, that they appeared as if they had been accustomed to it all their lives. The entry in the order book is as follows:
"An ordinance of the Honorable Convention of this Commonwealth of Virginia directing that the different members named in the former commission of the peace should continue to act in said office, upon their taking the oath prescribed by the said ordinance, was read, Whereupon Robert Carter Willis and John Cook administered the said oath to Samuel Washington, who took the same and then the said Samuel Washington administered the said oath to all the aforesaid members, who took the same as Justices of the Commonwealth."
The justices requested to serve were those appointed by Lord Dunmore in April, 1773, and were: Ralph Wormley, Adam Stephen, John Nevill, Samuel Washington, Robert Stephen, Robert Carter Willis, Robert Tabb, Horatio Gates, John Throckmorton, Thomas Lowry, John Cooke, John Aviss, Godwin Swift, William Patterson, Henry Whiting, Robert Worthington, Morgan Morgan, and William McGaw.
December 9, 1776, a new commission was granted, under the authority of the "Commonwealth of Virginia," and the following gentlemen were named for Berkeley County: Adam Stephen, John Nevill, Samuel Washington, Robert Stephen, Robert Carter Willis, Horatio Gates, John Cooke, John Aviss, Godwin Swift, William Patterson, Henry Whiting, Robert Worthington, Morgan Morgan, William McGaw, James McAlister, Anthony Nobles, John Morrow, Robert Throckmorton, John Gaunt, Walter Baker, George Grundy, and George Cunningham.  The duties of the justices were about the same as under English rule, but all allusions to "Our Sovereign Lord," etc., were conspicuously absent, as well as those clauses instructing the justices to "defend the name of the King" and his government, and to "punish all treasonable practices."
This important proceeding occurred August 20, 1776, and business went on as usual, there not being one solitary objector or flincher in the entire body, which is more than can be said of grand old Frederick County, where several of the justices declined to serve under the new regime, and Thomas Bryan Martin, after whom his friend Adam Stephen, named Martinsburg, was one of them, too, who flatly refused to serve.  But those who failed to come to time in those "trying days" were, possibly, under the influence of Lord Fairfax, who also refused, although he was chief justice of Frederick County.
To return to Berkeley: William Drew stepped forward and was sworn in as clerk, under "His Excellency Patrick Henry," and Messrs. Alexander White, Philip Pendleton, John Magill, Henry Peyton and Dolphin Drew flung down the gauntlet to Georgius Rex by taking the oath of fealty to the commonwealth of Virginia and having their names registered as attorneys.
Samuel Washington was recommended to the governor as a suitable person for sheriff, the incumbent at that time being engaged in the service of his country and stationed at Fort Pitt.  The incumbent must have been Gen. Adam Stephen, although John Nevill had been filling the position of sheriff for some time; at least he is recorded as having been appointed in 1775, possibly only temporarily, after Gen. Stephen had departed for the seat of war.  David Hunter was appointed jailor.
John Skelding was appointed deputy clerk of the court during the absense of William Drew, the clerk, and in his connection, as showing the current feeling and English intolerance of the time, the following "test" is here printed.  It is to be found at the back of one of the minute books and is signed by John Skelding, evidently placed there when he was appointed deputy clerk.  It was necessary for officers, when being sworn in, to repeat and "subscribe" this so-called "test," and a singular fact in connection with this particular case is that it was enforced after Virginia had cut loose from English domination.  But here is the brilliant gem:
"I do declare that I believe that there is not any Transubstantiation in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper or in the Elements of of Bread and Wine at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever.      JOHN SKELDING."
In a former chapter of this work a case of speedy vindication of the law is given in the primative times before 1800, but the appended example in this county rather throws into the shade any attempt in that line made in Frederick.  The entire proceedings as recorded, November 20, 1776, are contained in one simple paragraph to the following effect:
"Proclamation being made for the trial of Nace, a negro man belonging to General Horatio Gates, committed to the gaol of this county, and for breaking open the cellar of the said General Gates, and feloniously taking from thence a chest of money and clothes; who, being brought to the bar, and it being demanded of him whether he was guilty of the offence wherewith he stands charged, or not guilty, he says he is guilty.  It is therefore the judgment of the Court that he be remanded back to the gaol, from whence he came, and there to continue till the third Friday in December next, then from thence to be taken and hanged by the neck till he is dead.  It is the opinion of the court that the said slave is worth seventy pounds."
This was the first execution in Martinsburg, and it will be noticed that the law was not only vindicated but the owner lost nothing by the death of his slave.
April 3, 1777, Col. Samuel Washington, in consequence of his health, which rendered him unfit for public business, requested leave to resign his commission as county lieutenant, which was granted and Van Swearingen was appointed in his place.  Philip Pendleton was appointed in the place of Van Swearingen who was colonel of the militia, and Robert Carter Willis in the place of Pendleton, who was lieutenant-colonel of militia.  Col. Washington did not long remain inactive, for in two weeks' time from the date given, he entered the Continental army and was a gallant officer to the close of the great struggle.
Berkeley was not behind in taking care of the wives and widows of the gallant soldiers who left their happy homes and comfortable firesides, and risked their lives and health in northern snows and southern marshes. She contributed liberally, not only in men and the munitions of war, but gave sums of money to numbers of families that had been left helpless by the departure of a husband, father, son, or brother.  Rachel Stewart, wife of William Stewart was allowed $15 for her present support; sums were given to the family of John Mitchell; the wife of John McDonald; wife of John Swan; Wife of William Mathenger; Wife of Joseph Bowers, and a number of others.  And the old patriots were going to be sure that no Tories were around, for they appointed Mr. William Pattison to administer the oath of fidelity to any and everybody, and particularly to those whom they suspected of being tainted with "disloyalty."  Mr. John Morrow was also appointed to perform the pleasant task of oath-administering.  As previously stated, under circumstances quite similar in Frederick, that little trick of "making 'em take the oath" duplicated itself in a very "modern instance," and it is possible the reminder may bring to the faces of not a few of the elderly and middle-aged citizens of Berkeley something akin to a smile, as their memories run back to provost marshals and other high and low dignitaries of the era of 1861-65.
The Revolution was now at its great turning point, 1778, although the end was far off as yet.  Very few of the able-bodied men remained at home during those wild and uncertain times; and although the contest waged hundreds of miles away, yet the Valley continued to contribute its more than quota, when compared with the denser populated districts nearer the seaboard.  It had furnished at least five of the great leaders, and no matter what apparent disgrace has attached to the names of two or three of them, through circumstances that may have had palliating conditions, yet they were undoubtedly patriotic and did voluntarily what they could have evaded had they chosen so to do, and in reqard to one of whom, at least, the writer may have something to say further along.
Among the many cases tried before the justices the following, beyond a doubt, stands without a parallel, in one feature, at least, as it certainly is the champion "excessive bail" case on record.  It happened March 17, 1778.  James McGonigall, a son of Erin, was arraigned before the court charged with creating a riot in Martinsburg, and after listening to witnesses the prisoner was remanded to jail in default of furnishing bail - the amount of which was set at 10,000, nearly $50,000, which at that day was equal in purchasing power to over $100,000!  There is no mistake in the figures, for it is repeated two or three times.  Just what kind of riot Mr. McGonigall created by himself (no one else being charged with the offense appearing by the records) is difficult to determine, but it must have been terribly flagrant, or the justices were very predjudiced.  Yet, a glance at the date may partially explain the matter, for be it remembered that the 17th of March is St. Patrick's Day.  Possibly Jimmy was celebrating the natal day of his patron saint and took aboard too much of the "craythur" and got into a "bit of a discushion" with a gentleman also loaded to the muzzle.  But he was not permitted to languish long behind the bars, for such prominent endorsers as Michael McKewen, William Patterson and James Millin came to his aid and had him released.
Among the old documents preserved in the clerk's office of Berkeley County is the following will of Maj-Gen. Charles Lee, one of the most eccentric as well as highly educated officers of the Revolution.  He was an Englishman and in no way connected with the other Lees of Revolutionary fame.  He left no descendants.  The document is reproduced here entire, and gives a clearer insight into the man's character than comments can convey.
"I, Major General Charles Lee of the county of Berkeley in the Commonwealth of Virginia, being in perfect health and of a sound mind, considering the certainty of death and the uncertainty of the time it may happen, have determined to make this my last Will and Testament in manner following.  That is to say I give and bequeath to Alexander White, Esquire, one hundred Guineas in consideration of the zeal and integrity he has displayed in the Administration of my affairs, Also the choice of any two of my Colts or Fillies under four years of age.  Item, I giive and bequeath to Charles Minn Thruston Esquire Fifty Guineas in consideration of his good qualities, and the friendship he has manifested for me, and to Buckner Thruston, his son, I leave all my books, as I know he will make a good use of them.  To my good Friend John Mercer Esquire of Marlbrough in Virginia I give and bequeath the choice of Two Brood Mares, of all my Swords and Pistols, and Ten Guineas to buy a Ring.  I would give him more but as he has a good estate and a better genius he has sufficient if he knows how to make good use of them.  I give and bequeath to my former Aid de Camp Otway Bird Esquire the choice of another brood mare, and Ten guineas for the same purpose of a remembrance Ring.  I give and bequeath to my worthy Friend Colonel William Grayson of Dumfries the second choise of two colts and to my excellent Friend William Steptoe of Virginia I would leave a great deal, but as he is now so rich, it would be no less than robbing my other friends who are poor.  I therefore intreat he will only accept of five Guineas, which I bequeath to him to purchase a Ring of affection.  I bequeath to my old and faithful servant, or rather humble Friend Giusippi Minghini, three hundred Guineas with all my Horses, Mares and Colts of every Kind, those above mentioned excepted, likewise all my wearing apparel and plate, my Wagons and Tools of Agriculture, and his choice of four milch Cows,  I bequeath to Elizabeth Dun my Housekeeper one Hundred Guineas and my whole stock of Cattle (the four milch cows above mentioned only excepted) I had almost forgot my dear friends (and I ought to be ashamed of it) Mrs. Shippen, her son Thomas Shippen and Thomas Lee Esquire of Belle View.  I beg they will accept Ten Guineas each to buy Rings of affection.
"My Landed Estate in Berkeley I desire may be divided in three equal parts according to Quality and Quantity.  One third part I devise to my dear friend Jacob Morris of Philadelphia.  One other third part ot Evan Edwards both my former Aid de Camps and to their Heirs and Assigns.  The other third part I devise to Eleazer Oswald at present of Philadelphia and William Goddart of Baltimore (to whom I am under obligations)  and to their Heirs and Assigns, to be equally divided between them.  But these Divisions are not to enter until they have paid off the several Legacies above mentioned with interest from the time of my death, and all taxes which may be due on my Estate.  In case I should sell my Landed Estate I bequeath the price thereof (after paying the above Legacies) to the said Jacob Morris, Evan Edwards, Eleazer Oswald and William Goddart in the proportions above mentioned.  All my Slaves of which I may be possessed at the time of my decease I bequeath to Giusippi Minghini and Elizabeth Dun to be equally divided between them.  All my other property of every kind, and in every part of the world (after my Debts Funeral charges and necessary expenses of Administration are paid) I give devise and bequeath to my sister Sidney Lee her Heirs and Assigns forever.
"I desire most earnestly that I may not be buried in any Church or Churchyard, or within a mile of any Presbyterian or Anabaptist Meeting house, for since I have resided in this country I have kept so much bad company when living, that I do not chuse to continue it when dead.  I recomment my soul to the Creator of all Worlds and all Creatures, who must from his Visible Attributes be indifferent to their modes of Worship or Creeds, whether Christians, Mahometans or Jews, whether instilled by education or taken up by reflection, whether more or less absurd, as a weak mortal can no more be answerable for his persuasions, notions or even scepticism in Religion than for the colour of his skin.  And I do appoint the above mentioned Alexander White and Charles Minn Thruston Executors of this my Last Will and Testament, and do revoke all former and other wills by me heretofore made.
"In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this ____ day of ____, in the year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-Two.     CHARLES LEE.
"Signed, sealed, published and delivered by the said Major General Charles Lee, as and for his last will and testament in presence of  
The character of Gen. Charles Lee was a singular admixture of great talents, educational advantages, ambition, bravery, and more than ordinary military skill, combined with such lack of principle in the attainment of his ends that it overshadowed and blotted out the good that was in him.  He is said to have been born in Wales, but was educated in England and was an Englishman to all intents and purposes.  He entered the military service at a very early age, and was with Braddock in his disastrous campaign wherein that general lost his life.  At Ticonderoga Lee was a captain of grenadiers, and afterward, as a colonel, he was with Burgoyne in the Spanish wars.  Leaving the British service in consequence of some real, or fancied grievance, he became a soldier of fortune, and fought in Germany, Poland and Italy.  In the latter country he fought a duel with an Italian officer, and killing him, he had to fly.  Coming to America about 1773, he shortly afterward purchased the estate referred to in his will, in Berkeley County, now in Jefferson, the little hamlet of Leetown being called after him.
When matters began assuming a belligerent attitude in the colonies, Gen. Lee warmly espoused the American cause, and urged immediate armed resistance.  The Continental Congress appointed him second of the five major-generals under Washington, much to the disappointment of Lee, who desired to be commander-in-chief.  The jealousy of Lee continuing, his military career was cut short after the battle of Monmouth, where he behaved so that Washington ordered him to the rear; a court-martial followed, which found him "guilty of disobedience, misbehavior before the enemy, and disrespect to the commander-in-chief," and was suspended from all command for twelve months.  This punishment not quelling him, and he continuing to abuse Washington and criticise the court-martial that condemned him, in addition to an impertinent letter, Congress finally dismissed him from service.
Retiring to his estate in Berkeley County he lived the life of a half recluse, although he had companionship of two other worthies, of whom mention will be made hereafter.  The house of Gen. Lee was a one-storied affair, but evidently comfortable for the period, and not at all in accordance with the descriptions given by the historians from Bancroft down, who try to make it appear that Lee lived in a hovel with his dogs, etc.  His will gives the contradiction to those assertions, for a man who has a housekeeper and a valet, or personal servant, and slaves, in addition to numbers of horses, fillies and milch cows, can hardly be considered as living in a "hovel," in comparative destitution with his canines.  It is true he had many dogs, for he awas fond of hunting, and it is said that he freely distributed his game among his poorer neighbors and his slaves.  The Giusippi Minghini, spoken of in the will, remained in this county, and has descendants by the same namenow living here, one in Martinsburg.  In 1814 an advertisement appears in the Martinsburg Gazette signed Joseph Minghini, offering for sale a quantity of personal property at "Sulphur Spring, on the Opeckon."  This Giusippi Minghini came from Italy with Gen. Lee, as his valet, when he fled from that country after the duel with the officer whom he killed.  As will be seen by the date, the will of Lee was made in 1782, probably in the spring, as he went East in the early part of the summer, visiting the seaboard cities.  In Philadelphia at one of the public houses he was taken sick and died October 2 of the year last named 1782.  His dying words, true to the character of this gallant though misguided and over-ambitious soldier, were: "Stand by me, my brave grenadiers."

Back to Genealogy Trails Main Site

Back to

			 the Main Index Page

Back to Genealogy Trails

Back to WV Genealogy Trails

2013 Genealogy Trails