Kanawha County, WV

Source: History of West Virginia; By Virgil Anson Lewis; publ. 1887; Pgs. 570-577;
Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack

Kanawha was formed in 1789, from Greenbrier and Montgomery, and named from its principal river. Its present area is 980 square miles. Here, as elsewhere throughout the State, the first lands surveyed were patented largely by soldiers, who received them as bounties under Dinwiddie's proclamation of 1754, for services in the French and Indian War.

The first attempt at a settlement within the present limits of the county, or on the lower course of the New River-Kanawha was that of Walter Kelly in 1774. It appears that he came from North Carolina to the Virginia frontier, and not content to remain in Greenbrier, then the most western outpost of civilization, pushed out into the wilderness, and at the mouth of what has ever since been known as Kelly's creek - a stream falling into the Kanawha twenty miles above Charleston-reared his cabin. Sadly was he made to pay for his temerity. Shortly after his settlement the scouts sent out from Greenbrier learned that the savages were preparing for hostilities. A messenger was at once sent to warn Kelly of his danger. The following, subjoined from Wither's "Chronicles of Border Warfare," tells the story of his fate.

"When the express arrived at the cabin of Walter Kelly, twenty miles below the falls, Captain John Field, of Culpeper, who had been in active service during the French and Indian War, and was then engaged in making surveys, was there with a young Scotchman and a negro woman. Kelly, with great prudence, directly sent his family to Greenbrier, under the care of a younger brother. But Captain Field, considering the apprehension as groundless, determined on remaining with Kelly, who from prudential motives did not wish to subject himself to observation by mingling with others. Left with no persons but the Scot and the Negro, they were not long permitted to doubt the reality of those dangers of which they had been forewarned by Captain Stuart.

"Very soon after Kelly's family had left the cabin, and while yet within hearing of it, a party of Indians approached, unperceived, near to Kelly and Field, who were engaged in drawing leather from a tan-trough in the yard. The first intimation which Field had of their approach, was the discharge of several guns and the fall of Kelly. He then ran briskly toward the house to get possession of a gun, but recollecting that it was unloaded, he changed his course and sprang into a cornfield, which screened him from the observation of the Indians; they supposing that he had taken refuge in the cabin, rushed immediately into it. Here they found the Scotchman and the Negro woman, the latter of whom they killed, and making a prisoner of the young man, returned and scalped Kelly.

"When Kelly's family reached the Greenbrier settlement, they mentioned their fears for the fate of those whom they had left on the Kanawha, not doubting but that the guns which they had heard soon after leaving the cabin, had been discharged at them by Indians. Captain Stuart, with a promptitude which must ever command admiration, exerted himself effectually to raise a volunteer corps, and proceed to the scene of action, with a view of ascertaining whether the Indians had been there; and if they had, and he could meet with them, to endeavor to punish them for the outrage, and thus prevent the repetition of similar deeds of violence.

"They had not, however, gone far before they were met by Captain Field, whose appearance of itself fully told the tale of woe. He had run upwards of eighty miles, naked, except his shirt, and without food; his body nearly exhausted with fatigue, anxiety and hunger, and his limbs grievously lacerated with briers and brush. Captain Stuart, fearing lest the success of the Indians might induce them to push immediately for the settlements, thought proper to return and prepare for that event."

That Leonard Morris was the first permanent settler within the present limits of Kanawha there seems to be but little doubt. There is no evidence to sustain the claim that others were earlier.

In the Circuit Court of this county, in the year 1815, there was a land case decided in which Lawrence A. Washington was plaintiff and Eli Jarrett and Joseph Fletcher were defendants. In this case Leonard Morris, then in the eighty-sixth year of his age, was a witness. The following is an extract from his deposition taken from the record :

"And the said Leonard Morris, being produced as a witness for the plaintiff, after being first duly sworn, deposeth and saith: That in the year 1775, this deponent was residing on Kanawha river about six miles from Burning Spring Tract. During that year, Messrs. Samuel Lewis, a surveyor, Colonel John Stuart, of Greenbrier, and Thomas Bullitt were on the Kanawha surveying lands, and procured from out of this deponent's family, Mungo Price and his son as chain carriers; that after the party returned from surveying, this deponent understood from them that they had surveyed the Burning Spring Tract for the late General George Washington and Andrew Lewis.

This deponent, with the exception of some periods when the Indian wars made it hazardous to keep a family on Kanawha, has made it his principal residence since 1775. Sometimes during the Indian troubles, this deponent's family resided altogether in Greenbrier." From the foregoing it will be seen that Leonard Morris was residing here as early as 1775, and how much earlier cannot now be known. If there was a permanent settlement at any point in the Valley prior to that date, no evidence of it, either recorded or traditional, can now be found.

The First County Court convened at the residence of George Clendenin on the 5th day of October, 1789. The following justices were present: Thomas Lewis, Robert Clendenin, Francis Watkins, Charles McClung, Benjamin Strother, William Clendenin, David Robinson, George Alderson, Leonard Morris and James VanBibber. Thomas Lewis became the first Sheriff of the county, and William Cavendish the first clerk.

In 1773, Colonel Thomas Bullitt, a soldier of the French and Indian War, received a patent for a tract of 1030 acres of land, including the site of the present city of Charleston. This land he soon after sold to his brother, Judge Cuthbert Bullitt, President of the Court of Appeals of Virginia.

The founders of the city were the Clendenin's. The emigrant ancestors of the family in the United States Were three brothers, one of whom settled at Baltimore and became the ancestor of the Clendenin family of Maryland; a second, Archibald, with his family, found a home on the Virginia frontier, where himself and family were murdered by the Indians at the time of the destruction of the Greenbrier settlements in 1763. Charles, the third of the brothers, was residing in Augusta county as early as 1752. It is not known at what date he came west of the mountains, but that he was living on Greenbrier river within the limits of Greenbrier county as early as 1780, is a matter of record. He had issue four sons and one daughter - George, William, Robert, Ellen Mary and Alexander.

George, the eldest, was born about the year 1746. He was a distinguished frontiersman, long engaged in the Indian wars, and a soldier in General Lewis' army at the battle of Point Pleasant. In June, 1788, he, with Colonel John Stuart, represented Greenbrier county in the Virginia Convention which ratified the Federal Constitution.

While in Richmond, he met Judge Bullitt, from whom he purchased the lands upon which Charleston now stands, and in the autumn of the last named year, accompanied by his aged father and brothers and sisters, removed to the mouth of Elk river, where, the same year, they reared the first structure ever built on the site of the present capital of West Virginia. Within it, Charles Clendenin, the father, died about the year 1790, and was buried near by. When the county was formed, in 1789, George Clendenin furnished the blank books, for which the court allowed him nineteen hundred and twenty pounds of tobacco. Here he continued to reside until 1796, when he removed to Marietta, Ohio, where he died in 1797. His wife died at Point Pleasant in 1815. The structure reared by him was long known in pioneer annals as "Clendenin's Fort," and through the efforts of the venerable Dr. John P. Hale a portion of it is still preserved, and now used as a residence. Several daring pioneers accompanied the Clendenin's to the Kanawha, among them being Josiah Harrison, Francis Watkins, Charles McClung, John Edwards, Lewis Tackett and Shaderick Harriman. Of the latter, the historian, John P. Hale, in his valuable work, "Trans-Allegheny Pioneers," says: "Shaderick Harriman, then (1794) living at the mouth of Lower Venable Branch, two miles above Charleston, on the south side, was the last person killed by Indians in the Kanawha Valley."

Charleston, contracted from "Charles' Town," first named in honor of Charles Clendenin, was made a town by legislative enactment December 19, 1794, with Reuben Slaughter, Andrew Donnally, Sr., Leonard Morris, George Alderson, Abraham Baker, John Young and William Morris, trustees.

St. Albans, at the mouth of Cole river, is near the site of Tackett's Fort, built by Lewis Tackett, who accompanied the Clendenin's to the Valley in 1788. A year later it was attacked by a band of savages. At the time the inmates were Tackett, his son-in-law, daughter and one or two families, nearly all of whom perished at the hands of their barbarous conquerors.

Keziah, the wife of John Young and the daughter of Lewis Tackett, had that day given birth to a son- probably the first white child ever born in the Valley. When the attack began, the father clasped mother and child in his arms, and escaping from the fort, bore his precious burden to the river, where he placed it in a canoe, and pushing into the stream amid a shower of bullets, paddled twelve miles up the river, and late at night reached Clendenin's Fort. Neither mother nor child suffered from the exposure. The former lived more than fifty years after the occurrence. The child grew to manhood, and died in Putnam county a few years since, having attained to a great age.

Perhaps the best view of the condition of affairs on the Virginia border a hundred years ago to be had from any official source is found in the reports of George Clendenin and Daniel Boone, who were Colonel and Lieutenant-Colonel, respectively, of Kanawha county. Both were prominent figures in the military establishment on the border, and both represented Kanawha county in the General Assembly in 1791. Early in the year 1789, it was thought that the Indians were preparing for an incursion into Southwest Virginia, and for the purpose of staying it George Clendenin collected the available military force at the mouth of Elk and hastened to Point Pleasant. In August he transmitted by private carrier his report to the Virginia War Department.

It is still preserved among the archives at Richmond, and from it we have the names of the men who accompanied him to Point Pleasant.
They were:
William Clendenin, Captain;
George Shaw, Lieutenant;
Francis Watkins, Ensign;
Shaderick Harrison, 1st Sergeant;
Reuben Slaughter, 2nd Sergeant,
and twenty-six privates, viz.:
John Tollypurt,
William Carroll,
William Turrell,
Samuel Dunbar,
Thomas Shirkey,
William Hyllard,
John Burns,
Nicholas Null,
John Cavinder,
Isaac Snedicer,
Archer Price,
Henry Morris,
William Miller,
Benjamin Morris,
Charles Young,
John Booker,
Levi Morris,
William George,
James Edgar,
Joseph Burwell,
Alexander Clendenin,
Michael Newhouse,
William Boggs,
John Moore,
Robert Aron,
William Morris.
Such are the names of the men who did guard duty at Point Pleasant just a century ago.

On the 12th of December, 1791, Daniel Boone wrote Governor Henry Lee regarding the military establishment of Kanawha county, which then extended westward to the Ohio river, and along that stream from near Belleville to the mouth of Big Sandy river-a distance of more than a hundred miles. The following is his report verbatim.

It is characteristic of the man who wrote it:
"For Kanavvay County, 68 Privits, Lenard Cuper, Captain, at Pint plesent, 17 men; John Morris, juner, Insine at the Bote yards 17 men. Two spyes or scutes Will be Nesesry at the pint to sarch the Banks of the River at the Crossing places. More would be Wanting if the(y) could be aloude. Those Spyes Must be Compoused of the inhabitence who Well Know the Woods and waters from the pint to belleville, 60 mildes-No inhabitence: also from the pint to Elke, 60 Mildes- No inhabitence: from Elke, to the Bote yards, 20 Mildes, all inhabited."

Here we are officially informed that in the year 1791, there was not a white inhabitant in all the Kanawha Valley, from Point Pleasant to Charleston, nor from the former place up the Ohio to Belleville, now in Wood county; while from the same source we learn that at that time the cabin homes of the pioneers dotted the banks of the Kanawha from Charleston to the "Bote yards," by which Boone refers to the location at the mouth of Paint creek, where the pioneer who preferred it took water carriage down the river.

[Source: History of West Virginia; By Virgil Anson Lewis; publ. 1887; Pgs. 570-577;
Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack]


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