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Monongalia County, WV
History

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MONONGALIA COUNTY.

 

In 1776, the first Assembly of the newly-declared Commonwealth of Virginia met in the old State House at Williamsburg. In October they passed an act dividing the District of West Augusta into three distinct counties-Monongalia, Ohio and Youghiogheny. The boundaries of Monongalia were thus defined: "All that part of the said district lying to the northward of the county of Augusta, to the westward of the meridian of the fountain of the Potowmack, to the southward of the county of Yohogania and to the eastward of the county of Ohio, shall be one other distinct county, and shall be called and known by the name of Monongalia." Thus Monongalia was one of the first three counties created in the New Republic. The name was received from the river Monongahela, which in the Indian language signifies "River of caving or crumbling banks."

 

The act creating the county further provided "that it shall and may be lawful for the landholders of said county qualified to vote in the General Assembly to meet at the house of Jonathan Cobun, in the said county, on the 8th of December following, then and there to choose the most convenient place for holding courts for the county in the future."

 

In 1796 the records of Monongalia County were burned, and we have no means of ascertaining whether such an election was held. We may infer that it was, as thereafter the courts were regularly convened at the plantation of Theophilus Phillips, near where New Geneva, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, now is, the last-named county at that time being a part of Monongalia.

 

Nor can it be stated with certainty who were the first sheriff and clerk of the county. In Monongalia, tradition names Captain John Dent as the first sheriff and Colonel John Evans as the first county clerk, while a Fayette county tradition makes Joseph Coombs the first clerk.

 

Morgantown.-In October, 1785, the General Assembly enacted "That fifty acres of land, the property of Zackquell Morgan, lying in the county of Monongalia, shall be, and they are hereby, vested in Samuel Hanway, John Evans, David Scott, Michael Kerns and James Daugherty, gentlemen, trustees, to be by them laid out in lots, which shall be, and the same are hereby, established a town, by the name of Morgantown." Purchasers of lots were required to build upon them within four years. In December, 1789, the time was extended three years, because of Indian hostilities. Five years more were granted in 1792, as it was found difficult to procure material. An Act of the Assembly passed February 3, 1810, empowered the freeholders of Morgantown to elect "five fit and able men to be trustees thereof."

 

Morgantown was incorporated by act of February 3, 1858, as the "Borough of Morgantown," the same act providing that seven trustees should be elected annually. March 20, 1860, the charter was amended so as to provide for the election of a mayor, sergeant, five councilmen and a recorder.

 

The Deckers were the first white men who visited the site of Morgantown. Withers, in his "Border Warfare," records that in the fall of 1758 Thomas Decker and some others commenced a settlement on the Monongahela at the mouth of what is now Decker's creek. In the ensuing spring it was entirely broken up by a party of Delawares and Mingoes, and most of the settlers murdered. The same authority records that one of those who escaped fled to Redstone Fort - now Brownstown, Pennsylvania - to report the dreadful fate of the settlement. The garrison was too weak to attempt a pursuit, but the commander immediately dispatched a messenger to Fort Pitt Captain John Gibson at once left that place with thirty men, but the savages had made good their escape. The first permanent settlers at Morgantown, who were also the first within the present limits of the county, came in 1768. Among the number were David and Zackquell Morgan.

 

David Morgan's Encounter with two Indians is a record of personal heroism exhibited by an aged man. In the spring of 1779, the settlements along the upper Monongahela were comparatively free from Indian attack. Yet the families who the previous autumn had taken refuge in the forts did not venture to return to their cabins. Among those who had sought safety in Prickett's Fort-about twelve miles above the present site of Morgantown-was David Morgan, a bold frontiersman and a near relative to General Morgan, of Revolutionary fame. At the time of which we write he was more than sixty years of age. Early in April feeling somewhat indisposed, he sent two of his children, Stephen and Sarah, to feed the stock on his farm, a mile distant. Becoming uneasy at their long absence, he went in search of them. He found them engaged in clearing a patch for melons, and seated himself on a log to wait for them. He had been there but a short time when he saw two Indians come out of his house and walk rapidly toward the children. Not wishing to frighten them he called to them to go quickly to the fort, and himself answered the whoop with which the Indians started in pursuit. The Indians at once turned on him. He first tried to escape by running, but soon found the fleet warriors gaining on him. He then turned to fire at them. All three sought trees. One Indian, to gain a nearer position to Morgan, threw himself behind a log, which only partially concealed him. Morgan at once shot him, and again tried to escape. Running a short distance, he looked back and saw the other Indian ready to fire. This timely glance saved his life. He jumped aside and avoided the missile. The conflict was now hand to hand. The savage, with a demoniac yell, threw himself on his intended victim. Morgan threw the Indian, but the latter, younger and more active, turned him, and holding him down, reached for his knife. He grasped it close to the blade, and Morgan seizing the handle drew it through his hand, and thrust it into his enemy's side. The Indian sank on the ground, and Morgan fled to the fort.

 

Indian Incursion on Cobun's Creek.-During the summer of 1778, a body of savage warriors made their appearance on Cobun's creek "and were making their way," says Withers, "as has generally been supposed, to a fort not far from Morgantown, when they fell in with a party of whites returning from the labors of the cornfield, and then about a mile from Cobun's Fort. The Indians had placed themselves upon each side of the road leading to the fort, and, from their covert, fired upon the whites before they were aware of danger. John Woodfin, being on horseback, had his thigh broken by a ball which killed his horse, and enabled them to catch him easily. Jacob Miller was shot and soon overtaken, tomahawked and scalped. The others escaped to the fort."

 

Indians near Statler's Fort.-About the year 1779, the Indians made their appearance near Statler's Fort on Dunkard creek. The following account of their dread work is subjoined from Withers' "Border Warfare":- "The Indians lay in ambush on the roadside, awaiting the return of men who were engaged at work in some neighboring fields. Toward evening the men came on, carrying with them some hogs which they had killed for the use of the fort people, and on approaching where the Indians lay concealed were fired on, and several fell. Those who escaped injury from the first fire returned the volley, and a severe action ensued. But so many of the whites had been killed before the savages exposed themselves to view, that the remainder were unable long to sustain the unequal contest Overpowered by numbers, the few who were still unhurt fled precipitately to the fort, leaving eighteen of their companions dead in the road. These were scalped and mangled by the Indians in a most shocking manner, and lay some time before the men in the fort assured of the departure of the enemy, went out and buried them."

 

Attack on Martin's Fort.-In June, 1779, a party of Indians surprised the inmates of Martin's Fort, on Crooked Run. We again quote from "Border Warfare ":- "The greater part of the men having gone forth early to their farms, the women were engaged in milking the cows outside the gate, and the men who had been left behind were loitering around. The Indians, who were lying around the fort, rushed forward and killed or made prisoners of ten of them. Instead of retreating with their prisoners, they remained at a little distance from the fort until night, when they put the prisoners, under the custody of two of the savages, in an old house near, and the remaining eleven went to see if they could force an entrance at the gate. The dogs were shut out at night, and the approach of the Indians exciting them to bark freely, gave the inmates notice of the impending danger in time for them to avert it. The savages returned to the house in which the prisoners were confined and moved off with them to their towns."

 

Murder of Fannie and Phebe Scott.-The father of these girls lived at the mouth of Pike Run. One day in August, 1779, the two daughters started for the meadows, near the site of Granville, to carry dinner to laborers there. The father was to accompany them, but being detained, the girls proceeded alone. Soon Captain Scott heard the report of a gun. Crossing the river in all haste, and following the direction of the sound, he ran rapidly up the path toward the meadows and found the body of his murdered daughter Phebe. Fannie was missing. The father supposing she was a prisoner, set out at once for Fort Pitt, and engaged a friendly Indian to find out her whereabouts and ransom her. Before his return, the neighbors had found the girl. Her body being too much decayed to be removed, she was buried where she died.

 

The State University is located at Morgantown. In 1867, the Legislature passed an Act providing for the establishment of a State Agricultural College. Several locations, among them Harisville, Frankford, Bethany, Point Pleasant and Morgantown were considered (was not able to decipher page 512 of this book.)

 

In the Richmond Convention of 1861, which passed the ordinance of Secession, Mr. Willey occupied a seat, having been chosen without opposition to represent the people of Monongalia county therein. His last vote in that body was in opposition to the Ordinance, and on the 21st of April, having obtained a permit from Governor Letcher to leave the city, he began the journey home. At Alexandria, he was stopped, and not allowed to proceed to Washington. Retracing his course, he proceeded by way of Manassas Junction, thence over the Blue Ridge to Winchester, and from there to Harper's Ferry, where he saw the Government buildings a mass of smoking ruins. Here he was detained some time under military surveillance, but was at length allowed to proceed to Morgantown. He was a member of the first and second Wheeling Conventions, and in July, 1861, was elected by the Assembly under the Restored Government, to a seat in the United States Senate, and on the 4th of August, 1863, was chosen to the same position by the first Legislature of West Virginia. Proceeding to Washington with his colleague, Peter G. Van Winkle, he, by lot, drew the short term of two years, but on the 31st of January, 1865, the Legislature re-elected him for the term of six years. He was a member of the convention of 1872, which framed the present Constitution of the State, in which body he represented Monongalia county. Mr. Willey, in addition to his political life, has been widely known in the lecture field and in literature, one of his most important productions being "The Life of Philip Doddridge," published in 1875.

 

[Source: History of West Virginia; By Virgil Anson Lewis; publ. 1887; Pgs. 506-513;

Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack]

 

Note from Transcriber: was not able to decipher page 512 of this book about the State University.

 










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