Frontier Counties of West Virginia

By BY W. S. Laidley

We all think in looking back, we can see where grand opportunities have been overlooked, where fortunes might have been made, and how wonders could have been performed, had the foresight been as good as our "hind-sight." And so it now appears. that if England had transferred her entire possessions from the British Islands into the new world, then called "Virginia." and left the said Islands to be held as colonies, with coaling stations, etc., she would long ago have become the greatest nation on earth.

The colonists on the Chesapeake Bay and James River, kept as close to the coast as they could and as the population increased, they extended up the James and the said Bay, always keeping within the influence of the tide, and where ships could be reached.

They formed a General Assembly, which was composed of the Governor and his Council and the Burgesses. The Governor received his Commission from the Crown of England and was supposed to represent the King, or Queen of England, in Virginia. The Council was a board of some six or eight men, who assisted the Governor, a sort of cabinet, called the Council of State. The Burgesses were elected by the people.

In the early days of the colony, this Assembly was both legislative and judicial; it made laws and it adjudicated questions and rendered judgments, civil and criminal. The laws made were always subject however to the king's approval and his veto destroyed them. After a while they established courts, and up till 1631: the Burgesses represented plantations and what were called Hundreds.

In the year 1634 there were formed eight shires, which were to be governed as the shires in England. In Cook's history of Virginia, it is said that they continued to be shires, until 1642-3 when they were with others, made into counties. We do not desire to dispute the statement, but we find no use of the term "shire", after 1634, but we do find the word county used instead of shire. No doubt but the said eight shires were frontier counties when formed, and the added ones, as formed, became the frontier ones.

In 1710 there were only twenty five counties, and Stafford on the Potomac, was the extreme frontier county in that direction. The people on the coast did not for a long time appear to be interested in learning anything concerning the Western part of the country and they confined their investigations to the coast line.

They were more or less controlled by the government in England, and England and France and Spain all became interested in the new world of America, and these countries kept up a continual war among themselves and their wars and treaties and terms of peace, were made, at times, to apply to their claims in America.

It is stated that some hunters prior to 1716 went on some explorations in the Southwest part of the colony, but no official reports are feud of their findings. In 1716 Governor Spottswood became curious to learn something of what was beyond the "high mountains'' as the Blue Ridge was then called, and he gathered together at Germanna. where he had attempted to organize a German colony for the manufacture of iron, a cavalcade of Friends with guards and guides and made an excursion of a picnic character, and went to the river on the west side of said mountains. He reported finding a river running north into Lake Erie, which he named the Euphrates, and some other facts of a like nature. All of which goes to show how much, or how little. Was known at that time of the country west of the Blue Ridge.

It was known that the French had holdings in the north and on Lake Erie and that the Indians held the country west of the mountains, and everywhere else, and that both the French and Indians were unfriendly to the English, and there had been no disposition manifested by the people of Virginia to stir up a hornets nest by interfering with their western country.

Spottsylvania County

This was the first county formed that extended over the mountains and it was formed by the Act of November, 1720. 4 Hen. Stat. 77.

This county adjoined Stafford and extended westward. The Court House was at first at Germanna, but was afterwards removed to Fredericksburg, winch was established in 1727, and made the Court House in 1732.

Why the name was made Spottsylvania, instead of Spottswood, we do not even conjecture, and we suppose that Mr. Penn called his tract of land "Pennsylvania" for the same reason.

Neither do we comprehend why the new county was made to extend into this wilderness across the mountain, in which there were no white settlers, and where the Governor feared to go without quite a company of armed men, but these matters are foreign to our purpose, and we let the Assembly speak for itself. It will be noticed that the Acts in relation to the formation of new counties attempt to give some reason for the, enactment, which may be or may not be very good reasons, and it will also appear that the descriptions given of the boundaries are not such as would be called definite and certain, but such as they are, we give to the reader, and let you locate the lines as you may deem best.

Preamble, That the frontiers toward the high mountains, are, "exposed to danger from the Indians and the late settlements of the French, to the westward of the said mountains.

Enacted, that Spottsylvania County bounds on Snow Creek "up to the mill, then by a Southwest line to North Anna River, "then up the said river, as far as convenient and then by a line to run over the high mountains, to the river on the Northwest side there of, so as to include the Northern passage through the said mountains, thence down the said river until it comes against the head of the Rappahannock, thence by a line to the head of the Rappahannock River, and down that river to the mouth, of Snow Creek, which tract of land is to be Spottsylvania County, from May 1, 1721.

Orange County

The settlement of the valley on the Euphrates River, west of the said mountains, began in the year 1732, which settlement was first made the subject of consideration for the Governor and Council in the year 1730 when John and Isaac Van Meter proposed to settle forty families there, within two years, in consideration of the grant to them of forty thousand acres of land, and in some real estate transactions which were afterwards recorded, it appears that a new county to be called Orange was then contemplated, and in August, 1734, 4 Hen. 450, the Act was passed, viz:

"Whereas divers inconveniences attend the upper inhabitants of Spottsylvania, by reason of the great distance from the Court House and other places usually appointed for public meetings: Be it enacted, by the Lieutenant Governor, Council and Burgesses of this present Assembly, that from Jan. 1, next, the county of Spottsylvania be divided by the dividing line between the parish of St. George and St. Mark, and that the parish of St. George remain the county of Spottsylvania, and all the territory adjoining to the said line, binding on the South by Hanover. Northerly by the lands of Lord Fairfax, Westerly, by the utmost limits of Virginia, to be the county of Orange."

The Western boundary of this frontier county of Orange was the utmost limits of Virginia, and the boundary of Virginia was "from sea to sea," which would have taken this western line to the Pacific. How far north and south, after passing the lands of Lord Fairfax and Hanover, we do not pretend to say, but suppose it took in all the territory of Virginia beyond these locations. One part of Orange was on the east of the mountains, binding on the parish of St. George, but we are not interested in that boundary, nor do we know who St. George was. if there was a saint by that name, but the western part of said county is interesting to us, and to the people of West Virginia, if to no others.

This county of Orange was made one hundred years after the first shires were made in the colony of Virginia, and the frontier had not moved far west in that long time. We will see about the next century.

In the formation of the next counties, taken from Orange, it is mentioned that settlers are upon the Sherando, this is Governor Spottswood's river Euphrates, which now is called the Shenandoah. The Cohongorton is the Potomac above the mouth of the Sherando, and the Opeckon is now spelled Opequon, a branch of the Potomac in Berkeley County. No mention is made of settlers in any other part of the valley, which seems rather strange, as the line of communication from Staunton to Williamsburg, would be more direct and shorter, than from Winchester on the Opequon. Read carefully the preamble to the next Act and see why the Assembly thought best to form other counties on the frontier.

Frederick and Augusta

By the Act of November 1738, 5. Hen. 78, we read: "Whereas great numbers of people have settled themselves of 'late upon the rivers of Sherando, Cohongornton and Opeckon and the branches thereof, on the Northwest side of the Blue Ridge of mountains whereby the strength of this colony, and its security upon the frontiers, and His Majesty's revenue of quit rents are like to be much increased, and augmented and 'for giving encouragement to such as think fit to settle there; Be it enacted &c, that all the territory and tract of land at present deemed to be part of Orange, lying on the Northwest side of the top of said mountains, extending from thence northerly, westerly and southerly beyond the said mountains, to the utmost limits of Virginia, be separated from the rest of said county and erected into two distinct counties and parishes, to be divided by a line to be ran from the head spring of Hedgman River to the head spring of the river Potowmack and all that part of the said territory lying to the north of said line beyond the top of the said Blue ridge shall be one distinct county and parish, to be called by the name of Frederick County and parish, and that the rest of said territory lying on the other side of the said line and beyond the top of the said Blue ridge, shall be one distinct county and parish to be called by the name of the county of Augusta and parish of Augusta. And that the inhabitants of said counties are exempted from all public levies for ten years. "

In May, 1742, it was enacted, that the County Court of Orange shall divide the county of Augusta into precincts and appoint proper persons to take the List of Tithables therein, and that two shillings yearly shall be paid by every Tithables person in said county of Augusta, to James Patton, John Christian and John Buchanan, which money is to be applied in hiring persons to kill wolves, relieving the poor, building bridges and roads, as shall be directed by the Court Martial of said County, (that is of Augusta) in September, in each year.

In Sept. 1744, it was enacted, that the County Court of Orange should levy on the Tithables of Augusta, two shillings each, to pay the expense of running the line between Frederick and Augusta, the sail Frederick County having organized a court in said county and contracted with the surveyor of said county to run the said line.

In Feb., 1752, there was an Act to encourage settlers on the waters of the Mississippi. Be it enacted that all persons being Protestants, who shall hereafter settle and reside on any lands westward of the ridge of mountains that divide the rivers Roanoke James, and Potowmack from the Mississippi, in the counties of Augusta, shall be exempted from payment of all public, county and parish levies, for the term of ten years. In Nov., 1753, it was further enacted that settlers west of the ridge mentioned in said last Act should be exempted for fifteen years from taxation. We here find the Assembly in 1752, enacting laws to encourage settlers on the waters of the Mississippi by exempting them from all taxation. We wonder it that was considered much of an inducement by the members of the Grand Assembly And we also would ask whether there were many of the Virginians from the East side of the Blue Ridge ever crossed the said ridge to settle on account of said inducement or for any other reason, up to the date of this Act?

The settlers on the waters of the Mississippi were Scotch-Irish and Germans from the Valley of Virginia, or Pennsylvania, or direct from the old world.

Not only were the settlers moving west from Augusta Court House, but they had extended west in Frederick across the mountain onto the South Branch of the Potomac.

Hampshire County

In 1753, it was enacted, that all that part of Augusta, which was in the Northern Neck, which was another name for Lord Fairfax land should be added to Frederick, and that all of Frederick west of the ridge of mountains known by the name of Great North or Cape Capon mountain, and Warm Spring mountain, extending to the Potomac, to be one distinct county and be known as the County of Hampshire, and all the other part lying eastward of said ridge of mountains to retain the name of Frederick. This is both a shire and a county!

Botetourt County

We find difficulty in locating the line described by which this county is bounded on the north, and of course have no conception of any other boundary, unless it is the line of North Carolina. In 8 Hen. 395, it shows that at the Nov. session 1769 the Assembly said:

"By reason of the great extent of the county, Be it enacted that from and after the first day of January, next ensuing, the said county and parish of Augusta shall be divided into two counties and parishes by a line beginning at the Blue Ridge, running north fifty-five degrees west to the confluence of Mary's Creek, or South River, with the North Branch of the James River, thence up the same to Cores Creek, thence up said creek to the mountain, thence north fifty-five degrees west as far as the courts of the two counties shall extend it, and all that part south of said line shall be in the county of Botetourt, and all the other part shall retain the name of Augusta."

We are unable to locate the creeks and we do not know how far the two courts extended the said line, but we have no doubt but that either of said counties was large enough for all practicable purposes, and we will proceed with the frontier.

Berkeley County

Berkeley county was formed in 1772, and taken from the lower part of Frederick. It was not a frontier county.

Fincastle County

In 8 Hen. 600, Feb., 1772, we find: "Whereas it is represented to this General Assembly by the inhabitants and settlers on the waters of the Holston and New Rivers, in the county of Botetourt, that they labor under great inconveniences by reason of the extent of said county and their remote situation from the court house, Be it therefore enacted, that from and after Dec. 1, next the said county of Botetourt shall be divided into two distinct counties that is to say, all that part of said county within a line to run up the east side of New River to the mouth of Culbertson creek, then a direct line to the Catawba road, where it crosses the dividing, ridge between the North fork of Roanoke and the waters of New River, then with the top of the ridge to the bend where it turns easterly, thence a south course, crossing Little River to the top of the Blue Ridge mountains, shall be established as one distinct county and called and known by the name of Fincastle, and all that other part thereof shall retain the name of Botetourt. This does not throw much light on the subject of boundaries, as Culbertson creek and Catawba road are unknown quantities. Whether New River and Kanawha are counted as one, we know not, but suppose that is what is intended and that may help, when we find this out. We will proceed with the march and keep to the frontier."

Kentucky County

In an Act of 1776 in 9 Hen. 257, we read: "Whereas from the great extent of the county of Fincastle, many inconveniences attend the more distant inhabitants thereof on account of their remote situation from the Court House of said county, and many of the inhabitants have petitioned this present Assembly for a division of the same."

Be it enacted by the Commonwealth of Virginia, that from and after the last day of December, next ensuing, the said county of Fincastle shall be divided into three counties, that is to say, all that part thereof that lies to the south and westward of a line beginning on the Ohio, at the mouth of Great Sandy Creek, and "running up the same, and the main or northeast branch thereof, to the Great Laurel Ridge of Cumberland Mountain, thence southwesterly along said mountain to the line of North Carolina, shall be one county and called and known by the name of Kentucky."

Washington County

And all that part of said Fincastle included in the lines, beginning at the Cumberland Mountains, where the line of Kentucky intersects the North Carolina line, thence east along the said North Carolina line to the top of the Iron Mountains, thence along the same easterly to the source of the South Fork of the Holstein River and thence northerly to ridge between Tennessee waters and Kanawha, to the most easterly source of the Clinch, thence west wardly along the ridge that divides the waters of Clinch from Kanawha and Sandy creek and along the same to the beginning, is to be known as the county of Washington."

Montgomery County

And the residue of the said county of Fincastle shall be a distinct county and known as the county of Montgomery. Here we have Kentucky, Washington and Montgomery made our of Fincastle, which was a part of Botetourt which was a part of Augusta, and Fincastle becomes extinct.

Court Houses on the Frontier

The Court House of Kentucky was located at Harrodsburg, that of Washington, at Black's Fort, and the Court House of Montgomery County at Fort Chiswell where are they?

When the Assembly of Virginia had no other names for rivers west of the Blue Ridge, they called them the waters of the Mississippi, but when Kentucky County is made, which extends to the banks of said stream, there is no mention made thereof why?

What a beautiful little Circuit for a Judge of sedentary habits, a few such counties would make, in which to employ his leisure time, with about three courts a year.

But having reached the Mississippi River with our frontier, let us return to the General Assembly of Virginia and see whether they have been able to keep the run of the lines and boundaries that they have made, or whether the frontier is keeping up with the march of other parts of the country?

District of West Augusta. In 9 Hen. 262, we find the following:

''Oct. 1776, Whereas it is expedient to ascertain the boundary between the county of Augusta, and the District of West Augusta. Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia that the boundary between the said district and county shall be as follows, to-wit:

Beginning on the Allegheny Mountains between the heads of Potowmaek, Cheat, and Greenbrier Rivers, thence along the ridge of mountains which divide the waters of Cheat from those of Greenbrier and that branch of Monongahela called Tygarts Valley, to the Monongahela, thence up said river and the West Fork thereof to Bingamans Creek on the northwest side of the said West Fork, thence up the said creek to the head thereof, thence a direct course to the head of Middle Island Creek, a branch of the Ohio and thence to the Ohio, including all the waters of said creek in the aforesaid district of West Augusta, all that country lying to the northward of the said boundary and to the westward of Pennsylvania and Maryland, shall be deemed and is hereby declared to be in the District of West Augusta.

Ohio County

"And all that part of the said district in the following lines: Beginning at the mouth of Cross Creek thence up the same to the head thereof, thence up the nearest part of the ridge which divides the waters of Ohio from Monongahela and along said ridge to the line between the county of Augusta and the district and thence with said boundary to the Ohio and then up the same to the beginning, to be the county of Ohio.

Yohogania County

"And all that part of said district lying to the northward of the following lines, viz.: Beginning at the mouth of Cross Creek and up the several Courses to the head thereof, thence southeasterly to the nearest part of the aforesaid dividing ridge between the waters of the Monongahela and Ohio, thence along said ridge to the head of Ten Mile creek, thence east to the road leading up Catfish creek to Red Stone Old Fort, thence along said road to the Monongahela River, thence crossing the river to the Fort, thence along Dunlaps old road to Braddoek's Road and with same to the meridian of the head of the Potowmack, to be the county of Yohogania."

Monongalia County

"And all that part of said district lying to the northward of the county of Augusta, to the westward of the meridian of the fountain head of the Potowmack, to the southward of the county of the Yohogania and eastward of the county of Ohio, shall be the county of Monongalia."

Who can tell what West Augusta was or where it was? It was not a county, yet it was represented in the Virginia Assembly; it was called a district, which we suppose meant territory. It had no end and so far as we can learn, had no legal birth or baptism. It seems to have been loose in the woods beyond the Alleghenies and was partly captured in Pennsylvania. As soon as it was ascertained where its eastern boundaries were, they proceeded to cut it up, with counties on the east of the Ohio, but this was not it only extent. Augusta started out extending from the Blue Ridge to the utmost limits of Va., without any limits north or south or west.

When Pennsylvania and Virginia agreed upon their dividing line, it was found that a large part of the county of Yohogania was in Pennsylvania, and not only did Virginia lose the most of this county but she lost the Court House of Monongalia, which was then relocated at the house of Zacquel Morgans, which now is in Morgantown, and Ohio County was increased by what was left of Yohogania. West Augusta seems to have lost itself and disappeared much as it appeared, without any good excuse or apology. It just began and just quit, without any legislative authority whatever.

The people in Virginia from Europe, where land was expensive and limited in extent, found themselves flooded with it here and it seems to have been beyond their comprehension, the unlimited extent westward, yet they kept struggling to grasp it all in, and to keep all others out. First it was to keep out the French, then with the help of the French, to keep out the English, and all the while to disregard the claims of the Indians. "Old Virginia Never Tire."

Kentucky County

This people began early to take things in their own hands and to have their own way.

In May, 1777, the Virginia Assembly met and there were two representatives from this county, demanding seats, and they got them. It seems that the Virginia officials attempted to get a commission to the Sheriff of Kentucky to authorize the said Sheriff to hold an election in Kentucky, but there was no haste made in Virginia about small things like Kentucky elections and when the said Sheriff received his commission the appointed day for said election had passed.

But small matters like Virginia dilatoriness will never destroy an election in Kentucky. The Sheriff advertised throughout his county as best he could and in a few days an election was held, and John Todd and Richard Callaway were elected, and said Sheriff reported that after a fair and open election, a majority of the voters were in favor of Todd and Callaway. The Assembly said it was a very important session for Kentuckians and they would seat Mr. Todd and Callaway this time, but they added to their action this clause, but let it he understood that this Act shall not be drawn into precedent."

In 1779 Evan Shelby and Ric'd Callaway were authorized to build a road over the Cumberland Mountains into Kentucky, and to have guards to keep off Indians while the road was being built.

In 1780 the Kentuckians seized eight thousand acres of land belonging to British subjects and had the Virginia Assembly to appropriate the same for a school in Kentucky.

In 1780 Kentucky County was made into three counties, Jefferson, Fayette, and Lincoln, with court houses respectively at Louisville, Lexington, and at Harrodsburg.

She was moving too fast for Virginia, the territory was large and fast filling up. Virginia saw the balance of power going west rapidly. Kentucky did not like the style of legislation in Virginia and when Kentucky wished to become an independent State, there was no disposition to delay her.

In 1789 Kentucky was made a State, and thus brought the frontier of Virginia south of the Ohio to the east side of Big Sandy and extended up the Ohio River to the Pennsylvania line.

Greenbrier County

In October, 1777, Greenbrier was formed from Botetourt and Montgomery. Beginning on ridge between Eastern and Western waters where Augusta and Botetourt line crosses the same (where ever that may be) and running thence in same course N. 55 W. to the Ohio River, then beginning again on said ridge, passing the Sweet Springs, to top of Peters Mountain, and along same to Montgomery County line and along same mountain to Kanawha or New River and down same to Ohio. Perhaps someone will tell us how far up this Greenbrier County line ran up the Ohio to join the other line that came to the Ohio?

On the south side of the Kanawha and New River, it was then Montgomery County and on the north side Greenbrier.

Illinois County

George Rogers Clarke of Albermarle Coounty, Virginia, conceived the idea of taking possession of the territory north of the Ohio River, which in 1777 was in possession of the English. Clarke gathered together a small army of about 300 men and with a commission from the Governor of Virginia, proceeded to Fort Pitt, and thence down the Ohio to the Falls. Where he organized his troops to march to Kaskaskia and he kept going, and fighting until he had control of the Northwest. We suppose this territory was part of West Augusta, and that the Virginians deemed it their duty to drive out the British, and to protect the citizens, &e.

The Virginia Assembly in October 1778, with a preamble giving an account of the Clarke expedition and the success in reducing the British forts, and making citizens of the inhabitants, and of the duty to protect them, the difficulty of governing the same by the laws of the commonwealth, they enacted, that all the citizens of the commonwealth who had or might thereafter reside on the west side of the Ohio river, should be in the county of Illinois.

Col. John Todd was appointed the county lieutenant, a sort of military governor, and courts were established at Kaskaskia, Cohokia and Vincennes.

In January 1781, the said Assembly ceded to the Federal government upon certain terms and conditions, all the said territory north of the Ohio which brought the frontier to the Ohio River. The United States government realized over eighty millions of dollars for this territory.

Indiana County

There was an "Indiana Company" composed of Englishmen, headed by William Trent, who took a deed from the Six nations of Indians, for all the land in Virginia situate West of the Allegheny mountains to the Ohio River, and above the mouth of the Little Kanawha River; this deed was dated Nov. 3, 1768.

What the purpose of this Company was as to its government, we know not; perhaps to form the county of Indiana, in the colony of Virginia; perhaps it was to form an independent colony; perhaps it was neither, but solely to speculate in lands without regard to the government thereof.

In June, 1779, the Virginia Assembly expressed its views on the value of the conveyance, and said it was utterly void and of no effect.

This did not strike the purchasers as good law, nor did they like the Court that made the decision, and manifested a disposition to treat the decision of the Assembly as void for want of jurisdiction, and in Oct. 1792, the said Assembly repeated its decision, that the deed conveyed no title.

The Company, it seems, brought a suit in the U. S. Supreme Court, and in Dec., 1792, the said Assembly determined to disregard the said suit, and to stand by their guns.

There was no Indiana County or State formed there. Nor did the company secure the land.

Other Counties

During the Revolutionary War, there were no other new counties formed, in this part of the Commonwealth, in fact it was a struggle to maintain those already formed, but as soon as the war was over, other counties were formed from those that had been formed, dividing up large into counties of less extent.

Harrison was formed from Monongalia in 1784.
Hardy from Hampshire in 1785.
Randolph from Harrison in 1786.
Pendleton from Augusta in 1787.
Kanawha from Greenbrier and Montgomery in 1788.
Brooke from Ohio in 1796.
Wood from Harrison in 1798.
Monroe from Greenbrier in 1799.
Jefferson from Berkeley in 1801.
Mason from Kanawha in 1804.
Cabell from Kanawha in 1809.

When Kentucky was made into Jefferson, Fayette and Lincoln, and then made into a State. Virginia lost the counties named for these men, but there are in West Virginia now other counties bearing these names.

West Virginia AHGP

Source: The West Virginia Historical Magazine, Quarterly, January 1903, Vol. 3, No. 1
[Webmasters Note: O am of the opinion most of these counties are Virginia, however the West Virginia Historical magazine chose to list them in their publication.]

 

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