History of West Virginia - European Exploration and Settlement

European Exploration and Settlement

In 1671, General Abraham Wood, at the direction of Royal Governor William Berkeley of the Virginia Colony, sent the party of Thomas Batts and Robert Fallum into the West Virginia area. During this expedition the pair followed the New River and discovered Kanawha Falls.

On July 13, 1709, Louis Michel, George Ritter, and Baron Christoph von Graffenried petitioned the King of England for a land grant in the Harpers Ferry, Shepherdstown area, Jefferson County, in order to establish a Swiss colony. Neither the land grant or the Swiss colony ever materialized.

Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood is sometimes credited with taking his 1716 "Knights of the Golden Horseshoe Expedition" into what is now Pendleton County, although according to contemporary accounts, Spotwood's trail went no farther west than Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Treaty of Albany, 1722, designated the Blue Ridge Mountains as the western boundary of white settlement, and recognized Iroquois rights on the west side of the ridge, including all of West Virginia. The Iroquois made little effort to settle these parts, but nonetheless claimed them as their hunting ground, as did other tribes, notably the Shawnee and Cherokee. Soon after this, white settlers began moving into the Greater Shenandoah-Potomac Valley making up the entire eastern portion of the State. They found it largely unoccupied, apart from Tuscaroras who had lately moved into the area around Martinsburg, WV, some Shawnee villages in the region around Moorefield, WV and Winchester, VA, and frequent passing bands of "Northern Indians" (Lenape from New Jersey) and "Southern Indians" (Catawba from South Carolina) who were engaged in a bitter long-distance war, using the Valley as a battleground.

John Van Metre, an Indian trader, penetrated into the northern portion of West Virginia in 1725. Also in 1725, Pearsall's Flats in the South Branch Potomac River valley, present-day Romney, was settled, and later became the site of the French and Indian War stockade, Fort Pearsall. Morgan ap Morgan, a Welshman, built a cabin near present-day Bunker Hill in Berkeley County in 1727. The same year German settlers from Pennsylvania founded New Mecklenburg, the present Shepherdstown, on the Potomac River, and others soon followed.

Orange County, Virginia was formed in 1734. It included all areas west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, constituting all of present West Virginia. However, in 1736 the Iroquois Six Nations protested Virginia's colonization beyond the demarcated Blue Ridge, and a skirmish was fought in 1743. The Iroquois were on the point of threatening all-out war against the Virginia Colony over the "Cohongoruton lands", which would have been destructive and devastating, when Governor Gooch bought out their claim for 400 pounds at the Treaty of Lancaster (1744).

In 1661, King Charles II of England had granted a company of gentlemen the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers, known as the Northern Neck. The grant eventually came into the possession of Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron and in 1746 a stone was erected at the source of the North Branch Potomac River to mark the western limit of the grant. A considerable part of this land was surveyed by George Washington, especially the South Branch Potomac River valley between 1748 and 1751. The diary kept by Washington indicates that there were already many squatters, largely of German origin, along the South Branch. Christopher Gist, a surveyor for the first Ohio Company, which was composed chiefly of Virginians, explored the country along the Ohio River north of the mouth of the Kanawha River in 1751 and 1752. The company sought to have a fourteenth colony established with the name Vandalia.

Many settlers crossed the mountains after 1750, though they were hindered by Native American resistance. The 1744 Treaty of Lancaster had left ambiguous whether the Iroquois had sold only as far as the Alleghenies, or all their claim south of the Ohio, including the rest of modern West Virginia. In 1752 at the Treaty of Logstown, they acknowledged the right of English settlements south of the Ohio, but the Cherokee and Shawnee claims still remained. During the French and Indian War (1754–1763), the scattered settlements were almost destroyed. The Proclamation of 1763 again confirmed all land beyond the Alleghenies as Indian Territory, but the Iroqouis finally relinquished their claims south of the Ohio to Britain at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768.

Most of the Cherokee claim within West Virginia, the southwestern part of the state, was sold to Virginia in 1770 by the Treaty of Lochaber. In 1774, the Crown Governor of Virginia, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, led a force over the mountains, and a body of militia under Colonel Andrew Lewis dealt the Shawnee Indians under Cornstalk a crushing blow at the junction of the Kanawha and Ohio rivers, in the Battle of Point Pleasant. Following this conflict, known as Dunmore's War, the Shawnee and Mingo ceded their rights south of the Ohio, that is, to West Virginia and Kentucky. But renegade Cherokee chief Dragging Canoe continued to dispute the settlers' advance, fighting the Chickamauga Wars (1776-1794) until after the American Revolutionary War. During the war, the settlers in Western Virginia were generally active Whigs and many served in the Continental Army.

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