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We hadn’t been out in the mountains for six weeks or more, since Robert’s cousin Priscilla was here. We hadn’t been anywhere much but Lowe’s, Home Depot, and a few other forays for bits and pieces for our refurbishing projects, more of which soon. Nature was limited to our views of the yard (not too shabby), and watching the activity at our bird feeders (dozens of goldfinches, with some excitement like a towhee, which I had been hearing for weeks, but hadn’t seen.)
I put on long johns, jeans, my heaviest sweater, a flannel shirt, a fleece vest, my down jacket, a pashmina scarf, a wool hat, my down jacket and hiking boots, and we headed out for another attempt at skunk cabbage at Cranesville Swamp. We now know that the snow isn’t plowed on the last stretch to the parking area (tantalizing visible from the plowed road) and there is no other place to park and walk in. So four-wheel drive (or maybe chains) are required. But the views driving there are grand.
Driving on, we came to the sign for Swallow Falls State Park, just over the Maryland line, and decided to try it.
We walked the trail to the Swallow Falls
and then down the Youghiogheny to the mouth of Muddy Creek and up to its falls.
I always enjoy just driving the backroads in this part of the mountains. I noticed a lot of stores and mailboxes that said “Friend.” Those families are descendants of Anders Nilsson Frande, a Swedish trapper and trader who lived and traded on the Potomac in the very early 1700s or before. My pioneer Germans moved in a generation later with the first permanent settlers. The high plateau holds the headwaters of the Youghiogheny and Potomac, and also branches of the Cheat and Tygart Valley River. When it was first settled, the Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia lines were in dispute, so naturally my ancestors moved about freely, leaving traces in all three states (not to mention multiple counties in each, as the counties split.) The plateau now, reached by winding up Laurel and Cheat Mountains, holds wide vistas of beautiful rolling farms, interspersed with pine and hemlock woods and alpine bogs.
As I was writing this, we received word that Priscilla died unexpectedly after what was expected to be minor surgery. We took her to Blackwater Falls in January, and she was thrilled with the mountains, and curious about the geography and history, a treat for me. She was looking forward to more travel, and we to visiting with her. We will miss her deeply.
Memorial Day weekend, we took another drive into the area where Upshur, Barbour, and Harrison County meet, at the upper end of Hacker’s Creek. My mother’s family, both her father’s McVaneys and mother’s McKinneys, were from here originally, although my great-grandparents moved south along the Little Kanawha in Gilmer and Braxton Counties before the Civil War. Most of them had come from east of the mountains, The McVaney branch from what are now Pendleton and Hardy Counties in West Virginia, and Rockingham County, Virginia, right across the state line, after the Revolution, and the McKinneys from farther east in the Shenandoah Valley. My father’s families, at the other end of Hacker’s Creek, had almost all been here since the first settlement.
When Hilde was here for Mother’s Day, we took a drive that included Jackson’s Mill. There is a small Jackson graveyard on the grounds, very close to the highway. I hadn’t been interested until I discovered that my 4th great-grandfather, John Brake, was buried there. Elizabeth Brake, his daughter by his first wife, married Edward Jackson, and had her father buried in the Jackson plot, separating him from his second wife, my 4th great-grandmother, Catherine Shook Brake, who is buried in the Morrison Cemetery at Berlin with two of her daughter’s families. They were separated, but he has a matching stone. The style and the wording “Sacred to the Memory” are the same. He didn’t live long past her death; she died in February and he in November of 1834.
John’s mother, Maria Elisabeth Kieffer, was one of my many ancestors killed by Indians during the settlement of West Virginia. She died on the South Branch of the Potomac in an Indian raid about 1764, and John’s brother Jacob was a captive for more than ten years. John’s first wife, Elizabeth Wetherholt, was the daughter of Capt. Nicholas Wetherholt of Northampton County, Pennsylvania. His brother, Jacob, also a militia captain, was killed in an Indian raid in 1763. Jacob’s widow, Susanna, married Michael Kern, one of the founders of Morgantown, who had Kern’s Fort, which was in what is now South Park in Morgantown.
Last winter we set out for Cranesville Swamp, on the Maryland line in Preston County, in hopes of finding skunk cabbage in bloom. Thwarted by remaining snow and a hazy idea of where we and it were, we stopped short of the goal. West Virginia Day, we found it, and also found that we were within yards of it last winter, but probably could not have made it in on the one-lane dirt (as in not really even graveled) access road to the parking area.
The swamp is part of an area known as the Great Glade in the 18th century, mentioned often in old letters and documents, as it was on the way from Winchester and the South Branch to the new Fort Pitt during the French and Indian War. The area around it is fine high mountain meadows, reflected in the name of the Preston County town just south, Terra Alta.
There is a path through pine woods, a boardwalk through the swamp, and skunk cabbage aplenty. We will know just where to look next winter for skunk cabbage in bloom.
Most of my ancestral families at one time lived on or near Hackers Creek, spread from the headwaters in Upshur Co. to its mouth west of what is now Jane Lew. Some of them were among the first settlers, and some came later, just after the Revolution. Being back in West Virginia means that on any afternoon, we can wander the back roads and find places that I only knew from documents. Going on the back roads makes it much easier to imagine the settlements and the relationships, since the big towns and the highways are much different now than then.
In 1761, the Pringle brothers, John and Samuel, from the South Branch of the Potomac, deserted from the British army at Fort Pitt. They explored the Monongahela country, and worked for John Simpson, a trapper and trader, who was later based at the mouth of Elk Creek, which eventually became Clarksburg. The Pringles fell out with Simpson, and went up the Tygart Valley and Buckhannon Rivers, to the mouth of Turkey Run, where they lived in a hollow sycamore tree until 1767. They returned to the South Branch, spurring a migration of some of their old neighbors there, who became the first settlers along the Tygart, Buckhannon, West Fork, and Hackers Creek, the first permanent settlements across the mountains in this area, along with the Morgans’ settlements in what are now Morgantown and Fairmont.
We had driven by the sign that said “Pringle Tree Road” many times, since we had moved, and on vacations over the years. I had always, and as late as last month, said, “Oh, no need to go up there, the Pringle Tree is gone and it was just a tree in a field, anyway, I’ve seen old pictures.” But last week a query from a fellow researcher started me looking at Revolutionary pensions, one thing led to another, and I finally realized that Bush’s Fort, where my 4th great-grandmother, Susannah Radcliff Stalnaker, spent her teenage years, was on the Buckhannon at the mouth of Turkey Run. So our Sunday afternoon drive was down to Buckhannon. As it turns out, there is a county park along the river, with a “third generation” Pringle tree at the end of a lush meadow full of wildflowers – forget-me-nots, gill-over-the-ground, tiny white daisies, and a creeper with small lavender and yellow orchid-like blooms that we think is one of the many penstemons.
My grandmother Maude Hersman deGruyter taught school at Buckhannon Run a hundred years ago, when she was 22.
She had lots of Hersman and Waggoner cousins there. It is just up the road from Berlin, where her Hersman, Morrison, and Waggoner grandparents grew up, and a few miles from the Stalnakers and McWhorters. The old school, next to the church, looks like it was maintained until recently.
I have her grade book, for the school year 1908-1909. Besides class lists and grades, it has some commonplaces and notes from pupils at the end of the year.
Sunday was sunny but cool, and we had done a lot of yard work Saturday. (I will be so pleased when we get to a stage where we can describe it as gardening. Most of what we are doing is moving dirt, stone, trash, cut and fallen branches and trees, and vast quantities of noxious weeds.) We decided to take the day to be out and about. The first stop was the Morrison Cemetery on Hacker’s Creek at Berlin, on the John Hacker homestead. It is visible from the Hacker historical marker, but only going west, because it is up the hill (although not on top) behind a modern house.
My great-grandfather Alexander Morrison’s grandparents, and a great-grandmother, are buried here. They are his father Mark Hersman’s parents, Mary “Polly” Kiger and Mark Hersman; his mother Margaret Ann Morrison’s parents, Mary “Polly” Brake and William Bascom Morrison; and Polly Brake’s mother, Catherine Shook. Polly Brake’s father, John, was first married to Elizabeth Wetherholt. Their daughter Elizabeth married Edward Jackson, grandfather of Stonewall Jackson and Catherine and John’s sons Jacob and Isaac married Edward’s daughters by his first wife, Rachel and Mary, just a few of the many Brake-Jackson marriages. John Brake is buried in the Jackson cemetery at Jackson’s Mill.
There is a downed and illegible stone next to Polly Kiger Hersman which is probably her husband Mark’s. Several of their and William and Polly Morrison’s children and spouses are buried here, as are four children of Mark and Margaret Morrison Hersman, who moved to Roane County in 1852. Alexander Morrison, William’s brother, and wife Margaret Brake, Polly Brake Morrison’s sister, are also here.
On another pilgrimage in search of ancestors, we took a drive last week to look for Mare’s Run, west of Jackson’s Mill, where Joseph and Tacy (Ball) Ball, my great-grandmother Elizabeth Ann (Stalnaker) Hersman’s great-grandparents, reportedly lived. I haven’t found much about them. Their fathers were brothers, and they came to Hacker’s Creek from Fauquier Co., Virginia around 1807, and then moved west onto Mare’s Run. I had always wondered about her name, which was common along Hacker’s Creek. A death record for one of their children showed me that it was a nickname for Theis. Many of the old Virginia English families used fancy names; their sons include Augustine, Fauntleroy (really – known as “Fant”) and Wright Alpheus. My Hodges include a Theophilus.
The drive was meant to be a relaxing reconnoiter, poking around to get the lay of the land, since it was an area we had never visited. Mare’s Run itself turned out to be narrow gravel, something we don’t do on wet days when we don’t know the road. The cemeteries, however, proved irresistible, even though I had no idea that anyone I knew was in them. We ended up visiting four, all of them high on hills. Old churches and cemeteries in West Virginia inevitably are on a hill, to avoid using up good bottom land, fertile and convenient for crops. Then there was the hill behind the Valley Chapel church, which had a road that certainly looked like a cemetery road, but ended up with just old gas wells. While I was climbing and Robert was parking the car, a man came along on an ATV, looking for a lost cow, who told him, too late, that there was no cemetery. There was a lovely dogwood along the road, though.
At Freemansburg there are two churches, a Baptist and a Methodist whose stained glass over the door says Brethren, each with a cemetery separated by a deep ravine, so that, although they are next to each other, the hill must be climbed twice. Coming down, Robert spotted the loveliest surprise of the day in the ravine, a fox den with two kits, who barked at us but continued to watch us curiously.
On the way home, we stopped at a Snyder cemetery; they turned out to be not close kin, although I am sure distant cousins, but the view was wonderful. We missed the turn to Big Isaac at Avon, and ended up at the edge of West Union, which made a long drive home.
Another day, another cemetery. This one was the Old Harmony cemetery on Hacker’s Creek. Great-grandfather Otto deGruyter didn’t get here until the 1870s, and Jane Hill, his wife, was mostly descended from Scots-Irish and Germans who came north from southwest Virginia, but almost everyone else on both my mother’s and father’s sides was living somewhere along Hacker’s Creek in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Hacker’s Creek, along with settlements in Randolph County, on Decker’s Creek in Morgantown, and in the Clarksburg area, were the first settlements this side of the mountains.
Most of the old stones were slate or soft sandstone, and are gone or unreadable. Descendants have put up new monuments for some. Mary Elizabeth, known as Eliza, wife of Samuel Bonnett, and whose maiden name is so far unknown, was the first person buried here, when it was the churchyard of the original church. She was my sixth great-grandmother. Samuel was killed by a falling tree in 1789, and probably buried on his own property.
Samuel and Elizabeth’s daughter, Margaret, married Johannes Waggoner. She was killed in a Shawnee raid on Jesse’s Run, within sight of the cemetery, in May 1792.
Their son, Peter, was taken by the Shawnee, grew up with them in Ohio, and was married with children before he returned to Hacker’s Creek in 1812. He married Catherine Hardman Hyde, a widow, and they are my fourth great-grandparents.
This was the first Easter since we had children that at least one of them had not been here. I had the treat of not searching for my Easter basket. My parents always hid our Easter baskets, and in our own family, the Easter bunny developed a new twist – a trail of paper riddles, each leading to the next, and finally, the basket. I still have my childhood basket, and this year, there it was, complete with dark chocolate bunny, in the center of the dining table.
We had debated a ham. We froze the remains of the one we got for our family gathering in August, and it lasted (the very last in bits in scrambled eggs) until after New Year’s. So we didn’t. We packed up a picnic lunch – hardboiled, farm-fresh, pastel eggs, rolls, cheese, apples, lemonade – and set off for Audra State Park. We expected the campground to still be closed, but so were the picnic areas. We hiked down into the campground, ate along the river, and walked the campground loop upriver after basking on a river rock.
On the way, discussing our route, I had seen a covered bridge I had never heard of on the map. So we went across the Carrollton Road to drive across it on the way back. My directions weren’t too clear, but as it turned out, the road Robert thought I meant was the right one. We turned onto it, and it had a center stripe, so we forged on. West Virginia roads without center stripes are not necessarily bad, but one with is a good bet. The one I had in mind went up the Buckhannon River, and from the look of the other end, across the bridge, we were on the better road. Maybe when mud season is over. Going across the bridge from 119 looks to be the shortest way to Audra from Clarksburg, so we will be taking the scenic route next time.
My mother went swimming at Audra, growing up and in college at Elkins. The McVaneys, McKinneys, Greathouses, and Queens, her mother’s and father’s people, were early settlers around Hodgesville, Peeltree, and Johnstown, all in the corner where Harrison, Upshur, and Barbour County meet.
On the way back, Robert spotted a cemetery at Overfield, almost invisible on the hill across from and up above the Overfield Community Church. I have information that George C. and Mary (James) McKinney, my 4th great-grandparents, were buried in the Morris Baptist Church at Overfield. I can find no information about the church, but I think it must have become the community church. The cemetery is very old, with one slate marker for M. Reger, died 19 May 1779. Many if not most of the old stones are missing. But I believe this must be where George and Mary are buried.