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Pioneer Days in Alleghany County, Virginia

(By W.A. McAllister, Warm Springs, Va.)

The history of Western Virginia has been sadly neglected by every historian with a more than local prominence.

The reasons for this may be partially explained by a glance at the map of Virginia and by a brief review of the past and a glimpse at the present inhabitants of this section. Taking Alleghany as the county specially under consideration, let us examine its location and note its boundary line. Bordered as it is by chains of mountains and interspersed with valleys and ridges alternately, providing, as the only natural outlets, a concourse of rugged streams, is it surprising that its attractions were lone meeting recognition? With an early settlement of hardy pioneers, having few literary tastes, rapidly replaced by heterogeneous immigrants as the hand of progress pushed toward its wealthy stores, is it remarkable that its annals have been ill preserved? Yet like all the counties adjoining the Blue Ridge on the west, Alleghany was for may decades the scene of treacherous ourtrages at the hands of the savage Reds, not to mention the milder dangers of wild animals to which the border settlers were continually subjected.

Early Settlement.

The exact date of the pioneers arrival in this county is not known, but as Fort Young was built by Peter Hogg in 1756, according to specifications furnished by Colonel George Washington and at the command of Governor Dinwiddie, it is probable the settlers had become numerous at that time.

It is a further authenticated fact that William Mann, who occupied Salt Petre Cave on Jackson river as his fist habitation west of his Erin home, ad built a strongly stockaded fort before 1761.

The early settlers were chiefly Scotch-Irish and therefore covenanters, but we find that “The Vestry of Augusta parish had established a ‘chapel of ease’ at the forks of James river and paid Sampson Mathews a small salary for his service (as reader) at that point; but in the fall of 1757, the greater part of the inhabitants thereabouts ‘having deserted their plantations by reason of the enemy Indians.’ It was resolved that the chapel referred to was unnecessary, and the services of the reader were discontinued.”

 Unlike the majority of the cavaliers, Governor Dinwiddie* was peculiarly strenuous in his temperance views; nor did he neglect the opportunity of divulging his principles to the remoter settlers, as is shown in his communication to Major Lewis. He thus admonishes him: “Recommend morality and sobriety to all people.” It is probably the admonition was well placed, for they were not all covenanters of the stricter sect, and no dout apple-jack and red-eye were favorites of many.

One of the leading pioneers of this county was Peter Wright, a famous hunter, who resided near the present site of Covington. It is by him that Peters mountain got its name.

There is a large projecting rock on this mountain known as Peter’s Rock; and tradition tells us that while crossing the mountain one winter he was overtaken by a snow-storm and took refuge beneath the crest of this rock.  The depth of the snow compelled him to spend several days in his rude abode without a morsel of good. His intense hunger induced him to chew his moccasins and the nourishment obtained from them sustained him until a deer could be killed. It was a further matter of tradition that Wright had hidden a quantity of money near this rock, but this was not verified until recently, when Mr. Jourdan Helmintaler, after diligent search, exhumed at this point designated a casket containing some valuable coins.


Fort Young.

As stated, this for was constructed in 1756. Its location was only a few yards from the present site of the large iron furnace at Covington. In excavating for the foundation some Indian relics were unearthed and are now in possession of Mr. Frank Lyman – the former owner of the furnace. In 1761, about sixty Shawnee Indians invaded the settlement at the forks of James river, and after killing some half dozen men, captured Mrs. Hannah Dennis, Mrs. Renix and Mrs. Smith with five of Mrs. Renix’s children and a servant girl named Sally Jew. Among the massacred were the above named ladies’ husbands. The Indians then separated; twenty of them returned to the Ohio with the captives, while the remaining forty started up the Cowpasture river. The settlers were hastily notified and assembled at Paul’s fort. From thence the Indians were pursued and overtaken. A brief skirmish ensued in which nine of the savages were slain and the others put to flight. The remainder of the story is given by Withers: “According to the stipulation of the Boquet’s treaty with the Shawnees, Mrs. Renix and two of her sons, Robert and William (later Col. Renix – both late of Greenbrier) were brought to Staunton and redeemed. Joshua Renix took a Indian wife, became a chief of the Miamies and died near Detroit (1810)”

Hannah Dennis was allotted to the Chilicothe towns.  She leaned the Indian Language and practiced their manner and customs. She became proficient in nursing the sick and finding the savages believers in necromancy and witchcraft she practiced both. The Indians being very susceptive, she was given perfect liberty and treated as a queen. In June, 1763, the opportunity of escape which she sought was given and she at once availed herself of it. As soon as her intention was suspected, she was pursued and fired upon, but seeking refuge in the hollow limb of a fallen sycamore she avoided detection and succeeded in making her way safely to the Levels on Greenbrier river. She was found here in a exhausted state and taken to the home of Archibald Clendennin. She had then been upwards of twenty days on her disconsolate journey, alone, and with no other food than green grapes, herbs and wild cherries. When she had sufficiently recuperated, she was taken on horse-back to Fort Young and from thence returned to her relatives.

In October, 1764, about fifty Delaware and Mingo warriors ascended the Big Sandy and came over on New river; there the party divided, a portion going toward the Catawba settlement (in Botetourt), while the other division crossed over to Dunlap’s creek.  Following that stream to its confluence, they crossed Jackson river above Fort Young, and skirting the settlement about the fort, proceeded to Carpenters Fort,* which was at that time in charge of a Mr. Brown. Meeting William Carpenter near the fort, they killed and scalped him, and coming to the fort captured Carpenter’s son Joseph, two small Brown children and a woman. No other withes being close the Indians plundered the house, and retreated precipitately by way of Greenbrier river. The shot that killed Carpenter was heard at Fort Young, but the weakness of the garrison there and the paucity of the settlers necessitated the summoning of aid from Captain Audley Paul at Fort Dinwiddie (twenty-five miles up Jackson river). This worthy leader immediately started in pursuit, but was unable to overtake this party of the savages, though he accidentally encountered those who had gone to the Catawaba. The Indians were surprised and easily routed. Joseph Carpenter afterwards became Dr. Carpenter, of Nicholas county, and the younger Brown became Colonel Samuel Brown, late of Greenbrier. The elder Brown cast his lot with the Indians, whom he learned to love, and among his captors sought and won the idol of his heart. The account of his single visit to his aged mother (then residing in Greenbrier) is impressively portrayed by Colonel John G. Gamble and copied by Waddell in his Annals of Augusta. He (J. Brown) died in Michigan (1815) loved and respected for his zeal and philanthropy.

A familiar Frequenter at Fort Young was an Indian hunter, Mad Anthony. He was valuable to the whites as he told all he knew of the inimical plots of his race, but as he was a tattler, both sides were cautious in taking him into confidence. He often left the for ostensibly to hunt, but in reality to get lead and mould a shot-pouch full, with which he would return in the evening. He was always reticent when questioned as to the source of his bullets, and never could he be induced to divulge the secret. The lead-mine (if such it be) yet awaits the prospector’s pick.


Mann’s Fort.

This fort was built by William Mann before the time of Fort Young (1756). It was located near the present site of residence now owned and occupied by Mrs. Laura Kyle, at Falling Spring Station, on the Hot Springs Branch of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. A portion of the logs from the fort were used in the construction of a tenant house and in it portholes are still visible. Soon after the building of this fort a powder house was erected and operated by Moses Mann (William’s son) on the brink of Falling Spring Branch near the Falls and a bullet factory was at the same time built at the Falls. The salt-petre used at the powder mill was procured from Salt-Petre Cave – Mann’s former dwelling place.


In the early part of July, 1763, a band of Shawnee warriors headed by the celebrated Cornstalk, keeping in the wake of Mrs. Hannah Dennis, came to Greenbrier county. The settlers, thinking the prolonged cessation of hostilities an indication of peace, received the savages in an amicable and hospital manner. But the vicious impulses were only dormant. After despoiling the settlement on Muddy creek, the Indians hastened to the home of Archibald Clendennin in the Levels. Here they were treated to a resplendent feast, but their passions, though unprovoked, again knew no mercy. All the men, except one, were killed and the women and children taken prisoners and conveyed to Muddy creek, where a portion of the Indians were left in charge while the others came in the direction of Jackson river. Conrad Yolkom, who was in a near by field when the others were massacred, escaped and coming over the Alleghany mountains, thence down Indian Draft, warned the settlement about Mann’s fort. His report was not believed and consequently no precaution had been taken when the Savages arrived. Then the settlers hastily repaired to the fort and withstood the attack until Captain George Moffett, with a small garrison from Fort Young (a distance of 10 miles) could arrive. He followed the course of the river, proceeding cautiously along the left bank. A few scouts took the advance. The scouts followed the stream all the way, while the main division, instead of circumambulating the horse-hoe bend below Mann’s fort, made directly for their destination, thus cutting off some thousand yards, but throwing them selves directly into the trap of the ambushed enemy. The Savages, having the advantage of the river bank, poured their well-directed shots, with telling effect, into the less prudent command. When the battle din had passed, fifteen blood-stained and scalpless bodies were left to tell the sad story of the paleface’s encounter.

Form thence the Indians again divided their band, one division going toward Kerr’s creek in Rockbridge while the other crossed over Warm Springs mountain to the settlement on Cowpasture, where they committed several outrages; thence re-crossing the mountain they retraced their steps toward the Ohio. A company of one hundred and fifty men, raised in a single night, was put under command of Capt. Wm. Christian, and sent in search of the savages. They were located and encountered on the South Branch of the Potomac, where twenty of their number were killed without the loss of a single white. This single battle marked the close of Shawnee outrages in what is now Alleghany county. After the battle, a scalp was found, which by the shade of the flowing locks, was recognized as that of James Sitlington, a recent immigrant from Ireland, who had fared the fate of his fellows at Mann’s. Many years later, a skull, having double rows of teeth all around, was washed up by a freshet in Jackson, and identified as that of one who had lost his life in the same defeat.

In 1891, when the Hot Springs Railroad was being built, a number of skeletons were exhumed in a field near the site of the old fort.  The arrow-heads, beads, wampum, clay-pipes, etc., found in the tomb, bespoke the race of the interred.

Capt. Moffett became a prominent officer under Greene in the Revolution and was a leader in civil and religious affairs in Augusta until his death (1811).

A notable personage of this county, made pre-eminently conspicuous by her various and extensive exploits of daring and adventure , was “Mad Anne.”

The heroine of the Virginia Hills was, as Anne Dennis, born in Liverpool, England, in 1742; an immigrant to Augusta at thirteen, she became the bride of John Bailey at twenty-three, and, as a result of Point Pleasant, his widow at thirty-two.

One son, William Bailey, survived his father.  This youth of seven summers was left in charge of Mrs. Moses (Hamilton) Mann, a near neighbor of Anne, while his mother sought to avenge the husband’s ill-timed fate by enlisting for the cause of her color. But what could a woman, encumbered with the garb becoming her sex, do amid the wilds of mountain passes, against a lurking and rapacious foe? This was a question soon decided by this woman of indomitable will. She was “very masculine in her appearance, and seldom or never wore a gown, but usually had on a petticoat with a man’s coat over it,” and “with a rifle over her shoulder and a tomahawk and butcher knife in her belt,” she became a couriess, whose record is unparalleled in the annals of Virginia.

No mountain was too steep for her and her unfaltering steed; no winter so severe, no summer so hot, no enemy so cunning as to prevent the fulfillment of a once formed purpose.  Her widowhood was brought to a close in 1785 by her union with another valiant frontiersman, John Trotter, of Point Pleasant.

She spent a year or more during the latter portion of her life in a hut, built by herself on what is now Man Anne’s Ridge.  This ridge lies at right angles to Warm Springs Mountain and on the north side of Falling Spring Branch.

Her most noteworthy experience was her ride from Fort Lee (now Charleston, West Virginia) to Lewisburg, and returning with powder for the besieged garrison. For this deed of skill and valor she was given a beautiful and spirited horse, which, in honor of her native burg, she called “Liverpool” – often abbreviated to “Pool.” During the night of one of her trips to Mann’s powder-house for ammunition, she started across the ridge which bears her name, but as a snow was rapidly falling she halted on the side of the mountain, and soon fell asleep. Pool, becoming restless, retraced his course, and was found next morning at the home of Moses Mann. A party was at once dispatched in search of her. Her course and destination being well know, her bed was finally located by a hole in the snow, made by her warm breath, which furnished a air-passage. At another time she aroused the inhabitants at Fort Young by her appealing shouts at the gate. She entered, blood-stained and haggard, but bearing two Indian scalps, the trophies of a recent engagement with her enemies.

Her choleric temperament and seasons of vengeful intrepidity, aggravated by a decaying system, gave her, in her latter days, the misnomer of “Mad Anne.”  Yet, she had a jocular turn, and being given to loquacity, she often settled on the hearthstone of some worthy frontiersman, recited with unswerving elaboration the events of her earlier experiences.

As to her profanity, authorities differ, but that one of her favorite enjoyments was the tipping of the glass with some generous host, seems to be a fact undisputed, even by her most conservative biographers.  The spirit of this eccentric, yet fearless character, was wafted to it final home on the 22nd of November, 1825, and left the pulseless corpse in a tail shanty—the product of her own hands—on the Ohio River, just below Point Pleasant. Thus ended the eventful life of the heroine of Western Virginia, whose virtues still echo through the mountain passes where her footsteps are a century old.

W.A. McAllister.



* “Cavalier” is simply a term frequently used by writers to describe the inhabitants of eastern Virginia during the Colonial period. Governor Dinwiddie was a shred Scotchman, with probably more traits resembling his fellow-countrymen (in origin) of the Valley, than any usually ascribed to the English Cavaliers. –Ed.

* This fort was on the property now owned by Colonel W.A. Gilliam, near his resent residence.