Berkeley County, West Virginia Biography of Adam STEPHEN


         Adam Stephen was born in Virginia about 1730. He was probably the one man who did the most for establishing Berkeley County — he purchased the land where Martinsburg stands now and land surrounding it from Colonel T.B. Martin, who had purchased the last remaining portion of the once princely estate of Lord Fairfax. He was commissioned the first sheriff of the county and founded the town of Martinsburg by laying out 130 acres of land into lots and streets. After the Virginia Assembly had learned what Sheriff Stephen had done, it promptly established the town of Martinsburg, October 18, 1778. Other towns were competing for the honor of being named the county seat, but Adam Stephen, by persuasion and use of sound judgment, contrived to have the capital of the county placed as near the center of it as possible, the counties of Jefferson and Morgan being with the boundaries of Berkeley County at that time.

         Adam Stephen raised a company of infantry from that section when the French and Indian War broke out and was ordered by Colonel Washington to appear in Winchester, Virginia, which he did March 12, 1754, to start for the frontier. By the death of Colonel Fry, the command fell to Washington, and Stephen was made a major. On August 14 of that year the regiment, to which Major Stephen belonged, was reorganized; Washington was made Colonel, Stephen was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel, and Andrew Lewis to Major. At Great Meadows, this army surrendered Fort Necessity, but the army marched back to Fort Cumberland.

         He was at Braddock and helped to cover the retreat of that shattered army. In the absence of Washington, Stephen commanded the forces at Winchester where he set out in 1756 with an expedition against the Creeks for the relief of the colonists of South Carolina. He was present at the final capture of Fort Duquesne, and aided in defending the Virginia frontier against the Indians (1763-68). He had been commissioned a Brigadier-General in the State Militia in 1769 and was placed in command of Fort Loudon frontier against further depredations by the Indians. It was at this time that the State of Virginia gave him the commission of Brigadier-General, the state fully recognizing his ability as a soldier after 14 years of continuous service in the defense of frontiers of that state’s western territory.

         When the Revolutionary War began in 1775, Stephen was placed in charge of one of its regiments by the Virginia Legislature. Isaac Read was commissioned Lieutenant-Colonel and Robert Lawson was made Major, February 13, 1776, and transferred to the Continental Line. On September 4, 1776, he was commissioned by Congress a Brigadier-General in the Continental Army, a higher rank than that of Brigadier-General in the State Militia. On February 9, 1777, he was promoted to the rank of Major-General He fought with Washington at Trenton and Princeton and was in the 90-mile retreat through the Jerseys. At the Battle of Brandywine, he led an attacking party, but because of dense fog, his division fired and became involved in combat with the troops of General Anthony Wayne. Stephen was held responsible for the blunder, was charged with “unofficer-like conduct” and “intoxication,” was found guilty and dismissed from the Army. History has proven that General Stephen contributed in no way to the disaster met by the Americans on that day, that he was too harshly dealt with, and that Washington wanted an opportunity to place his friend and favorite, the Marquis de Lafayette, to a position as an officer in the American Army. That appointment was approved and Lafayette held the position vacated by General Stephen.

         Lord Dunmore appointed General Stephen one of the Justices of the first Court of Berkeley County. Martinsburg was then a cluster of houses occupying the site of an Indian village of the Tuscaroras and was known as Morgan’s Springs. It was at the house of Edward Beesom, situated on the farm of George Tremble, Esq. — known as the “Red House” that the Court of the County was held. He was elected a delegate, with General William Darke, to ratify or reject the Constitution of the United States in 1788. A letter written by General Stephen prior to the Revolutionary War, setting forth and vindicating the stand taken by the colonies, expressed fully his views on that subject; he, therefore, voted for the adoption of the constitution.

         General Stephen died at Martinsburg in November 1791 and was buried on the estate of ex-Senator Charles James Faulkner. A monument, a rectangular pyramid with a base of 20 feet, 9 feet high, marks the spot of his grave. It was situated on the right of South Queen Street at the northeast corner of the Martinsburg High School grounds. The large stones used in the construction, the largest of them 12 feet in length, were of hard silicious mountain stone and not native to the area, so they had to be transported from a distance. This monument was thrown down and destroyed at one time to where it’s height was only 4 feet; the D.A.R. restored it to its original height, the top being surrounded by a pyramid of cannon balls from the Civil War. It is not known who first erected the monument, since there are no records.


    Submitted by Marilyn Gouge and extracted from History of Berkeley County, West Virginia, 1928, and Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, Vol. II, Prominent Persons, 1915.

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