Survey found in the Court of Chancery suit Lewis Maxwell vs. Jonathan Howell
Hogs, Dogs and Misdeeds at Meathouse Fork
I’ve heard people mention a counterfeit silver ring that operated in New MIlton a long time ago, but no one really knows any specifics about who they were or when it supposedly happened. Once again thanks to Ned Jones’ 1901 History of Smithburg, I can now share with you a little more about this story.
Please keep in mind that Ned’s remarks about the character of the families that he’s writing about are just his opinion. I mean no disrespect by repeating them, but it would have been difficult to tell you this story without using his exact words.
Ned Jones on Childers Crimes
“The Burbridges, Greathouses, McKinleys and Childers on the head waters of Meathouse Fork, not many miles above New Milton. As a whole they were a hard lot, the very hardest lot that ever came to the settlement.
“As to the two first mentioned, I pass them over. The third I dismiss with a single sentence, they loved fighting and wrangling better than anything else. I might add another and say that they never missed an opportunity of practicing their profession. But the acts of the last named were so lawless that I must treat them at length.
“There were quite a number of the Childerses. Bill and his nephew Samuel alone claim our attention. These two built a mill just above New Milton and called milling their business, which was as far from it as anything could well be. Old Bill, as he was called, was ignorant and vicious. Sam, on the contrary, was pretty well educated and quiet in his deportment. Besides, he was a moderately good workman in several trades.
“Before going any farther, it is necessary to make a statement of explanation for what follows. From the time of the first settlers, hogs were marked and the marks advertised so that no two men would have the same mark. They were let go in the woods where they grew fat on the different kinds of nuts. At the time I write of, the forest was full of them.
“Now the Childerses were hunters, and their business was to hunt the settlers’ hogs. The men owned dogs trained to their business, and when they came upon a lot of hogs, these dogs surrounded them and held them until a pen was built of logs by the men. Then the dogs
would drive them in. After this, the men would catch every hog and cut their ears off close to their heads, thus destroying the marks. Then they were ready to drive home, and I myself have seen them driving more than fifty head at a time. What is more, they would drive the hogs by the doors of the men that owned them, for no man could swear to his hogs after their ears were cut off.
“These men followed this up year after year, causing great trouble and loss to the entire settlement. However, after many years they found this too slow and Sam, being a genius, proposed making money for themselves. So they built a forge near the mill, and Sam commenced work upon his dies, whilst Old Bill formed a gang to help them operate. Among them the Perines of Big Isaac. Where they got their silver, no one knows to this day, but the coins they made were undoubtedly pure silver as pronounced by government agents, and not a bad imitation. At first, I think they must have passed their counterfeits someplace else rather than here, for a single levie, twelve and a half cents, led to their being suspected. The man that passed the levie, though perfectly innocent, was arrested, tried and, condemned, and had to serve one year in prison. But all the same it was traced to Old Bill and Sam by the government and they only escaped arrest by swimming the mill pond. But the Perines were not so fortunate, as two of them were caught and sent to the state prison, and thus the settlers got rid of one of the greatest terrors that it ever had to contend with.
“That there was a disturbing element in the settlement cannot be denied, but taking into consideration the fact that there were no churches, no school houses, and no court, it is a marvel that there was so little. But, as I have pointed out before in these papers, the settlement was absolutely a law unto itself, and by mutual consent, it seems to have been a very good law.”
Who Were Sam & Old Bill?
I have found only one Samuel Childers living in Doddridge County in the early 1800s. Sam had an uncle named William Childers who must have been Old Bill. Old Bill, a son of William Childers Sr. and Martha Lowther from Harrison County, was born in 1763, and he married Sudna Richards in 1793. He certainly would have been “Old” Bill by the time he and nephew Sam pulled their shenanigans in the settlement that later became known as New Milton. Sam was a son of Samuel Childers Sr. and Rebecca Hughes.
Location of Counterfeiting
If the counterfeiting operation took place on the farm of Old Bill, I have the location somewhat narrowed down. It ties into the same 16,200 acre survey that I’ve written about in previous articles.
The 16,200 acres were originally owned by Archibald Woods & Co. and then sold to Nathan Davis, Joseph Davis, Jonathan Howell, John Jarvis, James Davis and David Kershner. The land was divided up among the six purchasers.
Jonathan Howell’s portion of the land totalled 1,770 acres. Jonathan Howell then sold 620 of those acres to William Childers. The 620 acres, as described in the deed, are located on Meathouse Fork and Brushy Fork of Middle Island Creek.
By 1825 Davis and others still had not paid off the land, so they sold all but 1,415 of the original 16,200 acres to Lewis Maxwell. Maxwell in turn sued Jonathan Howell because the 620 acres Howell sold to William Childers actually amounted to 995 acres and much of that was valuable bottomland.
I found the case between Lewis Maxwell and Jonathan Howell in a Court of Chancery file at the Harrison County courthouse. According to surveys and depositions found in this file, William Childers lived at the mouth of Brushy Fork, where it dumps into
Meathouse Fork creek, less than a quarter-mile above the Union Mission Church. This area was known back then as Crany Bottom. This is where William “Old Bill” Childers was living when he died in 1839. The lawsuit contains a deposition of "Sudna Childers, widow of William Childers," dated October 23, 1839. William Childers himself had testified at the beginning of the lawsuit in 1838.
Samuel Leaves Doddridge County
Not much is known about Old Bill’s nephew Samuel Childers, born in about 1813. In 1837 he married Eliza Ann Jones and they had at least nine children. Samuel, Eliza and one daughter were still living in present-day Doddridge County in 1840, but moved to Weston shortly after that. I lost track of Samuel after 1860, but he presumably died before 1870 since he was not with his family in Wood County in that year’s census.
There are still many Childers descendents living in Doddridge County. Educator and historian Dr. Alton Childers, for example, was the great-grandson of Samuel Childers’ brother Jonathan. Although I cannot confirm any of Ned’s story, I can conclusively say that the people he wrote about were real and were among the first settlers of Meathouse Fork.
Old Bill’s Wife
And now a side note about Old Bill Childers’ wife Sudna, who was born in about 1775 and was still living in Doddridge County as of 1850. The following is found in Corliss Fitz Randolph’s A History of the Seventh Day Baptists in West Virginia:
“Dr. Bee further states that he himself remembers an old lady by the name of Childers, nee Richards, of Meat House Fork, saying that she stood on a stump and saw the Indians scalp her father.”
I will share with you in a future article how Sudna handles Lewis Maxwell as he deposes her about her husband’s land. After that experience, it’s a wonder that he ever married!