First Known Settler of Doddridge County
February 4th was the anniversary of the formation of Doddridge County in 1845. In honor of that milestone, this is the story of the first documented landowner and settler in what is now Doddridge County, West Virginia. He was here long before 1845, before the War of 1812, before the end of the Indian Wars, and even before the Revolutionary War. The United States was still under the British Crown when Jacob Israel laid claim to his settlement on the MIddle Island Creek, at a place called Buckeye Bottom.
Until now, the story about the first landowner in Doddridge County has traditionally been reported much like this:
...James Caldwell was the first known landowner in Doddridge County, in 1787 he patented 20,000 acres of land, including the land of present day West Union. Caldwell sold this land to Nathan, Joseph and William Davis around 1807, the Davises then moved to the current West Union area….
Thanks to the advent of the internet, we now have easy access to documents that formerly required physical visits to the Library of Virginia in Richmond or to the West Virginia State Archives in Charleston. Most of the information contained in this article has been extracted from Legislative Petitions and Virginia Land Grants made available on the Library of Virginia’s online database. The 1786 survey pictured here was found on microfilm at the WV State Archives. From these documents, we now know that the first landowner in Doddridge County was not James Caldwell, but was in fact Jacob Israel, who was also the first settler.
Jacob Israel was born in 1746 in Baltimore, Maryland. He was the son of Angel and Sarah Israello. I know very little of his family’s origins, only that they were Protestant and became naturalized citizens in 1751. Jacob and his wife, Priscilla Williams, were living in Washington County, Pennsylvania when he made his journey to eke out a settlement in the unclaimed lands on the western Virginia frontier. According to census and military records, Jacob still kept his residence in Washington County, along with his newly claimed land in present-day Doddridge County, which was then in Augusta County and later became Ohio County. He obviously went back to Pennsylvania at some point, because he served in the 1st Battalion of the Pennsylvania Militia in 1781 and 1782.
According to the 1786 survey of his property, Jacob Israel made his settlement on Buckeye Bottom in 1771. Because of the upheaval of the Revolutionary War, no Virginia land grants were issued between 1775 and 1779. Jacob Israel had to wait until after the Virginia Land Office Act of 1779 to apply for his land grant. Under this act any person who had made an improvement and planted a crop of corn was eligible for a 400-acre certificate of settlement for the land he had improved. The settler could purchase an additional adjoining 1,000 acres under a pre-emption warrant. All those who had marked out or chosen unappropriated lands and built any house or hut or made improvements prior to January 1, 1778, but who could not prove actual settlement right, were entitled to a pre-emption of no more than 1,000 acres. On April 6, 1781 Jacob Israel obtained a Certificate from the Commissioners for the Districts of Monongalia, Yohogania and Ohio for “400 acres on the waters of the MIddle Island Creek at a place known by the name Buckeye Bottom.” The land was surveyed on November 22, 1786 and the grant was issued to his heirs on June 14, 1793.
We can only imagine what life was like 245 years ago, when Doddridge County was still a part of the vast Augusta County, Virginia. The only other white settlers here were Indian fighters, tradesmen and hunting parties. Jacob Israel came here at the height of the Indian Wars when hostilities between whites and Indians often lead to brutal massacres on both sides. The only route to this area was the Scioto-Monongahela Indian trail and a buffalo path, both of which followed the meanderings of the MIddle Island Creek. We will never know exactly what brought him from a fairly populated area of Pennsylvania to the untamed wilderness of western Virginia. Perhaps he came here with famed Indian fighter Nicholas Carpenter, who made his settlement on Ten Mile Creek in Salem in 1772. We know that Jacob Israel and NIcholas Carpenter came from the same region in Pennsylvania because prior to 1780 they both signed a petition for the creation of a new state between Pennsylvania and Virginia, to be called Westsylvania.
The area known as Buckeye Bottom lies in the vicinity of present-day Israel’s Fork, Morgan’s Run and Smithburg. I have found several deeds that make reference to Israel’s 1771 settlement. Successors of this property have included Hezekiah Stout, John Sommersville, John Webster, John England, James Archbold, Jesse Maxson, Nathan Davis. Warner W. Chapman, Thomas A. Jones and James Hyatt.
Jacob Israel died in 1783, before his land grant was formally issued. He left his land to his nephews, Jacob and Isaac Israel. I am not sure if Jacob and Priscilla had any children together. The following statement made in his will leads me to believe that Priscilla’s son was not fathered by Jacob Israel:
….I give and bequeath unto _____ the child that my wife Priscilla hath lately been delivered of being a man child and the first and only child she, the said Priscilla, hath born or came of her body since in wedlock with me, five shillings sterling as his full part or share of my estate both real and personal. Secondly. the law having provided what manner and what part of my estate shall be allotted unto my wife Priscilla in respect of dower or third part thereof, I shall say nothing…..
The fact that Jacob left his estate to his nephews, and not to Priscilla’s child, bolsters this theory:
... I give and bequeath unto my loving brother Isaac Israel, in trust, all the rest and residue of my estate both real and personal of every kind and denomination, secure for the uses following, that is to say, after all my just debts and funeral expenses shall be paid, my will and desire is all my lands and tenements, go and descend unto the said Isaac Israel in trust for his two sons, Jacob and Isaac, share and share alike…
As an interesting side-note, Priscilla’s son, Joseph Williams Israel, was killed in action on September 4, 1804 off the coast of Tripoli during the Second Battle of Tripoli Harbor. He was a midshipman on the USS Intrepid when his small task force was blown up while trying to recapture the American vessel, the Philadelphia. The British Admiral Horatio Nelson is said to have called this "the most bold and daring act of the age". Even Pope Pius VII stated, "The United States, though in their infancy, have done more to humble the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast than all the European states had done’"
Jacob Israel’s will was probated in Pennsylvania on April 16, 1783 and later in Harrison County, (West) Virginia in 1825 when his brother died. By that time Jacob’s heirs, Jacob and Isaac, had already claimed the pre-emptive 1000 acres that their uncle was entitled to, as allowed by the 1779 Land Office Act. The Israels did not stay in Doddridge County very long, the last known residents here of that surname being in the late 1800s. But they played a very important role in our early history, and their legacy lives on in Doddridge in the form of their namesake community, Israel’s Fork.
(NOTE: This article, written by Heritage Guild member Jennifer Wilt, originally appeared in The Doddridge Independent as part of her weekly column “Our Heritage: The REAL History of Doddridge County.”)