The Mysterious Settlers of Englands Run
(The following is a series of articles published in The Doddridge Independent)
The Mysterious Settlers of Englands Run, Part I
I knew absolutely nothing about John England until I read a book called History of Smithburg, written in 1901 by Lewis Edwin “Ned” Jones, who was born in Smithburg, Doddridge County, on February 2, 1834. He was the son of Thomas A. Jones and Catherine Luella Smith.
Thomas A. Jones was a down-on-his-luck businessman from Baltimore, Maryland, who moved to present-day Doddridge County with his wife and three children in 1824. Upon their arrival, Thomas managed to procure a tract of land known as “Buckeye Bottom.” (You may remember this area from a previous article that I wrote about Jacob Israel.) Shortly after his arrival here, an old debt from Baltimore caught up with him and Thomas was forced to sell the Buckeye Bottom house and move into a house known as the “Old England Place.”
From excerpts from his book, we know that Ned Jones was raised in the house that John England and his sons built many years before Ned’s birth. The following paragraphs are taken directly from the History of Smithburg. Keep in mind that this book was written in 1901, and the period he is talking about was well before the year 1800. His description of the area and the house leaves nothing to the imagination. His recollections are based on the fact that he was raised in the “Old England Place.”
The Early Years
“We must go back now for more than a hundred years, to a time prior to the building of the blockhouse at Salem and before there was any permanent trading post at Clarksburg, and some of the things that I shall write about are not founded on facts but came down to me through tradition. I, therefore, will not vouch for these being strictly true, though I think they border more nearly upon truth than on fiction, and must be recorded in order to get at facts in the lives of settlers not herein before mentioned, but who were very prominent members of the settlement if not influential ones and this I must leave to the judgment of the reader, as it is my province to record facts only.
"Morgan built a house at the mouth of the run that bears his name in advance of the building of the fort at Salem, and not long after someone built a house on the spot where John Hyatt's now stands at and long after that time called the Buckeye Bottoms. I think this latter house must have been built by Bottom Billy Davis, but am not positive. No matter who, it was there at a very early date, and is very closely connected with this narrative as some important events happened there I cannot pass over. Therefore it will be known in these papers as the Buckeye Bottom house.
Arrival of John England
"But for the present, I must write of another house more ancient and of equal importance which stood at the mouth of England's Run, built by a man by the name of England and his sons. This house and outbuildings was a departure in design and magnitude from all the buildings in the settlement, and at the time of which I write was not occupied because of its having gotten a bad name by the wicked deeds said to have been committed by the Englands, who were undoubtedly a dark, mysterious people. The crimes alleged to have been committed, or rather the allegation, was not without foundation, but the evidence that they were committed was circumstantial rather than positive.
"It will be borne in mind, this house, when first built, stood in the midst of a dense forest without a break for miles around on every side, and that these people were as much alone as if they had lived on some desolate island in the middle of the sea. Remember that at that time there was no highway except the Indian trail which connected their camping ground, which was just below the mouth of England's Run, with the Ohio River, and you will understand that any crime, however bad, might have been committed here with impunity and with almost perfect safety. The crime charged was the murder of a peddler who was making his way from the trading post through the forest to the Ohio River, putting up for the night at the Englands and never was heard of afterwards. It was alleged that his horse was found many days after wandering in the forest by some hunters who happened that way, and suspecting foul play, they went to England’s and found conclusive evidence that the man had been robbed and murdered and from something they saw concluded that he had been buried under the barn floor. The tradition goes on to say that the Englands became morose and demented because of being haunted by the spirit of the murdered peddler.
"Be that as it may, they were a fated people and died in singular ways. One of them at shearing time threw himself up on the shears and died; another one fell from an upper porch and broke his neck; and another was thrown from a horse and killed. His grave is just at the top of the hill east of S. 0. Jones’ house just beside the road. This grave was plain to be seen forty years afterwards, and thus they perished one by one till all were dead, and for these reasons the house was supposed to be haunted, and as the people of those days were a little superstitious, the house was left without an occupant for many years, or in other words, the people shunned it on account of the ghost of the Englands which were said to hold high carnival nightly. I am only telling the truth, for I have heard men of sense
and education say that there were so many strange noises and midnight rackets that one could not live in the house. I do not mean to have it understood that the stories about the ghosts were but simply to carry the idea that the settlers were a little superstitious as learned people are today.
Unique Structure of House
"The plan of the house and out buildings must have cost a good deal of forethought, for as I have said before that it was a departure in plan and architecture from the houses usually built by the first settlers, so much so that it deserves to be described. The house was built of logs carefully hewn, and in three sections or pens, two full stories high with a garret sufficiently high for a man to walk upright under the rafters. This garret, or loft, ran without any partition the whole length of the buildings or pens, a distance of forty feet, and had no light except a hole about ten inches square in one gable, which left the garret in semi-darkness of a clear day, and it was always an eerie and awe inspiring place. The only way to get into the garret was through a trap door in the floor, and a ladder was used to mount to the trap. The house was divided into six rooms, three below and three above. A double porch ran along the eastern side, the lower part the entire length of the house and the upper part only the length of two rooms. A stairway connected the two porches, and the entrance to all the rooms, save one, was from these porches.
"There were small windows on the porch side and also on the other, but they gave little light on either side and the house was always dark and gloomy in winter time.
"An attempt had been made to have the center room better than the others, but that is the center room below, and sealed it off in a way that would astonish the natives of today, both by the costliness of the material used and the work. The sides of the room was sealed with heavy black walnut whipsawed boards, which were carefully dressed, tongued and grooved and set end-wise all around the room. The work was well done, each board well fitted up and all of them about the same width, and overhead was sealed with common poplar boards. No one could tell from the inside of this room that the body of the house was logs. Besides this, they had made a mantle over the fireplace of walnut, and all things taken together it was quite a respectable room and it only needed light to make it a pleasant one. But for the lack of this, the whole house was sober, if not gloomy, and all together ghost inviting.”
Check back next week to learn more about John England and other settlers of Englands Run at the turn of the 19th century.
The Mysterious Settlers of Englands Run, Part II
Last week I wrote about Doddridge County pioneer John England and his family, as told by Lewis Edwin “Ned” Jones in his book the History of Smithburg. Having never heard of John England before, I wanted to find out as much as I could about who he was and where he lived.
Since Doddridge County did not exist until 1845, I had to look for information in different counties. Even though the land remained the same, the county names and boundaries changed many times over the years. What county we were a part of at any given time was dependent on the formation of new counties in northern Virginia between 1734 and 1845. Just prior to its formation as a separate county, present-day Doddridge County was a part of four different counties. Below is a timeline of those changes and what county/counties we were a part of at various times:
1734 we were a part of Orange County, Virginia
1738 we were a part of Augusta County, Virginia
1774 we were in the District of West Augusta, Virginia
1776 we were in parts of Ohio and Monongalia counties, Virginia
1784 we were in parts of Ohio and Harrison counties, Virginia
1798 we were in parts of Harrison, Ohio and Wood counties, Virginia
1814 we were in parts of Harrison, Tyler and Wood counties, Virginia
1816 we were in parts of Harrison, Tyler, Lewis and Wood counties, Virginia
1843 we were in parts of Harrison, Tyler, Lewis and Ritchie counties, Virginia
1845 we became Doddridge County, Virginia
1863 we became Doddridge County, West Virginia
Given the time of his arrival in present-day Doddridge County, I had to look for information about John England in Ohio and Harrison counties. I first looked at census records for 1800 and 1810, but his name did not show up on any census record until 1820. However, I knew that he was residing somewhere in Harrison County because his name appeared on the tax rolls as early as 1804.
Legislative Petition Signed by John England
A good resource to establish early residency is Legislative Petitions. It took an Act of the Virginia Legislature to form a new county, and the residents of the proposed county had to sign a petition either for or against the formation of a new county. Fortunately, I was able to find John England’s name on a very interesting petition asking not that a new county be formed, but rather that the boundary line between Ohio and Harrison counties be shifted. The purpose of the petition was to benefit the residents of present-day Doddridge County, then known as Middle Island. Below is that Virginia Legislative Petition, dated December 6, 1804:
The Honorable the General Assembly of Virginia,
The petition of the subscribers, inhabitants of the southern part of Ohio County, humbly showeth that your petitioners have had allurements held out to them of many advantages a new county might afford them. Though after a mature and unbiased consideration, viewing the mountainousness of their infant settlement as the unsurmountable bar which nature has thrown in the way of agriculture where your petitioners reside, which would have formed the most considerable part as to territory of the new contemplated county, your petitioners beg leave to signify their entire disapprobation to such a division, viewing it as impolitic and oppressive and rooted on design. A new and weak county your petitioners view as not only oppressive to its inhabitants, but burdensome to the state at large, even where a majority of acres in such county is fit for cultivation. What then can the inhabitants of Middle Island expect but to be doubly oppressed and to be an expense to the state. Still your petitioners cannot too highly appreciate the salubrity of their air and fertility of their narrow valleys. The most acknowledge that nature has in a degree forbidden tillage in their visinage [vicinity], and decreed that their flocks shall ever be preyed on by the devouring beast of the wild forest. Therefore your petitioners beg leave to represent a more economical and proper separation. The distance of your petitioners from Ohio court house is a little short a hundred miles through a rough and in part pathless wilderness, while from Harrison court house to this county line is not more than fourteen miles. Therefore your petitioners, instead of a new county, propose beginning at the corner of Monongalia, which is also a corner of Harrison County nearto or at the head of Buffalo Creek and then running on a direct line to the mouth of Arnolds Creek, which empties into the Middle Island on the south side, and then up the channel of Arnolds Creek to the mouth of the first large run on the west side thereof above Arnold’s improvement where the State road crosses, then up the same run or drain to the top of the ridge to the Wood County most easterly corner, which is also a corner of Harrison County as the part of Ohio County above the described line is practically a loop in the bosom of the territory of Harrison, the most distant part whereof exceeding forty-five miles in between that and fourteen miles distant from Harrison court house, with the advantage of a good wagon road from Harrison court house passing through the neighborhood and center of your petitioners. Wherefore your petitioners pray that a law may be passed to attach the south part of Ohio County as above circumscribed to the county of Harrison to the great relief of your petitioners who when in duty bound will pray.
This petition was signed by:
Barnabus B. Lothridge
These were the inhabitants of the first organized community in present-day Doddridge County. This community was simply called Middle Island. Given all that I’ve read, I think that this encompassed the current areas of Israels Fork, Morgansville, Buckeye, Smithburg and Meathouse Fork.
Boundary Changes Accepted - More to Come
As I continued to read other petitions, I found that the suggested boundary change was enacted in 1805. This change made it easier for the inhabitants of MIddle Island to attend required functions, such as military mustering, voting and attending court. However, that was not the end of the boundary dispute.
In the subsequent few years, the newly founded communities of Shirley and Center Point requested that the dividing line be returned to its original location. This new petition stated that the mountainous barrier, known as Elk Horn Gap, that separated their communities and the Harrison County court house was virtually impassable and too dangerous to traverse. It was safer and easier for them to travel to the Ohio County court house. This dispute eventually ended in 1814, when Tyler County was formed from a portion of Ohio County. The strategic boundaries of Tyler County settled the difficulty each community faced. People in Center Point and Nutters Fork could attend court in Middlebourne, while people in Middle Island and present-day West Union could attend court in Harrison County.
John England Remains a Mystery
Although I was able to figure out where John England lived, I still have no idea where he came from, where he went or when he died. A Harrison County deed dated May 15, 1837 says that John England of Athens County, Ohio, sold a piece of property to Benoni Israel for $100.00. I did find an 1830 census record for a John England (age 60-69) living in Elk, Athens County, Ohio. Our John England was born in approximately 1770, so the age and location certainly match up. However, the consistently reliable Ned Jones said that the entire England family died in Doddridge County. Making it even more confusing, I found an entry dated 1821 in a Harrison County chancery record that mentions a John England, deceased.
We may never know whether John England died in Doddridge County or moved elsewhere, but his importance in the early history of Doddridge County cannot be overlooked. Thanks to Ned Jones, we now know about one our first pioneer families and how Englands Run got its name.
(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.”)