Monument erected by the DAR in 1925.
Aerial view of Blockhouse Hill Cemetery taken by Wayne Nicholson (used here with his permission)
Origins of the Old Middle Island
Seventh Day Baptist Church & Cemetery
at Blockhouse Hill
The original Middle Island Seventh Day Baptist Church was established out of necessity to serve the handful of Seventh Day Baptists who wandered into the tiny village of Middle Island in present-day Doddridge County between 1800 and 1810.
Oral and written history states that in 1792 the first Seventh Day Baptist immigrants settled in New Salem, Virginia (now Salem, West Virginia). Upon their arrival to New Salem from New Jersey, they built a blockhouse to protect their families from marauding Indians. In 1794, just two years after their arrival in New Salem, the Battle of Fallen Timbers in Ohio marked the end of the violent Indian wars. Many New Salem residents soon started moving westward, down Buckeye Creek and Middle Island Creek and up Meathouse Fork. Not all, but certainly the majority of these people were members of the Seventh Day Baptist faith. The first SDB church in present-day Doddridge County was built in about 1810 in Lewisport. Although the church has long since disappeared, the graveyard is still intact and has become part of the Blockhouse Hill Cemetery.
Blockhouse Hill Cemetery is actually three cemeteries in one, though any fencing that might have once separated them is long gone, and none is individually marked. Each section has its own unique history. The oldest dates back to about 1810 and is referred to as the Old Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery. The next section is the Catholic graveyard, whose first burial was around 1853. The newest section is the Odd Fellows, or IOOF, Cemetery that dates back to 1899. For this project we will be focusing on only the Old SDB section.
Corliss Fitz Randoplh on Middle Island SDB Church
An excellent account of the formation of the Middle Island SDB Church was left to us by Corliss Fitz Randolph in his book A History of the Seventh Day Baptists in West Virginia, published in 1905. The following are excerpts from that book: (Click here to read Fitz Randolph's section on the Middle Island SDB Church in its entirety.)
"As the people began to go out from New Salem, soon after its settlement, to settle at various points in the surrounding country, they formed various other little settlements, ranging in distance from three or four miles, to ten or twelve miles, from New Salem, and the meeting house. These little groups found it practically impossible to attend church at New Salem with any regularity, and consequently began to hold Sabbath services in their own settlements, using the homes of various ones of their number as meeting places.
"In the early days, such services were held at Lewisport (now West Union), and on Greenbrier Run, Halls Run, and Lamberts Run. In the course of time, stated meetings of the church were held at these places.
"As these settlements grew, they began to feel the need of houses of worship in their midst, and the need was met in some places by the erection of meeting houses which were the property of the church.
"The first of these meeting houses to be built was at Lewisport, where three brothers, Nathan, Joseph and William Davis, had purchased twenty thousand (20,000) acres of land and settled for their homes. Here upon a little bluff, only a stone's throw from the very verge of the banks of the Middle Island Creek, a rude log meeting house was erected, and a grave yard established upon the lands of Joseph Davis. This was probably built some time during the first decade of the nineteenth century, and was doubtless a crude affair of round, unhewed logs, with a cabin roof. After a few years, this gave way to another log structure, which too had fallen into decay, not many years after the first quarter of the century had passed.
"The Middle Island Church was situated at Lewisport, now a part of the village of West Union, in Doddridge County on Middle Island Creek. Here the New Salem Church had erected a house of worship several years before, for the use of several families living in that vicinity who were members of that church. A graveyard had been established on a plot of ground adjoining the church yard.
"On the 19th day of August, 1831, there was presented to the New Salem Church a list of twenty-nine names of individuals who had joined the Middle Island Church. The New Salem Church approved this action, and on that date, and like wise at a meeting held in February following, granted letters of dismissal to others who wished to join the new church at Middle Island.
"A permanent organisation was not consummated, however, until a later date, as will be observed from the following certificate:
'This is to certify [to] all whom it may concern that the Seventh Day Baptist Church at Middle Island was this day organised according to [the] rules and regulations of the Seventh Day Baptist Denomination, July 15th, 1832.
John Davis and Joel Greene, Elders.'
"At the regular quarterly business meeting of the church in November, following the organisation, there was presented to the church a controversy which had arisen between Ephraim Bee and Nathan Davis. This dispute shook the infant church to its foundations, and planted the seeds of trouble for years to come. So serious was it that at the regular meeting in February next, Ephraim Bee was relieved of his duties as clerk of the church until the unfortunate difference should be adjusted.
"Nathan Davis was a justice of the peace, and before him had been tried a suit at law in which Ephraim Bee and one William J. Lowther were the principals. Decision was rendered against Ephraim Bee, and a judgment entered for the sum of nine dollars ($9.00). The latter charged partiality on the part of the court in favour of Lowther, and the matter was taken to the church.
"The church referred the whole matter to a committee, which after a careful review of the case, acquitted the justice of the peace of any charge of bias, and decided that due acknowledgment should be made him by his accuser. The committee further recommended that the suggestion of the accused justice be followed, to the effect that the case be tried again ab initio, before another justice.
"Upon their request, letters of dismissal were granted to a considerable number of the leading members of the church, in February, 1835. The records of the church were committed to safe keeping in the hands of William J. Davis, and the church went into a state of lethargy for a period of more than nine years.
"There was a called meeting of the church held August 30, 1844, and the active work of the church resumed."
Two hundred years later, the “graveyard established upon the lands of Joseph Davis” survives in the form of the lower section of the Blockhouse Hill Cemetery. The only vestige of the meeting house that remains is a commemorative monument placed there many years ago by the DAR.
Tornado Destroys SDB Church
There is a commonly published story about a devastating tornado that hit Doddridge County in the 1830s that destroyed the Middle Island SDB meeting house. However, the version that keeps getting reproduced is inaccurate.
The following is an exact quote from Hardesty’s 1883 History of Doddridge County:
THE TORNADO OF 1833
The most destructive storm that ever visited this section of the State occurred on the 3rd day of June 1833. It traveled from the northwest to the southeast and extended over a belt of several miles in width. Crossing the Ohio river at a point near where Sistersville, in Tyler county, now stands, it swept through that county, Doddridge, Lewis, Upshur and Randolph, in the latter of which it appears to have been forced so high in its passage over the mountain that no trace of it could be seen in Virginia east of the mountains. Throughout its entire course the forest was uprooted and the buildings scattered far and wide. The Baptist Church, a heavy hewed-log building at West Union, and the first ever erected within the present limits of the county, was razed to the ground. Near it stood the residence of Joseph Davis, one of the first settlers; it was blown down and he was killed. The person who converses with the aged persons of this vicinity will hear many a reference to the storm of 1833.
Hardesty’s version of the tornado is correct in some ways, but once you start comparing the research of other well-known authors and primary sources, you’ll see that Joseph Davis did not die in the tornado. He and his wife were both present when they signed a deed in 1848 in Doddridge County. But the tornado did kill two people who are not even mentioned in the article. William S. Davis, son of West Union’s founding-father Nathan Davis, and Williams’s eight-year-old daughter, Harriet, were both victims of the tornado. They are buried in the Old SDB Cemetery. Harriet’s headstone is still readable today.
Various sources differ on the exact date of the tornado. The historical marker placed by the DAR in the Old SDB Cemetery in 1925 states that the church was destroyed in 1832, while Hardesty’s History of Doddridge County states that it was in 1833. However, descendants of William S. Davis, who still have the old family Bible in their possession, claim that William was killed in such a storm about 1837, also killing a daughter in the same storm. This correlates with Harriet’s headstone which clearly states that she died in 1837.
In October 1925 the LFR Chapter of the DAR erected a monument on the spot where the old log church once stood. It reads: “Old Church Site 1792-1832 Seventh Day Baptist”. We believe the date of 1792 to be error, since other evidence points to the SDB church being built at Lewisport in about 1810. The year 1792 was when the first SDB families arrived in New Salem, not in Middle Island.
Fate of the Middle Island SDB Church in West Union
As Corliss Fitz Randolph noted, the church went into a “state of lethargy” in 1835 after the dispute between Nathan Davis and Ephraim Bee, and it was two years later that the tornado destroyed the church building. The church resumed holding regular meetings in 1844, but a church building was never rebuilt in Lewisport. Meetings were held in the homes of the congregation until the present Middle Island SDB Church was built at the mouth of Sugar Camp in New Milton in 1867.
The Old Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery, now a part of the Blockhouse Hill Cemetery, is by far the most historic cemetery in Doddridge County. If these stones could talk, they would tell you stories of unimaginable triumphs and tragedies spanning nearly two centuries. This is the burial place of men, women and children of many nationalities, from slaves to Congressmen.
According to Fitz Randolph the logs of the church at Lewisport decayed and disappeared from view around 1850, thirteen years after the tornado destroyed the meeting house. Other than the monuments and headstones, the only remaining vestige of the original church and cemetery are parts of the original fence that once separated the Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery and Franklin Maxwell's property. This historic cemetery stands as a reminder of Doddridge County's first church and our earliest settlers.