The Shannon Family &
Doddridge County’s First Church
Many of the first families that moved to Doddridge County were members of the Seventh Day Baptist Church, so I am quite often referring to them when I write about our earliest settlers. This is a story about two people, one the son of an Irish immigrant and the other a daughter of a prominent Seventh Day Baptist, who helped found the oldest known church in present-day Doddridge County.
The Seventh-Day Baptist Church (SDB Church) was an early offshoot from the English Baptists and came about principally because of their belief in the Biblical Sabbath, which the Hebrews kept on the last day of the week. A large group of SDB Church members migrated to western Virginia in 1792 and founded the town of New Salem, Virginia (now Salem, West Virginia) in 1794, on the property of Samuel Fitz Randolph.
Oral and written history states that in 1792 these pioneers built a blockhouse in New Salem 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 these 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 large majority of these people were members of the SDB Church. One family who was not of this faith was the Shannon family.
The Shannon Family
Neal Shannon was born around 1775 in Ireland and migrated to the United States sometime prior to 1798. Whether he came here with his wife, whose name I’ve been unable to find, is unknown. But we do know from census records that he was married.
Neal Shannon moved from Pennsylvania to present-day Doddridge County with his wife and at least three sons sometime between 1800 and 1812. Neal served as a Corporal in Evan’s 2nd Regiment of the Virginia Militia in the War of 1812. Given information I’ve found in census records, I believe that Neal and his wife died between 1820 and 1840.
Neal’s two younger sons, James and Robert, moved west and died in Texas and Illinois respectively. The oldest son, Gamble Shannon, stayed in Doddridge County and married Content Davis, a daughter of William “Jersey Billy” Davis. Jersey Billy had come to western Virginia in about 1806 and was a 5th-generation Seventh Day Baptist.
The following excerpt from Ned Jones’ 1901 book The History of Smithburg gives us a sense of what kind of men Gamble Shannon and his father were:
“Neal Shannon was an Irishman. He was a man of good education and might have been good but he chose to be otherwise, for his choice was to be a hard drinker and a variable Devil when drunk, so much so that he attempted to destroy everything that came his way even to burning the corn in the shock. This is the only bad side of him because he did some good too. He had one son Gamble whom he took great pains with, learning him all about letters that he knew himself, and despite the father’s drunkenness, he grew up a sober religious and intelligent man. They lived where Samuel Russell now lives. Neal lived to see a number of children born to his son and he taught the oldest son William everything that he himself knew, which was more than ordinary men know this day. The boy was intelligent and learned well, and the result gave perfect satisfaction to the old man.
“Gamble Shannon was the most upright and consistent Christian that I ever knew, but hold - that doesn't fully describe it. He was simply the best man in every way that I was ever acquainted with and very nearly the most unfortunate. Not long after he was married, he met with an accident to his knee that stiffened it so that he had to walk with a cane, and a few years later whilst building an addition to his house, a log fell and broke his hip, which confined him to the house all the balance of his days. But all could not sour his disposition or disturb the serenity of his mind. He never lost his trust in God and was thankful for the evil and the good alike, and this is a thing I would not like to say of any of the men that I have known in my long life time. Even now in thinking of him, I am impressed with the thought that he must have been as near perfect as any human being can be. Disabled as he was, he managed his affairs so as to have a comfortable living and a little for the charity and the church. He married a Davis, a Seventh Day Baptist and espoused her faith with her and ever after held to the faith.”
SDB Church Formed in Lewisport
An excellent source of information about the early SDB churches in Harrison and Doddridge County’s was written by Corliss Fitz Randolph in 1905. It’s entitled A History of Seventh Day Baptists in West Virginia. In it we find the origins of the Middle Island Seventh Day Baptist Church, which was located in Lewisport, now the Blockhouse Hill Addition of West Union.
As the son of an Irish immigrant, Gamble Shannon was presumably Catholic, a religion he would not have been able to practice due to the lack of a nearby Catholic church. But love conquers all, as Gamble found when he met Content Davis, whose family were pillars of the SDB church. Gamble Shannon was admitted to the Seventh Day Baptist Church of New Salem on June 20, 1819 and married Content Davis on March 6, 1820. Gamble and Content were living in present-day Doddridge County in 1820, which is about the time that the Middle Island Seventh Day Baptist Church was built in Lewisport. They had attended this non-sanctioned log church for many years prior to 1831, which was when the Seventh Day Baptist Conference formally recognized them as a legitimate church body .
On August 19, 1831 Gamble and Content Shannon, along with 27 other members from the New Salem church, were officially allowed to transfer their membership from the New Salem Church to the Middle Island Seventh Day Baptist Church in Lewisport. Gamble was appointed the church’s first official deacon on July 15, 1832. This church was the first formally-organized church within the present boundaries of Doddridge County.
Tornado Destroys SDB Church in Lewisport
Unfortunately the log church was destroyed in a tornado sometime between 1832 and 1837. I have read varying reports of this tornado. Below is how it was explained in Hardesty’s 1883 History of Doddridge County:
“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.”
The destruction of the church building did not stop the members of the Middle Island SDB Church from meeting for worship. For several years after the tornado, the congregation held services in the homes of its members. Because of internal arguments within the church, another churchhouse was never erected in Lewisport. A new Middle Island SDB Church was built in 1867 at the mouth of Sugar Camp in New Milton. All those who had attended the Lewisport church transferred their membership to the new church in New Milton.
Gamble Dies, Content Moves West
Gamble Shannon died in 1850 and is buried in the cemetery located where the SDB church once stood in Lewisport. His grave marker is identifiable as his, but is no longer readable. The SDB cemetery is now part of the Blockhouse Hill Cemetery in West Union. Content Davis Shannon moved to Missouri sometime after 1860 with at least three of her children. She died there in 1887 and is buried at Pacific Cemetery in Franklin County, Missouri.
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”. I believe the date of 1792 to be error, since other evidence points to the SDB church being built at Lewisport in about 1820. The year 1792 was when the SDB families arrived in New Salem, not in Middle Island. You can see this monument in the SDB Section of the Blockhouse Hill Cemetery in West Union.
Whether you attend the Middle Island SDB Church at Sugar Camp, or just drive by it occasionally, I hope you now have a better understanding of its origins and an appreciation for the Shannons and other early residents of Doddridge County who were responsible for its founding.
(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.”)