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Warner W. Chapman - Tavern Owner, Miller & Merchant


I’ve long been intrigued with Warner W. Chapman, but I’ve held-off writing about him in the hope that I would find out what happened to him after he left Doddridge County sometime after 1852. At this point, I doubt that I will ever know exactly what happened to him, unless I stumble across an obscure newspaper article one day. Prompted by a letter I received recently from Doddridge County native Larry G. Williams, now residing in Ohio, who described working many years ago at a grist mill on Morgans Run, I will now share with you all that I know about Warner Chapman, early Doddridge settler, miller and land prospector.


Warner W. Chapman was born about 1801 and moved with his father and at least one brother, John B. Chapman, to Clarksburg, Harrison County, in 1803. His father died in 1822, which is the same year that Warner married Delilah Taylor. The exact year that Warner moved to present-day Doddridge County is unknown, but we know that he purchased property near Englands Run in 1826. The following is what Ned Jones had to say about Warner Chapman in his 1901 book History of Smithburg:

Ambitious and Industrious

“A man whose history is so closely interwoven with that of the settlement that if it was omitted it would only be half written. I do not know where Warner Chapman came from, but suppose him to have been an eastern Virginian, as it was held that he was of mixed blood. His appearance would indicate that to be a fact. It was more in the color of his skin than anything else. Be all this as it may, he was a man of so determined a will that nothing could overcome it.


“...I think that he must have lived for a time in a log cabin that stood in the bottom over the creek from Charles McConnell’s house. The old well and part of chimney are still in evidence. Just below this log cabin there was a fall in the creek of about four feet. Below the falls was a sharp bend in the creek which formed a curve nearly in the shape of an ox bow. Across the bow from the falls was about seventy yards. Now Chapman conceived the idea of cutting a race from the fall to the opposite side of the bow, which would give him sufficient fall for a mill. He tested this matter and found that it would give him about a nine foot fall.


“But to build a dam and construct the race would require a tremendous amount of exceedingly hard work, as the upper end of the race would require a stone wall eight feet high and seventy feet long, besides its having to be ten feet wide. But Chapman, nothing daunted, commenced work with a will such as few men possessed and finally accomplished single handed the erection of the dam and the cutting of the race.


“And of course, the next thing was to build the mill. This must have presented a great many difficulties, especially to a man of very limited means. You see in those days Goulds, Vanderbilts and Rockefellers had not come into fashion. Chapman, as compared with most of his brother settlers, was poor. But he went at the mill in the same spirit that carried him through with the dam and the race. He had to be his own carpenter, his own millwright and his own wheelwright, all in one. But he built a mill. ... ‘Tis true that the mill was little more than a shed, but it was a pretty big shed and had to have good flooring, besides something to keep storms out. But thanks to his steady perseverance and determination to succeed, the mill was a fact and ready for grinding.


“... Chapman had acquired seven or eight acres of land adjoining his mill and of the very best in the settlement, as it did not overflow at that time, which enabled him to grow all the vegetables necessary for his family and for a goodly amount of corn besides. The mill was an improvement upon any that had been built, and of course he was kept pretty busy grinding.


“But another necessity confronted him and that was a dwelling house. With characteristic determination he went to work with axes and whip saw and built the house that is still standing, though almost a hundred years old. … It took Chapman a good many years to accomplish all these things, but after they were finished he had a sure, though modest, living in his hands. I do not suppose that it ever occurred to Chapman that he was laying the foundation for a great business in after years, ...


“... When one thinks of the surroundings, the limitless wilderness, with only a bridle path for a road and the impossibility for transportation and the absence of anything to work with and the stupendous undertaking, it seems wonderful that he ever succeeded.


“Chapman ran the mill for a good many years. After Chapman sold he went to merchandising and did fairly well, and left something to his children. Chapman was a good neighbor and a good citizen, having the instincts of a gentleman, if not the culture.”


A Doddridge County Miller

Firmly rooted in Doddridge County by 1830, Warner and Delilah had at least five daughters and four sons before 1844. From Ned’s accounting of Warner Chapman, we learn that he was a very successful miller. Perhaps he had learned the milling trade from his father. I found the following excerpt from the autobiography of Warner’s brother, John B. Chapman:


“He [Warner’s father] erected the first fulling-mill, oil and grist mill, west of the Alleghany Mountains. They were located on a stream known as Davisson’s Run, two miles west from Clarksburg.”

In 1842 Warner obtained a land grant for 330 acres on the waters of the north fork of the Hughes River. This land was located on what was then called Potatoe Run and Gum Run. In August 1850 he was appointed postmaster at the Greenwood post office in Doddridge County. In 1851 Warner obtained another land grant, this time for 74 acres on the north fork of the Hughes River.


Sells Land, Westward Ho!

According to census records, Warner and Delilah were living in Greenwood, Doddridge County, in 1850. The next documentation that I can find for Warner is a prominent display advertisement in the March 24, 1852 issue of Cooper’s Clarksburg Register:


“Ho! for Oregon! The undersigned offers for sale his entire property in Doddridge county, Va., consisting of a FARM STORE and TAVERN STAND, preparatory to starting for Oregon. The Farm contains about 400 acres, about 100 acres of which are cleared. It is situated 36-½ miles west of Clarksburg, 48-½ east of Parkersburg, on the Northwestern Turnpike, and within one mile of where the Railroad must pass. The Tavern Stand and store are desirably situated on the Turnpike.


“I have also several other tracts of UNIMPROVED LAND, which will be sold low for Cash, or anything that will pay a debt. There are several other GOOD IMPROVED FARMS in this section of the country, which I am authorized to sell, one of which is three miles west of mine on the Northwestern Turnpike, of 250 acres, which is the most desirable situation on the road, and known as the “Chapman Farm.” As my object in selling is to pay my debts and emigrate to Oregon, any person wishing to purchase land in Doddridge or Ritchie counties, would do well to give me a call soon.”


In the 1800s, “tavern stands were houses, taverns or inns of first class; no one driving livestock would dare stop there, but instead go to a wagon yard. Unlike a modern tavern of today, these places were often meeting houses used for many purposes such as school houses, town hall meetings, court rooms, and even churches.”  [] What’s a wagon yard? “Many times a trip to and from town was too long to be made in one day, and an overnight stay was required. In that case, one would often put up at a wagon yard. The yard was not unlike the present day camp grounds with cars, campers, and people all congregated together.”  []


Warner Chapman’s Tavern Stand was located at or near Morgans Run, just east of Englands Run. In 1826 Warner had purchased property that had belonged to John Sommerville. On a Virginia Board of Public Works map, dated 1821, John Sommerville’s Tavern was already in operation at that location. To help put this in perspective, the Tavern Stand was located on the Clarksburg-to-Marietta State Road at least sixteen years before the opening of the Northwestern Turnpike in 1837.  


The above newspaper ad confirms that Chapman was still in Doddridge County in March 1852. I also found an ad in a May 1852 newspaper where Chapman is selling his homestead.  This is the last confirmation that I have of Chapman still living in Doddridge County.


We can conclude that Warner Chapman was still alive in March 1858 because Ephraim Bee filed a lawsuit against him that year. But the official documents state that Warner W. Chapman was not an inhabitant of the Commonwealth of Virginia at that time. This seems to indicate that Warner had already moved west by 1858.  But did he?

Fate Unknown, But Leaves Legacy

That lawsuit is the last official record that I can find for Warner Chapman. In the 1860 Census of Knox County, Missouri, his wife Delilah was enumerated as head of household, along with several of their children.  Only one of their children did not move west with the family. Son Stewart L. Chapman (1824-1912) remained in Doddridge, married and raised a family of six children in the vicinity of Grove. Many of his descendants can still be found in and around Doddridge County, including those with surnames Maxwell, DeBrular, Cox, Heaster, McConnell and Chapman.


So did Warner Chapman die shortly after arriving in Missouri or did he even make it that far? According to Minnie Kendall Lowther’s Ritchie County in History and Romance, he is buried in an unmarked grave in the long-abandoned James Marsh (aka Wilson) Cemetery near Toll Gate.  But the same source reports that his wife Delilah is also buried there in an unmarked grave, which is refuted by census and other records. Delilah was still in Missouri as of the 1880 Census, and her headstone (1803-1890) shows her burial there. Hopefully one day I will find conclusive answers to all those questions.


Although Warner W. Chapman lived in Doddridge County less than thirty years, his contributions to the early development of the county were significant and should never be discounted or forgotten. He and others like him were the trailblazing pioneers who tamed the forests, harnessed the waters and carved out a brand new settlement in the midst of a vast wilderness that we now know as Doddridge County.

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