NCTC Cultural History
European Settlement of Terrapin Neck
On June 17, the Van Meter brothers, after petitioning the Virginia Council for land grants for themselves, their many children and diverse relatives, were successful in acquiring a combined 40,000 acre grant from the colonial government of Virginia in the lower Shenandoah Valley. Thirty thousand acres, or 3/4 of the total, were to be located between the “Sherando” and “Operkin” (Shenandoah and Opequon) rivers - clearly well within the Northern Neck Proprietary also claimed by Lord Fairfax. The brothers together were required by the Council to settle themselves and 30 other families within two years to retain title to the acreage. Note that they were not given all the land between the Shenandoah and the Opequon, nor were they required to mark out a single large block of land. On the contrary, they were allowed to mark, survey and sell the best portions to themselves, their friends, and their new settler families, usually in parcels amounting to several hundred acres, until they eventually accumulated 40,000 acres. In short they were given the sole rights to a two-year hunting license for 10,000 acres within the forks of the Shenandoah River (now the heavily wooded upland called Massanutten Mountain, part of the George Washington National Forest, and the flatter land near Front Royal), as well as 30,000 acres bounded by the Shenandoah, Potomac and Opequon rivers. This also meant, of course, that the Van Meters had to be nervous about claiming ownership to land that someone may have already been living on and was willing to defend – other occupants, if any, could decide for themselves whether to purchase a legal title for their claim from the Van Meters during this two-year period. Other potential settlers could also approach the Virginia Council to gain title after the two years were up, and they probably also had to consider dealing with Lord Fairfax’s agents (the text of the Van Meter grant is included in the appendix). John Van Meter, in his rounds as Constable of the Monocosie Hundred in Maryland, no doubt informed all his friends and neighbors of his new land grant, and the wonderful land they could acquire from him across the river in Virginia. The Van Meters and the Virginia Council were fully aware that Fairfax held a claim to the land, well before the petition was heard; in fact, in later legal proceedings, Fairfax pointed out that the Van Meters had approached him first for a grant (Couper 1952). In ignoring the Fairfax claim the Virginia Council and Governor Gooch probably considered it an opportune time to try to solidify their own claim, particularly since the neighboring colonies of Maryland and Pennsylvania were expanding rapidly. As settlers pushed westward in a search for land, legal boundaries in the colonies at this time were routinely redrawn, ignored or became obsolete. In the 40 years that the Proprietary had been in Fairfax hands, the Fairfax family had never shown any inclination to travel to the colony to personally administer their claim, and it was probably fairly easy to ignore the Fairfax agents when they started to complain. True to form, Robert Carter issued a caveat for Fairfax at the time that the Van Meter petition was being considered. (To keep the Fairfax claim alive, Fairfax’s agent Robert Carter issued the first Fairfax grant in the Shenandoah Valley to a member of the Carter family 3 months later on September 22.)
The Van Meter brothers weren’t alone in their petition for land in the lower Shenandoah Valley, as other land speculators were successful in acquiring land grants within the Fairfax Proprietary this year as well - for example the Virginia Council granted 100,000 acres on the other side of the Opequon River in Virginia to Quaker leaders Alexander Ross and Morgan Bryan. Quakers from Pennsylvania and Maryland soon began packing up and moving to Virginia. The Quaker leadership in 1738 admonished them “to keep a friendly correspondence with the native Indians, giving no occasion for offence” and to emulate William Penn’s example by always purchasing new settlements from the natives. They were further reminded that the province of Virginia had “made an agreement with the natives to go as far as the mountains and no farther, and you are over and beyond the mountains, therefore out of that agreement; by which you lie open to the insults and incursions of the Southern Indians...(Kercheval 1833)
Jeremiah York was perhaps the first known permanent settler in the vicinity of present-day NCTC. Tax records show he had been living in Chester County, Pennsylvania since about 1718 (O’Dell 1995), but about 1730 he disappears from the tax rolls there, and he may have moved south into Virginia with a contingent of other settlers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey including the Hite family. At some point prior to 1741 he settled the land within a tight meander of the Cohongoroota several miles north of Packhorse Ford that would soon be called Terrapin Neck.
Joist Hite, 45 years old, having listened to the tales of the open lands in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, decided to sell his property near Philadelphia to a John Pawling for £540 pounds. The Van Meter’s large land grant in Virginia greatly interested him, so Hite and about 16 other families packed up and headed south through the wilderness, widening the old Indian trails where necessary to make room for their heavily laden wagons. He and the Van Meters soon struck a deal (genealogical sources have described Joist as either John Van Meter’s cousin or nephew), and the Van Meter brothers sold him their claim to the 40,000 acres granted them the previous year, possibly because of nervousness over the existing dispute over title, or maybe it had been their plan to sell out all along. John Van Meter was perhaps tired of the added “abuses” that inevitably came along with the administration of land grants and settlers, and was happy to be relieved of the burden, especially when it put money in his pocket. He was nearly 50 years old and had been moving west to the frontier his entire adult life. His younger brother and partner Isaac had decided to stay in New Jersey rather than settle on his grant in Virginia, so Isaac wasn’t going to be much help. (According to fairly well documented family lore, Isaac later returned to Virginia and was killed by Indians during the French and Indian War in 1757.) The land the Van Meters had already patented was also sold to Hite 3 years later in 1734, though they retained and lived on several large parcels in the Shepherdstown area. Hite also had an additional 100,000 acre grant in the Shenandoah Valley issued to him by the Virginia authorities that he shared with a group of partners. Hite already had a head start in attracting the required number of settlers to his land grants with the 16 families who had traveled with him from Philadelphia; they all had lived out of their wagons near the Van Meter cabin and Pack Horse Ford for a year while homes were built about 5 miles south of present-day Winchester on the upper Opequon. Joist and Anna Maria’s children were still fairly young at the time: John was 17, Jacob was 12, Isaac was 10, Abraham was 2, and Joseph was a newborn (Jones et. al 1979). Over the years the Hite and Van Meter families would develop close ties from numerous marriages.
In addition to settling a specified number of families, Hite and his partners were required to have the 140,000 acres surveyed by December 25, 1735 to retain title to the acreage, the Virginia Council having granted a two-year extension to the original Van Meter Orders of Council. Thus began the anxious process of locating and surveying land and finding settlers to reach their quota. After setting up a land office (and operating an inn) south of present-day Winchester, Virginia, in addition to trying to attract new settlers and buyers into their area, the Hites began surveying and selling property to people in the Valley who were already living there, offering a title and a bond on a scrap of paper should the title ever proved defective. In return, the settlers had to pay a base fee, usually £3 pounds per hundred acres (which was six times the price charged by the Northern Neck Proprietary or the Virginia Council), and an annual “quit rent”. This may have been unpopular with some settlers, who probably were familiar with the Fairfax claim and were waiting to work with Fairfax for title. It must have been a bit of a shock to those already living in the area for a newcomer like Hite to appear in their midst holding an exclusive claim to 140,000 acres granted by the Virginia Council, and asking them to purchase the property they lived on from him. The Hites apparently were not particularly well organized and acted more in the manner of traveling land “peddlers”. Lord Baltimore in Maryland and William Penn in Pennsylvania also considered this area as a possible expansion of their grants, and most of the settlers had actually come from those colonies. It would take a great leap of faith to buy land from the Hites. On the other hand, the Hites were in the neighborhood, the settlers could receive what looked like a bona fide title to the land without traveling to Williamsburg, they could pick and choose from among the choicest properties without regard to size or shape, and they were offered a form of title insurance. If a settler also happened to dislike the feudal Lords of Great Britain and their propensity to hand out property to relatives and privileged favorites, a fellow immigrant settler like themselves may have been seen as a more worthy person to conduct business with. Unfortunately, it was later found that the Hites and their partners kept poor records and conducted many shady transactions, including the recording of poor or fictitious surveys, the erasing of names on documents, and the like. Many of their land transactions were little more than a verbal barter of various goods. It was found later that fewer than a third of their supposed buyers actually lived on one large grant. It should be noted that the Hites were not particularly unusual in this regard, many other colonial land speculators had similar problems and solutions to them (Couper 1952).
Robert Carter, Fairfax’s agent in Virginia, died. Fairfax lost an influential and powerful ally within Virginia’s governing Council, though in fact Carter was a mixed blessing, having enriched himself and his heirs with land in the Northern Neck, and leaving administration of the Proprietary in some disarray with his passing (see Brown 1965). At one point, Robert Carter had amassed over 330,000 acres and owned about 1000 slaves (Wiencik 1988, p.13).
Nearer the head of Chesapeake Bay, Lord Baltimore and the Calverts took note of the tide of immigrants coming out of Pennsylvania looking for land. The Treaty of Albany with the natives notwithstanding, the leaders of the Maryland colony, “being desirous to increase the number of honest people within our province,” offered land on very good terms between the Potomac and Susquehanna Rivers in order to capture some of the immigrants heading south into Virginia. A family could get 200 acres for free, with quit rents waived for three years, while single men or women could get 100 acres under the same terms (Md Archives vol. 28, p25-26). The measurement standard for honesty wasn’t mentioned, but probably had something to do with not being an Indian.
Lord Fairfax, still in Great Britain, petitioned the King to stop the colony from issuing grants within his proprietary, and to finally! conduct a survey for a legal description. This was granted. To ensure that this ruling would not be ignored, Lord Fairfax decided to deliver the text of the decree himself by visiting Virginia - that wild backwater colony across the Atlantic - for the first time. Unfortunately for the later settlers on Terrapin Neck, he didn’t arrive in Virginia until two years later.
A young Thomas Swearingen and his wife Sarah sold 68 acres, “part of a tract of land called Forrest lying in Prince George County” he had inherited from his father several years before (O’Dell 1995). It’s unknown if he was thinking about life in Virginia at this time, or whether he was living on his now-patented Fellfoot property south of present-day Keedysville on the Little Antietam, but those new grants available across the river in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia were undoubtedly being discussed by many young men in Maryland. This year the first Hite survey near Terrapin Neck was conducted. On May 30, surveyor Robert Brooke surveyed an 834 acre tract on the Cohongoroota (Potomac) River adjacent to Terrapin Neck between Shepherd Island and the mouth of Rocky Marsh Run (then known as Jones Mill Run). This was surveyed for three partners--Charles Anderson, Indian trader and negotiator from the Monocacy settlements in Maryland, Joseph Mounts, deputy of Constable Van Meter in Maryland, and Josiah Jones, who also had another 164-acre survey in his name alone a few miles upstream “being in the first large bottom below the mouth of Opeckon Creek” (copies of surveys are at Berkeley County Historical Society’s Belle Boyd House in Martinsburg, WV). Jones had lived there long enough to have already built a road and at least started construction on a mill near present-day Scrabble just west of NCTC, but the partners didn’t yet hold legal title to the land. The presence of this mill and several others soon underway in the area about the same time suggests that settlers and grain fields were already becoming common. Anderson, Mounts and Jones probably had claimed this parcel several years before expecting to buy it from their old friends the Van Meters, who were setting up operations on a 1,786-acre parcel several miles to the south along the marshy upper reaches of what was then called Jones Mill Run, but the Van Meters had instead sold out to Joist Hite 3 years before. This was a case where the Hites surveyed 834 acres that were already claimed and occupied, and then sold the occupants the land and provided a title bond in case the title should ever prove defective (Hyman 1996).
Anderson, Mounts and Jones had moved into a wild country that still included significant numbers of bison, elk, bear, beaver, wolves, cougars - and native Americans who traveled frequently through the area along their ancient trails. Much of the lower Shenandoah Valley to the west of Terrapin Neck was a prairie with scattered woodlots; larger woodlands tended to be in the vicinity of rivers and streams and along the ridges bordering the Valley. The rich limestone soils of Terrapin Neck would have tended to grow a mixed oak-hickory forest cover very quickly barring any significant disturbance, just as it does today (the woodland around the NCTC campus was an open pasture in the 1940s!) What did Anderson, Mounts and Jones find so attractive when they claimed this property? You can get some idea of what the Terrapin Neck area looked like by examining the text of their 1734 survey:
1734 Survey near Terrapin Neck
Surveyed for Charles Anderson, Josiah Jones, and Joseph Mounts 834 Acres of Land Beginning at a Walnut Tree Standing at the Mouth of the Said Jones Mill Creek and on the West Side Cohongolooto Riv. And Thence down the Meanders Thereof 413 Poles to a wt. Oak opposite to an Island. Thence on the high land round the Several courses following Viz. So 40 po: to a Hicory. S 38 E 80 po: to a forked wt. Oak. So 26 po: to a large Hicory. S 40 W 183 po: to a bla. oak. N 60 W 46 to a bla. Oak. N 72 po. to a wt. oak on a knowl. N 70W 72 to a bla. Oak. S 50 W 88 to a bla. oak. S 70 W 74 to a large w. Oak. N 75 W 62 po. to a bla: Oak. S 62 W 80 po: to a wt. Oak. S 25 W 80 to a Locust Tree. N 70 W 19 po: to a Hicory. West 66 po: to a wt. Oak by a Spring. S E 80 po: to a wt. oak. NW 26 pole over the Mill Branch to a Walnut Tree beyond a Meadow. N35 E 40 po: to a Hicory. N 20 E 240 to a wt. Oak. And Thence N 40 W 230 pole to the Beginning This 30th day of May 1734.
The island referred to above is now known as Shepherd Island, the Cohongoloota (various spellings) refers to the original name of the Potomac River, and Jones Mill Creek is now known as Rocky Marsh Run. A pole is 16.5 feet. Note that these same tree species are still commonly found on NCTC property. The Berkeley County Historical Society recently placed the “Jones Mill” site on the National Register of Historic Places - today a sign marks the site near present day Scrabble. The eastern portion of this 1734 patent is now occupied by NCTC.
The pattern seen in these early surveys shows that the new settlers, who could still pick from among the choicest properties, chose sites that contained a spring or stream, had access to river transportation routes, and were probably open enough to allow quick establishment of crops and grazing for their livestock; why spend months or years cutting down trees or burning out stumps if you don’t have to? They would have wanted plenty of trees nearby, though, for building cabins, barns and other structures, as well as for firewood. The trees in the above survey, therefore, would not likely have been part of a continuous closed-canopy oak-hickory forest, but perhaps were contained within thinly scattered woodlots, or along the edges of larger forest patches. Fire, and grazing by herds of elk and buffalo were likely the primary means of retaining open sites on the rich soils near Terrapin Neck prior to - and during - the settlement by Europeans. The strange shape of the Anderson, Mounts and Jones survey shows their strategy of minimizing the amount of land they had to pay for, but maximizing the land area that they could utilize, by acquiring the water resources- including all the major springs- in the area. Another settler was unlikely to take up land next door and begin complaining about cattle trespass and wood removal unless there was a reliable source of water available. (This was still a common strategy used by settlers in the American west in the 19th century as well; by claiming the 160 acres around a spring, homesteaders could potentially have at their disposal many thousands of acres of semi-arid land). The 834-acre tract was patented the same year by Richard Poulson, Mounts and Jones, who within several years began subdividing and selling portions of it. (A Richard Polson is listed as a taxable in the Monocosie Hundred in 1733, and is probably the same man, considering the number of other people in the Terrapin Neck area associated with the Monocacy River settlements.) The patent signed by Governor Gooch of the Virginia colony gave them a very strong legal claim of ownership to the property; they had achieved the goal of many of the early immigrants by acquiring a patented tract of land. Why did Poulson take the place of Anderson on the patent? After all, Anderson’s Indian trading post partner Israel Friend had also taken up land nearby along both sides of the river south of present-day Shepherdstown, probably in the 1720s. (Friend’s title to the Maryland land apparently came from several generous Indian chiefs who considered him their friend - see Diller, undated. Thomas Swearingen would be executor of Friend’s will in 1749). Anderson and Israel Friend were both descended from a Swedish Lutheran colony - New Sweden - along the Delaware River. And since Anderson’s middle name was Mounts, one can assume he was closely related to deputy Joseph Mounts, one of the other patentees. (A Christopher Mounts, also related, had acted as an Indian interpreter for the Maryland Council back in August of 1700, further evidence that the Mounts and Anderson families had had several generations of frontier interactions with Native Americans, and may have derived a substantial portion of their incomes from these relationships - Md Archives v25, p.104). Anderson may have been nervous over the Hite / Fairfax land dispute, and perhaps an agrarian lifestyle was ultimately unsuitable to someone who had spent so many years as an Indian trader on the frontier, and land speculation was his only real interest in the Virginia property. It could also have something to do with the fact that Anderson was in the Orange County, Virginia “gaol” by September 1735 for the murder of David Hopkins (O’Dell 1995), the charges brought by one Morgan Morgan and several other prominent early settlers in the area.
Robert Brooke completed several other surveys for the Hites in the area the same year (copies of these surveys are located at the Berkeley County Historical Society’s Belle Boyd House in Martinsburg, WV). In April, he surveyed 210 acres for Richard Morgan just north of present-day Shepherdstown. (This parcel was purchased by Van Swearingen 10 years later, and Thomas Swearingen, Jr. would eventually marry Morgan’s daughter). Brooke also surveyed a tract for a Welton in the same area. Later in October Brooke came back and surveyed 222 acres for Thomas Shepherd and his new wife Elizabeth Van Meter (who was related to the Hites - a relationship that likely played a factor in later legal proceedings on Terrapin Neck), to which Shepherd added a gristmill and sawmill some time later. Twenty years later part of this tract would be laid out into the town lots of Mecklenburg (Shepherdstown). The Morgan, Welton and Shepherd families, all of Welsh origin, had divided up and were utilizing the water resources of what is now referred to as Town Run and its small upstream, spring-fed tributaries, one of which begins in present-day Morgan’s Grove Park.
The community of Shepherdstown has been referred to by a number of names over the years. From the 1720s to the 1750s it was commonly referred to as Pack Horse Ford, in reference to the ancient river crossing about a mile south of the present community. For a time it was called Swearingen’s Ferry, after Thomas Swearingen started a ferry in 1755. After 1762 it was legally known as Mecklenburg, or Maclinborough, using a variety of spellings. By the time of the Revolutionary War it was more commonly referred to as Shepherds Town. This name was given official sanction by the state authorities in 1798 (Dandridge 1910).
The Swearingen brothers of Maryland, Thomas and Van, were likely exploring the Virginia side of the river at this time. The actual date of one or both of the brothers living full time on the Virginia side of the Potomac is unknown, but was most likely in the early 1740s. Thomas with his wife Sarah bought and sold several properties in Maryland between 1732 and 1744. By 1734 Thomas had patented his Fellfoot property near Keedysville, Maryland, was married and 26 years old. He was 11 years older than his brother Van, who was then a 15-year-old teenager. Thomas was probably the dominant male figure in Van’s early life, as their father had died 8 years before. They likely had spent considerable time with their uncle Van Swearingen and his family who eventually established a home a few miles north of present-day Sharpsburg, not far from Thomas Swearingen’s Fellfoot property on the Little Antietam (young Van would marry his first cousin from this family later). The Swearingen family had been involved with Maryland colonial politics and land use issues for several generations. Their great-grandfather’s home in the then state capital of St. Mary’s City at the mouth of the Potomac River was used as a meeting place for writing many of the early Maryland laws; he had served as Sheriff for a time, and ran a lodging and coffee house for the colony’s leaders and merchants. The family was originally from Holland but became British citizens after arrival in the New World. Later generations were pragmatic in their choice of religious affiliation, abandoning Catholicism in the face of certain persecution by the colonial authorities of Maryland who wielded power through the Anglican Church. They eventually became moderately wealthy slave owners and undoubtedly were involved with the growing of tobacco on their lands. Each generation moved further up from the mouth of the Potomac River, and Van’s father and uncles had several plantations near present-day Washington DC and Frederick, Maryland (see http://www.genforum.genealogy.com/swearingen/)
Lord Fairfax, still in Great Britain, hired his cousin William Fairfax as his agent in Virginia.
There was by this time a busy wagon road from Conestoga, Pennsylvania to near present-day Winchester, Virginia available for settlers to use. By 1741 a road from near present-day Williamsport, Maryland to Winchester, Virginia was being actively worked on, and not too long afterward settlers could travel by wagon from Philadelphia all the way to the Carolinas on a road now known as the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road. In crossing the Potomac, they could choose to ford near present-day Williamsport, Maryland, or cross at Pack Horse Ford a mile south of Thomas Shepherd’s property. A 1734 survey in Virginia also showed a ferry operating just south of Pack Horse Ford near the mouth of Antietam Creek on the Maryland side of the Potomac to Knott Island on the Virginia side, which seems to have been associated with the new iron industry developing on or near Israel Friend’s property. This would soon become the thriving mining and iron-producing town of Antietam, built near the ore deposit near the mouth of the creek of the same name. The ferry may have also been used by the occasional settler or traveler wishing to keep their feet dry. The colony of Virginia required public ferry operators to be licensed by an act of the Virginia Assembly, but there are no records of a licensed ferry operation here at the time. The commercial possibilities were probably just beginning to be realized as hundreds of newly-arrived immigrants, both German and Scotch-Irish, were spreading out across Pennsylvania and traveling south along the wagon road west of the Blue Ridge down into the Shenandoah Valley. It has been estimated that 85% of the settlers moving into what became Frederick County, Virginia came from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and northern Maryland (O’Dell 1995).
In May Lord Fairfax finally arrived in the Virginia colony for the first time to deliver the decree from the King to stop issuing patents within his Proprietary. You can imagine the stir in Williamsburg and the thoughts of those who had purchased property within the Fairfax claim. It was one thing to ignore a Lord on the other side of the ocean, but a different thing entirely when he was in town with an entourage and a handful of documents bearing the King’s seal. Fairfax and his agents immediately began to make plans for a survey of his Proprietary.
By July, mill owner Josiah Jones, one of the new owners of the patented tract near Terrapin Neck, was dead, leaving behind a wife and two children. His widow was ordered to appear in court to explain what she planned to do with her portion of the estate, including the mill. By September, Charles Anderson, one of the men named on the original survey for the property that became NCTC, was in jail for murder. The charges were eventually dropped, and Anderson moved to Oldtown further up the Potomac (O’Dell 1995). If slaves could find a refuge there with the Indians, perhaps he could too.
December 25 of this year marked the end of the Hite’s 4-year period for legally surveying land to include in their grant. It seems they tried to sneak in at least one more survey, as will be seen - the deadline had been extended several times in the past so they seem to have assumed that it would be extended again whenever the assembly got a chance to take up the issue.
In January, a Jonathon Simmons bought about 315 acres on the eastern side of the Poulson, Mounts and Jones patent (now the Springwood portion of NCTC) from Joseph Mounts for 30 pounds (Orange County DB 2, p. 385). Richard Poulson was living there at the time near the island (O’Dell 1995). It is unknown if Simmons lived on his new property after the purchase, but it seems likely.
A Hite survey of 1200 acres including all of Terrapin Neck east of and adjacent to Jonathon Simmons new place was (probably) surveyed on May 21; note that this took place 6 months after the Hite deadline. (A map of this survey is located for the year 1777 later in this document). A John Browning received a title bond of 200 pounds from the Hites almost 6 months later on November 6th for this property, suggesting that the survey was not conducted at the behest of Mr. Browning, but was undertaken by the Hites on behalf of someone else or with the hope of eventually finding someone to buy it. According to Virginia law Browning was then legally required to settle on Terrapin Neck to retain title - he never did, but instead seems to have lived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for the remainder of his life. The surveyor hired by the Hites on Terrapin Neck was James Wood, surveyor for Orange County, and later there is some controversy over whether he surveyed the previous November 10, as was alleged in court later by the Hites (albeit with no supporting documentation), or whether the survey was conducted on the date it was written in his log book, which was the following May 21 (Hyman 1996). Wood went on to later become the first clerk of the new court in Frederick County, and is known as the founder of Winchester, Virginia. The Swearingens and other landowners on the Neck would later have to deal with him on numerous occasions over the years with militia matters and getting their land transactions recorded.
Why was a non-resident John Browning able to purchase this 1200-acre tract on Terrapin Neck, rather than the people who were (probably) living there? Assuming that Jeremiah York actually did settle there after 1730 (he disappears from Pennsylvania records after 1729, and is mentioned as living on Terrapin Neck by at least 1741 in a later court deposition by Anthony Turner, who came to the area in 1740 as a boy - see Chalkley vol. 2, p.95), and making a further assumption that later repeated court testimony was correct in showing that Browning never settled Terrapin Neck, we can speculate the following. Jeremiah York and perhaps others who were living on Terrapin Neck at the time were either 1) ignored by the Hites and not consulted about purchasing the land they lived on - this seems unlikely because of the surveys done by Brooke in the area in 1734, or more likely, 2) York refused or did not pursue a Hite survey and patent, possibly because of the invalid survey after December 25, or knowledge of the Fairfax claim and Fairfax’s recent visit to Virginia, or some other falling out with the Hites--and the Hites ignored York’s “tomahawk rights” and sold it to Browning despite it already being occupied. York was under no obligation to buy from the Hites; remember the Hites were allowed to distribute only a maximum of 30,000 acres between the Shenandoah and the Opequon rivers with a December 1735 deadline. York could very well have been waiting to pursue a grant directly from the Virginia Council and Governor Gooch, or from Lord Fairfax (he did receive a Fairfax grant for the land finally in 1751). Since he was from Pennsylvania, he likely felt a closer kinship with the German Protestant community, rather than the group he was surrounded by including the Van Meters, Shepherds, Poulsons, Mounts, and Jones that had come out of the Monocacy River settlements in Maryland; he may even have been part of the contingent that traveled with the Hites during their trek from Pennsylvania in 1731. It’s possible that York was unaware that he was even in a contest for ownership, since there are no records of York filing a caveat or seeking any other legal redress from the Hite sale of his claim, but for now he had the rather ignoble status, in the eyes of the law, as that of a “squatter”; that is, if the Hite survey was declared valid and the Brownings should ever press their claim to ownership.
Even if York and others had begun negotiating with Hite over a land purchase, the issue was rendered moot--the Hites and other speculators and settlers were prevented from patenting any more property between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers because of a Fairfax lawsuit about this time. This lawsuit effectively eliminated any settler’s ability to acquire a clear legal title to land between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers for at least the next 15 years.
Progress was made in describing the boundary of the Fairfax claim: the long-awaited search for the headwaters of the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers, which would define the boundaries of Fairfax’s Northern Neck Proprietary, started in October and took about 9 weeks. The commission had two “teams”, being composed of members representing both Fairfax and the Virginia Council. After completion of their arduous survey, another year was spent drafting their separate reports and maps.
There were still some disputes between agents of the Virginia Council and the Fairfax team, so the results of the 1736 survey of the Proprietary were carried to England for a decision. Lord Fairfax agreed to honor all Crown grants issued by the Virginia Council within his Proprietary, including the Van Meter/Hite grants. The Terrapin Neck area was now included in the new county of Frederick, Virginia, there now being enough people in the lower Shenandoah Valley to warrant a court house of their own. Thomas Shepherd petitioned the Orange County, Virginia Court about this time, requesting to be discharged as “Constable Sherundo” as soon as Richard Morgan was sworn in his place (O’Dell 1995); in October Shepherd was also paid a bounty of 14 shillings for a wolf’s head by certificate of Richard Morgan (FC VA Court Journal, in Smyth 1909).
From the time of the first settlements in the New World, Europeans had a strong interest in American flora and fauna, with many wealthy gentlemen becoming avid collectors. By this year John Clayton of Gloucester County, Virginia produced the first taxonomic work from America, entitled Flora Virginica.
Joist Hite’s wife Anna Maria died at 52 years of age. Joist remarried two years later to Maria Magdalena, widow of his late friend Christian Neuschwanger. Their marriage included a prenuptial agreement specifying that she would provide love, obedience, cattle, money and other household stuff, in return for love, faithfulness and a home (Jones et. al 1979).
John Browning died on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He willed “his” 1200-acre Terrapin Neck tract in Virginia, sold to him 5 years before by the Hites, to his three children: George, Nicholas, and Rosamond (she eventually married a William Keating). Luckily for Jeremiah York, there are no records of John Browning attempting to settle or press his claim to Terrapin Neck, but he apparently considered it valuable enough to pass on to his children. It would be more than 40 years before their heirs suddenly took an interest in the property again, as will be seen.
Peter Beller, a German shoemaker (wooden clogs?), and his wife Catherine, with 6-year old son Jacob were living on the patented property Jonathon Simmons had purchased 6 years previously near Terrapin Neck (now the Springwood portion of NCTC). They eventually purchased the property from Jonathon Simmons - but the transaction wasn’t recorded at the courthouse until sometime after Simmons death four years later (FCDB 4, p.121-123). Beller may have lived in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with Dunkers around 1728, and followed a common German settlement pattern by continuing south into the Shenandoah Valley. There were other German Protestant groups settling just to the west on the other side of the Opequon River, an area off-limits to the Hites. Many German settlers preferred to continue on toward North Carolina in order to avoid the contentious land ownership disputes between Hite and Fairfax, and others (Couper 1952). Beller probably followed the typical German style of growing crops and animal husbandry, and likely had a cabin and a barn on the property that would become NCTC (see chapter in Kercheval 1833).
Van Swearingen, 24, married his 21 year old first cousin Sarah Swearingen. Sarah and her family had likely been living about 5 miles north of Terrapin Neck across the river in Maryland by this time, not far from Thomas Swearingen’s Fellfoot property south of Keedysville where Van had likely resided with his brother. Van and Sarah’s children eventually include:
Josiah - b. 28 March, 1744, oldest son
Rebecca - b. 2 Oct 1745 (she apparently died young)
Hezekiah - b. 7 Feb 1747
Luranna - b. 13 Nov. 1748
Drusilla - b. 29 Oct 1750
Thomas - b. 22 Nov 1752
Indian claims and complaints now being entirely ignored, settlement of the riverside land in Maryland across from Thomas Shepherd’s little community on the Potomac had been proceeding steadily for almost a decade, with several surveys already completed in the area now known as Ferry Hill. John Van Meter hired a survey for a 160 acre tract on the Potomac on the Maryland side of the river known as Pell Mell, which was just northeast of an adjacent tract downstream already surveyed and patented known as Antietam Bottom. Van Meter instructed the surveyor Joseph Chapline not to mark the western corner of Pell Mell - a black walnut tree on the riverbank - until after the lines of Antietam Bottom (patented in 1739 by John Moore) were known, so there wouldn’t be any controversy over the boundary. Unfortunately the walnut tree was never marked and sure enough it later caused a lot of controversy (Fred. Cty Md DB J, p 939, deposition of Joseph Chapline).
The newlywed Van Swearingens bought a 210 acre Hite-surveyed, patented tract from Richard Morgan for 110 pounds just north of the Pack Horse Ford community (now part of the Cress Creek development), which became their first family residence in Virginia (FCDB 1, p.116). The deed refers to Richard Morgan as a “Gentleman”, while Van is described as a “Farmer”. Van’s older brother Thomas would acquire an adjacent 478 acres from a Fairfax grant six years later, site of a conspicuous circle of raised earth used by the native Indians sometime in the past (Kercheval 1833), that later became known as the Bellevue property. Local folklore includes the tale of a Delaware Indian chief who was supposedly captured in the vicinity by enemy Catawba Indians, and buried alive near the spring on what became the Swearingen estate. The spring on the property spurts instead of flows, according to the tale, because of the beating heart of the buried chief (Heatwole 1995). Thomas established a ferry across the Potomac on this property by 1755, and eventually owned plantations on both sides of the Potomac River.
Although there are no records that describe the lifestyle of the new Swearingen plantations in Virginia, from descriptions of common practices at the time we can surmise that the children, many of the household chores, as well as the farm animals and crops, were all attended to by slaves. Tobacco and other crops and animals were grown and sold for profit, but much of the land--and much of the effort--would necessarily have been directed toward the growing of corn, wheat, hogs, sheep, and beef, which formed the basis of their subsistence. Tobacco was the currency of choice for paying taxes and fines for several decades in colonial Virginia. The financial system then prevalent has been likened to growing cash in your back yard. Landowners were assessed not only on real estate, but also on personal property such as horses and slaves. By Virginia law, planters were required to transport tobacco to a public inspection warehouse located in each county. Planters storing tobacco at the warehouse were given a receipt, which could be used as legal tender. Col. James Wood, clerk of the new Frederick County, in his Virginia Fee Book for 1744 recorded the Tobacco Assessment for selected settlers in the Terrapin Neck area as shown in Table 1.
Even though Van Swearingen was a “Farmer” and Richard Morgan was a “Gentleman”, Van appears to have nearly double the property worth taxing compared to Morgan, and even was assessed a higher fee than his neighbors the Van Meters. He owned only 222 acres, suggesting much of his wealth may have been in slaves and livestock. This list is missing some important people connected with the Terrapin Neck - Pack Horse Ford area at the time, such as Thomas Shepherd, who owned hundreds of acres of patented land, a gristmill and perhaps a sawmill by this time (a John Shepherd is assessed 122 lbs. and is the only Shepherd on the list, which suggests this may have actually been Thomas?), and Thomas Swearingen, who would own a mill, much land, and a ferry operation in the years to come. Why is Van assessed but not his older brother? Thomas Swearingen was more than likely still living a few miles away across the river in Maryland on his Fellfoot property south of present-day Keedysville. Thomas had been buying and selling land in Maryland since 1732, and had sold land in Maryland as recently as 1744 (although he takes in some orphans associated with Jones Mill in Virginia the following year.) Terrapin Neck settlers also missing from the list include Jeremiah York - or anyone named Browning. The clerk of court, James Wood, may have known that York did not hold a patent to the land he (probably) lived on in Terrapin Neck, since it was Wood himself who had conducted the land survey there for the Hites 10 years before. It is unknown why the Browning heirs were not assessed instead, unless the ownership question between Hite and Fairfax placed these people on a separate list. Did Frederick County assess only those who held a patented tract in 1744, or did Wood keep a separate list for those living on unpatented land? Researcher Kerns also noted some prominent individuals missing from the list for the Cacapon area for this year as well, and speculated that some settlers were too new to have come to the attention of the County authorities, or perhaps part of the Fee Book was missing. At any rate, this list strongly suggests that tobacco was a significant crop grown in the Terrapin Neck area at the time, though of course they didn’t have to grow tobacco, and may have bartered other goods to acquire enough tobacco to pay their assessments.
Another Indian Treaty was negotiated this year, called the Treaty of Lancaster. Indian negotiators, again led by the Iroquois who claimed to speak for all the tribes of the mid-Atlantic region, at first strongly asserted their claim for lands west of the Blue Ridge by right of conquest (not by settlement, because there hadn’t been any permanent native settlements in this area for some time), but ultimately signed over their rights to all lands between the Blue Ridge and Ohio River for £400 pounds. They were still allowed to travel their Indian Road between New York and the Carolinas, now roughly the route of Interstate 81 (see Md Archives v28, p336). This would now allow the legal settlement of the Maryland side of the River across from Shepherdstown, at least in terms of having accommodated (at least one of) the tribes.