Berkeley County History
Berkeley County was created by an act of the House of Burgesses in February 1772 from the northern third of Frederick County (Virginia). At the time of the county's formation it also consisted of the areas that make up the present-day Jefferson and Morgan counties. Most historians believe that the county was named for Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt (1718-1770), Colonial Governor of Virginia from 1768 to 1770. West Virginia's Blue Book, for example, indicates that Berkeley County was named in his honor. He served as a colonel in England's North Gloucestershire militia in 1761, and represented that division of the county in parliament until he was made a peer in 1764. He claimed the title of Baron Botetourt as the lineal descendant of Sir Maurice de Berkeley, who died in 1347. Having incurred heavy gambling debts, he solicited a government appointment, and in July 1768, was made governor of Virginia. In 1769, he reluctantly dissolved the Virginia General Assembly after it adopted resolutions opposing parliament's replacement of requisitions with parliamentary taxes as a means of generating revenue and a requirement that the colonists send accused criminals to England for trial. Despite his differences with the General Assembly, Norborne Berkeley was well-respected by the colonists, especially after he sent parliament letters encouraging it to repeal the taxes. When parliament refused to rescind the taxes, Governor Berkeley requested to be recalled. In appreciation of his efforts on their behalf, the colonists erected a monument to his memory which currently stands in Williamsburg, and two counties were later named in his honor, Berkeley in present-day West Virginia and Botetourt in Virginia.
Other historians claim that Berkeley County may have been named in honor of Sir William Berkeley (1610-1677). He was born near London, graduated from Oxford University in 1629, and was appointed Governor of Virginia in 1642. He served as Governor until 1652 and was later reappointed Governor in 1660. He continued to serve as Virginia's Governor until 1677 when he was called back to England. He died later that year, on July 9, 1677.
The First Settlers
The Mound Builders, also known as the Adena people, were the first known settlers in present-day West Virginia's eastern panhandle region (Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan counties). Remnants of the Mound Builder's civilization have been found throughout West Virginia, with a high concentration of artifacts in Moundsville, West Virginia (Marshall County). The Grave Creek Indian Mound, located in Moundsville, is one of West Virginia's most famous historic landmarks. More than 2,000 years old, it stands 69 feet high and 295 feet in diameter.
According to missionary reports, several thousand Hurons occupied present-day West Virginia, including the eastern panhandle region, during the late 1500s and early 1600s. During the 1600s the Iroquois Confederacy (then consisting of the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Seneca tribes) drove the Hurons from the state. The Iroquois Confederacy was headquartered in New York and was not interested in occupying present-day West Virginia. Instead, they used it as a hunting ground during the spring and summer months.
During the early 1700s, West Virginia's eastern panhandle region was inhabited by the Tuscarora. They eventually migrated northward into New York and, in 1712, became the sixth nation to be formally admitted into the Iroquois Confederacy. The eastern panhandle region was also used as a hunting ground by several other Indian tribes, including the Shawnee (also known as the Shawanese) who resided near present-day Winchester, Virginia and Moorefield, West Virginia until 1754 when they migrated into Ohio. The Mingo, who resided in the Tygart Valley and along the Ohio River in present-day West Virginia's northern panhandle region, and the Delaware, who lived in present-day eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, but had several autonomous settlements as far south as present-day Braxton County, also used the area as a hunting ground.
The Mingo were not actually an Indian tribe, but a multi-cultural group of Indians that established several communities within present-day West Virginia. They lacked a central government and, like all other Indians within the region at that time, were subject to the control of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Mingo originally lived closer to the Atlantic Coast, but European settlement pushed them into western Virginia and eastern Ohio.
The Seneca, headquartered in western New York, was the closest member of the Iroquois Confederacy to West Virginia, and took great interest in the state. In 1744, the Seneca boasted to Virginia officials that they had conquered the several nations living on the back of the great mountains of Virginia. Among the conquered nations were the last of the Canawese or Conoy people who became incorporated into the Iroquois communities in New York. The Conoy continue to be remembered today through the naming of two of West Virginia's largest rivers after them, the Little Kanawha and the Great Kanawha.
Seneca war parties, and war parties from other members of the Iroquois Confederacy, often traveled through the state to protect its claim to southern West Virginia from the Cherokee. The Cherokee were headquartered in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee and rivaled the Iroquois nation in both size and influence. The Cherokee claimed present-day southern West Virginia as their own, setting the stage for conflict with the Iroquois Confederacy.
In 1744, Virginia officials purchased the Iroquois title of ownership to West Virginia in the Treaty of Lancaster. The treaty reduced the Iroquois Confederacy's presence in the state. During the mid-1700s, the English indicated to the various Indian tribes residing in present-day West Virginia that they intended to settle the frontier. The French, on the other hand, were more interested in trading with the Indians than settling in the area. This influenced the Mingo to side with the French during the French and Indian War (1755-1763). Although the Iroquois Confederacy officially remained neutral, many in the Iroquois Confederacy also allied with the French. Unfortunately for them, the French lost the war and ceded their North American possessions to the British.
Following the war, the Mingo retreated to their homes along the banks of the Ohio River and were rarely seen in the eastern panhandle region. Although the French and Indian War was officially over, many Indians continued to view the British as a threat to their sovereignty and continued to fight them. In the summer of 1763, Pontiac, an Ottawa chief, led raids on key British forts in the Great Lakes region. Shawnee chief Keigh-tugh-qua, also known as Cornstalk, led similar attacks on western Virginia settlements, starting with attacks in present-day Greenbrier County and extending northward to Bath, now known as Berkeley Springs, and into the northern Shenandoah Valley. By the end of July, Indians had destroyed or captured all British forts west of the Alleghenies except Fort Detroit, Fort Pitt, and Fort Niagara. The uprisings were ended on August 6, 1763 when British forces, under the command of Colonel Henry Bouquet, defeated Delaware and Shawnee forces at Bushy Run in western Pennsylvania.
Although hostilities had ended, England's King George III feared that more tension between Native Americans and settlers was inevitable. In an attempt to avert further bloodshed, he issued the Proclamation of 1763, prohibiting settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. The next five years were relatively peaceful on the frontier. However, many land speculators violated the proclamation by claiming vast acreage in western Virginia. In 1768, the Iroquois Confederacy (often called the Six Nations) and the Cherokee signed the Treaty of Hard Labour and the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, relinquishing their claims on the territory between the Ohio River and the Alleghenies to the British. With the frontier now open, settlers, once again, began to enter into present-day West Virginia.
During the spring of 1774 there were several incidents between the Shawnee and surveying parties traveling within present-day West Virginia which resulted in the deaths of several surveyors and Indians. Captain Michael Cresap led efforts to put down the Indian uprising, leading to what some called "Cresap's War." The most serious encounter took place in April 1774. Although there are conflicting accounts over what occurred, most accounts indicate that several Indians stole some property from white settlers near present-day Wheeling. In retaliation, several settlers from the area, led by Daniel Greathouse, an associate of Cresap's, followed their trail and came upon two Indians on the north side of the Ohio River. Believing them to be the thieves, the settlers killed them. The next day, April 30, 1774, the settlers found four Indians at a local tavern owned by Joshua Baker. The tavern was located on the southern side of the Ohio River across from the mouth of Yellow Creek which enters the Ohio River several miles above present-day Wheeling. After getting the Indians drunk, the settlers killed them as well. Four more Indians approached the tavern inquiring about the whereabouts of the missing Indians, among them was the brother and pregnant sister of Logan, the now-famous Mingo Indian Chief. The settlers killed them as well, and, reportedly, mutilated Logan's sister's body. After learning of his brother and sister's deaths, Logan led a series of attacks on settlements along the upper Monongahela River and in the neighborhood of Redstone Creek, where the settlers who committed the killings originated. Logan later admitted to killing at least thirteen settlers that summer. He was convinced that Michael Cresap was responsible for his brother's murder and the killing and mutilation of his sister, but it was later determined that Cresap was not responsible.
Following what the Indians referred to as the Yellow Creek Massacre, violence between settlers and the various Indian tribes spread across western Virginia. Virginia Governor John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, decided to end the Indian uprising by force. He formed two armies. He led the first army, which was comprised of 1,700 men drawn primarily from the upper Shenandoah Valley, including present-day West Virginia's eastern panhandle region. Colonel Andrew Lewis led the second army. It was comprised of 800 men, drawn primarily from the lower Shenandoah Valley. The two armies marched into western Virginia to meet the Indians, which was led by Shawnee chieftain Keigh-tugh-qua, also known as Cornstalk. Lord Dunmore's army took a more northerly route through present-day West Virginia and Colonel Lewis' army took a more southerly route. Aware of their presence, the Indians, comprised of approximately 1,200 Shawnee, Delaware, Mingo, Wyandotte and Cayuga warriors, decided to attack Lewis' army on October 10, 1774. They hoped to defeat Colonel Lewis' army before it united with Lord Dunmore's army. The attack took place at the confluence of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers, at present-day Point Pleasant, in Mason County. During the battle, both sides suffered significant losses.
Although nearly half of Lewis' commissioned officers were killed during the battle, including his brother, Colonel Charles Lewis, and seventy-five of his non-commissioned officers, the Indians were forced to retreat back to their settlements in Ohio's Scioto Valley, with Lewis's men in pursuit. Meanwhile, Lord Dunmore arrived and joined forces with Lewis. Seeing that they were outnumbered, Cornstalk sued for peace.
Although western Virginia's settlers continued to experience isolated Indian attacks for several years, Cornstalk's defeat at Point Pleasant was the beginning of the end of the Indian presence in western Virginia. The Indians agreed to give up all of their white prisoners, restore all captured horses and other property, and not to hunt south of the Ohio River. They also agreed to stop harassing boats on the Ohio River. This opened up present-day West Virginia and Kentucky for settlement. Cornstalk was later killed at Fort Randolph near Point Pleasant in 1777 in retaliation for the death of a militiaman who was killed by an Indian.
During the American Revolutionary War (1776-1783), the Mingo and Shawnee, headquartered at Chillicothe, Ohio, allied themselves with the British. In 1777, a party of 350 Wyandots, Shawnees and Mingos, armed by the British, attacked Fort Henry, near present-day Wheeling. Nearly half of the soldiers manning the fort were killed in the three-day assault. The Indians then left the area celebrating their victory. For the remainder of the war, smaller raiding parties of Mingo, Shawnee, and other Indian tribes terrorized settlers throughout northern and eastern West Virginia. As a result, European settlement throughout present-day West Virginia, including the eastern panhandle, came to a virtual standstill until the war's conclusion.
Following the war, the Mingo and Shawnee, once again allied with the losing side, returned to their homes. As the number of settlers in present-day West Virginia began to grow, both the Mingo and Shawnee moved further inland, leaving their traditional hunting ground to the white settlers.
Berkeley County's European Settlers
In 1670, John Lederer, a German physician and explorer employed by Sir William Berkeley, colonial governor of Virginia, became the first European to set foot in present-day Berkeley County. John Howard and his son also passed through present-day Berkeley County a few years later, and discovered the valley of the South Branch of the Potomac. The next known explorer to traverse the county was John Van Meter in 1725. He came across the Potomac River, at what is now known as Shepherdstown, then he made his way to the South Branch River. When he returned to his home in New York, Van Meter advised his sons to purchase land in the area.
In 1726, Morgan Morgan, II moved from Delaware and founded the first permanent English settlement of record in West Virginia on Mill Creek near the present-day Bunker Hill in Berkeley County. The state of West Virginia erected a monument in Bunker Hill commemorating the event, and placed a marker at Morgan's grave, which is located in a cemetery near the park. Morgan Morgan and his wife, Catherine Garretson, had eight children. His son later founded present-day Morgantown, West Virginia.
In 1730, John and Isaac Van Meter, two of John Van Meter's sons, secured a patent for forty thousand acres at the South Branch River, much of it located in present-day Berkeley County, from Virginia's Colonial Governor Gooch. The brothers sold the land the following year to Hans Yost Heydt, also known as Joist Hite. In 1732, Joist Hite and fifteen families set out from York, Pennsylvania, passed through present-day Berkeley County, and settled near present-day Winchester, Virginia. In 1774, John Van Meter moved to a site near Moorefield, then part of Berkeley County, but now in present-day Hardy County. His brother, Isaac Van Meter, settled further to the west.
Important Events in Berkeley County during the 1700s
In 1716, Governor Alexander Spotswood, the colonial governor of Virginia, organized what he called the Trans-Mountain Order, or the "Knights of the Golden Horseshoe" in Williamsburg, then Virginia's capitol, to explore the Shenandoah Valley. Thirty men accompanied him on the journey. All of them were provided a miniature horseshoe with the inscription "Sic jurat transcudere montes," meaning "Thus he swears to cross the mountains." They reached the base of the Appalachian Mountains on the eighth day of their journey and climbed to the top of a high peak. When they reached the top they drank to King George's health. Although the expedition did not lead to the area's immediate settlement, it became part of local folk lore and later inspired the annual Golden Horseshoe Test of West Virginia's history which has been administered in West Virginia's schools each year since 1931, and is the longest running program of its kind in any state. The top-scoring students in each county receive the prestigious Golden Horseshoe award and are inducted as "knights" and "ladies" of the Golden Horseshoe Society.
In 1748, George Washington, then just sixteen years old, surveyed present-day Berkeley County for Lord Fairfax. He later returned to Bath (Berkeley Springs) several times over the next several years with his half-brother, Lawrence, who was ill and hoped that the warm springs might improve his health. The springs, and their rumored medicinal benefits, attracted numerous Indians as well as Europeans to the area.
In April 1754, Colonel Joshua Fry and his second-in-command, Lieutenant Colonel George Washington, led a force of nearly 400 Virginians, many of them from the eastern panhandle region, toward Fort Duquesne in an attempt to drive the French from the area. Washington and about forty of his men reached Great Meadows, in present-day Farmington, Pennsylvania, in late May 1754 and surprised an encampment of thirty-four French soldiers. Ten of the French soldiers were killed, one was wounded, twenty-one were taken prisoner, and one escaped and headed for the main French garrison at Fort Duquesne. Anticipating a counter-attack, Washington ordered the construction of a circular palisaded fort which he named Fort Necessity. Meanwhile, Colonel Fry was killed in a separate engagement, leaving Washington in command. Over the next several weeks, the rest of the Virginia command made its way to Fort Necessity. On July 3, 1754, approximately 600 French soldiers, accompanied by about 100 Indians, attacked the Fort. After exchanging gun fire throughout the day, Washington, realizing that he was outnumbered and surrounded, agreed to surrender Fort Necessity. The following day he marched out of the Fort and led his men back toward Virginia. The French then burned Fort Necessity and returned to Fort Duquesne. Many historians consider the Battle of Fort Necessity to be the opening battle of the French and Indian War (1754-1763).
Important Events in Berkeley County during the 1800s
Berkeley County was reduced in size twice during the 1800s. On January 8, 1801, Jefferson County was formed out of the county's eastern section. Then, on February 9, 1820, Morgan County was formed out of the county's western section.
Berkeley County was of strategic importance to both the North and the South during the Civil War (1861-1865). The county, and Martinsburg, the county seat, lay at the northern edge of the Shenandoah Valley, and Martinsburg was very important because the main line of the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road ran through the town. The rail line was of great importance to both armies. Also, Martinsburg was close to the Union arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Control over Martinsburg changed hands many times during the war, especially prior to the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. After Gettysburg, the city remained mostly under Union control.
Most of Berkeley County's residents were loyal to the South during the Civil War. There were seven companies of soldiers recruited from the county: five for the Confederate Army and two for the Union Army. At least six hundred men from Berkeley County served in either the Confederate or Union Armies.
Berkeley County was also the home of Isabelle "Belle" Boyd, a famous spy for the Confederacy. She was born in Martinsburg on May 9, 1844, and lived there until the outbreak of the war. Her espionage career began on July, 4, 1861 when a band of drunken Union soldiers broke into her Martinsburg home intent on raising the U. S. flag over the house. As the soldiers forced their way into the house (one account has a soldier pushing Belle's mother), Belle drew a pistol and killed him. A board of inquiry exonerated her actions as justifiable homicide, but sentries were posted around the house and officers kept close track of her activities. She befriended the officers, and at least one of them, Captain Daniel Keily, shared with her military secrets. She conveyed those secrets to Confederate officers via her slave, Eliza Hopewell, who carried the messages in a hollowed-out watch case. She later moved to Front Royal, Virginia to live with an aunt. One evening in mid-May, 1862 General James Shields and his staff conferred in the parlor of the local hotel. Belle hid upstairs and overheard Shields mentioning that he had been ordered east, a move that would reduce the Union Army's strength at Front Royal. Belle reported the news to Colonel Turner Ashby, a Confederate scout. He relayed the information to General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, commander of the Confederate Army. After Jackson took Front Royal on May 23, he penned a note of gratitude to Belle, and named her an honorary Captain. Belle was later arrested by the Union Army for espionage, spent a month in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. and was freed in a prisoner exchange. In June 1863, she was arrested again for espionage by the Union Army during a visit to Martinsburg. She remained in custody until December 1, 1863 when, suffering from typhoid, she was allowed to travel to England to regain her strength. While there, she began a stage career and penned her memoirs. After the war, she returned to the United States, toured the western states recounting her exploits as a spy during the war, and died in 1900 in Evansville, Wisconsin.
The Berkeley County Seat
Martinsburg, Berkeley's county seat, was chartered by an act of the Virginia General Assembly in October 1788 on the lands of General Adam Stephen. He commanded 500 troops mustered from Berkeley County during Lord Dunmore's War in 1774. He subsequently rose to the rank of General during the American Revolutionary War before being dismissed for unsoldierly conduct at the Battle of Germantown. He named the town after his long-time friend, Colonel Thomas Bryan Martin. Martin was the nephew of England's Lord Fairfax and had started a settlement a few miles to the north. He had named his settlement Stephen City, in honor of his old-time friend. General Stephen later became Berkeley County's first sheriff. Because the town did not legally exist at the time of the county's formation, the village of about 200 people did not have a legal name, but the area was known as the "Berkeley Court House." The first county court session was held in Edward Beeson's home on May 19, 1772. The city was incorporated on March 30, 1868.Berkeley County was created by an act of the House of Burgesses in February 1772 from the northern third of Frederick County (Virginia). At the time of the county's formation it also consisted of the areas that make up the present-day Jefferson and Morgan counties. Berkeley County is the state's second oldest county.
Aler, F. Vernon. 1888. Aler's History of Martinsburg and Berkeley County, West Virginia: From the Origin of the Indians ...
Hagerstown, MD: Printed for the author by the Mail Publishing Company.
Doherty, William T. 1972. Berkeley County, U.S.A.: A Bicentennial History of a Virginia and West Virginia County, 1772-1972. Parsons, WV:
McClain Printing Company, 1972.
Evans, Willis F. 1928. History of Berkeley County, West Virginia. Wheeling, WV: No publisher.
Rice, Otis K. 1985. West Virginia: A History. Lexington, KY: The University of Kentucky Press.
Williams, John Alexander. 1993. West Virginia: A History for Beginners. Charleston, WV: Appalachian Editions.
Dr. Robert Jay Dilger, Director, Institute for Public Affairs and Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University.
Joseph M. White, undergraduate history major, West Virginia University.
October 23, 2002.
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