Taylor County History
Taylor County was created by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on January 19, 1844 from parts of Barbour, Harrison and Marion counties. Although some historians claim that the county was named for General Zachary Taylor (1784-1850), known as "Old Rough and Ready" and the 12th President of the United States (1849-1850), most claim that the county was actually named in honor of Senator John Taylor (1750-1824), a distinguished solider-statesman from Caroline County, Virginia. He graduated from William and Mary College, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1774. He served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, rising through the ranks to Major. He also served as a Colonel of Militia under General Lafayette during the war. He was a member of Virginia General Assembly (1779-1787) and represented Virginia in the U.S. Senate (1792-1794, 1803, and 1822-1824). He died on August 20, 1824.
The first native settlers in present-day North-Central West Virginia (Barbour, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia,
Preston, and Taylor counties) were the Mound Builders, also known as the Adena people. Remnants of the Mound Builders'
civilization have been found throughout northern West Virginia, with a high concentration of artifacts located
at Moundsville, West Virginia, in West Virginia's northern panhandle (in Marshall County). The Grave Creek Indian
Mound, located in the center of 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.
A more thorough discussion of the first native settlers in West Virginia can be read on-line here. The following is a brief overview of that history:
o Several thousand Hurons occupied present-day West Virginia during the late 1500s and early 1600s.
o During the 1600s, the Iroquois Confederacy (then consisting of the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Seneca tribes) drove the Hurons from the state and used it primarily as a hunting ground.
o During the early 1700s, the Shawnee, Mingo, Delaware, and other Indian tribes also used present-day West Virginia as a hunting ground. West Virginia's Potomac Highlands was inhabited by the Tuscarora. They eventually migrated northward to New York and, in 1712, became the sixth nation to formally be admitted to the Iroquois Confederacy. The Cherokee Nation claimed southern West Virginia.
o In 1744, Virginia officials purchased the Iroquois title of ownership to West Virginia in the Treaty of Lancaster.
o The Delaware, Mingo, and Shawnee sided with the French during the French and Indian War (1755-1763). The Iroquois Confederacy officially remained neutral, but many in the Iroquois Confederacy allied with the French.
o When the French and Indian War was over, 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 Proclamation was, for the most part, ignored.
o During the summer of 1763, Ottawa Chief Pontiac led raids on key British forts in the Great Lakes region. Shawnee Chief Keigh-tugh-qua, also known as Cornstalk, led similar raids on western Virginia settlements. The uprisings 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.
o 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.
o In April 1774, the Yellow Creek Massacre took place near Wheeling. Among the dead were Mingo Chief Logan's brother and pregnant sister. Violence then escalated into Lord Dunmore's War.
o On October 10, 1774, Colonel Andrew Lewis and approximately 800 men defeated 1,200 Indian warriors led by Shawnee Chief Cornstalk at the Battle of Point Pleasant, ending Lord Dunmore's War.
o The Mingo and Shawnee allied with the British during the American Revolutionary War (1776-1783). One of the more notable battles occurred in 1777 when a war party of 350 Wyandot, Shawnee, and Mingo warriors, armed by the British, attacked Fort Henry, near present-day Wheeling. Nearly half of the Americans manning the fort were killed in the three-day assault. Following the war, the Mingo and Shawnee, once again allied with the losing side, returned to their homes in Ohio. As the number of settlers in the region grew, both the Mingo and the Shawnee move further inland, leaving western Virginia to the white settlers.
Taylor County's European Pioneers and Settlers
The first known Europeans to set foot in present-day Taylor County were, most probably, Willie Childers, Joseph Lindsey, John Pringle, and his brother Samuel Pringle. In 1761, unhappy with their treatment in the British Army, they deserted their post (Fort Pitt) during the French and Indian War. Over the next several years they roamed throughout north-central West Virginia and are believed to have set foot in present-day Taylor County.
John Simpson, a trapper for the Hudson Bay Company, crossed the Tygart River in 1764 and is also credited by some historians as the first European to set foot in the county. In 1766, Thomas Merrifield and, in 1768, Captain John Booth were the first Europeans to establish permanent settlements in the county. They built cabins along present-day Booth's Creek.
Important Events in Taylor County during the 1700s and 1800s
Pruntytown is the oldest community in present-day Taylor County. It was settled during the mid-1770s and was initially called Cross Roads because it was located at the intersection of the Washington Post Road and the Fairmont-Booths Ferry Pike. Moses Hustead, Elijah Sinsel, and Frederick Burdett were among the earliest settlers in the area.
In 1801, Cross Roads consisted of ten cabins, a grist mill, a harness and saddle shop, and a blacksmith shop. The town was incorporated on January 1, 1801 as Williamsport, honoring Abraham Williams, a long-time resident who had moved west. Most of the land in and around the town was owned by John and David Prunty, who settled there around 1798. They laid out the town and sold lots to settlers until 1836. Williamsport was named the county seat when Taylor County was formed in 1844. At that time, Williamsport was the largest town in the county. It also was relatively accessible given its location at the intersection of two roads. It continued to serve as the county seat until 1878 when the citizens of Grafton and the county's eastern portion outvoted Pruntytown and the county's western portion during a special election and made Grafton the county seat. On January 23, 1845, Williamsport was changed to Pruntytown, in honor of John Prunty. Some accounts suggest that the name change was made, at least partially, to appease John Prunty who opposed the county's formation. In 1848, Pruntytown's population reached 242, including 22 slaves.
The Taylor County Seat
According to James Current's family's oral history, when James Current emigrated from northern Ireland to Maryland in 1751 he traded a gray horse for a deed giving him 1,300 acres of land in Virginia, including all of present-day Grafton. He then hired George Washington to survey the property and, in 1753 or 1754, moved to the area, building a plantation he called "Bluemont."
Most other historical accounts credit William Robinson as Grafton's first settler. In 1773, he constructed a cabin, and a small stockade to protect himself against possible Indian attacks, in present-day Grafton. He moved west a few years later. In 1789, Jonathan Nixon arrived and moved into Robinson's still-standing stockade. He stayed only a short period of time before also moving west. In 1790, Erean Luzadder moved to the area, but died shortly after his arrival. In 1792, John Woodward arrived. In 1811, Silas Stewart settled in present-day western Grafton. He sold his land to the McKelvey family in 1835, and they sold it to Alexander Yates in 1847. Yates divided his farm into lots and sold them to other settlers. Some historians claim that the town received its name from railroad crews who called it "graft-on" because several branch railroad lines met there. Other historians suggest that the town was named in honor of John Grafton, a civil engineer employed by Colonel Benjamin Latrobe, who laid out the route across what was then northwestern Virginia for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company in 1852. Still others suggest that many of the area's settlers were Irish and named the town after their city of origin: Grafton, Ireland.
During the early 1840s, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad company approached Monongalia County's political leaders about extending their rail line into the county. Fearing the railroad's effect on their way of life, they opposed the extension. Taylor County's political leaders, led by John Burdette, welcomed the railroad. After several years of construction, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad opened service to Grafton in 1853. At that time, 154 people lived in the town. The railroad's arrival led to an expansion of economic opportunities in the area, and Grafton's population began to grow. It was incorporated on March 15, 1856.
Grafton was considered important by both sides during the Civil War, primarily because of the presence of the area's railroad lines. The Union Army maintained control over the town throughout the war. The only skirmish in Grafton took place on August 13, 1861 when 200 Confederate soldiers attempted to take the town. Twenty-one Confederate soldiers died during the battle. There were no Union casualties.
Shortly after the war's conclusion, Samuel Swinfin Burdett, a congressman from Missouri, sponsored a bill that led to the creation of Grafton National Cemetery. Work on the 3.21 acre site began in 1867, and was completed in 1868. The Cemetery was to serve as a central burial place for West Virginians killed during the Civil War. During 1867 and 1868, 1,251 bodies of soldiers killed during the Civil War were exhumed from cemeteries throughout West Virginia and nearby states and reburied at Grafton National Cemetery. Private Thornsbury Bailey Brown, a member of the Grafton Guards, and the first Union soldier killed during the Civil War (by a sniper on May 22, 1861 in Fetterman), was interred there in 1903. Over 2,000 soldiers, including veterans of the nation's other wars from West Virginia and surrounding states, are currently interred there. The Cemetery reached its capacity in 1961. In 1987, a new, 100-acre National Cemetery was established in Pruntytown.
During the 1870s, the state capital's location was moved back and forth between Wheeling and Charleston. Several other towns, including Grafton, expressed interest in serving as the state's capital. In 1872, residents of Grafton and surrounding counties drafted a set of resolutions to be introduced at the state Constitutional Convention being held in Charleston to name Grafton the state capitol. The resolutions were not adopted. However, as mentioned previously, Grafton was named the county seat in 1878.
Anna M. Jarvis, founder of Mother's Day, was born in Webster, near Grafton, on May 1, 1864. When she was one, her family moved to Grafton. In 1881, she enrolled in the Augusta Female Academy in Staunton, Virginia (now Mary Baldwin College). She returned to Grafton after graduation and taught school for seven years. Her mother, Ann Jarvis, was very active in the community and following the conclusion of the Civil War organized a series of "Mothers Friendship Days" to bring together those who had served on different sides during the Civil War. When her father died in 1902, Anna, her sister, and her mother moved to Philadelphia to live with her brother. Her mother died in 1905. Anna decided to honor her mother by organizing a letter writing campaign to establish a national day of recognition for all mothers. The movement quickly spread nationwide. By 1911, Mother's Day was celebrated in almost every state. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother's Day a national holiday to be observed each year on the second Sunday of May. The Mother's Day Shrine is located in Grafton.
Adams, Florence J. 1986. Footsteps: A Story of Grafton, Taylor County West Virginia. Parsons, WV: McClain Printing Company.
Ladd, John. 1999. "Current Family Origin." Accessed on-line at: http://www.infinetivity.com/~chareve/misd-10.htm.
Snider, Joseph Franklin. 1945. The Early Hisoty of Grafton. Master Degree Thesis. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University.
Taylor County Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc. 1986. A History of Taylor County West Virginia. Grafton, WV : Taylor County
Historical and Genealogical Society.
Dr. Robert Jay Dilger, Director, Institute for Public Affairs and Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University.
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