Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sycamores and Pioneers

I'm still pecking away at Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County, making a search-able, sort-able version on Pocahontas County History for the genealogy researchers. I have about 70 more "sketches" edited and waiting to go into Drupal. Some of them have brief stories included, others are just lists of descendants.

Last week, Sherry Chandler shared some fascinating excerpts from her reading on Kentucky history, including Samuel Shepard's diary entries, in which he notices a family encamped inside a hollow sycamore tree. As it happens, our most famous local history story involves Marlinton's founders, Marlin and Sewell, and how one of them came to spend the winter living in a sycamore.

Jacob Marlin and Stephen Sewall, p. 105, Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County by William T. Price (1901)

The first persons of English or Scotch-Irish antecedents to spend a winter in what is now Pocahontas County, were Marlin and Sewall. This was the winter of 1750-51. Their camp was in the delta formed by Marlin Run and a slough or drain near the east bank of Knapp's Creek.

In the course of time--having agreed to disagree--they separated and were found living apart, by Colonel Andrew Lewis, Marlin in the cabin and Sewall in a hollow tree. Upon expressing his surprise at this way of living apart, distant from the habitation of other human beings, Sewall told him they differed in sentiments and since the separation there was more tranquility, or a better understanding, for now they were upon speaking terms, and upon each morning "it was good morning, Mr Marlin, and 'Good morning, Mr Sewall!'"

Under the new arrangement, Sewall crossed the slough, and instead of building another cabin, went into a hollow sycamore tree on the west margin of the slough, quite near where the board walk now crosses, and about in line with a walnut tree now standing on the east bank of the drain and the court house.

The lower part of this tree bore a striking resemblance to a leaning Indian tepee. The cavity could shelter five or six persons, and the writer has been often in it for shade or for shelter from rain or heat. At the top of the cone, some eight or ten feet from the ground, the tree was not more than twenty inches in diameter, and at that height was chopped off about the year 1839, to avoid shading the crops. Thus the stump was left, a great convenience for shade or shelter, until it disappeared during the War, being probably used for a camp fire.

These persons differed, Sewall told Colonel Lewis, about their "relagian." There is a traditional hint that "immersion" was the theme of contention. But it is more than probable that one was a conformist and the other a non-conformist to the thirty-nine articles of the English rubric. This is known to have been a very live question of those times, both before and after.

This new arrangement did not last long, and Sewall in search of less molestation about his religion, withdrew about eight miles to a cave at the head of Sewell Run, near Marvin. Thence he went forty miles farther on to Sewell Creek, west Greenbrier, and was found and slain by Indians. How impressively this illustrates the evils of religious controversy, so called.

"Against her foes religion well defends, 
Her sacred truths, but often fears her friends. 
If learned, their pride: if weak their zeal she dreads 
And their heart's weakness who have soundest heads;
But most she fears the controversial pen, 
The holy strife of disputatious men, 
Who the blest Gospel's peaceful page explore, 
Only to fight against its precepts more." 

It is moreover interesting in this connection to recall the fact that on the banks of Marlin's Run is the burial place of a little child that was dashed to death by an Indian warrior in 1765, when overtaken by a party of Bath and Rockbridge men, seeking to rescue Mrs Mayse, her son Joseph, an unmarried woman with an infant in her arms, a Mr McClenaehan, and some other captives. This burial place is a few rods diagonally from the east angle of Uriah Bird's barn on the margin of the rivulet. The infant corpse was buried at the foot of the tree where it had been found a few minutes after its death. The burial took place just a few hours later, before the pursuers set out on their return. The grave was dug with hunting knives, hatchets, and naked fingers. The little body laid in its place very tenderly, and the grave partly filled with earth. The covering of the grave was completed with rather heavy stones, to prevent foxes or other animals from getting at the remains.

Thus died and was buried the first white child known to history west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Joseph Mayse, 13 years old, was rescued at that same time, somewhere between the Island and the mouth of Indian Draft. In 1774 he fought in the battle of Point Pleasant, where he was wounded, and after suffering from the injury for forty-six years, his leg was amputated. He recovered, and lived a number of years thereafter, a busy man of affairs. He died "serene and calm," April, 1840, in the 89th year of his age.

In the Richmond Dispatch, April 14, 1901, it is stated that the last survivor of the Point Pleasant veterans was Ellis Hughes, who passed away at Utica, O., in 1840, over ninety years of age. In early manhood he may have lived in the Lower Levels of our county. Now if it was known what month Hughes died in, it could be decided who was the last one of the veterans to bivouac in those "silent tents" that Glory "guards with solemn round."


Sherry said...

What a story -- or rather a series of stories. I think almost everything that was done by settlers in those days was done with hatchets and hunting knives, and that included building cabins and making furniture. I guess packhorses didn't have the capacity for carrying too many refined tools -- like shovels and axes.

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