First Exploration, 1641
From the time of the first settlement at Jamestown in 1607, the English Colony had grown rapidly and had expanded until their western borders were in view of the Blue Ridge. With the usual vigor and enterprise of the Anglo-Saxon, ,we find, in the year 1641, a number of the citizens of Virginia petitioning the House of Burgesses for permission 'to undertake the discovery of a new river of land west and southerly from the Appomattox, and, in March, 1642, we find the House of Burgesses passing an act granting such permission. The act is as follows:
It is well to preserve this the earliest known evidence of the desire of any man to hunt out the very country we now occupy. The names of a portion of these first daring spirits, Austin, Johnson and Chiles, afterwards became familiar to our own country, and while no evidence is at hand to establish the fact, yet it is more than probable that these men by their efforts made possible the future success of Walker, Draper, Inglis, Wood, and others.
Second Exploration, 1653
The record of the next effort to reach this portion of the wilderness by the enterprising citizens of Eastern Virginia is to be found in an act of the House of Burgesses of Virginia passed in July, 1653, more than a hundred years before a permanent settlement was effected on the waters of the Clinch or Holston rivers. The Act is as follows. Passed July, 1653:
The three gentlemen, William Clayborne, Henry Fleet and Abraham Wood, mentioned in this act, each represented a shire in the Virginia House of Burgesses, and were intent, no doubt, upon the acquisition of wealth and the development of the country. We have no information that leads us to believe that any of the persons named in the preceding act, with the exception of Colonel Abraham Wood, at any time made an effort to accomplish the purpose of that act. Dr. Hale, in his book entitled "Trans-Alleghany Pioneers," makes the following statement:
I do not know from what source Dr. Hale obtained this information, and I give it for what it is worth.
It is reasonable to believe that Colonel Wood made this trip, and, to support this view, three circumstances may be mentioned. First. The House of Burgesses of Virginia had authorized Colonel Wood, along with others, in July of the preceding year, to discover a new river of unknown land where no English had ever been or discovered. Secondly. A gap in the Blue Ridge, lying between the headwaters of Smith river, a branch of the Dan, in Patrick county, and of Little river, a branch of New river, in Floyd county, is to this day called Wood's Gap. Thirdly. The present New river was known at first as Wood's river. It is known that at the time Thomas Batts and a company of men acting under the authority of Colonel Wood visited this section in the year 1671, Wood's Gap and New river had been previously visited and named by Colonel Wood.
Batts, Wood, and Fallen, 1671
In the year 1671, Thomas Batts and several other persons traveled from the falls of the Appomattox, the present site of Petersburg, Va., acting under a commission from Governor Berkley, to explore the country west of the Blue Ridge mountains and the South Sea. It is worthy of notice that at the time this expedition was undertaken it was believed that the waters flowing westward beyond the Appalachian mountains emptied into the South Sea. This was the first effort made to explore the country west of the Blue Ridge, of which any record has been preserved. A journal of this expedition was made by Thomas Batts, one of the company. The first entry in this journal is as follows:
At this point their Indian guides stopped, and refused to go any farther, saying that there dwelt near this place a numerous and powerful tribe of Indians that made salt and sold it to the other tribes, and that no one who entered into their towns had ever been able to escape. Thereupon the trip was abandoned and they started on their return to their homes without having accomplished the object of the exploration, to-wit: the finding of the South Sea. But the journal adds that when they were on the top of the hill they took a prospect as far as they could see and saw westwardly over certain delightful hills a fog arise, and a glimmering light as from water, and supposed they might be from some great bog.
Many writers suppose that this exploring party, after reaching the New river, descended the same to the falls of the Kanawha, but it is more than probable that after they reached the river they ascended the same, and the stopping point mentioned in the diary was in Southwest Virginia, and near where the New river first enters Virginia. Upon the return of this company to their homes Governor Berkley was very much interested in their report, but strange as it may seem to the reader, no further attempts were made by authority of the Government of Virginia for forty years to explore the country west of the mountains. It will be seen from the journal of Thomas Batts that he and his associates, and, beyond a doubt, Colonel Abraham Wood anticipated, by more than half a century, Governor Spotswood and his Knights of the Golden Horse-Shoe, in the exploration and discovery of the country west of the Blue Ridge mountains.
Knights of the Golden Horseshoe, 1716
The next effort made to explore the region west of the mountains, of which we have any account, occurred in 1716, forty-five years after the journey made by Thomas Batts, above described, and sixty years subsequent to the visit of Colonel Abraham Wood. In the month of August, 1716, Governor Alexander Spotswood, with several members of his staff, left Williamsburg by coach and proceeded to Germania, where he left his coach and proceeded on horseback. At Germania this party was supplemented by a number of gentlemen, their retainers, a company of rangers, and four Meherrin Indians—about fifty persons in all. They journeyed by way of the upper Rappahannock, and on the thirty-sixth day out, being September 5, 1716, they scaled the Blue Ridge at Swift Run Gap, now in Augusta county.
John Fontaine, a member of this company, has left a journal of this expedition, and therein thus describes what occurred when they reached the summit of the Blue Ridge: "We drank King George's health and all the royal family's at the very top of the Appalachian mountains."
The company then descended the western side of the mountain, and, reaching the Shenandoah river, they encamped upon its banks. Fontaine thus preserves an account of what occurred:
Governor Spotswood, from the fertility of the soil, gave the name of Euphrates to the river (now Shenandoah), and he believed the same emptied into the great lakes and flowed northward. The Governor, upon his return to Williamsburg, instituted the Order of the Golden-Shoe, and presented to each of the gentlemen accompanying him a small horse-shoe made of gold inscribed with the motto: Sic jurat transcendere montes, "Thus he swears to cross the mountains."
Governor Spotswood, in a letter written in 1716, says: "The chief aim of my expedition over the great mountains in 1716 was to satisfy myself whether it was practicable to come to the lakes." The country thus described was a part of Sussex county, the western boundary of which was undefined. Spotsylvania was formed from Sussex in 1720, Orange from Spotsylvania in 1734, all of said counties including the territory now within the bounds of this county.
All this information is necessary to a history of Washington county, because Washington county was formed from the territory we are now dealing with, and, for the better reason, that the promoters of our early settlements and the founders of our early government came from the Valley of Virginia.
Mackey and Sallings, 1726
In the year 1726, two men named Mackey and Sallings explored the Valley of Virginia. John Peter Sallings, one of the two explorers of the valley above mentioned, was captured by the Indians and passed through this immediate section as early as 1726.
Withers, in his history entitled "Border Warfare," thus describes the captivity of Sallings:
The Spaniards in Louisiana, desiring an interpreter, purchased him of his Indian mother, and some of them took him to Canada. He was there redeemed by the French Governor of that province, who sent him to the Dutch settlement in New York, whence he made his way home after an absence of six years.
The earliest visit to this section of Virginia by an Anglo-Saxon of which we have any record or knowledge was made by Dority, a citizen of Eastern Virginia, who in the year 1690 visited the Cherokee Indians in their home, south of the Little Tennessee, and traded with them. There can be no reasonable doubt that from a very early period, long preceding the making of a permanent settlement by the white man in this section, many of the citizens of Virginia living east of the mountains carried on, in many instances, an active trade with the Indians living south of the Little Tennessee and in Kentucky.
This section was uninhabitated by the Indians for many years previous to the explorations of the white man, and the wilderness was full of game of almost all kinds. Their flesh was valuable, and the skins and furs taken in one season by a single hunter would bring many hundreds of dollars, and thus many daring hunters were induced to visit this section long before any white man thought of settling the lands.
In confirmation of this idea Mr. Vaughan, of Amelia county, Va., who died in the year 1801,-was employed about the year 1740 to go as a packman with a number of Indian traders to the Cherokee nation. The last hunter's cabin he saw as he traveled from Amelia county, Va., to East Tennessee was on Otter river, a branch of Staunton river, now in Bedford county. The route he traveled was an old trading path following closely the location of the Buckingham road to a point where it strikes the Stage Road in Botetourt county; thence nearly upon the ground which the Stage Road occupies, crossing New River at Inglis' Ferry; thence to Seven Mile Ford on the Holston; thence to the left of the road which formed the old Stage Road; thence on to the North' Fork of Holston, above Long Island in Tennessee, crossing it where the Stage Road formerly crossed it, and on into the heart of Tennessee. This hunter's trail, or Indian trace, was an old path when he first saw it, and he continued to travel the same until 1754, trading with the Indians.
Van Meter, Hite, Lewis, and Mackey, c1730
In the year 1730, John and Isaac Van Meter obtained from Governor Gooch, of Virginia, a patent for forty thousand acres of land to be located in the lower valley, and this warrant was sold in 1731 to Joist Hite, of Pennsylvania, who, in 1732, brought his family and sixteen other families and located a few miles south of the present site of Winchester, Va., and this is generally believed to be the first settlement by a white man west of the Blue Ridge.
Emigration to this new land was rapid, and soon reached beyond the confines of Hite's possessions. About the time of the Hite settlement John Lewis, Peter Sallings and Mackey made settlements in the valley. Lewis settled on Lewis' creek near the present site of Staunton, Sallings, at the forks of James river and Mackey, at Buffalo Gap. Within less than one year the population of the country near the settlement made by Lewis was considerable, so rapid was the migration to the new land.
Beverly's Manor and Borden's Grant
The early settlers in this portion of Virginia had to contend with titles obtained by individuals and companies for large tracts of land, and such grantees were usually favorites of the King or of the King's councillors. On the 6th of September, 1736, William Gooch, Lieutenant-Governor of Virginia, issued a patent for the "Manor of Beverly," covering one hundred and eighteen thousand and ninety-one acres of land lying in the county of Orange between the great mountains and on the River Sherando, and on September 7, 1736, William Beverly, of Essex, became the owner of the entire grant. This patent covered most of the fine lands in the Valley of Virginia near Staunton and Waynesboro, and soon thereafter Governor Gooch granted Benjamin Borden five hundred thousand acres of land situated south of Beverly Manor and on the waters of the James and Shenandoah rivers.
Each of the grants above described was to become absolute, provided the patentees succeeded in settling a given number of families thereon in the time named in the grant, and as a result the patentees, Hite, Beverly and Borden, solicited and obtained settlers from America and Europe. Benjamin Borden, upon the receipt of his grant, immediately visited England, and in 1737 returned with a hundred families, among whom were the McDowells, Crawfords, McClures, Alexanders, Walkers, Moores, Matthews and many others, the founders of many of Virginia's distinguished families.
In 1738, the counties of Frederick and Augusta were formed out of Orange. The territories embraced within these two counties included all of Virginia west of the Blue Ridge and was, almost without exception, a howling wilderness occupied by the Indians and wild beasts. It is evident from the statement contained in the act establishing Augusta county that there had been a rapid and considerable increase of the population in the valley.
The act establishing the county of Augusta provided that the organization of the county should take place when the Governor and Council should think there was a sufficient number of inhabitants for appointing justices of the peace and other officers and creating courts therein.
While the act establishing Augusta county was passed in 1738, the county was not organized until 1745. The first court assembled at Staunton on December 9, 1745, at which time the following magistrates were sworn in, having been previously commissioned by the Governor of Virginia—viz.: James Patton, John Buchanan, George Robinson, James Bell, Robert Campbell, John Lewis, John Brown, Peter Scholl, Robert Poage, John Findley, Richard Woods, John Christian, Robert Craven, John Pickens, Andrew Pickens, Thomas Lewis, Hugh Thompson, John Anderson, Robert Cunningham, James Kerr and Adam Dickenson.
James Patton was commissioned high sheriff, John Madison, clerk, and Thomas Lewis, surveyor of the county. It is worthy of note that James Patton, the first sheriff of Augusta county, was the first man to survey and locate lands within the boundaries of Washington county as originally formed, and the land by him acquired composed a considerable part of the best lands within this county.
The idea of offering the dissenters from the Church of England inducements to settle the lands west of the mountains had often been suggested and earnestly advocated by many of the prominent men in the Virginia Colony, but no move in that direction was taken until about the time of the first settlement of the lower Valley, at and after which time the Governor and Council of Virginia, with but little hesitancy, permitted the erection of dissenting churches in the Valley, and encouraged the immigration of settlers whenever possible. The result of this action was a flood of settlers, emigrants from Scotland and Ireland, who came by way of Pennsylvania, mostly Scotch-Irish Presbyterians in belief. They passed into and settled in the Valley, and in a few years the Valley from Harper's Ferry to New river was populated with a progressive, liberty-loving people second to none on earth.
Patton, Walker, and Buchanan, 1736-1753
Colonel James Patton, who came from the north of Ireland in 1736, was one of the first and most influential settlers of the Valley of Virginia. In the year 1745, be secured a grant from the Governor and Council of Virginia, for one hundred and twenty thousand acres of land west of the Blue Ridge, and he and his son-in-law, John Buchanan, who was also deputy surveyor of Augusta county, located lands on the James river, and founded and named Buchanan and Pattonsburg, villages that were built on the opposite sides of the James river, now in Botetourt county.
In the year 1748, Dr. Thomas Walker, who afterwards, on the 39th day of September, 1752, qualified as a deputy surveyor of Augusta county; Colonel James Patton, Colonel John Buchanan, Colonel James Wood and Major Charles Campbell, accompanied by a number of hunters, John Findlay being of the number, explored Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee, and located and surveyed a number of very valuable tracts of land by authority of the grant to Colonel James Patton.
We give below a list of the first surveys made on the waters of the Holston and Clinch rivers.  This information is derived from the surveyor's records of Augusta county at Staunton, Va. Each of the above surveys is signed by Thomas Lewis, surveyor of Augusta county, and in the left-hand corner of the plot, recorded with each survey, are written the letters J. B., the initials of John Buchanan, deputy surveyor of the county. It is evident from this record that John Buchanan surveyed the several tracts of'land first located in Washington county, and that he was on the waters of the Indian or Holston river surveying as early as the 14th day of March, 1746.
It will be observed from an inspection of this list of surveys that on April 2, 1750, there was surveyed for Edmund Pendleton 3,000 acres of land lying on West creek, a branch of the South Fork of Indian river, which tract of land now lies in Sullivan county, Tennessee. This tract was patented to Edmund Pendleton in 1756 upon the idea that the Virginia line, when run, would embrace these lands.
It is worthy of note that these early explorers and the many hunters and traders who had previously visited this section called the Holston river the Indian river, while the Indians gave it the name of Hogoheegee, and the French gave it the name of the Cherokee river.
All of the lands surveyed in this county previously to 1748 are described in the surveys as being on the waters of the Indian river. These explorers returned to their homes delighted, no doubt, with the excellent lands they had visited, but nothing resulted from their efforts save the acquisition of a knowledge of the country.
At the time Dr. Walker and his associates made their trip of exploration above described they were followed as far as New river by Thomas Inglis and his three sons, Mrs. Draper and her son and daughter, Adam Harman, Henry Leonard and James Burke, pioneers in search of a home in the wilderness. Lands were surveyed for each of them, which lands are described in the respective surveys as lying on Wood's river, or the waters of Wood's river. Here river, five Indian houses built with logs and covered with bark, around which there were an abundance of bones and many pieces of mats and cloth. On the west side of. the North Fork of Hol- ston river they found four Indian houses, and four miles southwest of the junction of the North and South Forks of Holston river they discovered an Indian fort on the south side of the main Holston river.
On April 2d they left the Holston river and traveled in a northwest direction toward Cumberland Gap, passing over Clinch mountain at Loony's Gap, it is thought. They reached the Clinch river above the present location of Sneedsville, in Hancock county, Tennessee, and on the 12th day of April they reached Powell's river, ten miles from Cumberland Gap. It is well to note at this point that Ambrose Powell, one of Dr. Walker's companions, cut his name upon a tree on the bank of this river, which name and tree were found in the year 1770 by a party of fifteen or twenty Virginians on their way to Kentucky on a hunting expedition, from which circumstance the Virginia Long Hunters gave it the name of Powell's river, which name it still retains. On the 13th they reached Cumberland Gap, which gap Dr. Walker afterwards named Cumberland Gap in honor of the Duke of Cumberland, the son of George II, and the commander of the English forces, on the 16th of April, 1746, at Culloden, where he defeated, with great slaughter, the Highland forces, refusing quarter to the wounded prisoners.
On the 17th of April he reached the Cumberland river and named it at that time. On the 23d a part of this company was left to build a house and plant some peach stones and corn. On the 28th Dr. Walker returned to his company and found that they had built a house 12x8 feet, cleared and broken up some ground and planted corn and peach stones.
This was the first house built by an Anglo-Saxon in the State of Kentucky, and it was used and occupied as late as 1835. The location of this house is on the farm of George M. Faulkner, about four miles below Barboursville, Ky. They thence traveled in a northeast direction, crossing Kentucky river and New river and striking the waters of the Greenbrier, and on the 13th day of July Dr. Walker reached his home. On this journey they killed thirteen buffaloes, eight elks, fifty-three bears, twenty deer, four wild geese and about a hundred and fifty turkeys, and could have killed three times as much meat if they had wanted it.
It is to be recollected that this trip and the building of the cabin in the wilderness of Kentucky was all in the interest of the "Loyal Company."
About this time the "Ohio Company" entered a caveat against the "Loyal Company," and the Loyal Company got into a dispute with Colonel James Patton, who had an unfinished grant below where this company were to begin, and no further progress was made by the company until June 14, 1753.
In the year 1748, Mr. Gray, Mr. Ashford Hughes and others obtained a grant from the Governor and Council for 10,000 acres of land lying on the waters of the New river, which grant was soon afterwards assigned to Peter Jefferson (father of Thomas Jefferson), Dr. Thomas Walker, Thomas Merriweather and David Merriweather, which lands were surveyed and principally settled in the early days of the settlement of this section.
About the same time the Governor and the Council of Virginia granted to John Lewis, of Augusta, and his associates 100,000 acres of land to be located on the Greenbrier river, and thus the English Government sought to displace the French in their efforts to settle and hold the lands west of the Alleghany mountains.
On the other hand, the movements of the English were closely watched by the French, who were equally determined to defeat them in their aspirations. A company of French soldiers in 1752 were sent south as far as the Miami river to notify the English traders among the Indians to leave the country, which they refused to do, and thereupon a fight ensued between the French and Indians, in which fourteen Miami Indians were killed and four white prisoners were taken, and thus began the contest which resulted in the loss to France of all her possessions in Canada and east of the Mississippi river.
In April of the year 1749, the house of Adam Harmon, one of the first settlers near Inglis' Ferry, on New river, was visited by the Indians, and his furs and skins stolen.
In the month of November, 1753, the House of Burgesses of
Virginia passed an act for the further encouraging of persons to settle on the waters of the Mississippi, which act we here copy in full:
1. Whereas, it will be the means of cultivating a better correspondence with the neighboring Indians if a farther encouragement be given to persons who have settled on the waters of the Mississippi, in the county of Augusta; and, whereas, a considerable number of persons, as well his majesty's natural born subjects as foreign Protestants, are willing to come into this Colony with their families and effects and settle upon the lands near the said waters in case they can have encouragement for 30 doing; and, whereas, the settling of that part of the country will add to the security and strength of the Colony in general and be a means of augmenting his majesty's revenue of quit rents;
2. Be it therefore enacted by the Lieutenant-Governor, Council and Burgesses of this present General Assembly, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That all persons being Protestants who have already settled or shall hereafter settle and reside on any lands situated to the westward of the ridge of mountains that divide the rivers Roanoke, James and Potowmack, from the Mississippi in the county of Augusta, shall be and are exempted and discharged from the payment of all public county and parish levies for the term of fifteen years next following, any law, usage, or custom to the contrary thereof, in any wise notwithstanding.
The English Government were exceedingly anxious to encourage the settlements on the waters of the Mississippi and thereby strengthen their frontiers and fortify their claim to the lands lying west of the Alleghany mountains, and, in keeping with this desire, the Governor and Council of Virginia, on June 14, 1753, renewed the grant to the "Loyal Company" and allowed them four years' farther time to complete the surveying and seating of said land, and on the 6th day of July following Dr. Thomas Walker, their agent, proceeded with all convenient speed to survey said land and to sell the same to purchasers at three pounds per hundred acres, exclusive of fees and rights. The basis of the operations of Dr. Walker was in Southwest Virginia, and by the end of the year 1754 he had surveyed and sold 224 separate tracts of land containing 45,249 acres, which surveys were made in the name of the several purchasers from him, and many of the said tracts of land were actually occupied by settlers.
During this time James Patton was actively at work surveying and selling lands to settlers under his grant from the Governor and Council, and the tide of emigration was fast settling towards Southwest Virginia, when the French-Indian war of 1754-1763 came on, which war began in all its fury about this time, and thereby Dr. Walker, agent for the "Loyal Company," and James Patton and others were prevented, for the time being, from further prosecuting their enterprises in surveying and settling this portion of Virginia.
In the spring of 1754, numbers of families were obliged, by an Indian invasion, to remove from their settlements in Southwest Virginia, and these removals continued during the entire war. It will be well here to note the fact that the lands held by Stephen Holston, James McCall, Charles Sinclair and James Burke, the earlier settlers of this portion of Virginia, were held by them under what were known at that time as "corn rights—that is, under the law as it then stood, each settler acquired title to a hundred acres for every acre planted by him in corn, but subsequent settlers, as a general rule, held their lands under one of the above-mentioned grants. Stephen Holston, who settled at the head spring of the Middle Fork of Holston some time prior to 1748, did not remain long at this place, but sold his right to James Davis, who, on the 19th of March, 1748, had John Buchanan, deputy surveyor of Augusta county, to survey for him at this point a tract of land containing 1,300 acres, to which he gave the name of "Davis' Fancy," and the descendants of James Davis occupy a portion of this land to this day.
Stephen Holston, when he had disposed of his rights to Davis, constructed canoes, passed down the Holston, Tennessee and Mississippi rivers to Natchez, Mississippi, and thence returned to Virginia, and settled in Culpeper county, where he lived in 1754; afterwards, in 1757, he was captured by the Indians, but, making his escape, he returned to the waters of the Holston, and served under Colonel Christian upon the expedition to Point Pleasant in 1774, and in the expedition against the Cherokees in 1776. Many of his descendants are to be found in East Tennessee at this time.
At the beginning of the year 1753 two families resided on Back creek; James Reed, at Dublin, Va. (from whom Reed creek derived its name); two families on Cripple creek; James Burk, in Burk's Garden; Joseph and Esther Crockett, at the head waters of the South Fork of Holston river; James Davis, at the head waters of the Middle Fork of Holston river, and a family of Dunkards, by the name of McCorkle, on the west bank of New river near Inglis' Ferry. Of these facts we have record evidence. Many other families resided west of New river, of whom we have no record.
And thus closes the record of the first efforts made to explore and settle Southwest Virginia by the white man.