Analysis:Settlement Patterns in Southwest Virginia

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The world was all before them where to choose

Their place of rest, and Providence their guide
......Milton, Paradise Lost

This article presents a very preliminary sketch dealing with settlement patterns in Southwest Virginia during the Early Settlement Period (prior to 1777). These data are drawn from surveyors records for Washington County Virginia, as abstracted by Rhonda Robertson, and given at:
USGENWEB Washington County Archives
(previously at :Rootsweb , etc.)
New River Notes
Robertsons abstracts incude approximately 1800 individual records entered into the Washington County surveyor records for the period 1781-1797. In 1786 Russell County split off from Washington County, so the surveyors records contain in this set dated prior to about 1787, represent a fairly coherent picture of land transcations in southwest Virginia up until that date. On the otherhand, the abstracts also include records concerning land in the southern portion of adjacent Montgomery County. thereby slightly obscuring the focus of the data. One feature of these records is that many of them show the date of initial settlement. In these cases the phrase "actual settlement in (year)", or similar statement is attached to the record. These notations are very useful for evaluting settlement patterns in southwest Virginia, at least until the Revolution. The following summarizes the data for the early settlment dates in Soutwest Virginia. The records contain various references to the location of the properties involved. These references include a) adjacent neighbors, and b) reference to local geographic features. With regard to the later most records identify the watershed within which the property lies. Some the watershed identified is simply a stream or tributatry, but commonly the watershed given is one of the major three watershed that encompass the area: The Holston, Clinch, and Powell River watersheds. In many cases the designation of watershed is very explicit: "On the waters of the North Fork of the Holston" for example. In other cases, the designation is a bit more obscure, either because a) no water body is mentioned, b) the name used then is no longer relatable to a modern feature, or c) the name used could be any one of several waterbodies so designated today (for example, "Indian Creek". In these cases it is sometimes possible to determine which watershed within which the property lies either by reference to other features given in the property description. For example, the geographic feature "west side of Walkers Mountain", for example, point to a location within the North Fork of the Holstein River. In other instances, it has been possible to associate a property with its watershed by looking at the records of neighboring properties, and seeing which watershed they lie within. In a very few instances has it proven impossible to determine even approxiamately where the property lies. This is usually because the property description was either a) very brief, or b) features mentioned were unique and unidentifiable.

Contents

Persons settling in Each Watershed 1752-1777

Watershed YearTotal By Watershed
1752 1753 1763 1767 1768 1769 1770 1771 1772 1773 1774 1775 1776 1777
Clinch River 0 0 0 0 0 9 5 11 20 39 22 29 16 5 156
Holston River 1 2 1 1 4 18 30 43 68 69 42 19 25 10 333
Powell River 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 1 2 22 8 0 0 0 37
Total by year 1 2 1 1 4 31 35 55 90 130 72 48 41 15 526

The foreging data can be used to make a number of interesting points about settlement in southwest Virginia during the period leading up to and just after the start of the Revolution:

1. While there was some settlment in the Holston watershed well before the Revolution, this settlment remained fairly sparse until 1769 when the area was formally opened for settlement.

2. Peak settlement occurred in 1773 in all three watersheds. The drop off in 1774 is probably related to the initiation of Indian hostilities and the events leading up to Dunmores War. Thereafter we see a sharp drop off in the number of settlement dates shown in these records. That may be because a) there were fewer settlements in the area, or b) the data about settlement dates was not consistently collected in the Revolutionary War period; or c) recordation occurred well after the fact, and some of these early settlers may not have survived,or moved out of the area, before recordation could occur.

3. Most of the early settlement seems to have focused on the Holston watershed. This may be misleading because the Holston watershed was larger than the Clinch, and Powell, and therefore, presented more settlement opportunities. Data on watershed size is needed to separate this factor

Warrants

Most of the land records for Washington County show that the land was obtained on the basis of various types of land warrants. Such warrants were issued either as rewards, such as early settlement in the area, military service, such as participation in Dunmore's War, or by purchase.


Assignment Chains

Warrants could be "assigned" to someone else. Assignments could be bought and sold, bartered, or inherited as a commodity. Individual warranties could be assigned many times. It is useful to have an idea of pervasiveness of this practice, and the number of times individual warrants were assigned. The following summarizes the frequency of assignments made for all types of land records in Washington County,

Length of assignment Chain number of warrants% Total Warrants
0110561.5
1415 23.1
2147 8.2
377 4.3
434 1.9
516 .8
62 .1
71 .1
Total1797 100.1*
  • Rounding error

Length of Assignment Chains in Preemptive Certificates

Chain Length % Assignments Cumulative %
0 36.1 36.1
1 25.4 61.5
2 17.7 79.2
3 11.0 90.0
4 6.6 96.9
5 2.6 99.4
6 0.4 99.8
7 0.2 100.0

NB:These data have not been fully checked for discrepancies, but are approximately correct.

Thus, most of the land records showing early settlement dates have 1 or fewer assignments. Fully one-third of these records have no assignments at all, indicating the the person who originally received the certificate actually used it to settle the property. This is useful for several purposes. For example, in the cases where the assignment chain is greater than 0, it is possible that last person in the assignment chain was not the original settler. That is, the initial settlement may have been made by someone previous in the assignment chain, but not necessarily the very first person. Sometimes the abstract is sufficient to make it clear who was the initial settler, but sometimes it is not. Thus it is more difficult to determine who made the actual settlement in cases where the certificate has been assigned. However, in the cases where the assignment chain is of length 0, we can be assured that the person who is shown making the transaction is in fact the original settler. Thus we can make a tentative list of the very earliest settlers by focusing on the land transactions where the assignment chain is zero.

The above possibility will be examined in more detail in a separate article. For current purposes, a different use may be made of these assignment data. Specifically, it is possible to use these data to develop an estimate of the fraction of the settlers who made initial settlements, and remained in the area long term. In effect, it allows us to estimate which groups of settlers (those in the Holston settlements, those in the Clinch settlements, or those in the Powell settlements) remained long term. There are several uncertainties about using the data in this way [insert discussion] but on the whole, this approach allows us to get some feel for settler satisfaction with settlement in each of these three areas.

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