Doddridge County History
Doddridge County was created by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on February 4, 1845 from parts of Harrison, Lewis, Tyler, and Ritchie counties. It was named in honor of Philip Doddridge (1772-1832), a famous statesman who traveled widely throughout the current site of West Virginia. It is not known if he ever set foot on what is now the county bearing his name.
Philip Doddridge was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania on May 17, 1772, the second son of John and Mary (Willis) Doddridge. He applied himself to the study of law and settled down in Wellsburg, Virginia. Renowned for his debating skills, he quickly established himself as one of the best attorneys in Virginia. He served in the Virginia General Assembly in 1815-1816, 1822-1823, and 1828-1829. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1829 and served there until his death on November 19, 1832.
The First Settlers
The first native settlers along the Ohio River in the area of present-day Doddridge County were the Mound Builders, also known as the Adena people. Remnants of the Mound Builder's civilization have been found throughout the Ohio River Valley, with a high concentration of artifacts located at Moundsville, West Virginia, just north of the county (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.
According to missionary reports, several thousand Hurons occupied present-day West Virginia during the late 1500s and early 1600s. They were driven out of the state during the 1600s by members of the powerful Iroquois Confederacy (consisting of the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida and Seneca tribes, and joined later by the Tuscaroras tribe). 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 1600s and early 1700s, the Ohio River valley, including present-day Doddridge County, was primarily used as hunting grounds by the Ohio-based Shawnee, the Mingo, who lived in both the Tygart Valley and along the Ohio River north of Doddridge County, and the Seneca, one of the largest and most powerful members of the Iroquois Confederacy.
The Shawnee settled in villages along the Ohio River, primarily in the area between present-day Wood and Cabell counties. Following the construction of Fort Pitt in 1758 by the British, the Shawnee moved further in-land and built a series of villages along the Scioto River in southern Ohio. These villages were collectively known as Chillicothe and served as their base camp for hunting and fishing in present-day West Virginia.
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 some of 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.
The Seneca, and other members of the Iroquois Confederacy, claimed all of present-day West Virginia as their own, using it primarily as a hunting ground. Also, war parties from the Seneca and 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 Ohio River Valley.
During the mid-1700s, the English had made it clear to the various Indian tribes that they intended to settle the frontier. The French, on the other hand, were more interested in trade. This influenced the Delaware, Mingo, and Shawnee 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 the all of its North American possessions to the British. The Mingo retreated to their homes along the banks of the Ohio River, and the Shawnee retreated to their homes at Chillicothe.
Although the war was officially over, many Indians continued to see 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. Shawnee chief Keigh-tugh-qua, or Cornstalk, led similar attacks on western Virginia settlements in present-day Greenbrier County. By the end of July, Indians had captured all British forts west of the Alleghenies except Detroit, Fort Pitt, and Fort Niagara. Then, on August 6, 1763, British forces under the command of Colonel Henry Bouquet retaliated and destroyed Delaware and Shawnee forces at Bushy Run in western Pennsylvania, ending the hostilities.
Fearing more tension between Native Americans and settlers, England's King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763, prohibiting settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. However, many land speculators, including George Washington, violated the proclamation by claiming vast acreage in western Virginia. The next five years were relatively peaceful on the frontier. 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 American Revolution (1776-1783), the Mingo and Shawnee 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 Americans manning the fort were killed in the three-day assault. The Indians then left the Fort celebrating their victory. For the remainder of the war, smaller raiding parties of Mingo, Shawnee, and other Indian tribes terrorized settlers throughout the Ohio River Valley and Northern Panhandle regions. As a result, European settlement in the region 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. However, as the number of settlers in the region began to grow, and with their numbers depleted by the war, both the Mingo and the Shawnee moved further inland.
European Pioneers and Settlers
James Caldwell was the first known landowner in Doddridge County. He acquired the title to 20,000 acres of land in the county and patented the current site of West Union around 1787. Caldwell later sold the land to Nathan, Joseph and William Davis in 1807. The Davis family moved to West Union that year.
The Davis family sold most of their land, about 16,000 acres, to Lewis Maxwell, a Virginia congressman, for 23 cents per acre in 1808, 1809 or 1810. Among the first settlers to arrive in the new town were John Smith, Jacob Riley, Joseph Jeffrey and Matthew Neeley. John Chaney, who starting doing business in 1820, was the first merchant in the town. At about the same time, a post office was established in the town and appeared on the Virginia maps of the day as Lewisport, in honor Lewis Maxwell. On April 17, 1845, the first meeting of the county court was held at Nathan and Jane Davis' home.
A Brief Account of the History of the Nutter's Fork Community
Situated to the northeast of Middle Island Creek in Doddridge County lies the community of Nutter's Fork. It is often referred to as the "Solid North" because of its unwavering support of the Union during the Civil War and its subsequent support of the Republican Party. Many young men from the Nutter's Fork area entered into the service of the Union Army during the War between the States. Early settlers in the Nutter's Fork region included the Sears brothers, a cattle raiser known as Haymond, and Thomas Smith, originally from Greene County, Pennsylvania. Nutter's Fork was named for an early settler, Mr. Nutter. Not much is known about him, except that he was killed during a great storm that struck the county in the early 19th century.
Important Events During the 1800s
Attorney Chapman Johnson Stuart (1820-1888) was one of Doddridge County's most noted residents during the 1800s. Known as one of the "founders" of West Virginia, he served as a Delegate for Tyler and Doddridge counties at the Richmond Convention in 1861 where he opposed Virginia's succession from the Union. His life was threatened because of his staunch Unionist views. He later attended the Wheeling Convention in 1861 which established the Restored Government of Virginia, and was instrumental in establishing the future state of West Virginia. Chapman Johnson Stuart has also been credited with naming the state of West Virginia. A June 1913 article which appeared in the Wheeling Intelligencer credits him for suggesting the name West Virginia as opposed to the other proposed names of "New Virginia" and "Allegheny."
Another prominent resident of Doddridge County during the 19th Century was the Frenchman Joseph H. Diss DeBar. A distinguished artist, linguist, and the designer of the Great Seal and Coat of Arms of West Virginia, he was born in Alsace, France in 1817 and immigrated to America in 1842 aboard the steamer "Britannia." While aboard the Britannia, Diss Debar became acquainted with and painted a portrait of the noted writer Charles Dickens. Diss Debar arrived in Doddridge County in 1846. In an article which appeared in the West Union Herald in 1883, he described his first impressions of the county. In the article he reminisced about the day, April 15, 1846 in which he "had the good fortune to set foot on Virginia soil." He went on to describe the tiny town of Lewisport (later West Union) as "picturesque." Diss Debar is also credited with founding the town of Santa Clara. The town was named in honor of his wife, Clara Lavassor, whom he met and married in Cincinnati prior to arriving in Doddridge County.
In 1863, Peter G. Van Winkle, chair of the committee established to create a state seal commissioned Diss Debar to carry out the honorable task. He presented the committee with a seal picturing a miner with a pick signifying industry, and a farmer with an axe signifying agriculture. He used Henry Joseph Smith, a resident of Cove in Doddridge County, as his model for the farmer. Centered between the farmer and the miner is a stone bearing the date of West Virginia's admittance to the Union, June 20, 1863. The stone which symbolizes strength is then complimented by two crossed rifles and a Phrygian cap indicating liberty. Finally, below the scene is the motto written in Latin "Montani Semper Liberi" - Mountaineers Are Always Free. On September 26, 1863, the state legislature approved Diss Debar's seal.
Doddridge County's growth during the 19th Century was assisted by the advent of two important transportation projects: the Northwestern Turnpike and the construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
George Washington proposed the construction of the Northwestern Turnpike in 1784. Designed to link eastern Virginia with the frontier areas beyond the Appalachian Mountains, it was completed in 1838. The turnpike linked Winchester, Romney, Grafton, Clarksburg, and Parkersburg. One of the more popular stops along the turnpike was Ephiriam Bee's Hotel. It was located in the vicinity of present-day Doddridge County. Joseph H. Diss Debar stopped at the hotel on his way to Clarksburg and reported that he enjoyed his short stay at the fine establishment and was treated to a "smoking hot dinner of boiled ham and greens, mashed potatoes, dried peach pie and store teas, all of a quality and savor to be gratefully remembered to this day" (1883).
The expansion of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from Harper's Ferry into Doddridge County in 1856 brought with it a relatively steady stream of new settlers and enhanced economic growth. The Baltimore and Ohio railroad was an integral part of Doddridge County's transportation system well in to the 20th century.
Important Events During the 1900s
The oil and gas industry began to develop within the county during late 19th Century. In 1892, the Sullivan Heir's Well #1, a part of the South Penn oil pool, was the first well to open in the county. By 1906, there was an oil boom in West Union. The oil and gas industries continued to grow rapidly within the county until the stock market crash in 1929. Many oil and gas companies dominated Doddridge County's economy at the time, including the Philadelphia Company, South Penn Oil Company, Carter Oil Company, Carnegie Gas Company, and Hope Natural Gas Company. There were also several relatively prosperous small contractors in the county at the time, including Edward Trainer, Charles H. Pigott, and Dexter Gribble. After the 1929 stock market crash, the industry's development stalled until the outbreak of World War II. The industry's health was remained relatively good since, with a brief boom in the early 1960s, especially in the West Union area. The oil and gas industry continues to operate and play an important role in Doddridge County's economy today.
West Union, the county seat, was incorporated by the Virginia General Assembly on March 14, 1850 and by the West Virginia legislature in 1881. It is said that the town's name was suggested by Nathan Davis. At that time, the town was located just across Middle Island Creek near Lewisport, a small settlement of about six families. At the time, Lewisport was attempting to change its name to Union. Nathan Davis then suggested that their town, located just west of Union, be called West Union. In 1922, much of West Union's main street was destroyed by fire, and in 1950, the town was inundated by a major flood. The town survived these unexpected calamities and has continued to prosper. Through the years, West Union's economy has been aided tremendously by the construction of the Northwestern Turnpike, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and United States Route 50, as well as by the development of the oil and gas industry.
"County Seat of Doddridge was First Named Lewisport." 1940. Clarksburg Exponent, April 14.
Corathers, Lily Smith. 1927. History of Nutter's Fork Community, Doddridge County, West Virginia. Morgantown, West Virginia: Agricultural Extension Division.
Doddridge County Bicentennial Commission. 1979. The History of Doddridge County, West Virginia. Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing Corporation.
"Mostly About Ourselves." 1988. Herald Record, December 13.
Dr. Robert Jay Dilger, Director, Institute for Public Affairs and Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University.
Steve Kovalan, undergraduate history and political science major, West Virginia University
February 1, 2001.