Friday, October 22, 2010

Scots on the Virginia Frontier in 1785

This weekend I was able to do a bit of research. Actually, it turned out to be negative research; I looked for information I hoped existed and it turned out it didn't. But all was not lost, while searching for the things that weren't there, I tripped across several references to the founding of Belleville, Wood County, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1785.

In 1785, Joseph Woods of Philadelphia laid out a town on the site of Belleville in what was then Kanawha County, Virginia. One source reports that we was accompanied by four Scottish families and another that he came with a crew of ten men, many of whom were Scottish emigrants. These two descriptions are not mutually exclusive and probably refer to the same group of people.

According to The History of Wood County by Donald Black (pp 7-8) the Scottish families who either accompanied Wood or came to Belleville in 1786 were: a Mr. McDonald, a Mr. Greathouse, a Mr. Tabor, James Pewtherer, William Ingles, David Jamison, Andrew McCash, Francis Andrews, Thomas Gilruth, John McCollan, Ebenezer Dayton, and Alexander Karan. Black also states that Malcomb Coleman came to Belleville from Carlisle, PA a few years after the first settlement. However, he does not indicate that Mr. Coleman was Scottish. However, with a name like "Malcolm" he was either Scottish or of Scottish descent. What is not clear from the sources is how long these men had been in the United States before traveling to Virginia. Neither do the sources mention the ultimate Scottish origin of the men; whether they were Highland or Lowland. However, this isn't surprising as Americans were generally oblivious to regional distinctions among immigrant groups.

With two exceptions, the sources do not relate the histories of these families and how they faired in Belleville. Of course, I wasn't looking for this information in the first place, so perhaps more is available.  Two families definitely faired poorly. Mr. McDonald, his wife and his children were killed by Native Americans in 1789 or 1790 and so was Malcomb Coleman in 1793. The late 1780s and early 1790s were quite dangerous ones on frontier of the United States as Euro-Americans were rapidly expanding westward and Native Americans attempted to defend their lands against this encroachment. Many families were killed in western Pennsylvania as well, including the McIntosh family in 1790, who had previously settled in Washington County, PA.

Scottish emigration to America in the 18th century is almost always thought of in terms of the large settlements in North Carolina, Georgia and New York. Consequently, I think we are unaware of the role Scots played, no matter how small, in the settling of the frontier regions of the United States.

The sources consulted were: History of Wood County, West Virginia Volume I by Donald F. Black;
A history of West Virginia, (Prentice-Hall history series) by Charles Henry Ambler; and Pioneers of Wood County, West Virginia, vol 1 by John A. House.

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