HISTORY OF BECKLEY AND RALEIGH COUNTY
Memoir of Raleigh County (1876)
By Gen. ALFRED BECKLEY, SR.
This is the text of the memoir as it was printed in the Raleigh Register on Aug. 30, 1917.
Previous to the creation of the County of Raleigh in January, 1850, it formed the southern portion of Fayette County, having been successively part of Montgomery, then of Giles, and of Logan counties until its creation into Fayette County on the ... day of 18 with the following dimensions in length: Extending from Carnefix’s Ferry on Gauley River In the N. E. corner in a S. W. direction forty-five miles to the Guyandotte Mountain, while it was in average breadth in a S. E. direction thirty-two and a half miles embracing nearly fourteen hundred and fifty square miles and nine hundred and twenty-eight thousand acres of land.
When the writer of this Memoir settled in Fayette County at his Wildwood residence in the year 1836, forty years ago, the people in what is now Raleigh County had to travel the Old Blue Stone Road, a very rough road down the Rocky Hollows at the head of upper Loop Creek, and its rocky bed, crossing and recrossing many times, (so bad, and impassable was this road that it was called “The Devil’s Race Path”!) They had to cross New River with its high ridges and cliffs, and attend the courts at New Haven on the James River and Kanawha Turnpike on N. or E. side of New River the temporary seat of Justice.
A sharp rivalry arose in the county between three places for the location of the Court House, viz: The Falls of the Great Kanawha River, the afore mentioned New Haven near Mountain Cove, and “Vandalia” in the loop of New River, the farm belonging to Abraham Vandal, an old Revolutionary soldier the father, and to his son, Dillon Vandal. In the election, the Falls of Kanawha and New Haven having nearly an equal vote, while “Vandalia” was somewhat behind; then it was that the little Whig precinct of Beaver Creek held at the house of Clarkson Prince gave the casting vote, which placed the Seat of Justice at Vandalia where it still remains.
It was evident to the writer of this Memoir that the southern portion of Fayette, commencing at mouth of Salt Lick run just below the Stretcher’s Neck tunnel, of the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad, and on opposite bank of the river, and running thence an artificial line in a N. W. course to Coal River mountains, dividing the waters of Coal River in its head branches the Marsh Fork, and the N. or Clear Fork from Paint and Cabin Creek waters of Great Kanawha and running with the mountains to the angle of Kanawha and Boone counties and with the line of Boone County to N. W. end of the Cherry Pond Mountain, and along that mountain in a S. W. course still with Boone line to the present angle of Boone, Wyoming and Raleigh, there intersecting with Guyandotte Mountain and with that mountain, and the Wyoming County line, in a S. E. direction to the Flat Top Mountain, thence along this mountain with the Mercer County line to the present angle of Mercer, Summers, and Raleigh counties, and thence with the White Oak Mountain a spur of the Flat Top, and the Summers line to the mouth of Madam’s Creek, and thence with New River in a N. W. course to the beginning. It was evident, the writer repeats, that this fine body of Table Land, level and rolling, thus bounded by nature’s grand carriers of water and land, covered where uncleared by the settler with splendid forests of large and valuable timber of every variety, among others the White and Yellow and Hemlock Pine, and beneath its soil in many places inexhaustible wide veins of bituminous coal imbedded, and then Dame Nature has embellished and adorned its woods. The rich and brilliant flowers of the wild Honey Suckle are everywhere interspersed, with their infinite variety of color and tint, orange, pink, red and white and then upon the borders of the streams with the rich and variegated flowers of the Laurel, and the more modest Ivy. This body watered by the Marsh and Clear Forks of Coal, Paint Creek, and by Piney River and its numerous large tributaries, Soak, Big and Little White Stick, Big and Little Beaver creeks and Glade creek presented a beautiful compact county area with a S. W. length of forty miles and with the average breadth of seventeen and one-half miles, embracing 700 square miles, and four hundred and forty-eight thousand acres of land.
The writer of this Memoir, who claims to be the father of Raleigh County, and knows of no one entitled to a share in its paternity, abided his time until 1848 and 1849. Then it was that the leading influential wealthy men of Fayette on the N. and E. side of New River began to canvass for a new county under Col. George Alderson’s leading, to embrace all of Fayette on that side of New River and liberal slices from Greenbrier and Nicholas Counties, with the county seat either at the Falls or near Mountain Cove on James River and Kanawha Turnpike, leaving all of the territory S. and W. of the river to remain Fayette County with its County Seat “Vandalia.” Then it was that the writer with his neighbors began to canvass for Raleigh County. The Laws required the consent of a majority of the people of any county to authorize the appropriation of any of its area to form a new county. Therefore in 1849 an election was held at all the precincts of Fayette County, and the people were called upon to decide between these rival territories. The writer prepared himself all the Poll Books and sent them by faithful men to see that the election was legally conducted, and he himself attended at the Mountain Cove precinct, the stronghold of the opposing County Plan, and obtained twenty-five votes for Raleigh. The election resulted in the success of Raleigh County by a majority of 70 votes, and we all thought that was glory enough for one day! The writer, (pardon his egotism since the public demands the facts of the founding of the county) prepared a most accurate Neat Map of the County, wrote out the Act, gave the County its name “Raleigh,” in honor of the great Sir Walter Raleigh, the enterprising and farseeing patron of the earliest attempts to colonize our glorious old Mother State of Virginia. Transmitted the Form of the Act, the Map and the certified Poll Books to Hiram Hill, Esq., our Delegate. He informed me afterwards that the whole passed the committee of proportions and grievances “Nemine Contradicente” and the Act entitled — “An Act establishing the County of Raleigh out of the Southern end of Fayette County” too was passed by the General Assembly of Virginia on 23 day of January, 1850. As early as 1838, the writer, looking forward to a New County in the future, by the valuable aid of Hudson M. Dickinson, Esq., then the Fayette delegate in the General Assembly, obtained an Act authorizing him to lay off thirty acres at the 23 mile Tree of the Old Blue Stone Stale Road, a well known place.
The writer was frequently jeered and laughed at for his Paper Town, but he was impressed with a well founded opinion that his proposed town, called by him and so called in the Act, “Beckley,” after his Honored Father, John Beckley, one of the original patentees of the Moore & Beckley Grant of 170,038 acres, would be the Seat of Justice of the New County he had projected, and which was formed around it in 1850, 12 years after the Act passed establishing the Town of Beckley, and he was led to this persuasion by the fact that all Indian War Traces or paths, all surveyors and Hunters’ paths and also the Blue Stone Road, all passed and centered at this point, showing that if not the actual center of the areas, it was the center of access and egress.
In 1848, confident of the eventual creation of Raleigh County, he executed a triplicate agreement binding himself and his heirs to convey to the people of Raleigh their present beautiful Court House plat of two acres, as well as one-half of the building lots of his town, provided the people would establish the seat of justice in and at the town of Beckley forever. The people did so by a solemn vote and on the 20th day of April, 1850, the writer executed the conveyance to remain in force while the county seat remains at Beckley, but if at any time removed, the lands, the value of the lots and interest and the buildings revert to the writer or his heirs.
There are only two facts of any historical nature connected with Raleigh County.
The first is the ancient Stone Fort upon Big Beaver Creek about one mile from Clarkson Prince’s residence, undoubtedly several centuries old. In 1836 when it was first surveyed by the writer and its measurements taken; its walls were pretty well preserved and growing from the ramparts were large trees, some four feet in diameter.
The second is the tradition truly handed down from some time in the last century, of an encounter between the whites and the Indians which occurred at a place on the head of Paint Creek within Raleigh County well known in early days by the name of the “Painted Trees.” The Indians used this place as a favorite place of encampment as they went to and fro on their War Parties to Greenbrier and Monroe counties. They had stripped off the bark in places upon the trees and painted them with a kind of red-earth and in 1836, there were persons alive who had noticed the red paint on the trees.
The last Indian War Party or expedition to the river settlements of Greenbrier and Monroe had captured some white people—among others a mother and a babe in her arms somewhere in Monroe and had retraced their way with their captives and plunder to the “Painted Trees,” where they encamped and deemed themselves secure from pursuit. However, a party of whites under a resolute leader, the night being wet and drizzly, had by a rapid pursuit overtaken them and quietly surrounding their camp remained still hidden. As soon as it was light enough the Indians were seen grouped around their camp fires with their blankets on, drying themselves. Among others there was a tall, gigantic Indian a head and shoulders taller than the rest, doubtless the leader. At a signal the whites poured in their rifles. Down went the leader and several others, the rest fled and the captives were rescued. In 1840 the writer was acquainted with an old gentleman named James Brown, living on West Fork of Little Coal in Boone County, and he told me he himself was the babe in his mother’s arms. Before the establishment of the county successful efforts were made by the people of Kanawha, Fayette, Mercer, and Monroe to build the Giles, Fayette Kanawha Turnpike, leading from Charleston on the east of Kanawha as far as the Falls, thence via Cotton Hill, Vandalia, Raleigh C. H., the Jumping Branch, Pack’s Ferry, mouth of Indian Creek and up that Creek to Red Sulphur Springs.
This road though not complete up New River from Pack’s Ferry to mouth of Indian Creek was complete from Kanawha to Pack’s Ferry, and it greatly promoted and facilitated the settlement and prosperity of both the Loops of New River and the County of Raleigh.
These are all the facts necessary to give in the Memoir of Raleigh County.
June 19th, 1876.
A. BECKLEY, SR.,