Brooke County History
Located in the Northern Panhandle along the Ohio River, Brooke County was created by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on November 30, 1796 from parts of Ohio County. Upon its creation, Brooke County became the northernmost county in the state of Virginia until the creation of Hancock County from Brooke's territory in 1848. According to the national census of 1800, Brooke County had 4,706 residents, the 6th largest population of the 13 counties then in existence within the present state of West Virginia. Berkeley County had the largest population then (22,006) and Wood County had the smallest population (1,217).
Brooke County was named in honor of Robert Brooke (1751-1799), who was educated at the University of Edinburgh, practiced law in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, served in the Virginia General Assembly in 1794 and, later that year, was elected the third Governor of Virginia (1794-1796) by the General Assembly. He later served as the Attorney General of Virginia (1798-1799).
The First Settlers
The first native settlers along the Ohio River in the area of present day Brooke 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 south of Brooke 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.
During the 1600s and early 1700s, northern West Virginia, including present-day Brooke County, was used primarily as hunting grounds by the Ohio-based Shawnee, the Mingo, who lived in both the Tygart Valley and along the Ohio River, and the Seneca, one of the largest and most powerful members of the Iroquois Confederacy headquartered in New York (comprised of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora tribes).
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 northern panhandle region.
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. Just prior to the outbreak of the French and Indian War, George Washington, then a British officer, reported seeing Mingo campfires near Follansbee, in present-day Brooke County. 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 northern West Virginia. 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.
The most famous Mingo in West Virginia history was known to the European settlers as Logan. He was born near Auburn, New York in 1725 and was called Talgayeeta (or Taghahjute). His father, Shikellamy was a member of the Cayuga tribe and a Vice-Gerent of the Iroquois Confederacy. Following the French and Indian War, Shikellamy moved his family to central Pennsylvania. His father had taken the name Logan after a Pennsylvania official named John Logan. In 1763, Logan moved west to the Ohio River where he established a small settlement consisting primarily of members of his extended family. Logan and the other members of his settlement were considered friendly and cooperative by most settlers in the region, until his settlement was attacked by English settlers on April 30, 1774. The attack occurred on the West Virginia side of the river, in present-day Hancock County. Ten members of Logan's settlement, including two women, were killed and scalped by the settlers. Among the victims were members of Logan's immediate family, including his wife and all but one of his children. Several versions of the massacre circulated on the frontier. Lord Dunmore blamed a settler named Daniel Greathouse while Logan blamed Michael Cresap, a Maryland soldier and land speculator who was building cabins along the Ohio River as a means of securing land. Although the evidence suggests that Cresap was in the vicinity at the time of the massacre, many historians believe that he was not involved in the murders. In any case, following the massacre, Logan allied himself with the British and went on the warpath, leading four deadly raids on the Virginia and Pennsylvania frontiers and instigating what would later be called Lord Dunmore's War of 1774.
Logan gained national fame for his eloquent speech that was delivered during the peace negotiations following the Indians' defeat at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774. Logan was not at the decisive Battle of Point Pleasant, but returned to the main Indian camp during the peace negotiations. His famous speech was not delivered in council, but was given to Colonel John Gibson who wrote it down and delivered it on Logan's behalf during the negotiations. The speech was later published in many newspapers across the nation:
"I appeal to any white man to say if he ever entered Logan's cabin hungry and I gave him not meat; if ever he came cold and naked and I gave him not clothing. During the course of the long and bloody war Logan remained idle in his cabin, an advocate for peace. Such was my love for the whites that my countrymen pointed as they passed and said, "Logan is the friend of white men." I had even thought to have lived with you but for the injuries of one man. Colonel Cresap, the last spring, in cold blood and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not even sparing my women and children. There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any human creature. This called on me for revenge. I have sought it. I have killed many. I have fully glutted my vengeance. For my county I rejoice at the beams of peace. But do not harbor a thought that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. He will not turn his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one."
After Lord Dunmore's War concluded, Logan moved from place to place and, in 1789, joined an Indian raiding party that attacked settlements in southwestern Virginia. He was later killed by one of his own relatives in 1780, near present-day Detroit. He said before his death that he had two souls, one good and the other bad, as he put it "...when the good soul had the ascendant, he [referring to himself] was kind and humane, and when the bad soul ruled, he was perfectly savage, and delighted in nothing but blood and carnage."
European Pioneers and Settlers
The French claims on the Ohio River Valley stemmed from the expedition of Robert Cavalier de La Salle. He was probably the first European to set foot in present day Brooke County. He sailed down the Ohio River in 1669. Then, in 1749, Louis Bienville de Celeron sailed down the Ohio River, and he also may have set foot on present day Brooke County. He met several English fur traders on his journey and ordered them off of French soil and wrote strong letters of reprimand to the colonial governors protesting the English's presence on French soil.
The first English settlers in the county were three brothers: Jonathan, Israel, and Friend Cox. Upon arriving on the banks of the Ohio River after leaving their home in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, the Cox brothers erected a rudimentary shelter near the present-day town of Wellsburg. The Cox's then explored the area up the Ohio River, claiming 1,200 acres for themselves. The following year, the Cox brothers followed up on their surveying expedition by once again entering Brooke County, but this time, with the intention of erecting a permanent settlement. Soon afterwards, their cousin, George Cox, staked a claim just north of his cousins' claim.
As mentioned previously, settlement in the county slowed considerable following the advent of the American Revolutionary War (1776-1783), primarily because the British supplied rifles and other weapons to the various Indian tribes in the region. The Indians, in turn, used the weapons to stop what they viewed as an invasion of their hunting grounds. After the war, members of the Revolutionary Army were offered land in exchange for their military service. This attracted many war veterans to the area. One of them was Captain Van Swearigan, a former company commander who traded George Cox a rifle for some land located in the present-day Brooke County. Van Swearigan was known throughout the region for his bragging about his war record, particularly his ability to kill British soldiers.
By the late 1780's, Brooke County's population was beginning to grow. By 1788, an area within the county, then known as Buffalo Town, had become a trading center for settlers on their way to the Northwest Territory. In addition to Captain Van Swearigan, another settler of note, Charles Prather, had become a resident of the county by this time. On March 6, 1788, John Cox, heir of Friend Cox, sold 481 acres of land to Charles Prather for $3,000. In January 1791, Prather's land was incorporated as Charlestown, Virginia. Charles and Ruth Prather deeded lots to the town on October 3, 1791 for the construction of a schoolhouse, meetinghouse, and a graveyard. The town became the county seat when Brooke County was created in 1797.
Important Events During the 1700s
During the 1700s, many interests vied for control over the current Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. These included the Mingo (who lived there), the Iroquois (who claimed "ownership" of the land), the French (who controlled the lands west and north of the Iroquois), and the English (who controlled the land east of the Iroquois). The French and Indian War (1755-1763) resulted in the end of the French presence in North America, leaving Great Britain free to deal with the Iroquois. At this time, Brooke County, and the rest of the Northern Panhandle, played an important in the British's plans to colonize the western territories because it lay directly between its settlements and the Iroquois. Also, Brooke County was home to several important forts, including Beech Bottom Fort and Wells Fort. They were part of the chain of forts constituting the British colonies' western defense.
In the years just prior to the American Revolution, the ownership of land in the Northern Panhandle region, including Brooke County, was claimed by both Pennsylvania and Virginia. Both colonies were granting land to settlers in the region, creating the potential for violence. Eventually, the land was officially granted to Virginia. Ironically, years later, it was the citizens of the Northern Panhandle who would push for the western Virginian counties to secede from Virginia during the Civil War to form the state of West Virginia.
Important Events During the 1800s
The 1800s marked an era of economic expansion for Brooke County. With the stabilization of the American government and the abundant natural resources located within the county's borders, the environment was ripe for economic success. Early light industry included grain production and distilleries. The construction of a shipyard along Buffalo Creek established the county's position as an important contributor to the nation's shipbuilding industry. Also, the glass industry made its way into Wellsburg in 1813 and remained an important part of the county's economy for over 150 years.
During the early 1800s, Wellsburg competed with both Pittsburgh and Wheeling as a destination for both people and jobs. Unfortunately for Wellsburg, it lost one of the most important competitions of the era. Both Wellsburg and Wheeling were finalists for the ending point for the National (Cumberland) Road that the national government was constructing to connect the eastern seaboard with the western frontier. Both cities recognized the strategic economic importance of being directly connected to the new highway and aggressively lobbied state and national politicians in an attempt to influence their decision on the layout of the new road. The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Henry Clay, came to Brooke County to see Wellsburg first-hand. Unfortunately, Clay was more impressed with Wheeling, and that city was ultimately selected. The decision to build the National Road to Wheeling gave that city a huge economic boost. Although Wellsburg continued to experience economic growth, Wheeling soon became the larger of the two cities.
In 1840, Brooke County became home to Bethany College, the first college in the state. Alexander Campbell, who also founded the Disciples of Christ Church, founded Bethany College. Bethany's central building, Old Main, was constructed from 1858 to 1872. Built in the Scottish Gothic style, it was modeled after buildings at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Old Main is on the National Register of Historical Sites.
Most of Brooke County's residents, as did most of the residents within the Northern Panhandle, sided with the Union during the Civil War. At that time, as today, the counties located in the Northern Panhandle, had strong economic ties to both Ohio and Pennsylvania, and its economy, unlike the counties in eastern Virginia, was not dependent on slave labor. There were very few slaves in Brooke County prior to the war. When the question of secession arose, the county's residents voted to send a unionist to the Virginia secession convention in 1861. Although there were no major battles fought in the county, many of its citizens volunteered to serve in the Union army.
The Civil War slowed economic growth in the county, and across the new state. After the war, the county's economy began to change from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy. Paper mills, iron foundries, and leather manufacturing all began to take hold in the area.
Important Events During the 1900s
The industrial revolution brought even more industry and economic growth to the county. During the early 1900s, new towns were created near coal mines, chemical plants, steel plants, and glass factories. The economic changes also impacted the county's ethnic makeup as European immigrants seeking the relatively high-paying jobs in American manufacturing plants arrived in this country. Like the rest of the nation, Brooke County experienced tough times during the Great Depression and strong economic growth during the 1950s. Since then, the county's economy, like the rest of the state, has diversified, with a greater reliance on service industries and less reliance on manufacturing and coal mining.
The first session of the Brooke County court took place on May 23, 1797 in the home of William Thorp in Charlestown. The town was originally named in honor of Charles Prather, who owned the land on which the town was built. The town was later renamed Wellsburg (in 1816) to avoid confusion with two other towns in the state that were also called Charlestown. The town was named in honor of Charles Prather's son-in-law, Alexander Wells. He is credited as the builder of the first large warehouse in the east. In its early years, Wellsburg was famous for its "Gin Weddings" and "Marrying Parsons" who reportedly would marry couples on a moments notice. The Virginia General Assembly chartered the town on February 21, 1787.
Boyd, Peter. 1927. History of Northern West Virginia Panhandle embracing Ohio, Marshall,
Brooke, and Hancock Counties. Indianapolis, IN: Historical Publishing Company.
Brooke County Virginia and West Virginia Official Centennial Program, 1963. 1963. Follansbee, WV: Follansbee Review Press.
Caldwell, Nancy L. 1975. A History of Brooke County. Wellsburg, WV: Brooke County Historical Society.
Cobb, William H., Andrew Price and Hu Maxwell. 1921. History of the Mingo Indians. Parsons, WV: reprinted for the
Mullins Antique Market and Rare Books, Elkins, WV by McClain Printing Company, 1974.
Rice, Otis K. 1985. West Virginia: A History. Lexington, KY: The University of Kentucky Press.
Williams, John Alexander, 1993. West Virginia: A History for Beginners. Charleston, WV: Appalachian Editions.
Dr. Robert Jay Dilger, Director, Institute for Public Affairs and Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University.
Steve Kovalan, undergraduate history major, West Virginia University
August 1, 2000.