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West Virginia Archives & History

Peterstown, looking west
Peterstown looking west

History Of Peterstown Community

(Photo Gallery)
by R. F. Fleshman

Owing to a lack of authentic written data a history of Peterstown community is particularly hard to write and much of this narrative is based on tradition, some of which at least must be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.

To name the first white settler and the date of his coming is a hopeless task, but that white people had visited this section at an early date is certain, for in 1748 explorers found near the mouth of East River a grave at the head of which was this inscription: "Mary Porter was killed by the Indians May 28,1742".

Possibly several settlements had been made by the pioneers but in July 1763 an uprising of the Shawnee Indians, to which tribe this part of the country belonged, seems to have driven out or destroyed all the white settlers west of the Alleghanies and if any were here at that time they must have shared the common fate and for several years the land was again in the hands of the red man.

Wood's Fort on Rich Creek was built in 1773 by Captain Matthew Wood and Judge Johnston says no white settlement existed between Fort Wood and the mouth of East River In 1779, but soon after this date there must have been quite an influx of settlers, as the pioneer, Christian Peters, first made his home two miles east of Peterstown in 1784 and there were several names contemporary with Peters, among whom were Felix Williams, brother to Dave Williams, who helped to capture the spy Andre during the Revolutionary War, Isaah Callaway, who had a block-house near Powers' home, and other names , many of whom have disappeared from our modern community.

There is no history or tradition of any serious encounters between the settlers and the Indians in this immediate community, but on Sept. 23,1779,a white renegade named Morgan with five Shawnees attacked a party of emigrants on their way to Kentucky traveling the Indian trail on East River, killing and capturing the whole party with the exception of John Pauley, who, though fatally wounded, escaped and finally made his way back to Fort Wood, dying there from his wounds.

There is an old tradition that an Indian was killed near here on Rich Creek near Fort Wood. It seems that the Indian was imitating the gobble of a wild turkey, hoping thereby to lure some hungry inmate of the fort into the woods and to his death. A settler,detecting a false note in the turkey call, slipped out of the fort and stealthily crawling upon the Indian from the rear shot him dead.

Another and later tradition says that a Wiley of Peterstown killed an Indian near here and cut a razor strap from the Indian's back.

A little stream above Peterstown a tributary to Scott's branch re- ceived its name in commemoration of an encounter between an Indian and a white settler. The white man had hidden behind a log near this little stream to await the nearer approach of a deer, but a buck of an unexpected genus appeared on the scene In the person of a Shawnee brave. The hunter thought the Indian better than no game, so drawing a bead on the approaching and unsuspecting red-skin he pulled the trigger, but between buck ague and the crude workmanship of the old flint lock, the trigger wouldn't work, so to save his own scalp he had to run, and in commemoration of his adventure he named the little stream, "Trigger Run".

Among the early settlers Christian Peters was one of the most prominent. He was a man of energy and push and to him must be credited , among his various enterprises, the building of the first grist mills in the community, of which there were three on Rich Creek -one at the head of the creek, one on the Davis Farm (or road thereto, B.L.C.), and the third where Heslep' s mill now stands and which was the nucleus of Peterstown. These mills were quite different from the flouring mills of today and were very crude and rough affairs that would not be considered now as effective for grinding pig feed.

While speaking of Peters it may be well to correct some erroneous statements concerning him - namely, that Peters Mountain was named for him, that his first settlement was at Peterstown and that he was the first white settler In the community. Peter's Mountain was named for Peter Wright who lived where Covington now stands but who explored the mountain chains for many miles westward. Peters' first home was two miles east of the present town of Peterstown, which had its origin several years later when he built his mill here and established his son John as miller and wagon maker and afterwards came himself and made his home with his son (mistake: Peters' son's home was on the hill in n.w. part of town, built in 1812; whereas the house Peters built for hisself was on the main street on the town, diagonally across now from Mr. Terry's s store, where there is now a garage, and here he kept tavern - this place became the home of Peters' daughter and her husband George Spangler, who cared for her parents in their last days; the house burnt to the ground In 1918, and was then called "the Jim-Ed Spangler house") statement by B.L. Clark, a Peters descendant)

Peters could not have been the first white settler in the community, as he did not come until 1784, while Wood's Fort was built in 1773 and Captain Woods furnished his quota of fourteen men from this community for the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774, ten years before the arrival of Peters.

Some anecdotes of the early settlers may be of interest. The original Dillion was a cousin of Henry Clay and also of General Early. Clay and Dillion were great fox hunters together. After coming to this community Dillion would take a bag of meal, a jug of snake medicine and with his trusty rifle he would disappear in the forest for days, hunting any game that came his way. Once on leaving he remarked that he was going to eat a piece of everything that he killed on his trip, and on his return someone asked him If he had sampled a piece of all his game. His reply was that he had, but that a fox was the worst thing he ever tried to eat.

It is said that the pioneer Callaway was particularly fond of venison and sweet potatoes and that he would tell his daughter to go to the garden and dig the potatoes and he would go upon the hill and get a deer, so they could have venison and sweet potatoes for dinner. The deer were so plentiful then that he would get back with the deer before his daughter could with the potatoes. Another thing that he unfortunately was too fond of, was home-made liquor. Once while under the spell of a case of "never-again" he swore he would never let another drop of liquor run down his throat. But when the craving for his accustom dram would become too great, to keep his oath he would try to stand on his head and pump it up instead of letting it run down.

Aunt Lisa Dunn, the oldest inhabitant of the Peterstown community and who has passed her ninety-second birthday, relates this incident of her childhood. One cold autumn evening just after the little girl had been tucked into her trundle bed, the door suddenly flew open and in stalked seven Indian braves, demanding lodging for the night. An older sister, fearful for the safety of the child, hastily pushed her and her little bed under the larger bed nearby to hide her from the Indians. Some of the young men of the village came in and persuaded the Indians to an outbuilding and there made them comfortable for the night. In the morning the Indians passed on into the forest without doing any harm. At this time Andrew Jackson was president of the United States and the Seminole and Creek Indian Wars were going on.

Another incident of this time, which is recalled by old residents, is said to have taken place during the infancy of the late Pat Spangler. One warm evening when the family had the doors open in their old house which stood just behind the present home of Mrs. Frank Spangler, a very large and fierce looking panther came trotting into the room and stood near Pat's cradle. The screams of the women apparently alarmed the panther, for it dashed out the rear way and disappeared In" to the forest. These incidents are typical of Peterstown ninety years ago.

The first home in what is now Peterstown was the Jim Ed. Spangler house, recently destroyed by fire. This house was built here by Christian Peters at some time shortly before the year 1800. Peterstown was laid off into lots and streets in 1801 by Peters and at first contained 18 1/2 acres. It became a town by the Act of the Virginia Legislature January 4,1804, although at that time there were no more than two houses here. The first trustees or council were William Vaughter, Edward Willis, John McCroskey, Henry McDaniel and Hugh Caperton. Probably none of them lived In Peters town at that time and some of them never lived in the town.

The first industry of Peterstown was the grist mill and wagon shop conducted by Captain Jack Peters. These industries were followed by blacksmith shops, harness shops, shoe shops,and tanneries. At one time as many as six tanneries were in operation here. There were also tailor shops, hat makers, cabinet makers, carding machines, a pottery, and other industries at various times in the community. All the frontier homes had their spinning wheels and looms, on which the clothing for the whole family was made.

Religious services were first held under the trees of the forest and in the homes of the settlers. Some of the larger homes had partitions hinged to the upper joists, which partitions could be raised and fastened to the ceiling, thus converting two smaller rooms into one, the full size of the house, for the better accomodatlon of the assembled settlers.

Probably the oldest church building in this community is the old Pack Church - a log building near Cashmere, followed soon after by the building of a union brick church on the site of the present Missionary Baptist Church at Peterstown. The land for the Peterstown Church was deeded exactly one hundred years ago but it is not thought that the building was completed until about 80 years ago. The Presbyterian Church on Rich Creek, built about 1857 was next. That was followed by the Peterstown Methodist Church built soon after the close of the Civil War. And since that time a number of other churches of various denominations have been erected at suitable places over the community.

After the establishment of free school system the first schools in this community - constructed of logs and with large stone chimneys - were located in the following places: One near the Grey Sulphur Springs, one near the present school house in Green Valley, and one about two miles above Peterstown on Rich Creek. The first school house in Peterstown was just across the creek from the Baptist Church near where Mr. Henry Hansbarger now lives.

At various times in its history, this community has been included in the territory of Augusta, Botetourt, Greenbrier and Monroe counties, and what is not generally known for a brief time, from 1773 for about three years, it was a part of Fincastle County, which county went out of existence in 1776, being divided between Greenbrier and Montgomery counties and the state of Kentucky. Before the Revolution it was also a part of the proposed province of Vandalia and afterward was the proposed fourteenth state of the Union which was to be known as the state of Westsylvania.

Citizens of this community have taken part in every war in which the United States has been engaged with the possible exception of the Mexican War. Christian Peters, John Dunn, William Hutchison, Abraham Nettles, and probably others were soldiers of the Revolution.

Henry Craig, Andrew Hutchison, Lieutenant William McDaniel, George Spangler, a Phillips, and probably others from this community were soldiers in the War of 1812, Captain Jack Peters,Colonel Conrad Peters, Lieutenant Harden Shumate, and Lieutenant John Symns of this community were officers of the state militia at the time of the trying War of 1812, but it is doubted that they took any actual part in that war. Capt. Jack Peters was the officer in command of a company raised at that time in this community, while Conrad Peters was lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment to which this company belonged. Both officers were sons of Christian Peters, the founder of Peterstown. It is thought that a Beasley and one other man from Peterstown were in the Mexican War,

Practically every man from this community who was old enough, bore arms for the southern cause in the Civil War, and one of them, Mike Foster, was mentioned by General Stonewall Jackson as being the bravest man in his army. Many others distinguished themselves for their bravery and fortitude in the service of the Lost Cause.

This community also did its part In the Spanish-American War, In the late World War the youth of this community came forward to the service of their country in such numbers that space and time prevents a mention of their names in this brief history, but two of them -, Sergeant Howard Spangler and Dale Rice - gave their lives on the fields of France.

Many names of the original settlers in this community have disappeared. Many have gone to other sections and have attained prominence there. Probably a majority of the native born business people of Princeton, W. Va., are former citizens of this community, or their descendants.

The first house where Bluefield now stands (the old Higginbotham House) was built by James Alexander Hutchison from this community.

The early settlers were of several nationalities, but the majority came from Scotland, which contributed familiar local names as Arnott , Burns, Byrnside, Callaway, Campbell, Chambers, Charlton, Clark, Conner, Dickson, Dickson, Duncan, Dunlap, Dunn, Givens, Humphries, Karnes, McClaugherty, McDonald, McGhee, Thompson, and Wylie. And from England came Biggs, Blankenship, Boone, Bradley, Brown, Coulter, Ellison, Foster, Hale, Hunter, Hines, Hancock, Hutchison, Keatley, Lively, Pack, Riner, Robison, Rushbrook, Shanklin, Shires, Smith, Symns and Woodson. Germany contributed Broyles, Hansbarger, Mann, Miller, Spangler, Peck, and Peters. From the Emerald Isle came Dillon, Murry, and Sweeney. France sent us Adair, Caperton, Larue, and Shumate. Then from Wales came Ballard, Evans, Gwinn, Thomas,Vawter, and Williams, while Poland contributed Crotchins.

Many of those names have attained prominence in social and political circles, and while none have as yet been presidents of the United States, one - Jennie Pack Morris - a granddaughter of Laomi Pack, was the wife of President Hayes.

A number of newspapers have recently carried special articles and pictures of Mrs. Strong, who is the only surviving daughter of a Revolutionary War soldier. However, Aunt Liza Spangler of Peterstown occupies almost as distinguished a position. Since her first husband was Captain Jack Peters, she is the daughter-in-law of a Revolutionary War soldier and the widow of a militia captain of the War of 1812. Peterstown was named for its founder, Christian Peters, and his descendants are among the most substantial citizens of the present community. Of his two sons, John or as he was later known-Captain Jack, was a wagon maker, miller and influential citizen of Peterstown, while Conrad was a blacksmith and hotel keeper near town. One of the daughters of Christian Peters married John Symns, another Elias Hale, another Charles Spangler, and the other was the wife of George Spangler. All of them had large families.

The name of Peters has disappeared from this community, but four grandchildren of Christian Peters still live here. They are Mrs.Eliza Dunn, who is past ninety-two years old, Honorable S. Y. Symns who has attained the ripe age of eighty-five, G. P. Spangler and J. E. Spangler, both of whom are well advanced in years but still are possessed of considerable vigor.

Probably nine-tenths of the population of Peterstown are in some way related to the original Peters or his descendants. It is a good honorable stock, noted for its honest, plain living and long and prosperous life. It is the kind of stock that builds up the finest communities

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