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Oh Shenandoah!

     Before and during the French and Indian War, the Scots/Irish were among the first to suffer, and among those who suffered most because of their inhabitation of the frontier and their proximity to the various Indian tribes, many of whom couldn’t get along with each other, let alone, with the white settlers. The Scots/Irish had fresh memories of the border raids from the days back in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The Augusta Stone Church and other dispersed meeting houses throughout the Shenandoah Valley became refuges against Indian attacks. During one such raid, the family of Col. Elijah and Ann Ewing McClanahan came under Indian attack and the lone survivor of that family was their young daughter Hannah (later the wife of John Greenlee, a son of James and Mary McDowell Greenlee) who hid under a log footbridge across the nearby creek. Many other Scots/Irish had been killed at Tickling Springs, 10 miles from Augusta. Joist Hite of Winchester, Frederick (old Orange) County, Virginia constructed a fort near his home of the Opecquon Creek, where the frontier families of that area, including the Hites, Woods, and McDowell families gathered for shelter during Indian raids.

     Upon settling in Virginia, John McDowell (b. 1714), the son of Ephraim, had taken an oath on 28 February 1739 at the court of Orange County (Frederick County), Virginia "that he imported himself, Magdalene his wife, and Samuel his son, as well as John Rutter, his servant, at his own charge from Great Britain in the year 1737, to dwell in this colony, and that this is the first time of providing their rights in order to obtain land pursuant to the royal instructions." It is this Capt. John McDowell that received his Captain’s commission from Governor William Gooch of Virginia at the behest of the other settlers of Borden’s Tract. This petition, requesting his commission, is a superb written example of the Scots/Irish language of the time and is preserved in The Annuls of Augusta County: 1726-1871.

      The song "Oh, Shenandoah" became almost a hymn in Virginia, commemorating these early Scots/Irish settlers and their land that they loved. Samuel McDowell, the son of Capt. John McDowell, also served in the French and Indian Wars (1753-1758) and received "Land Bounty Certificates" for property in Augusta County, Virginia as a result of his military service.

     Captain John McDowell was killed in the first Settler-Indian confrontation on 14 December 1742 during the "Massacre of Balcony Downs" near Balcony Falls in Rockbridge County, Virginia. The spot where this incident occurred is now called Battle Run Creek as a result of this event. In early December 1742, the Delaware tribe of the Iroquois Nation, specifically the Onandaga and Oneida bands, were en route to meet the Catawba Indians when Capt. John McDowell and his company of militia (33 men, which included his father Ephraim - 70 years old at this time! - and his brother James) were sent out to escort the Delaware Indians away from the White settlements. Captain John McDowell’s Company of Militia in 1742: John Aleson, Humble Beaker, David Bires, David Breenden, Gilbert Camble, James Camble, John Cares, John Cosier, Hugh Cuningham, James Cuningham, Joseph Finney, Michael Finney, John Gray, William Hall, James Hardiman, Henry Kirkham, Joseph Lapsley, ?Long, ?Long, Alexander McClewer, Halbert McClewer, John McClewer, Alexander McClure, Moses McClure, Frances McCowan, James McDowell (brother of Capt. John), Ephraim McDowell (father of Capt. John), Andrew McKnab, John McKnab, Patrick McKnab, Sam McRoberts, Loromor Mason, John Matthews, William Miles, John Miles, Mitchell Miller, James More, Edward Patterson, Irwin Patterson, John Peter Salley, Thomas Taylor, Charles Quail, Thomas Whiteside, Malco Whiteside, Richard Wood, Sam Wood, William Wood, Robert Young and Mathew Young.

     It was the Indian custom to provide and be provided food and drink when being visited or visiting. Since none was offered to them by the Virginians, they simply "helped themselves" to food, drink, horses, and whatever else they found at the various homes and settlements they came across. If a white man had visited an Indian village, he would have been treated according to the same aforementioned Indian custom. The Virginians, unaware of this, assumed the Indians to be "raiding" and were less than hospitable. The Indians had been given passes of clearance through Pennsylvania and were to be provided food and drink during their "safe" passage. However, these passes were not recognized, much less, honored by the Virginia settlers.

     After entertaining the Delaware with whiskey, Capt. John and his men were escorting them away from the settlements near the Salling Plantation (present-day Glasgow) which the Indians had lingered near during the past week. During the escort, one of the lame Indians in the rear of the group, lagged behind and walked off into the woods. An escorting militiaman fired a shot at the Indian, a war cry when up and a 45 minute battle ensued between the Indians and the militia led by Capt. John McDowell near the south branch (now known as Battle Run creek) of the North River (now known as Maury River). Seventeen-odd Indians and eight of the militia company were killed, including Capt. John McDowell. He and the other dead militiamen were later brought back draped across horseback and buried near Capt. John’s home "Red House" of Timber Ridge near present day Timber Ridge Church in the family graveyard near Fairfield, Rockbridge County, Virginia. Red House was so named because Capt. John had taken the then uncommon time and trouble to remove all the bark from the logs and stain the bared wood with red berries. The family cemetery there, near Fairfield, holds two centuries of Virginia McDowells. A monument erected in 1855 by the descendants of the McDowells "Commemorating the virtues" of numerous McDowells was refenced in a burst of public cooperation in 1928. The inscription on the monument there reads: "To Commemorate the virtues; to perpetuate the memory: The Record…The truth honor, patriotism and public and social fidelity that impressed the generations to which they belonged and enabled them to transmit an honored name to their descendants: And also, to testify to the gratitude and reverence of their family." It is the oldest burial place in Borden’s Tract (Rockbridge County) and was abandoned for use of interment in the late 1930’s. All the graves there face east "awaiting judgment day". His gravestone reads "heer lyes the body of John Mack Dowell - December 1742". John’s grave lies fifteen paces inclining to the left from the entrance gate within the enclose cemetery.

     Although it is surrounded by lovely apple orchards, the McDowell cemetery is said to be a gloomy place, even in the daytime, full of brambles and "paradise trees" (the malodorous ailanthus). I personally visited the little cemetery with my then 9 year old son in March and mid June of 1998 and found it to be a quiet, peaceful setting in the middle of a pasture on a gently sloping hillside overlooking the beautiful Virginia countryside. The site is indeed overrun with brambles and is in need of repair, but there was nothing gloomy or ominous about it. (After spending a lengthy period among the gravestones, to our dismay, we were unable to find the marker for Capt. John McDowell, due to the thick undergrowth. The cemetery also contains the remains of the McClungs, McClures, Wallaces, Prestons, and other kin of the McDowells. Local townspeople throughout the years have claimed the McDowell graveyard is haunted by "headless ghosts" of the men killed at Balcony Downs. Our kinsmen, Col. James Patton, who had alerted Lieutenant Governor William Gooch of Virginia of the possible uprising, and Capt. John Buchanan of the Militia led an expedition to bring back the bodies, but no account was given for their condition after the Indians had returned and stripped them of clothing, weapons, and supplies. Some believe this was the source of the Shenandoah legends of the "headless" ghosts at that time. It is certain that much grieving accompanied these deaths, on both sides.

      "In January of 1743, the ‘dead cry’, the Indians wail of sorrow, was heard along the banks of the frozen Susquehanna," and then-Pennsylvania governor the Hon. George Thomas, offered to mediate, to avert a threatened uprising of the Indians’ Six Nations. He accused the Virginians of causing the incident and demanded Virginia make reparations to the Indians. "Much weeping and sorrow" also accompanied the burial of the killed militiamen by their families and fellow settlers. The Treaty of Lancaster in 1744, ended the Iroquois Nation’s claims to Virginia.

     Capt. John McDowell had been a very important member of the colonial gentry as the surveyor and agent for the Borden Tract in Virginia. His wife Magdalena Wood was the granddaughter of Archibald Campbell, the 8th Earl of Argyll in Scotland, and later married the rich (but useless) Benjamin Borden, Jr. after Capt John’s death, becoming the heir of the Borden Estates and the richest woman in frontier America. She was noted in history as being a strikingly beautiful woman with blond hair, very intelligent, and possessing great charm, who was often seen astride a famous black stallion, wearing a hunter’s green riding cloak with gold buttons and a bonnet with many plumes. After Borden’s death, Magdalena married John Bowyer, who was 20 years her junior. Magdalena had written up a marriage agreement between herself and John Bowyer to protect her children’s inheritance, but one day sitting by the fire with it in her hand, Bowyer grapped it from her and threw it in the fire. The legal squabbles that ensued after her death over the inheritance continued for many years.

     Another of Ephraim’s sons, James McDowell, took Benjamin Borden, Jr. to court in 1742 for slander claiming Borden stated: "Thou art a rogue and murderous villian, and I can prove it…". Borden wrongfully blamed James McDowell as responsible for bringing the Indians down upon them by instigating a dispute with the Indians. Both of Capt. John’s sons, James and his older brother Samuel McDowell, were Captains of the Militia and also Commissioners (Justices). James and Samuel were often reported, in records of the times, "ranging", a term used to describe the militia’s duty of patrolling the frontier, watching over the cattle herds and scouting Indians that may pose a threat to the community. Samuel later became the Justice for the County of Rockbridge and a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. James McDowell was a merchant, planter and storekeeper at his estate at Maryland Tavern, as well as landlord at the Borden Estates. Members of this 1st and 2nd generation of Colonial American McDowells fought as militiamen and Rangers in the French and Indian War and helped cover the retreat of the mortally wounded British Major-General Edward Braddock and his forces after the disastrous Battle of Monongahela River (or Braddock’s Defeat). In 1758, as the French and Indian Wars continued, then-Lt. Joseph McDowell (b. 1715) of Winchester, Virginia, (later of Quaker Meadows in Burke County, North Carolina) as a member of the Orange County Militia in Capt. Rutherford’s Rangers, received the following orders from Maj. George Washington:

To Lt. (Joseph) McDowell of Captn. Rutherford’s Rangers
June 17, 1758.

Captn. Stephens assuring me, that so soon as the Prince William Militia are taken from his House, the Families there and in the Neighbours also, will immediately remove; I am oblig'd, having it no otherways in my power to Order a few of your Men to be station'd there in their place: you are not to put so many there, as to distress the other Posts you secure; and if (Captn. Van) Swearingen’s Division can afford you any for this place, I shall take care to Order some accordingly.

         I am, your sr.
 (George Washington)

     By the end the of 1740’s, father and son - Charles and "Hunting" John McDowell and their families owned land in North Carolina, becoming the first settlers in what is now Burke, McDowell, Rowan, and Anson Counties. Also present receiving grants in Anson County were Charles' brother James McDowell's widow Mary and children (which included Col. John McDowell of Mecklenburg County). Charles' brother James (b. 1707) had died in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Mary took their children and joined the McDowells in North Carolina. Joining Charles, "Hunting John", Widow Mary, were Charles' three other brothers: Robert (b. 1709, later of Mecklenburg County), William (b. 1711, also of Mecklenburg County), and Joseph (b. 1715, later of Quaker Meadows). They all received their Royal Grants in Anson County from the Royal Executive Sessions at New Bern, North Carolina on the same days in 1750/51.  No doubt having travelled there together, their individual grants layed along the various creeks and tributaries of Rocky River.

     Quaker Meadows and Pleasant Gardens later became the McDowell plantation estates in old Burke County. The earliest settlers in North Carolina, in what is now Rutherford County (originally made up from parts of Burke and Anson Counties), probably came there around 1730. These early settlers of North Carolina were primarily German and the Scots/Irish. Throughout the mountains the majority were the Scots/Irish like those that settled in the Cane Creek area and later formed Brittain Church. Robert McDowell (b. 1709) had moved further north to Dutch Buffalo Creek in Mecklenburg County from Anson County when Tory pressure during the Revolutionary  War forced the family to move.  His son Maj. James (b. c1730) and grandson William (b. 1748) moved further west into what is now Haywood County (old Buncombe County)  in 1783 after the removal of the Cherokee. William's son John McDowell (b. 1774) of Haywood County lived at Flowery Gardens and was also the owner of "Kaintucky Bottoms" which lay near Cane Creek. These Scots/Irish brought their own ordained ministers with them. These Presbyterian Ministers were college trained and served also as educators. Many of these settlers already were, or were becoming educated, and could read their own bibles, which had been translated by authority of King James I of England. One other thing that set these Presbyterians apart was the fact that they elected their own church elders. This was in sharp contrast to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

     "Hunting" John McDowell had taken out a land grant in 1748 from Swan’s Pond up the Catawba River to Garden City and Buck Creek. The first McDowell to leave Virginia, traveling down the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to explore the fertile bottom lands of western North Carolina along the south branch of the upper Catawba and to hunt in the beautiful encircling mountains was this "Hunting" John McDowell. Tradition says the famous frontier-explorer Henry Weidner (Whitener), had persuaded the young John to accompany him on an expedition into the wilderness of the upper Catawba flowing through the Blue Mountains.

     They were both very "taken" with the Pleasant Gardens area (near present-day Marion, in McDowell County, North Carolina) its rich soil and virgin forest bounding in game. It was common in pioneer days to have wrestling matches to establish a man’s standing in a section or to settle friendly disputes. Henry Weidner had quite a reputation as a wrestler. Weidner and young John wrestled to decide which had the right to put up his claim this beautiful spot. John put forth a mighty effort, and flipped Weidner with a leg wrap, thereby winning the match. Evidently, then and there, he made up his mind to settle exactly there. It was he who chose the name, "Pleasant Gardens". This was probably around the same time as this expedition with Henry Weidner to Pleasant Gardens. This family of Charles McDowell had sold off parcels of their land in Winchester, Frederick County, Virginia in 1748 and 1749, according to records there.

     One document dated 28 June 1768 states that: "in consideration of Fifty (50) Pounds lawful money of said province (Rowan County) from "Hunting" John McDowell paid to John Watkins, (he) received 440 acres of land, on both sides of the South Branch of the Catawba River and adjoining to the upper end of Round Hill bottom and Pleasant Gardens belonging to said John McDowell were conveyed to John McDowell". Those who testified to the deed were William Moore, Charles McPheeters (McPeters), and Ann Moore. "Hunting" John's log cabin at Pleasant Gardens was burned by the Cherokees during the Cherokee uprising of 1776. Also lost were his books and accounts while his plantation was ravaged. Pleasant Gardens, lying north of the Earl of Granville Line, was in Rowan County at that date; the southern tip of McDowell County, lying south of the Granville line, was in Old Tryon County, which later became the counties of Rutherford, Mecklenburg, McDowell, Buncombe, and Haywood counties.

     Round Hill, the old homesite and family burial ground, can be easily seen from under the old mulberry trees in the yard of the McDowell House in Marion, McDowell County. The original log cabin home of Hunting John was against the hill directly across from the present McDowell House. The late Miss Mary Greenlee said, "on a bend under a big oak tree". The present house was built "in the yard" of the first home, the log cabin. Farther down the hill are the remains of an old brick kiln, where the bricks for the present house were probably made by McDowell slaves. Built in the late 1780’s, by Hunting John’s son Joseph (of Pleasant Gardens), the house is not of the pioneer period but of the Federal Period when homes of wealthy families were more spacious, ornamental and comfortable. Approaching the front doors, a filled-in door can be seen above, this being a one-time entrance from an upstairs porch, an architectural characteristic of river houses of that period.

     On both ends of the house are the old freestanding chimneys. The fan lights above the two front doors are of the original old glass, Chinese Chippendale. Some panes of original glass remain in the end windows downstairs and in a number of those upstairs. Entering, one notices at once the original old fireplaces. These have been preserved both upstairs and downstairs. The double fireplaces on the right served to heat two rooms, the partitions having been removed in the present arrangement. The original mantels have been lost. The wainscoting and hostess station are of the original old brick taken from the fireplace and chimney of the old ding room, now being used as a kitchen. The hand-hewn old beams, both upstairs and down, are just as they were those many years ago. The uprights taken from the old house, damaged and worm eaten but original, were saved and used. Unchanged are the upstairs floors; even the balcony railings are made from wood of the original house, treasured and reused whenever possible.

     The early McDowells of Virginia and the Carolinas were planters and owned large plantations with slaves, growing corn and hemp in Virginia and including corn and livestock in the Carolinas. Charles’ brother Joseph McDowell (b. 1715) and his family finally took up his grant and moved to North Carolina in 1763 from Winchester, Frederick County, Virginia. Charles McDowell of Anson County was reportedly buried in McDowell Cemetery at Quaker Meadows. However, other sources indicate he is buried on land that he owned in what is now Cherokee County, in South Carolina, formerly in old Anson County, North Carolina along McDowell Creek.

     On 16 September 1764, the Crown Governor of North Carolina patented to Col. John McDowell (b. 1743) (son of James and Widow Mary McDowell) a tract of land on Cleghorn Creek in what was then Mecklenburg County. This is the first recorded history of the domain of the Cleghorn Plantation on Cleghorn Creek and Broad River. This John McDowell was the son of James McDowell (b. 1707 d. 1747 in Pennsylvania) of Derry Township, Donegal, Lancaster (Chester) County, Pennsylvania. As mentioned, James’ widow Mary McDowell had brought her children to North Carolina after James’ death, joining other McDowell and McPeters family members and settling first on Rocky River in old Anson County and then on Steel Creek in Mecklenburg County about 1751. Mary and members of her family, including Col. John and wife Jane Parks McDowell, are buried in the Steel Creek Presbyterian Church burying ground in Mecklenburg County.

     Back in Virginia in 1765, Judge Samuel McDowell, the son of Capt. John McDowell, while serving as a justice in Rockbridge County, Virginia, presided over the case of The King vs. David McKoskey, Samuel recorded the following:

    "Alexander McKoskey, being first sworn before me, saith that on the 26th instant Samuel Woodward and Mary, his wife, being at David McKoskey’s house and in the night time he, rising out of bed, found the door open and missing the said Samuel and his wife out of bed, he also missed his coat, jacot, britches, and hat, and a blanket, and next day, pursuing and on the 28th he found the said Samuel Woodward and wife in Timber Ridge Meeting House and got the above goods in their possession with sundry other of David McKoskey’s goods by them, viz: One rifle gun of the value of five pounds, one snafel bridle, and one Indian blanket. This day David McKoskey came before me and proved the same as above to the finding of the door open, and also proved the gun, bridle, and blanket to be his property which the above said Alexander found in possession of the said Woodward and wife. Certified under my hand this 31st January 1765."

     The time was rapidly approaching when service to The King would no longer be tolerable. The Scots/Irish and other emigrants in America already enjoyed a far greater amount of autonomy from the Crown than the peoples of Great Britain and Ireland. British "push" was going to come to American "shove" over taxation, representation, and the colonists’ burning desire for independence. The McDowells of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas were prominent Whigs, patriots, and commanders during the American Revolution. No family provided more sons and patriots for that cause than the McDowells.

COPYRIGHT © 2000 Leo B. McDowell

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