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Posts Tagged ‘Hampshire County WV’

This summer I spent a few weeks in West Virginia with my granddaughter Tiffany and her family. They live near Kearneysville in the state’s eastern-most county, Jefferson County. Her husband Justin comes from a huge extended family. Both of his parents came from large families, as in ten or so kids, and their parents as well. He said none of them move away. They just stay there, generation after generation. He has so many cousins, known and unknown, that he wouldn’t date a girl from West Virginia. He played it safe, he thought, by marrying a girl from Florida.

My great-grandmother came from three counties away, Hampshire County, from the little community of Slanesville. Like Justin’s family, her forbears settled there in the 1700s and stayed, until one of the wandering Rogers, my great-grandfather John Thomas, married her and carted her off to upstate New York. I can see why they stayed. Unlike most of mountainous West Virginia, this area in the North River Valley is blessed with rolling hills and good farmland.

Slanesville, WV, looking toward the North River

Slanesville, WV. Looking toward the North River

Whenever I’m in the neighborhood, I like to do a little genealogical research. This can be challenging because these folks practiced subsistence farming and recycled most everything. They even recycled names. Say you have a man named John. He names his oldest son John. Half of John’s ten or so children might be boys. John, Jr. and each of his brothers name a son after their father, and in only three generations you end up with a half dozen or so men with the same name, and many of them are cousins about the same age. I’ve run into this sort of thing trying to trace my roots. I try to sort them by birthdates. Have you ever written a number or date wrong? Family historians are human, and records are not always accurate, if they even exist. Hampshire County libraries have good historical records, but I’ve been stymied by who is my ancestor and which are distant cousins. So before venturing over to Hampshire County, I went through my notes and wrote down the vital statistics of the people I was looking for.

One branch of the family tree is the Hietts. The name has variously been spelled as Hiatt, Hiet, Hyet, Hayet, and Hyatt. And the line is full of Johns. My ancestors John and Mary Hiett, Quakers, were born in England and joined William Penn in Pennsylvania around 1700. They had a large estate near Philadelphia and produced several children, among them, John Hiett, Jr. He married Margaret Stephens and they eventually ended up in Hampshire County, which at the time was part of Virginia.

Poring over my notes, I found an interesting tidbit: after they left Pennsylvania, before moving on to Hampshire County, the Hietts owned land in Frederick County, Virginia. In those days, the colonies were divided into large counties, which were later broken up into the smaller counties we know today. The part of Frederick County, Virginia where John, Jr. and Margaret lived is now Jefferson County, West Virginia! My ancestor Evan Hiett was born there in 1748. Wow

Historic Bridge on Opequon Creek

Historic Bridge on Opequon Creek, West Virginia

Several miles downstream  of the Hiett holdings.

Several miles downstream of the Hiett holdings.

The Hietts lived on Opequon Creek. I’d crossed that creek a dozen times going to and from Martinsburg. They lived upstream, near the town of Middleway.  “That’s just up the road from here!” Justin said. So Tiffany and I drove up the road to Middleway. I expected, at most, a sign indicating where the historical town once stood, but I was pleased to find Middleway is still, in its own way, thriving.

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Main St. Middleway

Main St. Middleway. My ancestors settled in the neighborhood before these houses were built. 

The Gilbert House, built in the early 1800s.

The Gilbert House, built in the early 1800s.

The Elizabeth Smith House, built around 1800.

The Elizabeth Smith House, built around 1800.

Masonic Lodge and Schoolhouse, early 1800s.

Masonic Lodge and Schoolhouse, early 1800s.

Opequon Creek flows from what is still Frederick County, Virginia, forms the county line between Jefferson and Berkeley Counties, and empties into the Potomac River. John, Jr. had farms on both sides of the creek. Property records still exist, so one day I may go back and locate them.

When John, Jr. and Margaret moved to Hampshire County, Evan went with them. He settled in the town of North River Mills where the restored Hiett Log House still stands. (You can see this house at http://www.historichampshire.org/nrm/building/finelli.htm).

In 1784, Evan “Hyett” was listed as the head of a family of eight “white souls,” with one dwelling and four out buildings. He married Sarah Smith and their daughter Margaret married Benjamin McDonald whose father had emigrated from Scotland. One of their descendants was Rebecca McDonald Rogers, my great-grandmother.

Evan’s brother John Hiett III stayed in present day Jefferson County. Eventually, some of the Hietts and their descendants scattered to the Carolinas, the Midwest, and who knows where else. But not all moved on. Uncle John is reportedly buried at the Hopewell Friends Cemetery in present day Frederick County, Virginia, less than ten miles from Middleway. Sons are fairly easy to trace, but daughters marry and change their names. Who knows what names my distant cousins in Jefferson County go by?

Uh, Justin, I hate to tell you—maybe you didn’t go far enough away to find a wife who’s not your cousin.

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I started to call this “Riding Dutchess”, but this title seems more apt. It is also a story about how events from the forgotten past can influence what we do today.
When I was in junior high school, most of my friends were horse crazy, which is certainly better than being boy crazy at that age. Few of the girls actually had horses, but one claimed to work at a riding stable and would talk about it. Her favorite horse, she maintained, was a descendant of Man of War. We were never sure how much to believe. Skepticism is a good mask for jealousy.
One of the privileged few, I did have a horse available to me, a Belgian draft horse named Dutchess. When I was small, Grandpa worked the farm with her and her teammate Jessie. After he got his Massey Harris tractor, the horses no longer had to work and would pass their time in the barn munching hay. My family was too sentimental to be good business people. Animals who had outlived their usefulness were kept around as pets. And they loved horses.
Jessie was a sweet tempered sorrel. One day I noticed her absence and was told she had been sent to a retirement farm for old horses. I did not question why she had to go to a special farm when she had actually been retired for years.
Fortunately, Dutchess stayed around for my horse crazy days. Not as even tempered as Jessie, she was almost as beautiful, a chestnut with a white blaze down her face. When I expressed a desire to ride her, my elders acquiesced. Grandpa built a mounting bench by the barn so I could climb aboard. I began feeding and grooming her and was shown how to bridle her. I was taught to put my finger into her mouth behind her back teeth, tickling her tongue to get her to accept the bit. That can be scary for a kid, even if the half-ton beast is a vegetarian. Soon I learned that Dutchess would open her mouth for me if I just put the bit up to her teeth. But that was the extent of her cooperation.
I was not allowed to use a saddle. I was told it was too dangerous, that I might fall off, catch my foot in the stirrup, and be drug to death. Apparently, tumbling down from sixteen hands high was an acceptable risk.
Possibly because she associated the outdoors with work, Dutchess liked to stay in her stall. The only way to get her to leave the barnyard was to use a switch. Only then could I coax her to carry me to my proposed destination, somewhere in the pasture. Grandpa said Dutchess had some race horse in her. I know that the moment I turned her head back toward the barn she would take off like a thoroughbred from the starting gate. I would grab her mane and if I managed to stay on, it was a wonderful ride. She had a smooth gallop, but if she trotted, I would bounce off. Sometimes she would wheel around without warning and make for the barn, leaving me behind in the mud.
My elders knew I was falling off. They could not help noticing how many times Dutchess returned to the barn without me. Once Grandma was walking down through the pasture as Dutchess and I went flying back toward the barn. Suddenly, Dutchess turned a sharp corner and I kept going straight. Grandma was alarmed, but I was unhurt.
Another time, my sister Jenny and I were riding Dutchess together, she behind me holding on around my waist. We made it to the farthest reaches of the pasture, turned around smoothly, and at breakneck speed down the hill, we came to the creek. Dutchess could not be bothered to slow down. We usually crossed the creek at the path built for farm equipment, but today she chose to jump over a deep part. What a thrill – just like in the movies! The three of us cleared the creek successfully, but when she landed on the far side, I could not hold on well enough for two of us. I guess kids were pretty indestructible in those days.
I didn’t fall off every time I rode Dutchess. I have a photo of myself sitting proudly on the back of a calm steed, but the times I fell off stick in my memory more than the times we successfully returned to the barn together. I was never injured and I was never prohibited from riding her but I could never understand why I could not use a saddle. Now I have the answer.

A Family Mystery Solved

Long before my father was born, when my grandfather’s parents were just newlyweds, on August 31, 1899, one Francis Marion Kidwell “bought a box of nails at a Higginsville, West Virginia store. The nails’ rattling spooked the horse. Since his feet were not completely in the stirrups, he died from being drug to the river.”
But what did this have to do with me? His sister, Mary Virginia Kidwell McDonald, was my great-great grandmother. I discovered this story last year when I was in Hampshire County, West Virginia doing genealogical research.
Uncle Frank’s death must have been a terrible shock to the family. This summer I visited the Kidwell Cemetery in Slanesville, West Virginia, where the graves are laid out in the usual neat rows, except for Uncle Frank’s, which lies at an angle to the others. It was as though his survivors wanted to make a statement that would impact the generations. It did.
This tale would have been told to Grandpa when he was a child, then some version to Dad when he was a boy, but I never heard it. Was this the reason I was not allowed to ride with a saddle? Unfortunately, neither is available today to enlighten me. So I asked my mother, who said Dad wouldn’t let any of us use a saddle because someone Grandpa knew about a long time ago was killed when his foot got caught in the stirrups. Three generations later, Uncle Frank’s name may have been forgotten, but the wisdom that stirrups were dangerous survived. Better just to fall off.
When I had children, they had a pony, but they showed little interest in riding her. We did not have a saddle. If they had asked for one, would Uncle Frank’s ghost have haunted my decision? Or would I have succumbed to reason and bought one? I hope so.
I am sure of one thing, that if I ever take up horse riding again, I will definitely use a saddle. But maybe I won’t ride to the store for nails.

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