Mineral County History
While white settlers came to the area around the present town of Ridgeley as far back as the early 1700's, early English possession of the territory that eventually becomes Mineral County is not entirely clear as to dates and circumstances, but some consistency exists among historians as to the chief events.
Apparently, in 1664, Charles II granted the "Northern Neck" to Thomas, Lord Culpepper. In 1688 James II made a new grant that gave Culpepper possession of all the lands between the Rappahanock and the Potomac Rivers to their headwaters.
Culpepper's land went to his daughter Catherine and eventually passed on to her son, Thomas, Lord Fairfax who, in 1733, petitioned George I for a survey of the area to determine its boundaries.
In 1736, a commission of six men sent a surveying party under the leadership of Major William Mayo to explore Fairfax's territory.
This first survey of Fairfax's domains provided the first useful map of the region, and Mayo's journal provided most of the knowledge available to settlers who began breaking through the Blue Ridge into western Virginia territory about the same time.
The New Creek area received its name from the Mayo expedition. By traveling up the north side of the Potomac River, which was easier because of the mountainous terrain on the south side, they missed the stream which gives the town its name. On coming back, the explorers discovered the stream and subsequently placed it on the map as a "new creek."
However, the Mayo survey produced the first spark of controversy as the King's commissioners protested that no one man should be allowed to own so much land. Apparently, by Mayo's figures, Fairfax held a claim to over 5,000,000 acres of North America.
As settlement increased, so increased tension between Virginia's (and Fairfax's) claim to the territory that would later become West Virginia's eastern panhandle and Maryland's claim to the same territory. Maryland held the older land grant as it was Charles I who, in 1632, granted Lord Baltimore all the land south of the Pennsylvania border to the Potomac River. Maryland had marked its territory as including all lands north of the Potomac River's South Branch.
In 1746, an expedition of 40 men spent 127 days mapping the region. Included among them was Peter Jefferson, the father of Thomas Jefferson.
On October 23, 1746, the party reached the head fountain of the North Branch of the Potomac, which marked the farthest extent of the Fairfax lands. The surveyors then planted the "Fairfax Stone" to mark the point.
However, Maryland continued to dispute the claim. In 1832, the matter was again investigated and the report filed at that time reaffirmed the correctness of the Fairfax survey. Maryland persisted in its claim to the territory -- a persistence that resulted in several court sessions and ended up before the United States Supreme Court, which settled in favor of West Virginia in 1910.
Thus, one might say, that Mineral County's free and clear existence as a West Virginia County has only been established for 90 years.
In 1748, Lord Fairfax sent another surveying party led by James Genn into the area. Among the surveyors was the sixteen year old George Washington, who kept a journal of the expedition.
Washington records that his party crossed the South Branch of the Potomac River at Colonel Cresap's (now Cresaptown, Maryland) and traveled to the head of Patterson's Creek. According to Washington, the area under survey was already peopled with white settlers as he noted that the surveyors were followed through the woods by "a great company of people" who "would never speak English, but when spoken to they all spoke Dutch."
The purpose of this expedition was to survey lots for distribution to individuals. In fact, between 1748 and 1751, 300 lots were surveyed, including the Wappacoma (South Branch) Manor containing 55,000 acres and the Patterson Creek manor containing nearly 10,000 acres. Patterson Creek manor would eventually grow into the agricultural community of Burlington.
Throughout the various surveys and the arrival of settlers, the area underwent several name changes and divisions. Prior to 1738, Virginia's Orange county consisted of all the territory west of the Blue Ridge. In 1738, this area was divided into the two counties of Augusta and Frederick with Frederick encompassing the area later to become the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. In 1753 Frederick became Hampshire County and 32 years later, Hampshire was divided into two counties with the southernmost half becoming Hardy County. Finally, in 1866, the western half of Hardy County become Grant County and the western half of Hampshire County became Mineral County.
While early settlers had entered the area encompassed by Mineral County, the French and Indian War served to both disrupt early settlement of the region as well as to provide focal points for the towns that would eventually make up present day Mineral County.
Despite the efforts of Colonel George Washington to provide protection to the area, French and Indian invasions forced many settlers to flee or seek protection within or near the forts the Virginia Regiment had built and garrisoned.
Two important forts for the early settlers of this area were the one built in Frankfort Village and the Blockhouse built in the New Creek Valley. The former of the two was eventually named Ashby's Fort after Colonel John Ashby who was attacked by Indians in 1756, but made "a most remarkable escape to the fort." Colonel Ashby was later put in command of the fort and apparently remained there through the Revolutionary War. The town eventually took its name from the man and the fort he commanded.
While the Blockhouse helped secure the New Creek area for the English, New Creek, and subsequently Keyser, gained importance during the Civil War.
New Creek was an important military base during the Civil War because its fort, located on the site where Potomac State College now stands, commanded roads leading to the South Branch and Shenandoah Valleys.
After the war, New Creek Station became the "railhead" for the commercial interests of a large territory. in order to induce the B&O Railroad to move its facilities to New Creek, the town became incorporated in 1874, changing its name to Keyser in honor of William Keyser, the first vice president of the B&O Railroad.
Thus, Mineral County is a young county. It came into existence only 132 years ago, and even then, its boundaries were not set as Mill Creek township was added to Mineral County in 1868 and then restored to Hampshire County in 1872. The present-day names of Mineral County's communities and their boundaries were not fully established until nearly the twentieth century (Antioch was called Harrison's Mill until 1880). Even the question of Mineral County's existence as a West Virginia or Maryland county was not settled until 1910.
Although Mineral County may sit close to the East Coast and North America's oldest settlements, it still retains the rugged, vitality of America's early pioneering spirit.
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