History of Augusta County, Virginia

The County of Augusta was ushered into existence the 12th year of the reign of George II., as one of the shires of the colony of Virginia. No reason appears in the act establishing the county for the name, but it is believed to have been selected in honor of the Princess Augusta, wife of Frederick Lewis, Prince of Wales, and daughter of Frederick II. Duke of Saxe-Gotha. Frederick county was created at the same time, and it is said, with good reason, to have derived its name from the Prince of Wales himself.

The "utmost limits of Virginia," as expressed in this act for the western boundary of Augusta County, was the Mississippi river, beyond which were situated the French possessions known as Louisiana. This region was explored by the French in 1512 and partly colonized by them in 1699. In the year 1717 it was granted by the Crown to the Mississippi Company, but three years later was resumed by the Crown, and in 1763 was ceded to Spain, but was recovered by Napoleon in 1800. New Orleans was the southern and St. Louis the northern capital of these vast territories. The French claimed that their possessions extended from the Gulf of Mexico to the St. Lawrence, a claim that ignored the rights of English colonists to any portion of the western territory, or country lying beyond the Ohio river. In support of their pretensions, the French erected forts and blockhouses at intervals from the great Lakes through the western part of Pennsylvania to the Ohio, then along the banks of that stream to its junction with the Mississippi, whence their chain of military posts followed the course of the latter river to its mouth. The English colonists, more particularly the people of Augusta, found themselves by these proceedings of the French, hemmed in—prevented all expansion westward. A conflict, then, between the two races, the French and the English colonists of Augusta, Pennsylvania and New York, was, under the circumstances, sooner or later, inevitable. A conflict in fact took place as early as 1753, on the banks of the Ohio, between some English settlers and the garrison of one of the forts already referred to. Both parties hastened to lay the story of their injuries before their respective governments. The consequence was a long and sanguinary war between England and France, in which half of Europe became involved.

In this war Braddock's defeat temporarily delayed, but could not avert, the final catastrophe. The superior numbers and indomitable resolution of the Anglo-Saxon in the end prevailed. Canada was conquered and the forts on the Ohio were necessarily abandoned. France, it is true, still retained Louisiana, which comprehended not simply the present area of that State, but, as we have said, a vast tract of territory extending from the Gulf to the 49° of north latitude, and from the Mississippi river on the east to the Mexican frontier on the west. The territory embraced within the French claim is now known as Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

To the eastern limits of this vast region, the Mississippi river, the western boundary of Augusta county, extended under this act, and from its ancient territory were subsequently carved the present States of West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and part of Pennsylvania. It is not our purpose to write the history of this extensive region, now the seat of many great and prosperous Commonwealths. Its history, however, cannot be altogether omitted in our work. It was part of Augusta county for over fifty years subsequent to 1738, was the native land of many of the savage tribes who harassed the border, the scene of the French and Indian war, and the wars of 1764, 1774, and of many civil and military expeditions, and, in fact, of continual Indian hostilities for forty years previous to 1794, when the brilliant victory at the Rapids of the Maumee by Gen. Wayne brought permanent peace to the frontier.

All the events occurring in this region from the first settlement of Augusta had more or less influence upon the fortunes of the people of the Valley, and the inhabitants of Augusta and the Valley were so involved in them that they form in some measure a part of our history.

Augusta County, Virginia, was formed in 1738 from Orange County and was itself the parent county, in whole or in part, of Bath, Botetourt, Frederick, Rockbridge, and Rockingham counties. A stronghold of Scotch-Irish settlement, Augusta commands great interest among genealogists because thousands of 18th and 19th century families passed through it en route to the West. J. Lewis Peyton's History of Augusta County, Virginia is the standard work on the county. It is essentially a narrative account of Augusta from its aboriginal beginnings and Spotswood's discovery of the Valley of Virginia through the Civil War. Most of Peyton's account follows county politics, especially Augusta during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution; however, the author also deals with the organization of churches, celebrated court cases (such as trials for witchcraft), formation of cities and towns, conflicts with the Indians, and so on. The author intersperses quotations from court records, legislative sessions, fragmentary marriage records, and other primary sources to embellish his account. Genealogists will value the book, in part, as a companion volume to such Augusta County source record collections as Lyman Chalkley's Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia. Of greater importance to genealogists, however, are the genealogical and biographical sketches of the following pioneering Augusta County families found in the Appendix to the volume: Baldwin, Bell, Campbell, Christian, Crawford, Fleming, Hanger, Hughes, Johnson, Koiner, Lee, Lewis, McCue, McCulloch, McDowell, Madison, Mathews, Peyton, Poe, Porterfield, Preston, Sheffey, Stuart, Tate, Waddell, Wayt, Wetzel, and Zane. The Clearfield edition contains a revised and enlarged name index to the work prepared by Charles R. Carrier in 1953.

Source: History of Augusta County, Virginia By John Lewis Peyton.

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Civil War in Augusta County, Virginia

Pursuant to adjournment, a large meeting of the friends of the Union in the County of Augusta, irrespective of parties, was held in the court-house, at Staunton, on Monday, November 26, 1860, Hon. Alex. H. H. Stuart in the chair, and John L. Peyton acting as secretary.

The committee, composed of the following gentlemen: Hon. A. H. H. Stuart, H. W. Sheffey, G. K. Harper, J. B. Baldwin, G. B. Stuart, John L. Peyton, John McCue, J. A. Waddell, Robert Guy, J. D. Imboden. Benj. Crawford, G. M. Cochran, jr., and George Baylor, who were appointed at the previous meeting to prepare them, presented the following preamble and resolutions:

The people of Augusta, in general meeting assembled, solemnly impressed with a sense of the danger which instantly threatens the existence of the Government and the Union of the States; cherishing a hereditary loyalty to the Constitution of the United States; citizens of a Commonwealth allied to the south in its domestic institutions, affections and sympathies, but bordering on the north, and, therefore, in immediate contiguity to the perils which may follow a dissolution of the Union; far more vitally concerned in the issues of the conflict between the contending sections of the country than our more southern brethren can possibly be; as deeply aggrieved as they by the recent election of a sectional President; as keenly alive as they to the aggressive tendency of the step just taken by the north, and as firmly resolved as they to resist infractions of their constitutional rights, yet unwilling to believe the experiment of republican government a failure, deem it to be their privilege, and in view of the important interests at stake, their duty, speaking to the north as well as the south, calmly but firmly, to declare:

1. That the Constitution of the United States, under the protecting power of which the country has become so strong at home and so respected abroad, with checks and balances so wisely adjusted, by which abuses are controlled and grievances are redressed; imperfect it may be in some respects, working badly it may be on some occasions, is nevertheless the easiest yoke of government a free people ever bore, and yet the strongest protector of rights the wisdom of man ever contrived; and so long as it continues to secure our equality and rights as citizens of a common country "in the fullness of its spirit and to the highest extent of its honest interpretation," we will stand by and maintain it.

2. That the Union of these States, still esteemed by them as it was sixty-four years ago by the "Father of his Country," as the "palladium of their political safety and prosperity—as the main pillar in the edifice of their real independence—the support of their tranquility at home, their peace abroad—and of that very liberty which they so highly prize," is, as it has ever been, the object of the unwavering attachment of the people of Augusta; and as for them and their households they will cling to it until the stern command of honor and the conviction that their rights can no longer be preserved under it, shall compel them, in sorrow, to let it go!

3. That the right of each State to form and regulate its own domestic institutions is perfect and complete under the Constitution, and that any organizations or discussions in other States intended to impair that right, or incite forays upon our borders for the purpose of disturbing our peace or robbing us of our property, are flagrant wrongs and breaches of faith inconsistent with the tranquility of the Union.

4. That, apart from the consideration of the question whether, as Virginia declared, in 1798, should be the case, to justify HER in "interposing to arrest the evil" of Federal power, there has yet been, on the part of the General Government, "a deliberate, palpable and dangerous exercise of other powers not granted by the Federal compact," and apart also from the consideration of the right in itself, and the expediency in other respects of State secession from the Union, it is the opinion of this meeting that, bordering, as Virginia does, on that portion of the Confederacy from which danger to the institution of slavery is threatened, so far as her interests in that institution are concerned, secession is no remedy.

5. That sympathizing deeply with their brethren in the extreme southern states in their sense of the outrage inflicted on the sentiments of the south by the election of Lincoln; but having still an abiding faith, if not in the sense of justice, in the intelligent self-interest of the American people; and confiding in the efficacy of constitutional means to protect their rights within the Union, the people of Augusta, as brothers speaking to brothers, bound together by the most sacred ties, beseech the gallant and patriotic people of the cotton states to pause and calmly consider the yet unimagined evils which must result from the dissolution of the Union, and before taking the step, from which there will be no receding, to unite with Virginia in testing the efficiency of remedies provided by the Constitution and within the Union!

6. That not regarding the mere election of any citizen to the Presidency in accordance with the Constitution and the laws as sufficient cause for breaking up the government, and therefore in the spirit of patriotic forbearance, being willing to yield obedience to the Constitution and to acquiesce in the recent decision of the northern people, with no purpose to threaten or intimidate, but speaking as brave men to brave men, appealing to their loyalty to the Constitution and' the Union, and to their regard for the peace, concord and continued happiness of a united country, the people of Augusta, who have been wont in times past, as Washington taught them, "indignantly to frown upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which bind together the various parts," solemnly declare to the people of the non-slaveholding states that the vexatious agitation of the subject of slavery in Congress and in the northern communities, the disturbance of our peace by the dissemination of incendiary documents in the south, the invasions of our rights of property in slaves by emissaries sent into our midst to decoy our slaves from our homes, the disregard by the governors and the people of the non-slaveholding states of their constitutional obligations in respect to the rendition of fugitives from service and from justice, the practical nullification by many of their state legislatures of the "Fugitive Slave Law," and the organization and triumph of a sectional party, united together by sentiments deemed to be hostile to the south, whose recent victory has been heralded by one high in its ranks as "the death-blow to slavery," constitute such grievances and outrages to the feelings and rights of the people of the south as will, if persisted in. extend over the whole south the fatal sentiment of disunion now so fearfully on the increase. And the people of Augusta, convinced that there can be no permanent union without a strict adherence to the Constitution and a just enforcement of federative obligations upon the authority and people of the states, think they have a right to ask, nay, respectfully to urge, as essential to continued brotherhood between the north and the south that the people of the non-slaveholding states require their public servants to observe their constitutional obligations to the south, to remove from their statute books the acts intended to thwart, if not to nullify, the act of Congress concerning fugitive slaves, and that they instruct their representatives, as we shall instruct ours, to keep from the halls of Congress that bitter apple of national discord—the agitating discussion of slavery.

7. That we cherish the sincerest sympathy and most fraternal regard for those noble and true men in the non-slaveholding states who have battled so gallantly against faction and fanaticism in defence of the Constitution of the country and the rights of the south, and that we are unwilling to desert them, and that we yet hope, with their aid, to beat back the enemies of our peace and bear aloft in triumph, "not a stripe obliterated nor a star obscured," the glorious flag of the Union.

8. That our Senator and delegates be requested, in discharge of the responsible duties which will soon devolve upon them, in the spirit of harmony and conciliation attempted to be expressed in these resolves, to bend all their energies to keep Virginia to her moorings as "the flag-ship of the Union," and to induce her, placed as she is between the north and the extreme south, with moderation, forbearance and wisdom worthy of her ancient renown, to exert her power and influence to preserve on the one hand the known and equal rights of her own people as citizens of a common country, and on the other the harmony of the Union and the integrity of the Constitution; and to this end they are authorized at whatever cost to adopt such measures as their judgments shall approve, to carry out the great work of mediation and pacification, which the people of Augusta invoke the General Assembly of Virginia to undertake.

Mr. J. H. Skinner moved as a substitute the following resolution, which was rejected:

Resolved, In view of the wrongs which have been done to Virginia and her sister southern states by the unconstitutional and unfriendly action of the northern states of the confederacy, growing out of the hostility entertained by them to the institution of domestic slavery, and in consideration of the dangers with which we are threatened by the inauguration of a sectional Republican Administration, elected upon principles which, if carried into action, would be destructive of our equality, our interests and our safety, and injurious to our honor, it is proper and all important, in our judgment, that a convention of delegates of the people of Virginia should be held, at an early day, to consider of the state of the Federal Union, to preserve said Union, if it can be done consistently with our rights under the Constitution, and at all events to protect the State of Virginia from any detriment.

The vote upon the preamble and resolutions was taken seriatim, and they were each and all passed by very large majorities. A lengthy discussion took place upon the resolutions, in which the following gentlemen participated: Gen. William H. Harman, Col. John B. Baldwin, R. D. Hill, J. A. Harman, J. H. Skinner, T. J. Michie, Gen. K. Harper, and Dr. E. G. Moorman.

On motion, they were ordered to be signed by the president and secretary, and published in the papers of Virginia.

JOHN L. PEYTON, Secretary. A. H. H. STUART, President.

Though the people of Augusta were warmly attached to the Union, they sympathized deeply with their southern brethren. Standing between the north and south, they considered the occasion one presenting to them the opportunity to reconcile, if possible, all political differences between the two,—differences which they believed subordinate to the public good, and capable of adjustment within the Union and under the Constitution. Accordingly they convened in mass-meeting, as their forefathers had done in May, 1775, under the lead of their wisest and best men—men of temper and judgment, of virtue and prudence, and alike inaccessible to the seductions or menaces of power. The meeting appointed the committee above mentioned; this committee deliberated, and then came forward to the adjourned meeting, whose proceedings have been above reported with the resolutions adopted, in which the truth was declared without diffidence and without acrimony, but in earnest and energetic terms, which left no mistake as to their position. This was the cool, dispassionate action of the people of Augusta at a period of great excitement, and taken in order if at last driven to extremities they might assume with more decency that attitude of hostility to the government of our fathers which events might render necessary in the interest of their security and happiness. While our delegates were striving in Richmond and Washington to secure peace and preserve the Union, the President's proclamation, calling forth 75,000 men, brought the people of Augusta to almost entire unanimity. Though they did not believe in secession, they all maintained the right of Revolution, and were now of the opinion that the time for exercising it had come. They indignantly resented the proclamation, corning at the time it did, considered war as rudely and recklessly forced upon them, and they not only accepted the issue, but, inflamed with rage at the insult, they flew to arms. From this time forward there were no Union men in Augusta, and few in Virginia.