Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Legendary Isaac Bellangee

When I was a little girl, I once asked my dad that age-old question, "Where did we come from?"  He could have answered simply and truthfully, "Summers County", but he knew that I was looking for a deeper truth, even at that young age.  He told me that we were Irish and possibly a little Dutch.  He didn't explain further, so I let it go at that, and now I'm left wondering what the heck he meant by that.  It turns out, though, that the Ballengee family tree blossomed from French roots.

The best research on the Ballengee family of Summers County, West Virginia, indicates that the family patriarch, Isaac Ballengee, came from the Evi Bellange family in Burlington County, New Jersey.  The various Ballengee family members from New Jersey have been well-documented, but few early records exist for Isaac Bellangee, who settled in the mountains of early Virginia.  Isaac lived through Indian wars and a revolution that formed a new government, but there is no documentation to  prove with certainty who his parents were. 

 Because of the lack of documentation there is quite a lot of legend that exists around Isaac, and when legend is repeated often enough, it is perceived as being factual, so I want to set the record straight by using what we know is true about Isaac.

The Augusta County, Virginia, land grant for Isaac Bellangee in 1767.
    Some say that Isaac married his wife, Jane, in Stokes County, NC about 1767.  This is not true because Stokes County, NC, was not formed until 1789.  No one has presented any records which prove that Isaac ever lived in Stokes County, NC.   In 1767 Isaac was in Augusta County, Virginia.  The Quaker, Henry Ballenger, who first moved to Virginia, settled in Rowan County, NC, about 1759 when he appeared on the county tax list, but there are no links to the Augusta County Isaac Bellangee (note that Isaac used the same spelling of the surname as Evi Bellangee in New Jersey).  Henry Ballenger had a nephew named Isaac, the son of Amariah Ballenger of Burlington Co., New Jersey.  This Isaac is named in Amariah's will in New Jersey in 1747, and he married there in 1755.  Although there is no indication that Amariah's son, Isaac, ever lived anyplace other than New Jersey, the familial link to Henry Ballenger should be strongly considered when determining which Isaac ever lived in North Carolina.   
    Another source says that three Ballengee brothers, Isaac, Eli, and one unnamed, came to America with Lafayettes’ army in 1777 to fight in the Revolution.  This is not true.  Isaac Ballengee first came to Augusta County, Virginia, around 1767 and remained there until he moved to Greenbrier County.  The earliest mention of him is in a land grant in Augusta in 1767 and a land grant in Botetourt in 1772.  In The Marquis de Lafayette in the American Revolution, by Charlemagne Tower, p. 24, the 11 Frenchmen who travelled with Lafayette to America are listed, and no Ballengees are included.

    At least one writer reported that Isaac served in the Revolutionary War and was on guard duty in 1776 in Philadelphia when the Declaration of Independence was signed.  This is not true, because Isaac was already in Botetourt County by this time.  There may have been another Isaac Ballengee of which this is true, because there was another Isaac Bellangee who lived in Philadelphia 1770-1781 who was a member of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia.   The Summers County patriarch signed a loyalty pledge in Botetourt County, Virginia, in 1777. 

    Some say that Isaac was born in 1719 on the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel when it was under British control, and another says that Isaac was a sailor who married Jean in NC about 1777.  The Summers County Isaac was born about 1719, but there is no documentation that he was born on the Isle of Jersey.  A search that was completed by the Channel Islands Family History Society on the Isle of Jersey revealed no mention of the Bellange surname, although there was a Bellanger family on Jersey, but not until the 18th Century when our Ballengees were already firmly established in America.[1]   In 1777 Isaac lived in Botetourt Co., Virginia. French-speaking immigrants who settled in New England and Virginia before 1680 were residents of the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey, but most of them had lived in the Channel Islands a generation before they came to America.[2]  Some enterprising genealogist could spend some time looking for new records that may have info about the origins of Ives Bellangee (Isaac's father).

    On the subject of Isaac being a sailor, An Index to Seamen’s Protection Certificate Applications in the Port of Philadelphia, 1796-1823 (Dixon, 2001) lists an Isaac Bellangee.  He is registered in the years 1807 and 1815 at the age of 18 and 25 respectively with a birth state of New Jersey.  This may be the Isaac referred to by other researchers, but it is not the Isaac who settled Botetourt and Greenbrier Counties because he was deceased before 1807.  

    One researcher reported in The Greenbrier County Family Heritage Book that Isaac was married in New Jersey and had four children (Joseph, Benjamin, Mary and William).  After his wife died, he left the children with his brother, Samuel, and went to Virginia.[3]  There is an Isaac with his wife and four children who are received on certificate from the Evesham Monthly Meeting to the Burlington meeting in 1813, but this is long after our Isaac is established in Virginia.[4]  On page 196 of the Quaker Encyclopedia Genealogy, we find that the Quaker Isaac, his wife, Hannah, and their children, Mary Ann, Abraham, Isaac H., Hannah and Samuel went to Miami, Ohio, in 1819.   None of this information lines up with the Isaac in Summers County, and the Greenbrier County book offers no corroboration on how their conclusions were reached.

    Another legend says that after their marriage, Isaac and Jean settled on the farm of his brother, Eli, near the Greenbrier River.  A few years later they bought 185 acres.  Isaac actually had a brother named Evi, but there is no documentation that he had a brother named Eli nor is there documentation that Evi obtained land or lived on the Greenbrier River.  Isaac received a land grant of 184 acres on the Greenbrier River in 1787.  The brother, Evi, was older than Isaac and would have been about 81-82 years old in 1782 when Isaac moved to Greenbrier County.  In A History of Summers County from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time (Miller, 1908), on page 43 the writer remarks that “Isaac Ballengee, Evi’s grandfather, settled at the Evi Ballengee farm about 1780.”  This may be the source of the confusion, because the Evi referred to is Isaac’s grandson (not his brother), who was the son of George Eli Ballengee.  At his death, George left Isaac’s farm to his sons, Evi and John Robert.  John Robert was killed in the Civil War.  Evi died in 1864, and it’s likely that this is the person that James Miller referred to in his book published in 1908, not Isaac’s brother, Evi.   

    Another mistaken story says that in 1787 Isaac received a land grant of 210 acres in Summers County for service with the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.  Summers County was not created until 1877.  Isaac received a grant of 210 acres in Botetourt County in1772, obviously before the Revolution.  There is no documentation as of this date to indicate that Isaac served in the Revolution.  The Daughters of the American Revolution have no record of Isaac having served in the war.

    Nor is it true that Isaac received a land grant for service in the Revolution ca. 1780 nor that Jean was patented a tract of land 2 November 1800.  In 1780 Isaac lived in Botetourt County.  He moved to Greenbrier County in 1787, but there is no indication on the grant that it was made for military service.  The deed for the tract that bears the name of Jean Ballengee is Isaac’s land that was deeded to Jean after Isaac’s death.  Although it is reported that Isaac received pay for the use of horses (by the Revolutionary army) in Virginia, there is no evidence of this. Isaac is on an index of men who were paid for services during Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774 (the payment was recorded in 1775) which was before the Revolution. 

    Harmon Ballengee says that Isaac was in Cape May, NJ, in 1762 and was in the newspaper business.  Isaac is also purported to be in the newspaper business during the war.  No documentation is offered to confirm that Isaac Bellangee was ever in the newspaper business.  He lived in Botetourt County during the Revolutionary War. 

    J. Bellangee Cox writes that Isaac was the son of Ives and Christian Bellangee, which is true, but much of Mr. Cox's information is not accurate.  He says that Isaac moved from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, married, and had four children.  His wife died, and Isaac left the children with his brother, Samuel, when he moved to Augusta County.[5]  He further says that Isaac remarried in Virginia, left an estate with 1000 acres of cleared land, and had a number of slaves.  Supposedy his descendents in New Jersey did not respond to requests to come to Virginia for their share of the inheritance.  Isaac sent for his children in New Jersey when they were old enough to leave school, but they did not join him.  The information about the family in New Jersey has not been documented, and there were other Isaac Bellangees from that area.  Isaac's parents moved from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, but they lived in New Jersey from around 1701 until their deaths.  Isaac would have been born in New Jersey and raised there.  The number of total acres of land that Isaac owned in Virginia was nowhere near 1000 acres, nor did he own any slaves (slaves would have been taxed as personal property and thus appeared on county tax lists).  There was no will probated for Isaac, Sr.  

    There is also debate about who Isaac’s parents were.  There is no definitive documentation to prove that the Isaac Ballengee who settled in Augusta/Botetourt County, Virginia, was the son of Ives, Sr. and Christian Delaplaine Ballengee of New Jersey.  Some researchers think that Isaac was the son of Evi Bellangee, Jr., son of Ives (Evi) Bellangee, and Judith Richardson McClung says in her research[6] that she believes Evi, Jr. is the father of Isaac Bellangee based upon a letter written in 1839 from Edward Ballengee (grandson of Isaac Bellangee) to Aaron Bellangee (descendent of James Bellangee).  McClung quotes from the letter:

    "I have no doubt that we are of the same family [descendents of Ives Bellangee, Sr.], for I very well recollect hearing father say that his grandfather’s name was Evi, so that it appears to be quite a favorite name in the family. . . There are five of us and all are living; our names are as follows:  Evi, Edward, Isaac, Sarah Jane and James the youngest who is 24 years old.”

McClung (and other researchers) feel that if Isaac were born in 1719, he would have been too old to settle wilderness territory in Botetourt and Greenbrier Counties between 1767 and 1787 when he acquired land on the Greenbrier River.  At the time his land was surveyed in Augusta County in 1767, Isaac would have been nearly 50 years old.  His land grant in Greenbrier County was obtained in 1787 when Isaac’s age would have been about 68.  The earliest recorded date for the birth of one of his children is 1778 (Isaac was about 61 years old), and the last child was born in 1789 (Isaac was 72).  The argument is that if Isaac were born to Evi, Jr.(married first in 1724 when he was disowned by the Quakers and married secondly to Susanna English in 1738), then Isaac would have been a much younger man when he first came to Augusta County, and the dates and ages would have been more probable.      

While pioneering at an advanced age and fathering seven children at 60 to 70 years of age would be remarkable, it would not be impossible.  General Andrew Lewis, famous for the Battle of Point Pleasant during Lord Dunmore’s War, was born in 1720 and also would have been in his 50s when settling western Virginia and fighting as a soldier.  As for the reference in the letter to Isaac’s father’s name being Evi, that name is a derivative of Yves (found in documents as Yves, Eve, Ive, Ivi, Evi), and the name Evi is first found on land records when Evi Bellange, Sr. bought land there in 1697, so the name "Evi" could refer to the Bellangee who died in Burlington County, NJ, around 1720, and not necessarily his son, Evi, Jr.  So I don't have any proof that Evi Bellangee, Sr., is Isaac's father, but since Evi, Sr.'s will mentions a son, Isaac, and there is no record of Evi, Jr., having a son named Isaac, I'll say that my great-great-great-great grandfather is the son of Evi Bellangee, Sr. 

How many fantastical legends are there about Isaac Ballengee?  More than I can count.  If all of these stories were true, old Isaac would need a much longer life to accomplish everything attributed to him. Let these legends that are listed stand as proof that not everything that is printed up is true. 

[1] Email from Henry Coutanche to Janet Ballengee Estep, 11 April 2010.
[2] Butler, Jon, The Huguenots in America, 1983, p. 43.
[3] Greenbrier County Family Heritage Book, 1997, p. 30.
[4] Hinshaw, William, The Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy, 1750-1930, Vol. II, 1938, p. 197.
[5] J. Bellangee Cox Records, 6 September 1895, Volume Gen Cp-2, Genealogical Society, PA.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Riding the Turnpike in Sewell Valley

The James River and Kanawha Turnpike
crossing Little Sewell Mountain.

    If you do much investigation into the history of western Greenbrier County in West Virginia, you will read that U.S. Route 60 follows the historic James River and Kanawha Turnpike.  Well, that's true for the most part.    As U.S. Route 60 (now known as the Midland Trail) was constructed, it generally followed the path of the old turnpike road, swallowing up the historic road in contemporary highways accommodating faster and safer travel. In Greenbrier County, however, the James River and Kanawha Turnpike deviates from Route 60 at Meadow Bluff and runs across Little Sewell Mountain to Rainelle.  I had the good fortune to grow up in a house in old Sewell Valley right along the original turnpike.  We had no idea of its story. 
     Early in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia, people recognized the need for a means to transport goods, people, and mail from the remote mountain region beyond the Blue Ridge to the Tidewater area.  This need led to the design and construction of a series of roads, including the James River and Kanawha Turnpike which ran from Richmond, Virginia, to the Kanawha River area, where Charleston is now located. 
        White men settled the Greenbrier Valley beginning in the mid-1700s, but little is recorded of the western end of the county other than that Stephen Sewell hunted there.  We occasionally dug up arrowheads in our garden, so Indians also hunted there.  Population in western Greenbrier was sparse until the arrival of the Raine brothers.  John Raine and his brother, T. W. Raine, appeared in 1903 when they purchased land on Meadow River from which they planned to supply timber for a new lumber mill.  Before the Raine brothers ever cut the first log from their newly purchased property, the community of farms along the James River and Kanawha Turnpike was known as Sewell Valley, named for Stephen Sewell. 
      The town of Rainelle was established on April 25, 1913, somewhat of a late development, considering that the James River and Kanawha Turnpike was completed through Sewell Valley in 1826.  The turnpike was the main highway and provided for the movement of passengers and mail between Lewisburg and the Kanawha Valley.    
      Stage coach service along the Turnpike began in 1827 with a stage line operated by the Caldwell-Surbaugh stage company, which ran from Lewisburg to Charleston.  J. T. Peters and H. B. Carden in The History of Fayette County, West Virginia list the “famous” stage stand owners, and among those listed are Harrison Hickman in Little Sewell Valley, Addison Frazier in Sewell Valley, and Thomas Henning at Meadow Bluff.  Stage coaches ran on the Turnpike until 1873 when railroads replaced them. 
      Twentieth century developments necessitated changes in highway construction to accommodate automobiles.  The road from Rainelle to Sam Black Church was by-passed when the Midland Trail diverged to Charmco and Rupert.  The turnpike became County Route 60/32, now paved, but mostly a one-lane road where good manners and driving safety dictate that you pull to the berm when you meet on-coming traffic.
     A tour book produced by the Midland Trail Association in 1916 describes the road as running from Meadow Bluff and over Little Sewell Mountain, the original course of the old Turnpike.  By 1926 when Percival Reniers and Ashton Reniers wrote The Midland Trail Tour in West Virginia, the Midland Trail had deviated to follow the present Route 60.  They write, “At Sam Black Church the Turnpike runs straight ahead over Little Sewell Mountain while the modern route bears right, down the easy grade of the Old Wilderness Road along Meadow River.” 
     The Midland Trail had begun its modern incarnation, while the direct route over Little Sewell Mountain was historically preserved in its rural, peaceful nature, used mostly by the residents of the mountain and valleys between Rainelle and Sam Black Church.  Today the area along the old turnpike route remains much the same as it did in its early days.
      In Rainelle the original turnpike, which is clearly marked with a street sign on Main Street, veers to the right in a fork of the road in what used to be called East Rainelle.  The old turnpike route runs over Little Sewell Mountain to Sam Black Church and reconnects with Route 60 near Interstate 64.  The road loops and bends past small farms and scenic mountain views where life includes everyday references to local history. 
      A few years ago I talked with Bobby Ayers, who at the time lived near Rainelle on the old turnpike.  Near Dennis, where a post office had been located, he had found a watering trough used during “old” days on the Turnpike, as stated on the homemade sign someone long ago posted over the trough.  Unless Bobby had told me about the trough, I would never have noticed it hiding under a clump of overgrown brush.
     There is a lot of history hiding in just 10 miles of turnpike.  The grave sites of the famous Greenbrier Ghost and her mother are located at Soule Chapel United Methodist Church, just off the Turnpike.   The Greenbrier Ghost appeared to her mother to tell how the Ghost's husband had murdered her.  The investigation of the untimely death of Zona Shue on Little Sewell Mountain convicted her husband of murder. 
Highway marker which tells the story
of the Greenbrier Ghost.
      A few miles from Soule Chapel is the Dietz Farm which was occupied by both Union and Confederate troops at different times.  The National Register Bulletin describes the Dietz farm house as being used as a hospital during the Civil War with graves of unidentified soldiers located nearby on the farm.  Soldiers from both sides followed the James River and Kanawha Turnpike through Sewell Valley as they repeatedly marched between Lewisburg and the Kanawha valley.  Some people are surprised when I tell them that my friends and I played "Civil War" when we were children.  We divided up into Union and Confederate forces and went for it.  I wish I had known then how many Union and Confederate soldiers had actually marched on the road just yards from our houses.  Unfortunately our local history was not taught in schools at the time, and we had no idea that where we lived was a major thoroughfare for troop movements.    
      After the turnpike improved travel through the mountains to Charleston in the early nineteenth century, more and more people moved to the area, built homes, and established farms along the road, creating a sense of community.  Post offices opened at Meadow Bluff, Little Sewell Mountain, Dennis, and Sewell Valley.
      By 1889 Sewell Valley possessed a school house and a new Baptist church.   According to the minutes of the first meeting to organize Sewell Valley Baptist Church, the gathering took place at the Sewell Valley Schoolhouse, located on the Osborne farm.  The original Sewell Valley Baptist Church was constructed in 1889 and was used until 1962, when a new church was built and the older one torn down.  The site of the old frame building is now the church cemetery.     
Bible school held at Sewell Valley Baptist Church
in the second building which was
erected in 1962.
     In a manuscript written in 1954, Herbert Harr notes that in 1910 there were not enough children to have a school in Rainelle, so the children attended a one-room school east of town called the Sewell Valley School.  This school was used at least until 1912, but in 1911 the Meadow Bluff District Board of Education provided a school for 30 students in a room over a store in East Rainelle.  Progress was moving away from Sewell Valley and toward the company town that was growing up around the Meadow River Lumber Company. 
The Osborne house as it appeared in the 1920s.  The
road is the Turnpike.  Picture from
K. C. Farren.
Land near the school and the church was part of the Osborne farm where a post office was located from 1909 until 1924.  The Osborne house was a landmark for decades and sat directly across from the intersection with the road that is now Airport Road.   The last of the Osborne family to live in the house was Freda Osborne Critchley, aunt of K.C. Farren, who told me, “I remember spending nights in the old house.  The beds had feather ticks, and every room, upstairs and downstairs, had a fireplace.”  K. C. has much of the furniture from the old house including a desk and a secretary that was used to sort mail when the house was a post office.  The family also had swords that were used during the Civil War.  I was enchanted with that house when I was a girl, and my dad, who knew Freda Osborne, took me by to visit one day, but my memories of the inside of the house are vague. I wanted to see those swords that my dad had told me about, but I don't think they were brought out on that day.  
     In 1947 the Osbornes sub-divided the farm into building lots, creating what is still known as the Osborne Addition, a residential suburb of Rainelle.  The road that had once provided a rocky trip on a stage coach from Lewisburg to Charleston and made mail delivery possible to remote farms, was now the “hard road” to the families in the comfortable bungalow-style homes situated off the turnpike on smaller dirt and red dog roads. K. C. said that documents from the creation of the subdivision show that the right of way for the old turnpike road is 60 feet, which could accommodate a much wider road than what exists now. 
     As homes continued to pop up in the Osborne Addition, Denzil and Audrey Simms opened a small store at the corner where Oak Street now connects with the turnpike.  In the 1960s Squire Haynes developed a grass landing strip on top of Little Sewell Mountain that accommodated small aircraft, and he eventually opened a restaurant at the airport that served meals to flyers from all parts of the United States.
The building along the Turnpike
where Denzil and Audrey
Simms had a store. 
     In the 1950s one of the lots near the Osborne house was used to build a skating rink.  The skating rink was open on Friday and Saturday, and the cost of skating was 75 cents.  Music was provided by a juke box, and K. C. and many other young people in Rainelle and the Osborne Addition spent as much time as possible hurtling around the rink, the girls with pom-poms on their skates.  The skating rink was a gathering place for teenagers, not only from Rainelle High School, but from many other Greenbrier County high schools as well.  When K. C. was about 10 years old, the mother of one of his friends took several children skating.  In the car the mom bragged about being a good skater, so the children insisted that she skate with them.  On the first trip around the rink the mom fell and broke both of her arms.  The skating rink was replaced with a bowling alley called Greenbrier Lanes which operated until the 1970s.   
The site of the Osborne house
as it appears today where Airport Road
intersects the turnpike.
       In the mid-1970s after Keith and Freda Osborne Critchley built a new home, the old Osborne house was torn down.  For several years the stone chimneys on each end of the house marked the location, until they, too, were torn down due to safety concerns.  The field where the house sat for so many years is now occupied by mobile homes.  
       Just as the old horse trough with its faded sign leaves only a trace of earlier travelers, the appearance of the James River and Kanawha Turnpike hints at the history evident along its route.  From horses and stagecoaches to Model T automobiles stirring up dust, the short stretch of road changes as each age dictates, yet it has stories to tell of life long ago if you know where to look. 

The home-made sign above the horse trough near
the old site of the Dennis post office along the Turnpike.