Monday, January 30, 2012

Isaac Bellangee, the Pioneer

When last I wrote about Isaac Bellangee, he had made it to Augusta County, Virginia, dragging along numerous legends and myths that still float around 245 years later.  Despite all the fiction revolving around Isaac, his documented history is just as interesting.  Born around 1719 in Burlington, New Jersey, Isaac was raised by a Quaker family (Evi [Yves] and Christian Delaplaine Bellangee).  Evi died a short time after Isaac was born.  Unfortunately, Isaac's story leap frogs over a huge gap of information that blanks out the early adulthood years until he leaves New Jersey for the mountains of Virginia.  
The story of Isaac Bellangee is picked up in 1767 in Augusta County, Virginia, when Isaac would have been about 48 years old.  This is the time period when some people say he left a family behind in New Jersey, but that's not proven.  I don't know why Isaac selected Augusta County for his new home; perhaps he drifted South until he found a place he liked.  Quakers from Burlington County, New Jersey, were settling in northern Virginia, but Isaac doesn't seem to have any connection with the Quakers.  I don't know how living in New Jersey prepared him for the bare-knuckle life in the mountains overlooking the Shenandoah Valley, but Augusta County holds a hand-drawn survey of land granted to Isaac on Craig’s Creek.  Craig’s Creek is a branch of Barbour’s Creek which is in the modern-day area of Boutetourt and Craig Counties. There is no documentation about Isaac having a family at this time, so I think of him as being single when he settled on Craig’s Creek.  Some sources refer to Isaac Blangy being in Abb’s Valley (modern day Tazewell County) before 1771.[1] 
The namesake of Abb’s Valley was Absalom Looney who also had a survey on Craig’s Creek in 1770.[2]  It may be that Isaac knew Looney and that they travelled and hunted the area together.  There is no land record which indicates that Isaac settled on land in Abb’s Valley, and documentation is not presented in any source as to how it was determined that Isaac was in Abb’s Valley. 
Settlers often spent weeks away from home hunting and trapping before returning to their cabins. 
            “. . .the hardy backwoodsman of Augusta frequently left home and all its endearments, and took upon himself the toil and fatigue, as well as the pleasures, of a trapper’s life. . . the backwoodsman returned regularly to his family, at the end of a few months. . .”[3]  Perhaps during one of these trapping explorations, Isaac visited Abb’s Valley.
            In 1769 the part of Augusta County that contained Craig’s Creek was included in a new county named Botetourt.  The Annals of Southwest Virginia (1929, p. 138) gives a record of a jury trial that occurred during the 11 October 1771 session of the Botetourt County Court in which Isaac Bolinger sued Patrick McDonald.  A verdict was returned in favor of the plaintiff (Bolinger) for seven pounds, 13 shillings, and six pence.   
            On 1 August 1772 a land patent was recorded in Botetourt County for the 210 acres owned by Isaac Bellangee (spelling variation the same as that used by the New Jersey Bellangees) in consideration of the sum of 25 shillings. The boundaries of the land began on the south side of “Barbers Creek” and ran across the creek with survey measurements identical to the survey from Augusta County in 1767.  The patent was granted by George the Third, through Lord Dunmore in Williamsburg.
Indian attacks were problematic for the Augusta County settlers during the years from 1764 to 1766.  In 1758 Sir William Johnson arranged a treaty stipulating that the land in western Pennsylvania would continue to be used by the Six Nations as hunting grounds, and this provided a period of calm.  To pacify the Indians, the British government restricted settlement west of the Alleghenies, but white settlers, more or less, ignored those limitations.    By 1773 tensions increased between the Indians and the white settlers when the settlers began to move into the territory south of the Kanawha River that included Indian hunting grounds.[4]   
When the Indian attacks increased in 1774, Lord Dunmore wrote to General Andrew Lewis in Botetourt County directing Lewis to assemble a southern army that would march to Point Pleasant and there fight the confederated Indian tribes.[5]  General Lewis ordered men to gather at Camp Union (modern-day Lewisburg, West Virginia), ready to march to Point Pleasant on 30 August.  Isaac Bellangee is on the roster of men who were paid in 1775 for their services in Lord Dunmore’s War.  He provided 13 days of service in 1774.  Because the militia rolls and the public service claims are merged on the list, it’s not possible to determine what service Isaac provided, but because he was only paid for 13 days, his service was probably minimal.  The army assembled on 30 August and the Battle of Point Pleasant occurred on 10 October, so Isaac’s service may have been to move supplies from Botetourt County over to Greenbrier County to prepare for the long march.  The men from Augusta County took 400 pack horses with 54,000 pounds of flour and 108 beeves to Camp Union.  The supplies were taken from Staunton to present-day Lewisburg, but there was no road to accommodate the wagons from Camp Union to the Ohio River.[6]
            Isaac was one of six men in Captain Edward Cawen’s company and provided the fewest days of service among all six.  With such a small period of service, it’s unlikely that Isaac marched through the mountains to the mouth of the Kanawha (Parkersburg).  It’s more probable that he provided some resource (flour, beeves, horses, etc.) that he moved from Botetourt County to Camp Union.  Although Isaac didn't associate himself with the Quaker community in Virginia, his childhood instruction by the Society of Friends may have lingered on into his adult life and influenced him to take a pacifistic turn.  Was he a peaceful, quiet-mannered man?  Or a burly, mountain-man who hunted bear and trapped beavers for their pelts?  
Kegley’s Virginia Frontier (1938, p. 440) says that in August 1774 (perhaps on the way to muster for Lord Dunmore’s War?) a group of men “looked over” a way from the Sweet Springs Road on Dunlap’s Creek to Camp Union on the Greenbrier River.  By 15 November 1775, this road was “established” thus opening up more convenient travel from Botetourt County to Greenbrier County
After the resolution of the hostilities with the Indians, Isaac married a woman named Jean (or Jane, in some documents).  Her surname is unknown, as is the date of their marriage.  When the couple moved to Greenbrier County, they lived near James Graham and William Graham, which gives some credence to the theory that Jean's surname was Graham.  Four Graham gentlemen also witnessed Jean's will when she died, which demonstrates a close relationship between her and the Graham family.  The first documented birth date of any of their children is 1778, so it can be assumed that their marriage occurred about 1777 when Isaac was about 60 years old.  Some sources list their marriage date as 1768.  If that is true, either no children were born to the marriage for 10 years or no documentation exists for the children from those earlier years.

Children of Isaac and Jean Ballengee
Name of Child
Birth Date
Henry Ballengee
Born 1778
“Ballengees of West Virginia”, no author, no date, from Family Heritage Center microfilm.
George Ballengee
Born 1779
“Ballengees of West Virginia
Florence Ballengee
Born 1784
“Ballengees of West Virginia
Jane Ballengee
Born about 1785

Isaac Ballengee, Jr.
Born 1788
Greenbrier Co. death records and age from 1850 census
Susannah Ballengee
Born 1788

Elizabeth Ballengee
Born 1789

With the arrival of the American Revolutionary War, colonists were required to declare their loyalty to the newly formed American government.  Isaac swore an oath of allegiance in Botetourt County in 1777.  This is the only documentation for Isaac during the Revolution which occurred from 1776 to 1781 (Siege of Yorktown).  A search of the database of patriots with the Daughters of the American Revolution reveals that no records of service during the Revolution exist for Isaac.   Two of his children, Henry and George, were born during the Revolution.
Isaac continued to live in Botetourt County at least through 1 September 1780 because a deed in which William Walker purchased 63 acres states that Walker’s land was adjacent to the land of Isaac Ballenger.  Sometime between this citation and 1783, Isaac had moved to Greenbrier CountyKegley’s Virginia Frontier (p. 463) says that in 1783 a “new way was marked out from the place formerly Balliner’s (sic) on Barber’s Creek to the Sweet Springs.”  Greenbrier County was established in 1778, and when the trail across the mountains from Botetourt County improved to a “road”, Isaac moved his family to the territory he may have first seen when he provided services during Lord Dunmore’s War. 
The census for 1790 is not extant, but the census has been reconstructed with names from county tax lists in Virginia.  Isaac Ballinger appears on this “heads of families” list from 1782-1785 in Greenbrier County.  The 1787 tax list “C” from Greenbrier County lists Isaac as owning four horses and eight cattle.  The assessor called on Isaac on 5 May, and Isaac appears on the list adjacent to James and William Graham who were probably his neighbors.[7]
            On 8 May of the same year Isaac assigned power of attorney to Thomas Price of Botetourt County to act as his agent in selling his 210 acres there.[8]  On 18 October 1787 Isaac received a grant of 184 acres on the Kanawha and Greenbrier Rivers “by virtue of a certificate in light of settlement given by the commissioners for adjusting titles to unpatented lands in the District of Augusta, Botetourt, and Greenbrier” and for the sum of one pound sterling.[9]  The tract in Greenbrier County is described as “. . .on the Kanawha below the mouth of Greenbrier River. . .beginning at the Sheep Rock Branch. . .crossing an island. . .leaving the island”.  This land was situated where the city of Hinton is now located. 
            Judith McClung writes of traditional information that was related by David Graham Ballengee.[10]   The story goes that Isaac had intended to travel to Ohio, but one of the children became ill, so they stopped near the Greenbrier River until the child recovered.  They decided to buy the land using “squatter’s title” and that they finalized purchase of the land in 1785.  David Ballengee thought that Isaac and his family arrived in Greenbrier County around 1780.
            The story continues that Isaac built his first cabin in a field, but it burned, so he built another cabin in 1781.  “The home was sturdy and spacious, and the island offered protection from wild beasts and Indians.  For safety reasons there were no windows.”  There was supposedly a Ballengee home built on an island in the New River, but this could not have been the home that stood near the C & O Railroad yard that was occupied until around 1900 because, obviously, that home was not on the island. 
            Isaac’s representative in Botetourt County, Thomas Price, sold Isaac’s land there on 8 December 1789.[11]  The last documented child was born to Isaac and Jean in 1789.[12]  The family remained on their farm by the river until Isaac died.  The date of his death is not documented, but on 14 March 1798 Jonathan Rumford bought land adjoining that of Isaac Ballengee, deceased.[13]  In 1799 Jean Ballengee is on the Monroe county tax list with two tithables, which means that she is the head of the household.[14]  Monroe County was created from Greenbrier County in 1799, so Jean's tax record is transferred from Greenbrier County to Monroe County. 
            A grant of land was made to Jean Bellengee by the Commonwealth of Virginia on 22 November 1800.[15]  The grant included a total of 300 acres that bordered a survey of land owned by Jonathan Rumford (7,473 acres) and another for Isaac Bellengee, deceased (184 acres).  With Isaac’s original grant, Jean now owned a total of 484 acres.  The grant was located on the north side of the New River about a half-mile below the mouth of the Greenbrier River.  The survey began at Sheep Rock Branch; another landmark mentioned was Rebekah’s Branch. 
            Jean died between 15 October 1804, when she wrote her last will and testament, and 18 February 1805 when her will was probated at Monroe County court.  She left to her sons George and Isaac each one cow, and the 500 acre tract of land was to be divided equally among Henry, George, and Isaac, Jr.  Her daughters, Jane and Florence, who were married, each received one dollar because Jean said they had already received their “equal part”.  Her two unmarried daughters, Elizabeth and Susana, received all of Jean’s moveable property which was to be divided equally between the two daughters.[16]  The will was witnessed by James Graham, Sr., Samuel Graham, James Graham, Jr., and Lanty Graham. 
            Isaac's farm along the New River is now home to the town of Hinton, where a street is named after him.  His life is reduced to a few facts gleaned from land records and will books, but I imagine he had some good stories to tell when the family sat around the fireplace after supper.  Those had to be some wonderful stories.  

[1] Harman, John, Annals of Tazewell County, Virginia, Volume I, p. 24.
[2] Kegley, F. B., Kegley’s Virginia Frontier, 1938, p. 456.
[3] P. 341
[4] Skidmore, Warren, Lord Dunmore’s Little War of 1774, 2002, p. 4.
[5] Lewis, Virgil, History of Pt. Pleasant, 1909, p. 25.
[6] Waddell, Joseph, Annals of Augusta County, Virginia from 1726-1871, 1902, p. 183.
[7] Yantis and Love, The 1787 Census of Virginia, Greenbrier County, 1987, p. 163 and p. 171.
[8] Botetourt County Deeds, Book 3, p. 476.
[9] Deed, Commonwealth of Virginia to Isaac Ballengee, 18 October 1787, Virginia State Land Office, No. 15, p. 199, Virginia State Library, Richmond, VA.
[10]  Letter from J. O. Ballengee to Lucy Scott, 11 October 1937.
[11] Botetourt County Deeds, Book 4, p. 145. 
[12] “Ballengees of West Virginia,” Family Heritage Center microfilm.
[13] Deed, Commonwealth of Virginia to Jonathan Rumford, 14 March 1798, Va. State Land Office, No. 38, p. 131, Virginia State Library, Richmond, VA.
[14] Morton, History of Monroe County, 1916, p. 480.
[15] Deed, Commonwealth of Virginia to Jean Bellengee, 22 November 1800, Va. State Land Office , No. 48, p. 81, Virginia State Library, Richmond, VA.
[16] Monroe County Wills, Book 1-A, p. 49.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Violets and Patches

Newt Gingrich is the default expert on forgiveness.  He seems to know the most about that topic currently, having asked the Catholic Church for forgiveness for adultery and the many hurts that he has caused others.  Seems he forgot to ask his second wife for forgiveness.  

A quote often attributed to Mark Twain says, "Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it."  To me this does not sound like anything that Twain would ever have said; it is so absolutely well-written that it tickles my brain with its imagery, but it does not have the witty snap for which Twain is known.  This phrase appears to be written by someone who sought and was granted forgiveness.  

The perspective of the person who is doing the forgiving is better expressed by Edgar Watson Howe in Country Town Sayings (1911), "You can make up a quarrel, but it will always show where it was patched."  Only someone who has suffered through the healing of a tremendous hurt realizes that forgetting the quarrel is preferable, but the remaining scar is a tender reminder of how deep the hurt really was. Even if you don't dwell on the problem, memories pop up every now and then, tender to the touch.  Things will not ever be as they were before.  

My own experiences cause me to be astounded when a presidential candidate expresses that he went to the church and asked forgiveness for his many marital faux pas, as if that made every thing as it were before his indiscretions.  Life is not like that.  Behavior has consequences, both good and bad.  Even when you're sorry about something you've done and been granted forgiveness, like the slimy trail of a slug on a sidewalk, the consequences of behaviors regretted remain for all the world to see. 

Statements ascribed to Newt Gingrich are found all over the internet like fleas on an alley cat.  The one that strikes me as being full of portent is the one about his then wife, Jackie, as found in an article on CNN:

                                                                                                                                                                                           "Leonard H. "Kip" Carter, a former close Gingrich friend, backed the contention that it was Newt Gingrich who wanted the divorce.  "He (Gingrich) said, 'You know and I know that she's not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of a president,' "  Carter, who now lives in South Carolina, told CNN recently, relating the conversation he had with Gingrich the day Gingrich revealed he was filing for divorce.   Carter served as treasurer of Gingrich's first congressional campaigns.  Carter, who was a fellow history professor when Gingrich taught at West Georgia College in Carrollton, said he broke off his friendship with Newt Gingrich because of the congressman's treatment of his wife during the divorce.  Asked in an e-mail whether that conversation in 1980 occurred the way that Carter recounted, Gingrich spokesman Hammond did not respond."

This is foreshadowing at its height.  After he left two wives, he settled with the blonde beauty that is seen with him now in every campaign photo, the ever-faithful Callista, whom, apparently, Newt Gingrich thinks is young enough and pretty enough to be the wife of a president.  There she is, in all her blondness and Tiffany jewels, the becoming accessory, trotted out for the media like a trained dog, because, you see, Mr. Gingrich has wanted to be president for a very, very long time.  Everything he has done during his adult life, from marriages to divorces, has been executed with this goal in mind.  

If you have ever been forgiven of anything in your life (and I have many times), grace is certainly as sweet as the scent of violets.  For those doing the forgiving, there are some ugly patches to sew on the thing, however.  "Forgive and forget" is not ever truly possible, no matter how much we try.  Just ask Marianne Gingrich.    

Friday, January 6, 2012

Dear Grandma

Lelia Amick, wife and mother, on the
 farm in Nicholas County, West Virginia.
My grandmother, Lelia Clingman Humphries Amick, always said she had two birthdays.  The official birth record lists her date of birth as January 1, 1888, but she was really born on January 8, 1888.  Sunday will be the 124th anniversary of her birth in Pool, Nicholas County, West Virginia.  I asked her once what her middle name was, and she laughed when I thought "Clingman" sure was a funny name.  It turns out that her grandmother was Elizabeth Clingman Ott from Greenbrier County.

Irvin Amick and Lelia Clingman
Humphries around the time
of their marriage.
On December 27, 1905, Lelia, at the age of 17, married Irvin Amick.  They lived in Nicholas County, at first in the home of Lelia's parents, Will and Lucinda Humphries.  By 1920 they lived in their own home, next door to Irvin's parents, Samuel and Martha Amick.  My mother said that Grandma loved her cows, and that she had a favorite cow named Reddy. 

 In 1930 Irvin and Lelia lived in Greenbrier County where Irvin worked as a carpenter for the railroad in Rainelle.  At first they lived in Dwyer, but then moved to Rainelle, where they lived in an apartment in the old hospital building, then in the Scruggs house, and then in an apartment over Blair Jewelry Store.  Their son, Teddy Carl Amick, also worked as a carpenter for the railroad.  In July 1930, when Teddy was 21 years old, he was killed in a work accident.  Irvin and Lelia remained in Rainelle with their surviving children, Leathel Delores, Carrie May, Irma Belle, and Marylene Gathel.

After Teddy was killed, Irvin and Lelia bought a farm in 1932 in Waverly, Virginia, where they had a small store.   They were afraid that Irvin would lose his job with the railroad, but as it turned out, he continued to work there during the depression. 

Lelia (in flowered dress) sight-seeing
 in San Diego with her sister,
Sadie L. Humphries Dorsey.
Eventually the family returned to Rainelle where they bought a house.  Lelia worked as a cook at the King Coal Hotel and at the hospital.  From their home it was a short walk up town to the A & P grocery store, G. C. Murphy's Five & Ten, Flint's Hardware, and the Gulf service station where Granddad treated me to orange pop.  When Irvin retired from the railroad, they had lifetime passes to ride the train anywhere they wanted to go, so each year, my mom and dad drove them to Hinton. where they caught a train to Arizona.  There they spent time with Carrie before travelling on to San Diego, where Leathel lived.  Each spring they returned to their home in Rainelle. 

I remember Grandma's house.  Granddad had a perpetual game of solitaire going on the table, and Grandma had a perpetual dinner going in the kitchen:  pot roast, green beans, and fried apples, seasoned with her proverbs.  "It's a poor house that can't afford one lady."  "Might as well eat the devil as drink his broth."  I loved playing Chinese checkers and reading her Better Homes and Gardens magazines.  Grandma's house is where I learned to play Canasta. 

In 1968 I went to Berea, Kentucky, to go to college.  It was a different time, I can assure you.  As a terrified 18-year-old, living away from home for the very first time, I did something that most 18-year-olds today would never think of.  I wrote letters.  And I received letters.  Letters from my mom and dad, from friends at home, from friends who had joined the Navy, and from my grandmother, Lelia Clingman Humphries Amick. I saved her letters for some reason.  I didn't save letters from anyone
At a family reunion at Lizzie Bennett's house in
Nicholas County:  Lelia's nephew, Clyde
Arthur and his wife, Sadie Humphries Dorsey
(Lelia's sister), and Lelia Amick. 

else, but I've kept Grandma's letters in an old stationery box for 43 years.  The letters offer encouragement to me and ask dozens of questions about what it was like to be in college.  There was no generation gap. 

She wrote 11 letters to me from October 4, 1968, to April 22, 1969, from High Point, North Carolina, where she lived with her daughter and my aunt, Marylene Rountree.  Her health had deteriorated until she had to "give up housekeeping", which meant selling her home and disbursing all of her furniture and household items.  At that time my mother was in crisis herself dealing with the illness of my father, so Grandma went to live with her daughter in North Carolina. 
Oh, how she missed Rainelle.  Although she missed going to church, her first letter is full of news and questions.  It was also full of encouragement for me, telling me, "I know what it takes to get it.  You have got it."  Twelve days later she writes, "I was afraid you would forget you had a grandma.  I am so proud of you," and that they are changing East Rainelle so much, I wouldn't "know it" when I got back up there.  Her plans were to return to Rainelle, but on October 26 she wrote that she had asked her doctor about going to West Virginia, and he looked at her like "he thought I was crazy.  That is all he said.  That look was enough."  
She wrote to me on election day in November.  An intense democrat, she said that "this is the big day for one of the big men.  I hope it is the one who butters our bread."  She was "sorry that I can't help him out" at the ballot box.  That big man was Hubert Humphrey, who lost to Richard Nixon.  She didn't write about the election anymore. 
Later in November she told me the news she had heard from my mom.  "There is no place like home to me.  Wish I could go home."  She wrote about their Thanksgiving company, but that it "wasn't like being at home."  By February 4 her letters took a sad turn:  "Well, I have been here 1 year and it seems like it has been 2 years in a way, and again it don't seem so long.  Just to be isolated.  Just set here, nobody to see or call to talk to or anything to pass off time.  No friends to come in.  It is the worst place I was ever in not to have no neighbors.  Not like W. Va."  In her next letter she wrote, "I have been down here over a year, and it seems like a long time to be cooped up, but thank the Lord I am still here.  I would rather be back home.  There is still no place like home."  No, Grandma, there really isn't anyplace like home. 
In March she is making plans to go to West Virginia.  "I hope to go to W. Va. this summer some time if the good Lord be willing and just give me health & strength.  My head says feet stick with me and we will go places, but some times they say I can't go."  In April after I had apparently written about my trip home for Easter, she wrote, "Would love to been with you but seems like I won't get back up there any more, and I would love to go."  She continues that her daughter in California wanted her to come out there, and her daughter in Arizona would come to get her as soon as school was out on June 3.  She closes the letter by saying, "Well, I guess you are tired of this gab."  No, Grandma, I wasn't tired of it.  Her last letter closed with, "Love & may God bless and keep you."  He has, Grandma. 

She never made it home until she died October 4, 1969.  She lived with Carrie only a few months when she developed esophageal cancer. I love reading the old letters of encouragement and news and weather reports, the letters she pondered over and wrote with her mis-shapened hands.  Dear Grandma, I wish you a "Happy Birthday", love, Janet.