Recently, Bill Burns of Union, WV found the site of a Civil War camp occupied by Confederate soldiers. Many of the finds tell the story of Civil War camp life, including the .58 caliber Gardner bullet, carved into a chess piece, along with a flattened and marked lead gaming piece. Also found were pewter harmonica reeds, coins, buttons and buckles, including the fantastic brass Confederate “heavy frame” buckle. These would date prior to Federal occupation of the southern Greenbrier Valley, most likely circa 1861-63.
This antique powder horn is dated 1777 and belonged to John Over. He was drafted into the Lancaster County militia in 1777 and sent to guard the frontier gaps and fords along the Delaware River. One can imagine him passing time that summer, scratching his name and date onto his horn, in a manner much like we may doodle during zoom meetings today. He would serve in the subsequent years as well in the war, which we know was quite interesting, since his pension statement survives, detailing his service.
This 18th century iron cooking kettle was found in the yard at Byrnside’s Fort. Here it is next to a larger non-excavated example, which survived at a nearby fort site about 9 miles away. Usually you find them in much smaller pieces. These early examples generally have no markings on them, other than casting marks and designs. This example appears to have been used until completely worn out, and then buried in a nearby pit with other refuse. This was one of those simple necessities which would have been carried over the mountains via pack horse, utilizing precious cargo space. Therefore they were used until the bottom eventually failed, which is probably what happened with this kettle.
We acquired the antique Chickering piano at the auction of the contents of the Dickson property late last year, which was full of local Greenbrier Valley history. It was sort of a sight-unseen type of thing, and we knew nothing about antique pianos, or even moving them. Recently, I was able to learn more about the piano after discovering that one of my clients was an expert on antique pianos. We still need to get it moved, so a couple of days ago I took her out to look at the piece, as well as the logistics of moving it. She was able to find the serial number, indicating an initial manufacture date of 1851. She was also able to find some other markings written in pencil on some wood inside the piano.
At the auction of the contents of the Dickson home, I found a small framed silhouette off to the side. On the back was written, “Sampson Mathews.” I knew the name, though I couldn’t immediately place it. I googled it, and then subsequently determined to stay until the end of the auction, if necessary, to bid on this piece. I recalled that the name was familiar, for good reason. A quick google refreshed my memory that Sampson Mathews was one of the Mathews Brothers who owned and operated the “Mathews Trading Post” on the Greenbrier River in the early 1770s, the ledgers of which survive to this day in the possession of the Greenbrier Historical Society. We stuck it out, eventually acquiring the silhouette. I was the only bidder, jumping at the extremely low opening bid, and then breathing a sigh of relief when the hammer dropped. Such is the exciting thing about auctions: the chance at finding hidden treasure at treasure-hunting prices.
The historic Dickson home/farm went up for auction this past weekend, along with all of its contents. We were fortunate to obtain some of the items. The site, known as Spring Valley Farm, is located along US Route 219 in Monroe County, West Virginia, right at the Greenbrier County line. This location, situated on Second Creek, at a gap in the gorge created by the creek, had always been an important stopping point for 18th and 18th century travelers. It served as a stagecoach stop and tavern during the mid 19th century. This property is also an excellent example of the transition from log cabin pioneer subsistence on the Virginia frontier, to successful upper class planter that symbolized the very beginning of the American Dream.
The phrase “Missouri War Axe” really has two different meanings. From my understanding, it was contemporary collectors who termed the “MWA” phrase, referring to what are generally 19th century large flared axe shaped tomahawks, sometimes without shaped cutouts. However, the term was derived, at least in part, from the Lewis and Clark journal descriptions of the “war axes” or “battle axes” they observed in the possession of the western Indians during their famous journey. They ended up setting up a blacksmithing business to cater to this “war axe” trade, both manufacturing new ones, as well as repairing existing examples.
Believed to have borrowed the name of the French city of Bayonne, the bayonet rose to prominence as a vital military weapon during the last half of the 17th c. Arriving in Virginia in the 1670s, the first of the type are referred to as “plug” bayonets, being little more than daggers with tapered handles which were “plugged” into the muzzles of the muskets. Earlier iron-mounted examples were quickly replaced by cast-brass hilted bayonets by the late 1680s, and all were obsolete shortly thereafter.