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.
Join us on Friday, June 3, 2022 from 5 pm to 8 pm at the site of Byrnside’s Fort, 1 mile South of Union, West Virginia on Willow Bend Road, for an open house. This is Friday evening during Union’s annual Farmer’s Day celebration. Come check out the preservation progress on Byrnside’s Fort, as well as the artifacts we’ve found. Here’s a link to the Facebook event page:
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.
Yesterday we drove up to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to the Fort Pitt Museum. For the past two years they had a wonderful exhibit titled, “Pittsburgh, Virginia,” which focused on the events surrounding Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774, when the colonies of Pennsylvania and Virginia both challenged eachother for ownership of Fort Pitt, nearly resulting in Pittsburgh becoming part of Virginia. One of our flintlocks and a document signed by Lord Dunmore were on display there, and so we had to go retrieve them, but also got the awesome opportunity of seeing the exhibit while the museum was closed, and also leaving with two of the items. Thanks to Mike Burke for giving us the grand tour. This is such a fantastic museum, and I can’t wait to see the next exhibit coming out in 2023….
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.
In my last post I mentioned the fantastic fireplace mantel we were able to acquire at the Dickson House auction. Shortly after the auction I was contacted by multiple individuals with information about the origin of the mantel. I’ve since visited the location, taken measurements, and verified the information as accurate. The mantel came out of the parlor of the Nickell Homestead at Nickell’s Mill, which like the Dickson property, is also on Second Creek (downstream) right on the border of Monroe County and Greenbrier County, in West Virginia. It’s also on the National Register of Historic Places. Unlike the Dickson home however, the Nickell house is unfortunately in a state of disrepair, and is perhaps past the point of no return. However, the Nickell house actually retains most of its woodwork, and all of its other mantels. Interestingly, I’m told that the mantel, which adorned the home’s parlor, is believed to have been lost in a 1964 card game by its-then owner, John Hinchman Nickell. The property remains in the hands of Nickell descendants to this day, with the exception of the mill, which was also apparently lost in a card game by the same owner, and is now demolished.
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.
Recently, a friend of mine, Bill Burns, happened upon an early log cabin site just North of Union, West Virginia and Byrnside’s Fort. After finishing most of the preservation work on the items, he let me go through and photograph them. Sites like this provide interesting information on the lives of people in what was the remote frontier in the 18th century. It always blows my mind that you find these large fancy shoe buckles on the frontier.