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….
Cook’s Fort was one of the larger Revolutionary War era frontier forts in the Greenbrier Valley of Virginia (now West Virginia), constructed around 1774, seeing active use from 1774 through the early 1780s. The general location of Cook’s Fort has always been known, though the exact location had been lost to history. A few years ago I tried to locate the fort via metal detector, to no avail. Recently however, archaeologists using ground penetrating radar were able to locate it and subsequently excavated the remnants of the old stockade walls, which are basically dark stains in the ground from the vertical stockade logs having rotted into the soil. The excavation has now been backfilled, and soon grass will once again hide the fort’s outline, so I recently flew my new drone over the site to photograph the actual fort’s outline on the ground.
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 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.
While Thomas Jefferson became Vice President of the United States in 1797, he also became President of the American Philosophical Society – a position once held by Benjamin Franklin, who founded the society in 1743. When Jefferson arrived in DC to assume these positions, he had with him some massive bones which came out of a cave in the Greenbrier Valley.
The M1841 U.S. percussion rifle, manufactured in Harpers Ferry, (West) Virginia, is one of the best-looking U.S. military issue rifles in our nation’s history. You may know it by its other name – the “Mississippi Rifle,” or by its characteristic brass hardware, short length, and walnut stock. But did you know how it obtained its name, given that it was made in West Virginia?
I recently discovered additional Revolutionary War veteran pension applications mentioning Byrnside’s Fort. These first-hand narratives, mostly from the 1830s, are the recollections of the 18th century frontier soldiers of the Greenbrier Valley. They’re the best documentation we have on life and service on the Virginia frontier. They paint a good picture of the importance of Byrnside’s Fort, as well as James Byrnside himself during the Revolutionary War era. There’s strong evidence through these narratives that our fort was in active military use from around 1774 through 1782, which for the most part is the entire timeline of Lord Dunmore’s War and the American Revolution.
When you travel in our southern mountains, one of the first things that will strike you is that about every fourth or fifth farmer has a tiny tub-mill of his own. Tiny is indeed the word, for there are few of these mills that can grind more than a bushel or two of corn in a day; some have a capacity of only half a bushel in ten hours of stead grinding. Red grains of corn being harder than white ones, it is a humorous saying in the mountains that “a red grain in the gryste (grist) will stop the mill.”
I stumbled upon some interesting entries in the personal papers of Thomas Jefferson. In his 1772 Memorandum Book, he discusses the real estate ventures of then Colonial, later General, Andrew Lewis’ claims throughout the Greenbrier Valley. And in these paragraphs, he mentions James Burnsides (Byrnside), four separate times, and calls him “obnoxious,” among other things.