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.
This weekend we were honored to have a very special guest visit Byrnside’s Fort. Dr. Ron Ripley is a renowned local historian who authored the fort’s National Register of Historic Places nomination back in 1993. In fact, this is all we knew about the property prior to beginning the project in early 2019. In the materials he prepared, he theorized about the log structure inside the old plaster walls, none of which was visible. On Sunday he got to see the logs with all the plaster removed, as well as check out many of the artifacts and relics we found. We had been waiting a long time to show him everything. It was pretty special.
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.
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.
We can trace history through the documentation left by our forefathers in the courthouse land books. When it came to real estate, they spared no ink. I found a circa 1774 survey of the Byrnside’s Fort property from a 1780 land grant by Thomas Jefferson. You’d think it would be easy to use that to …
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.
I was able to find this original document signed by William Ward, from Champaign County, Ohio, dated October 8, 1813. I didn’t immediately recognize the name, but then I realized who this was, and what his connection was to our Greenbrier Valley, and some famous 18th century frontier exploits involving the famous frontiersman, Simon Kenton. …
Just like Byrnside’s Fort, Jarrett’s Fort was one of the chain of small private forts through the Revolutionary War era Greenbrier Valley, which served mostly a defensive purpose, as a place to house local inhabitants in times of danger, as well as to garrison Virginia militia “Indian Spies,” who were tasked with patrolling the likely travel corridors for Indian war parties.