The site of Fort Clendenin and the origin story of Charleston, WV

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

This is the actual site of Fort Clendenin – also called “Fort Lee” – on the North bank of the Kanawha River in present day Charleston, West Virginia. The spot is located exactly at the corner of Brooks Street and Kanawha Boulevard, in downtown Charleston, West Virginia, and is now the site of a somewhat unsightly apartment building – though apparently the developers didn’t think so at the time it was built:

An old advertisement showing the two subsequent structures built on the site of Fort Clendenin. The apartment building is still standing. Maybe when urban blight overcomes it, it can be torn down in favor of a Fort Clendenin reconstruction….

There’s a boulder sitting next to the roadway with a couple of plaques commemorating the fort, as well as a regular historical marker marked, “Fort Lee.” It also mentions Ann Bailey. But more on her later…. The fort itself sat right where the ugly brick apartment building now stands. It apparently stood until the late 1800’s, having been used as a home (or at least the blockhouse from the fort, as I would imagine the stockade walls would have been long gone). Then, in the late 1800’s, Charles Lewis tore it down and built a mansion on top of it. Then that was torn down in the 1960’s, I would guess, in order to build the apartments. So the site is pretty well documented. I haven’t found any obvious disagreement on where Fort Clendenin was located.

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

The memorial boulder has apparently been there for a while…. In the early 20th century, we must have been a patriotic and history loving state, because that’s about the date of all of these monuments you see to the old fort locations.

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia. As the monument appeared in an old photo.

How did the Clendenin’s obtain title to this spot?

In 1772, Lord Dunmore gave Major Thomas Bullitt a patent for a large tract of land on the Great Kanawha river, including the present site of Charleston, for his valuable service as an officer in Braddock’s war (man I’d love to have that document). This survey began in the upper end of the bottom, about two miles above the mouth of Elk river, and extended down the Valley as far as the mouth of Tyler creek, four miles below Elk. Major Bullitt did not settle upon the land himself, not did he ever even see it.

In 1786, Mr. Bullitt, met Mr. George Clendenin at Richmond, to whom he sold that portion of the tract on which the town of Charleston now stands. The deed was made to Mr. Clendenin in 1786 or 1787, before the formation of Kanawha county, and is on record in the Clerk’s office of Greenbrier county, which then embraced this portion of Kanawha.

History of West Virginia; By Virgil Anson Lewis; publ. 1887

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

The exact year that Mr. George Clendenin moved upon the land which he purchased from Mr. Bullitt is a matter of uncertainty. It seems to be generally admitted, however, that he was the first white settler within the limits of the present city of Charleston, and that it was either in the fall of 1786 or the spring of 1787 that he built a fort on the river banks near Brook’s landing, which took his name. This could not have been later than 1787, for the reason that Lewis Tackett settled at the mouth of Coal river during that year, and the year following his home was destroyed by the Shawnee Indians, and those members of his family who were not taken prisoner, fled to the Clendenin fort at Charleston for protection and safety. I must, therefore, conclude that Charleston was first settled by George Clendenin in 1786 or 1787.

History of West Virginia; By Virgil Anson Lewis; publ. 1887

And I will add, that you can’t always depend on the deeds. In my research in Mason County, West Virginia, to locate the grave of my fifth great grandfather, James Bryan, I found that he had purchased his land near Point Pleasant, and moved there around the mid 1780’s, and yet did not receive an actual written deed to the place until 1807 or so. Probably this was due to a number of reasons, not the least of which were lawsuits and estate settlements.

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

The first house in Charleston was built by George Clendenin (and his wife Jemima), on the banks of the Kanawha river immediately in front of the present palatial residence of Charles C Lewis, Esq., corner of Kanawha and Brooks streets (see photo of apartment building above), and was called the Clendenin fort, or “block-house.” It was the only fort at that time between Fort Union, at Lewisburg, and the fort at Point Pleasant, except a small block-house at the mouth of Paint creek, twenty-three miles above Charleston. The Tackett fort at Coalsmouth was built the year following, as stated in a preceding chapter.

History of West Virginia; By Virgil Anson Lewis; publ. 1887

Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., Fort Lee

The Clendenin fort was a two-story double-log building, and was bullet and arrow-proof. It was built out of large hewed logs, was about forty feet long by thirty feet in width, and stood for nearly a hundred years. It was torn down by Mr. Lewis, in 1874, to make room for the elegant brick mansion in which he now resides. Mr. H.S. Brace, a resident gun-smith, procured a cut from one of the large logs of the fort, when it was demolished, out of which he made a handsome cane, which he kindly presented to the writer as a token of those days of frontier life.

Shortly after Mr. Clendenin built his block-house, several other log cabins were constructed about it; and they stood for many years, as mementos of the early settlement of the country. Including Clendenin’s, there were seven buildings erected in Charleston by the early pioneers. I have no means of knowing the precise order in which they were constructed. Old citizens claim, however, that they were all built about the same time, or at least within a few years after the erection of “Fort Clendenin.”

History of West Virginia; By Virgil Anson Lewis; publ. 1887

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

Beginning at the lower end of town, I am informed there was a block of one-story log cabins on the corner of Kanawha and Truslow streets, near the store of C.J. Botkin. These buildings were principally occupied, after the beginning of the present century, by John and Levi Welch, as residences and places of business. John Welch was a hatter, and worked up large quantities of various kinds of fur skins into hats of many colors and styles, in these old-time log buildings.

Coming up street, next in order, was the large two-story log mansion on the upper corner of Court and Kanawha streets, called “Buster’s Tavern.” It was kept by Thomas Buster, as a house of entertainment, for many years, and was one of the most noted stopping places between Richmond and the Ohio river.

History of West Virginia; By Virgil Anson Lewis; publ. 1887

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

Next was a neat, two story double log building on Kanawha street, where now stands the drug store of Dr. James H. Rogers. In this building, in the early history of the county, Ellis Brown kept a hatter shop. John Hart, who kept the first ferry across Elk river, at its mouth, worked for Mr. Brown for many years at journey-work in his hattery establishment. Colonel Joel Ruffner and other old citizens of Kanawha say that they have sold Mr. Brown many a racoon, fox, otter, and muskrat skin for the manufacture of fur hats.

Where Mr. Moses Frankenberger’s three-story brick business block now stands, on the corner of Kanawha and Summers streets, there stood a two-story, hewed-log motel, which is generally supposed to have been the original Charleston hotel, a man by the name of Griffin being one of its first proprietors.

On the same square, where the Kanawha Valley Bank building now stands, was a large log dwelling-house, put up by Nehemiah Woods, and occupied by him for many years as a residence.

Next above was a log building, two-stories high, where Dr. J.P. Hale’s residence now stands, on the corner of Kanawha and Hale streets. It was one of the first buildings of the settlement in point of time. In this house, in the year 1808, Mr. Norris S. Whitteker was born, being the first white child born within the present corporate limits of Charleston.

History of West Virginia; By Virgil Anson Lewis; publ. 1887

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

Two squares above, on the same street, was a two-story log dwelling, which was built prior to 1790. It was torn down by Dr. Spicer Patrick a number of years ago, when he erected in its stead the brick building now owned by the Kanawha Presbyterian Church, and in which Mr. H.H. Wood at present resides.

Shortly before the beginning of the present century, a small log fort was built on the river bank in front of the residence of Mr. Silas Ruffner, perhaps a mile and a half above the court house.

On the corner of Kanawha and Alderson streets, about the same year, was constructed a one-story log dwelling, which was subsequently remodeled, and long known as the Central House. This building was burned down in the great fire of December 12, 1874, and upon its ruins Lewis Wehrle erected the substantial brick block which bears his name.

There stood for many years in the vicinity of the jail, on Virginia street, a small one-story frame building with a steep clapboard roof, which was one of the primitive buildings of the town. It was occupied as a residence for many years by James Wilson, Esq., who was perhaps the first Commonwealth Attorney for this county. After the death of Mr. Wilson, it was occupied by Captain Cartmill, one of the most influential and intelligent of Kanawha’s earlier citizens.Incorporating the Town

The Act of Legislature of Virginia incorporating Charleston as a town, was passed December 19, 1794, and is in the language following, taken from Henning’s Statutes:

“That forty acres of land, the property of George Clendenin, at the mouth of Elk river, in the county of Kenhawa, as the same are already laid off into lots and streets, shall be established a town by the name of Charlestown. And Reuben Slaughter, Andrew Donnally, Sr., William Clendenin, John Morris, Sr., Leonard Morris, George Alderson, Abraham Baker, John Young and William Morris, gentlemen, are appointed Trustees.”

History of West Virginia; By Virgil Anson Lewis; publ. 1887

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

The name was originally “Charlestown,” which was changed some years afterwards for reasons not known. The name was suggested by George Clendenin, in honor of his brother Charles, who came to the Kanawha Valley with his elder brother in 1786 and became one of Charleston’s most exemplary, distinguished and useful citizens.

History of West Virginia; By Virgil Anson Lewis; publ. 1887


You can almost picture what the blockhouse of the fort would have looked like, overlooking the beautiful Kanawha River, by taking a look at the Ruffner House, which was rebuilt along the river in Daniel Boone park, just upriver from the WV State Capitol Complex.

Ruffner Cabin, overlooking the Kanawha.

This is the view from Daniel Boone park, where the Ruffner cabin was rebuilt. Unfortunately, when the rebuilt it here, they chinked it with portland cement, which will cause the deterioration of the logs, due to trapping moisture behind the chinking. As the marker in the park notes, Boone had a cabin for a number of years on the bank directly across from this park.

Looking towards “Kanawha City” over the Kanawha River, from Daniel Boone park.

Anne Bailey:

Perhaps the most famous person associated with Fort Clendenen, is “Mad” Anne Bailey, one of the rare frontierswomen of the 18th century frontier. Here’s a great article I found on Anne:

In 1761, Anne left Liverpool as an orphaned teenager to live with relatives in colonial Virginia. Within a few years, she married James Trotter and the couple had a son, William. The small family erected a “rude cabin” in the Staunton, Virginia, area of the Kanawha Valley. “The luxuries of later days were unknown,” wrote Virgil Anson Lewis in a laudatory 1891 history titled Life and Times of Anne Bailey: The Pioneer Heroine of the Great Kanawha Valley. “It became the abode of happiness and contentment, while on all hands was naught but the voiceless wilderness.”

Site of Fort Clendenin, a.k.a., “Fort Lee.” Site of the home of George and Jemima Clendenin, first permanent structure in what is now Charleston, West Virginia.

It was Anne’s introduction to a lifelong fascination with adventure in an austere and unforgiving landscape few could navigate.

In 1774, Virginia’s governor called for the formation of a border militia to battle resistant Shawnee and Mingo Indian tribes. James Trotter and many other area men enlisted. Soon 1,100 men began a march that would lead them 160 miles through the Appalachian mountains. The bloody battle at the end would claim Trotter’s life.

A likeness of “Mad” Anne Bailey

In 1791, as Fort Lee slept, an alarm was given that nearby Native Americans would soon lay siege. The fort soon discovered its gunpowder supply was desperately low. Colonel George Clendenin gathered his soldiers and called for volunteers to fetch supplies from the nearest fort. “Not one would enter upon the perilous journey,” wrote Lewis. “Then was heard in a determined tone the words ‘I will go,’ and every inmate of that beleaguered fort recognized the voice of Anne Bailey.”

“From the moment she heard of her husband’s death, what appeared to be a strange wild dream seemed to possess her, and she resolved to avenge his death,” wrote Lewis. After leaving her son with friends Anne set out wearing buckskin pants and a petticoat. Armed with a hunting knife, she traveled the region’s recruiting stations to sign up more soldiers. In a conclusion that would carry political ramifications today, Lewis wrote, “It was the outburst and exhibition of patriotism and heroism combined.”

As the Revolution went on, Anne volunteered to courier messages between Point Pleasant and Lewisburg, then the “western outpost of civilization,” via horseback and often alone in dense forests that carried certain danger. The journey spanned some 160 miles.

By the time she married frontier ranger John Bailey on November 3, 1785, two years after the Revolutionary War, Anne was 43 years old and famous.

The couple moved to Fort Lee, where Anne impressed her male peers with her equestrian feats, rifle skills, and expert care for the sick. Through it all, she continued to carry messages to distant forts, often tying her horse to a tree and sleeping in the brush amidst wolves.

In what would become her most famous ride, Anne took the fastest horse and disappeared into the night. According to a poem by militiaman Charles Robb, “Anne Bailey’s Ride,” which was later published in the Clermont, Ohio, Courier:

She spoke no word, of fear, or boast,

But smiling, passed the sentry post;

And half in hope, and half in fear,

She whispered in her husband’s ear,

The sacrifices her soul would make

Her friends to save from brand and stake.

Anne rode 100 miles through the hostile Kanawha Valley before reaching Lewisburg. There, she received another horse, loaded up with gunpowder. The fort offered to send a guard back with Anne, but she declined. After several more days, she returned home with the supplies necessary for survival. As a reward, she was given the horse, a black stallion she named Liverpool after her birthplace. The journey was considered by some the most daring exploit of the frontier west.

Anne rarely stayed at the fort thereafter, especially after her husband’s death in 1794, preferring to live in and travel the valley wilderness. Exposed to danger, hunger, and fatigue, she slept outside. One winter night, she reportedly found a hollow tree and positioned her horse to breathe on her for warmth. A certain cave near Thirteen Mile Creek was known locally as “Anne Bailey’s Cave” for the frequency of her stays.

During her years in the wilderness, Anne’s reputation only grew as she faced more danger. Legend has it during one journey from Point Pleasant to Charleston, a band of Indians discovered her tracks. She hid in a hollow log, where her pursuers even stopped to rest and capture her horse. But Anne only waited until the middle of the night, when she followed their trail and stole her horse back. After she had ridden some distance, Anne “uttered a scream of defiance…So often did she thus baffle the Indians, that they came to believe she was a charmed being,” under the care of the Great Spirit. The Shawnee called her “the white squaw of the Kanawha” or “the phantom rider.” And they mostly left her alone.

In Anne’s 76th year, her son pleaded with her to move in with him. She refused and built a house of fence-rails covered with straw, on a hill overlooking Gallipolis, Ohio. When her son finally coaxed her into town, she demanded he build a private cabin on the grounds where she could be alone. In town, she carried a rifle and recited tales about her stallion, Liverpool, and how she shot “a howl on a helm tree across the mouth of [the] river.” Her senility and stories earned her the fond nickname “Mad Anne.”

“I always carried an ax and auger,” she told a local reporter, “and I could chop as well as any man…I trusted in the Almighty…I knew I could only be killed once, and I had to die sometime.”

And in 1825, she did, in her sleep at age 83.


Jemima Clendenin:

Col. George Clendenin’s wife was named Jemima – a name you don’t necessarily forget. She was a McNeil from the Greenbrier Valley – the Mill Point area. I believe the mill there was called the McNeil Mill. When the Clendenin’s moved into Greenbrier, the two met and became married. As I’ve written before, the Clendenins had a little Indian trouble, and the family patriarch, Archibald Clendenin, was killed in the famous 1763 raid by Cornstalk. This is the same family.

The natural progression for settlement was to go from the Greenbrier Valley area, to the next fertile limestone-rich soil valley, which would be the Kanawha Valley. However, there were quite a bit of obstacles between those two points, not the least of which was the existence of what we now call the “New River Gorge.” Now, we have one of the largest bridges in the world in order to drive across it. But in the old days, it was quite a trip to go between the two. Probably a 10 day or so journey using horses. So building a road between the two points was one of the earliest road building projects in West Virginia. This general route is still known today as the Midland Trail – supposedly originally a buffalo trail, though it may have actually been an Indian trail.

Map showing the “Midland Trail”

Possibly the first settler to move from Greenbrier to the Kanawha Valley was Walter Kelley, who attempted this in 1772 or 1773, settling at what is today called “Kelly’s Creek,” named after him. He was killed by Indians shortly afterwards in 1773. This is the site:

The mouth of Kelly’s Creek, in Cedar Grove, West Virginia, which is about 20 miles upriver from Charleston. As it looked yesterday.

The Morris family built Fort Morris at the same spot in 1774. This is about 20 miles South of the site of Fort Clendenin. Many of the wealthy Greenbrier landowners were claiming land along the Kanawha, and some were moving there – especially those who had been near Donnally’s Fort.

Cornfield along the Kanawha River, probably about as it looked 250 years ago.

The next group of Greenbrier pioneers after the Morris family to make a go of that area of the Kanawha Valley was Col. George Clendenin and his wife, Jemima Clendenin. They built the first permanent structure there and named the spot Charles Town – later to become Charleston. They donated the land on which the city was laid out. Thus, they, if we are to consider Jemima as an equal partner with her husband, are both the founders of Charleston.

The locals were pretty surprised that we didn’t get stuck. I knew we wouldn’t….

As I was searching for the grave of my fifth great grandfather, James Bryan, an early settler of Point Pleasant, I happened upon the abandoned and lost grave of Jemima Clendenin. I immediately recognized the name. The stone was likely buried with the others in that cemetery, but someone had put aluminum markers down in the 1920’s, which allowed me to find it with a metal detector.

An aluminum marker showing the location of the Jemima Clendenin grave. The stone itself is buried.

Jemima outlived her famous husband, George, who died in 1797. George and Jemima had a daughter, Parthenia (another name which sticks in your head) who married a wealthy Ohio settler from a prominent New England family, named John Meigs. Parthenia and John had a son named Return Jonathan Meigs, nephew to the Governor of Ohio during the War of 1812 (e.g., Fort Meigs). Return himself became a famous politician and lawyer into the Civil War era. It’s confusing though, because there are multiple cousins and uncles with the name “Return Jonathan Meigs.”

After Parthenia’s husband, John Meigs, died in 1807, she remarried – which brings us to the reason I found her while looking for a Bryan family cemetery. She married “Major Andrew Bryan” – the oldest son of my fifth great grandfather, James Bryan – and the older brother to my fourth great grandfather, Robert Bryan. Both James and Robert lived in a large log cabin built of cedar on this very property where the cemetery is located. Andrew never had, to my knowledge. However, doing some deed research, I found that Andrew Bryan, who was quite wealthy, owned some adjoining land – and this cemetery, which is on the only high-ground anywhere in the immediate area, is actually on the tract owned by Andrew.

So it looks like Jemima must have gone to live with her daughter Parthenia, and her husband, after George’s death. Then when she died in 1815, they buried her on their land. This also means that I’m on the right track to finding James Bryan’s unknown grave.

Drone view looking towards the cemetery at far left, along the flooded creek., and looking East towards Charleston, WV

This is actually the location of the cemetery. In the photo below, you’ll see the tracks going from the cornfield, over the railroad tracks, and into the adjacent marshy wetland. If you follow the tracks to the treelike next to the flooded creek, that’s where the cemetery is located. I bent the rim on my truck jumping that railroad track, but we had a lot of fun doing it. One of my favorite memories is our dear friend Glenville Jewell laughing about us jumping the railroad tracks and basically going mud bogging. He said he hadn’t had that much fun since he was a kid. And unfortunately, he just passed away a couple weeks ago….

Drone view of the abandoned cemetery where Jemima Clendenin is buried.

This was the site of the Bryan Cabin – exactly 2 miles from Point Pleasant.

A view of the Kanawha River from the North Bank, at about two miles from the point.

This is the view looking towards the Ohio River and Point Pleasant itself, from about the 2 mile point – basically hovering over the location of the cemetery. It was a muddy mess at that time.

Looking West towards the Ohio from 2 miles down the Kanawha River’s North Bank.

Here’s the drone view looking East, towards Charleston, up the Kanawha River, from the same spot. The original road to Charleston, and the original road cut and used by General Andrew Lewis and his army during Lord Dunmore’s War, in 1774, was just a trail along this bank of the river, where the tree-line is today.

Looking towards Charleston, WV from Point Pleasant, at about 400 feet in the air.

I got to do a little metal detecting at the Bryan Cabin site, where my paternal great grandfather’s lived from the 1780’s until the 1840’s, thanks to Mr. Jewell and one Mr. Fetty, who showed us the way.

Drone view of the Bryan Cabin site. Bulldozed after the big flood in the 1940’s.

Also, Clendenin, WV is named after Col. George Clendenin. But isn’t it also named after Jemima? Well it should be.

If you want to see more about our adventure in Point Pleasant looking for James Bryan’s grave, including the moment I found Jemima, check out the Youtube video:

To be continued?

4 thoughts on “The site of Fort Clendenin and the origin story of Charleston, WV

  1. Dear Mr. Bryan,
    My name is Greg Clendenin. Charles Clendenin was my 6X great grandfather. His son, George, was my 7X great uncle. I wrote a short book called The Clendenin Massacre. It is available online with I enjoyed reading this article. I also spoke at the West Va State Archives library on the capital grounds in Charleston in 2013. Here is a link to the lecture. Hope all is well with you.
    Best regards,
    Greg Clendenin

    • Wonderful. I’ll have to get the book, and I’ll check the YT link out as soon as I finish this brief I have due today…. Appreciate you reaching out.

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