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 initially recalled that the name was familiar, for good reason. A quick google refreshed my recollection that Sampson was one of the Mathews Brothers who owned and operated the “Mathews Trading Post” located 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.
There was a ford on the Greenbrier River between present day Ronceverte and Caldwell, West Virginia, which is identified on early maps as “Mathews Ford,” and interestingly, still shows up on Google Earth images as the same – at least on the north side of the river. Remember, in the 18th century Greenbrier Valley, there were no bridges. My county, Monroe, was created in 1799 for the sole purpose of providing a courthouse on the south side of the Greenbrier River, so that southern county inhabitants didn’t have to ford the sometimes-wild Greenbrier in order to engage in court business, which was at that time where most business was performed.
Historical evidence establishes that there was a frontier store, of sorts, located at Mathews Ford crossing of the Greenbrier. This is today known as “Mathews Trading Post.” Beginning in 1771, the Mathews brothers, Sampson and George, established this store as a place for Greenbrier Valley settlers to purchase and exchange goods, as well as a place for frontier social gatherings. The Greenbrier Historical Society possesses the trading post’s records spanning 1771 to 1784, though the peak years of operation appear to have occurred from 1771 through mid-1775. Sarah Ellen McCartney wrote a dissertation on community and commerce in the Greenbrier Valley in the late 18th century, discussing the Mathews store ledgers in-depth, and opines that the founding father of Greenbrier County, John Stuart, was actually the local storekeeper for the Greenbrier branch of the Mathews business, given the fact that the Mathews brothers were generally around their Staunton, Virginia store.
You can read more about the fascinating life of John Stuart, in the three part post I did on his memoirs:
This photo shows what is believed to be the actual the location of the Mathews Ford, as well as the Mathews Trading Post.
How do I know? Looking at topographic maps, as well as old roadbeds, you can observe that this site must be the actual location of the ford itself, as it has an old roadbed on both sides running up the respective ridges on both sides of the river. Some of the old maps label this road at “Mathews Ford Road,” which has carried over to Google Earth in the modern day. The photo below is taken from the South side of the Greenbrier River at Mathews Ford, looking towards the North bank, and then on towards Lewisburg, West Virginia, the county seat of Greenbrier County.
If you imagine the railroad track is gone, you notice that there’s a small hollow at the spot, on the North bank. Old maps show a road leading from the river, up through this hollow (which is today completely grown over with forest), directly into present-day Lewisburg, West Virginia, in about the same spot as present-day Route 219 leads into the town from the South. There can be no doubt that this is the spot of the ford.
The immediate vicinity surrounding the Mathews Ford mostly consists of a gorge where the river cuts through the hilly limestone farmland. There’s really nowhere else for a trading post, much less a cabin, to be located, other than directly on the South side of the river at the ford itself. The photo below shows that spot, which is comprised of flat bottomland, and is located directly at the ford location. There can be no reasonable doubt that the log cabin trading post must have been located somewhere in this field.
Several years ago, when I took these photos, I obtained permission to metal detect here, hoping to find some evidence of the post’s presence here. But alas, being in a flood plain of the wild Greenbrier River, I ended up finding endless beer and soda cans, along with the obligatory pop-tops. Most of these recoveries were extraordinarily deep, leading me to eventually give up in disgust, without finding a single 18th century item – despite my enthusiasm and optimism. To my knowledge, the trading site post has never been located by anyone else. It’s my understanding however, that the historians and archaeologists who’ve looked into the issue, apparently agree with me that this site must be the location, for the reasons I’ve already explained.
To appreciate the significance of the site, one must appreciate the story of Sampson Mathews.
Sampson Mathews was born in 1737 to a Shenandoah Valley merchant, John Mathews and his wife Ann (Archer) Mathews. He had a brother, George Mathews, who ended up co-owning the Mathews’ Trading Post, along with other posts around the Augusta County region of the Virginia frontier (the Greenbrier Valley was originally part of the much larger Augusta County). Sampson was educated at the Augusta Academy, a classical school founded in 1749. At the outbreak of the French Indian War, in 1755, Sampson, along with his father and four of his siblings, joined George Washington’s contingent of Virginians, who joined General Braddock’s army in the fateful expedition to what is now Pittsburgh, where a devastating defeat ensued, leaving Braddock dead. The Mathews transported supplies for the militia during the French Indian War, building trade connections both within the Shenandoah Valley and regions farther west like the Greenbrier Valley. (McCartney at 101).
In 1756, Sampson was elected sheriff of Augusta County. He married Mary Lockhart in 1759 and had four children, one of whom married Samuel Clark, a notable Virginia Revolutionary War soldier, and later militia officer, whose sword ended up in Byrnside’s Fort, eventually finding a permanent home in the local masonic lodge. Check out the post where we opened the sword case for the first time in many years, after finding the keys during our restoration of the fort:
Around 1762, Sampson and his brother George Mathews followed in their father’s footsteps, and opened a mercantile business in Staunton, Virginia. Early success led the brothers to opening additional store locations throughout the upper Shenandoah Valley. These stores sold basic supplies, as well as specialty items, such as clothing and books, and even engaged in banking. Together they accumulated thousands of acres of land in the region, probably due to the banking part, which is generally secured through leveraging the borrower’s real estate holdings. In 1764, Sampson was appointed a justice of the peace for Augusta County. In 1765 he was granted a liquor license. His Staunton tavern, described as a “long frame building, a story and a half high, with dormer windows,” was apparently a popular local hangout (Waddell p. 166).
In 1773, Sampson helped establish a new educational academy, and served as one of its original trustees. That academy became Washington and Lee University, located in Lexington, Virginia. Still in existence today, it’s the nation’s ninth oldest college. Among the items sold at the Mathews’s Greenbrier store were books. Sarah Ellen McCartney notes that, “Books purchased at the Greenbrier store reveal controversial Presbyterian texts like Alexander Shields A Hind Let Loose, which advocated overthrowing tyrannical rulers and was considered a rebellious work outside of Presbyterian communities both when it was published in the seventeenth century and when it was associated with violence in the eighteenth century.” (McCartney at 16).
1774 was the year of Lord Dunmore’s War, where an army of Virginians was raised and collected at present-day, Lewisburg, West Virginia, thereafter marching to engage in the Battle of Point Pleasant in October of that year. Sampson Mathews served as the chief procurement officer for General Andrew Lewis during the operation. He oversaw the driving of 500 pack horses, 54,000 pounds of flour, and 108 cattle for the march to Point Pleasant, which earned him the nickname “Master Driver of Cattle.” (Waddell p. 220). Early historian Virgil Lewis had this to say about Sampson:
His route lay wholly through a trackless forest. All his baggage, his provisions, and even his ammunition, had to be transported on pack-horses, that were clambering about among tall cliffs, or winding their way among dangerous defiles, ascending or descending the lofty summits of the Alleghenies. . . During nineteen entire days, this gallant band pressed forward descending from the height of the Allegheny mountains to the mouth of the Kenawha [sic], a distance of one hundred and sixty miles.Lewis, Virgil (1909). History of the Battle of Point Pleasant Fought Between White Men and Indians at the Mouth of the Great Kanawha River (now Point Pleasant, West Virginia) Monday, October 10th, 1774. Charleston, West Virginia: Tribune Printing Company. p. 31.
The cattle were driven to Point Pleasant through this bottomland on the north side of the Kanawha, about 2.5 miles from the point (the Kanawha’s confluence with the Ohio River). After the battle, the Virginians had to collect the panicked cattle from this field. About a decade later, my 5th great grandfather, James Bryan, and his youngest son Robert, my 4th great grandfather, would settle here in this exact spot (about where my truck is located in the below drone photo). A large cedar log cabin stood here until the great 1937 flood. The old road to what is now Charleston, first created by General Lewis’s army, ran right along the bank here. Now there’s a four lane on the other side of the river.
On February 22, 1775, Sampson Mathews participated in the first meeting of the Augusta County Committee of Safety, a subdivision of Virginia’s underground network of patriots which served as a revolutionary shadow government. Mathews, along with five other elected local representatives, drafted the Augusta Resolves, which expressed support for Congress’ resistance to the Intolerable Acts, as well as a commitment to risk “lives and fortune” in preservation of natural rights. The Augusta Resolves were ultimately published in the Virginia Gazette newspaper on March 16, 1775. This document was the Augusta County version of Fincastle County’s “Fincastle Resolutions.” Taken together, along with similar declarations from other frontier Virginia counties, such as Botetourt and Pittsylvania, they are “significant statements in support of American liberty” and are considered by historians to be precursors to the Declaration of Independence, which wasn’t issued until July 4, 1776.
You can read more about the Fincastle Resolutions in one of my prior posts about the lead mines of Virginia:
In September of 1775, as a representative from the Augusta committee, Sampson helped organize militia units in preparation for war with England, establishing four companies of fifty men each, in conjunction with Albemarle, Amherst, and Buckingham counties. Sampson’s brother, and business partner, George Mathews, was placed in command of ten of those companies. Sampson was elected to the Virginia State Senate upon its creation in 1776, representing Augusta and Dunmore counties. He would remain a member through 1780, ultimately representing Augusta, Rockingham, Rockbridge, and Shenandoah counties.
On November 10, 1777, Shawnee Chief Cornstalk was murdered at Fort Randolph, in Point Pleasant, while in the custody of Virginia militia. This led to a violent backlash by the Shawnee on Virginia’s frontier inhabitants, including in the Greenbrier Valley. The Continental Congress acted quickly and passed a resolution on November 20 to send commissioners to the western territory to attempt to negotiate peace. In this mission, Sampson Mathews was appointed to represent Virginia. Mathews arrived at Fort Pitt in mid-March, along with George Clymer, who was appointed to represent Pennsylvania. In late-April, the men reported that the British in Detroit were supporting the Shawnee in their attacks against Virginia settlers. They proposed capturing Fort Detroit from the British, and posited that it could be achieved with 3,000 men. However, Congress declined to follow the recommendation, instead sending more troops to strengthen the frontier borders.
Sampson Mathews was appointed lieutenant colonel in the Augusta Militia in May of 1778. He called out the militia for a three month expedition in April of 1779, in response to threats in the Tygart Valley, in what is now West Virginia. There doesn’t appear to be any available information on what transpired there, other than scouting missions.
On January 1, 1781, American traitor, turned British General, Benedict Arnold, commenced a surprise invasion of Virginia, sailing up the James River. Thomas Jefferson, then Governor, fled the capitol city of Richmond, which ended up burned and looted by Arnold’s men, after Arnold supposedly felt insulted by a letter from Jefferson calling him a turncoat. It is said that hogs stumbled drunk through the burning city, as Arnold’s men plundered it. A Hessian mercenary wrote: “Terrible things happened on this occasion, churches and holy places were plundered.” Jefferson called out militia from throughout the state, specifically directing his good friend, Sampson Mathews, to march approximately 100 miles from Staunton to Fredericksburg.
Mathews commenced a four day march, and after arriving in Fredericksburg stayed another four days. Then Mathews was ordered by General Peter Muhlenberg to head to Bowling Green, about 30 miles to the south. There Mathews applied to Governor Jefferson for supplies “for the repair of the arms of the militia.” Mathews was then ordered by Muhlenberg to Cabin Point in Smithfield, Virginia. Again Mathews wrote Jefferson for supplies, complaining of the lack of basic provisions, including tents and lead ammunition. Jefferson responded that there were 150 tents “somewhere,” and that he would attempt to find them and get them to Mathews, given the fact that Mathews’ position was “nearest the enemy’s lines.”
Apparently Matthew and his men somewhere caught Arnold by surprise, utilizing nimble tactics popularized by American commander Nathanael Greene, inflicting significant casualties on Arnold’s army in multiple skirmishes. Arnold ordered his army to retreat to Portsmouth, Virginia. During the retreat down the James River, Arnold’s army burned plantations and homes along the way, including attacking Berkeley Plantation, home of Founding Father Benjamin Harrison V. Considering Harrison a traitor to the crown, Arnold confiscated all of the personal possessions and slaves from the property. However, he spared the structures, apparently believing that the British would win the war, and that he could thereafter become the new owner of the grand plantation. The only original portrait of Harrison to survive was the miniature painting hanging around his wife’s neck, which she wore as they fled Arnold’s army. Ironically, this article is about a similar miniature likeness being the only surviving likeness of Mathews….
By February 15, 1781, Mathews men had contained Arnold’s forces in Portsmouth, with Mathews commanding the most advanced position, alongside 350 of his Virginia riflemen. Shortly thereafter, British General William Phillips arrived at Portsmouth with 2,000 additional troops, assuming command from Arnold. George Washington was so angry about Arnold’s burning and ransacking of Richmond, that he put a 5,000 guinea bounty on Arnold’s head, ordering the Marquis de Lafayette to hang Arnold if he were captured in battle. Riflemen were issued Benedict Arnold targets to practice on, just in case they saw him. Supposedly the notorious Banastre Tarleton followed Arnold’s example from his James River retreat to Portsmouth, raiding and burning outlying towns and harassing outlying Continental troops.
Since Richmond had been ransacked and burned by Arnold, the Virginia General Assembly met at a church in Staunton, where Mathews remained a justice of the peace. On June 12, the Assembly voted to elect Thomas Nelson, Jr., as the 4th Governor of Virginia. Mathews personally administered the oath of office to Nelson the following week, on June 19.
Sampson Mathews then brought a regiment of Virginia militia to James City, in Eastern Virginia, where they participated in the Battle of Green Spring, commanded by the Marquis de Lafayette and General Anthony Wayne. His field lieutenant, Col. William Boyer, was captured in the battle. This was the last major open field engagement of the Revolution fought in Virginia.
One of the Virginia riflemen participating in the battle was Samuel Clark, Sampson’s son-in-law, or perhaps future son-in-law, who was only 17 years old at the time of the battle. He ended up wounded by a British cavalry trooper’s saber, resulting in a silver plate in his skull. Clark and other Virginians served as the tip of the American spear, so to speak, which were sent into Cornwallis’ ambush. Cornwallis deceived General Wayne into sending in troops by sending Tarleton’s Legion up Green Spring Road and deploying a line of skirmishers across the road to simulate a rear guard. Clark’s unit was a company of 100 Virginia riflemen. When they encountered Tarleton’s cavalry, a battle ensued, in which Clark received the saber wound. He was taken to the circa 1645 plantation house for treatment. Despite his wound, Clark went on to remain in the battle until the subsequent surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.
Mathews was present at Yorktown, Virginia, for the siege of Yorktown and the surrender of Cornwallis. By November of 1781, Mathews resumed his duties in the Virginia Senate, and was appointed to the Privy Council on November 30, 1781. He resigned as lieutenant colonel of Augusta militia on November 18, 1783. He served a final term in the Virginia Senate in 1790, representing Augusta, Rockingham, Rockbridge, Shenandoah, and Pendleton counties. When Bath County was formed from Augusta in 1791, he served as justice of the peace and as the first high sheriff. He also served as an original trustee for Hot Springs, Virginia on its formation in 1793. He would live in Bath County for about 10 years at his property known as Cloverdale. After his wife Mary died, he married again to Mary Warwick. At the end of his life he resided in a log house in Staunton, located at the intersection of Beverly and Water streets. He died in Staunton in 1807.
One customer of the Mathews Trading Post, listed in the transaction book in August of 1772, was William Dyer, an Augusta County Virginia Ranger who fought with the Greenbrier Regiment at the 1774 Battle of Point Pleasant. This is his flintlock pistol, possibly made around Staunton, Virginia circa 1750 – perhaps at the Augusta Gun Factory. It uses American curly maple wood, American parts, including a hand forged lock, and a circa 1740 English brass barrel made by Richard Wilson. It was formerly on display at the Augusta County Historical Society Museum in Staunton, Virginia.
Other customers of Mathews Trading Post included the builders of Byrnside’s Fort, including James Byrnside himself, who is listed as a customer in April of 1771 and June of 1773, in which he is noted as purchasing (“hoes by Sam Clarke”). Another is William Blanton, French Indian War veteran and co-builder of Byrnside’s Fort, who is listed as a customer in April of 1771 (probably with Byrnside) and January of 1773, and noted as receiving credit for “deer” and “bare” skins.
Yet another customer on the MTP ledger is John Hanna, an early Virginia gunsmith and silversmith, who is recorded there in December of 1772. We found an early receipt in the archives of the Greenbrier County Historical Society where James Houston promised to pay Hanna for “one gunn barrel, one lock & moulds.” This was June of 1770, which was probably the very earliest period of resettlement in the Greenbrier Valley following the burning of the valley by Cornstalk in 1763. James Houston is also listed as a customer, in December of 1772 and January of 1773, which describes him as buying a “wool hat.”
Here is an early rifle loosely attributed to John Hanna, from that period:
The Mathews store records also documents a New Year’s Day shooting match, sponsored by the store, in 1773. Men paid one shilling for their “chance at shooting” and the winners received goods or store credit in return. (McCartney at 120). A week after the match, John Stuart identified in his accounts eighteen men who purchases “chanses at shooting at New Year” and noted that the winners were Andrew Donnally (of Donnally’s Fort) and Abraham Heptonstall, both of whom received store credit. (McCartney at 121).
Be sure to check out some of the other entries, which were originally described in Greenbrier Historical Society Letter, Vol. #1, No. 1, August 1963, which includes purchases for rum, powder, salt “leggins,” flints, knives, padlocks, “gunn wipers,” tobacco, knitting needles, nails, lead, ribbons, combs, files, packs of cards, linen, sleeve buttons, knee buckles, thread, “buckram,” ginseng, garters, “duffle blankets,” “West India rum,” sugar, pepper, “allspice,” “bridle bitts,” “furr hats,” stockings, women’s shoes, ribbon, hilling hoes, weeding hoes, silk handkerchiefs, hand saw files, pen knife, thimbles, men’s shoes, cask butter, shoe buckles, almanacs, felling axes, cuttoe knives, calico fabric, saddles, and more….
“Rum was one of the first and most frequently purchased items at the Greenbrier store and it was sold by the half-pint or pint, quart, half-gallon, and gallon. The pints of rum, which were often paired with stew or ‘diets,’ a term for a meal, reveal that customers were eating and drinking on-site at the store in addition to purchasing alcohol to take home.” (McCartney at 108). Some entries in the ledgers specifically refer to “West India Rum,” which would have referred to the origins of Barbados or Jamaica, which were the leading producers of Caribbean rum exported to the English colonies in the 18th century. In 1768, “roughly sixty percent of Barbadian rum was shipped to the North American colonies with seventeen percent coming to Virginia and Maryland,” leading to the likelihood that Mathews Trading Post rum originated in Barbados. (McCartney at 112; citing Frederick H. Smith, Caribbean Rum: A Social and Economic History (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005), 49, 84, 86).
The ledgers show a large difference in the price of “West India Rum” (ten shillings per gallon) and plain-old “rum,” leading to the inference that the less expensive rum (two shillings and six pence per gallon) was made somewhere in America – most likely in New England. (McCartney at 113). The store accounts identify rum served sweetened, as well as rum-based beverages such as “bumbo” and eggnog. Bumbo was a popular 18th century beverage mixing rum and sugar, with various combinations utilizing more, or less, rum, as well as white sugar, as opposed to the less expensive brown sugar. Eggnog, as today, was served around Christmas, with the ledgers showing that “half a dozen men partook of the seasonal beverage at Stuart’s tavern at the New Year in 1773.” (McCartney at 114). There’s only one reference in the records to the type of container in which the rum was sold. There was one mention of a bottle, which was presumably rare on the frontier. Most likely they would have been sold in small wooden kegs. The store records do not include any references to beer. (McCartney at 115).
Other frontier merchants with lesser trade connections tended to carry just locally-made whiskey, which ran around five shillings per gallon in 1770, and around six shillings per gallon by 1775. One merchant, who spent some time in the early Greenbrier frontier, Mathew Read, sold local whiskey for a range of seven and a half pence per pint to one shilling per pint in 1774. There are eight pints in a gallon, so that would still be much less than the prices of imported rum. (McCartney at 116). Whiskey, which was already popular among the Scots-Irish, would increase in popularity during the Revolution, as both trade and excess money would have dried up. Whiskey could be distilled using excess locally-grown crops, such as rye and whiskey, as we know was done at Byrnside’s Fort through the 1780s.
Records show that one of the busiest days of the year for the store was January 18, which was Queen Charlotte’s birthday. Another popular time was March 18 and 19, where customers were recorded as purchasing whiskey, probably for St. Patrick’s Day, which was a popular celebration for the 18th century Scots-Irish. (McCartney at 124-25).
Two different types of axes were noted as being widely sold in the Greenbrier store, felling axes, as well as broad axes. Felling axes were your basic axes to cut down trees, and which can also be used as a splitting maul. Broad axes are more specialized, being twice the size, with a much longer blade, and which were used for hewing logs for log cabins and other related structures. These were purchased year-round in the Mathews store. (McCartney at 128). Whereas “hoes” were generally sold between April and June. Records also show the store selling other related tools, such as awls, gimlets, chisels, bitts and drawing knives, as well as several types of saws, including hand saws, whip-saws, and tenant-saws imported from England.
Nails were another item often purchased at the Greenbrier store. The most common nail was a ten-penny nail, which was roughly three inches long. Ten-penny nails were typically sold at the Greenbrier store in quantities of fifty to 400, although there was a single purchase of 1200 nails. Also sold were small four-penny nails, which measured only one and a half inches. They also sold four-inch long twenty-penny nails. These may have been imported in bulk from England. Although blacksmiths on the frontier could easily make nails, records show they were a common import item, given the fact that an expert blacksmith likely wouldn’t spend time making nails. (McCartney at 130). The single purchase of 1,200 nails was Samuel Brown in 1773. William Renick purchased nearly 2,000 nails in one trip during the same time period. (McCartney at 131).
Given that there were no roads in the Greenbrier Valley in the 1770s, Mathews Trading Post mentions the sale of numerous saddles. Five saddles were identified as a “mans saddle.” Two purchases were only identified as “saddles.” One “pack saddle” was noted, as well as several saddle cloths, eight pairs of bridle bitts, and at least four bridles. There were also entries for horseshoes, as well as “shoeing” horses, which increased exponentially in 1774 in preparation for the army’s march to Point Pleasant. (McCartney at 132).
There were a number of household items sold at the Mathews Trading Post, “including five plates purchased by just two customers, one drinking glass, and a miscellaneous entry for ‘dishwares.'” (McCartney at 133). It wouldn’t be until after the Revolutionary War that the first wagon would be able to reach the Greenbrier Valley from the nearest roads in the Shenandoah Valley. Thus, breakable items were apparently not one of the Mathews’s areas of product investment. No doubt they were brought into the valley, but most likely at the risk of the owners, carrying them on their own via packhorse over the mountains. Knives, forks, and spoons, however, were a different story. They were present on the store ledgers. Apparently knives and forks were popular in Virginia. More than twelve customers bought knives and forks, “and most bought sets of half-dozen or dozen at a time, with only one customer purchasing ‘nives’ alone. (McCartney at 135-36).
Only sixteen percent of Virginians owned knives and forks in 1720, but in 1774, nearly seventy-one percent had knives and forks among their household possessions compared to only fifty-two percent in Massachusetts. Barbara Carson argued that the high percentage in Virginia may signify Virginians emphasis on style and Susan Kern notes that dining culture had a long history, even in the backcountry.McCartney at 135.
Although most Greenbrier settlers grew or raised their own food, there were some grocery items sold, including salt, sugar, spices, tea, coffee, and chocolate. (McCartney at 136). Salt, which was sold by the quart, peck, bushel, or sack, was “by far the most common purchase.” Spices sold included pepper, allspice, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg (which was sold by the nut, rather than by ounce). There were only three purchases of tea in the records.
Fabrics and textiles were also sold in the store. In September of 1772, Daniel Workman purchased several different types of fabrics that included more than seven yards of Wilton cloth, which was a woolen fabric imported from Wilton, England. Seven yards would have been enough to make a man’s suit. (McCartney at 143). The records also show that John Stevens purchased “the Remainder of a suit of Sagathy Clothes,” which was a wool and cotton twill fabric. Brothers Francis and William Boggs each purchased “a lengthy list of fabrics including broadcloth, burckram, shalloon, stockings, leggings, various thread, twist, jacket and coat buttons, on January 13, 1773. (McCartney at 144). Also among the purchase items by customers were knitting needles, papers of pins, buttoms, ribbons, and fine thread, as well as dozens of men’s hats, a woman’s bonnet and a pair of women’s shoes. (McCartney at 145).
The most commonly purchased textile was osnaburg, which was generally used to make sacks, bags, shirts or trousers, but which was “especially popular in the Virginia backcountry for use in hunting shirts, which had become the backcountry man’s uniform by the American Revolution.” Osnaburg was a “medium weight unbleached linen cloth named after Osnabruck, Germany” and made up more than 160 entries in the Greenbrier store records. It was often purchased alongside blankets, leggings, garters, or powder and lead. (McCartney at 147-48).
Leggings were the most common finished garment sold at the Greenbrier store, with over 100 pairs sold between 1771 and early 1774. (McCartney at 148). Leggings consisted of a coarse woolen fabric that wrapped loosely around the calf and part of the thigh and was secured with garters or laces, and were used to protect the wearer from brush and snake bites. (McCartney at 148-49). The records did not specify the fabric type or color sold at the Greenbrier store. There were also entries for the sale of “buckskin britches,” which were leather breeches. There were five purchases of “brich clouts,” which were breechclouts, a strip of fabric at the waist, as worn by Native Americans. Often the Virginia frontiersmen would wear a hunting shirt, a breechclout and leggings when traveling the backcountry. “Backcountry settler Henry Wilson described a regiment of two hundred men ‘mostly dressed in hunting shirts & breech clouts, some linen & others buckskin’ when he recounted an expedition against the Shawnees late in the American Revolution.” (McCartney at 152).
Of the five purchases of breech clouts at the Mathews Trading Post, four of them were made during the summer of 1774 as General Lewis’ army prepared to depart the area towards the ensuing Battle of Point Pleasant. One of those purchases was Robert McClenachan, who was a captain of one of the Greenbrier companies, who subsequently died at the battle. (McCartney at 152).
Of the books sold at the Greenbrier store, in addition to almanacs, they sold a copy of Robinson Crusoe, a dictionary, a spelling book, and four Presbyterian religious texts. Notably, the customers who purchased the religious texts were not among the recorded participants in the drinking and shooting competitions. (McCartney at 158).
Much of this information comes from the fantastic wikipedia entry on Sampson Mathews, which also features his silhouette. This silhouette is almost a dead ringer to the one found at the Dickson auction.
It’s not identical, but it’s very close. The wikipedia silhouette appears to have been copied from the original. Indeed, review of the citation to the wikipedia silhouette states that it was sourced from “Clem, Gladys (1965). It Happened Around Staunton in Virginia. Augusta County, Virginia: McClure Print Company. pp. 21–23.” I didn’t find a copy of that book, but google books was able to show me a portion of the book at those pages, and it indeed shows the same wikipedia silhouette. In the 1965 book under the Sampson Mathews silhouette, it notes that the 18th century likeness of Mathews was copied from the original silhouette, which the book says was in the possession of Edgar Dickson. Edgar Dickson lived in the Dickson home, of course, where this silhouette was obtained. This must be that same silhouette. But how did Edgar obtain it? As it turns out, apparently Sampson Mathews last descendent married a Dickson.
I may have this mixed up some, but as I understand it, one of Sampson Mathews children with Mary Warwick was Andrew Gatewood Mathews, who married Mary See of Randolph County, (now West) Virginia. As of the 1950s, the only descendants then living of that family in the Greenbrier Valley were Mrs. Lida Renick Dickson and her children. Lida Renick Dickson was born on January 6, 1866, and died at the age of 77. Eliza “Lida” Dickson lived in the Dickson home. Lida’s parents were James Henry Renick and Mary Mathews Renick. One of Lida’s three children was Edgar Dickson, born in 1892, who died in 1962. This is the Edgar Dickson who owned the Sampson Mathews silhouette, which of course had belonged to his maternal grandmother’s mother, who was a descendant of Sampson (granddaughter or great granddaughter, perhaps). Edgar (Farnsworth) Dickson married Charlotte Eugenia Mason. They apparently had four children, including William “Bill” Dickson, who along with his wife, Page Dickson, were the last Dicksons to live in the home. In fact, Bill predeceased Page, who is still living. This auction was Page’s living estate auction.
Also at the auction, because of this family connection, we were able to acquire actual photographs of Mary Mathews Renick’s parents, Mary Mathews Renick and her husband James Henry Renick, which were inside the Dickson home.
The Renicks lived in this beautiful home, still standing in Greenbrier County, in what is now Renick, West Virginia:
You can read more about the Dickson home, as well as these specific finds in my prior post on the Dickson auction:
You never know what you might find when they auction the contents of a home that has been in the same family for almost 200 years. Furniture, and other obvious items, can be great finds, but sometimes the most fascinating history requires a little digging….