The Tracy Family History
Let us now leave Albemarle County, with all of its famous people, including our forefathers, (that I have now made famous like “Uncle Billy”- chapter 1). We now go west, across the Blue Ridge Mountains, through Woods Gap, into what would become Rockbridge County. It is not all that far away. Even in the olden times it was within traveling distance.
You will remember that Michael Woods led our band down the Old Indian Road through Pennsylvania, across Maryland, down to the southern end of the Valley of Virginia. There were already a few settlers in this area when our people arrived.
There our people “tarried” for awhile before coming back up the Valley, crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Piedmont, now Albemarle County.
Michael Woods left two of his sons in the Valley of Virginia before the final migration to the Piedmont. It was not long before other branches of our people also settled this previously “tarried” land. This is their story.
Keep in mind when studying history that when new territories were opened there were a few, huge counties, which were later divided into many smaller counties. Thus, Albemarle was part of the original Goochland County. Rockbridge was formed from Augusta County. I tell you this so you don’t get confused because I will sometimes refer to Rockbridge County, and other times to Augusta County. They are the same for the purpose of my story. It is just that Rockbridge, where our people lived, was many years away from being officially formed. In this area there is a natural bridge, a Rock Bridge, the 5th wonder of the world. (I do not believe our people migrated to see this wonder of nature.)
Theoretically, the county of Augusta extended from the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east to the Mississippi River on the west, and from the Great Lakes to the north to what is now the northern boundaries of the State of Tennessee. (The fact that most of this territory was controlled by the French did not seem to bother our land speculating English.) For purposes of our story, Augusta County was the Valley of Virginia.
Like Albemarle County, the Indians traversed the land but did not live in Augusta County. “There were no crows, blackbirds, nor song birds, and no rats, nor honey bees till the coming of the white people.” There is some question if there were any Indians in the Valley at this time. If so, they were few and lived in small villages. Eventually, they would relocate themselves west of the Allegheny Mountains. Like the Kentucky, the Valley was the Indians traditional hunting ground.
Now arrives in the year 1739, John McDowell and his wife, Magdelene Woods, daughter of Michael Woods, Sr., of Blair Park. On 14 December 1734, Magdelene marries John McDowell, in Pennsylvania. According to the custom of the time, and even up to quite recently, John McDowell would have been considered a lucky man. It is said that Magdelene was a great beauty. (In more recent times a man is considered to be lucky if he marries a woman who is a graduate of the Harvard Business School.)
Their intentions are to settle on the gigantic Beverly Manor Patent (grant or tract.). They have with them their small children. John's brother already lived in the area close to the mouth of Woods Gap. This is family and Magdelene’s mother and father live on the other side of the gap. Traveling to Virginia they would have a chance encounter that would change forever the lives of Magdelene, her children and descendants for several generations yet to come.
Camping for the night, they met a man named Benjamin Borden (Sr. or the II). The stranger had recently received a large grant of 100,000 acres (soon to be expanded to 600,000 acres) in what is now most of Rockbridge County. All land developers desperately needed a good surveyor. John McDowell was a master surveyor, carrying his instruments with him.
They draw up an agreement: "September ye 19th, 1737."
John McDowell would go with his wife and family, and his father and brothers, and make four settlements in the Borden Land Grant. McDowell was to cut a good road for horses loaded with common luggage and blaze trees all the way.
In return, the families were promised free land in the Borden tract.
It was a good business arraignment, but a bad personal relationship. The two men simply did not get along.
Magdelene's relatives also moved onto the Borden grant. Among them was my Peter Wallace, Jr., with his wife, Martha, who was the sister to Magdelene. Our people were now in the Valley of Virginia in what would eventually be a big way.
They locate their farms next to one another on a ridge abundant with timber. They call it Timber Ridge. It is not a knoll with a Christmas Tree farm. The ridge is massive. The ridge does not extend across the valley from one mountain range to the next, but it goes on for a very long distance. Our people locate their plantations right in the middle of the Indian warpath. (The farms were located a short distance from the current village of Fairfield.)
Benjamin Borden has his surveyor.
Sketch from Ruth Petracek book.
It was the custom to throw up a crude, primitive, log cabin, just enough to keep most of the weather out. “...bark or clapboards sheds with a log fire before them.” There was no problem getting logs from Timber Ridge. Everything was primitive: dirt floors, the chairs and tables; everything was simple, plain and practical, usually made from the local trees.
As soon as practical the crude cabins would be replaced by proper log cabins. For the first few years there were no mansions made of Valley Brick.
Everything in life was simple from cabins, to furniture, clothes and food. Every farm had a still to reduce the crops to whiskey, as there were no wheeled vehicles to transport the crops. The reduced whiskey could be bottled and carried by horseback. Whiskey becomes an important form of currency.
John McDowell takes pride in his cabin. He builds his by taking the tree poles and removing the bark. (The other settlers did not bother removing the bark.) Then he takes red berries and stains the logs. It was lots of hard work, peeling the bark and staining the logs inch by inch. So unusual, that it was famously known throughout the region simply as the Red House (In time it became the Maryland Tavern). [Another version: The logs were chinked with red clay or using an ochre stain. Maybe both methods were used.] John and Magdelene have a son, James was born at the Red House in 1739. So we know the famous dwelling was built prior to this year.
This landmark to history no longer exists, but Neander Woods, in 1905, implies that the structure was still standing. That was nearly 100 years ago.
This would be a typical intermediate home, a substantial cabin (if you were lucky), better than the original, but a far cry from a permanent, proper home built of Valley Brick.
I told you that the distance between
our people in Mountain Plains and Albemarle County was not that great. In a way
it was, and in a way it wasn’t. I have not visited the area, but on the map it
looks to be about a 45-mile trip by the modern highway system. This would
normally be a difficult and time-consuming journey in a primitive land, which
ours was. A carriage or wagon could travel 10-15 miles a day. But there were no
carriages or wagons. There were no roads. Our people traveled by horseback.
(Apparently, John McDowell did not fulfill his contractual obligation to cut a
My daughter started riding horses before she was weaned from a bottle. She tells us:
“Well, how fast a horse goes depends on the horse (they can be like people - some people walk slow and others walk fast) and how much weight the horse is carrying - the more weight, the slower the horse goes. Also, if the terrain is really difficult, then the horse will go slower than if the terrain were flat. I suppose you could make an educated guess that on the average a horse could walk 4-5 miles per hour. At a gallop, you could figure an average of 10-15 miles per hour, but a horse would have to be in outstanding condition to gallop 50 miles straight.”
These are my best estimates today from 3,000 miles away. Neander Woods is there, and in 1905 tells us “Her father’s home was just across the Blue Ridge, about thirty-five miles to the northeastward." That would be according to the trails of the time and is probably accurate.
From this expert advice I assume that our
people could make the trip between the two settlements in one day, if they
pushed it. Otherwise, it would be a two-day trip. These travels back and forth
to visit would be constant for generations to come, and the day would come when
the journey would be made, not just by horseback but also by wagon and carriage,
and in their gilded custom London built coaches.
When you have a land grant from the king, you need people to settle onto that lad. This would be no easy task for the king, or Benjamin Borden. I told you previously that the English were desperate to get settlers into Virginia. Lord Baltimore offered generous inducements for people to immigrate. Any white male of legal age, who paid his own passage, was entitled to 50 acres of free land. They had to stay on the land for a minimum of two years, develop a minimum of six percent of the land, and pay an annual quit rent of five shillings per 50 acres. This generous inducement was in place for 50 years.
Also (and the also’s get mighty big), if you brought your wife and children, each of them received 50 free acres. It starts adding up. Also, if you brought with you slaves, or indentured servants, there was another formula for free land. Also, if you paid a few shillings for each 50 acres to which you were entitled, you could expand out to 500 acres. These are complex formulas. But if a man played his cards right he could wind up with a lot of free, if not very cheap land.
One technicality: You did not get free land for bringing a slave into the Valley of Virginia for the simple fact that there were no slaves there, or at least very few up until the beginning of the Revolutionary War. As we shall see, there were a lot of slaves in the Piedmont. But in Augusta County the labor force consisted of indentured servants who were treated as slaves, rather badly, even being bought and sold as slaves. These indentured servants were almost all Scotch-Irish.
Indentured servant contract for Benjamin Borden, (the father, as the son soon comes into the story) 5th Day of July 1742. Indenture: “A written contract or agreement. Usually a contract binding one person to work for another as an apprentice to a master. To bind by indenture.”
Notice the witness signatures: Woods and Campbell. This shows the thickness of the clan blood as numerous documents are witnessed by our people. (Source: Ruth Petracek)
Almost all of the schoolteachers in the
Valley of Virginia were indentured servants. They had come to the colonies
voluntarily, to stay.
There were also a large number of convicts, for the colonies were the dumping grounds for the British prisons. The vast majority of these convicts were guilty of stealing hoofed animals. (Sending a man 3,000 miles across the ocean for stealing a sheep seems to be a rather severe punishment.) These men’s prison terms, some number of years, were purchased the same as an indentured servant. They were also treated as slaves. After the prison term was served many returned to England, but a good number remained in the colonies.
Somehow, Benjamin Borden, Sr., parlayed his 50 free acres into 600,000, most of Rockbridge County. This is why our people were from this county. How the father acquired such large holdings is a mystery today.
Again, when you have a land grant, you need setters to buy the land. When you have a very large land grant, you need a very large number of settlers to buy the land. So where did these settlers come from?
In the usual manner of the times, slaves were at the bottom of the ladder. However, if a man bought a piece of land and brought with him ten slaves, the slaves could still do the work of ten men. Next were the convicts sent from Britain. Again, the colonies had long been a dumping ground for convicts. England would export these felons for the most trivial offenses. Further up the ladder were the prisoners of war that made the age-old mistake of choosing the wrong side, or simply losing a battle. (The word “convict” was often used for prisoners of war.) Then there were the many bonded, or indentured servants. Higher still were the settlers who immigrated simply for a better life. Starting in the 1730's the Scots-Irish began landing en masse at Charleston, South Carolina and moved inland.
At the top of the ladder, very high on the ladder indeed, were the English aristocrats. When the Normans invaded England in 1066, they brought with them their own laws of inheritance, the law of primogeniture.
From that time, when a man died his entire estate went to the first born son. The rest of the family was left with nothing, "to beggar the rest of the family." The upper class and aristocrats, even royal families produced many highly educated, experienced, competent, and well connected men…who now had been left with nothing. Many of these of the upper class came to Virginia.
"Englishmen of landed estates and hereditary titles had no need to abandon these for other lands excepting when persecutions made it imperative. Hence it is not the nobility nor the landed gentry, but the younger sons and their descendants, men whom the law of entail cut off from heredity estates or the means of support, formed a large portion of the Virginia colonists…"
Interspersed in this odd mixture were political enemies of the king, dissidents, and religious exiles. The Virginia colony "…was constantly thereafter a favored asylum for many of gentle birth during the civil wars of England." "The list of families in the colony, which in vested the right used-coat armor.. is more than 150." "More than a score of knights and baronets had residence in the colony…" There were many of the middle class, landed gentry.
Many came to "…make or redeem lost fortunes."
England's loss was Virginia's gain.
The Law of primogeniture was not only unfair, at times it could have just plain bizarre consequences. In 1764, a schoolhouse in Augusta County is attacked by a band of raiding Indians. The teacher and one small child are killed with the rest of the children taken captive. Later, a Frenchman living in the Indian village, buys and adopts one of the boys. The boy grows up to be an Indian chief, marries an Indian girl and raises a family. He, of course, is full-Scot and his children are half-Scot-half-Indian. "Would ye come over here Macdonald."
50 years later, by accident, the Indian chief and his brother and his aged parents meet. They are family. The white family begs the chief to stay and live in their white world. He refuses. He is now Indian. They beg his daughter to stay. She is a great beauty and in love with a young Indian chief. She is Indian and does not wish to live in the white world. When the father died the Indian chief is told of his inheritance rights under The Law of Primogeniture. An Indian chief has no interest in white mans inheritance and refuses the estate, returning it to the family.
Here we have a story of a family of distinction being disowned and an Indian chief being exalted, all under a British law that had existed for 750 years, and wasn’t even a British law to begin with.
There was another category of people who immigrated to Virginia. There were also Germans in the Valley, lots of Germans. In reading thousands of pages of family history and genealogy, I do not remember one instance in which our people married anyone with a German name. The Scots did not marry outsiders. This is not a story of the Germans. They were a different people, who lived in a different land, spoke a different language, and worshiped a different God. (They were not Presbyterians.) The land in which they lived was called Shenandoah. (A river runs through their land, but it is not navigable, you can’t put a paddlewheeler on it. Although, it makes for a beautiful song.)
However, none of the categories above migrated to the Borden grant. No one (a few maybe) purchased and settled on this tract. Borden now has a problem. He has this vast track of land and no one is purchasing sub-parcels, and Borden is paying quit-rents to the king for all of this land, settled or unsettled. One man offers a bottle of wine for the entire tract, which was a fair offer, and refused.
Let us leave Benjamin Borden with all of his troubles and go to John McDowell and his wife, Magdelene, with all of their troubles.
John McDowell was elected and given the rank of captain in the militia. He is ever after known as Captain John McDowell. However, he "…did not long enjoy the honor and perform the duties of his office." About 1 December 1742, a party of 30 (36?) Delaware (Iroquois?, Shawnee?) Indians came into the settlement in Borden's Grant. They were on the warpath to raid another tribe. They declared no bad intentions towards the whites. What the Indians did with one another was no business of the whites. (Different historians give slightly different versions of what happens next. I place question marks for differing versions.)
They were entertained for a day by Capt. McDowell and even treated with whiskey. The Indians moved on and camped for nearly a week. "They hunted, went to the homes of white people, scaring women and children, taking what they wanted, and shot horses running at large."
Regimental commander, (?, the County Lieutenant) Colonel James Patton, has 12 companies of militia under his command. He orders Capt. McDowell to call out his company and conduct the Indians out of the area. "The company consisted of thirty three or forty men, and embraced all the settlers in what is now Rockbridge County (Bordens Land grant). This would have included many of our people who were soldiers in the battle about to come. (It should be noted that during the Colonial period, the French and Indian War, Kentucky Frontier Wars, and the Revolutionary War, men were usually enlisted in the military without regard to age.)
(At this point let me interject an important point for genealogical purposes. In the beginning, the lower part of the Valley of Virginia consisted of a few, large families that were all intermarried. In a way the history of this region is our history.)
The Indians were located and escorted away from the area. The Indians were traveling under a government pass. (?, Did not have a pass; or had a letter which acted as a pass. Possible interpretation: They had a letter that had the same authority of a pass but did not carry with them an official document pass.) At Balcony Falls, where North River comes into the James the two forces meet again. John McDowell steps forward under a white flag and is killed (One story says that two men were sent forward under the flag. Firing their first volley, the Indians killed 7 soldiers, one is Capt. McDowell.) A fight commenced; it was give-and-take. The battle lasted 45 minutes. Finally, the Indians retreated leaving 17 of their dead on the field. Only 10 of the Indians would return to their village.
On our side were taken from the field, eight bloody corpses (9?), including Capt. John McDowell. On the following day the bodies were carried by horseback on a dreadful journey of 20 miles, which brought them back to Timber Ridge where they were "…laid side by side near McDowell's dwelling while they prepared their graves in overwhelming sorrow."
Balcony Falls, or James River Gap. The Indians had to come
through the gaps. There was more than one gap.
It should be pointed out that this was our
peoples’ first experience in Indian fighting. They were not seasoned veterans.
This was the first Indian battle between the whites and Indians in the Valley of
Virginia. Aside from this pitched battle, the historian, Jos A. Waddell tells us
“...robbery and massacre by Indians were not infrequent...” This was just a
prelude of what was worse to come. In a few years the Valley would be constantly
terrorized by the Indians.
The official report is still on file (my source is from 1979) in the Public Record Office in Great Britain. This would be in Surrey, outside of London. This battle did take place in a British colony. The English are very good at maintaining old military records.
“John McDowell's grave was marked by a stone and may be found in the family burying ground near Timber Ridge church.”
Magdelene is now a widow with three small children. She is not alone. She is surrounded by family. However, any widow, young or old, with small children on the Virginia Colonial frontier was in a vulnerable position.
Through Magdelene would descend a nation.
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