EARLY SETTLEMENT ALONG THE NEW RIVER (NC AND VA) BASIN
William D. Bennett
Raleigh, N. C.
While this paper concerns early settlement in the New River Water Basin of both North Carolina and Virginia, my information for the Virginia area was compiled from published records which appear in the bibliography. My last research in original Virginia records was about fifteen years ago. I was trying to determine if my pre-Revolutionary ancestor Joseph Bennett, who lived with his wife Elizabeth in eastern Mecklenburg County, Virginia, and Joseph Bennett, who lived with his wife Sarah about fifteen or twenty miles to the east in Brunswick County, Virginia, was the same man with a fast horse. I came to the conclusion my Joseph was just too old to ride a race horse.
Other authors have discussed migratory routes from Virginia into North Carolina which brought waves of settlers into the colony. The last time the New River served as such a migratory route for people coming into the north into North Carolina was in pre-Columbian days. This occurred when the hostile Iroquois Indians moved out of Canada and northeastern United States into the headwaters of the Ohio River, displacing the more peaceable Sioux. The Sioux tribes split, part going down the Ohio and finally settling in the western plains. Another group of Sioux moved up the Kanawha River to its headwaters and were settled in southwestern McDowell County, North Carolina, in 1566 when found by the Pardo expedition. Because of the continued harassment by the Cherokee (of Iroquois stock), they moved down the Catawba River to the South Carolina line. These Indians were known as Catawbas when John Lawson passed their way in 1670. 
In discussing the New River area, for convenience, I will refer to those lands drained by the New River in North Carolina as Ashe County and those lands drained by the New River in Virginia as Montgomery County. I am fully aware that Montgomery was not formed until 1777 and was subsequently divided and that Ashe was not formed until 1799. However, the area covered by these two counties at their formation constitutes our area of interest.
Let me give a little background history. England and France had begun successful colonization of America simultaneouslyJamestown in 1607 and Quebec in 1608. By the mid-eighteenth century, they had engaged in three indecisive wars and after 1750 were bracing for a fourth. Virginia and South Carolina actively pursued trade with the Indians while, on the other hand, North Carolina had tried to dissuade advances into their hunting grounds. The attempt to remove the French from Fort Dusquesne precipitated the final war with the French. Offended by the British, the Cherokee attacked Fort George in South Carolina, Dobbs in North Carolina, and Chiswell in Virginia and captured Fort Loudon in Tennessee. Montreal and Quebec fell in 1759 and 1760 and a successful three colony campaign defeated the Cherokee in 1761. George III's Proclamation of 1763 forbade British settlement and colonial grants beyond the crest of the Appalachians and "enjoined and required" that no person presume to purchase land from the Indians. Not only did the Proclamation tend to abort plans of such Virginia land companies as the Ohio Company and its rival, the Loyal Land Company, but also many men had enlisted their services as soldiers in the militia with promises of land on the Western Waters. Whether from earlier explorers, wartime militia or later Long Hunters, every ragged colonist in Virginia and Carolina increasingly saw the West as a variable pot of gold. It was to legimitize property holdings that the treaty was negotiated with the Cherokee at Hard Labor, South Carolina, in 1768. This line ran from Tryon Mountain in western Polk County, North Carolina, to Fort Chiswell in Virginia, then north to the mouth of the Kanawha River. But settlers continued to surge West. In 1768 the Christian-Anderson expedition which explored the Holston to Hawkins County, Tennessee, on their way out passed through almost uninhabited wilderness; on their return a few weeks later, they glimpsed cabins at every spot where range was good. 
Settlement of the New River area of Virginia and North Carolina, of necessity, must be discussed separately for at least two reasons. The first reason is topographical. The Blue Ridge from McDowell County north to the Virginia line is an almost impenetrable barrier. In 1752 Bishop Spangenburg, searching for a tract for the Moravian settlement, was not content with what he found along the Catawba River and decided to look further north. He procured the services of a hunter to guide him across the Brushy Mountains to the Yadkin River. The hunter got lost and led the Bishop and his party on a frontal assault of the Blue Ridge. The Bishop's diary for 5 December 1752 reads, "We climbed on hands and knees dragging after us the loads we had taken from the backs of the horses, for had we not unsaddled them they would have fallen backwards down the mountain."  Likewise, James Robertson, who lived just southeast of here on the Neuse River, traveled to Tennessee in 1770. It would appear that he followed the Yadkin River and crossed the Blue Ridge at Deep Gap. On his return he spent two weeks trying to find an easier route to the Yadkin. He was unsuccessful. When he returned to Tennessee with his family and friends they followed the Catawba River and crossed the Yellow Mountains.  As late as 1936 there were only two paved primary roads through the Blue Ridge into Ashe County.
Conversely, the approach to the New River in Virginia was, comparatively speaking, a rather easy approach. There were several gaps in the Blue Ridge in Virginia. Particularly notable was a gap west of Black Water Fort and the gap used by the Yadkin Road at the head of Goose Creek. In addition, settlers migrating down the Yadkin Road could turn west and follow the Wilderness Trail.
The second reason for dividing the discussion of settlement in North Carolina and Virginia was the availability of title to land. Virginia began authorizing numerous land companies to settle lands to the west. The surge of immigrants through Philadelphia and the Chesapeake combined with the competition between land companies kept a continuous stream of settlers moving westward. With no deep-water port, North Carolina received only the overflow after the better lands to the north had been occupied. After the French and Indian War, Virginia continued issuing grants for the land. In North Carolina, the land in this study was owned by Lord Granville. Following the defeat of the Cherokee in 1761 a number of men started action to get title to lands on the Upper Catawba in North Carolina from Granville's agents. I have yet to find where any deeds were issued by Granville's Office in McDowell County, North Carolina. Following the death of Lord Granville. the Granville Land Office closed in March 1763. From then until May 1778, when the State assumed title to all vacant land and began issuing grants, it was impossible to obtain title to vacant land in Ashe County. 
In addition to the closing of the Granville Land Office, the government provided more deterrent to settlement in Ashe County. The Treaty of Paris in 1763, shortly after the Land Office closing, forbade settlement beyond the crest of the Blue Ridge. Four years later Governor Tryon of North Carolina placed even more land in North Carolina out-of-bounds to settlers when he established a boundary running from Tryon Mountain, near the town of Tryon in Polk County, through Sparta, to Fort Chiswell. This line excluded not only Ashe County but also most of Rutherford and McDowell Counties. It should be noted that in the latter two counties the line was generally ignored. Even with the Treaty of Hard Labor in 1768 opening more lands in Virginia, Ashe County was still excluded. The Treaty of Lochaber in 1770 and its revision the following year gave settlers "Carte blanche" to settle most anywhere in the domain claimed by Virginia, while Ashe County remained off limits to settlers until the Revolution.
It is believed that Abraham Wood, commander of Fort Henry, present day Petersburg, Virginia, first discovered the New River during an expedition over the mountains in 1652. It is certain that an extended expedition sponsored by Wood in 1671 describes the New, the "Great River." Originally named Wood's River, this name continued in use as late as 1755. It is not known how or why the name was changed, but the 1750 Fry-Jefferson map identifies it as "New River." Grants issued in the late 1740s indicate the name New River was already in use. The first land company devoted to settlement in the New River basin was the Wood's River Company.
The lack of title to land in western North Carolina was such a problem that the North Carolina Assembly passed the following resolution 19 August 1778. "Whereas there are so few persons in Wilkes, Burke, Washington and Surry Counties who have obtained Titles to their Lands, that legal juries cannot be obtained. Resolved therefore that Reputable House Holders in the aforesaid Counties be and are hereby to be capable of Acting as Jury Men upon all Occasions within their respective Counties." Therefore, while land records in Montgomery County start at an early date, land records in Ashe County do not begin until 1778. 
By the Treaty of Lancaster in 1744, the Six Nations of Indians renounced their claim to all lands in Virginia and the Wood's River Grant was issued in 1745. Surveying began in March 1746; but in the same year two patents were issued to John Harrison, Jr., based on a previous survey. This survey was probably made about 1743. Others who had lands surveyed prior to 1746 were John Mills and John Buchanan. Among those well enough acquainted with the territory to have locations ready to be surveyed were James Woods, former surveyor of Orange County, Virginia, James Patton, George Robinson, James Burk, James Davis, Peter Rentfroe, George Draper, the Ingles, Charles Hart, Charles Campbell, Charles Sinkler, the Harmons and the Dunkers, a religious sect. An order of Orange County, Virginia, Court of April 1745 mentions Adam Harmons on the New or Wood's River as the western end of a road marked off from the Frederick County line through Augusta. Road orders for the area through 1750 give an excellent idea who were settled in the area at the time. 
In 1749 the Loyal Land Company was organized and secured a grant for 800,000 acres beginning on the North Carolina line and running westward and northward. It would appear this company sold about 250 tracts before development ceased due to the French and Indian War and conflicting claims with the Ohio Company. Other land companies were the Greenbrier Company which received a grant for 100,000 acres on the Greenbrier River in 1745 and the Ohio Company which was granted 500,000 acres between the Monongahela and the Kanawha in 1749. Others who received sizeable grants included William Gray, 10,000 acres in 1747, Bernard Moore, 100,000 acres in 1748, Peyton Randolph, 400,000 acres in 1749, John Hiscock and John Griffin of Bristol, 100,000 acres in 1750, Adam Harmon and others, 7,000 acres in 1750, Samuel Davis of Bristol, 50,000 acres in 1751, Thomas Lewis, 100,000 acres in 1752, Matthew Talbot, 40,000 acres in 1752, John Hayles, 64,000 acres in 1752, and William Byrd, 5,000 acres in 1764. Between 1761 and 1769 John Robinson and Company acquired a large part of the land allotted to the Greenbrier Company. A study of the surveys and deeds of the area through 1754 give a good idea of the explosion of the population in the New River basin.
During the early period (1745-54) on New River and Holston, there had been only minor problems with the French and Indians. Stealing furs of the early hunters seemed to be the full extent of the trouble until the fall of 1754. By the first of September 1754, Governor Dinwiddie was hearing complaints from the frontier about many parties of Indians robbing and ill-treating the people. For the residents of the New River and Holston River, 1755 was probably the worst year of the French and Indian War. From October 1754 to August 1755 twenty-one individuals were killed, seven wounded and nine taken prisoner.  Although the preparation for the defense of the frontier continued, the inhabitants of the exposed settlements hurried away from their homes. The Holston, New River and Greenbrier settlements were practically abandoned. The exodus from the land was dramatic. The Rev. James Maury wrote at the time: "By Bedford Courthouse in one week 'tis said and I believe truly, near 300 inhabitants of this colony passed on their way to Carolina." 
The fortifications formed a line well to the east of the New River basin. It was the fall of 1760 before construction was started at Fort Chiswell. This fort was built on the land of Alexander Sayers on the south side of Reed Creek. It was named for John Chiswell who had discovered lead mines eight miles to the south. Chiswell had his land surveyed about the same time construction was started on the fort. According to the Proclamation of 1763, men who had served in the French and Indian War were entitled to bounty land. It was a decade later, 1774, when warrants were finally issued. Surveys for these warrants may be found in Fincastle County, Virginia, Survey Book A. In addition, there were a number of warrants for which no surveys have been found. Montgomery County, Virginia, Order Books for 1779 and 1780 give additional service records for men who were then residents of the county.
With the cessation of hostilities in the New River basin, it again swelled with the influx of families. There is no way I could summarize this period within the time limit allowed me. Nor is there need to do so. F. B. and Mary Kegley have thoroughly covered this area in the books listed in the bibliography. One comment before leaving Montgomery County, Virginia, you should be aware that a sizeable portion of the population was not in accord with separation from Great Britain. In 1777 when Virginia passed an act requiring all males over sixteen to take an "Oath of Allegiance to the State," it was noted that Capt. Thomas Burke and his entire militia company except four or five refused to take the oath. William Preston, writing to William Fleming in December 1777, said "near forty of my neighbors have positively refused the Oath of Allegiance to the State." John Griffith, who lived on the South Fork of the Holston, was the apparent leader of an intended uprising of British loyalists. He encouraged support by claiming that the proposed alliance with France was a sell-out to the French king. There is also evidence that others refused to take the oath for "conscientious" reasons.  I refer you to the Kegleys for a more detailed discussion. General William Lenoir, referring to this same period in North Carolina, stated: "the militia in that part of Surry that now comprises the Counties of Wilkes and Ashe was about a company and a half and a very few settled to the west of them. The scattered situation of the inhabitants and their remoteness from any proper source of information, together with the usual prejudices of a very limited education under a Monarchical Government and some of the principal men amongst them having been handled pretty roughly by said Government for taking an active part in what was called the Regulation. . . caused so many to be disaffected to the Glorious Cause of Liberty; that the Whigs in the Western Frontier had enough to do to defend themselves against the Indians & their more natural enemies, the Tories. . ."  It seems this desire to maintain the status-quo still prevailed strongly eighty years later when General Garnett, after unsuccessfully trying to raise a Confederate regiment in the Rich Mountain area, wrote General Lee: "These people are imbued with an ignorant and bigoted Union sentiment." 
Although Montgomery County, Virginia, had experienced a phenomenal growth since the early 1740s; Wheeler's History of North Carolina, published in 1850, and quoting Thomas Gimpsie's letter to Thomas Henderson dated 1811, states that the first settlers in Ashe County came in 1755. Ashe County histories imply the first settlers were David Helton, William Walling and William McClain, all of Montgomery County, Virginia, who came to the area in 1770 on a hunting trip and returned the next year to establish a permanent residence.  What is probably a little closer to the facts is a little of both. Andrew Baker is supposed to have moved into Ashe County in 1755. The French and Indian War forced him to leave the area. He is supposed to have returned about 1765.  My research leads me to believe he returned a little earlier.
A study of the loose papers at the North Carolina Land Grant Office gives some added information. On 3 April 1780 Andrew Baker made an entry for a tract of land on the South Fork of New River, which was surveyed a week later. In these papers reference is made to "the line of his former survey" and to his "old survey." In most instances where I find these notations in land entries and surveys made between 1778 and 1781 it indicates the grantee was in the process of obtaining a deed from the Granville Land Office when it closed in March 1763. Since it is known that entries were being made for land just to the south, in McDowell County, North Carolina, in early 1763, there is every reason to believe that Andrew Baker had returned to the New River once the threat of Indians abated.
It has been surmised by some that the first settlers in Ashe County came in because they were unaware of the location of the boundary. This may have been true in a few instances; however, the Fry-Jefferson map clearly defines the boundary in the New River area. Peter Jefferson was an active member of the Loyal Land Company and in association with Joshua Fry surveyed the North Carolina-Virginia boundary as far west as Deep Run on the Laurel Fork of Holston River. Enough attention was paid to the boundary where New River crosses that a special survey of this section of New River was included in the report sent to London.  It should be noted that they placed the state boundary about 3,000 feet north of its present location.
The first white inhabitants of Ashe County were the hunters. It has been estimated a hunter could earn $1600 to $1700 per season hunting and trapping game for their pelts. While this figure seems much too high, there was a good income to be had from the sale of pelts. It was for this income and the love of the hunt that many men spent their lives just beyond the fringes of civilization as being hunters.  The Ashe County area was suited to their needs. There was plenty of game and in the rugged mountains there were numerous rock shelters. One such shelter known to have been used was 200 feet long, eight feet deep and five feet tall. Today the entrance is hidden by rhododendrons. This rock shelter was located about a hundred feet from the North Fork, about twenty-five feet above the water. Another such rock shelter nearby was eleven feet deep and thirteen feet high.  This form of shelter was suitable for the earliest Long Hunters, but by the time of the Revolution many had built shelters or even cabins at their camps. Capt. John Cox, who was prominent in Montgomery County, Virginia, following the Revolution, is quoted as saying he could remember when there were but 2 or 3 hunter's cabins from the lead mines (Fort Chiswell) to the head of the Watauga. The land entries of the 1780s are replete with references to George Collins' old cabin, William Howell's old cabin, Martin Gambill's old camp, Sizemore's Camp, Nealing's Camp, Fee's Camp, Priest Camp, Baker's Camp, Golson Stepp's Cabin, Charles Colins' old Cabin, John Robinson's Cabin, "a small cabin formerly inhabited by William Mainard and lately claimed by Archeble Mahon," and the list could go on.
By the time of the Revolution the New River Valley was becoming populated by permanent settlers which tended to crowd the hunters. Because of the topography, Ashe County, North Carolina, was settled from two directions, north and south. The headwaters of the New River were settled primarily by people from the Upper Catawba River. By 1780 there was a well established route from the headwaters of the Johns River in Burke County, North Carolina, to the headwaters of New River near Boone. And, as previously mentioned, there was also access to the area from the Yadkin River by way of Deep Gap. Most of the early settlers in the southern half of Ashe County came by one of these two routes. By 1778 about 60% of the settlers in the northern section of the county were Virginians and considered themselves such to their dying day. You have a list of over two hundred land grants issued for entries made prior to 1790. While this is not a complete list for the time frame covered, it will give you some idea of the situation. Less than a third of the grantees acknowledge any improvement at all on the lands. You can find the names of many of these grantees on the tax lists of Montgomery County, Virginia, from 1771 through 1790. Gideon Lewis specified on his entry for lands in Ashe County that he was "of Virginia." Most of those who had moved to Ashe County at this time were getting away from inhabited areas.
Now, before someone starts hollering that I have placed great, great grand pa's grant in the wrong place, let me say that I am sure there are errors in the map of land grants. In old Wilkes County, North Carolina, there were three different Elks Creek; one in Alleghaney County, one in Wilkes County and one in Ashe County. I am sure that the grant to Daniel Yarnell for land previously claimed by Abner Smalley on Elks Creek is the Elks Creek in Wilkes County. There were three different Grassey Creeks and everywhere you turn there is a Buffalo Creek. Just ask the people at Appalachian State University the problems involved in trying to superimpose the surveyor's plat on a USGS map when they did such extensive research on the Sturgill lands. Even at the time, the following petition dated 3 May 1793 shows the problems the grantees were having with the surveyor. Landrine Ayers had bought a tract of land granted to William Blackburn and found an error in the surveyor's plat and description and his petition to the "Now your Petitioner Conceives himself Much Injured by a Mistake Commited by William Johnston Who Surveyed the Land in Mentioning in his Platt Howard Creek Instead of Meet Camp Creek & Since John Brown, Esq., & William Miller have Surveyed by a warrant obtained from a Prior Date These Lands which have Taken Great Part of the Original Survey obtained by the Said William Blackburn Now your Petitioner Coneives himself Considerably Injured from the above Circumstances therefore prays your Worships to Rectify the Same by an Order of Court if agreeable to Law Directing the Secretary to Issue this Grant in the following form to Wit Lying on Meet Camp Creek the waters of New River Left hand fork. . ." and he then gives the new metes and bounds. 
The routes from the south seemed to have been the most popular for the first settlers in the area. When Wilkes County was formed in 1777 the two Justices from Ashe County were George Morris and William Colvard,  both of whom appear in pre-Revolutionary records of Rowan County, North Carolina.  At the second meeting of the County Court of Wilkes (June 1778), several more Justices from this area were appointed, some of whom can be found in the earlier Rowan records. In 1778 Ashe County comprised one militia district of which Andrew Baker was captain. He, too, had moved from Rowan County. Initially political power appears to have resolved around two locations. The first was in southern Ashe in the area of Boone, North Carolina. Andrew Baker as a Justice of the County Court and Captain of the Militia was the political leader in the area. By March 1779 Ashe County had been split into two Militia Districts. Political power in the northern district centered around Penington's Mill located on Grassy Creek just south of the Virginia border. Micajah Penington, as a Justice and Captain of the Militia, was leader of this area.  Micajah Penington's putative father, Benajah Penington is first found on the Yadkin River in Rowan County in 1753.  By 1770 Benajah and Micajah Penington were on the Upper Catawba River moving into Ashe County sometime in the 1770s.  To give some idea of the influence of the family, Micajah was Captain of the Militia and Justice of the Peace, his father, Benajah was Constable and Micajah's son, Abel, was one of the Tax Assessors. Their combined estates were valued at £1500 in 1778 and were exceeded in the area only by the Hammons family. Both Micajah Pennington's and Andrew Baker's roles in power were short lived. It is believed the Peningtons were Quakers and were not considered ardent enough Whigs. In September 1779 Micajah's estate, along with the estates of a number of friends, was considered confiscated property; although, there is no evidence it was ever sold. In a list prepared by Benjamin Cleveland 6 October 1781 to be forwarded to the Secretary of State concerning the status of the several justices, in Ashe County only William Colvard was acting in his capacity as justice, George Morris had resigned, James Tompkins refused to qualify, Thomas Elledge, Abner Smalley and Micajah Penington were listed as Tories and Andrew Baker was reputed to have taken protection of the enemy.  It is not known how accurate Cleveland's judgement was concerning these people. Andrew Baker was appointed a road overseer in June 1782 and about a decade later both Baker and Penington were Justices and Penington was also a Captain of the Militia.
As in Virginia, road orders give a good indication of those living in a particular area. Attempts were made to provide paths or roads to Penington's Mill and the Boone area. In June 1778 the court ordered a jury composed of Rowland Judd, Nathaniel Judd, Barnet Owen, John Robins, Jr., John Tyrah, William Owen, Jr., John Shepperd (all of whom lived east of the Blue Ridge), John Baker, Matthew Sparkes, Andrew Baker, Jr., Thomas Calloway, Robert Baker, Zachariah Wells, Abel Pennington, James Ward and James Lewis to lay out a road from Deep Forest in Reddies River to Benajah Pennington's Mill.  This road apparently was to run from Deep Fourd to Lewis Fork, up Lewis Fork and across the mountains to the South Fork of New River and thence downstream to Penning ton's Mill. In September 1778 James Lewis was appointed overseer of the stretch from the South Fork to Pennington's Mill.  At this term of court it was also ordered to lay out a road from Reddies River to the Old Field on New River (central Ashe County).  In December 1778 Reubin Stringer was appointed overseer of the road from the top of the Blue Ridge to the Old Field.  It would appear the terrain was too rugged to maintain a road as in March 1780 the court ordered the road discontinued.  But in June 1781 the justices again changed their minds and ordered the road kept open.  In September 1779 the justices, probably realizing the difficulties, ordered a bridle path instead of a road from Roaring River to the mouth of Peak Creek.  All road orders were not limited to paths across the Blue Ridge. In September 1779 a road was ordered from John Webb to James Tompkin's Mill  and in June 1780 all hands on the North Fork and those between the fork of the river and the Virginia line were to work on the road from Pennington's Mill to George Morris.  In 1784 the court was petitioned to open a road from Tompkin's Mill to Benjamin Green to serve the "New River Settlement" in southern Ashe County.  In October 1788 there was an order for a bridle path from the head of Elk Creek to Jesse Council.  This would have crossed the Blue Ridge a little south of Deep Gap. In February 1803 they were still trying to make a road from Deep Fourd across the mountains when they requested a new survey for the road.  In October 1803 I find the first reference to an attempt at a wagon road across the mountains.  This road was to go from the head of Elk Creek and would serve the Boone area.
While road records give only limited references to paths of communications, there were well established routes of travel in Ashe County by 1780. I have already mentioned "the road that leads from the Three Forks of New River to Johns River in Burke County" and "the path that leads from the head of Elk to the Three Forks." There were also "the path that leads to the Cove at Buffalo from the Three Forks of New River" in the Howard Creek area, "the path from Mr. Browns to Golson Stepps Cabin," "the path that leads from the mouth of Howards Creek to the head of Cove Creek," "the path from Benjamin Gregors to the head of Elk," at the head of Potato Creek there was "the path from the Elk Creek Ridge to Daniel Richardson," "the path from the North Fork to Rones Creek," "the path from Holdbrooks to New River Settlement," "the road from Casces Settlement to the mouth of Cranberry (Creek)," and the "path from Rowark's improvements to Micajah Pennington's."  It will be noted that the majority of these paths lay in southern Ashe County. This is readily understandable when one realizes that Ashe County was an end unto itself, a cul-de-sac. Most settlers were headed to the Western Waters. Montgomery County, Virginia, provided a route to the headwaters of the Holston and Clinch Rivers without going through Ashe County. Settlers coming up the Catawba found one of the better routes crossing near Boone to the headwaters of the Watauga River. Both routes bypassed Ashe County.
By 1780 Ashe County had established settlers; for example, William Ray had built a mill and John Baker had previously built a pounding mill.  Many of the grants specify the inclusion of a mill site though a mill did not always exist there at the time. Four of the first five land entries in Wilkes County were for land in Ashe County, although one of them was caveated by William Lenoir. While some lands were surveyed almost immediately after the entry was filed, there was delay in surveying other tracts. Andrew Baird complained that a warrant granted Landrine Ayres 26 August 1780 was lost or mislaid, two others issued to Baird in 1778 and 1784 could not be found. Benjamin Culbreth had the same problem with an entry for land on Rich Mountain.  Then entries were caveated when two or more laid claim to the same tract of land. Such was the problem of Timothy Purkins. On 7 April 778 Purkins entered four hundred acres on the mouth of Deep Gap Creek called the Old Fields. It included the improvements where he lived, also where Boyal Porter lived and an improvement bought of Samuel McQueen. Joseph Purkins filed a caveat claiming the land and was awarded the entry 31 July 1778. But to show how confusing the records become, Benjamin Cleveland had also filed a caveat for the land. The same day the jury awarded the land to Joseph Purkins, the same jury found that Timothy Purkins had settled on the land as an employee of Cleveland. The following was their conclusion of fact: "Whatever work he did on the land Benjamin Cleveland was to pay him for the same and he was to remain thereon during the said Cleveland's pleasure and no longer. We further find that Benjamin Cleveland said he gave up the land to Timothy Purkins in consideration that Purkins was to mind some stock for him. We also find that since then Purkins offered Cleveland a consideration for the land which Cleveland refused. Then Purkins proposed moving off the land and settling across the river on Meet Camp Creek. We further find of later date that Cleveland in company with others came to Purkins and said he just now had made a right to Joseph Couch, Joseph Purkins and William Sperrie and that he was willing to make him a right if he had pen and ink and asked Sperrie for pen and ink and could get none and for want of the same the right that Cleveland intended to make to Timothy Purkins could not be made appear which upon the whole we refer to the worshipfull court that if the law be for the said Purkins we find for him, if not we find for Benjamin Cleveland." You will note on your map that the land was granted to Cleveland, ignoring his right given to Couch, Joseph Purkins and Sperrie. Apparently Larkin Cleveland had made an entry for land claimed by Couch across the river on Old Field Creek. A caveat by Couch supposedly awarded him the land 28 February 1780. Fourteen years later Couch was still trying to get a clear title when Andrew Baker testified that he had seen Benjamin Cleveland's bill of sale to Couch for the land, but that Larkin Cleveland forced Couch to assign it to him (Larkin Cleveland) as Couch said "for fear he (Couch) should be killed." 
The difficulty of travel between Ashe County and the court house in Wilkes County becomes apparent when looking at the papers for a grant to Alexander Martin which was located on the Burke County line. An order was issued to the Surveyor of Burke County to make the required survey. Delays in surveying entries created even more unforeseen delays when the Glasgow Land Fraud erupted. There are many grants where entries were made prior to 1785, for which grants were not issued until after 1795, that bear the notation "the purchase money for said entry was duly paid & that the grant was obtained without fraud or collusion."
To give some idea of the sparcity of settlement, you have only to refer to the 1790 Census. The Eighth Company of Wilkes County embraced Ashe County. Here are listed a total of 77 free white males sixteen and over, including heads of households. Free white males under sixteen totaled only 107. Lest we forget the distaff side, among the heads of households were Mary Murphey, Sarah Coleman and Mary Baker. Previous estimates stated there were no more than fifty families settled in Ashe County at the end of the Revolution. However, the 1778 list of taxables includes eighty nine names.  While a number on the list of the northern section actually resided in Virginia, at least a fourth of those on the list who appear in early Virginia records were included in Virginia lists of tax delinquents as early as 1773. Although a number of families moved into Ashe County following 1778; it appears the population decreased over the following six years as there were only eighty-two taxables when the list was taken in 1784.  Even with this small a populace, in 1784 there were schools at Grassey Creek, Holton Creek, the North Fork and on Beaver Creek. Five years later there were four more schools; a second on the North Fork, one on Naked Creek, one on Nathans Creek and one whose location has not been determined.  No attempt will be made to discuss religious affiliations but one of the first settlements on the New River in Virginia was that of the Dunkers from Pennsylvania. A Quaker meeting was established near the state line in 1785; Fox Creek Baptist Church, near the state line, was organized in 1782. A Methodist chapel already existed on Bridle Creek in Virginia when Asbury preached there in 1788.  It might appear that these religious institutions had little effect on those living near the state line in Ashe County. The Wilkes County State Docket for October and December 1778 have numerous cases of men from this area charged with fornication.  Many of the summons list the women who were involved with the men.  Also to be noted during this period are the number of men from the area near the Virginia line who are charged with swearing. Another common charge among this group was retailing liquor without a license.
Most of those obtaining land did so for their own personal use, but there were some land speculators. Among these speculators were William Lenoir, William McClain and Memican Hunt. Many of those settling in Ashe County were probably similar to John Henry Stonecypher. In 1743 Johannes Steinseiffer (1692-1757) arrived in Philadelphia from Eisenfeld, Germany. He settled in Culpepper County, Virginia. Johannes died in the early summer of 1757. Having money in their pockets for the first time, the two elder sons sometime later moved to North Carolina. Honoricus settled on Lewis Fork of Yadkin River at the foot of the Blue Ridge. His brother, Johannes Heinrich (John Henry), moved into Ashe County and was settled on Naked Creek by 1780 at which time his name had already been Anglicized to Stonecypher.
But probably more typical is the situation of the Sturgill family. James Sturgill moved to Montgomery County, Virginia, sometime prior to the Revolution. With the beginning of the Revolution, Sturgill would have nothing to do with separation from England. He refused to sign the "Oath of Allegiance." In his report listing those who refused to sign the oath, William Preston added a note after Sturgill's name describing him as "an old innofensive ignorant man." Sturgill died in Virginia about 1803 but his son, Francis, bought land in North Carolina on the north side of the New River between the Virginia line and the forks of the river in 1799. Francis' son, John Sturgill, settled on the land and shortly afterwards Francis moved in with him and died in 1807. While all the deeds have not been located, Franci's Sturgill's estate was split into at least six 394 acre tracts. Prior to Sturgill's purchase, John A. McMillan, who is reputed to have come directly from Scotland, settled with his family between Potato Creek and Elk Creek. The relationship between the Sturgills and McMillans is typical of that found in Ashe County. McMillan's daughter, Nancy, married Joseph Phipps, the son of Jane Hash and Benjamin Phipps. Jane Hash was a sister of Rebecca Hash who married Francis Sturgill. This makes McMillan Sturgill's wife's sister's son's wife's father. Through marriage the McMillans were also related to the Osburns and the Coxes, but I won't go into that.  With the closed conditions in Ashe County it is not surprising if a researcher begins to wonder if an ancestor might not be his own grandpa.
This discussion would leave the impression that most settlers on the New River came either from Pennsylvania or eastern Virginia. However, New Jersey should not be overlooked. On 13 April 1745 a bill was filed in a New Jersey chancery court wherein certain East Jersey landholders, including the Earl of Stair, wanted to oust settlers in the neighborhood of Elizabethtown, New Jersey. These settlers were known as the Clinker Lot Rights Men and held grants made about eighty years earlier. With changes in proprietorship some of these grants had been thrown in doubt. The suit dragged on for many years and never came to a decision, but by the time it was dropped many of those involved had left New Jersey. One of those involved was Caleb Osburn, a kinsman of Ephriam Osburn who was progenitor of the Osburn clan on New River. Other names included Halsey, Sturgis, Young, Wright, Williams and Whitehead. While first names do not all correspond, it could indicate the New River settlers were a younger generation. 
"After the initial settlement, the people of Ashe were locked in a timeless zone, living and farming as had their forefathers and rather oblivious to the changes in the world around them. Not until the 1880s were there any substantial changes in agricultural methods. About that time more farmers began using steel tipped plows that turned a deep furrow and discarded the homemade implements they had been using for nearly a century. Grain drills were introduced about 1884, but scarcely any commercial fertilizer was used until after 1900. Yet it should not be assumed that substandard living conditions prevailed. Ashe had neither abundance of wealth nor grinding poverty. Homes were substantial if not elegant, and the squalor and deprivation often associated with mountain societies were not prevalent in Ashe. The tendency to hold to the land reduced speculation and accumulation of large tracts, thus a more equitable distribution of land was found there. The average farm shrank over the years, but the vast majority of families owned a share in the productivity of Ashe County soil." 
In summary, the New River Water Basin of Virginia experienced a phenomenal growth starting in the 1740s due to the comparative ease of access and availability of land title. Development of the New River Water Basin in North Carolina did not begin until shortly before the Revolution and even then growth was slow. As a cul-de-sac between the major routes to the West, the New River Water Basin of North Carolina was never the migratory route for settlers which can be found in other sections. Contrary to tradition, it appears the initial settlement was from the Upper Catawba and Upper Yadkin of North Carolina. Apparently a sizeable majority of these earliest settlers had participated in the Regulator Movement. Following the Revolution, Ashe County received the backwash from the flood of settlers headed to the West.
Ashe County is a fertile field for a researcher with the capabilities of Mary Kegley. Much material is available. The records of the first quarter century of Wilkes have been very well preserved. Many records of the first quarter century of Ashe were destroyed by fire; however, the deeds are fairly complete and the court minutes begin in 1806. The most valuable source of early Ashe County settlement is found at the North Carolina Land Grant Office. The loose papers provide more insight into the early settlement than any other one source. Unfortunately, much is left to be desired in the preservation of these records. Some of the papers have disappeared in the past few years and others fall apart when opened. Unless something is done in the immediate future, these records may be added to the list of other lost records before another decade passes.
7. Kegley, Mary B. and F. B., Earl Adventures on the Western Waters: The New River of Virginia in Pioneer Days 1745-1840, Orange, Va., Green Publishers, Inc., 1980, most of the section on Virginia is a condensation from this book.
Mary B & F. B. Kegley. Early Adventurers on the Western Waters, Orange, Va: Green Publishers, 1980.
F. B. Kegley. Virginia Frontier, Roanoke, Va: The Southwest Virginia Historical Society, 1938.
Mary B. Kegley. Militia of Montgomery County, Virginia, Dublin, Va.: Kegley, 1975.
New River Tithables, 1770-1773, Wytheville, Va., 1972.
Soldiers of Fincastle, Co., Va., 1774, Roanoke, Va. 1974.
Tax List of Montgomery Co., Va., 1782, Roanoke, Va., 1974.
Netti Schreiner Yantis. Montgomery County, Virginia, circa 1790, Springfield Va., 1972.
Ann Lowry Worrell. A Brief of Wills and Marriages in Montgomery and Fincastle Counties, Va., 1733-1831, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1976.
Netti Schreiner Yantis. A List of Taxable Property in the District of John Robinson, Commissioner, Springfield, Va., 1972.
Montgomery Co., Va., Tax Lists A, B & C for the Year 1978, Springfield, Va., 1972.
Lewis Preston Summers. Annals of Southwest Virginia, 1769-1800, Abington Va., 1929.
History of Southwest Virginia, 1746-1786, Richmond, Va.: J. L. Hill Printing Co., 1903.
KEY TO GRANTEE MAP
*NOTES: Underlined names indicate they made improvements on the land.
Pr Occ: Prior Occupants or Claimants
Adj L : Adjoining Landowners Not Listed As Grantees
Ch B : Chain Bearers As Noted in Survey Plats
NAMES APPEARING ON ENTRIES FOR LAND GRANTS AS ACTUAL OCCUPANTS OF THE LANDMicajah BUNCH Cranberry Creek 16 Mar 1780
Jonathon SMITH Cranberry Creek 16 Mar 1780
John CHURCH Pine Swamp Creek 6 May 1782
John JOHNSTON Little Naked Creek 2 Aug 1779
John WEBB Naked Creek 1 Feb 1783
Tue ROBINS Buffalo Creek 4 Feb 1783
Thomas COTRAL Buffalo Creek 7 Mar 1787
John RICHARDSON Heltons Creek 20 May 1782
Joshua YATES Grassey Creek 6 Aug 1779
Benajah PENNINGTON, Jr. Grassey Creek 6 Aug 1779
William SPENCER Martins Branch, Grassey Creek 23 Mar 1789
Benja ANGEL Elk Creek 7 Nov 1785
DAVIS Elk Creek 1 Aug 1794
William HOWELL Little Elk Creek 6 May 1779
John FLANNERY North Fork of New River 2 May 1788
Moses SMITH North Fork of New Year 3 Aug 1782
William ELLISON Beaver Creek 12 Dec 1778
William COLVARD Beaver Creek 23 Oct 1782
Susanna BAKER Mouth of Roans Creek 23 Oct 1782
John CATE Pine Swamp Branch 1 Feb 1785
William SMITH Great Horse Creek of North Fork 2 May 1786
John HINSON North Fork above mouth of Buffalo 17 Dec 1789
Edward KING North Fork 6 May 1779
Charles LITTLE North Fork 6 May 1779
SMITH North Fork above Horse Creek 13 Feb 1783
Abel PENNINGTON North Fork at mouth of Horse Creek 3 Mar 1779
P. GILLEY North Fork below Little Old Field 6 Sep 1790
Francis GILLEY North Fork below Little Old Field 6 Sep 1790
Richard GREEN Middle Fork of Three Forks 10 Jun 1790
STRINGER South Fork of New River 24 Jan 1781
Morris BAKER South Fork of New River 25 Dec 1779
James WITHERSPOON South Fork of New River 7 Jun 1779
ASSESSED VALUE IN 1778 OF TAXABLE ESTATES IN THAT PART OF WILKES COUNTY WHICH BECAME ASHE*
Northern Part of the New River Basin
*Values were based on land improvements, horses, cattle, money on hand and at interest. Shown are the names of taxables and the value of their estate in 1778 in Pounds, Shillings and Pence.
Last Updated: 08-Jul-2009