Upshur County was created by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on March 26, 1851 from parts of Barbour, Lewis and Randolph counties. The county was named in honor of Abel Parker Upshur (1790-1843).
Abel Parker Upshur was born on June 17, 1790 in Northampton County, Virginia. He studied the law and was educated at Yale and Princeton Universities. He was admitted to the bar in Richmond in 1810 where he practiced law for ten years before moving back to Northampton. He served as a member of the Virginia General Assembly (1820-1826), a judge in Virginia General Court, and a member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-1830. He later served as President John Tyler's Secretary of the Navy (1841-1843) and Secretary of State (1843). He was accidentally killed on February 28, 1843 when a new cannon exploded on board the steamer Princeton at Mount Vernon, Virginia. Thomas Walker Gilmer, the Secretary of the Navy and the namesake of Gilmer County, was also killed in the explosion. President Tyler was present for the testing of the new gun, but survived the explosion.
The first native settlers in central West Virginia were the Mound Builders, also known as the Adena people. Remnants of the Mound Builder's civilization have been found throughout West Virginia, with a high concentration of artifacts located at Moundsville, West Virginia, in Marshall County. The Grave Creek Indian Mound, located in the center of Moundsville, is one of West Virginia's most famous historic landmarks. More than 2,000 years old, it stands 69 feet high and 295 feet in diameter.
According to missionary reports, several thousand Hurons occupied present-day West Virginia during the late 1500s and early 1600s. The powerful Iroquois Confederacy (consisting of the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida and Seneca tribes, and joined later by the Tuscaroras tribe) drove the Hurons out of the state during the 1600s. The Iroquois Confederacy was headquartered in New York and was not interested in occupying present-day West Virginia. Instead, they used it as a hunting ground during the spring and summer months.
During the early 1700s, central West Virginia, including present-day Upshur County, was used as a hunting ground by the Mingo, who lived in both the Tygart Valley and along the Ohio River in West Virginia's northern panhandle region, the Delaware, who lived in present-day eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, but had several autonomous settlements as far south as present-day Braxton County, and by the Iroquois Confederacy, especially the Seneca, one of the Iroquois Confederacy's largest and most powerful members.
The Mingo were not actually an Indian tribe, but a multi-cultural group of Indians that established several communities within present-day West Virginia. They lacked a central government and, like all other Indians within the region at that time, were subject to the control of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Mingo originally lived closer to the Atlantic Coast, but European settlement pushed them into western Virginia and eastern Ohio.
The Seneca, headquartered in western New York, was the closest member of the Iroquois Confederacy to West Virginia, and took great interest in the state. In 1744, the Seneca boasted to Virginia officials that they had conquered the several nations living on the back of the great mountains of Virginia. Among the conquered nations were the last of the Canawese or Conoy people who became incorporated into some of the Iroquois communities in New York. The Conoy continue to be remembered today through the naming of two of West Virginia's largest rivers after them, the Little Kanawha and the Great Kanawha.
The Seneca, and other members of the Iroquois Confederacy, claimed all of present-day West Virginia as their own, using it primarily as a hunting ground. Also, war parties from the Seneca and other members of the Iroquois Confederacy often traveled through the state to protect its claim to southern West Virginia from the Cherokee. The Cherokee were headquartered in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee and rivaled the Iroquois nation in both size and influence. The Cherokee claimed present-day southern West Virginia as their own, setting the stage for conflict with the Iroquois Confederacy.
In 1744, Virginia officials purchased the Iroquois title of ownership to West Virginia in the Treaty of Lancaster. The treaty reduced the Iroquois Confederacy's presence in the state. During the mid-1700s, the English had made it clear to the various Indian tribes that they intended to settle the frontier. The French, on the other hand, were more interested in trade. This influenced the Mingo to side with the French during the French and Indian War (1755-1763). Although the Iroquois Confederacy officially remained neutral, many in the Iroquois Confederacy also allied with the French. Unfortunately for them, the French lost the war and ceded the all of its North American possessions to the British. Following the war, the Mingo retreated to their homes along the banks of the Ohio River and were rarely seen in central West Virginia.
Although the war was officially over, many Indians continued to view the British as a threat to their sovereignty and continued to fight them. In the summer of 1763, Pontiac, an Ottawa chief, led raids on key British forts. Shawnee chief Keigh_tugh_qua, or Cornstalk, led similar attacks on western Virginia settlements in present-day Greenbrier County. By the end of July, Indians had captured all of the British forts west of the Alleghenies except Detroit, Fort Pitt, and Fort Niagara. Then, on August 6, 1763, British forces under the command of Colonel Henry Bouquet retaliated and destroyed Delaware and Shawnee forces at Bushy Run in western Pennsylvania, ending the hostilities.
Fearing more tension between Native Americans and settlers, England's King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763, prohibiting settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. However, many land speculators, including George Washington, violated the proclamation by claiming vast acreage in western Virginia. The next five years were relatively peaceful on the frontier. In 1768, the Iroquois Confederacy (often called the Six Nations) and the Cherokee signed the Treaty of Hard Labour and the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, relinquishing their claims on the territory between the Ohio River and the Alleghenies to the British. With the frontier now open, settlers, once again, began to enter into present-day West Virginia.
During the American Revolution (1776-1783), the Mingo and Shawnee, headquartered at Chillicothe, Ohio, allied themselves with the British. In 1777, a party of 350 Wyandots, Shawnees, and Mingos, armed by the British, attacked Fort Henry, near present-day Wheeling. Nearly half of the Americans manning the fort were killed in the three-day assault. The Indians then left the Fort celebrating their victory. For the remainder of the war, smaller raiding parties of Mingo, Shawnee, and other Indian tribes terrorized settlers throughout West Virginia. As a result, European settlement in the state came to a virtual standstill until the war's conclusion. Following the war, the Mingo and Shawnee, once again allied with the losing side, returned to their homes. However, as the number of settlers in the region began to grow, and with their numbers depleted by the war, both the Mingo and the Shawnee moved further inland.
First European Settlers
Samuel and John Pringle were the first Englishmen to set foot on the present site of Upshur County. They deserted their post at Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) in 1761 and arrived in present-day Upshur County in 1762, during the final days of the French and Indian War. They lived in the county for about three years, just a short distance from the present site of Buckhannon along the Buckhannon River. Their settlement was one of the first permanent, English settlements between Fort Pitt and the Gulf of Mexico. Oral histories suggest that they lived for a time in the hallow stump of a giant sycamore tree. With their ammunition nearly exhausted, John Pringle returned to the South Branch River settlements for supplies around 1765. While there, he discovered that the Indian wars had ended and that they were no longer wanted men. John returned to Upshur County to inform his brother of the good news. They then moved back to the South Branch River settlements. In 1769, Samuel Pringle, his wife Charity (Cutright) Pringle, and several other families returned to the Buckhannon area. Among the new settlers were John and Elizabeth Jackson and their sons, George and Edward Jackson, Thomas Hughes, and John Cutright.
Important Events of the 1700s
After the return of the Pringle brothers to the South Branch River area, a group of men decided to "spy out the land" in present-day Upshur County during the fall of 1768. When the survey team returned, it reported that the land was fertile and the hunting good. They recommended that anyone with ability should "go and immediately possess it."
The first school in present-day Upshur County was established in 1779. A Mr. Haddox taught class in a primitive long cabin two miles south of the present town of Buckhannon. Mr. Haddox was paid $16 per month and provided free board. Attendance at the school was reported to be regular, with children coming from a five-mile circuit.
Important Events of the 1800s
In 1851, construction on a county courthouse began. It would later serve as a school, a meeting house, and civil war headquarters. Construction on a new courthouse began in 1899 and completed in 1901. This courthouse is still used today, along with an annex that was recently added.
On September 3, 1804, John Jackson was appointed the first postmaster at the county's first post office in Buckhannon. Over the next several years, many other post offices were established throughout the county.
West Virginia Wesleyan College was founded in 1890 in downtown Buckhannon. It graduated its first class in 1905 under what was originally known as Wesleyan University. The name was changed to West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1906.
Buckhannon, the county seat, was legally established on January 15, 1816 on the land of Robert Patton, Jr. The town is named for a Delaware Indian chief Buck-on-ge-ha-non, who was known as the George Washington of the Delaware Indians. His favorite hunting grounds were located near the city. Elizabeth Cummings Jackson owned the land on which the town was formed. Her son, Colonel Edward Jackson, platted the town in 1815. His grandson was Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, the famous general who served under the command of Robert E. Lee in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. The town was incorporated bye the Virginia General Assembly in 1852.
Brooks, Morgan M. 1934. Pioneer Settlers of the Buckhannon Valley. Master's Thesis. West Virginia Wesleyan College. Buckhannon.
Cutright, William Bernard. 1977. The History of Upshur County, West Virginia: From its Earliest Exploration and Settlement to the Present Time. Parsons: McClain Printing Company (orig. pub. 1907).
Phillips, Brad. 1984. The History of Atlas, West Virginia, and Vicinity: Upshur County, 1700s to 1984. Parsons: McClain Printing Company.
Tenney, Noel, editor. 1993. All About Upshur County: A Bibliography and Resource Guide to the Published and Unpublished Materials About Upshur County, West Virginia. Buckhannon: Upshur County Historical Society.
Dr. Robert Jay Dilger, Director, Institute for Public Affairs and Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University.
Justin Williams, undergraduate research assistant, Institute for Public Affairs, West Virginia University.
December 11, 2001.
Data on this page obtained from:
Upshur County Economic Development Home Page
County Commissioners' Association of West Virginia's Home Page