Short Passage from one of my Family Histories – Peter Whittinghill

I write a lot about saving your family history in narratives. Below is an example from one of my families. The passage begins with “Sometime in 1795.” I added information at the beginning and end to give you some context for the sample portion of the total story.

Peter Whittinghill’s move to Kentucky

(Please note that the focus of this passage is about Peter Whittinghill’s migration from Virginia to Kentucky. Details of his life I included before and after his move to Kentucky are summaries of longer narratives)

 Peter Whittinghill was my 4th great-grandfather. He was born in 1752 in Germany and arrived in Virginia in 1770 as a redemptioner (German term similar to indentured servant). He paid for his passage by becoming an apprentice to a mill-wright and married his daughter Catherine Gabbert in 1775. He served in the Virginia militia during the American Revolution and in 1781, he purchased 59 acres along the North Fork of the James River (now called the Maury River) in Rockbridge County where he built a grist mill.

In 1783, the end of the Revolutionary War curtailed trade with Britain and led to a sharp decline in the economy in America immediately following the war. However, the vast lands west of the Appalachians were now available to settlers brave enough to relocate there. Some of the lands were given out in grants to Revolutionary War veterans in payment for their services, and more land was available for purchase at a low cost. These circumstances resulted in a massive movement of settlers to the western territories in the decades following the war.

Sometime in 1795 or early 1796, Peter decided he would move his family west of the Appalachian Mountains. On April 5, 1796, Peter sold his land in Rockbridge for fifty pounds current money of Virginia to Benjamin Hart, who was his brother-in-law. After the sale of his land in April of 1796, Peter and his family began the trek to Kentucky. Family tradition believes that Peter packed a set of grinding stones in the wagons along with some of their furniture, tools, stores, and other needed items. Oxen usually pulled the wagons, and the settlers also brought some livestock such as cattle and pigs. A few of the males rode horses, but most of the travelers walked the trail, herded the livestock, and helped by pushing or pulling the wagons when needed.

Peter probably traveled with members of the Gabbert family and other friends from Rockbridge County. The Gabberts and many surnames found in Rockbridge County records are also in records where Peter lived in Kentucky. The group had two paths they could take. One was directly west from Amherst County through the Appalachian Mountains to the New River near present-day Green Sulphur Springs. The second and most probable path started by going overland 110 miles south from Amherst to the New River near Blacksburg using the Great Valley Road.

At Blacksburg, they found the trail along the banks of the New River. They traveled north on the trace that earlier settlers had cut along its banks from the old Indian Trails. The New River is very shallow with many rapids and is not navigable so that is why rafts are not used. The New River eventually merges with the Kanawha River which flows into the Ohio River. Before the New River reaches the Kanawha, it winds through a narrow gorge for about twenty miles. At the gorge, the trace leaves the banks of the river and follows the bluffs above the river and then descends the slopes of Cotton Hill to rejoin the river below Kanawha Falls. The Kanawha River flows relatively flat to the Ohio River with the mountains above on both sides of its banks. The trip took 3-4 weeks and required setting up many campsites along the banks of the river. Children gathered firewood while the women set up the cooking fires and cooked the meals. The men hunted game during the day for their meals. If they encountered bad weather, they erected lean-tos to wait-out the rain.

At Gallipolis on the Ohio River, the travelers build rafts to float down the Ohio River 120 miles to Maysville, Kentucky. The family then trekked 70 miles overland south to Fayette County.

After traveling about 550 miles through the wilderness or on the Ohio River, they stopped for a short time in Fayette County, Kentucky, which is present-day Lexington. Peter and Catherine probably spent the fall of 1797 looking for land. They selected land in Mercer County, Kentucky which is about 15-20 miles west of Lexington. Peter and Catherine purchased their land in Mercer County, Kentucky on January 26, 1798, from John Stillwell. The deed lists that Stillwell sold the property to Peter Whittinghill of Fayette County, Kentucky. The purchase price was 100 pounds of Kentucky money. Peter ran his grist-mill and farmed in Mercer County for fifteen years before he sold his land and moved 130 miles west to Ohio County, Kentucky. Family tradition believes Peter also moved the grinding stones. His sons continued to use the millstones in their gristmills after Peter advanced to old-age. He died at age 92 in 1844.

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