Rockingham County, Virginia
VAGenWeb Project

A History of Rockingham County
John W. Wayland Ph.D.

Chapter III





1727 - 1738


     From the best information at hand, it appears that the settlement of Rockingham and adjacent sections of the Valley of Virginia began in or about the year 1727. As in all similar cases, exploration preceded permanent settlement. First, therefore, let us take a preliminary survey of the earliest known explorations.

     In 1669, the same year that La Salle came down to the falls of the Ohio, John Lederer, a German of education, said to have been once a Franciscan monk, came up from Jamestown and entered the Valley at or near Waynesboro; in 1670 he crossed the Valley at or near Front Royal and Strasburg. Once above, once below the present boundaries of Rockingham, this German thus seemed to be marking out the district in which his fellow-countrymen should in the years to come build their homes and till their fruitful fields. Lederer’s journal, giving an account of his explorations, with accompanying map, was printed in an English translation at London in 1672, and again at Rochester, N.Y., in 1902.

     In 1705 the Governor, Council, and Burgesses of Virginia offered a monopoly of trade to any person or persons who should thereafter “at his or their own charge, make discovery of any town or nation of Indians, situate or inhabiting to the westward of, or between the Appalatian mountains.” (1) This was an act obviously intended to encourage pioneering west of the Blue Ridge. What response it elicited we do not know, but it may well be imagined that not many years passed before


(1) Hening’s Statutes, Vol. III, page 468.


some adventurous trader fared westward upon the heels of the hope it engendered.

     In 1716 Governor Spotswood made his famous expedition into the Valley, coming across the Blue Ridge, as we judge, at Swift Run Gap, and finding a land of “seek-no-farther” in the broad river plains about or above Elkton. We generally look upon Spotswood as doing for the Virginians, in respect to the Valley, what Caesar did for the Romans, in respect to Britain: as discovering it for them: and even as it was a century before the Romans followed Caesar westward, so it was at least a decade before the Virginians began to follow Spotswood. In the meantime Germans occasionally came in from the northeast. More of Spotswood and his knights at another place.

     In 1722 Michael Wohlfarth, a German sectarian, is reported to have passed down through the Valley of Virginia going from Pennsylvania to North Carolina; (2) Dr. J. A. Waddell, after investigating various sources of information, is satisfied that in or about the year 1726 John Salling and John Mackey explored the Valley, both settling therein later; (3) and it is likely that other white men, Germans, Scotch-Irish, and English, at other times before as well as after, walked in this great highway of nature from north to south.

     We are now coming to the time of permanent settlement, which we are able to fix some five years earlier than 1732, the date so long accepted as marking the beginnings in the Valley. In 1732 Jost Hite, with a number of other Germans, settled in the section now marked by Winchester; and in the same year John Lewis, with a number of other Scotch-Irish, located at or near the place where Staunton now stands; but it appears that as early as 1727 Adam Miller, a German, perhaps with a few others of his own nationality, was staking out claims on the south fork of the Shenandoah River, on or near the line that now divides Rockingham County from Page.


(2)  Sachse’s German Sectarians, Vol. II, page 332


(3)  Waddell’s Annals of Augusta, edition 1902, page 24.




     On March 13, 1741-2, Adam Miller received from Governor William Gooch a certificate of naturalization, which recites that the said Miller had been a resident on the Shenandoah for the past fifteen years. This fixes the date of his first settlement in 1726-27. (4) In 1733, eight men, Adam Miller being one, addressed Governor Gooch in a petition, praying him to confirm their title to 5000 acres of land in Massanutting, purchased about four years past for more than 400 pounds from Jacob Stover, reciting that they had moved upon the said land from Pennsylvania immediately after the purchase, and that they had located thereon at the time of the petition nine plantations and 51 people. (5) This would fix the date of settlement of the Massanutting colony in 1729 or 1730.

     On June 17, 1730, Jacob Stover, a native of Switzerland, was granted leave by the colonial council to take up 10,000 acres of land on the south fork of the Shenandoah, for the settlement of himself and divers Germans and Swiss whom he proposed to bring thither within the next two years, the said land to be laid off in such tracts as he should judge fitting. (6) Stover selected his grant in two tracts, of 5000 acres each, on along the river between the present Luray and Elkton, the other along the same river, higher up, between


(4)  The certificate is in the possession of Adam Miller’s great-great-granddaughter, Miss Elizabeth B. Miller, of Elkton, Va.  It was printed in the William and Mary College Quarterly, October, 1900, and in Wayland’s “German Element,” pages 37, 38, in 1907.


(5)  The full text of this petition may be found in Palmer’s Calendar of State Papers, Vol. I, pp. 219, 220, and in Wayland’s “German Element,” pp. 35, 36. It bears no date, but the date has been conclusively determined, by various circumstances, to be 1733.


(6)  From records of the proceedings of the Council. These records, particularly such as refer to the settlement of the Valley of Virginia, were published in 1905-6 in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Richmond, with valuable supplementary notes by Mr. Chas. E. Kemper, of Washington, D.C.

      Jacob Stover was an interesting character - enterprising to a fault, it would seem. It is charged that some of his representations in




Elkton and Port Republic. (7)  The conditions upon which Stover received his grant were that he should actually locate a family of settlers upon each thousand acres within two years.  These were the conditions usually imposed upon those receiving large grants of land at that time.  Upon satisfactory proof that these conditions had been discharged, a permanent title was given.

     The names of the eight petitioners of 1733, who had bought land in Massanutten of  Jacob Stover in 1729 or 1730, were as follows:

Adam Miller (8)            Philip Long        Hans Rood (10)

Abram Strickler             Paul Long         Michael Kaufman

Mathias Selzer (9)         Michael Rhinehart

     The family names of all these men, with perhaps one or two exceptions, are to-day familiar and widely distributed, not only in the counties of Rockingham, Page, and Shenandoah, but also in many quarters beyond the limits of Virginia.

     It is quite probably that Adam Miller at first pre-empted his claim on the Shenandoah by squatter right, later meeting properly the requirements of advancing governmental authority.  It is possible, moreover, that the enterprising Stover sold him and his friends the Massanutten tract before the said Stover himself had a grant for it, since, as we have seen, the latter did not receive his grant until June 17, 1730.  The alarm of the eight petitioners of 1733 arose from fear


securing grants of land were worthy of Machiavelli.  See Kercheval’s History of the Valley of Virginia, reprint of 1902, page 46.


(7)  Mr. Chas. E. Kemper fixes the location of Stover’s lower tract of 5000 acres, likely the same purchashed [sic] by Adam Miller and others in 1729, between Bear Lithia Spring, two miles below Elkton, in Rockingham County, and Newport, a village 12 miles further down the river, in Page County.  See Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January, 1906, pp. 295-297.  It should be stated, however, that the little vale and the village that still retain the name of Massanutten are a few miles farther northeast, beyond Newport.


(8)  Adam Miller, who appears to have been the first settler of Rockingham and adjacent sections of the Valley, was born probably at Schrei-




that William Beverly had an earlier or better claim than Stover.  They had learned that Beverly was bringing suit against Stover for the land in question.

     On May 5, 1732, William Beverly, son of Robert Beverly the historian of Virginia, had received a grant of 15,000 acres on the Shenandoah River, including “a place called the Massanutting Town,” provided the same did not interfere with any previous grants made in that section. Obviously


sheim, Germany,  the native place of Alexander Mack, about the year 1700. He came early in life to Lancaster County, Pa., with his wife and an unmarried sister.  Later, going to Williamsburg, Va., he heard of the beautiful valley between the mountains from some Spotswood knights, and followed their path westward, crossing the Blue Ridge at Swift Run Gap.  Having seen and desired the goodly land in the river plain below, he brought his family thither.  He secured first the “uppermost of the Massanutten lots,” near the present Page County line, but probably in Rockingham; in 1741 he purchased 820 acres, including the great lithia spring near Elkton, and was living thereon in 1764 when he sold 280 acres thereof to his son-in-law, Jacob Bear. Here Adam Miller lived till he died about 1780, and here the Bear family still resides, the spring being known as Bear Lithia Spring.  He was a soldier in the French and Indian War, as shown by the military schedule for 1758 in Hening’s Statutes.  In religion he ws a Lutheran, and was probably buried at St. Peter’s Church, four miles north of Elkton.  Among his descendants are the Millers, Bears, Kempers, Yanceys, Gibbons, Hopkins, Mauzys, Harnsbergers, and other prominent families of East Rockingham.  A descendant, Hon. Chas. E. Kemper of Washington City, deserves special mention for his valuable publications regarding the pioneer.


(9)  Mathias Selzer of “Massinotty” is referred to by Gottschalk, a Moravian missionary, in his journal of 1748 as “the son-in-law of Jacob Beyerly, of Lancaster”; as rich, generous, and respected in the whole region, but as bitter against the Moravians.  He was evidently a Lutheran.  In 1751 he was one of the justices of Augusta County (Summer’s History of Southwestern Virginia, p. 821), a fact which shows that he lived southwest of the Fairfax line.


(10)  Hans Rood (John Rhodes) was doubtless the Mennonite preacher visited at Massanutten by Gottschalk in 1748, and, with his family, massacred by Indians in 1766.  See Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, July, 1904, page 69, and Kercheval’s History of the Valley of Virginia, reprint of 1902, pp. 101, 102.  It is likely that Abram Strickler and Michael Kaufman were also Mennonites.




there was an interference of this grant with the one made to Stover in 1730.  On December 12, 1733, Beverly entered a caveat against Stover, but the latter was sustained in his title, and given deeds for his two tracts of 5000 acres each on the 15th of December, 1733. (11)  The fears of the eight petitioners, who held their title from Stover, were thus evidently set at rest.

     Recalling now the fact that Stover’s upper tract of 5000 acres, as well as the lower one, was granted upon the condition that at least one family should be located on each 1000 acres within two years, and observing that he got full title for both tracts in December, 1733, we may safely conclude that no less than five families were settled by that date along the river between the points now marked by Elkton and Port Republic. Beginning, therefore, at or near the Fairfax line, which marked the northeast boundary of Rockingham till 1831, and following up the south fork of the Shenandoah River past the places now known as Shenandoah City, Elkton, and Island Ford to Lynnwood and Port Republic, we may say that at least fifteen families, all probably German or Swiss, were settled in that district by December, 1733.  Counting five persons to a family, there were likely no less than 75 individuals; and among these we know the names of nine:  Adam Miller, Abram Strickler, Mathias Selzer, Philip Long, Paul Long, Michael Rhinehart, Hans Rood, Michael Kaufman, and Jacob Stover - all doubtless heads of families.

     On April 23, 1734, the colonial council received a petition from a number of the inhabitants living on the northwest side of “the Blue Ridge of Mountains,” that is to say in the Valley, praying that some persons in their section be appointed magistrates to determine differences and punish offenders.  These petitioners lived so far away from Fredericksburg, the county-seat of Spotsylvania, and consequently so far from


(11)  See records of the colonial council; also extracts therefrom printed in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, October, 1905, and January, 1906.




the regular administration of justice, that the reasonableness of their request was obvious.  Accordingly, Joost Hyte, Morgan Morgan, John smith, Benjamin Bourden, and George Hobson were appointed justices within the limits aforesaid - that is, in the Valley.  Hite and one or more of the others lived in the lower Valley, but it is likely that one or two of the five either lived in the upper Valley, or were frequently prospecting in that section.  Burden later had large holdings of land in what is now Rockbridge County and adjacent sections.

     Moreover, in August, 1734, just a few months after the aforesaid petition was presented, the county of Orange was formed.  This was an act likely intended to be a still more satisfactory response to the request and desire of the Valley settlers for the efficient administration of law and justice.  It shows the growth of political organization westward, and also indicates that the settlement of the Valley had reached a somewhat general stage by 1734.  The rapid development from 1734 to 1738 is implied in the fact that in 1738 an Act was passed providing for the organization of the Valley and the country westward therefrom into the counties of Frederick and Augusta.

     Let us now give attention to a number of items that show the progress of settlement from 1734 to 1738 in more detail.

     On October 28, 1734, John Tayloe, Thomas Lee, and William Beverly obtained a grant of 60,000 acres of land on the Shenandoah River, beginning on Stover’s upper tract.  This grant accordingly must have extended southwest from the vicinity of Port Republic, up the river past Grottoes, and a considerable distance into the present limits of Augusta County.  It was bestowed upon the usual conditions, that one family be located upon each thousand acres within two years. (12)

     From Deed Book No. 1, Orange County, the following items have been selected:


(12)  See Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, April, 1906, pp. 360-362.




     September 17, 1735, Jacob Stover sold 550 acres of land to Christian Clemon, the said land being on a small run, on the south side of the Shenandoah River, adjoining the “upper corner of Stover’s lower 5000-acre tract.”  Two of the three witnesses to this conveyance were Thomas Hill and W. Russell; the name of the third witness appears to be G. Home.

     November 11, 1735, Jacob Stover sold two tracts of land to George Boone, the said tracts containing 500 and 1000 acres respectively, and being situated “near the end of North Mountain, (13) so called, on a small branch of Sherando River”; part of 5000 acres laid out for Stover by the Virginia Council, June 17, 1730.(14)  Mordecai Simon and S. Hughes were witnesses.  Boone is put down as having come from Oley, Pa.

     December 16, 1735, Jacob Stover sold 1100 acres, in three tracts, on Gerundo River,(15) to Ludwick Stone.  On the same date he sold three tracts, aggregating 500 acres, on the same river, to Mathias Selser.

     At least three more men bought land of Stover on this date: 1) John Prupecker, two tracts, of 300 acres and 200 acres, respectively; both on Gerundo River, the larger adjoining the land of Selser; witnesses, John Bramham, Gideon Marr,


(13)  The Massanutten at this time was commonly referred to as the North Mountain, and the Blue Ridge as the South Mountain.


(14)  Boone’s Run is probably the small branch referred to, likely bearing its name from George Boone.  It flows southeastward out of Runkle’s Gap, in the Massanutten, directly toward Elkton, then turns northeastward and enters the river two miles below Elkton.  One can hardly determine whether Stover sold this land from his upper or lower tract.  One would at once say, From the lower, were it not likely that he had sold the lower tract entire to Adam Miller and his friends in 1729 or 1730.


(15)  “Gerundo” is merely another form of Shenandoah.  This name has been found in no less than twenty different spellings. See Wayland’s “German Element,” page 3.  No attempt is made herein to reduce the spelling of proper names, of either places or persons, to uniformity.  The diverse forms in which they appear are part of the material of history, and have a value.




William Ferrell; 2) Abraham Strickler, 1000 acres, at “Mesenutten on Gerundo”; 3) Henry Sowter, 300 acres, on the south side of Gerundo, near the mouth of Mesenutten Creek.

     Some of these tracts, sold by Stover, in December, 1735, were possibly never within the limits of Rockingham County, but all were evidently near the Fairfax line, on one side or the other.

     We may place the following land sales, made in 1736, in the same locality.  The complete records may be found in Orange County Deed Book No. 1.

     February 24, 1736, Ludwig Stein sold 517 acres, in three tracts, on Gerundo River, to Michael Cryter of Pennsylvania; witnesses, Gideon Marr, John Newport.  On the same date Ludowick Stein sold 217 acres, on Gerundo River (part of land formerly granted to Jacob Stover), to Michael Coffman.

     September 21, 1736, Jacob Stover sold 400 acres, on the west side of Sherundo River, to Peter Bowman; witnesses, G. Lightfoot, Thomas Nichols.

     September 26, 1736, Henry Sowter sold about 300 acres, on Gerundo River, to Ludwig Stine.

     In Orange County Deed Books 1 and 2 are to be found records of the following land sales on the South Shenandoah in 1737:

     February 24, three tracts; Ludwig Stein to Martin Coffman of Pennsylvania; 300 acres on the south side of the river; 217 on the north side; and 100 acres on the north side, at Elk Lick.

     October 22, 400 acres; Peter Bowman to Christian Redlicksberger. This was probably the same tract that Bowman had purchased of Jacob Stover in September of the preceding year.

     Several transactions of special interest appear in the year 1738. On March 21 Jacob Stover sold to Christopher Franciski 3000 acres, with the mansion house, adjoining Peter Bowman on the river: part of 5000 acres patented to the said Stover.  December 15, 1733. The same day Jacob Stover




and his wife Margaret gave a bond to Franciski for L700.  At another time within the year they gave him another bond for L1000.  To secure the payment of these bonds, Stover and his wife mortgaged 5000 acres on both sides of the Shenandoah River. (16)

     How Stover could keep on selling his 5000-acre tracts, and still have them seven or eight years after the first sale, is a mystery.  Possibly he took back some land on default of payment; or he may have obtained more than two 5000-acre grants.

     March 23, 1738, Ludwig Stein sold two tracts of land aggregating 1005 acres, on the Shenandoah River, to Philip Long; witnesses, John Newport and Christian Kleman.(17)

     December 13, 1738, Jacob Stover obtained a grant of 800 acres.  This land was on the Shenandoah River, below Port Republic, and was at least in part on the south side of the river, opposite the “Great Island.”  This island, containing about 60 acres, was purchased of the Franciscos a tract of 470 acres, on the south side of the river, part of the 800-acre tract granted to Stover in 1738.(18)

     Christopher Franciscus-- “the old Stopfel Franciscus,” as he was termed in 1749 by one of the Moravian missionaries who passed through the Valley-- (19) had large holdings of land in what is now East Rockingham.  He appears to have located in Lancaster County, Pa., in 1709.(20)  It is not certain that he ever located permanently in Virginia himself, but he evidently was in the Valley frequently, and his sons, Christopher and Ludwig, were permanent residents.(21)


(16)  See Orange County Deed Book No. 2, pp. 229-234.


(17)  Idem, page 260.


(18)  Augusta County Deed Book No. 4, pp. 58-65.


(19)  Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, October, 1903.


(20)  Rupp’s Thirty Thousand Names, page 436.


(21)  For more particulars concerning Franciscus and his sons, see Wayland’s “German Element,” pp. 54-56.




     It is evident, from the foregoing particulars, that a considerable number of settlers had located within the present boundaries of Rockingham within the decade following the first known settlement in 1727.  The earliest settlements were in the eastern side of the county, though it is quite likely that the tide of immigration that was creeping up the north fork of the Shenandoah had also reached and passed the Fairfax line, west of the Massanutten, by 1734 or 1735. As early as April 30, 1732, William Beverly wrote that the “northern men” were fond of buying land on the upper Shenandoah, because they could get it there six or seven pounds cheaper a hundred acres than in Pennsylvania, and because they did not care to go as far as Williamsburg.(22)  It should be remembered also that John Lewis located at or near Staunton in 1732, and that a number of his fellow-countrymen came into the upper Valley with him, or soon after he came.  These facts are recalled here in addition to what is definitely known concerning the first settlers and settlements, to show that a large number of persons, Germans, Scotch-Irish, and others, had located in and about the present limits of Rockingham by the year 1738.  The majority of these settlers had come up the Valley from Maryland and Pennsylvania, but a few had come across the Blue Ridge from East Virginia.

     The first grants of land were sought and secured along the main watercourses, though it is said that in many cases the settlers in a little while sought dwelling places on the higher lands toward the hills and mountains, because of the malaria that infested the bottom-lands.  It is not likely, however, that such conditions caused any one to relinquish permanently his fertile holdings along the rivers; and with the development of civilization - the clearing of lowland thickets, the draining of swamps and marshes, the erection of better dwellings - the malaria gradually disappeared.


(22)  Waddell’s Annals of Augusta, 1902 edition, page 21.