NCTC Cultural History

Timeline 1786-1808

Hite vs Fairfax and the End of the Colonial Period


The Hite-Fairfax lawsuit again. The Hite v Fairfax lawsuit regarding competing land claims was brought before the Virginia Courts for another round of acrimonious debate. The scales of justice this time tipped in favor of the Hite heirs, reinstating the original court decree of 1769 that nullified Fairfax grants on land the Hites had surveyed but had not been able to patent back in the 1730s! It’s understandable how a Virginia court would tend to favor a grant given by the colonial Council to Hite, rather than honor grants issued by the former Proprietor who had ties to the hated European feudal system. All those Fairfax grantees living on land originally surveyed by the Hites, including the Swearingens, were now required to pay to the Hite heirs the rents and fees dating from 1750 - a very large sum of money. The Fairfax land office, now run by Thomas Bryan Martin, (Fairfax’s nephew and namesake of Martinsburg), was no longer in a strong legal position to protect landowners holding a Fairfax title. The Hite heirs were not only seeking title to surveyed but unpatented lands once held by the family, as their original 1749 lawsuit requested, but also all those surveyed lands that couldn’t show clear documentation of purchase from the Hites in the 1730s! In other words, the burden of proof was now on landholders to prove, with documents, that they had actually purchased their land from the Hites, ignoring the fact that the 1770 Commission had found the Hites notoriously lax in their documentation and record keeping. The Hite lawyers urged the Hites to try to “recover of all intruders tho it should appear that we actually sold the land to others” (Hyman 1996). Landholders on property claimed by the Hites without a clear chain of title back to the Hites were usually given the choice of buying or renting the property back from the Hite heirs at current prices. Judge Wythe described the Hites and their lawsuit “vexatious and oppressive” in part because of their unwillingness to settle out of court (Hyman 1996). Col. Van Swearingen was in an impossible situation because there couldn’t be any documentation showing chain of ownership back to Hite on about 184 acres he currently held on Terrapin Neck--he and others on the Neck had only held title via Fairfax for 25+ years. His property within the original Poulson, Mounts and Jones patent was not in question, including most of Springwood, because it was clearly within a Hite patent. There were about 100 farm units in Jefferson and Berkeley counties affected by this ruling, but uniquely, the 1200 acre parcel on Terrapin Neck was the only property in question that was never settled by a Hite purchaser, and the only one that was surveyed past the 1735 deadline. Landowners were given 90 days after being served with papers to appear in Court and defend their property. Because Van Swearingen had chased off the Commission in 1770, Van Swearingen was the only property holder on the Neck on the court’s list asked to appear in court. His strategy appeared to be to find “some old paper” showing ownership back to Hite, which perhaps wasn’t a bad strategy considering the Hite’s notoriety for poor record keeping, fraud, etc. He did have documents from the sale of Jonathon Simmons/Peter Beller’s land in 1762 (Springwood), and Joseph Poulson (RiverView Farm) in 1758. But this strategy did not allow him to bring up the fact that the 1736 survey on Terrapin Neck was invalid, or that the Brownings had never occupied the land; apparently previous rulings forced him to concede that these facts held no power.

Surveyor Jonathan Clark (brother of both William Clark of “Lewis and Clark” fame, and frontier military leader George Rogers Clark) came to Terrapin Neck to survey boundaries and report on improvements and agricultural acreage for the court and the Hite heirs; he had a personal interest since he was married to a Hite. Clark described two Swearingen tracts within the Browning claim. The first tract of 184 acres, now roughly the area east of the footbridge and south of the guardshack at NCTC, contained three “cabbins”, and the portion in cultivation and “in pretty good order” included “60 a. first rate high land”. A second tract, the old York plantation out on the end of the Neck claimed by Indian Van Swearingen, was described as occupied by “Peter Palmer tenant to Van Swearingham” and contained “one indifferent cabin”, 30 acres of bottom land and 40 acres of first rate high land, as well as 50 apple trees (P.S. Joyner n.d.). Other landholders on the Neck generally had small (16 by 20 feet) round-logged cabins with chimneys made of mud and sticks (“cat and clay”), small outbuildings without any doors, some cropland, and apple orchards containing 50 to 200 trees. This was of course in stark contrast to the large stone Swearingen mansion house in the neighborhood, with fireplaces in every room. You can imagine the steam coming out of old Col. Van Swearingen’s ears as this survey took place, and since his 3 cabins were not described in any detail compared to the others on Terrapin Neck, this may suggest that Clark was not invited to take a closer look. A list of these Terrapin Neck property descriptions is included in the appendix.

Josiah Swearingen continued his duties as the new surveyor of Berkeley County. Tragically, Josiah’s wife Phoebe died this same fateful year. She was only 29 years old, and left four children, 9,7,4 and 2 years old. She was buried at Springwood in the Swearingen cemetery adjacent to the present-day Hendrix house on NCTC property, near Hezekiah’s wife who had died 5 years before. Phoebe was a sister to Abraham Shepherd’s wife Eleanor, so presumably the Swearingen and Shepherd families would both have mourned at her graveside on the little hill east of the house (this hill and cemetery were part of a large orchard described in a 1797 property division, so you can also imagine the mourners surrounded by young apple trees on three sides.)

Another Thomas Swearingen died this year, Col. Van’s nephew Major Thomas Swearingen, son of Thomas of the Ferry. He lived next door in the stone house at the site of the mill he ran at the mouth of present-day Rocky Marsh Run. He had spent part of 1779 and 1780 exploring Kentucky territory and surveying property on an expedition with several locals, including his brother Benoni Swearingen, his son Van, and several of their slaves. His portion of the Kentucky lands would be passed on to his heirs including son Van, already in Kentucky, son Thomas, the “developer” of Hardscrabble and operator of the old Jones Mill, and son Andrew, who would later be given the task of administering the more than 30,000 acres of land in Kentucky. Major Thomas specified that four juvenile slaves, Adam, Dick, Charity and Nell, each with a mare, saddle and feather bed, were to be left to certain of his children; the rest of the enslaved Africans were to be divided up equally among his heirs, including his daughters Drusilla and Lydia (BCWB 1, p. 414) Thomas’s will, written in October 1780, mentioned that he had been engaged in a lawsuit with Abraham Shepherd over recovering a 1/2-acre plot of land near the ferry landing; his brother Benoni had supposedly now settled this business with the purchase of the lot in 1784. Maj. Thomas had applied to the Washington County, Maryland Tax Commissioners in May of 1786 for permission to construct a tobacco inspection and storage warehouse on land near the ferry on the Maryland side of the river, but his bid was ultimately rejected and the warehouse was instead built upstream near Williamsport (Wayland 1907).

Shepherdstown (i.e. Abraham Shepherd) also petitioned the Virginia legislature for a tobacco warehouse this year, and again successfully in 1788, citing the favorable location of the town on the Potomac River (Crothers, n.d.) which was becoming more navigable every year as the Potomac Company continued its work of clearing the river of obstructions. A warehouse was built eventually just above the Swearingen ferry landing on Princess Street. The timing of these petitions seems to indicate that tobacco was still a potentially valuable crop in the late 1780s, although wheat and other grains had also become a major export of the lower Shenandoah Valley. And Swearingens and Shepherds were again competing for the same business on opposite sides of the river; in this instance the Shepherds were more successful, though it is unknown if they ever made any money from the tobacco. Abraham Shepherd’s account book for the 1790s doesn’t seem to include any tobacco transactions, though it includes transactions from his other businesses including the distillery and sawmill (Shepherd Family Papers 1790-1862).

In May of 1786 young Van Swearingen and William Bennett attended the first court convened in Bourbon County, Kentucky. One of the first orders of business was to handle the estate of Joshua Bennett, presumably William’s brother, who had been so brutally killed several years before.

Indian Van Swearingen, writing from his new plantation on the banks of the Ohio in March of 1786, gave an update to cousin Josiah on the ever-worsening conflict between the settlers and natives. He ends the letter with: “...We are all well and wish the same to you and family, give my most respectful compliments to my old uncle your father and to all the family. My children Thos and Drusilla is coming to your neighborhood and I suppose will speak about their negros in the hands of Boydstone. I hope you will deliver to my brother Joseph a public certificate of 2400 dollars in his name.” (Van Swearingen Letters). This letter may suggest Indian Van’s strategy for keeping his slaves until his new plantation in the northern panhandle of Virginia was in order, and gives further evidence that Josiah acted in the capacity of a local business agent for his cousin, who still derived a portion of his income from land and slaves in the Shepherdstown area. Note that Boydstone (a.k.a. Boydston) mentioned in the above letter was a neighbor just south of Springwood who also had the misfortune of owning Terrapin Neck land that was embroiled in the Hite-Fairfax-Browning dispute.


Indian Van Swearingen had more important issues than fighting over land on Terrapin Neck this year. Writing from his home on the Ohio River, he penned a letter to the military authorities describing what had recently happened to his son Thomas, and asking for help. A father’s anguish is clear as he writes to a Col. Butler on 29th September, 1787:

On Sunday evening last my son Thomas Swearingen was taken prisoner by the Indians ten miles up Cross Creek west(?) of Ohio - he was hunting for meat for a party of strangers three of which was found dead, two escaped - he had lent his gun that day to one of the party to hunt, and was without arms and I think was in a waste cabin by himself when he was taken - he may be dead, but the parties have not yet found him. If you think it is best that a message should be sent to the indian chiefs or others in that country that may have it in their power to be of service trying to save his life - if you have faith in me please to employ any indian or white man that may answer the purpose and I will pay to the utmost farthing your contract with them. I am not well or I should have come to you myself ....I am under many feeling apprehensions concerning my son, and I hope you will do every thing in your power and will forever oblige....
(Transcribed by Billy Markland, in Papers of the Continental Congress, National Archives M247-164i150 v2 pg. 561).

Another account of the incident is in the form of a 16 Dec. 1787 letter from Indian Van Swearingen to his cousin Josiah Swearingen in Shepherds Town after the disappearance of Thomas:

...“I have this opportunity by Mr. Isaac Haston to inform you that my son Thomas is still missing and I can hear nothing from him. A great deal of search has been made for his bones in vain, the messenger that went into the nations to inquire after him has not yet returned. I am on a ugly frontier and lost my best gun when Dave Cox was killed. If I have any tenant that could be credited for a gun or two that is good with small bore, as maybe they can be payed in barter I wish you to send them to me by the bearer Haston and give credit for the same to the tenant. I should not ask such a unreasonable favor but I expect to be shut up or be after the Indians all next season and want to be well armed. If you have not made use of my certificate to answer some of my contracts please to send it to me as it may serve to assist me in securing my Pennsylvania lands which calls on me immediately for a large sum. Money is very scarce and we have no chance of getting any in this country. Send me a state of my affairs and your opinion of Hite’s grant and of all other things you think of. You may send anything with safety by Mr. Haston. I am troublesome to you but I hope you will bear with patience. The Indians is constantly doing mischief and I expect a desperate war. The Indian Nations have sent a late letter to the Indian agent informing that they will not give any part of their land up to Congress except they lose it by the sword, and I believe they are backed by the British and their friends in the Canada and Detroit countries. Give my most respectful compliments to my good old uncle Van and to all the family...” (Van Swearingen Letters).

A third account of the same incident explains that Cox and Thomas Swearingen were among a group of young men collecting ginseng in the vicinity of Cross Creek. The Indians had captured or killed several others as they traveled upstream along the creek prior to reaching the group that included Cox and Swearingen (Draper Manuscripts, account by Caleb Wells). An interesting side note on a town south of Cross Creek: the name Wheeling is of Indian derivation for “Place of the Skull” in reference to human skulls on poles, placed as a warning by the Indians to the whites moving into the area-- remember the Ohio River was the boundary the colonists had agreed to in 1744, though the French and Indian War in the mid-to late 1750s followed by the Revolutionary War had changed the political and demographic boundaries significantly. The Proprietary of Pennsylvania had “purchased” from the Indian Nations all the land east of the Ohio River in 1768, but land west of the Ohio River still belonged to the Indian Nations. The Indians were understandably serious about stopping expansion along this northern route, so westward expansion into Kentucky tended to follow Daniel Boone’s southern route through Cumberland Gap.

Young Van Swearingen, son of Major Thomas and still living in Bourbon County Kentucky, apparently was considering a trip out of the area, possibly to make a trip back to Shepherds Town or to join the military forces gathering to deal with the Indian problem. The June 1787 court in Bourbon County recorded that he sold a Negro boy named Jim, 5 or 6 years old, to Ann Strode for 30 pounds. He also gave power of attorney to a Michael Cassady, who would handle his financial affairs during his absence (Bourbon County Deed Book A, pp. 64 and 142).

James Rumsey launched his steamboat from the Swearingen ferry landing in Shepherdstown, and demonstrated it before a large group of astonished local dignitaries, including Capt. Abraham Shepherd, Col. Joseph Swearingen, Benoni Swearingen and a Van Swearingen. Shepherd’s wife was among the small group of women allowed to ornament the boat during its first public viewing. An account of the spectators present described Capt. Abraham Shepherd, who was apparently a backer of the Rumsey invention: “Captain Shepherd was a thin-visaged little man, of prominent features, full of energy, and a first-rate farmer, and unfailing friend of the church.” (Dandridge 1910).


Death of another patriarch - Col. Van Swearingen died, 69 years old. In his will, written several months before his death, he first told his heirs to divide his property between themselves equally (his wife and four children were each to get a fifth), then a day later added a codicil to ensure that his daughters received specific properties. His will specified, among other details, that the land was to be divided up so that water access was retained for each of the parcels, and son Hezekiah was to retain his use of the “water meadow” just west of the estate house (BCWB 1, p489). Van’s direct heirs included 4 adult children, and his widow and second wife Priscilla and her daughter Peggy, who was still a child. A list of his personal property included 13 slaves, 24 horses, about 30 beef or dairy cattle, 65 sheep, 66 hogs, various household goods and farming implements, and 9 beehives. The complete list is included in the appendix. Later additions to this list include 2 casks of “Cyder”, 7 mill bags, 60 flour casks, 1 wagon, 1 harrow, over 260 bushels of wheat, 39 1/2 bushels of rye, 4 barrels of corn, 1 ton of hay, and 18 barrels of flour in Baltimore (BCWB 2, p39, 146). His estate also paid 320 pounds of tobacco for the recording of the will and appraisement of the estate, paid for the repair of three tobacco hogsheads, and sold 6 hogsheads of tobacco (for over £47), all suggesting that tobacco was still a cash crop on Swearingen land at this time.


The Swearingen siblings and heirs of Col. Van had not yet reached a final agreement over settlement of their father’s estate, but apparently the 4 siblings expected trouble from their young stepmother: “...whereas doubts have arisen and controverseys are like to take place respecting the will of the said Van Swearingen, so far as relates to the said Priscilla...”, Priscilla was given 150 acres on the eastern side of the home tract - which was, of course, the acreage on Terrapin Neck that was involved with the Hite controversy! This parcel included “the tenement whereon Elizabeth Eade now lives”, a spring at the river, and about 4 acres of meadow (suggesting 146 acres was not a meadow). She was also given the negro man James, a woman named Grace, and a boy named Clem, all to be “held during her natural lifetime and no longer”. She and her heirs “forever” were given horses, furniture, kitchen items, 40 barrels of Indian corn, 100 bushels of wheat and one stack of hay in the meadow. She was forgiven a debt of 42 pounds, 15 shillings, eleven pence “for sundry articles purchased at the sale of the said Van Swearingen”. The siblings also agreed to “in some short convenient time finish the dwelling house of Elizabeth Eade” for Priscilla “in a complete manner”, and fence in a plot for a garden and build a barn. In return Priscilla had to agree to give up any further claim on the Swearingen estate. Priscilla, apparently unable to sign her name, made “her mark” on the agreement. Van’s daughters Luranna and Drusilla, on the other hand, were able to sign their names to the document (Berkeley County Deed Book 10, p. 282 – a transcription is in the appendix). It seems apparent that the four siblings had no intention of letting their step-mother retain any control of their father’s house and lands, though it had been her home for about 10 years or longer. Estate documents some years later confirm that Josiah and Van’s estates did pay some money to fix up a house for Priscilla, though it is unknown how long she actually lived there. Considering that Priscilla was still young enough to remarry, it was perhaps a prudent move on the part of the Swearingen siblings if they wished the bulk of the Springwood property to remain connected with the Swearingen family (though it wasn’t particularly honest and forthright to give her land that was tied up in a lawsuit). A note about Elizabeth Eade: her husband Robert Eade died a few months before Van Swearingen, the will witnessed by Van and Hezekiah (BCWB 2, p2). The Eades had purchased Lot 41 in Mecklenburg in May of 1768 and it is unknown why Elizabeth was now living in an unfinished cabin near Springwood. Since another bereaved widow- Priscilla -was now moving in, the arrangement must have been a temporary one. (A reasonable guess for this cabin site would be east of the NCTC commons building on a site overlooking the river where an old foundation can still be seen, referred to as the Entler house; the Entlers occupied this house site starting in the 1850s.)

Captain Abraham Shepherd now becomes prominent in the history of Terrapin Neck. He was the son of Thomas Shepherd, founder of Shepherdstown. The Shepherd family, like the Swearingens, had spent time on land in Prince Georges County, Maryland and near the Monocacy River before moving across the Potomac into Virginia in the early 1730s. The Shepherds and Swearingens had both become moderately prosperous, prominent families in the area, and squabbled over who would run a ferry business across the Potomac.

Abraham was a local lawyer/land speculator/businessman/hero of the Revolution who with his siblings literally “owned” Shepherdstown after the death of their father Thomas Shepherd in 1776 (Abraham did not have formal training in the law, but charged fees for acting as a lawyer in various capacities). The Shepherds in the second half of the 18th century had made their living from developing the town, as well as running a distillery, saw mill, tannery, grist mill and various farming, trading and mercantile operations. They held title to about 591 acres in Berkeley County by the time of Thomas’ death in 1776, which was divided among the heirs. Prior to the Revolutionary War the Shepherds overall wealth and influence in the region, at least outside the boundaries of their town, may have been somewhat behind the extended Swearingen family, who held title to about 3280 acres in Berkeley County alone, lived in big stone houses near the river, ran a mill and the ferry business, and held powerful political and military positions. Abraham had been an interested observer of the court decisions affecting Swearingen holdings on Terrapin Neck, particularly after several Swearingen lawsuits had been filed against him. After the 1786 Court ruling in favor of the Hites (his wife and mother were related to the Hites and Van Meters), he sensed a serious opportunity and tracked down and notified the heirs of John Browning on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He at first attempted to buy their old claim to Terrapin Neck. They refused to sell, but finally agreed to give him 1/6 of whatever he could get of their claim; Abraham then set about forcefully asserting the Browning claim into the ongoing Hite-Fairfax legal dispute. (It’s interesting that 1/6 of the acreage of the Browning claim is just about the number of acres that Indian Van Swearingen owned on Terrapin Neck). Because the Hites had recently won in Hite v. Fairfax, Shepherd reasoned that the 1200 acres on Terrapin Neck should go to the Browning heirs, who had a complete set of documents showing their purchase from the Hites back in 1736. Shepherd may have been hoping that the Swearingens, Boydstons and other Neck landholders would have to buy back the property from the Browning heirs, with him getting a percentage of the money changing hands. Or it seems very possible that he was after the land all along as payback for the disputes over a ferry, and stymied any attempt at an out-of-court settlement. If the defeat over the ferry business was his motivation, he was seeking revenge from the wrong Swearingens, and he also didn’t seem to care about the several other families living there with no connection to the Swearingens who would also be affected by his legal actions. If he prevailed in his suit on behalf of the Brownings, Abraham could force the loss of a minor portion of the Swearingen land holdings at best, but some of the Swearingen neighbors on Terrapin Neck could lose everything they owned. In his court appeal, Abraham described the Swearingens and other landholders on Terrapin Neck as “intruders”. The Swearingen “intruders” probably circulated in the same social strata as the Shepherds and even attended the same Church of England. It’s unknown if they sat on the same side of the aisle.

Note that three groups were now contesting the ownership of Terrapin Neck:

1 - the Hite heirs claimed it because the 1736 purchaser Browning never settled the land; (they had argued in 1770 that they owned it because Browning was the first settler!);

2 - the Browning heirs claimed it (with Abraham Shepherd’s urging) because their father bought it from the Hites back in 1736, and they had the complete set of documents to prove it;

3 - and the current holders of the land, who held title based on Fairfax grants issued in the 1750s. This group included the Col. Van Swearingen heirs, Indian Van Swearingen, and the Williamson, Lewis, Metcalf, and Boydston families.

For the heirs of Col. Van Swearingen, only about 184 acres outside of the original 1734 Poulson, Mounts and Jones patent was in question. Indian Van Swearingen, living out near the Ohio River, apparently still claimed several hundred acres of the old York/Chapline tract on the eastern end of Terrapin Neck, and may have been the true target of Abraham Shepherd’s antagonism.

Legal abstractions were a side issue for the Shepherds at least a part of this time, as Abraham Shepherd and his wife Eleanor lost a 7-year-old son - James - this year. (They would name a later son James Hervey Shepherd). Abraham kept an account book through the 1790s which gives many interesting details of his various business accounts (Shepherd Family Papers 1790-1862). He kept accounts of his legal fees and services for the Browning lawsuit in this book, and one interesting fee that recurs frequently in the 1790s is for “Clark’s Notes”, probably referring to the 1786 survey of Terrapin Neck by Jonathon Clark. Abraham billed a number of clients for “Clark’s Notes” over several years including a James Vandivere, a Dr. Jacobus Vandivere (same person?) and the various Browning heirs. It’s unclear what role the Vandiveres played in this particular lawsuit, since they were not related to the Brownings and held no claim for Terrapin Neck. What is clear, though, is that the dispute between the Swearingens, Shepherds, and Vandiveres that began in the 1760s was still being fought in the 1790s and perhaps later.


Because “maney unreasonable delays has hitherto prevented a division of the said lands among the divisees” Drusilla Swearingen Rutherford, one of the 4 sibling heirs of the deceased Col. Van Swearingen, apparently became impatient and took legal action to force her two brothers, Josiah and Hezekiah, and her sister Lurannah, into an agreement that would select several men to appraise and subdivide their late father’s estate (BCDB 9, p. 344). So the appraisers were chosen and went to work. The 315 acres of the Springwood tract were valued at £1260 pounds; 190 acres of this property including the estate house went to Josiah, while the western remainder of 124 acres, including the river frontage, went to Hezekiah (now called RiverView Farm); Priscilla had received her 150 acres of this tract the year before. Hezekiah’s new acreage included an odd corridor that cut across Josiah’s property to the east, possibly in order to retain a route to the Terrapin Neck road and Shepherds Town, or perhaps to retain property where several slave cabins were likely located (what we now know as Shepherd Grade probably did not yet exist). The 242- acre tract close to Shepherdstown along the Potomac that Van had received in a 1760 Fairfax grant was valued at a little over £302 pounds, and was given to Lurannah and her husband William Bennett. Land in the old Van Meter Marsh patent (now the Heatherfield subdivision) totaling 173 acres, valued at over £432 pounds, went to Drusilla and her husband. To make up the difference in value between the properties, Josiah was required to pay sister Drusilla £64 pounds, 5 shillings in 3 equal payments over several years. Van’s will had earlier specified that Drusilla should receive the 2 houses and lots in Shepherdstown while the sibling’s half-sister Peggy, still a juvenile, was to receive 400 acres of land near “Big Sandy Creek”, a tributary of the Ohio River, (her mother is 2nd wife Priscilla) - this was bounty land given to Van for war-time service.

The old Hite - Fairfax lawsuit continued to add to the family tension at this time. Judge Wythe threw out the Swearingen claim for their remaining Fairfax grants on Terrapin Neck in Hite v Fairfax. The “old paper from the Hites” strategy didn’t work--the Swearingen case no doubt also weakened because of the death of the venerable Van. An attachment was ordered against the Swearingen estate in order to pay the back rent and profits to the Hites. But inexplicably, Judge Wythe then ruled that the 1786 ruling should not go into effect on Terrapin Neck, and title should go to the present holders of the land - his phrase was they “should be quieted in their possession”. The Swearingen heirs and others on Terrapin Neck no doubt rejoiced at this turn of affairs, and Priscilla, Josiah and Indian Van could now retain their parcels in question, but unfortunately, Wythe’s ruling described them as “Tenants of Browning’s representatives”, opening the door for a Browning appeal. The Swearingens did not appeal the ruling, perhaps because the end result was they retained title to the land, albeit as “tenants” of Abraham Shepherd. The other Terrapin Neck landowners, i.e. Boydston, Metcalf, Lewis, and Williamson, had still not been officially notified by any court that their titles were in question. Several months later Abraham Shepherd, the Browning representative who now, courtesy of the court, had some “tenants”, urgently filed an appeal on behalf of the Browning heirs after he inadvertently heard about the Swearingen ruling (Hyman 1996).

Abraham Shepherd had other business to attend to that year as well. Late in 1790 George Washington visited the area on a tour of potential sites for a national capital. Shepherd and several other prominent local boosters had taken the trouble to collect subscriptions totaling $20,662.66 to help show their ability to defray the costs of constructing federal buildings (Crothers, n.d.). The Shepherdstown area, located in a region that could supply farm products to a rapidly growing new country, was experiencing a business boom as well; two towns in Berkeley County now exceeded 1000 people, Shepherds Town and Martinsburg. The first federal census in 1790 estimated that there were 3,893,635 people in the new United States. Virginia was the most populous state with 747,610 people counted (59% were white, 39% were enslaved Africans, 2% were free blacks - U.S. Bureau of Census First Census of the United States)


John Marshall was another prominent Virginia attorney retained by Shepherd and the Brownings in this case. Within a few years he would become the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States under the Jefferson administration, and he personally would eventually buy the remainder of the Fairfax holdings in Virginia. Shepherd did not have the legal stature of John Marshall and other prominent attorneys involved in the case, and Shepherd probably followed Marshall’s lead in many aspects of the legal proceedings. In March of 1791, for example, John Marshall wrote Shepherd regarding the landholders on Terrapin Neck who held title via Fairfax, telling Shepherd “to demand possession of them and if they refuse to give it, Let me know immediately - only their names, that I may commence suits against them - Let me know by what title they hold..” Marshall had been involved in the Hite-Fairfax controversy for most of his legal career, arguing the case on the side of Fairfax. His added role in the Browning case on Terrapin Neck stemmed not necessarily from being for the Browning cause, but only because the Brownings were arguing, like the Fairfax estate, against the Hite claim (Hyman 1996).

When Abraham Shepherd’s appeal was heard on behalf of the Browning heirs, Judge Wythe reversed his own ruling! about allowing the present holders to retain possession of Terrapin Neck, but let stand his ruling against the Swearingens. After being involved with Fairfax and Hite-related litigation for most of his long career, he now seemed to want to wash his hands of the whole matter. The Hite attachment against the Swearingens now became a Browning attachment against the Swearingen property. Abraham Shepherd also argued successfully that since the other landowners had failed to submit their claims in court (they had never even been summoned!), legal title to the land must revert to the Brownings. With proper legal representation at this point Shepherd’s arguments could have been easily dealt with, but good legal advice came too late for the people living on Terrapin Neck. The upshot: the judge previously had awarded an attachment to the Hite heirs only on Swearingen property, but Shepherd, via the Browning claim, used this as a tool to go after the whole 1200 acres! The Swearingens, Metcalfs, (Van’s second wife’s family), Williamsons, Boydstons and others were on the verge of losing Terrapin Neck, after “owning” it for decades! On a cold rainy night in November, neighbor Thomas Boydston, a bachelor farmer living just south of Springwood, received his first official court notice that his title to the land was in question, in the form of Abraham Shepherd, the local sheriff and a lawyer threatening to throw him in jail if he didn’t give up his land. Presumably they had also visited Josiah Swearingen about the same business recently. Shepherd’s only legally enforceable action at this point was the Browning attachment against the Swearingens, yet he and the sheriff were fraudulently using it to threaten everyone on Terrapin Neck. After the death of Col. Van Swearingen, Boydston would now become galvanized into becoming the champion defender of the Terrapin Neck property holders (Hyman 1996).

Josiah Swearingen no longer held his position as the official surveyor for Berkeley County, having been replaced by David Hunter (Doherty 1972). He received this year another letter from his cousin Indian Van living on the Ohio River dated March17, 1791:

Sir, I am going to give you the late news in this neighborhood. The Indians lately killed and took seven people 2 miles from my fort and four others in the woods in this neighborhood. Brady [his son-in-law] and others 25 followed or scouted after the savages returned with 4 scalps and a great quantity of plunder. They wounded Indians that escaped and killed a squaw by accident which they did not scalp. The Indians killed 17 Yankees in a blockhouse without loss of a man. As it is said we expect a bloody general savage war and should expect you in the field if you was as capable as you was when we was held back by rascal GL McIntosh. The Indians has burnt chiefly all the corn at the Garsey settlement at [Wheeling?], the inhabitants chiefly escaped into a stockade and after a 24 hours battle held the fort. I am sincerely sorry that I am confined to my home that I cannot do myself the pleasure of spending a few days with you this spring the war forbid. I expect you will come to see the army start this summer. If you should not I will visit you this fall. (Van Swearingen Letters)

(Brady and his men were later accused of plundering for their killing of the Delaware Indians at the Big Beaver Blockhouse on March 9, 1791, there being a strong question regarding the participation of this band in any depredations; rewards of $300 and $1000 were posted for the capture of Brady. His trial in Pittsburgh ended in a not guilty verdict, but the jury required him to pay the costs. See J.R. Warren 1978 article “Did Sam Brady Jump” in Milestones v.4(3).

Indian Van's 30-year-old nephew, now of Bourbon County Kentucky (also named Van Swearingen), son of his brother Major Thomas Swearingen, would be one of several thousand young men helping to form the army mentioned in the above letter. Perhaps with a sense of foreboding young Van wrote his last will and testament in August of 1791, which was witnessed by his uncle Indian Van, Indian Van’s wife Eleanor, and Indian Van’s daughter Drusilla Brady and later recorded in Berkeley County, Virginia. He became a captain, unfortunately, in an army that was hurriedly formed, poorly trained, and suffered from a lack of supplies, leadership and armament. Berkeley County, Virginia, also contributed several dozen soldiers to the cause, including a General Darke and his sons. On November 4th, this young Van Swearingen was one of about 700 soldiers killed by a surprise Miami-led Indian attack against the entire American Army then marching to Indiana under General St. Clair (Van’s will was presented to the Berkeley County court in July 1792). St. Clair was the second in a series of commanders who had been ordered by President Washington and the new Congress to put down the Indian menace once and for all. The Indians of course differed in their opinion of who was to blame for all the bloodshed on what the Americans called the “frontier” and the Indians called “home”. The battle is known to history as “St. Clair’s Defeat”, and the loss sent shock waves of fear and disgust throughout the new country. A congressional investigation exonerated General St. Clair when it was discovered that the Secretary of War Henry Knox and his friend William Duer had stolen $55,000 of the $75,000 appropriated to buy supplies for the ragged, ill-equipped new army; they had used the money for land speculation. In only three hours of fighting, more U.S. Army casualties occurred at the battlefield site now known as Fort Recovery on the Ohio-Indiana border than at any battle of the American Revolutionary War. The few surviving soldiers reported that the powder they were given was so poor that rifle balls were seen bouncing off their foes. American officers had been selectively targeted early in the battle, leaving the remaining soldiers in hopeless disarray. General Darke helped lead the escape for part of the army, but had to watch in horror as one of his sons was killed in the melee (Dandridge 1910). The Indians lost only about 40 men. Military service and prestige had been beneficial to the Swearingens over the years, but it also resulted in the occasional funeral. Several years later, another battle on the same site, part of General Wayne’s Campaign, would lead to an American victory and finally settle - by the sword - the question of settlement of the Northwest Territory.

The deceased Van’s brother Andrew, with his wife Polly, would now take over the administration of the Kentucky lands. The difficulties were numerous and familiar - competing claims and overlapping surveys would keep the courts and the Swearingens busy in Kentucky for decades to come. Land claims that were based on military warrants always took precedence, so it seems that most of the considerable Swearingen land holdings in Kentucky were eventually safely patented. The buffalo herds that had numbered in the thousands in Kentucky 20 years before were now completely gone, as were most of the other game animals. Horses, slaves, cattle, tobacco and hemp, much of it sold down the river to the Spanish/French settlement in New Orleans, were now a prominent part of the Kentucky landscape (Wharton and Barbour 1991).

The late Col. Van’s widow Priscilla remarried to a Marcus Alder on Jan 20. It is unknown if she and her daughter were still living in the little cabin by the river that had been fixed up for her. At this point she still owned the 150 acres of land on the Potomac for the duration of her life, but events would soon lead to some significant changes. Her new husband Marcus was no doubt related to George Alder, who was a tenant recorded by surveyor Jonathan Clark in 1786 living on the Metcalf farm on Terrapin Neck (Priscilla was a Metcalf prior to her marriage to Col. Van).


In February, the heirs of Col. Van Swearingen signed a conveyance of the Terrapin Neck land in contention to the Browning heirs (BCDB 10, p.151) after being threatened with contempt of court and a jail sentence by Shepherd - the Brownings paid the Swearingens 5 shillings for the land, the traditional token amount. In fact, Shepherd had won only an attachment to the Swearingen property, but he seems to have convinced the Swearingens that this meant that they had to turn over the property, or perhaps they preferred to lose the property rather than other resources. This transaction now required that about 184 acres of the northern portion of Terrapin Neck be turned over to the Browning heirs - and 100 acres of this total came out of step-mother Priscilla and her new husband’s 150 acres!!! Perhaps from the perspective of the four Swearingen siblings, this property had already been “lost” in 1789 when they had deeded it over to Priscilla for the duration of her natural life. Josiah Swearingen would lose (temporarily) 84 1/2 acres from the remaining Springwood estate, now the southern portion of NCTC adjacent to Shepherd Grade and Terrapin Neck road. The Swearingen heirs also had to worry about paying the rents and profits dated from 1786. One wonders if Abraham Shepherd felt uncomfortable about relieving his fellow Revolutionary War comrade-in-arms and brother-in-law Josiah of his land and money.

Col. Van Swearingen’s estate was billed 50 pounds this year by Abraham Shepherd for the hundred acres on Terrapin Neck that Van had sold to Adam Money in 1777, which was probably a percentage of the rents and profits owed for the Swearingen period of ownership (BCWB 2, p146). A new fence line now appeared, following the old Brooke survey line of 1734 starting at Shepherd Island and ending near Terrapin Neck Road, splitting Priscilla’s property and leaving her and her new husband Marcus Alder with just 50 acres. This property line passes under the present-day NCTC footbridge. This same 50 acres would later be sold by the Swearingen siblings to Abraham Shepherd in 1798 (BCDB 17, p13) for 400 pounds. The siblings must have re-acquired their rights to the property in return for paying off the Alder’s share of the Browning lawsuit - an estate settlement document shows in 1796 a payment of 25 pounds “To rents paid William Keating for Marcus Alder as agreed by the Heirs of Van Swearingen Deceased” and another 25 pounds “To cash paid Abraham Shepherd in full of Alder’s Claim on Estate” (BCWB 3, pp463-472). This 50 acres is now the area of the NCTC campus that includes the Instructional buildings, lodges, and the Entry Auditorium.

At the same time that the Swearingens signed a conveyance of their property to the Brownings in 1792, so also did Boydston (on Feb. 6), Williamson (on Feb. 13), and John and Elizabeth Lewis (the Lowes?, on Feb. 20). Like the Swearingens, they had been threatened with contempt of court and jail time. But unlike the Swearingens, they didn’t realize that because they had never been on a court list of landholders, never been served with court papers, and never been asked to appear in court, Shepherd had no legal right to demand this (Hyman 1996). Never mind that the 1736 survey was conducted past the deadline, and the Brownings had never settled the land, which were both legal requirements for retaining title back in 1736.

Capt. Henry is now employed in clearing the Shepardstown Falls” was announced in the annual report of the Potomac Company, as they continued their work in clearing the Potomac River of obstructions (Corra Bacon-Foster 1912). The “Falls” most likely refers to the series of limestone ledges near Packhorse Ford a mile or so south of town.


In December, Abraham Shepherd successfully argued in Chancery Court to get Terrapin Neck holders to move off the land and give title over to the Browning heirs. The court was also asked to figure out how much rent and profit the Browning heirs were owed. Neighbor Boydston was thrown in jail for a day after refusing to move off his land. A jury summoned into Shepherdstown by Shepherd had heard the case, and actually voted against Shepherd! in favor of the current land holders on the Neck. Local opinion apparently wasn’t going to get Shepherd very far, so Shepherd appealed to the District Court at Winchester. The Winchester jury found for Shepherd and the Browning heirs, allowing the eviction of Boydston and others on the Neck. Boydston asked for an injunction against this ruling, which was granted.

Indian Van Swearingen, nephew of Col. Van, died at the age of 51 at his plantation on the Ohio River, leaving behind several adult children, as well as three juvenile children he had with his last wife Eleanor including a new son named Thomas (his first son Thomas was killed in 1787). His will divided up several plantations, slaves, two yoke of oxen, milk cows, a mill, still house and a smith shop. Because his estate was still tenuously connected to the old Yorke place out on Terrapin Neck, his heirs and executors would be dealing with the never-ending court case shortly. His will distributed various tracts of land in Pennsylvania and Virginia among his heirs, but made no explicit mention of the property on Terrapin Neck except to state that “the profit arising therefrom the sail or otherwise of my estate which I have not mentioned in this will to be equally divided” among his heirs.

Andre Michaux, the renowned French botanist, collected plants in then-Berkeley County (now Jefferson County) that he would be adding to his growing herbarium in Paris. Over the next ten years other prominent botanists including Frederick Pursh, Benjamin Barton and Thomas Nuttall would visit the area on collecting expeditions (Boone 1965).


In the year 1794 the French Revolution broke out, when bread stuffs of every kind suddenly became enormously high; in consequence of which the farmers in the Valley abandoned the cultivation of tobacco and turned their attention to wheat, which they raised in vast quantities for several years. It was no uncommon thing for the farmer, for several years after the commencement of the French Revolution, to sell his crops of wheat from one to two, and sometimes at two and a half dollars per bushel, and his flour from ten to fourteen dollars per barrel in our seaport towns.” (from Kercheval 1833)

What did the Hites do with their newly-acquired money from the Fairfax lawsuit? Some of the money acquired by the Hites went to Isaac Hite, grandson of Joist Hite. Isaac was a veteran officer of the Revolutionary War, married James Madison’s sister and was a friend of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, in fact, helped to design a new mansion for Isaac Hite, which was built of native limestone on Hite land south of Winchester between 1794 and 1797; the money for the new mansion undoubtedly came in part from the successful lawsuit against the Fairfax Proprietary. Isaac eventually owned over a hundred slaves and worked several thousand acres of land. The home, Belle Grove, today is recognized as a national landmark and remains nearly unaltered, and offers daily tours between April and October.


Tragedy strikes again - on August 9, Josiah Swearingen died, 51 years old (his cousin Van and his uncle Thomas died at almost the exact same age). There was not a will recorded at the courthouse, suggesting a more sudden death; the settlement of the estate over the next several years as the probate legalities were followed is detailed in over 9 pages in Berkeley County Will Book 3, pages 463-72. The children, now orphans, were 18, 16, 13 and 11 years old. Josiah was buried next to his wife, sister-in-law and two young nieces at Springwood. (There may be other burials there - we don’t know where Col. Van, his first wife Sarah, his daughter Rebecca, or his son Thomas were buried, for example, and this seems a possible spot). The estate recorded the services of coffin-maker Robert Selby who made two caskets, one presumably for Josiah, the other for a negro woman. Two gallons of port wine were provided by William Blackford, apparently for the memorial services, and a quantity of whiskey was also necessary for the “Appraisement of Estate”. A housekeeper, Sally Noland, was retained until the following March. Daughter Eleanor went to live with the Henry Bedinger family, while son James, born at Springwood and now 13 years old, took up clerking in Berryville the same year (H.H Swearingen). Brothers Thomas and Samuel were probably still living in the Shepherdstown area. Josiah’s estate settlement gives an interesting glimpse of farming life in the mid-1790s. Crews were contracted over the next few years to plant, harvest, haul and clean many bushels of wheat and rye. One of the recurring payments was for whisky and wine to the field crews, no doubt some or all of them slaves. For example, on July 9th, 1796 the crew went through 4 gallons of whisky and two quarts of wine. On November 7th another crew went through 5 1/4 gallons of whiskey while husking corn. Two quarts of whisky were paid men working for Eleanor. A sequence of payments in 1797 shows how some goods were brought to market: 27 flour casks were purchased from “Smurr and Williams”, a payment was made for carriage of these casks to the river, another payment for 27 barrels of flour floated to “the falls” (Great Falls), another payment for storage at the falls, another for carriage to Alexandria, and then a final payment for cooperage and storage at Alexandria. Another shipment of 31 barrels of flour was sold at Norfolk, though there is no mention of how the flour got there. Also mentioned are 1 1/2 bushels of flax seed, a sale of timothy seed, and various quantities of corn. No mention is made of tobacco.


Josiah’s daughter Eleanor, now an heiress with land and slaves, married Thomas Worthington, also from a wealthy, prominent local family. In addition to administering his family’s estate, Worthington had been working recently in Shepherdstown as a part-time deputy sheriff. The wedding took place in the parlor of Eleanor’s aunt and uncle - Capt. Abraham and Eleanor Shepherd. Apparently the Browning lawsuit had not lessened Nellie’s affection for her aunt and uncle, and perhaps she wasn’t aware of her uncle’s role in all that had transpired . Thomas Worthington also became the legal guardian of his new wife’s younger brothers. Worthington had recently returned from Ohio territory, having first been sent out to Ohio by General Darke to locate and survey Darke’s land that had been given as bounty lands for his service in the Revolution; Darke eventually sold the land to Worthington at a low price. General Darke had become like a father to the young Worthington after losing all his sons in various military operations, including St. Clair’s Defeat several years earlier. As a child, Worthington had lost his father in the Revolutionary War (Dandridge 1910). Josiah Swearingen didn’t live long enough to acquire land “over the river” in Ohio, but all of his children would eventually settle there.

Josiah’s estate settlement included bills for other sundry items such as school supplies, clothing and numerous silk handkerchiefs for young James and his brothers. James Bell was hired to make several suits of clothes. Also listed are several payments to Abraham Shepherd and the Browning heirs. For example, 87 pounds, 15 shillings, 8 pence were “paid Joshua Browning 1/4 of 84 acres also in part for damages”, while another 63 pounds were “paid William Keating 1/4 of 84 acres also in part for damages”. Exactly what these damages were is still an intriguing question, but perhaps referred to back rents. Another 181 pounds, 10 shillings were paid to “Abraham Shepherd as per decree High Court of Chancery”. James Wood, son of the surveyor of Terrapin Neck in 1736, was now Governor of Virginia. His wife was a sister-in-law to Drucilla Swearingen Rutherford (Col. Van’s daughter).

The Chancery Court issued an attachment against the Swearingen estate and other Terrapin Neck holders for contempt of court for not paying the Browning heirs the rents and profits due them from 1786.The Hessian Fly, Mayetiola destructor, named because it was supposedly introduced by straw brought in to New York by Hessian troops during the Revolutionary War, made its first appearance in Virginia. By the following year the fly almost completely destroyed the wheat crop in the vicinity of the Potomac River (Kercheval 1833). It remains as a serious pest of grain crops today. Josiah Swearingen’s probate documents mention wheat numerous times in 1796, but it’s unknown what percentage of the crop they may have lost.


Because of the Boydston appeal, more court-ordered depositions were taken concerning Terrapin Neck lands.

By order of the court, Josiah Swearingen’s lands and 8 slaves were divided among his heirs by Abraham Shepherd and several others. In the court document, Josiah’s property (the present-day Cress Creek golf course community) originally purchased from his father was described as “The mansion tract of the said Josiah Swearingen situate and lying near Shepherdstown and joining the lands of Joseph Swearingen, William Bennett and the heirs of Martin Stip containing Two Hundred and twenty-four acres”, while Springwood (NCTC) was referred to as “One other tract of land, also near Shepherdstown on the potomack river and bounded by the lands of Hezekiah Swearingen, Browning heirs and lands now in possession of Marcus Alder containing Two Hundred seventy-five acres”(Berkeley County Rerecorded Deed Book 1, p 431). The northern 137 acres of Springwood, the kitchen, and 3 slaves were given to Josiah’s son Samuel, who was then just 13 years old! Sam eventually became a Capt. in the War of 1812 and had a long military career, rising to the rank of General. In later years he settled in Ohio near his siblings, and was a legislator, merchant and farmer; he died, like his father and mother, at a relatively young age, 48, in 1832. The south 138 acres of Springwood, 1 slave, and the house were given to Josiah’s son Thomas, who was 18 years old at the time. He also eventually moved to Ohio to be with his brothers and sister, and after his first wife died he moved to Illinois. A map of the 1797 division of Springwood is shown above and portrays the ownership of Terrapin Neck lands after the Browning lawsuit. Siblings James and Eleanor were each given a half of their father’s tract near Shepherdstown, as well as slaves. Many Virginia soldiers of the Revolution and their families began migrating into Ohio and Kentucky in the late 1780s and 1790s. Joseph and Andrew Swearingen, descendants of Thomas of the Ferry, were included in the Bourbon County Kentucky Tax roles in the early 1790s; a William Swearingen was taxed there in 1797.

A Swearingen appeal was at least partially successful: on the fifth of June, 1797, the High Court of Chancery ordered that 84 1/2 acres of property, part of the April 1750 Fairfax grant to Col. Van Swearingen, be conveyed by the Brownings back to the heirs of Josiah Swearingen (JCDB 3, p.325). This acreage was not only returned to Josiah’s heirs, it also went back to Abraham’s teenage nephews; if Abraham had his eye on Springwood at the time he shed no tears over this “loss” from the Browning lands, as it might be more easily acquired if it remained “in the family”. (This land is adjacent to present-day Shepherd Grade and Terrapin Neck Road on the south side of NCTC, and includes the fields now being converted to native warm season grasses.) The Browning heirs didn’t hurry to carry out this order- Josiah’s son Thomas was still waiting for this conveyance to take place in 1806 when he sold his land--to who else but Abraham Shepherd. Priscilla’s 100 acres on Terrapin Neck remained with the Brownings. A day later on June 6, 1797 the same June Court required the administrators of Josiah’s estate to pay the Brownings £60 pounds for past rents and profits in three installments, and held the Medcalf-Boydston-Willamson-Bennett defendants in contempt of court for not answering the court summons. This particular suit was “abated” for Indian Van Swearingen on account of his death.

On November 7th, 1797 Abraham Shepherd re-acquired the property across the river from Shepherdstown known as Pell Mell from the Freemans of New Jersey (his brother had sold it in 1769 to a Jacob Vandiver, who passed it to his daughter Phoebe and her husband Dr. Clarkson Freeman - Washington Cty DB K, p. 532). Abraham immediately entered into a 10-year agreement with a George Batson, who was to live on Pell Mell as part of a profit-sharing agreement, provided that George built a house and barn and cleared 20 acres over the next 5 years. Abraham reserved the right to remove firewood and plant fruit trees and other crops, mentioning wheat, rye, corn, oats, barley, tobacco and buckwheat. Abraham also agreed to provide nails, planks, shingles and brick (WC DB L, p.47).


Taking up the Terrapin Neck lawsuit appeal on behalf of Boydston and the Terrapin Neck landowners, the Richmond Court again found in favor of Shepherd and the Browning heirs. One of the witnesses for Thomas Boydston was John Welch, who, when questioned by Abraham Shepherd about why Shepherd had undertaken the Browning cause, answered:

“ ...he informed me some time in 1793 that he never should have undertaken that business at all had it not been for a long law suit between him and the Swearingens about Shepherds Town ferry and by reason of some unfair turn they took of him he had lost the ferry, and knowing or hearing that the Brownings had a claim to 1200 acres of land in Tarrapine Neck in which the Shepherds held some quantity of land and he determined to retaliate the loss of the ferry upon them by recovering from them that land and further saith not” (Case Papers, Boydston v. Shepherd, #1, copy from E. Hyman).

So there we have it. Since Abraham seems to have asked the question himself, he apparently wanted everyone to know that he was motivated to remove the landholders on Terrapin Neck because of his prior disagreements with the Swearingens.

Terrapin Neck landholders were now evicted by the local sheriff, and the Browning heirs were allowed to take possession. One or more of them actually moved to Terrapin Neck within a few years, though some sold off their portion to Abraham Shepherd. Keating daughters eventually married into Sappington, Newman, Vansant, and Johnson families-- the cemetery on Terrapin Neck Road is (reportedly) full of Keatings and Johnsons. Boydston appealed on procedural grounds to the Staunton Court, but his claim was getting weaker and weaker.

The 3 remaining Swearingen siblings and the administrator of Josiah’s estate sold to Abraham Shepherd for £400 pounds the 50 remaining acres that had been part of step-mother Priscilla’s share of the estate (BCDB 10, p282); however it was arranged, Priscilla was now off the property and Abraham had his first 50 acres of the Swearingen holdings. This parcel now includes much of the NCTC campus. The transaction wasn’t recorded at the Berkeley County courthouse until 1801, since part of the process entailed rounding up witnesses to vouch for the siblings having actually signed the document. Drusilla was vouched for on 6th Nov. 1798, Lurannah on 19th Jan. 1799, Henry Bedinger (representing Josiah’s estate) and William Bennett on 21 Jan. 1799, and Hezekiah, the last holdout, wasn’t vouched for until 23 Feb. 1801. In April of 1798, Priscilla and her new husband Marcus Alder purchased 127 acres directly south of the Boydston place along the road to Shepherdstown, probably using in part proceeds from the old Swearingen property (BCDB 14, p.571). Abraham Shepherd seems to have been the moneyman for the transaction: Alder was still making payments to Abraham Shepherd’s estate in the 1820s, which were in turn passed on to Thomas Tool, whose family originally owned the land (see JCWB 6, p.222).

Eleanor Swearingen and her new husband Thomas Worthington packed up their belongings and moved near the new village of Chillicothe, Ohio. The area was being surveyed for Virginia soldiers of the Revolution, and was formerly a large Shawnee Indian town site that would become famous in archeological circles for the large Hopewell Culture / Adena burial mounds. Eleanor was accompanied on the trip by her brothers James and Samuel and several other people who would become prominent in the early history of Ohio. The Worthingtons apparently had a strong dislike for the institution of slavery, and emancipated their slaves in Ohio (Sears 1958); Worthington soon became prominent in business and Ohio politics, serving in the Territorial Legislature 1799-1803, US Senate 1803-1807 and 1810-1814, and finally was Governor of Ohio 1814-1818.

Benoni Swearingen died this year. He left his ferry operation, personal and real estate to his son Henry, and daughter Sarah, who was married to a John Blackford (Wash. Cty WB A, p. 395). His third wife Hester was given a patch of ground near Sharpsburg, their dwelling house (now 125 East Main Street in Sharpsburg), and a slave named Jane and her daughter, provided that Hester would give up her right of dower to the western lands in Kentucky. The ferry operation would now be known as Blackford’s Ferry.

The former town of Mecklenburg was now officially renamed Shepherds Town (this was contracted to Shepherdstown after the Civil War). Abraham Shepherd at this time also was busy with land transactions out in Ohio. Between 1798 and 1813 he would patent some 6895 acres in the Virginia Military District near Chillicothe. He was the original warrantee on less than half of this land, as he purchased or traded other warranted tracts from several other men, including a John Galt, Hugh Stephenson, Thomas Coverley, Jesse Bland and Robert Porterfield. A number of other Shepherds Town men had also been buying, selling and trading land there, including ferry operator Benoni Swearingen, who at one time had acquired 1000 acres from Abraham Shepherd (this land was originally warranted to a Christopher Brady, and was finally patented by a Joseph Petty). The only Swearingen with a warrant for land in Ohio was a Joseph Swearingen, possibly Benoni’s brother, who put in for 227 acres; apparently most of the Swearingen family bounty lands were located in Kentucky. (View original Ohio General Land Office records at web site


Ill health forced James Swearingen, son of Josiah, to give up his clerking job, so at 17 years of age, he moved to Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1799 after swapping his Virginia land near Shepherdstown with land owned by his brother-in-law Thomas Worthington out in Ohio. He began a long military career a year later. He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in 1803 and was among those given the task of building Ft. Dearborn, which later grew to become the city of Chicago. (H.H. Swearingen 1884).

The heirs of “Indian” Van Swearingen then living in Ohio County finally finished with their father’s old lawsuit against Abraham Shepherd involving the property on the end of Terrapin Neck. In Van Swearingen vs Abraham Shepherd, the appeal listed as defendant the grandson! of William Chapline (Chalkley vol. 2, p. 105). William Chapline was the man who had sold the land to the Swearingens back about 1770 despite the court ruling that had turned the property over to the Hites, and the Chapline heirs several generations later would be dragged into court to carry on the squabble. The details from Chalkley are sketchy but it is apparent that debate over land on Terrapin Neck spread a wide net of misery over multiple generations of several families, many of whom had long since even seen the place. This suit was archived under April 1799 Circuit Court Causes Ended, in the same batch with Browning vs Swearingen and Boydston vs Shepherd.

An entry in a Shepherd Family Account Book (sect. 3) for Moses Shepherd:

Received of Moses Shepherd one hundred and fifty dollars for the [indecipherable] Abraham Morgan of ShepherdsTown in part pay for negro girl bought by Abraham Shepherd from Abraham Morgan April the 12, 1799

Abraham Shepherd’s sawmill also produced a large order of lumber of various sizes including “scantling”, shingles, rafters and planks sold to the “United States” in October this year for buildings being erected presumably for the new Armory in Harper’s Ferry. His distillery was very busy throughout the 1790s, with hundreds of gallons of brandy and whisky sold nearly every month (Shepherd Family Papers, sect. 1). He also found time to keep up with political problems besetting the new nation. Consider a rather non-committal letter he received written in the handwriting of George Washington’s secretary Tobias Lear:

Mount Vernon, October 21, 1799
Sir: Your letter of the 15th inst. offering your services as Colonel in the Provisional Army, has been duly received. Whenever the appointment of the Officers of this Army shall take place, it will be pleasing to find, in the list of Candidates, the names of such as were valuable officers in our Revolutionary war. They will meet with due attention, and among them your letter will not be forgotten. I am etc.
(Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library)


Abraham Shepherd and his wife had the last of their 8 children this year, with the birth of Charles M. Shepherd. Older brothers still alive included Henry, Rezin Davis, Abram, and James Hervey, along with sisters Annie and Eliza. Young Rezin was named for Rezin Davis, a Revolutionary War colleague of Abraham’s that had commanded the Light Horse Brigade from Hagerstown, Maryland


The court made its final decree on the judgement levied against the Swearingen estate. Abraham Shepherd, the “thin-visaged little man, of prominent features, full of energy” would shortly begin acquiring various parcels of Terrapin Neck, and within a few years would own 750 acres of Terrapin Neck and the surrounding area. Much of the land acquired by Abraham Shepherd would stay in the Shepherd family for almost a century.

William Bennett, son-in-law of Col. Van and husband of Luranna, died in 1802, and one source lists him as buried in the Springwood cemetery along with Josiah, Phoebe and Rebecca Swearingen. Two other Bennetts, presumably William’s daughters, are also listed as being buried there earlier - an infant Mary Bennet who died in 1779 (possibly while William was in Kentucky) and a second Mary Bennett, 6 years old, who died in 1790 (Tombstone Inscriptions Jefferson County WV).

By this year, many European plants with invasive properties had become well established in the lower Shenandoah Valley. For example, viper’s bugloss, Echium vulgare, was already described as a “pernicious weed” in Jefferson County (Strausbaugh and Core).

In 1802 the Potomac Company completed a canal around Great Falls on the Potomac River, which made possible for the first time an uninterrupted passage between the lower Shenandoah Valley and shipping ports in Alexandria - for approximately three months out of the year when the water was high enough to float a cargo-laden boat.


Final depositions were taken at Abert’s Tavern in Shepherdstown regarding the Hite-Browning-Fairfax legal proceedings on Terrapin Neck. Local people were still perplexed at how the landholders on Terrapin Neck had lost their land. The merits of the landholder’s claims had clearly not been presented to a court, and even back then the landholders on Terrapin Neck were considered victims of legal maneuvers to gather Fairfax assets in the wake of the Revolutionary War.

Abraham Shepherd himself was quoted as saying by several there that at some point “the business was so riveted that it could not be gone into again”. Shepherd was also quoted in a Boydston case deposition as bemoaning his fate of having incurred “the everlasting ill-will of these people”. Shepherd was correct - in Boydston’s will, he referred to his land as having been “wickedly, deceptively, artfully and fraudulently wrested from me by Abraham Shepherd” and refused to concede the loss (Hyman 1996).


More of the Springwood tract was sold to Abraham Shepherd. Abraham prior to this time owned only the 50 acre parcel once owned by Priscilla, but now Josiah’s son Thomas Swearingen, described in the deed as a resident of the “Northwestern Territory” sold his inherited 138 acres of Springwood to uncle Abraham Shepherd for $1380 dollars “current money of Pennsylvania” (JCDB 3, p325). This left 137 acres of Springwood adjacent to the river still in his brother Samuel’s hands, though brother Samuel would also sell his portion to uncle Abraham in a couple of years. RiverView Farm to the west was still owned by Hezekiah Swearingen and his son Van, while the ferry service across the Potomac, the original Bellevue mansion and surrounding lands were also still owned by heirs of Thomas “of the Ferry” Swearingen. Another Thomas Swearingen with his wife Margery still owned and operated the mill and surrounding lands near Scrabble at this time. Why didn’t young Thomas sell or rent the Springwood property to one of his numerous Swearingen relatives in the area? Hezekiah in particular should have been interested in the property, though it should be noted that there are no records of Hezekiah acquiring any local property other than that given to him by his father. Family feud? Did young Thomas, like his sister, have a warm regard for his uncle Abraham? Did Abraham Shepherd offer more than the Swearingens? Were the remaining Swearingens concerned about retaining title after over 35 years of wrangling over ownership of adjacent property, or just uninterested, or perhaps hard up for money after years of court battles? The young brothers could not hope to make a living from the small acreage on the Potomac, and many of their peers and neighbors were moving to Ohio and Kentucky. Perhaps it should not be too surprising that Abraham Shepherd ultimately ended up with the property, though not everyone in the neighborhood was happy with his methods of acquiring land. It’s interesting that Hezekiah deeded the northern 140 acres of RiverView Farm adjacent to the new Shepherd property to his son Van this year, while he kept the southern half of the property. Son Van likely built the house and building complex west of the present-day NCTC water treatment plant shortly before or after this time. In the 1807 deed Hezekiah specifically asked that he be given the right to occupy and gain profit for his own benefit for the remainder of his life “a piece of meadow ground containing about 4 acres called the wet meadow near Abraham Shepherd being part of the land conveyed to me by my father” (JCDB 4, p. 106). The springs within the wet meadow were perhaps the most reliable source of water for Hezekiah’s property to the south, but were also the closest water supply to Shepherd’s new house, the property line giving each of them access to a part of the spring, a legacy of the instructions given to the surveyors for Lord Fairfax in the 1750s. This 4 acres is the area west of the estate house where the pond and cottage are today. At the time, the route from Shepherdstown to the estate house may not have been as direct, as “Shepherd Grade” had probably not been built yet in its current alignment. The road to Shepherd’s house would have had to go around the narrow corridor owned by the Swearingens on RiverView Farm, and entered from further east on Terrapin Neck.

The final court appeals of Boydston were exhausted, and the appeals court again favored Shepherd and the Brownings. Abraham Shepherd, 53 years old, was now living in the Springwood estate house with his family and slaves, and was on his way to acquiring over 750 acres of Terrapin Neck lands, including the old York tract that Indian Van Swearingen had struggled so many years to acquire legally, as well as the Boydston plantation – his fee for acquiring Terrapin Neck for the Browning heirs. Abraham’s wife would now be living in the house next to her sister’s grave. With Springwood as his trophy, possibly Abraham felt now that he had obtained “full satisfaction for every insult which they have been good enough to bestow ...”.

While finishing his first term in the US Senate representing Ohio, Thomas Worthington and his wife “Nellie” Swearingen built a large mansion-Adena- in Chillicothe, Ohio, described as the “most elegant mansion in that part of the west”; the facade bears more than a passing resemblance to the Swearingen mansion at Springwood. The architect was Benjamin Latrobe, who had also been assigned by President Thomas Jefferson several years earlier to complete the White House, Capitol and other federal buildings in Washington. Eleanor’s brothers worked at Adena occasionally; in 1811-12 James was general supervisor of the estate and flour mills, while Thomas managed the textile mill and ropewalk in Chillicothe (Sears 1958). Adena is now on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the first sheriffs of Ross County, Ohio, which included Chillicothe, was also finishing up his first and only year in office - David Shepherd, grandson of the founder of Shepherdstown. He eventually became a surveyor, rancher, innkeeper, and tavernkeeper, went bankrupt and moved to Pickaway County, then on to Illinois, where he spent the rest of his life.

Out in Kentucky, Andrew Swearingen and his wife Polly sold a number of small parcels of the family’s Kentucky lands. The largest, about 1500 acres, sold for $1 and “certain services” to a Robert Hamilton. The deed mentioned that there was not a guarantee there were no competing claims for the property (Bourbon County DB F p 125). Predictably, courts eventually awarded 470 acres of this property to a Stephan Miller, and a year later Andrew’s siblings back in Berkeley County Virginia, Thomas and Drusilla, were ordered by a Chancery Court to honor this and several other agreements (Bourbon Cty DB G, p15 and 134). This suggests that Andrew was selling some property without getting agreement from his siblings, and shows that the Swearingens -again - were also caught up in the frenzy of litigation over competing land claims occurring at that time in Kentucky. More trouble was to come.