Dianne Craycraft Hume
October 2000 revised 2009 ©
Jack of all trades would be the simplest description of Charles B. Cracraft.[i] Yet, to leave it at that would be a great injustice to an extraordinary man. Born in the middle of the 18th century, Charles beat the persistent adversities of the era. He took enormous risks for his family and country. He was an adventurer, hunter, farmer, builder, Indian fighter, father, pioneer, a courageous defender of our new nation; he was a self-made physician/surgeon, a woodsman, ambitious, and religious. It is no wonder why he is one of our most documented relatives.
Charles was born along the Shenandoah River near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in 1748 to Joseph and Nancy Ann Stanton Cracraft. [ii]Charles spent the first ten years of life in Frederick County, Maryland, where he learned farming, hunting, reading and writing from his parents and older brothers, Joseph, William and Samuel. When his younger siblings, Sarah and Thomas, arrived it was his turn to help them learn. All family members contributed to their survival in the wilderness.
While living in Frederick County, Maryland his father, Joseph Cracraft Sr. and a friend, William Bowel, were registered on a militia roster in Capt. Moses Chapline Militia Company around 1757.[iii] Most of the people listed on the roster were neighbors. The purpose of this company was to protect the frontier against the Indian raids during the French and Indian War. As more white settlers moved west, there was more and more contact with the Indians. The Indians traded furs and hides for cloth, pots and tools with the early settlers. Indians and colonists had different views about land ownership. The colonists believed that when one bought land that gave them exclusive and permanent rights to the land. The Indians believed that when they were selling the land to the colonists, they were selling the right to use the land. The Indians expected to keep farming and hunting on the land they sold. Many tribes used the same area of land so even chiefs did not have the right to sell the land. This led to many conflicts, fights and raids on both parties for many years. French settlers wanted this same land and incited the natives to attack the newcomers. Some of these organized battles with soldiers became the French and Indian War. This ended in 1763 when the British defeated the French for control of eastern North America. The British Proclamation of 1763 outlawed colonial settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains; the very territory in which Charles would settle. That land was reserved for the Indians. This was ignored by settlers and even by colonial authorities. Five years later the Treaty of Fort Stanwix was signed. This treaty was with the Iroquois Indians stating that land between the Tennessee and Ohio rivers, which included southwestern Pennsylvania and parts of Virginia, was acquired for future colonial settlement; again, this was the colonist’s agreement. This in no way stopped the small raids on individual farmers and settlements throughout America. For the next 120 years, several Cracrafts bore arms to protect settlements and their own families from Indian raids.
In August of 1761 Joseph and Ann sold their 50 acres called Prospect to Josiah Harper and moved west.[iv] Josiah and his nephew opened a ferry across the Potomac River and called it Harper’s Ferry. The Bowels and the Cracrafts followed the Potomac River to the hill country of Virginia near the fork of the Great Cacapon River. This later became Hampshire County, West Virginia. [v]Records show a William Bowel having a survey done in this area as early as 1741[vi]. We cannot be sure this is the same William Bowel as all his children were born in Maryland. Perhaps, it was he who convinced Joseph to move west. It was common for families to move together; there was safety in numbers. If traveled by pack animals they left behind most of their large possessions like tables and chests, etc. They traveled short distances over hills and mountains of the Appalachia. Some part of their journey was in flatboats down the Potomac River, by which could carry necessities, the family, a wagon and horses.
Whichever way they traveled had to be very difficult as there were no roads, tough terrain and a possibility Indians were a problem. The reasons for moving west were many. We can only speculate why the Bowels and Cracrafts moved. Most were willing to endure the hardships to make a better life for themselves and children. America was still under British rule and they were taxing the colonists for almost everything. Most people were farmers and competition was great as to who could sell their goods first. Lack of laws and people to enforce them was another reason why people wanted to get away. Last but not the least reason to move was the lure of adventure.
The earliest known settlers around this region were Germans, being there by 1748. By 1745 the British crown confirmed the rights to this land to an English Nobleman, Thomas, Sixth Lord of Fairfax. He claimed all the land that is now most of West Virginia, nearly 5,282,000 acres; included what are now Jefferson, Berkley, Morgan, Hardy, Hampshire and Mineral Counties.[vii] His estate was managed much like the feudal system in England. He separated his land into large manors. Two manors close to the area where the Cracrafts and Bowels settled, were South Branch with 55,000 acres and Patterson Creek Manor with 9,000 acres. The majority of the tenants obtained tracts from 100 to 300 acres under the plan of lease and release. Each tenant made a down payment and each year on St. Michaelmas Day paid a quitrent determined by the size of the land.[viii]A quitrent is a fixed rent paid in money instead of services.
While living in Hampshire County, Joseph’s oldest sons married William Bowel’s daughters. Joseph Jr. married Margaret and William married Sarah. In 1760, William Bowel deeded 92 acres to son in law Joseph and wife Margit and 95 acres to William and wife Sarah. Both areas of land were on the Cacapon River.[ix]Land records show that on December 9, 1765 Joseph conveyed 340 acres to his son Joseph Jr. on the Great Cacapehon on Cronoloway Hill. He also served as a pilot of the surveying crew for the transfer.[x] This part of the country was still very much a wilderness; but a beautiful one with lots of natural resources. Neighbors were not very close and the Indians were a major threat. The summer of 1768 the Shawnee came to South Branch and Cacapehon posing as friends of the settlers. They killed or captured all settlers in the Muddy Creek settlement and then moved down to Lewisbury and did the same.[xi]
We have records of Joseph being a pilot of surveying crews. This may have been the father, Joseph, or the son. Land companies, to record the area of land, hired surveyors. The surveying crew consisted of chain carriers, a marker who recorded the number of chains, a pilot who guided the chain carriers and a surveyor. A link in a chain was 7.92 inches; 1 rod was 25 links or 16 feet; 1 chain was 4 links or 66 feet and 1 mile equaled 80 chains. On uneven land the chain needed to be held level to the horizon and not the land. Many times, especially when Indian danger was present, surveyors received a portion of the land they surveyed. They could survey up to a few 1000 acres a day.[xii] This obviously led many surveyors to acquiring much land wealth. According to Abstracts of Virginia’s Northern Neck Warrants and Surveys[xiii]Joseph was a pilot and William was a chain carrier and a marker for many surveys in Hampshire County, Virginia. This was a good way to get to know the country. It is very possible Charles went with them on these trips.
Records of heads of families in Hampshire County, Virginia in 1782 show Joseph Craycroft with 9 in family and owning 3 dwellings; William Craycroft; and Thomas (a brother of Joseph and William) with 7 in the family and 1 dwelling. The tax records of 1780 show Samuel in Monongalia County, Virginia, he is another brother. According to Franklin Ellis, William Creacraft was one of the original landholders in Dunbar Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania sometime around 1780.[xiv] Samuel obviously settled a little more west than his siblings.
Charles moved to what is now Ten-Mile Creek, Washington County, Pennsylvania. The area at the time was known as Ohio County, Virginia to some and part of Kentucky to others. The western part of Pennsylvania was not part of the colonies; the boundary was the Appalachian Mountains. Fort Pitt to the east and the Ohio River to the west were considered frontier. Heavy with timber, brush and plenty of water, this land was very fertile- an ideal spot for hunting and farming and very beautiful. Several Indian tribes including Iroquoian and Algonquian had been using it for a long time. More and more Americans were moving west. The price of land in Virginia was near 1 shilling per 10 acres. There were no limits and often the land was bartered for much less. The price of land in Pennsylvania was much higher and settlers were limited to 400 acres.[xv]During the Revolutionary War Virginia offered 100-200 acres of land but also a slave for enlisting in the Virginia line. Pennsylvania issued bounty land warrants after the war. They were based on rank. A private could claim 200 acres, ensign, 300 acres, up to 2000 acres for a Major General.[xvi]
We know that by 1773 Charles settled in the area. He was an assignee of Abraham Enlow for 400 acres. “These certificates were granted by Virginia as a result of the settlement boundary dispute between Virginia and Pennsylvania with the establishment of the Mason-Dixon Line. Pennsylvania recognized these titles. Abraham built a blockhouse for protection.” [xvii]He may have been here even earlier. A.O. Marshall, a descendant of Charles, states that Charles settled in Washington County as early as 1768 on a “tomahawk claim” of 400 acres. A tomahawk claim or right was notching the trees with an ax along the boundary. He later traded it to a neighbor, Thomas Atkinson, for other property.
When Charles settled on Ten Mile Creek, he had an enormous task of clearing the land for crops to grow and livestock to graze, building a house, hunting for food and keeping his family safe. The lands of Ten Mile were thick with vegetation. A minimum of 20 to 40 acres of cleared land was needed to feed a family of 5. His first house was probably a one-room log cabin. The fireplaces were big, 4 X 6 feet to be used for light, to cook and heat the house. As time went on and the family became larger the cabin was added to or another house was built and the original used as a storehouse. Neighbors helped neighbors. All members of the household worked for its wellbeing.
In the early 1770’s Thomas Atkinson built Fort Atkinson for protection from the Indians.[xviii]It was a place of refuge for families of that area from the Indians that frequently raided. The forts were stored with supplies. The firing of a gun at any house could be confirmation of a signal to alert the neighbors. Two shots meant signs of an Indian was seen and three shots meant Indians were sighted. It was very common to have a rifle close by as one worked in the fields. The fort or blockhouse was located on the North Fork of Ten-Mile Creek, adjoining lands of John and Thomas Atkinson and Charles Creacraft.[xix]The Ohio River was about 15 miles away. The Atkinson Fort was about two miles south of Dickinson’s Fort. The Atkinsons, Dickinsons, Cracrafts, Sheridans, Lucas and a few other families used the forts. Their land was equal distance between the forts.[xx]These forts usually consisted of cabins, blockhouses and stockades. The cabins formed one side of the fort and this is where the families lived most of the time. It was not until after the Revolutionary War that they built separate homes on their land. The outside walls were 10 to 12 feet high and the slope of the roof was inward. The floors were dirt. At angles to the fort was the blockhouse, which stuck out about 2 feet from the outer walls. On the side of the water source was a large folding gate. The walls of the fort had portholes. The whole thing was built without nails.[xxi]
Thomas Atkinson and Martha Cross had nine children. Two of them married Cracrafts. Eleanor married Charles sometime near 1775. Thomas Jr. married Charles’s niece, the daughter of his older brother, William. He and Sarah Bowel had five children; Mary Ann b. 1762, she married Thomas Atkinson Jr., and settled in Clark Co. KY; William b. 1769, he married Polly Hazelrigg and settled in Clark County, KY; Thomas b. 1775, he married Mary Manely and settled in Adams County, Ohio; and Basil b. 1779, he married Delilah Williams and settled in Fayette County, PA. They later moved to Union township in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.
Like most of the people of the era, Charles and Eleanor were farmers. The most common crops were grain, corn, wheat, oats, potatoes and flax. Each house had a small vegetable garden, which was tended by the woman of the house. A typical breakfast was corn mush, cheese and maybe some meat. The noon meal was the main meal of the day, which usually was stew. The dinner was bread, cheese and leftovers from the stew at supper. Meats and vegetables changed with the season because there were few ways to preserve foods. Later the settlers discovered that fruit trees prospered in the area. Apples, peaches and pears were kept in the cellar. Common drinks of the time were beer, ale and cider, usually brewed at home. Many pioneers feared water made them sick.[xxii]
Most families had cattle, horses, sheep, hogs and dogs. The cattle were used for dairy products and meat. Horses were used for muscle power; pulling plows and tree stumps out of the ground, hauling and transportation. Sheep were shaved. The fleece was cleansed, scoured, and spun by the women of the house. Spinning wheels made the fleece and flax into yarn or thread for a loom. This was woven into fabric. Nuts and berries were used to dye the cloth and then it was sewn into clothes. Some of the wealthier families bought stylish clothes from Europe. Dogs were used for hunting and warning for visitors.
He and Eleanor were blessed with 9 children all lived to adulthood, which was unusual for the times. Their first born, Martha was born in Finley Township in 1776. Nancy (Ann) was born in 1779. Margaret followed in 1781 and then Mary in 1782.
Like their parents, Charles and Eleanor’s children had little formal education. They learned and helped with everything at home. Reading and writing were taught at home using the Bible and then from newspapers when they became available. There was very little money. Bartering or the exchange of goods or services without the use of money was common. People made the most of what they had.
Each year Charles cleared more land for crops and constructed split rail fences.
According to his son, William, Charles was a self-made surgeon and physician. He had great success in curing wounds and fractures.[xxiii] Their farm was located on the waters of Ten-Mile Creek. The area originally was considered part of Donegal Township. In 1788 a petition was granted for the establishment of Finley Township.
The 1700’s were full of unrest for this part of the country, not to mention the everyday hardships families endured to survive. There were Indian attacks, the Virginia, Pennsylvania boundary dispute, Dunsmore’s war, and then the Revolution.
Between 1750-1780 both colonial Virginia and Pennsylvania claimed this land we call the northern neck of West Virginia and western Pennsylvania. Officially, it was frontier territory. There were numerous settlements and the pioneers became weary of the disagreement between the two colonies. They felt they had improved the land, defended their country from Indians and were ill-treated in courts of justice, militia laws and land affairs. They voiced these opinions in a petition to the Continental Congress for a new state called Westslvania. George, William and Thomas Atkinson and William and Charles Creacraft signed the petition [xxiv]. It was not until after the early 1780’s that the boundaries of Pennsylvania and Virginia were settled.
It was not enough for Charles to farm and support a wife and young daughter on the outskirts of civilization. Nor was it enough for him to protect his family and neighbors at Atkinson Fort against local Indian raids. Charles must have felt a need, a desire or possibly just plain determination to make his world a safer place to live. He volunteered on a number of campaigns against the Indians.
Not all Indians were bad, in fact, most kept to themselves; hunting, trading and making a living. Sometimes one or two would come to a pioneer home to trade or maybe steal livestock or food. However, every once in a while, a group would attack a pioneer family. The men would be killed and women and children would be taken and used as slaves. The killings were gruesome. When the Revolutionary War began the British incited the Indians against the Colonialists.
In the summer of 1777 Francis Bedle of Washington County, PA served one month as a substitute for Nathan Hathaway in a company of rangers under Capt. Cracraft. They were called out to protect the frontiers and were stationed at Jackson’s Fort.