War with Chief Cornstalk brought Col. Lewis and his motley army from Lewisburg…..through the Kanawha Valley in early October 1774, on their way to Point Pleasant and their appointment with history. They came by way of the Midland trail, now U.S. Rt. 60, the same trail said to have been chosen by prehistoric buffalo herds. The twisty, over-hill-and-dale older sections would tend to confirm that.
Some contend that the fracas Oct. 10, 1774, in which Cornstalk was trounced, was the opening battle of the Revolution. Others not. Whether or no, many of Lewis' battle-seasoned men fought on throughout the Revolution and were rewarded with grants of land after the victory for their patriotism.
One canny Dutchman, Capt. John Van Bibber, and relatives were with Lewis, whether motivated by patriotism, adventure or greed. As they went through, they were so impressed by the beauty and seemingly endless natural resources of the Kanawha Valley in forests, wildlife, inexhaustible species of oversized fish and rich bottoms lands for raising crops they asked that their grant of land be here. They were given more than 50,000 acres extending from Kanawha Falls westward towards Charleston and north towards Falling Rock up Elk River.
Their names have been all but forgotten, though they are immortalized in granite on the obelisk and other monuments at Point Pleasant Battlefield State Park.
Earlier, John Van Bibber had wandered over much of the eastern wilderness from Pennsylvania to Tennessee seeking a suitable place to settle and thoroughly enjoying his nomadic freedom. Through some misadventure, he lost his way and all his possessions including his survive-or-die flintlock rifle. That was not a very healthy situation—with Indians lurking everywhere, who were taking an increasingly-dim view of the invading hordes of whites—and with no way to slay game for a growling stomach. Just about to give up in despair, Van Bibber spotted smoke curling skyward from what could only have been a chimney. He was certain it was no Indian campfire. Charging through the underbrush, joy of joys, he found a pioneer cabin which was little more than a lean-to. Whooping and hollering—in English so he wouldn't be shot for an Indian—he greeted the inhabitant, who welcomed him only as a lonely pioneer and hospitable Southerners can do. The man introduced himself as Dan Boone, who fed and bedded Van Bibber, beginning a friendship lasting for decades.
Finally, Van Bibber felt he must take his leave, and Boone loaded him up with light trail food, probably including jerky and rockahominy, or parched corn, such as the Indians used, and forced upon him, against his protests, one of his prized flintlocks. It was a beautiful piece, with carved wood stock and fancy brass plating, plus a silver sight made by gunsmith, Michael Kimberlin, of whom research disappointingly fails to turn up any record.
It is entirely probable that it was the same weapon Van Bibber used at the Battle of Point Pleasant. It is also probable that several of Cornstalk's braves on the other end of it said, "Oh, that smarts," since the piece had a bore of about 60 caliber.
Back in West Virginia and the war over, Van Bibber built himself a cabin on his new land near Kanawha Falls. It is likely that his friendship for Van Bibber is what brought Daniel Boone to West Virginia, where he built a cabin near what is now the eastern city limits of Charleston, raised a family, and doubtless a bit of hell, as well as serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses as a representative from Kanawha County, albeit powerless and ineffective.
Boone was so angry at the inattention given the needs of Virginia's western counties, he probably sowed the first seeds of unrest and discontent, which eventually made West Virginia a separate state. In bull sessions with the Van Bibbers and other cronies in Charleston, he cursed the panty-waisted, lace-bedecked, powdered-wigged, perfumed, self styled aristocrats, who turned up their noses at the rough, smelly, deerskin-clad, uncouth, ignorant wilderness-breaker, whose name will be revered forever though theirs have been log forgotten. Boone was a practical-type aristocrat.
According to some old family records, Boone's son, Jesse, married one of John Van Bibber's younger daughters, Chloe. (Look out, here comes that same flintlock rifle again.) No it wasn't a shotgun wedding.
Years earlier, Chloe had been kidnapped by Indians and spirited off to one of their villages in Ohio. Her father, headstrong and determined as are most of his descendants, grabbed his rifle, mounted his horse
and began to search for her although he didn't have the vaguest notion which tribe had taken her or where. For 84 days he roamed and combed every Indian village in Ohio, the most likely place to look, since Cornstalk and his ilk had been driven across the Ohio River.
For some reason, known only to the Great Spirit, the Indians feared Van Bibber and let him come and go in peace as they did Boone. He kept a record of the time it took by cutting notches on a small stick attached with rawhide to his shot pouch and powder horn. Unaccountably, the twig was highly polished, possibly from his constant rubbing of it in agitation and grief as one would a worry stone today. Some over-imaginative descendents claimed the notches Redskins he had slain, but that is ridiculous, for he was no murderer and the notches are marked off in units of sevens or weeks. His persistence finally paid off. John found Chloe and brought her back home to West Virginia.
John later passed on the now-famous Van Bibber rifle to his son, Mathias, (Mathias was not a son of John, but a nephew through his brother Peter) reputed to have been one of the first sheriffs of Kanawha County, who scratched his monogram in the brass stock plate. He also did a bit of other scratching around and married Mariam Hutchinson. (This was Margaret Hutchinson, his second wife, whom he married about 1811 and they had no children). They only had two children: David, and a daughter, Felicity, (Felicity was a daughter of Margaret Robinson, first wife of Mathias) who married Moses Mann Hill, son of Spencer Hill and grandson of Francis Hill, oldest known member of that tribe in America. Doubtless you have heard of the West Virginia Hills? They are everywhere, for Moses and Felecity must not have had much to occupy their spare time—they only had 15 children, equally fertile.
Dividing the original 50,000 Van Bibber acres so may ways didn't leave a very big hunk for anybody, but their favored first born, names for another prominent Kanawha Valley landowner, George Washington, got one of the choicer pieces, George Washington Hill married Rebecca Jane Kendall, sixth great granddaughter of John Rolfe and an Indian lass named Amonate or Matoax or Rebecca—take your choice. You may also have heard about her by her tribal name of Pocahontas, which means Little Snow Feather. Indians were romantic!
So were George Washington and Rebecca Van Bibber (should be Hill). They begat nine younguns.
Major "Billy" Hill, another grandson of Spencer, inherited a vast acreage of the original Van Bibber holdings around Gauley Bridge and Belle Creek, said to be worth a million—quite a switch from the 10 cents an acre valuation when John Van Bibber got it.
It is said that on his deathbed Billy was frightened into leaving his property to some self-styled charitable organization or he would suffer the fires of damnation and hell. Relatives contested the will and litigation went on for half a century, meanwhile taxes and other fees nibbled away happily at the estate.
Eventually the estate was settled a few years ago in favor of the relatives who had proliferated algebraically with their own little private population explosion—oh, those West Virginia Hills—and the proceeds were divided—the more distant the relatives, the smaller the checks. The postage to mail them must have been frightful.
Two of George W. and Rebecca Hill's children: Antoinette, or "Pidge," and Owen Duffy (Duffy Street?), engaged in a little game of Monopoly and bought out, or otherwise contrived to get from the other children, most of their parent's property when it was whacked up.
Owen Duffy (O.D.) was an eccentric and took 3,000 acres-larger than many of West Virginia's beautiful state parks and forests—of the remotest area 15 miles up Blue Creek north of Charleston. He named it after his mother's family home, Old Kendalia, which in turn was named for her father, George Kendall, who married the fifth great granddaughter of John and Little Snow Feather.
O. D. Hill's nearest neighbor was two miles in one direction, and three in the other, mainly because he owned most of the land in between and because he was so gregarious.
"Pidge" was smarter and took her's along Elk River. She married the Rev. Christopher Bream Graham—thus the communities of Graham Station and Bream, just upriver from Charleston, and quite possibly Christopher Street in Charleston and maybe even Bream Memorial Presbyterian Church.
Mr. Bream was rather a modest and retiring man.
Their son, Will Graham, was fire chief of Charleston for many years.
The Rev. Mr. Bream was minister of a church that established a mission in Siam, now Thailand, and once had the distinction of entertaining the King of Siam here in Charleston. The King had come as a goodwill gesture of thanks for the church's work in his country. Bream got so nervous at the prospect of such an awesome guest he asked "O. D." what in the world to do. Duffy answered, "Feed him rice and rats! That's what he's used to eating back home." You see, Duffy was more worldly and widely-traveled than Mr. Bream and couldn't resist any opportunity to jest, though many took him seriously, because he never laughed or cracked up at his own jokes.
"O. D.," began his multi-hued career as a school teacher at the age of 18 in a one-roomer just about as far back in the sticks as one can get. He used a stand-up schoolmaster's desk so old that it looked like it came over on the Mayflower, was rejected and sent back to England. It was solid cherry, put together with wooden pegs and the legs had been turned on a foot-powered lathe. When it was exhibited once, knowledgeable collectors said they had never even seen a picture or mention of one like in 30 years of antiquing. In their opinion, it was a museum piece.
But one of O. D.'s prized possessions was Gen. Robert E. Lee's Colt pistol, patented in 1855 ('Marse Bob' had a grandmother by the name of Hill.) The Lee Colt bore the serial number 75302 and the same serial number was on all the various parts, which is rare. The pistol and its holster were passed down as Hill family heirlooms until they were stolen by a burglar in 1971. Anyone knowing of the present whereabouts of the stolen property, should contact the Charleston Police Department.
"O. D.," married Edna Laura Black of Gallatin, Mo. In 1898. (Remember Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury 1801 – 18?). She was a descendant of Mid Western pioneer stock including immigrant George Harden of Dublin, Ireland and Bathsheba Lightner (another good Dutch name) who was born in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, which kind of brings us full circle.
One of the Harden sons, Monroe, was killed at the Battle of Shiloh, and a granddaughter, Frances, served as secretary of the National Educational Assn., for many years. Another son married Ruth Vanderlip sister of Frank Vanderlip, who was the first correspondent to report the sinking of the Battleship Maine, opening gun of the Spanish-American War.
Some of Duffy's and Edna's children and grandchildren are still lurking around. Their firstborn, Irene, married Hugh B. Robins, MD, now deputy director of Pittsburgh's Health Dept., formerly of the Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich., and who served as city health commissioner of Charleston for many years.
Their son, Kendall Harden Robins, DS, is a painless driller in Battle Creek and confidant of the Kelloggs and Posts, since only their dentist knows for sure. Another son, Owen Hill, is a sawbones in Houston—the name of the state eludes.
Dr. Hugh's father was Joe E. Robins, Sr. also a physician, co-founder of National City Bank (now the Terminal Building at the corner of Capitol Street and Kanawha Boulevard), which was later merged to form one of Charleston's leading backs today. Joe was also president of the Kanawha County School Board for decades—J.E. Robins Elementary School on the West Side was named in his honor. No telling what other pies of endeavors he got into.
Dr. Thigh's sister, Madge, married Kemp Littlepage and their stone mansion is now headquarters for Littlepage Terrace housing development.
"O. D's" son, O. D. II, married Maple Wysong, architect for Charleston's Municipal Auditorium, the now-gone Ventura Hotel in Ashland, Ky., and other landmarks. Their son, O. D. III is with Ma Bell in Dayton Beach, and younger son, Dick owns a dog kennel in Ft. Myers, Fla.
The baby of O. D.'s family was born in St. Francis Hospital. His father's best friend was the Rev. Francis Merrill of Dunellen, N.J. The Hill neighbors had a model son Francis. Seven signers of the Declaration of Independence were named Francis, and, remember, a Francis was the earliest known Hill in America.
The baby didn't have a chance. They named him Francis.
He also suffered the indignity, long before the advent of Playboy, of having his picture in the nude printed on page 12 of the may 29, 1922, edition of the Charleston Gazette. The caption read:
"He's just had a bath, that's sure, and hasn't had time to dress, and he's learning to stalk Indians, maybe, just like one of his forefathers did it. His name is Francis B. Hill; he lives at Kendalis, W. Va.; his parents are Mr. & Mrs. O. D. Hill—and he is a direct descendant of Daniel Boone, (not through the Van Bibbers if he is) famous Indian fighter and at one time a sheriff of Kanawha County. Maybe he's trying to learn how Danny did it, even if he is only 20 months old."
Which proves that newspapers have been making mistakes ever since May 28, 1922.