Profile of: WILLIAM B. DONNALLY

Profile of: WILLIAM B. DONNALLY

TOPIC

IDENTIFICATION: John VanBibber and Chloe Staniford Margery VanBibber and Andrew Donnally, Jr. VanBibber Donnally and Mary Boyd Waggoner William Boyd Donnally and Sally Ashton Cotton

History of Charleston and Kanawha County, West Virginia

    WILLIAM B. DONNALLY, a well known business man of Charleston, where he is engaged in the transfer and freighting business, and is also a dealer in grain and feed stuffs, was born in the Salines, on Kanawha river, this county, in 1851, a son of Van Bibber and Mary B. (Waggoner) Donnally.

    He is a great grandson of Col. Andrew Donnally, born in the north of Ireland, who came to this country about the middle of the eighteenth century, at which time there was a large Scotch-Irish emigration to the Valley of Virginia. This early ancestor soon became a prominent man in his locality, serving as high sheriff and county lieutenant, or military commander of Botetourt County. This office of county lieutenant, or military commander, was a very important one at that day and was borrowed from the Mother Country, where it was usually held by a person of rank. It carried with it also the title of colonel. Col. Donnally may have been one of the officers of Botetourt County at its formation in 1770. The fort called Donnally's was built in 1771 in that county. The colonel or county lieutenant was the person to communicate with the governor and the secretary of the colony, commanded the militia and presided at the county courts. He was appointed by the governor with the advice of the council and was generally the most prominent citizen. The office was held during good behavior. Col. Donnally was subsequently made county lieutenant of Greenbrier County and continued in that office under Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, the two first governors of Virginia. There is a story current in the family that he was with Washington's army at Valley Forge during the severe winter of 1777-78 and participated in the awful suffering of that period, but, however this may be, there is no further evidence of his being again with the Continental army.

    About this time, however, he had his experience of Indian warfare. The murder of the famous Chief Cornstalk by the whites, or rather, by some white men, for it was an act denounced by the best men on the frontier, had greatly exasperated the Indians and they retaliated viciously on the unprotected
    settlers. In the spring of 1778 they attempted to surprise and capture Fort Randolph at Point Pleasant, but failing in that, they turned their attention to Fort Donnally. The occupants of the fort were apprised of their danger in time by two men from Fort Randolph, who succeeded in eluding the savages. Col. Donnally, who had been absent, returned to the fort at night just as the enemy were investing it, but succeeded in entering it without being noticed. The attack which followed was disastrous to the Indians, who departed after suffering considerable loss. Four white men in all were killed, two while on their way to the fort. Among the defenders, Col. Donnally's daughter Catherine took a conspicuous part, though then but a young girl of twelve years. Another daughter, Katie, helped to mould the pewter plate and spoons into bullets and poured hot water through the puncheons on the heads of the savages. With perhaps one exception, this was the last raid of the Indians to the Greenbrier.
    Says a writer in the West Virginia Historical Magazine (Quarterly) for July, 1901: The responsibilities of Col. Donnally's position were very great and the work heavy. He felt personally accountable for the lives of the people in the wilds of the Greenbrier, Meadow Creek and Kanawha's rivers and their tributaries. The duties of his office called him constantly from home, but it seems that he was ever at hand when emergencies arose. That he was a man of great executive ability, history proves. Stories of his personal courage and great physical strength are too well known to admit of a doubt and his racy repartees became proverbial. . . . He had only 550 men in the militia at his disposal, for the defense of this western frontier. Governor Jefferson was now asking for some of these men to be sent to General George Rogers Clark to aid in his expedition against his Indians of the West. The Assembly also required of him more men for the Continental army * * * The public credit was at so low an ebb that no one would advance money. Ammunition was scarce. The militia must depend upon the corn tax levied on the settlers. Yet these brave men struggled on and fought for their country.

    Col. Donnally resigned his commission as military commander on September 19, 1781. It was not accepted evidently, as he writes officially to Gov. Patrick Henry in 1785. Col. Donnally was one of the trustees of Lewisburg at its establishment in 1782. He did not come to reside on the Kanawha until after the battle at Fort Donnally. He went directly to the mouth of the river and lived just above the present town of Point Pleasant for a year or more. He was one of those who denounced the murderers of Cornstalk, and on one occasion meeting with a man who boasted that he had fired the fatal shot that brought such desolation to the frontier settlements, he knocked him senseless with a stanchion, so that when he recovered he hastened away from the locality and was never more heard of.

    Colonel Donnally owned many negroes, one of whom, Dick Pointer, distinguished himself in the fight at Donnally's Fort in 1778. A son of the latter was taken prisoner by the Indians in 1790 and was made a chief by them. He subsequently aided the Americans in the war of 1812. Col. Donnally lived a short time at the mouth of the Elk after leaving Point Pleasant. Kanawha county was formed in 1789 and he was chosen the first representative. The population at this time however, was so sparse that but thirteen votes were cast, although the polls were open for three days. He again served his county as representative in 1803. From the mouth of the Elk he moved to his permanent home, about five miles above Charleston, on the south side of the Kanawha, where he lived in comfort and prosperity for many years. He died about 1825. He had one brother, whose descendants reside in New Jersey and Ohio. Of his own immediate family he had several daughters, who are represented by the Slaughters, Hendersons and Wilsons, now living here and elsewhere, and are prominently married and represented in the different professions and trades.

    There has scarcely been a period in the last century that this state, county or town was not represented by one of Col. Donnally's descendants, either directly or indirectly through marriage. The renowned Daniel Boone was neighbor for years to Colonel Donnally, residing on his place up to the time that he left for Spanish Missouri in 1799. Daniel's son, Jesse Boone, who was Colonel Donnally's brother-in-law, resided in his father's home until 1816, when he also went West. Colonel Donnally was one of the early salt manufacturers of the county, this industry being an important one at that time on the frontier, as salt, while one of the most necessary articles for the pioneer, was also one of the most difficult ones to obtain, except in the immediate vicinity of salt springs, where the salt was manufactured by the tedious process of boiling and evaporation. The Colonel and his wife were Presbyterians in religious faith. They died when between 60 and 70 years of age and were buried in what is now the old family plot, where many of their descendants have found a last resting place.

    They had a family of four or five children. Andrew Donnally (2d), son of the foregoing and grandfather of the subject of this sketch, was born in Fort Donnally, ten miles west of Lewisburg and, like his father, in turn became a prominent man in his community, owning about 100,000 acres of land together with 150 slaves. Together with a Mr. Ruffner, as the firm of Ruffner and Donnally, he owned and controlled the entire salt output of the county, this being the first commercial monopoly known in the history of the county. At one time he lived in Charleston, where he owned valuable property, though he and his wife resided for nearly half a century on the old homestead, which they improved and greatly enlarged in area. A Whig in politics, he was twice high sheriff, was clerk of the courts, and magistrate and a representative in the Virginia legislature. His death took place in 1849 when he was about 70 years of age. In 1802 he had married Marjory, daughter of Captain John Van Bibber, and they had six sons that arrived at maturity, besides two daughters. The sons married into prominent old families of the valley, and all were engaged conspicuously in business interests. The two daughters married respectively, Henry Fry, great grandson of Col. Joshua Fry, who commanded the Colonial army in 1754, and who had been prominent in Virginia history for thirty years or more, and Col. John Lewis, grandson of Gen. Andrew Lewis, the Indian fighter, and Colonial and also Revolutionary officer of renown. The members of this family, which numbered nine children in all, are all now deceased. Van Bibber Donnally, father of the subject of this sketch, was the eldest child of his parents. He was born in Charleston, W. Va., in 1809 and grew to manhood in Kanawha county. His literary education was obtained in a college at Athens, Ohio. Like his father, he engaged in the salt business and continued in it most of the time until the breaking out of the Civil War. He was an active member of the Democratic party and in religion a Presbyterian. His death took place in Buffalo, W. Va., when he had attained the age of 72 years. He had married in Mason county, W. Va., Mary B. Waggoner, a native of that county. She was born a little later than her husband and died later, at the age of 75 years. Like him she was a Presbyterian in religion. Their family numbered ten children, of whom there are five still living, one daughter being a widow and two of the children being yet unmarried. William B. Donnally, the date and place of whose nativity has been already given, was educated in the public schools, but endowed with a good brain and an energetic nature he has since largely increased his mental equipment in the domain of practical knowledge. Coming to Charleston in 1885 he established here the freighting and transfer business, of which he is now the head, and which has since grown to large proportions, giving employment to 25 people. A Democratic in politics, he was nominated for the office of sheriff and twice for county clerk, but this being a strong Republican district, he was defeated. Mr. Donnally was married in this county to Sallie Ashton Cotton, who was born in Charleston in 1858, daughter of Dr. John T. and Sarah (Fitzhugh) Cotton, one time residents in Ohio, but who were for many years prominent in the business and social life of Charleston, Va. Of this union there have been ten children, of whom two died young. The living are as follows: Sarah is the wife of L. L. Sheets and has one son, Donnally. John C., who was educated at Phillips-Exeter Academy, graduating also from the law department of the University of Virginia in the class of 1903. Frank Woodman died at the age of 9 years. William B. Jr., who is a well educated young man, is associated with his father in business. The other children, Henry Fitzhugh, Van Bibber, Dorothy, Fitzhugh and Robert, are attending the high school. Mr. Donnally adheres to the religious faith of his ancestors, being a Presbyterian, while Mrs. Donnally is an Episcopalian.

    History of Charleston and Kanawha County, West Virginia and Representative Citizens -- W.S. Laidley -- Richmond Arnold Publishing Co., Chicago, ILL. -- 1911 -- p. 387-390


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