James Chew (~1740 to ~1783)

Michael A. O’Neill
First published 2013
Last updated 4 April 2017
Seattle, King, Washington, USA

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James Chew was born in Orange County, Virginia, either the youngest or second youngest child of Thomas Chew and Martha Thompson Taylor. His birth date is commonly listed as 1745, but that date is probably too late.

First, on 5 June 1758, James witnessed a land transaction in Frederick County. Virginia law required that witnesses be at least fourteen years old, and while he could have turned fourteen in that year (i.e., born in 1745), it seems unlikely anyone would need a witness that young for something as common as a real estate transaction.

Second, in 1779, James gave witness to the military service of a Samuel Fry as a Ranger in the French and Indian War in 1758 and 1759. Virginia law required that men be over sixteen to serve in the military, so unless James was a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old camp follower he had to have been born at the latest in 1743, and probably a few years earlier than that.

Growing up a Chew

James’ parents were part of the Virginia colony’s upper crust, though perhaps not quite the crustiest of the upper crust. His father, Thomas, owned thousands of acres of land in Orange County, which in the 1730s and 1740s was essentially the frontier. James’ maternal grandfather had substantial holdings in neighboring Spotsylvania County.

Through his mother’s family, James was closely related to two U.S. Presidents: James Madison Jr. and Zachary Taylor.

James died before Zachary Taylor was born, but James Madison Jr. was another story entirely. James Madison Sr. built his home at the southern edge of his land, which bordered on the Chew plantation to the south. The Chews built their home at extreme northern edge of their land, meaning the two houses must have been only a mile or two apart, and shared a common road. It would have been an easy canter from one house to the other.

James Madison Sr. and Thomas Chew didn’t build their homes close together just so that their wives (who were sisters) could be near each other. Orange County was sparsely populated at the time, so the Chews and Madisons were probably the only families within miles: being close together not only meant society, it meant they could help defend each other in the unlikely event of a Native American raid. (Brant 1941)

That proximity also meant that James Chew and James Madison Jr. must have known each other closely. Separated by six to ten years (James Madison Jr. was born in 1751), the two may not have played much together, but they would have interacted across a decade of family gatherings.

James was also named godfather to James Madison Jr.’s youngest brother, Reuben, in 1771. (Chapman, Descendants of Ambrose Madison, the Grandfather of President James Madison, Jr. n.d.)


The Chews owned African slaves to help run their plantation, judging by:

  1. The fact that James’ father gave some of his slaves to his brother-in-law Ambrose Madison to help pay off a debt in 1774 (Chapman, Descendants of Ambrose Madison, the Grandfather of President James Madison, Jr. n.d.).
  2. His father’s 1782 estate inventory named nine slaves amongst his property.

While I can’t determine how reliant James’s parents were on slave labor when James was growing up, he certainly grew up with an intimate familiarity with the “peculiar institution.”


Judging by a few letters written by James that were preserved in General Edward Hand’s personal documents, James was clearly educated. His grammar and spelling may have been dated, but both were consistent and well developed (especially compared to that of other letters that Hand saved).

James Madison Jr. was sent to a private boarding a school several miles from home, (Brant 1941) and it’s possible that our James was sent to the same school.

Even more interesting are the similarities between James’s signature and that of his older brother, Joseph (20 years James’s senior). They both formed the “J” in their first names the same way, and had striking similarities in how they wrote their surnames: the two might even have had the same teachers.

Virginia culture

While James’s childhood was privileged, historian David Hackett Fischer wrote that James would have been subjected to two conflicting social stresses: a natural deference to social hierarchy conflicting with a cultural expectation of a strong, autonomous will.

Visitors commonly remarked that Virginians seemed to be exceptionally indulgent toward their children…

But growing up in Virginia was in some ways even more difficult than in New England. The culture of the Chesapeake colonies placed two different and even contradictory demands upon its young. On the one hand youngsters were compelled to develop strong and autonomous wills. On the other hand, they were expected to yield willingly to the requirements of an hierarchical culture. These psychic tensions took a heavy toll.

…[Y]oung Virginians at a very early age were actively encouraged to exercise their wills. Parents took pride in their youngsters’ childish acts of psychic autonomy. In 1728, a planter named Thomas Jones boasted that his infant nephew “struts around the house and is as noisy as a bully.” The same man expressed delight at the antics of his own two-year-old son, Tom Junior. A sister-in-law complained that little Tom’s wild behavior in the house was “enough to distract all about him except his papa, and to him I believe all his [son’s] noise is music.”

For boys, the regime of parental permissiveness commonly continued through childhood to adolescence. The German traveler Johann Schoepf observed that “a Virginia youth of fifteen years is already such a man as he will be at twice that age. At fifteen, his father gives him a horse and a negro, with which he riots about the country, attends every fox hunt, horse-race and cock-fight, and does nothing else whatever; a wife is his next and only.”

Boys especially were required to develop strong wills and boisterous emotions. Not to possess them was thought to be unmanly…

A primary goal of socialization in Virginia was to prepare the child to take its proper place in the social hierarchy. The child’s will was not broken, but in a phrase that Virginians liked to use, it was “severely bent against itself.” This end was accomplished primarily by requiring children to observe elaborate rituals of self-restraint. (Fischer, Albion’s Seed 1989)

One example of how children and young adults were socialized was dancing, which was taken so seriously that lessons from professional instructors could last for nine hours. Thomas Fithian who was hired as a tutor by a Virginia family, described one such dancing lesson conducted by a “sadistic martinet” of a teacher. (Fischer, Albion’s Seed 1989)

I observe in the course of the lessons, that [the instructor] Mr. Christian is punctual, and rigid in his discipline, so strict indeed that he struck two of the young Misses for a fault in the course of their performance, even in the presence of the mother of one of them!

And he rebuked one of the fellows so highly as to tell him he must alter his manner, which he had observed through the course of the dance to be insolent, and wanton, or [that he must] absent himself from the school—I thought this a sharp reproof, to a young gentleman of seventeen, before a large number of Ladies. (Fischer, Albion’s Seed 1989)

Dance was so important that even Virginia Governor Gooch used the dance as a metaphor for politics, saying there was “not a bad dancer in my government.” (Fischer, Albion’s Seed 1989)

Another topic was proper conduct. One English schoolbook widely used in Virginia listed ninety-six cultural axioms which students were supposed to memorize, ranging from “Despise not thy Inferiors” to “Approach near thy parents at no time without a bow” to “be not among Equals forward or fretful but gentle and affable” to “boast not in discourse of thy wit or doings.” (Fischer, Albion’s Seed 1989)

One of the earliest preserved writings of Chew family friend George Washington was a list of 110 “rules of civility and decent behavior in Company and conversation” that George was required to copy out carefully in his best handwriting. (Fischer, Albion’s Seed 1989)

Decline of the Chew family

While James was surely raised with these near-Stoic principles (and likely was a good dancer), his teen years and adult life were irrevocably altered by another of Virginia’s cultural norms. Virginia gentlemen weren’t supposed to take wealth seriously, they were just supposed to have it. Wessex Royalist Sir John Oglander wrote: “I scorn base getting and unworthy penurious saving, yet my desire is to lay up somewhat for my poor children.” (Fischer, Albion’s Seed 1989)

These same cultural norms required a gentleman to be generous and open with his finances (Fischer, Albion’s Seed 1989). Thomas co-signed promissory notes for two friends, and when the deal turned sour he was responsible for a portion of the debts. As James’s brother, Joseph, put it in a 1797 letter, their father “once was possessed of a very large Property which he unfortunately lost by becoming security for two persons for a large amount who failed.”

As part of his will, Thomas deeded the Chew family’s primary estate to James and his brother Samuel as tenants-in-common. James sold his share of the joint tenancy to his cousin, friend and colleague James Madison (Sr.), but with the requirement that Madison dedicate a portion of the property to support his parents until they passed away. (Smith n.d.)

A 1772 letter to Madison from friend and attorney Edmund Pendleton lays out the curious nature of a joint tenancy–as long as Samuel Chew passed away before Madison did, the future President would completely own what remained of the Chew plantation.

The French and Indian War (1754-1763)

James was only ten when an Anglo-French war was fought around the globe, including along the frontier between France’s vast Louisiana Territory and England’s colonies along the Atlantic Coast. With two older brothers, Larkin and Coleby, in service to His Majesty in that war—one under the command of Chew family friend Col. George Washington—it must have been a daily reality for James and his family.

James’s older brothers did not escape that conflict unscathed.

In May of 1754, Larkin—who served as a Lieutenant in Col. William Byrd III’s Second Virginia Regiment—had his elbow shattered in battle with the Cherokee by a musket ball. The injury left his arm permanently disabled. In 1762 when Larkin petitioned the House of Burgesses for a pension for his disability, he also cited the loss of two horses, baggage, money and evidence of his brother Coleby’s debts, which Larkin had paid off after his decease.

Coleby—who was a Lieutenant with the First Virginia Regiment under Col. Washington, died during England’s second disastrous assault on Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh) in 1758.

As the war was drawing to a close in 1763, James was in his late teens and old enough to serve. According to several secondary sources, James served in the Frederick County, Va. militia at the end of the war, where he met and became friends with Zackquill Morgan and Jacob Prickett.

When the war ended, France ceded its claims to the Ohio River Valley to England. While King George III forbade settlement in the region to preserve peace with the Native American tribes (stationing regular British forces in the colonies to protect the frontier was extremely costly, and became a cause for the Revolution), the only thing that had stopped English settlers from moving in before the war were well-armed Native Americans backed by the French. Without that French support, the tribes had more difficulty destroying the settlements of English squatters, and the frontier began to open up (at least south and west of the Ohio River).

The relationship with Prickett and Morgan—both twenty year’s James’ senior—was life changing. Prickett knew Virginia’s Appalachian frontier well, operating an Indian trading post along the Monongahela River as early as 1759. All three decided to take advantage of the French withdrawal and crossed the Appalachians to the Monongahela Valley. They were some of the first white settlers to make their homes in the vast Mississippi River watershed.

Marriage and family

James married Mary Caldwell sometime in the 1760s. The couple had at least three children together:

  • Coleby (1768-1817), who married Rebecca Reese and had at least two children. Coleby is listed as James’ heir-at-law in a 1789 West Virginia land transaction.
  • Andrew (1770-1827), who married Anna Mariah Barthist and had six children, including Thomas Chew.
  • Joseph (1775-1848), who other family researches believe married Elizabeth Thomas and had several children.
    Other family researchers suggest that the couple had two more children, though I have found no documentary evidence of either:

Many secondary sources list two more children, though there is little, if any, evidence to prove these two were James and Mary’s children.

  • James (1775-1827).
  • Sarah (1783-1870).

Settling the Monongahela Watershed

In the mid-1700s, Virginia’s settled area did not extended into the Appalachian Mountains.

James’ grandfather, James Walker Taylor, had been party to an expedition into the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1716 with the goal of opening settlement further west, but the pace of Virginians making the move was slow. Geography favored settlers from Pennsylvania and Maryland, who could follow river valleys through the mountains, rather than over them. Moreover, sporadic violence with Native Americans made most settlements tenuous and temporary affairs at best.

Zackquill Morgan

Zackquill Morgan

In 1766, Zackwell Morgan, David Morgan and Jacob Prickett settled on land along the Monongahela River in what was then Augusta County, Virginia. Today, that land is near the town of Rivesville in Marion County, West Virginia. The area is just south of the border with Pennsylvania, but at the time, possession was in dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia, and wouldn’t be formally settled until 1779 when the colonies agreed to set their border along a line surveyed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon.

Morgan and Prickett’s land claims were surveyed by James Chew, who settled land adjacent to his friend Jacob Prickett. Prickett’s land was, in turn, adjacent to that of their mutual friend, Zackquell Morgan.

Morgan, Prickett & Chew weren’t the first whites to settle in the area: Thomas Decker and some others attempted to settle several miles northwest and across the Monongahela in the fall of 1758 near a stream now named Decker’s Creek. It was smack in the middle of the French and Indian War, and nearly everyone in the Decker settlement was killed by Native Americans the following spring.

Years later, James actually purchased a portion of Decker’s land from his daughter, Susannah. James later sold that land to James Lemasters, who in turn sold it to Zackwell Morgan, who founded the city of Morgantown on it.

The primary documentary evidence of Morgan, Prickett & Chew’s immigration to the area came from the deposition of a Col. William Crawford, who served in the area from 1758 until he was burned at the stake by Native Americans in 1782. Specifically, Crawford testified that “Zachel Morgan, James Chew and Jacob Prickett came out in that year [1766], and [he] was informed by them that they had settled up the Monongahela; that he has since seen Zachel Morgan’s plantation which is on the south side of the line laid by Mason and Dixon; and that he believes that to be the first settlement made in this country.” Crawford added that in the years following 1766, “a considerable number of settlements, he thinks near three hundred,” were made “without permission of any commanding officer.”

Land transactions

Monongahela MapAfter the Revolution started, the Crown’s poorly-enforced prohibition on settlement in the Virginia backcountry no longer held force, and Virginia began to take steps to allow squatters like James, Prickett and Morgan to take legal possession of the land on which they lived and worked.

In 1776, the western part of Augusta County was partitioned into Ohio, Yohogania and Monongalia Counties, establishing procedures to normalize land usage. Even then, few whites lived in what had been a buffer zone between English colonies and Native American hunting grounds. With a population of 5,580, Monongalia County had less than a person per square mile. In contrast, Wyoming, the least densely populated state in the Union today, has nearly six people per square mile. Oregon has forty people per square mile, and New Jersey–the most densely populated state in the Union today–has 1,196 residents per square mile.

In Now and Long Ago: a History of the Marion County Area, Glenn Lough captured a high-level view of James Chew’s land purchases and sales:

James Chew’s original Monongahela River lands, stretching from near Little Creek to near White Day Creek, were sold by Chew to Isaac Prickett, probably Jacob Prickett’s brother, and others, before 1772… In 1770, James Chew made an original settlement on Big Bingamon Creek (see Harrison County land records); and in the same year he was living on land in (now) Morgantown. James Chew came to own thousands of acres of land in old Monongalia County. His last know home (settlement) was adjoining David Morgan, down the Monongahela, opposite his original settlement at near (now) Catawba.

There are records of James purchasing over 11,200 acres of land (~17.5 square miles) in what was then Monongalia County. I have attempted to identify the creeks on the map.

  • 1770
    • 1,000 acres on Aaron’s Creek originally farmed by Conrad Crouse, and assigned to James by Conrad’s widow.
    • 1,000 acres on Decker’s Creek, originally farmed by James Russell.
  • 1772
    • 1,000 acres adjacent to the lands of David Morgan and acquired from John Miller, Jr.
  • 1773
    • 400 acres along the Salt Lick Creek and acquired from John Miller, Jr.
    • 400 acres along Buffalo Creek acquired from Joseph Tomlinson.
    • 400 acres along the Monongahela acquired from Joseph Doddridge.
    • 1,000 acres acquired from Joseph Fanshear.
    • 1,000 acres along Salt Lick Creek acquired from George Cochran
    • 1,000 acres along Salt Lick Creek, acquired from Thomas Haymond.
  • 1774
    • 400 acres along Stone Coal Creek, acquired from Charles Washburn.
  • 1775
    • 1,000 acres along Scotts Run, acquired from Josiah Hawkins.
    • 1,000 acres along the east side of the Monongahela and opposite the falls, acquired from Jacob Hall.
  • 1776
    • 1,000 acres acquired from Robert Farrell.
  • 1780
    • 1,000 acres along Salt Lick Creek upon which James Chew built a cabin in 1773.

Why so much land? Without gasoline-powered farm equipment, clearing 17.5 square miles–about the same area as my home, Redmond, Washington (pop. ~60,000)–would have been a monumental task for one man in the late 1700s. And forget about farming it. If James had owned large numbers of slaves, that could explain it, but plantation slavery didn’t take hold in West Virginia. And while it’s possible that James brought a slave or two across the Alleghenies, any more would have made the cabin he built in 1773 unbearably cramped—he already had three children by then.

Settling frontier territories presented a big financial challenge. The government “owned” vast tracts of land, but it didn’t have the human resources to allocate that land to settlers (who typically had no capital whatsoever for purchase).

To simplify, there were two approaches to matching demand for arable land with supply.

The first was to give the land free of charge to families that had squatted a farm, investing their labor over several years to improve the land. For Monongalia County, 400 acres was offered in pre-emption to anyone who made either a “Tomahawk” or “Corn” claim. And if the claimant had some capital, they could purchase up to 600 additional acres of land.

The second was to sell vast tracts of land—often millions of acres of it—to investors who would form land companies, survey their holdings, and bear all the financial risk of parceling it out to farmers. Those investors might either sell land in small enough chunks that your average yeoman could buy it, or rent it out to those without any capital at all.

James pursued a middle strategy. He didn’t have the financial resources to become an investor in the big land companies, but he wasn’t poor either. His neighbors in Monongalia County–while able to meet the requirements to claim land via improvements–may have needed liquid capital for a variety of reasons. James had enough capital that he could purchase the land claims of others, and then rent that land out in smaller parcels to new arrivals (or even sell it).

And as clerk to the first land commissioners in the area, he also knew how to work the system to guarantee that his pre-emption claims were granted.

Life on the Appalachian Frontier

Va-pa-borderThe Virginia frontier wasn’t much more than log cabins and game trails. A young man who grew up in the area described it:

“We had no publick roads nothing but paths leading from one cabbin to another and of course no publick mail no newspapers to inform us how our friends were coming on… All we heard was from travelers or from our own people returning from Beyerstown or from Winchester.”

Joseph Doddridge–who was born in 1769 and moved to the Monongahela River Valley in 1773–wrote decades later about life as a pioneer in the Virginia backcountry (in effusive and flowery prose):

“One prominent feature of a wilderness is its solitude. Those who plunged into the bosom of the forest left behind them not only the busy hum of men, but domestic animal life generally. The departing rays of the setting sun did not receive the requiem of the feather songsters of the grove, nor was the blushing aurora ushered in by the shrill clarion of the domestic fowls. The solitude of the night was interrupted only by the howl of the wolf, the melancholy moan of the ill-boding owl, or the shriek of the frightful panther… The day was, if possible, more solitary than the night. The noise of the wild turkey, the croaking of the raven, or the woodpecker tapping the hollow beech tree, did not much enliven the dreary scene…”

In addition to the solitude, Doddridge also complained of the bugs:

“[The streams] produced innumerable swarms of gnats, mosquitoes and horse flies. These distressing insects gave such annoyance to man and beast that they may justly be ranked among the early plagues of the country.”

Pioneers often came in the early spring, leaving their families behind. As a team, they would help each other build rudimentary log cabins for each family, and then plant a first crop. They probably wouldn’t clear much land beyond the trees used to build the cabin, instead stripping a wide patch of bark on tree trunks, which would kill the trees and let in enough light for the crops to grow. Then they would make the roundtrip back to fetch their families before winter. (Core, The Monongalia Story: Prelude 1976)

The ideal site had a spring for drinking water, and close access to a creek or stream both to water for animals and to provide the larger amounts of water needed to run the homestead. They would also pick land based on the trees growing there. Ash and sugar maple indicated rich soil, while chestnut trees suggested poor, acidic earth. (Core, The Monongalia Story: Prelude 1976)

They didn’t bring much on their packhorses—just a few metal tools, sewing kit, and kitchen pans that they couldn’t make themselves. A couple of axes, a hoe, the metal edge of a plow, some knives, a hammer, a saw, and chisels & augers were the few tools needed. For the kitchen, some cast iron pans, a cooking pot on legs, a Dutch oven (also on legs), and maybe some metal forks and spoons. More important were a few cows, along with seeds for squash, pumpkin, potatoes and, most important, corn. (Core, The Monongalia Story: Prelude 1976)

Before winter, the family would also need to construct some additional buildings to house their cows, horses and pigs; store corn and grain; and cure meat. A “cave” would also need digging out to preserve fruits and vegetables for the winter. (Core, The Monongalia Story: Prelude 1976)

Agriculture was for subsistence, not commerce. Every cabin would have an acre or so for a garden. The forest itself provided additional food sources, including wild plums, persimmons and crabapples (the last probably used to make hard cider and harder alcohol). Nuts were communally harvested in the autumn in a “party-like atmosphere.” Maple sap was collected for syrup in the spring. (Prickett’s Fort Memorial Foundation n.d.)

With less than a person per square mile, hunting and wild game was also a major source of protein. High quality pelts were also the only good that could be easily sold for hard currency, or traded for manufactured goods (such as new metal tools and kitchen implements). The high costs of transportation made small, easily transportable, high-value items the only saleable good from the backcountry. Beavers and otters were both hunted almost to extinction for their pelts. (Core, The Monongalia Story: Prelude 1976)

The residents of an area often banded together for mutual defense from Native American raids by building log forts. They didn’t need to be particularly sophisticated—it just required log walls thick enough to stop musket balls, and high enough to make it hard to scale. If there was sufficient warning, you had a few minutes to gather up your weapon and most valuable tools before running for the protection of the fort.

Forts were also the economic hubs of the region, where peddlers would sell goods brought from the coast, and purchase pelts to take back. With neighbors often a mile or more away, forts were also one of the few places where young men and women had a chance to meet and flirt.

Privately built forts carried the name of their primary owner first—e.g. Prickett’s Fort—while military forts were named with “Fort” preceding the name—e.g. Fort Henry. (Core, The Monongalia Story: Prelude 1976)

The typical home was a log cabin, which was actually a new introduction to colonial architecture brought by immigrants from the Scots-English border in the early 1700s. It wasn’t the logs that distinguished the cabin. It was the cabin itself: (Fischer, Albion’s Seed 1989)

Rectangular walls enclosed a single room in which an entire family lived together. The floors were usually of hard-packed dirt. The walls had a few simple openings for windows, and doors were placed on both the front and the back walls for quick exits. Some of these structures had a firepit and a hole in the roof; others had a rough open fireplace on the gable end. (Fischer, Albion’s Seed 1989)

In Ireland, timber was hard to find, so cabins were built of turf. In Scotland, they were made of stone. In the colonial backcountry, logs just happened to be the cheapest and easiest material with which to build a cabin (turf didn’t stand up to the heavier, less frequent rain). They were also quick to build, taking only a few days to cut down trees and put up a basic structure. (Fischer, Albion’s Seed 1989)

Backcountry cabins had a standard size. Many were between sixteen and seventeen feet long. This dimension had been common in Northern England, where it was taken from an old unit of measure variously called a rod, lug, pole or perch. (Fischer, Albion’s Seed 1989)

If you needed more space, you just built another cabin, possibly connecting it to the first via a covered walkway, or by having them share a wall. (Fischer, Albion’s Seed 1989)

James would have come to the backcountry with different ideas of how to build a home—middling farmhouses in colonial Virginia were frame homes built of clap boards, sometimes with an attic or half-story above the two main rooms. Like cabins, they didn’t have foundations, but unlike cabins, they were raised a few feet off the ground on supports and had wood floors rather than packed dirt.

The only thing the two shared in common was the use of clay to seal gaps in the wooden walls.

That said, James followed backcountry culture, and his pre-emption claim for 1,000 acres along Salt Lick Creek noted the cabin he had built there.

A change of cultures

James grew up in one culture–the Cavalier culture of the Chesapeake Bay–but spent most of his adult life living in another.

The Appalachian backcountry wasn’t settled by Cavaliers like James–the descendants of southern English nobility. According to historian Fischer, the frontiers of the 13 colonies were settled by people who had lived along both sides of the border with Scotland, and experienced low-grade warfare for a millennia.

Had James stayed in Tidewater Virginia along the Chesapeake Bay, he would have lived in a world where eligibility for political participation was based on birth; where religious dissent was kept to the margins by the Church of England; and violence was institutionalized by your place in the social structure (i.e. violence committed on those below you in the hierarchy was permitted, but severely punished when one struck their social betters). (Fischer, Albion’s Seed 1989)

The frontier was a place of refuge for religious dissenters, where taxes supporting the Church of England were waived to support settlement (and probably also to encourage religious dissenters to live elsewhere). The low population density also meant that you couldn’t just ride to a service of your denominational choice on Sunday. Instead, ministers rode circuits, traveling by horse along waterways, stopping to preach every dozen miles, then moving on. If James wanted to attend religious services (or have a child baptized), he would have to settle for the minister who was there, no matter what his denomination. (Hurt 1998)

It was also a place where violence was common, but your place in the hierarchy had nothing to do with who could assault whom. Instead, it was more egalitarian, with an eye-for-an-eye, Hatfields-vs.-McCoys flavor. You needed to band together with an extended clan for protection, and for James, the core of his “clan” was probably the Morgans and the Pricketts. The biggest difference was that, instead of the Scots and English conducting border raids against each other, it was between Native Americans and white colonists. (Fischer, Albion’s Seed 1989)

Additionally, slavery wasn’t a regular feature of the Appalachian frontier—few people had the money, and agriculture was more about subsistence than commerce. The industrial-scale tobacco plantations of the coast required the kind of efficient transportation to reach other markets in Europe that just didn’t exist along the Monongahela River (the easiest port to reach by water was New Orleans via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers). Slavery never took hold in West Virginia: in 1863, the state seceded from Virginia and the Confederacy, and joined the Union.

However much of Cavalier culture James may have retained, though, his children and grandchildren were part of the frontier.

Lord Dunmore’s War

In 1768, the Iroquois signed the Treaty of Fort Stanwix with the English establishing the Ohio River as the boundary between the colonies and Native American territory. The Iroquois didn’t have the authority to represent the Shawnee, Delaware and Cherokee tribes that shared the land north of the Ohio (what is today the states of Ohio and Indiana).

For several years, the situation remained—for lack of a better term—normal. Raiding parties from both sides regularly crossed the Ohio River, but the conflict was low-key. In 1773 and early 1774, however, the violence accelerated, with attacks on colonists in Kentucky and the Monongehela River Valley, and on Native Americans near present-day Steubenville, Ohio. The Steubenville attack was the catalyst, as English colonists killed several relatives of Seneca-Cayuga Chief Logan.

Logan’s retaliatory attack in late May of 1774 prompted both Pennsylvania and Virginia to escalate the conflict.

In May of 1774, Virginia Governor John Murray the 4th Earl of Dunmore, decided to press his colony’s claims along the Ohio—and his focus may not have been limited to Native Americans. The Pennsylvania colony had rival claims to the Ohio River Valley, and Dunmore’s two-pronged attack made his motives suspect: while one portion of his forces moved into Ohio to attack the Seneca-Cayuga, the other (commanded by Dunmore himself) marched to Fort Pitt (present-day Pittsburgh), which Captain John Connolly had left largely undefended so he could press the fight in Ohio.

The combined forces of Connolly and Andrew Lewis (Dunmore’s first prong) invading Ohio changed the view of previously neutral Shawnee Chief Cornstalk, who decided to close battle with the English at Point Pleasant, Ohio on 10 October 1774. Both sides brought a thousand men to the fight, but while the English suffered disproportionately higher casualties (75 English killed and 140 wounded, as compared to just 40 dead from Cornstalk’s forces), the Native Americans retreated across the Ohio.

Nine days later, Cornstalk and Dunmore signed a treaty where the Shawnee ceded all hunting rights south of the Ohio, and agreed not to harass traffic on the Ohio River. Chief Logan—who had initially escalated the fighting—agreed to a ceasefire, but refused to attend the treaty talks.

The Monongalia County militia served in Lord Dunmore’s War. In addition to Lt. James Chew, Captain Zackquil Morgan’s company was chock full of Morgans, Pricketts, Lemasterses and other surnames that appear regularly in primary sources related to James Chew. That said, I can’t find evidence showing whether Morgan’s company marched with Lewis or Dunmore.

The Revolution

When fighting broke out in New England in 1775, the rest of the colonies were quick to join, both in words and in action.

The Ten-Thousand Name Petition

Ten-Thousand-Name Petition p223 - ZoomThe summer of 1776 is most famous for the Declaration of Independence signed in Philadelphia. But the colonial legislatures were equally active.

On 12 June 1776, the Virginia House of Burgesses adopted a Declaration of Rights which was a precursor to, and model for, the Bill of Rights. Included in that Declaration was a clause challenging the establishment of a state religion, specifically the Church of England which was dominant in Virginia.

“That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love and charity towards each other.”

Having a state religion wasn’t just a matter of religious freedom: all Virginia residents except for pioneers paid taxes to support the Church of England. If you weren’t a member of the Church of England, you almost certainly made contributions to your own church on top of those taxes. Those financial disincentives—combined with the heavy socioeconomic impact of being a religious minority—made the frontier attractive to dissenters. The Appalachian region where James lived was a major refuge for Baptists.

As news spread, the residents of Virginia—especially religious minorities—made their voices heard. On 16 October 1776, a petition supporting the religious liberty clause was submitted to the House of Burgesses with over 10,000 signatures, an astonishing 2.5% return for a colony with roughly 450k non-slave inhabitants (US Census Department 1970). The petition read:

To the Honorable the President and House of Delegates the petition of the Dissenters from the ecclesiastical Establishment in the Commonwealth Humbly Sheweth.

That your petitioners being in common with the other Inhabitants of this Commonwealth delivered from British Oppression, rejoice in the Prospect of Living their Freedom secured and maintained to them and their posterity inviolate. The hopes of your petitioners have been raised and confirmed by the Declaration of Independence.

Honourable House, with regard to equal Liberty. Equal Liberty! that invaluable Blessing which, though it be the Birthright of every good Member of the State, is what your Petitioners have been deprived of; in that by taxation their property hath been wrested from and given to those from whom they have received no equivalent. Your Petitioners therefore having long groaned under the Burden of an Ecclesiastical Establishment beg leave to move your Honorable House that this as well as every other Yoke may be Broken, and that the Oppressed may go free that so every Religious Denomination being on a Level, Animosities may cease and that Christian Forbearance, Love and Charity, may be practiced towards each other, while the Legislature interferes only to support them in their just Rights and equal Privileges. And your petitioners shall ever pray.

One of the signatories from Loudon County (northwest of Alexandria and west-northwest of Washington, D.C.) was a James Chew. If this was our James Chew, it’s unclear whether James lived in Loudon County, was visiting family. The faded signature on the petition, though, is all but identical to those on military papers known to be associated with the James Chew of our focus.

What religion did James Chew practice?

James’ signature on the petition raises an interesting question about the Chew family’s religious history. John Chew, the progenitor of the Chew line in North America, may not have been a member of the Church of England like the majority of Virginia residents, and his sons Samuel and Joseph both married Quakers. John may have been a Quaker or a Puritan, and some have hypothesized that John’s less harsh treatment of his slaves stemmed from his religious beliefs. I don’t know whether John’s religion—whatever it was—was passed down the generations to James. But even if James was an Anglican, the family memory of being a religious minority may have played a role in James choosing to sign the petition.

The Ohio frontier in the Revolutionary War

By the time of the Revolution, Warfare with Native Americans, had a well-established model. It wasn’t about trying to engage the enemy’s army in a battle that would be to their disadvantage, or of capturing strategic assets. It was about maintaining a buffer zone, and ideally pushing it back a little bit.

Native Americans would raid in to hit English settlements, burning crops, stealing livestock, and killing a few people (Native Americans had learned the hard way that the English would kill women, children and the elderly, and adopted the tactic in retaliation). The goal was to terrorize the settlers and encourage them to find safer (but more costly) pastures further away.

Colonials didn’t have the same fixed targets—no farmhouses or livestock pens—so finding a Native American camp and killing civilians was the ideal option. By instilling terror, they would encourage the Native Americans to hunt and camp out of range from easy raiding.

In 1777, the darkest year of the American Revolution, Gen. George Washington said “Leave me but a banner to plant upon the mountains of West Augusta and I will gather around me the men who will lift our bleeding country from the dust and set her free.” West Augusta had only become the counties of Monongalia, Yohogania and Ohio a few months before.

Historian Hu Maxwell estimated that nearly one-third of Monongalia’s fighting-age men joined the Continental Army. (Maxwell n.d.)
But the Revolutionary War wasn’t just fought in the thirteen colonies. The French and English had long used Native American tribes as proxies, and the English began supplying and arming Indians in the Northwest Territory (Ohio, Indiana, etc) so they could conduct raids into the colonies, forcing the Continental Congress to divide its forces. The rest of Monongalia’s adult men had to organize to defend lands that would never see British redcoats.

In December of 1776, Virginia governor Patrick Henry ordered that the frontier leaders get prepared for defense, and in late January of 1777, frontier leaders, including James’ friend Zachwell Morgan, met to organize the militia. Records show that James server as a Major under the command of Colonel Thomas. Gaddis.

In the summer of 1777, rumors of an English-instigated Native American attack on Fort Henry, fueled by low-intensity raids from across the Ohio. Virginia Governor Patrick Henry wrote to General Edward Hand stationed at Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) that he had Henry’s permission to raise the militia in the counties of Yohogania, Monongalia, Ohio, Hampshire, Botetourt, Augusta, Dunmore and Frederick. (Thwaites and Kellogg 1912)

Hand raised the militia, but that was about it. James appears to have been active, based on correspondence saved by Hand, but as you read a summary of the events of 1777, it may seem confusing and without any real narrative. And that’s because there really wasn’t a coherent story to tell, or military expedition to document.

On 19 July 1777, James took the testimony of two spies who saw tracks showing Native American activity.

A month later, on 25 August 1777, James and Captain Pigman marched with 100 men for Fort Henry at Wheeling—the militia was gathering for potential late summer and early fall operations (which never got off the ground).

James may have been involved in action against fellow settlers at Redstone Creek who had declared for King George. It’s not clear if James was actually there, but his commanding officer, Colonel Thomas Gaddis, co-led the expedition with James’ friend, Colonel Zackquill Morgan.
The militiamen James commanded were likely comprised of frontiersmen with experience in frontier raiding, but there were also militia men who had never seen a Native American in their lives (Kellogg 1917). On 26 September, Captain William Foreman led thirty-four of these less seasoned militiamen on a two-day patrol around Fort Henry. The expedition wasn’t on orders: Col. David Shepherd wrote that “the party… went not at my request or order but from motives of their own, as they were tired of being cooped up in the fort, idle” (Kellogg 1917). As they were returning the following day, forty Wyandot troops ambushed the men near McMachan’s Narrows about eight miles away from Fort Henry. James was ordered to document the outcome of the attack, writing to his commander, General Edward Hand, on 3 October 1777 that he found twenty-one “brave fellows, Cruelly Butcher’d, Even after Death.” (Thwaites and Kellogg 1912)

James raised another concern to Hand in that letter, something that was a challenge for every militia commander during the war: “the Monongalia Militia Will Return in about Ten or Twelve Day, As they were Raised only for the Intent of Burying the Dead.” (Thwaites and Kellogg 1912)

James Chew SignatureSeven days later, on 10 October 1777, James sent another letter to General Hand in response to Hand’s orders for the militia to take some now-unknown action:

“the Task you have injoind on me is almost, beyond my abilities. The Militia I Have with me was only Raised for One Month, and that Time is past, about Ten or Twelve days, nothing is more inconsistent than Militia, when their Time Or Engagements are at an End.” (Thwaites and Kellogg 1912)

By the 21st of October, James wrote a third letter to General Hand saying:

“I am at a loss to know, What I am to do As the Monnongalia Militia, have left this Fort, indeed, my Leaving Fort Henry was Owing to the Impatiance of the Men to get other Cloaths, and fit themselves out Should Occasion Call them again this Fall, which I Heartily Hope it will be the Case…” (Thwaites and Kellogg 1912)

The only reference I have found showing James near combat was in a letter of the same day, where Archibald Steel wrote:

“[the] militia Left this at 10 of the Clock on Sunday Evening. yesterday they Stoptd at Logs toun [Logstown] in the morning where they met with two or three Indians, which By all accounts Defeated the whole Party killd one and wounded one. Magor Chue hapned to Com to them Just after the Indians fired and fled. He found the whole Party So alarmd that he Could Not get one Man to assist him to Surround a Cornfield where they though the Indians were.” (Thwaites and Kellogg 1912)

James made no disparaging remarks about the militia’s conduct in his letter to General Hand about the same incident.

But the real event for James from 1777 was a minor Tory conspiracy culminating in the drowning death of one John Higginson, who was in cuffed and in custody at the time. James’ friend Col. Zackwell Morgan was transporting the Tory prisoner with four others, and was charged with wilful murder. With Morgan temporarily stripped of command until he could be tried, morale with the militia evaporated. James, writing to his ultimate commander, General Edward Hand, for assistance in clearing Morgan, opined “I know the people there well, and am sensible that it is not in the power of any other man but Col. Morgan to march them.” (Thwaites and Kellogg 1912)

James’s assessment was too mild: his colleague, Captain Jesse Pigman, attempted to free Morgan by force in the summer of 1778 (Core, The Monongalia Story: Early Pioneers 1976).

Morgan was eventually acquitted in 1778.

That was about it for 1777 though: General Hand ordered the raising of a militia force to enter Native American territory, but to no avail. On 3 November 1777, all the county militia leaders, including James, met and submitted their opinion to General Hand that, with winter setting in, the local militia could not raise more than 400 men within the vast territories of Monongalia and Yohogania counties. (Thwaites and Kellogg 1912)

About the same time, the commander of Fort Randolph arrested two envoys from Chief Cornstalk of the Shawnee who were responding to a request to negotiate. Cornstalk’s son arrived to negotiate the envoys’ release, but Fort Randolph’s commander, Captain Matthew Arbuckle, refused, insisting that Cornstalk come to negotiate personally. And when Cornstalk arrived, Arbuckle arrested him, hoping to use them all as hostages to bargain with the Shawnee, the largest tribe in the Ohio still friendly to the colonists, and the least likely to respond to English enticements to go to war. (Nester 2004)

On 10 November 1777, a militiaman under the command of Captain John Hall was killed just outside Fort Randolph. Hall was enraged—the dead man was a relative—and charged into the fort with his men. They shoved aside the men guarding Cornstalk, and killed the Chief, his son (who had come the previous day to check on his father’s health), and the two envoys. Arbuckle’s hostage taking and Hall’s murders pushed the last friendly Native American tribe into the hands of the English, and guaranteed an active 1778. (Nester 2004)


While there were many Native American raids in 1778—often with children being the only victims—the biggest loss of life was at the Battle of Dolls Run, when Native Americans surprised a party of men returning from the fields. Eighteen pioneers were killed, most in the first musket volley (Core, The Monongalia Story: Early Pioneers 1976).

In another incident, the mother of one branch of the extended Morgan clan was captured with several of her children. Tied to a bush near Prickett’s Fort while her captors looked for more horses, she managed to untie herself with her teeth, free her children, and make her way to the safety of the fort (Core, The Monongalia Story: Early Pioneers 1976).

Very few new settlers arrived in 1778 judging by the small number of pre-emption claims. Many more retreated east for greater safety, some even crossing the Alleghenies.

Back in Philadelphia, General Washington and the Continental Congress were deeply displeased with the lack of any retaliatory expeditions from the Virginia militia. General Hand was relieved, and Washington reassigned elements of the 13th Virginia and 8th Pennsylvania regiments from his command to the Monongahela backcountry. Those regiments had been raised from the area, and would likely fight even harder for their homes.

Hand was replaced by General Lachlan M’Intosh, who had orders to attack Fort Detroit. Before Lachlan even arrived at Fort Pitt, however, his orders were changed to attack Shawnee villages along the Scioto River, a tributary of the Ohio.

M’Intosh arrived at Fort Pitt in early August 1778, and only began to assemble his troops in September and October. The 1,200-man army—including Colonel Thomas Gaddis and his deputy, Major Chew—finally started their march on 4 November 1778. By 18 November, muddy trails and frozen nights had limited their progress to just seventy-seven miles—less than six miles per day. It was only halfway to their destination, but it was as far as they would get. M’Intosh ordered his troops to build a fort for the friendly Delaware and Moravian Indians living nearby, then on 9 December 1778 turned around and marched home.

The return trip took just four days, the men quadrupling the distance they covered each day. (Nester 2004)


In the summer of 1779, the Morgan family was threatened again. This time, it was the family of David Morgan, Zackwell’s brother and one of James’s neighbors. One afternoon, David awoke from a dream where two of his older children were attacked by Indians. David picked up his musket and raced to his cabin, where he spotted two Native Americans hiding in ambush of his teenage children. Morgan screamed out a warning to both children, and then managed to kill both Native Americans in the subsequent affray. The family was living in nearby Fort Prickett, so it’s not clear why the teenagers were back at the family’s cabin.

It wasn’t just the family of David Morgan that stayed in the local fort. During the summer when raids were more frequent, most families spent the summer in the forts. Calling it “a-forting,” accommodations were scarce—nearly everyone lived out of doors. While the crowding may seem oppressive today, most people lived miles away from their neighbors, so this was a unique opportunity to socialize. Rye whiskey was regularly sampled, and for children, it was probably just one big party.

The worst story from 1779 was that of the Bozarth family. Several of Mrs. Bozarth’s children were killed in her sight during a brief, three-minute attack. Mrs. Bozarth was unable to come to her children’s rescue, being occupied with axing to death several attackers looking to take her life. Historian Glenn Lough believes that Mrs. Bozarth was assisted in defense by Elias Prickett, a brother of Jacob Prickett.
Continental forces did almost nothing in response, though not for lack of trying: even a coordinated expedition under a new commander, Daniel Brodhead, was only able to find abandoned villages and old tracks. (Nester 2004)


The winter of 1780 has been estimated by historians as the worst of in 18th century North America. Contemporaries recalled later that the snows fell early, and reached depths greater than two feet. In 1886, the Morgantown Post printed recollections of that winter, saying that wolves and panthers—normally shy of humans—came directly to the cabins during the day to scavenge for bones and other food refuse. Rivers and creeks froze, and no rain fell, forcing residents to melt snow for drinking and cooking water.

1780 saw a few Native American raids, but nothing compared to the previous years.

News from James’ Brothers

In 1777, James’s eldest brother, Joseph, had taken a commission with the British Army, and had been captured by Continentals.

Then, on 4 March 1778, another brother, Samuel was killed in hand-to-hand combat while commanding the brigantine Resistance in an engagement with a much larger British vessel.

There was no regular mail service to Monongalia County, so if James heard either piece of news, it may have been months after both events, possibly even longer. Judging by a letter Joseph wrote his son in 1797, Joseph didn’t even know whether James had any children, so it’s possible James didn’t hear of either event.

The end of James’ military service?

After the 1778 campaign, there isn’t any further record of James’ military activity. I suspect that he resigned his commission to take a new job in 1779: clerk to the Lands commission which had just been created to formalize ownership of lands that had been settled in the previous years.

James also decided to throw his hat in the ring, and run for election as a delegate for the House of Burgesses representing Monongalia County. He won.

The 1780 session of the House of Burgesses

The 1780 session began in late spring, and in a new location. Rather than continue at Williamsburg along the coast (an easy target for the Royal Navy), the capitol was moved inland to Richmond.

While serving as a delegate, James voted on a number of resolutions.

For example, on 31 May 1780, James voted for a bill giving county sheriffs the ability to convene a grand jury, as well as adjusting the allowances of members of the House of Burgesses.

He also voted on 11 July 1780 to defeat an amendment which would have prevented the Governor of Virginia from declaring martial law in case of invasion.

In June of 1780, James’ election was called into question, and brought to the committee of Privileges and Elections along with that of one Wilson Miles Cary. The Journal of the House of Delegates of the State of Virginia doesn’t explain why James’ residency was challenged, though the accusation does at least support my thesis that James had business interests, and possibly even kept a home, back in Frederick County. If he had removed his family from the frontier after the attacks around Prickett’s Fort, this could have served as the basis of the accusation that didn’t actually reside in Monongalia when elected.

The committee noted that “Mr. Chew, is a justice of the peace and militia officer, for the county of Monongalia, where he hath resided the greater part of his time, and hath not a freehold in any other county.” The committee concluded that “Mr. Chew, was a resident of the county of Monongalia, at the time of his being elected a delegate to represent the same in this present General Assembly.”

Mr. Cary was not so lucky: the committee resolved that he did not meet the residency requirements, and could not serve.

James also had some trouble making the autumn session, which was supposed to begin on 16 October 1780. After two weeks of not having quorum, the House Sergeant-at-arms, on 30 October 1780, was empowered to take into custody those members not present, including James. He must have arrived before 3 November 1780, however, as he was not in the list of members to be taken into custody that day (either that, or he was excused for health or other reasons). He may also have left that session early—on 23 December 1780, the Sergeant-at-arms was again ordered to take James into custody along with dozens of his peers. Those attending were so angered by their peers’ non-attendance that they resolved to “publish the names of members who shall absent themselves in future, from their duty in the House at this critical juncture, without leave; that the calamities which will probably ensue upon leaving our affairs deranged, may be attributed to the authors of them.”
Beyond these housekeeping issues, two interesting matters came up in the 1780 term.

Continental currency depreciation & inflation

continentalmoney-1On 22 June 1780, the Burgesses held a vote to comply with an act passed on 18 March 1780 by the Continental Congress to devalue Continental currency (known as Continentals) to 1/20th their face value—which was double what the bills actually worth on the open market. In theory, a Continental could be exchanged for a Mexican silver dollar (a.k.a. Spanish milled dollar), but at best you would need forty Continentals to buy a single Spanish milled dollar (assuming you were lucky enough to find someone willing to make the exchange). State currencies were worth even less—Virginia’s dollars were worth 1/1000th of a Spanish milled dollar. (Doty 2003)

In 1775, the Continental Congress passed a law to issue $2 million in paper currency exchangeable for specie (Spanish milled dollars) in 1782. Each of the twelve colonies in rebellion (Georgia was then loyal to the Crown) would back the currency with four annual payments of real Spanish milled dollars totaling $2 million.

But the war machine needed substantially more funds, and as one member of the Continental Congress put it “Who will consent to load his constituents with taxes, when we can send to our printers and get a wagon-load of money, and pay for the whole with a quire of paper?” Within eighteen months, $25 million in currency had been printed. Nearly ten times that had been issued by the end of 1779, with $200 million still in circulation (the States were supposed to destroy any currency used to pay taxes). It didn’t help that the British in New York injected large amounts of counterfeit currency into the economy, further reducing confidence. (Lossing 1863)

Benjamin_Franklin_nature_printed_55_dollar_front_1779Continentals were no longer an effective currency, and the 18 March 1780 act killed the currency, effectively wiping out the value of every Continental in circulation. In the end, those wagonloads of money became a tax, as the goods and services the Continental and State governments purchased with Continental currency turned out to have been effectively donated to the war effort.

Benjamin Franklin wrote of the economic impact:

With this paper, without taxes the first three years, they fought and baffled one of the most powerful nations in Europe. They hoped, notwithstanding its quantity, to have kept up the value of their paper. In this they were mistaken. It depreciated gradually. But this depreciation though in some circumstances inconvenient, has had the general good and great effect of operating as a tax, and perhaps the most equal of all taxes, since it depreciated in the hands of the holders of money, and thereby taxed them in proportion to the sums they held, and the time they held it, which generally is in proportion to men’s wealth. Thus, so much of the public debt has been, in this manner, insensibly paid that the remainder does not exceed six millions sterling… In the meantime the vigor of their military operations is again revived, and they are now as able, with respect to money to carry on the war as they were at the beginning, and much more so with regard to troops, arms, and discipline.

Of course, old Continentals could be exchanged for new Continentals at a rate of 40 to 1. And in 1786, the new Continentals would be convertible to Spanish milled dollars plus 5% interest. The new currency never took off, however, and with the war ending in 1781, the economy switched back to specie.

But James wasn’t just voting on the devaluation of the currency. The 18 March 1780 act also required that the States pay $15 million in specie into the Continental Treasury each month for the remainder of the year. The bill passed, but James voted “Nay.” I don’t have an indication of why he voted that way—he may have been objecting to the confiscatory results of depreciating the currency, to the new payments Virginia would need to pay, the continuation of paper scrip in any form, or some combination of the three.

An oath of loyalty

The other interesting piece of legislative action that session was an oath that the entire legislature agreed to take, including James. The exact words were:

I, A.B. do solemnly and sincerely declare and swear, or affirm, that the State of Virginia is, and of right ought to be, a free, sovereign and independent State; and I do forever renounce and refuse all allegiance, subjection and obedience to the King or Crown of Great Britain. And I do further swear (or solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm), that I have never, since the Declaration of Independence, directly or indirectly, aided, assisted, abetted, or in anywise countenanced the King of Great Britain, his generals, fleets or armies, or their adherents, in their claim upon these United States; and that I have ever since the Declaration of Independence thereof, demeaned myself as a faithful citizen and subject of this or some one of the United States, and that I will at all times maintain and support the freedom, sovereignty and independence thereof.

It’s hard to imagine that, five years into the Revolution, there would remain concern of Royalist sympathies in the legislature of Virginia, a state which was the financial and military heart of the Revolution. Still, the act and the oath suggested a deep fear of spies for the Crown at every level of Virginia society.

Considering that James’ eldest brother, Joseph, remained loyal to the Crown, it’s likely that many of James’ peers in the House of Burgesses also had old friends and close relatives with whom they were now at war.

An early death?

According to secondary sources, James died in early 1783 (probably a few weeks before 27 January 1783) on his property near Catawba, West Virginia, and was buried in Prickett’s Fort.

There’s no primary source evidence to support the dates or the place of burial. James does appear as a purchaser at an 18 November 1793 estate sale in Berkeley County, but this could easily be his widow. He doesn’t appear again in the documentary record until 27 January 1803, when a fragmentary probate record shows up in the Berkeley County.

According to the 8 December 1790 will of his brother-in-law, Andrew Caldwell, James’ widow, Mary was living in Berkeley County, West Virginia (which is 90 miles northwest of Washington, DC). Andrew left to his sister the cabin and ten acres of land in which she lived on his property. Andrew (who appeared to have been childless) also made cash bequests to his nephews, Coleby and Joseph Chew. Upon his wife’s decease, Andrew Chew was to receive all of his lands not otherwise disposed of.

I suspect that James always maintained a residence around Berkeley County, probably close to the Caldwells, the Morgans and other family friends and former military comrades. The challenge to his residency in the House of Burgesses–and specifically the language that he owned no other freehold outside Monongalia County–implies that he was residing elsewhere in 1780. His signature in the Loudon County section of the Ten-Thousand Name Petition from 1776 suggests the same: Loudon County is adjacent to Berkeley County. Finally, probate hearings are almost always carried out in the county in which the decedent resided (though there are exceptions), and James’ estate was settled in Berkeley County.

I believe he died in Bunker Hill, Berkeley County, and is either buried in a now-forgotten family graveyard, or in the graveyard of Morgan’s Chapel–founded by the father of his friend Zackquill Morgan–and located in Bunker Hill on land owned by his brother-in-law Andrew Caldwell.

In 1790, Mary must have been at least fifty years old, and was probably five or so years older. I can find no records of her death or burial, but contrary to what most other family historians indicate, she died after 1790, rather than in 1783.


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Chew, Joseph. 1797. Quebec.

Core, Earl. 1976. The Monongalia Story: Early Pioneers. Vol. II. VI vols. Morgantown.
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