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Chapter 131

The Chenoweth and Van Meter Ancestors of Pike Countians Fought Indians in Kentucky

THE MOTHER of Nancy Haycraft Vertrees and Mary Haycraft Chenoweth, of early Perry, was Margaret Van Meter, one of the famous colony that came out to Kentucky from Virginia during the Revolutionary War, and which comprised the elder Jacob Van Meter and his wife, and their sons, sons-in-law, daughters and daughters-in-law. Included in this group of Kentucky immigrants was the elder Samuel Haycraft and his wife (Margaret Van Meter), Jacob Van Meter, Jr., Isaac and John Van Meter, Rebecca Van Meter, John Gerrard and his wife (Susan Van Meter), Rachel, Aisley and Elizabeth Van Meter, and John Hinton and his wife (Mary Van Meter). There was also in the party a family of slaves belonging to the elder Van Meter.

John Hinton was drowned on the way in the Ohio river and his widow later married Major William Chenoweth and became the mother of Abraham, James Hackley and Jacob Van Meter Chenoweth of the early Perry settlement. Elder John Gerrard, one of the earliest preachers in Kentucky, as noted in a former chapter, was a victim of a surprise attack by Indians and his fate remains unknown to this day. The Van Meter families settled in the Severns Valley in Kentucky and most of them opened farms in the new land.

The Van Meters emigrated from Monongahela (called by the old folks "Monongahale"), floating down the Ohio river and landing at the falls of the Ohio in the fall of 1779. In 1780 the family established permanent abode in the Severns Valley, on Valley Creek, at the mouth of Billy's Creek; on the latter creek the elder Van Meter built a grist mill for corn and wheat and ran a one-horse distillery. The elder Van Meter continued to reside there until his death, which occurred November 16, 1798. He had been in the original constitution of the Severns Valley Baptist church, established under a spreading sugar tree in the Kentucky wilderness on June 17, 1781. His wife, his son Jacob, and his Negro man, Bambo, were also members.

Old Jacob Van Meter died in 1798 but descendants bearing his name are still to be found in every state of the Union. Many of them reside in Pike county, Illinois, for it was here that several of his grandchildren settled and raised large families, prominent among whom were the families of Vertrees and Chenoweth. The Van Meter descendants also intermarried and had large families. For instance, Mary Haycraft, daughter of Margaret (Van Meter) Haycraft and sister of Nancy )Haycraft) Vertrees, married her cousin, Jacob Van Meter Chenoweth of the pioneer Perry settlement, a son of Mary (Van Meter) Chenoweth, who was a sister of Margaret Haycraft and daughter of old Jacob Van Meter. Also, Joseph Vertrees, a son of Nancy (Haycraft) Vertrees, married his double cousin, Lucinda Chenoweth, daughter of Jacob Van Meter Chenoweth and Mary Haycraft, the latter of whom was a sister of Nancy Haycraft Vertrees and also a granddaughter of old Jacob Van Meter. Which is indicative of the mixed relationships in the Van Meter descent in Pike county.

Samuel Haycraft, Jr., writing in 1869, said that then the descendants of old Jacob Van Meter (his grandfather) amounted to at least 3,000 souls. Jacob, at the time of his death, left a large family of grown children, all of whom had large families, averaging nine to eleven children in each family, later descendants frequently exceeding this average. Haycraft relates that one of old Jacob's numerous grandsons became the father of his thirtieth child the night that he died.

Old Jacob Van Meter was buried on his own farm in Kentucky. His son, Jacob, Jr., procured a sand rock and fashioned it into a tombstone and on it cut in rough characters the following unique inscription:


The spellings in this rude inscription appear to be an attempt to give to the words the sound that old Jacob gave to them throughout his life. For instance, the spelling "yare" and "Vanmater" in the epitaph suggest the pronunciations which the deceased was said always to have given them.

"Therefore," says Haycraft, "let no man pretend to criticise it (the epitaph) or alter it. It is a jewel to me; so all mankind let it alone. It is the honest homespun epitaph of a good man and Christian, who braved all the perils of his day, honorable, kind, hospitable and generous, and truly a ‘patriarch'."

Jacob Van Meter was the great great grandfather of Mrs. Anna (Chenoweth) Dorsey of Pittsfield, and great great great grandfather of Mrs. Dot Dorsey Swan, publisher of the Pike County Republican; also the great great great grandfather of Miss Lillia and former Mayor Herbert H. Vertrees of Pittsfield, and of Mrs. Louise (Shoemaker) Butterfield of Griggsville.

At the death of the elder Jacob, the old Kentucky homestead was inherited by the son, Jacob, Jr., another remarkable man of those elder days. He was born in Berkeley county, Virginia, October 4, 1762, and at 11 years of age allied himself with the Baptist church, of which he became a towering pillar in the early days of Kentucky, to which region he emigrated with his father when he was 17.

Jacob, Jr., later sold the homestead to the Geoghegan family and then established his abode at the forks of Otter Creek, where he built a large stone house in which he resided until late in life. He died at the home of his son; John Van Meter, December 12, 1850 in his 89th year, leaving 13 children, the youngest upward of 40 years of age. He had been a member of the Baptist church for 78 years and for 45 years a deacon therein. Of his ten sons, seven were deacons in the Baptist church.

Three days before his death he led the services at the family alter of his son John. At the close he had to be assisted from his knees. Then he seated himself in a chair and repeated hymn after hymn from Isaac Watt's hymnal, hymns that the family had never heard him repeat before. He said that the Lord had refreshed his memory and brought to his mind the hymns he had learned sixty years before.

Haycraft paints the death bed scene as this great patriarch of the church went to his Maker. "The light! The light!" he exclaimed, as the end came. His daughter-in-law, at his bedside, supposing the light from the window disturbed him, offering to close it. "No, no," said he, waving his hand; "the glory of God fills the house; He has kept me in the hollow of His hand from a child." "Then," says Haycraft, "adjusting himself for burial, he closed his mouth and eyes, crossed his arms with his right hand upon his heart, and without a struggle or a groan and evidently without a pang, like a shock full ripe, was gathered to his Father. Thus lived and thus died the last survivor of the old pioneers of the church at Elizabethtown, a godly man and a shining light."

Mary Van Meter, mother of Jacob Van Meter, Abraham and James Hackley Chenoweth, and ancestress of all of Chenoweth descent in this region, was born in Berkeley county, Virginia (now West Virginia), February 11, 1757, the first-born of the children of old Jacob Van Meter. Mary's first husband was John Hinton (in some old records the name appears as David Hinton), who as we have seen was drowned in the Ohio river when the family was migrating from Virginia to Kentucky in the fall of 1779.

Mary had two or more children by her first husband, who were thus left without a father in the new land. Settling in what was then Jefferson county, Kentucky, which was then a county of Virginia, Mary, in the Indian troubles that ensued, became known in Kentucky annals as the Widow Hinton. She was in the thick of some of the Indian fighting that reddened the soil of Kentucky with the blood of white settlers. At one time, when Indian horrors were at their worst, her only male protectors were Squire Boone (then wounded), and his son Moses, a lad of 12. Squire was a brother of Daniel.

In 1781 we find the Widow Hinton at Squire Boone's Station on Brashear Creek, sometimes called "Painted Stone," near present Shelbyville, Kentucky. In April of that year, a band of Indians, led by the notorious white renegade, Simon Girty, attacked the station about sunrise one morning. Squire Boone, "in his shirt tail," and about ten or twelve others caught up their guns and rushed into the fields to cover the retreat to the fort of a work party that had gone out to put in the corn crop. Squire Boone was twice wounded in this affray, one arm being so badly shattered that it never fully healed. Girty was said to have boasted afterward of how, on this occasion, he "had made Squire Boone's white shirt fly."

In Boone annals is the following: "Indians became so troublesome that in Sept. 1781 it was resolved to abandon the station (Squire Boone's). All the families with the exception of Squire Boone's and the ‘widow Hinton's' -there was not enough pack horses to take them too-started off on Sept. 1781, but were ambuscaded by the Indians when 21 miles away and still 8 miles from Linn's Station. No men were left at Squire Boone's Station except Squire himself, still weak from his wounds, and his son, Moses, a boy of about 12. After Floyd's Defeat, which occurred on 15 Sept., the Indians followed them no further. A day or so later about 300 men from the Falls (Falls of the Ohio, where now is Louisville) and other settlements along the Beargrass, marched out, buried the dead, and went to the relief of Squire Boone's Station. They reached there probably about 17 September, and rescued the families of Squire Boone and Mrs. Hinton, together with the stock which had wandered back, and much of the plunder lost by the moving families."

In the late summer or early fall of 1779, Major William Chenoweth of Revolutionary War fame appeared on Pottenger's Creek in Kentucky and entered lands in then Jefferson (now Nelson) county, adjacent to present Hardin county, which grants had been issued by Patrick Henry, governor of Virginia. On March 5, 1781, Major Chenoweth was appointed administrator of the estate of John (or David) Hinton, deceased husband of Mary Van Meter. Later in 1781, Major Chenoweth married the "Widow Hinton." They became the parents of nine children, namely: William, Jr., Jacob Van Meter, Abraham, Isaac Calvert, Miles Hart, Hardin T., Letitia Van Meter, Ruth and James Hackley Chenoweth. Of these, Jacob Van Meter, Abraham and James Hackley came west and settled in Pike county, Illinois, in the neighborhood of Perry more than a century ago, being numbered among Pike county's most worthy and substantial, pioneers.

Their father, Major William Chenoweth, died April 16, 1828 at his home (which a few years ago was still standing) in Nelson county, Kentucky, near Dateville, and about ten miles from Bardstown, the county seat and scene of "My Old Kentucky Home." His wife, Mary Van Meter Chenoweth, died four years later, June 29, 1832. Both are buried at Wilson Creek Baptist church, built on land which Major Chenoweth gave to the church, which was organized in 1801. The graves of Major William and his wife are well preserved and marked with stones. Their home, a large stone house, and the spring, arched over with stones, where they kept their milk, were still in good condition only a few years ago.

It was Major William Chenoweth's and Mary Van Meter's granddaughter, Lucinda Chenoweth (daughter of Jacob Van Meter and Mary Haycraft Chenoweth) who married Joseph Vertrees, son of John Vertrees, Jr. and Nancy Haycraft, early comers to this section of Illinois.

Abraham W. Van Meter, a son of the younger Jacob, came west to Illinois and settled in Tazewell county in 1831. He had been born in Hardin county, Kentucky, two miles from Elizabethtown, April 1, 1789. His wife died in Tazewell county in 1866 and he then sold out and went to live with his son, Edward A. Van Meter, a merchant at Burlington, Iowa, at whose home he died November 11, 1868, in his 80th year. One of his daughters married the Reverend Doctor Weston, an eminent clergyman in New York City. His son, the Reverend William Van Meter, also of New York City, became known through most of the world for his labors in the Five Points, and later in the Howard Mission in New York city, where he gave much of his life to the salvation of little cast-off wanderers, securing for hundreds of them pleasant homes in Christian families here in the west.

From these brief accounts the reader perchance may envision something of the historic background of the Vertrees, Chenoweth and kindred families here in Pike county.