by Mike Peters
Horace Greeley did not need to tell us to go west. From the time our ancestors landed on our eastern shores at places such as Plymouth Rock and Jamestown, there had been expansion westward. Some even entitled this westward movement Manifest Destiny--the belief that territorial expansion of the United States was both inevitable and divinely ordained.
For some reason there was a mass exodus of families from Franklin County, Virginia, just prior to the Civil War. Much of the migration was to parts of Virginia that would become West Virginia with the impending war. The populations of Boone, Fayette, Kanawha, McDowell, Mercer, Monroe, Raleigh, and Wyoming Counties grew as a result.
Franklin County researcher Otis Scott, who was the first to make me aware of the Franklin County exodus, wrote, "I cannot begin to come up with a reason so many families moving to West Virginia. It is sort of westward but you would expect people to move to Tennessee or the Ohio Valley. Would the farming lands there been that much of an improvement over Franklin? I am familiar with those parts of West Virginia, and they are similar to Franklin as far as the lay of the land."
Otis Scott continued, "I had read several accounts of the Brethren families in Franklin County and their moves to the west. They would normally send a couple of people west to scout out good and, I guess, cheap land and they would buy up large areas and then return to Franklin and lead the families to new settlements. I remember one story of up to 25 families leaving the Boones Mill area together to go to a settlement out near the edge of the Midwest. They named the community New Roanoke. Seems like it may have been Indiana. Those people really migrated together and they seem to have had a singular reason."
There seems to be no singular reason, according to our little study, for why our ancestors moved from Franklin to set up housekeeping in future West Virginia counties. What follows is my attempt at summarizing the reasons put forth by fellow researchers on the subject.
Employment and the dream of a better life seemed to be the most popular responses given for migration.
According to Jackie Sink Mygatt, "The stories my father tells, that were related to him by his grandpa, were that jobs were hard to come by and my ancestor went in search of same."
Patty Smith said her families came to the areas that are now Tazewell, Mercer, Wyoming and McDowell Counties. She speculated, "From some of the data I have on the Cockrans, they appeared to have owned quite a bit of land in Virginia.....But I think the children, sons in particular, moved on in hopes of free land grants and starting a new life for themselves."
Ed W., another researcher, said that "farming was the main way of making a living. All of the land was in use by the parents of these people. Since it took a lot a land to make a living, the only option was to go where there was available land."
June, a researcher from the Fayette County list, said some of her relatives migrated first to Monroe County and then on to Fayette County. She explained the second leg of the journey in the following manner:
"We were always told that our ancestors came to Beards Fork to work at the big 'ban mills,' that is the saw mills.....I have some photos from the timbering days. The size of the tree stumps is staggering. Three grown men could sit comfortably side-by-side on one, all facing the camera. The virgin forests our ancestors saw must have been a truly impressive sight! Needless to say, it is now difficult to find a tree more than about 150 years old in Fayette County and they are absolutely dwarfed by the trees I see in these photos."
Deanna, a Raleigh County researcher, continued on the subject of the timber industry:
"I was just thinking of a photo that I have of those immense tree stumps and what my great aunt told me before they discovered coal, it was timber that brought the people into Raleigh County. Big timber companies paid $1 a foot for trees. I'm sure that the lumber industry was part of it. Then along came coal."
Diane Kuras talked about a different kind of employment awaiting our ancestors. "I believe there were others from the area (Franklin County) who went to the Kanawha area, perhaps due to employment at the salt mines."
An excerpt from the book "Bullets and Steel, the Fight for the Great Kanawha Valley, 1861-1865," written by Richard Andre, Stan Cohen and Bill Wintz, reveals the scope of the salt industry:
"Kanawha Salines is a flourishing village six miles above Charleston. The salt works on the Kanawha are very extensive, employing over 3,000 persons in their operation. Near three billion bushels of salt is here manufactured annually which finds a ready market in the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky."
A shipping system of steamboats and barges transported the Kanawha Valley salt to neighboring states. Some of our ancestors found employment at the shipyards.
Gracie Stover spoke of the Morris family who owned shipyards in Kanawha County. Charleston was a main trade route on the Kanawha River, and the shipyards were a major mode of transportation of goods. "In fact, my ancestor Wiley Cooper," she continued, "is listed as a boatsman in one of the censuses."
"Evidently the Kanawha River was a focal point and a busy place before and after the Civil War. Shipping and the salt mines in Kanawha County were two of the reasons that West Virginia became so busy or such a 'target' during the war."
There was also mention of illegal employment. Cathy, of the Wyoming County list, talked about a professor at Clemson University who labeled early Franklin County as the "moonshine capital of the world" and said that there was constant expansion of its "trade routes into backwood areas."
After reading the previous paragraph Franklin County researcher Rhonda Palmer said, "Franklin County is still known as the 'moonshine capital' of the world as far as I know." Rhonda's father, songwriter Harold Milton Morris, Jr., wrote a song called "Franklin County Pride" which seems to illustrate her point. Included in the song are the following lyrics:
"I'm a farmer like my Daddy
running whiskey on the side
a tradition in our family
like our Franklin County Pride."
Another researcher, who I won't name for obvious reasons, said he visited Franklin County as late as 20 years ago and "brought back a pint of moonshine."
Peter Ramsey, a Franklin County researcher, said that our relatives may not have been seeking a better life but may have instead been running from a previous one. He explained in the following way:
"Some of the folks may also have moved west to escape the law. There are some cases of murder and bigamy in that list that I could relate and are perhaps others."
Because of the timing of the migration, we need to also consider the Civil War and the role it may have played. In a Civil War encyclopedia entitled "The Confederacy" is written the following passage:
"For Virginians who lived in what became West Virginia the Civil War was a painful experience. Many of them had strong ties to Virginia, but most of the 357,678 white residents, who were chiefly of English, Scotch-Irish, and German extraction, had an even deeper attachment to the Union."
Marsha Moses first asked the question, "Do you think that the people who migrated did so because of anti-slavery sentiments? But even as I ask my question, I remember that the area was still Virginia."
This is a very important point to consider, since West Virginia did not become a state until some two years into the war, in 1863. Gracie Stover expounded on this:
"West Virginia was Virginia when the Civil War began and did not become West Virginia until a couple of years later. The Civil War began in 1861. West Virginia became a state in 1863. In 1861, people didn't know West Virginia was going to become a separate state. Virginians in West Virginia did own slaves. In fact, slaves were used in the Kanawha County salt mines. They even had slave traders in western Virginia. Salt from Kanawha mines was shipped to Confederate troops."
Gracie continued, "I think in the beginning of the war, a lot of people still thought of themselves as Virginians and had Confederate sympathies. It was not so cut and dried that everyone in West Virginia was against slavery and the Confederacy, therefore, not a reason to move here."
A researcher named Malinda was one of those that took the opposite viewpoint and said, "I have read that the migration to West Virginia was precipitated by disagreement over both the slavery and secession issues. West Virginia being where the 'anti-folks' went."
Brock Robertson, a researcher from Yorktown, Virginia, explained, "One reason was the Civil War. West Virginia is supposed to have been made up of those who objected to slavery.....Virginians moved to West Virginia who did not want to be associated with slavery. I may have dates and timing incorrect, but again and again I have heard that West Virginia was created for non-slave-owning Virginians."
Crystal Bingham said succinctly, "I think the impending war had much to do with it."
Audrey Johnson sent an E-mail on the Perdues and Leffews in which she also mentioned her grandfather, James H. Goforth. His migration does not fit our criteria since it occurred a little later and since he was coming from Wilkes County, North Carolina, instead of Franklin County, Virginia. However, his case still deserves consideration. From Audrey's E-mail came the following:
"My grandfather was on his way to Wyoming to homestead when he saw my grandmother out sweeping her mother's porch. He turned to his friend with whom he was traveling and said, 'I am not going another step further. I am going to stay right here and marry that pretty girl.'"
James Goforth never did make it to Wyoming County. He married Nancy Catherine Perdue, and they lived in Brushfork, just outside of Bluefield in Mercer County. Seems love is a migration factor we also need to consider.
I would like to thank everyone who contributed to this endeavor. The list and summary could not have been done without their support. The final list of families that migrated from Franklin County contains some 80 surnames. The alphabetical listing is as follows:
Peters (2 lines)
Thanks for listening and as my Grandma Coleman used to say, "Ya'll come!"
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Revised 9 Feb 2001