The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge


By Philip T. Perdue © 1988

Issue: April, 1988

In the spring of 1872, Mary Ann (W) Perdue, widow of Eli (Elias) Perdue, and her children moved to what is now called "Dogtown" [Floyd County, Virginia] from Franklin County. They moved into a log cabin about a mile east of Mount Olivet Baptist Church, in Roanoke County and toward what is now Blue Ridge Parkway.

This cabin is near Mill Creek. She had with her all the living members of her family, except Margaret Ann E. who had married Thomas J. Turner in the early spring of 1870 when the family lived on the Bluestone River in Mercer County, West Virginia.

The Turners chose to remain in Franklin County. The immediate cause of the move was for Thomas De Witt (he was then 23), her oldest to obtain work for Peter Siner at the mill. This mill was located in a gap on Mill Creek about a mile southwest of Mount Olivet Church. Mount Olivet Church was located in a grove of white pines by the main Roanoke-Floyd road, now US 221, and on the Roanoke-Floyd County Line. At one time a one-room country school was located across the highway on the west side - all the education these families got was at this school.

"Dogtown", as the area came to be called, was a country road, unpaved, that led down Mill Creek to what was then called "Carr Falls," so named for the two families of Carr's who owned all the land around the falls. This junction of Bottom and Mill Creeks is now called "Twin Falls", and is the head waters of the south fork of Roanoke River. The old road was only passable with a single wagon and a team of mules until long after the turn of the century. In fact, by 1930, a T-model Ford had to carefully dodge the rocks in the middle to keep from dragging bottom.

Peter Siner (born 1818), built the mill around 1840. It was originally a white pine overshot water wheel with "Brushy Mountain" stones to grind grain. After 1900, an iron wheel was used and a saw mill added. By that time, corn meal was sold in "dry goods" stores and trade fell off in corn and other grain. The old dirt road wound sharply down Mill Creek and ended in a park-like grove of white walnuts at the falls. A steep footpath led down to the falls and on down the river, through the laurel thickets.

Tradition has it that there was a trail down this river through the laurel thickets called a "runlet bag" trail. A runlet was 2.5 gallons of whiskey, usually in two jugs to be carried on a man's back through the woods. This was considered all a man could carry for 10-15 miles through the woods into Shawsville on the south fork of Roanoke River.

At one time there lived in this settlement two families of Carrs, the Harvey Deweese family, Peter Siner and his wife Elizabeth, the Bondurants, the David Wood family, the James Brown family, and four families of Perdues (Mary Ann, Robert E. "Bob", John William W, "Bill", and Thomas De Witt "Witt"). These people are buried in three cemeteries in "Dogtown", but their families have scattered, except "Bob" Perdue's family, who still own a lot of the land in the settlement. Mary Ann Perdue moved there with nine of her ten children:

Thomas De Witt, who married David Wood's daughter Mary Rachel in 1876; "Ace" Ignacious Mark who married Elmira Palmer in 1876 - "Ace" was named after Mary Ann's brother but he was never called Ingacious; Mary Adeline who married William Henry "Button" Carr in 1878; John William (W) "Bill" who married Octavia D. Carr (cousin of "Button") in 1883; Joseph Leland who married Lucy F. LaPrad of Franklin County in 1882; Lidia Parta, who married Floyd W. Gearhart in 1877; Robert who married Hattie K. Helm in Christiansburg in 1884; and L. Emma Ada who married Obey Fountain Hunt in 1882. Mary Ann (W) Perdue died in 1888 and was buried in the little cemetery on the hill near the old mill, many miles from her husband's grave.

Most of the family lived close to the old homeplace for many years. In 1891, J. Leland quit farming and built a store near what is now Bent Mountain Post Office, about two miles north of Mount Olivet Church and before you get to "Needmore." He planted an orchard of pippin apples on the land and built a cabin. His business was good until 1910, because it was on the main road. In 1910 he bought a brick house on the main road - the old Tazewell Price place - and 100 acres of land. He planted part of this in orchards and bought a 60 acre orchard as well. By 1912, he sold the store and that orchard, and the other orchard by the Price place also. In 1912, he and Lucy moved to the Tazewell Price farm and retired, becoming influential in the Ironside Baptist Church. The couple had four children who died in infancy and adopted a daughter Ida Ruth in their later years. In the late 1920's it was not unusual for him to feed 35 people at Sunday dinner. The couple was active in the Baptist Church at "The Head of the River" in Floyd County, which was the head waters of New River.

The widow, Mary Ann (W) apparently got very sick and traveling to Floyd in April 1877, deeded all her property to Lydia Patra in return for being looked after in her old age and for Lydia to look after the two minor children - James Benjamin (W) and L. Emma Ada. Mary Ann recovered and in the fall of 1877, Lydia (15) married Floyd Gearhart, a farmer. Mary Ann moved in with "Bob" Perdue in the cabin on Mill Creek above the dam, living another eleven years. Ace and his wife Elmira (Palmer) in 1876 moved to a farm near Shawsville. "Little Jimmy", James B.W. and his wife Hattie K. (Helm) moved to Shawsville and ran a saloon. Finally Louise Emma Ada married Obey (Obediah) Fountain Hunt in 1882 and moved to a farm on Back Creek.

How did this widow come to be in Floyd County? With the observation that not all the movements of this old family are known, we will trace some of them. William Perdue, a French Huguenot, sold his 240 acre land patent on Sapony Creek in Chesterfield County to his brother-in-law Thomas Marcum in 1759. Joining with his brother John and several neighbors: the Belchers, the Baileys, the Blankenships, and perhaps the Smiths and Hales, they formed a caravan and travelled west on the Byrd trail. They traveled down what is now New Boston at the Dan River fords. There John Perdue, several of his grown children, some of the Belchers, and some of the Baileys crossed over the Dan into North Carolina. The remainder traveled up the Roanoke River toward "Wood's Gap" now in Floyd County. When they nearly got to Wood's Gap, they found that the Indians were on the war path in the New River area (their original destination). They (most of them) turned north and temporarily settled in what is now Franklin County on the Blackwater River.

Historians assume Meshack Perdue met and married James Dillon's daughter Eleanor (Nellie) Dillon about 1775. It is also possible Meshack moved with the rest of the Chesterfield settlers around 1765 to Wolfe Creek, at the west side of East Mountain and helped his father build a mill on Mill Creek, near the present city of Pearisburg. During "Dunsmore's War" (1774), most of the western settlers moved back to the Blue Ridge, and Franklin County, since Wolfe Creek was on the main hunting trail of the Indians. David Emmons Johnston in his "History of the New River Settlements" (Commonwealth Press, 1906) writes of many incidents of settlers being killed and scalped. It could have been during this time Meshack married Eleanor and Peter Blankenship married Jemimah Perdue, but no marriage records have yet been found. Meshack and William Perdue and several Blankenships, including Peter, all joined Captain John Taylor's Militia Company, then based at Fort Chiswell (1777).

By 1784 most of the Baileys, Belchers, Perdues and Blankenships were back of Wolfe Creek, but William Perdue, around 1787, moved to the Bluestone River in what is now Mercer County, West Virginia. He homesteaded nearly 1000 acres and built a mill on what is now Mill Creek. The rest of his family married in what was then Montgomery County and most of them moved to the five mile fork of East River. They all had large families, except Phoebe who married Joseph Hare, the Huguenot patriot and Indian fighter. They had only one child, William H.

Meanwhile, in Franklin County, Meshack and Eleanor had ten boys and one girl. By 1800, Meshack was urging the older boys to move west and take up new land. After Zachariah, the second son and third child of Meshack and Eleanor, was drafted into the War of 1812, and after his return in 1816, he and his wife Elizabeth (Coon) moved to the Bluestone River. Five of Meshack's other sons moved to Sumner County, Tennessee about the same time.

Zachariah had all his family with him - four boys and three girls. For some reason, between this time and the Civil War, Zachariah and his two younger sons - David King and Eli(as) tried to buy up the land that William (Zachariah's grandfather) once homesteaded. William was dead by then. Everyone knew that the coal in that area would one day be valuable but this didn't happen until after the railroads were built, about 1885, after most early settlers had sold the land. Since these people were illiterate, David King Perdue bought 900 acres with a coal exclusion. Silas Perdue, Meshack's grandson, bought 100 acres from Zachariah and had the only coal contract in the family. David King Perdue worked all his life as a farmer and shoemaker in Tazewell Courthouse and bought and sold land. Eli traveled back and forth for 50 years, and married William C. Mitchell's daughter, Mary Ann (W) in Franklin. William Mitchell gave Eli a 119 acre tobacco farm, with slaves and ruined Eli's whole life.

Eli Perdue had planned to marry and move back to the Bluestone. It didn't happen that way. Eli let the slaves run the tobacco farm (with Thomas De Witt, the oldest, 1849) and traveled back and forth to the Bluestone, especially during the Civil War. By 1869, all of Eli and Mary Ann's children had been born and there was no money in a worn out 119 acre tobacco farm, run without slaves.

Eli talked Mary Ann into moving to the Bluestone and taking up 100 acres of land from Zachariah (and David King). This land adjoined Jordan Nelson, a blacksmith. They put in one crop and burned huge lumps of coal in the fireplace during the winter. Margaret Ann E. married Thomas J. Turner in Tazewell County in February, 1870. (Thomas Turner was from Carroll County.) The whole family including the newly-weds moved back to the farm in Franklin in the fall of 1870.

Jordan Nelson bought the farm on the Bluestone for $100 with exclusion for Zachariah's homeplace (Zachariah was 91 at the time). In the summer of 1871, Eli could stand it no longer and hung himself in the tobacco barn. Mary Ann didn't want to live at Burnt Chimney after that, so they sold the 119 acres of land and moved to Floyd County in the settlement that became "Dogtown." Porter Perdue, "Bob" Perdue's youngest son, says Mary Ann sold the place for "$60.00 and a mule."

As far as is known, Mary Ann (W) Perdue had no "Mitchell" (Mitchaux) kin in Floyd County and the move to "Dogtown" was to find work for her family. Porter Perdue told how "Dogtown" got its name. Around 1900, two men were out hunting (there was a lot of game in the area then) and passed each other on the old Mill Creek road. They were followed by their hunting dogs and as the dogs passed, they got into a fight. The two hunters had quite a struggle getting the dogs separated, during which harsh and derogatory words were passed. When the dogs were separated, the two men got into a fist fight. After that the place was called "Dogtown."

Almost all the settlers went to Mount Olivet Baptist Church, where preaching was held almost every Sunday. My grandmother (Molly) Mary Rachel Wood, kept her membership there as long as she lived, long after the family had moved to Salem. The first time I remember "Amazing Grace" being sung in church was at that church, accompanied by a foot-pump organ. It seemed like the music started up in the white pine grove and went on up from there. The church still stands in the white pine grove but has been converted into a private dwelling now.

On the east side of the old highway (US 221) the David Wood family lived in a cabin that is now falling down. Porter Perdue said that David Wood was a cooper who made barrels. In those days almost everything came in barrels, so this was an important job. David Wood was born a cripple, but he was a powerful man from his waist up. His legs didn't grow after he was about five years old, so he was only four feet tall. He married Jane Shilling sometime before the Civil War and lived all his life in "Dogtown." Porter told the story that Jane would "boost" David up into the saddle of a horse, with David pulling up on the saddle. With David then in the saddle, he could easily pull Jane up behind him, and down the road they would go. If you look up the hill when traveling south on US 221, you can see the old Wood graveyard, where the Woods, Shillings, Browns and Perdues are buried.

On the Wood's land there was an old two story frame building and around 1900 this was the headquarters of "Bent Mountain Telephone Company." Willard Wood, David's grandson was lineman and chief trouble shooter. The "Central" occupied the top floor of this building and the lines were several galvanized wires strung along green glass insulators beside the road. The old chestnut poles were spaced along the rail fences that were everywhere in those days. When the wind blew hard the lines would whistle different tunes as you drove along.

About 1880 there moved to Dogtown a Preston Doss. He was a young farmer from Pittsylvania County. Not long after he arrived, he married Julia, one of David Woods's daughters and settled down to farm in the community. Not long after, Preston's nephew, an orphan, moved there with them from Gretna, Virginia. Willie Callahan Doss, the nephew, found a job working for De Witt Perdue at the old Siner Mill. Since De Witt had married "Molly" Mary Rachel, another daughter of David Wood, that made "W.C." kin to De Witt. W.C. worked several years at the mill for De Witt, went to school at the old one room schoolhouse, and helped his uncle Preston on the farm to earn his keep. In the 1880's, Preston Doss decided to move to Texas and take up new land and grow cotton. "W.C." told the story many times later that he had to walk every step of the way to Texas and drive the family cows.

W.C. had a struggle making a living in Texas in those days. He didn't have any money, so sharecropping was the only way of making a living and getting land. By 1900, he and his industrious wife Florence (Huddle) Doss had managed to buy a 400 acre cotton farm near High, Texas near the T&P Railroad. In 1912, he brought all his family back to Virginia for a visit. He visited all the people in Dogtown, but by that time De Witt and "Molly" had bought land on Florida Street in Salem (in 1904) and built a dry goods store. "W.C." and family visited De Witt in Salem, "Taw" (De Witt's youngest was seen making eyes at Willie May (W.C.'s oldest). In November, 1914, they married and Willie May spent the rest of her life in Salem. That, as they say, is where I came in.

I would like to acknowledge the following people who helped gather the information on this story:

Charles and Nan (Martin) Perdue, Sherie Perdue Meola, Jessann Dillon, Carolyn Perdue Johnson, Audrey Goforth Johnson, Danah T. Howell, Bill Grabendike, Mae Moore, Ruth Marcum Lind, Fred Perdue, Dr. Alton L. Absher, Naomi Steffy, and Netti Schreiner-Yantis. Without the recollections of Porter Perdue, a lifelong resident of "Dogtown", there would be no "Dogtown" and "Bluestone Junction" stories.