The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Border Series - One Day at William Mack's Cabin

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1990

Issue: February, 1990

THE BORDER is a continuing series of articles about the Blue Ridge during the time period prior to and during the Revolutionary War, when Southwest Virginia was the border of our new nation.

This month, as we were doing the BACKROAD tour, we passed through Max Meadows, Virginia. Today the community is small and quiet, but as we were driving through it, my mind thought of the history I have read about the days when this eastern part of what is now Wythe County was the western frontier of America.

Travel back in your mind to the days before the Revolutionary War. Imagine a time before interstate roads, before any roads in this part of the state. Imagine standing on a mountain ridge and seeing nothing but trees, perhaps a river and perhaps beside that river there is a path made by the herds of buffalo, deer and elk that once roamed this land. You are an explorer, one of those adventuresome souls whose quest in life was to see what was beyond that next ridge. The clothes you are wearing would have to be sturdy. They would be of a heavy cloth or buckskin. You would have a gun for protection and to use to get food. There was such an abundance of wildlife that the explorers didn't have to carry much in the way of provisions and usually ate well off the land. Perhaps you would be traveling on horseback. Some explorers traveled on foot through the forests. You would never know if you were going to run into Indians, and if they would be friendly or hostile. You know that you might not see another fellow human being until you returned to civilization. Settlers were few and far between in this wilderness, and you were pushing beyond even the scattered settlements.

Now that you're in this frame of mind, let's go back to Max Meadows in 1754.

It's the fall of the year, October, 17th to be exact. You are visiting a relative called William Mack. He has a cabin at the utmost edge of the wilderness. It doesn't even have a name so you call it Mack's Meadows. There is a stranger there by the name of John Buchanan. John Buchanan has come all the way from Lexington to survey land for his father-in law, Colonel James Patton.

It seems Colonel Patton thinks he can get a grant from the King of England for 100,000 acres of land and is forming a land company to settle it. Why anyone would want land in this God-forsaken place, you don't know, but then you are not a farmer. Farmers say it is the "land of milk and honey," and rich fertile river bottoms here would grow anything stuck on or in it. Religious freedom doesn't mean much to you either, but people like the Ephrata Brethren over in Dunkard's Bottom (in present day Pulaski County), where Buchanan stopped before coming here, seem to think it's everything.

Why, this Patton fellow even thinks people will pay four pounds five shillings for a hundred acres (that's between $11.39 to $14.16 per hundred)! There is a catch also. The people wanting this land will also have to settle it, cultivate it, improve it and have a dwelling on it within a year or forfeit their claim. This Patton thinks so highly of the land around here that he wants it himself. Says he is going to give it to his daughter and I guess that is why Buchanan is eying it so close. He's married to Patton's daughter. Already got a fancy name made up for it too - Anchor and Hope. I must admit that's right pretty. Says he'll come back and get a thousand acres and build a house real near here.

It's a pity Patton had to come at such a bad time. William Mack had just died when he got here. Buchanan was a help in settling the affairs though. He saw that the estate was appraised by Adam and Jacob Harman, decent honest men. He also got the "long beards" or the Ephrata Brethren to look out for the crop. Phineas Griffith will be handling other matters.

I suppose Buchanan is going to leave soon. He will probably be going back to Lexington to report on what land he wants to have surveyed to sell. Wouldn't do him no good to go on west. I don't think there are any more white settlers beyond Mack's Meadows. None that I, or anyone I've talked to, have heard of. There are trappers and hunters that travel through the land west of here. Some even travel with Indians, but they're all I know of. That Buchanan is always writing what he calls his "diary." I suppose if he runs across other settlers he will write down their names too.

Yep, Buchanan's leaving soon and I suppose that's the last we ever hear from him.

Of course the story you've just read is imaginary, but all of the names and dates in it were taken from historical sources including Buchanan's diary of the actual trip to Mack's Cabin. It is assumed that cabin is the cabin of William Mack, the earliest known settler in eastern Wythe County. Colonel Patton formed the Woods River land company with nineteen men of the Virginia aristocracy as partners.

On November 27, 1745, a lengthy record tells of 800 acres on a branch of Reed Creek being sold to John Vance. The location was given as "the Great Buffalow Lick." This location later became the site of Fort Chiswell.

John Buchanan did return to Wythe County and selected two of the finest tracts of land for himself. The grant gave Patton the right to claim a total equal to 100,000 acres anywhere on the New, Holston or Clinch Rivers. That meant he could go through the area picking and choosing the very best acreage - a thousand acres here, skip a thousand there, too rocky - and pick that nice level river bottom land over there! If a settler took up less than 1,000 acres in one survey, he was required to pay for the surveyor's fees. Peter Renfroe was to take the entries and show the land-seekers over the ground.

The prominent Calhoun family of South Carolina also had land in this area. There was much contention between the Calhouns and Patton, and later on, disputes and law suits over land. As the name Calhoun appears in the Woods River Company entry book, they appear to have bought the tract over which there was much dispute, from Patton's own company.

All of this kept running through my head as I rode through Max Meadows. The great rush for western lands actually started here.