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Her history, W.Va.’s history

Area woman reflects on ancestors’ role in state’s beginnings

June 16, 2013
By JANICE R. KIASKI - Herald-Star community editor (jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com) , The Herald-Star

Anna Thomas' family history album is more than a genealogical perspective on her own roots.

It has much to do with West Virginia's history, too.

And that's especially timely this week as West Virginia prepares to celebrate its 150th year of statehood - the only state born from the turmoil of the Civil War.

Article Photos

Anna Thomas of Wintersville takes to heart West Virginia’s celebration of its 150th year of statehood this week, considering her own family plays a part in its history. Her maternal ancestors were the first settlers in Moundsville, originally called Elizabethtown and deeded to the state of West Virginia what’s know as the “Mounds,” perhaps the most famous of the Adena burial grounds.
Photo by Janice R. Kiaski

West Virginia was created on June 20, 1863, by proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, occasion for the birthday celebration that kicks off Thursday with a statewide bell ringing at 1:50 p.m.

But closer to home, in Wintersville where the community-minded, volunteer-active Thomas lives, the former Marshall County resident reflects on some family heritage that is "wild wonderful" West Virginia's as well.

Thomas turns the pages of her scrapbook, for example, to a Dec. 7, 1959, Wheeling News-Register photo and story about her maternal grandmother, Zelia Tomlinson Barker, on the occasion of her 87th birthday.

She was the great-granddaughter of Joseph Tomlinson, the first settler in Moundsville, which originally was called Elizabethtown in honor of his wife, Elizabeth.

The article identified Barker as the last of the descendants of the Tomlinsons who settled in Moundsville in the 1700s where a street in the town appropriately is named Tomlinson Avenue.

Thomas ultimately would come to discover and appreciate that snippet of family history as the years passed, not to mention that Joseph Tomlinson left the deed to the Grave Creek property to the state of West Virginia - property to what is known as the "Mound" in Moundsville.

The Grave Creek Mound is the largest Native American burial mound in the United States. It and the museum are located on 7 acres at 801 Jefferson Ave., Moundsville, near the now defunct West Virginia State Penitentiary.

What was her ancestors' land at one time also today constitutes Tomlinson Run State Park in the New Cumberland area, according to Thomas who lived some of her childhood in Moundsville.

She affectionately remembers her "granny" as a woman who washed clothes on a washboard in a galvanized tub, cooked on a coal stove, ironed clothes with heavy triangle shaped irons heated on the stove, and made small rugs out of discarded cotton aprons and housedresses.

"Granny" also watched as Anna and other children would scramble for the right to turn the card alerting the "iceman" who brought blocks of ice to customers as to how many pounds of ice were desired for the week.

Thomas, the former Anna Jacot, came to the Steubenville area in 1959. She married Harvey Thomas, who passed away on Dec. 31, 2006. She was a certified paralegal who previously sold real estate. The Thomases had three children: Tracey of California, Harry of Toronto and John of Steubenville.

Family history albums for each of them include the West Virginia heritage that dates to "granny's" ancestor, the frontiersman who came to western Virginia in 1701 and made a claim.

Thomas' story goes like this.

"In 1701, my maternal ancestors, brothers Joseph, Samuel, and James Tomlinson, claimed land and made the first improvements where Moundsville, Marshall County, W. Va., now stands. Joseph Tomlinson in a statement relative to the settlement at Grave Creek and Round Bottom, said that he and his brothers came to the Ohio River in search of homes for his father's family in March 1771. They built a cabin about 300 yards north of the mound and spent the summer on the Ohio River. The cabin they built was the first ever erected in the Flats of Grave Creek. They took up a fine tract of land at Grave Creek and also some valuable hill land.

"After building the cabin, Joseph went down the river to examine the country. He found Col. Crawford at the mouth of the Little Kanawha River with a surveying party, engaged in surveying land. Joseph Tomlinson entered the service of Col. Crawford and remained with him some time. The surveying party ascended the river and when it reached Round Bottom, Col. Crawford ordered survey of the river front although Tomlinson protested against it, as he and his brothers had taken up a claim on it.

"In autumn they returned to their homes east of the Alleghenies neat the south branch of the Potomac where two years earlier fellow farmer Ebenezer Zane had left his home with his brothers, encouraged other farmers to follow, and the Zanes settled on the Ohio River above the mouth of Wheeling Creek.

"The following spring Joseph Tomlinson Jr. and his wife, Elizabeth Harkness, his father and mother and two brothers left the old homes east of the mountains for their new homes the young man had provided for them in the Ohio Valley. This was the first settlement at Grave Creek. They remained at the Flats of Grave Creek throughout their lives except for a few years they were compelled to leave on account of Indians and seek safety elsewhere. While the brothers were east of the mountains preparing to return to their new homes, a man by the name of Con O'Niel remained at Grave Creek and took care of the improvement for which he received 100 acres of land.

"O'Niel killed a great many wild turkeys while taking care of the improvement and put the feathers in a corner of the cabin. When the families arrived in the spring, Mrs. Joseph Tomlinson Jr. filled a bed tick which she used as a saddle cloth for her saddle, upon which she had ridden across the mountains, with the feathers, making the first feather bed in the Flats of Grave Creek. It was said that O'Niel was the only white man in what is now Marshall County that winter and the only one that was in what is now Ohio County.

"At the breaking out of war with the Indians in 1777, the settlers at Grave Creek left for places of greater safety. Joseph Tomlinson Sr. and his wife went to Redstone and resided there several years. Other settlers went to Wheeling. Little is known of them during the war with the Indians which lasted from 1777 to 1795.

"Joseph Tomlinson and Col. Beeler of Beeler Station are said to have made a trip to Philadelphia in the winter of 1780, with a petition to the Continental Congress, in session there, requesting that it take some action for the protection of the frontier settlements.

At the breaking out of Dunmore's War, the cabin of Joseph Tomlinson was fortified by erecting pickets around it for refuge for the settlers. When notice was sent to the settlers of the intended invasion of Northwestern Virginia by Indians, in August 1777, it was thought the fort was not of sufficient strength to withstand an attack by a large force of Indians, and the garrison being weak, it was thought best to abandon it, and tradition said that the fort was abandoned on the 17th of August and soon after the settlers left that it was burned by Indians, who were thought to have been closely watching the movements of the settlers.

"The Tomlinson family returned to Grave Creek about the spring of 1785. Previous to the breaking out of Dunmore's war, Mrs. Rebecca Martin kept house for her brothers Samuel and James Tomlinson in a cabin near the mouth of the Big Grave Creek and was there alone for weeks while her brothers were away hunting, trapping, or taking up and improving land. The two brothers gave her four hundred acres of fine river bottom land on the Ohio River opposite the mouth of the Muskingum River for keeping house for them. Her brothers took up several tracts of land and made the usual improvements of the day upon them. They were usually occupied in taking up and improving land in the summer and in the winter engaged in hunting and trapping. Samuel and James spent the winter of 1773 trapping on the Great Kanawha River.

"When the Tomlinson family returned from Redstone, and elsewhere, to their improvements at Grave Creek, a block house or fort was erected which afforded the settlers protection. After they returned to their improvements, in or about the year 1785, they never left it again on account of danger from the Indians.

"Joseph Tomlinson left the deed to the Grave Creek property to the State of West Virginia. "The Grave Creek Mound is probably the most famous of the Adena burial mounds, and certainly one of the most impressive. Not only is it the largest Adena mound, but it is the largest conical type of any of the mound builder structures. Construction of the mound took place in successive stages from about 250-150 B.C., as indicated by the multiple burials at different levels within the structure. The building of the mound and moat must have been a massive undertaking, since the total effort required the movement of over 60,000 tons of earth. In 1838, road engineers measured the height of the mound at 69 feet and the diameter at the base as 295 feet. Originally a moat of about 40 feet in width and five feet in depth with one causeway encircled the mound.

"The first recorded excavation of the mound took place in 1838 and was conducted by local amateurs. Two shafts, one vertical and one horizontal, were created in order to gain entrance to the mound. This led to the discovery of two burial vaults.

"In addition to the Adena ornaments and remains found in the interior, the upper vault contained a small flat inscribed sandstone tablet. Later, the authenticity of the tablet and the meaning of its inscription became quite controversial. Even though the stone has never been authenticated, a replica of the original is on display in the Adena exhibit along with its usual story.

"About 1000 B.C. we can mark the beginning of a new period for man in North America. This period, which lasted until about 700 A.D., is called the Woodland Period. It is during this time that a new culture emerged and made significant settlements in what is now known as West Virginia. These people are known to us today by the general term of the Mound Builders. They were so named for their practice of creating earthen burial mounds and other earthworks. The Mound Builders lived over a wide range from the Atlantic, the Midwest, and the Ohio Valley to the Mississippi Valley. The term "mound builders" refers to several cultures that span a period of about 20 centuries.

"The first group of people to develop this unique way of life were the Adena people, from about 1000 B.C. to approximately 1 A.D.

"The Adena built mounds generally ranging in size from 20 to 300 feet in diameter. The Adena lived in a wide area including much of present day Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, and parts of Pennsylvania and New York. They had well organized societies since the construction of the mounds took a great deal of effort.

"The labor of many people must have been required since the Adena didn't use the wheel and had no horses. The large amounts of earth had to be moved by the basket load. Perhaps for this reason, the mounds were often used more than once. We find in many mounds there are multiple burials at different levels. Over a period of time, the mounds gradually increased in size.

"A majority of the people were cremated after death, placed in small log tombs and covered with earth. More important people were often buried in the flesh and laid to rest with a variety of artifacts such as flints, beads, pipes, and mica and copper ornaments.

Grave Creek Mound is of the late Adena period of 100 years or more. We do not know why the Adena chose to build this particular mound on such a huge scale compared to the other burial mounds in the area. Adena people were probably larger and of a stronger build than the Archaic Period, but smaller than modern man. They were extensive traders as evidenced by the types of materials found in the mounds they constructed. Copper from the western Great Lakes region, Mica from the Carolinas, and shells from the Gulf of Mexico, all attest to the range of their economic activity. In addition, the culture also practiced agriculture, hunting, and fishing.

"A typical Adena house was built in a circular form 15 to 45 feet in diameter. The walls were made of paired posts tilled outward joined to other wood to form a conical shaped roof. The roof was covered with bark and the walls may have been bark or wickerwork.

"By about 500 BC, the Adena culture began to slowly give way to a more sophisticated culture, the Hopewell. Although little remains of their villages, the Adena left great monuments to mark their passing, and one of the greatest of these is the Grave Creek Mound. The mound and museum are situated on 7 acres at 801 Jefferson Ave., Moundsville, one block east of W.Va. Route 2.

Going by the "Mounds" makes her think of her ancestors, according to Thomas.

And it makes her proud, too, she said.

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)

 
 

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