Exploration and Settlement of the Shenandoah Valley

Lederer's 1670 map of southern Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina
1670 map of southern Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina that accompanied Johann Lederer’s book on his 1669 expedition. At this time, the Colony of Carolina had been approved by King Charles II, but had not been settled. The only Virginia Indians shown living beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains in this map are the Rickohockens. This is important information, because prior to 1660, the Valley of Virginia had been described as being densely populated with Shenantoa Indians.

The first recorded exploration of the Shenandoah Valley was by German immigrant, Johann Lederer, and several associates in 1670. They went as far west as present day Strasburg, VA, then turned around. His journey came on the heels of a decade of ethnic cleansing by the Rickohockens. Colonel Cadwallader Jones explored the central part of the valley in 1673. Colonial records do not document any more expeditions until 1705, when George Ritter, from Bern, Switzerland, led a party into the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, then decide to settle east of the valley.

In 1719, Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord of Cameron, inherited the 5,282,000 acre Northern Neck proprietary estate in what is now Northern Virginia. Unlike most portions of the British North American colonies, it was operated as feudal manor in which tenants paid land rents, rather than owning their farms fee simple. However, some tracts were sold outright to purchasers from prominent families in England, and later in Fairfax’s life, to anyone with the money. Between 1719 and 1732, Robert “King” Carter became extremely wealthy working as Lord Fairfax’s agent. Carter focused sales and rentals on the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There were few settlers in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley until after 1732. That was when Lord Fairfax moved to Virginia and began developing his plantation. He sent agents to Europe to recruit tenants, who were skilled yeoman farmers.

The Shenandoah Valley’s unique man-made landscape is a result of its mid-and-late 18th century settlement patterns. The Germanic settlers were accustomed to intensive farming of tracts ranging between 50 and 60 acres in size. The North Fork of the Shenandoah Valley was almost exclusively settled by Protestant immigrants from the German Palatinate, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Moravia and Denmark. The portion of the valley north of where the two forks join was settled at the same time by Germans, Ulster Irish and Quakers from Pennsylvania. The western half of Rockingham County, in the southern end of the valley was settled by Mennonites from Pennsylvania. The first Mennonites arrived around 1730, but there were not substantial numbers of Mennonites until the 1820s.

Native Americans continued to live on lands officially owned by Fairfax until 1753. Early Shenandoah County resident and historian, Samuel Kercheval, wrote in his book, A History of the Valley of Virginia, that European and Native American settlers lived side by side. The Indians did not pay land rent to Lord Fairfax. Relations were peaceful between Europeans and Native Americans until 1754. Those Natives not involved with the hostilities between Great Britain and France left the region, when war began.

1714 map of Virginia, Maryland, Carolina and Pennsylvania
1714 map of Virginia, Maryland, Carolina and Pennsylvania. This map contains absolutely no mention of Indians living beyond the Blue Mountains in Virginia. From other sources, it is known that there were some Shawnee hamlets, but all of the Shenantoa Indians were gone.

Apparently, none of the Natives in the heart of the valley were indigenous. Immediately prior to the arrival of British settlers, the northern tip of the Shenandoah County had been occupied by a branch of the Huron (Wyandot) Indians. The Wyandot cultivated high quality tobacco, which was traded throughout New England, southern Canada and Great Lakes region. According to tradition, the Huron were driven out of the Valley in the late 1600s by the Iroquois Confederacy. By the time that the settlers arrived in the valley, the northern tip was occupied by Tuscarora refugees from North Carolina.

Some Shawnee villages were located in the vicinity of present day Winchester and Front Royal, VA. The principal town of this band of Shawnee was located at Shawnee Springs, immediately west of Winchester, VA. In 1753 emissaries traveled to the Shenandoah Shawnee and invited them to move west. All Shawnee soon left the valley and relocated in eastern Ohio.

There were Native American farmsteads and extended family hamlets scattered about the Shenandoah Valley until 1754. There is very little information about their ethnicity. Apparently, they migrated from various parts of eastern Virginia, or were remnant tribes. It is believed that they moved south during the French & Indian War and joined the Cherokees.

Midwestern tribes continued to attack the Shenandoah Valley farmsteads until around 1766. Attacks on frontiersmen in present day West Virginia continued to beyond the end of the Revolution. After aroun1756 there is no mention in official records of any Native American living in the Shenandoah Valley.

Shenandoah Valley,

Thornton, Richard. Native Americans of the Shenandoah Valley. Web. See Further: People of One Fire. Blairsville, Georgia, © 2012.

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