By Dwight Williamson
When you are talking about the history of Logan County, West Virginia, in reality you may also be speaking of the history of Cabell County and the Commonwealth of Virginia.
So, when one is describing the events prior to 1823, such as the first white settlers in the Guyandotte Valley, or the burning of Princess Aracoma’s village on “the islands,” you are speaking of a time before Logan County was created and many years prior to West Virginia becoming a state. Either way, it is all considered “local” history.
Readers may be surprised to know that Logan County was created in 1823 from Cabell mainly because of the great distances that had to be traveled by citizens who just wanted to vote in various elections. Elections were at the time held at the county courthouses, which meant that residents living in what is now Logan, Mingo and Wyoming counties were forced to travel over 100 miles to Cabell County for the purpose of voting. Long before any real roads existed, this was an awesome task.
When Cabell county was established it was one of the largest counties in the state, extending from the Ohio river on the north to the Flat Top mountains in the south, and from the Big Sandy and Tug rivers on the west. The county also included the right hand fork of the Cole river.
Since all eligible voters of that time period were required to cast a ballot or face sizable taxes levied upon them, long distances were endured by voters to avoid the taxes. Voting was more than a privilege back then and was even considered a sacred duty. To enforce the act of voting, the county sheriff was required to lay before the grand jury a list of the land owners of the county and to provide the county clerk with a list of the poll books, a copy of which was then provided to the grand jury. Persons who did not vote were penalized.
Perhaps this is why in 1820 William Dingess, who was the first “permanent white settler” near what is now the town of Logan, was elected as one of the members of the General Assembly from Cabell county and commenced at once to create a new county. He was re-elected in 1821-22 and in 1823, he had the proud satisfaction of seeing the act creating the new county of Logan passed by the General Assembly.
The first county circuit court was held at the home of Dingess within the present limits of Logan, which was then called the town of Aracoma, May 7th of 1824. The first county court was also held at the Dingess home and was composed of William Toney, William Hinchman, John B. Clark, John Ferrell, James B. Christian, James Shannon, John Cook, Griffin Stollings and Anthony Lawson. William Toney was named sheriff and the first election ever in Logan was conducted at the Dingess residence also in 1824, according to a 1937 account published in The Logan Banner.
Dingess, known as a relentless Indian fighter throughout the Guyandotte Valley, purchased 300 acres, which included the present site of the Logan courthouse and extended across the river to what is today Deskins Addition. He built his home at the courthouse site in 1799.
As new settlers from the Carolinas and Virginia began to pour into the valley, a need for a trading post was beginning to be felt, and Anthony Lawson, with previous experience as a storekeeper at Oceana, set up Logan county’s first store near today’s courthouse site.
Early trade on the Guyandotte between the settlers who were building their homes in the fertile river bottoms and Lawson’s trading post was done by “bartering,” which was simply the process of trading goods without exchanging money.
Not long after Lawson opened his business on the courthouse side of the river sometime between 1820 and 1823, Dr. Zatoo Cushing opened another trading post on the Dingess farm across the Guyandotte from “the islands.” Both merchants found a plentiful market and helped the Islands of the Guyandotte to become a center of trade for miles around.
Furs, pelts and ginseng were generally traded at the stores and taken at least once a year to Philadelphia by Lawson and Cushing, who returned with items such as coffee and other goods that were nearly impossible to obtain in the newly developing Guyandotte area. Cushing shipped his goods down the Guyandotte by canoe, up the Ohio river to Pittsburgh and overland to Philadelphia. Lawson reportedly chose to export and import his goods by way of the mule in preference to water transportation, according to old accounts.
However, Lawson in 1849 would die from cholera on a return trip from Philadelphia near the community of Guyandotte in Cabell county. Lawson’s fenced in burial site is located at a revolutionary war veterans cemetery at Guyandotte. Lawson, 61, reportedly was traveling by river when he became ill.
Though the area’s first store owner never made it back to his little village, his wife never left as she was brutally murdered, according to the inscription on her tombstone, “by two of her own slaves” two years prior to her husband’s death. Ann Lawson’s burial site, including an iron railed fence and tombstone that matches her husband’s, can be viewed at what has become the abandoned cemetery on High Street in Logan that has long been referred to as the “City Cemetery.” In this cemetery can be found the names of many of the town’s former residents, several of whom strived to make a village into a town and then a city.
It is a shame that this local historical site, which is located right on the Hatfield-McCoy trail that cuts through the town, has never been placed on the National Historical Register so funds could be gathered to properly clear and maintain the site. But, come to think of it, that wouldn’t guarantee that grants would be obtained for the good of the property. I mean, after all, the Don Chafin House in Logan and the Hatfield Cemetery at Saran Ann have been on the National Register for years, and they still are an embarrassment to the county, instead of being wonderful tourist attractions.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.
*Published with the author’s permission.