Pioneers: Early Explorers of Our Area
September 18th, 2013

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We have to applaud the early explorers for their bravery, determination, perseverance, and fearlessness of the unknown elements, terrain, disease, and beasts. Without them, we would not have civilization in this area as we know it today.

As early as 1669 and 1670 John Lederer went west and explored the Blue Ridge Mountains. Initially, he made a trip up the James River, starting at Williamsburg. Lederer was an ex-German surgeon who had curiosity and encouragement from Virginia’s Governor, Sir William Berkeley, another early frontier enthusiast. During his second trip up the James River, Lederer followed the Rivanna or Hardware River to its source and crossed the Blue Ridge probably at Rockfish Gap. In 1670, he explored the northern end of the Valley in the Front Royal-Strasburg area. Lederer later reported to Governor Berkeley his findings of Virginia’s western frontier – a beautiful, well-watered and wooded land, suitable for hunting and farming.

With such great news, Governor Berkeley enticed Major General Abraham Wood from Fort Henry, below Richmond, to further explore. This group included merchants, Edward Bland, Elias Pennant, Sackford Brewster and Bland’s servant, Robert Farmer. This group along with an Appamattuck Indian guide, Pyancha, and a Nottaway Indian guide, named Oyeocker, reached the Blue Ridge in 1670 somewhere south of Waynesboro. They looked across the Shenandoah Valley to the Alleghenies and returned safely to Tidewater.

Later, General Wood sent Captain Thomas Batts and Robert Fallam westward. This mission was “for Ye finding out of the ebbing and flowing of ye waters behind the mountains in order to (effect) the Discovery of the South Sea.” They explored the Roanoke River, crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains, and reached the upper New River before turning back in September, 1671.

In 1761, another western frontier explorer of the Shenandoah Valley and lands was Doctor Thomas Walker. He was hired by the Loyal Land Company of Charlottesville. (As an extra to this story, notable distinctions were his ancestors came to America from Staffordshire, England in 1650, was a medical graduate of William and Mary College, married a widow, Mrs. Nicholas (Thornton) Meriwether who was a second cousin to George Washington, and had a career as a frontier surveyor.)

Dr. Walker was selected in 1749 to explore, survey, and observe the acquisition of 300,000 acres of the Loyal Land Company of Virginia (an area located today in Kentucky and West Virginia). He crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains in March of 1750 probably at Rockfish Gap. Turning southwest through the Shenandoah Valley to Cumberland Gap he extensively explored Kentucky and West Virginia. Crossing the New River in the area of present Hinton, West Virginia, his return trip was not kind as hunting became poor and the terrain became rough. This exhausted party reached the Augusta Court House in Staunton, Virginia on July 11, 1750.

Dr. Walker made another trip years later accompanying General Edward Braddock in his expedition against Ft. Duquesne as commissary officer. He escaped the massacre of Braddock’s army by the French and Indians in 1755.

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