Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Evening the score!

John Goolman Davidson was my 5th great-grandfather.
I have no idea where the name "Goolman" came from, but nearly everyone and everything references this as a middle name.

It has not been proven whether he was born here or in Ireland, but he resided his entire life in the state of  Virginia.  He and Mr. Bailey built the Davidson-Bailey Fort near what is now Bluefield College, Tazewell Co., Virginia.  It is likely that he traveled down the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, along with thousands of other Scots-Irish.

John  was a cooper -- a barrel and firkin maker by trade.  He was apparently quite successful at his trade, for he had nearly $800 on his person when he was killed.
Firkin, which held 112 English hundredweight.

Apparently John had an enemy.  A man by the name of Mr. Rice had stolen a hog from him, and the case ended up in court.  He was ordered to pay John Davidson $8 for the hog, plus forty lashes save one, which did not go over well with Mr. Rice.  On a low scale, the equivalent would be near $200 today.

Mr. Rice vowed he would get revenge.

And, he did.

John had some business to take care of Rockbridge Co., Virginia, where he had formerly lived.  He collected money that was due him in the amount of $800 and headed for home.  Heading through Rocky Gap, he passed by a family on his way to Rockbridge County, but the same family did not see him return.

People soon went to look for him.  First, they found his hatband.  Then, they found where he had fed his horses.

Then, they found him.

His body was found at the base of a tree, where the blade of a hatchet had been struck into a white oak tree.  A gun rested on the hatchet.  Underneath those items was a fresh carving that said;

John's nude body was in bad condition and was buried there on the spot where it was found.  It was determined he died 
8 Mar 1793,
and a report was made to the governor.  It included several other massacres and captures, included that of Virginia "Jenny" Wiley.

 Several years later, a brass stirrup was found, it being recognized as belonging to John Goolman Davidson.

I love to visit the lands where my ancestors lived, and this one was no different.  So, I began to look for clues that would take me to the place where this tragedy occurred.  At the time, the only accounts I had were from 1933.

Mr. Kerry and our four children were taking a trip through the southern states, and I mentioned that I would like to swing through that part of Virginia and perhaps look around the area.  I stopped at the Kegley Room of Wytheville College, Wytheville, Wythe Co., Virginia.  It is a wonderful resource for southwestern Virginia, and the people were as helpful as any I would find.

One of the librarians and I spent quite a bit of time pouring over old maps from the area.  But remember, the directions I had were from 1933!

Finally, he said that it wasn't likely I was going to find the area on one of their maps, but perhaps some of the locals could help me.  He pointed us in the directions he felt good about, told us to be careful, and off we went.

We pulled up to a General Store.  I knew what was coming.  My people are from the south, but my husband and children are not.  So, I told them to sit still until I returned.  (Let me point out that I love my southern roots, but they must not be rushed.  You have to win people over, especially if you appear to be "foreign".

After some small talk about the garden, the hound dog on the front porch, asking about everyone's Mama, I finally asked them about John Goolman Davidson.  I had heard there may be a DAR headstone for him, and I would like to know if they had seen it.

"Law, honey!  My brother runs over it with his pick-up truck ever mornin' on his way to work!  It's just right up the road a piece."

Good grief.
This poor man gets robbed.
He gets killed by Indians (presumably hired by "Rice")
Then, he gets run over by a pick-up truck every morning.

The kids were hanging out the windows, and Kerry was just hoping I was still alive.  I directed him 'up the road a piece', and off we went.

We found it.
Can you see how close is it to the road?  
A pick-up truck actually drove past when I was taking this photo, and I had to swing my hips in to keep from getting clobbered.

And, the date we stood at this stone was 8 Mar 1993.  
That was not planned.
Not at all.

After a few moments, Kerry took the kids back to the van to allow me some time alone there at the stone.  It's on the border of West Virginia/Virginia, but it would have been Virginia at the time.

I looked at the hills...the same hills he would have seen just before he died.
I looked at the sky...the same sky he was looking at when he died.
I looked at the creek meandering through this small valley...perhaps coursing its way in the same path two hundred years earlier.
I looked at the trees...perhaps not the very same trees he saw.  
But, maybe some of them were.

So again, I have walked not just where ancestors lived and were buried, but where they actually died.

And, I saw what they saw.

Some backup sources:

Johnston, David E., A History of the Middle New River Settlements, 1906.

Rice, Patricia, Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia, 1968.

Schreiner-Yantis, Netti, Archives of the Pioneers of Tazewell Co., VA, pp 302-310


  1. Another very good story. You are an inspiration to me and many others.

    1. Susan, how kind of you!

      These stories have been sitting on my back burner for too long. I must get them out there so my grandchildren can discover them.

  2. What a great story. We were recently up in that area so we could research one of my husband's families, a Fenton who was in Greenbrier Co, according to family tradition. We didn't find much helpful. The search continues.

    1. Thank you so much!

      You were up in that neck of the woods, too! Sometimes the locals know a lot more than we think.

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you, dear Susan!

      I will never forget the day I stood there. It was 200 years to the day!!!

  4. Ooh, goose bumps! Thanks for sharing the story.

    1. Thank you so much, Miss Lisa!

      And, to stand there 200 years to the day that he was killed!! I just stood there and looked around, seeing what he saw when he took his last breath.

  5. Your research stories are amazing.

    1. Thank you so much, Magda!

      I remember standing there at that tombstone telling my children the story of one of the grandfathers.

      Later on, when studying history in school, they had their own story to tell! John Davidson had served in the Revolution as an Indian spy.

  6. Thank you for sharing your experience. I too am a descendant of John and Martha Davidson and have been intrigued with their story for several years now. Would it be possible to get directions to this marker? I would very much like to visit it as well.