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Augusta Colonial Founders

James Patton
       by Greg Humphries

Without question, the most audacious and dominating Augusta County founder was James Patton, little remembered and greatly misunderstood. Between 1740 and 1755 he was the undisputed “boss” of the county (then stretching from the Blue Ridge to the Great Lakes and from Frederick County to the Mississippi.

During this time, Patton came to be county lieutenant, commander of the militia, president of the Augusta court, president of the Augusta vestry, commissioner of the Tinkling Spring congregation, county coroner, county escheator, customs collector, county sheriff, member of the House of Burgesses, and other minor offices. He was credited with maintaining absolute law and order when on the job.

Patton managed to successfully execute these offices while at the same time ruling over the sale and distribution of 350,000 grant acres located between Staunton and Radford. He was often awarded additional personal acreage for his services as well as the privilege of selecting the best land for himself.

Patton was a 43-year-old Scots-Irish ship’s captain, six-foot, two-inches tall, dark complected, cold brown eyes and a fearless, controlling personality when he arrived here with a boatload of family and indentured servants. At first he worked closely with his partners--William Beverley and John Lewis--in settling the Beverley grant. Later, he joined other partners to settle the Bordon and Great grants in southwest Augusta County. Patton was tireless in pursuing his objectives of settling the Shenandoah Valley... constantly exploring, surveying, and marking out roads to accommodate the flow of immigrants into Augusta.

He was looked upon by those in Williamsburg as the man to get things done, and was highly respected by several governors, Indian chiefs, and business men in America and Europe. He was a key witness in determining the outcome of the Lancaster Treaty conference with offended Iroquois Indians. On another occasion, Patton organized a contingent of Cherokees and marched them into Williamsburg to gain a trade agreement similar to the one which South Carolina broke with the Indians.

Patton often entertained famous men of the times as they visited the frontier, hosting them at his home called Spring Hill. His locust log cabin was located near present-day Stuarts Draft on the 1,390 acres he owned along the South River. It was there that he lived with his wife, two daughters, and nephew William Preston. Patton was given to much drinking--a pastime of the colonists--enjoyed horse racing, and was extremely ambitious when it came to acquiring wealth and power. He was nevertheless considered a very charitable Christian gentleman. In fact, Patton underwrote the cost of building the first recognized church on this side of the Blue Ridge, the Tinkling Spring Meeting House in present-day Fishersville. He donated land for the third Lutheran church built in Virginia, located on the Holston River. He encouraged and aided the settlement of German Moravian churches as well as a group of mystics calling themselves the “Mahanaim,” a sect of vegetarian, celibate, unshaven men devoted to constant meditation.

As a result of the terms demanded by the Iroquois Indians at the treaty of Lancaster, one of which was that they wanted a road built from Frederick County to Roanoke, Patton again seized the initiative. He offered to oversee and lay out the road which he cleverly arranged to go through most of his grants and tracts. Today that road is known as U.S. Route 11.

Patton was always at odds with the other great Augusta founder, John Lewis, his former partner and relative by marriage, as jealousy between the two grew over which one was more important and had the greater authority. This feud was never settled during their lifetimes, often leaving Augusta County divided and angry. In addition, Patton had strong words for his pastor, the Rev. John Craig, faulting him for not preaching often or long enough in Patton’s church at Tinkling Spring. He was further disappointed that Parson Craig had no interest in the business proposal he was offered. Patton, however, recognized wisely that John Craig was a good educator, and paid him to tutor his nephew, William Preston. Nevertheless, Patton never paid Craig his preaching stipend until leaving it to the minister in his will.

Patton was very much involved with settling the German and English immigrants pouring into southwest Augusta County from the east. In fact, he was engaged in strengthening their defense by hauling gunpowder and shot to Draper’s Meadow when he came to his untimely death in 1755. While he was visiting the Ingles family, there was a vicious and unexpected attack by a Shawnee war party. Being unprepared, the occupants and guests were killed or captured, and James Patton was killed, mutilated, and scalped... but not before dispatching two Indian warriors with his broadsword. His body was buried at that location since it was so badly disfigured in the attack.

One thing James Patton regretted the most during his lifetime was having allowed his surveyor and relative Buchanan to survey without an official license from William and Mary... a legal requirement. Many claims were later disposed as a result. Later on, Patton turned the surveying over to William Preston, his nephew, who had secured the proper license.

Three things Patton probably also would have regretted greatly were that he never had a son (although he did have a grandson, James Patton Thompson, whom he adored), that he was not buried with his wife at Tinkling Spring, and that he never finished the stone house he started building for her at Spring Hill.


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