Quiz time - historic firsts abound in area

August 31, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

Pencils out. Paper ready.

This is a test in history. Probably few people can name 15 history-changing events in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, so short answers will be the way to go.


1. Who comprised the first group of southern troops to join Gen. George Washington in the American Revolution?

2. When and where was the first free, rural mail delivery system started?

3. What was the hometown of the first black man given a regular commission in the army, and when did he receive the honor?

4. And, for extra credit, where did what some call the last great train robbery in the country happen?

To the answers in a moment.

Jutting out awkwardly from its brethren to the west, the Eastern Panhandle has always been different from the rest of West Virginia. Different in culture. Different in economics.


Its history also distinguishes it, not only from other parts of the state, but possibly from the rest of the nation.

A tourist to the Panhandle, before crossing the border and heading to Antietam, would probably see and then check off one must-see destination: John Brown's fort in Harpers Ferry.

That's far from all there is to see, said Maree Forbes, chief executive officer of Traveling America, a company that provides driving travel packages.

Forbes came up with a list of 15 significant events that happened in the Eastern Panhandle, using a timeline provided by Bob O'Connor, executive director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Those who think John Brown holds a monopoly on the area's importance are mistaken, Forbes said. But she understands.

"You certainly are not aware immediately of the very - what's the word I'm looking for - substantive things that occurred there," she said.

On the march

Pencils down.

Stumped? The answers are closer than one might think.

Under the command of Capt. Hugh Stephenson, in 1775 a group of men from the Eastern Panhandle, known as the Berkeley Riflemen, marched 600 miles in 24 to 26 days (depending on which book one consults) to join Washington outside Boston.

Capt. Stephenson gathered his troops at what is now Morgans Grove Park outside Shepherdstown in July 1775.

"They listened to a sermon, partook of a frugal meal and 'struck a bee line for Boston,' " Willis F. Evans wrote in his 1928 book, "History of Berkeley County, West Virginia."

Evans wrote that "each man carried a long rifle, a powder horn, a bullet pouch, and in their belt a tomahawk and a scalping knife. They wore buckskin suits, moccasins of the same material and coonskin caps with a bucktail on the side."

Once the men reached Cambridge, Mass., Washington reportedly "galloped away to meet them, dismounted and shook the hand of every man in the company," Evans wrote.

Another book - Millard K. Bushong's 1941 work titled "A History of Jefferson County, West Virginia" - tells a slightly different tale.

Although Stephenson, being the senior officer, and his troops were supposed to march out first, Capt. Daniel Morgan decided he wanted that honor, according to Bushong.

The night before his rival Stephenson left, Morgan is said to have secretly crossed the Potomac River so he could reach Boston first.

Although the tale that Washington eagerly shook every man's hand sounds more like myth than fact, Bushong wrote of it in his book, too.

Going postal

Sending a letter today is just a few mouse clicks away.

It was not always so easy.

Although city dwellers enjoyed free mail delivery earlier on, more than a century ago farmers and those in the country had to spend what might be a good portion of their day journeying to the nearest post office. It was an event.

As the 1800s came to a close, those in the postal industry decided Americans in rural areas should enjoy the same postal service as their friends in cities.

So, with $40,000 in hand from Congress, Postmaster General William Wilson of Charles Town chose 44 routes in 29 states as places to experiment with rural free mail delivery. Jefferson County was selected to be the first site.

Five mail carriers set out on horseback on Oct. 1, 1896.

"As was generally expected, they were gladly received by the farmers along the way. Each carrier averaged about 20 miles a day on horseback," Bushong wrote in his history.

Civil rights, not war

When thinking of the struggle for civil rights, images that arise for most probably include Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington in the summer of 1963, which culminated with his famous "I have a dream" speech.

Or a tired Rosa Parks refusing to relinquish her seat on an Alabama bus one chilly day in December 1955.

Others may remember when black children walked into schools that had been off-limits until the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan.

Although those stories snagged the headlines, years earlier the Panhandle played its own part in the battle for equality.

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