Washington County offers personal heritage tourism opportunities

November 21, 2012|Linda Irvin-Craig

The weekend of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, they came from North Dakota, Texas, Massachusetts, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Nebraska, which had the largest contingency, and met with an equal number from Maryland to experience the anniversary and much more. These families all had a common ancestor from Washington County and they were here to celebrate their personal history, as well.

This common ancestor, Henry Eavey, entered the colonies in 1732 through Philadelphia, migrated into Maryland very soon thereafter and Washington County (actually Prince George's County at the time) was where he settled, buying land in Benevola by 1746. Then on Oct. 11, 1747, he joined Jonathan Hager, the founder of Hagerstown, in a ceremony to become a naturalized citizen.

Heritage tourism brings many visitors to Washington County for obvious reasons. With the wealth of well-preserved and maintained historic sites of national prominence, captured in national, state, county and city parks, visitors can mix history and recreation in a number of ways. Though there were doubters about Washington County as a destination of choice for travelers in the past, the area has long-since achieved that status.

However, genealogists have always known that Washington County was a destination. Those in the business of preserving family records can attest that visitors come throughout the year to the county to do research on their roots. And, they stay around for as much as a week to take in the resources of two great research libraries — Simms Jamieson Memorial Library at the Miller House and the Western Maryland Room at the Washington County Free Library.

In addition, the precious relics we have to share allowed me this remarkable personal experience to treasure. As an amateur genealogist, my research led me to discover other descendants working on the same ancestral mysteries. Pooling our information, we have constructed a family line that stretches from Maryland and Pennsylvania to all three states from the lower 48 that face the Pacific Ocean.

The three sons of immigrant Henry Eavey, (alternative spellings of Aebi, Evy, Evey, Avey, Eavey, Ebby, etc. — the spelling of names means very little in early research) were all called to militia service under Moses Chapline by 1757 for the French and Indian War and were assigned briefly to Fort Frederick, most likely in 1758. All males between the ages of 16 and 60 were called to help protect the settlers of the area during this period. A visit to Fort Frederick was a must for the group.

Our guide at Fort Frederick did a fantastic job describing to this band of family roots questers the decision to build a well-engineered stone fort that supersized anything from here to Pittsburgh, which was then Fort Duquesne. Wooden forts were easily burned and Maryland Gov. Horatio Sharpe insisted on having one dependable outpost to protect the colony's frontier interests.

Militia service during the Revolutionary War has also been established for each of the sons, but not within the same company. John, born in Europe, and second son Jacob, born on this side of the Atlantic, served as privates in the militia company of Capt. James Walling, 2nd Battalion. Joseph, the youngest son, was a private in the company of Capt. Jeremiah Spires, 2nd Battalion. All three were listed in the Continental Army for the years of 1776 and 1777.

Henry and his wife, Elizabet, also had seven daughters: Lisbetha, Katherina, Mergretha (all born in Europe), Barbara, Mary, Fenonya and Ann. Fenonya is believed to be the Swiss version of Veronica.

The most significant piece of the genealogists' 2012 visit, however, was the drive through the village of Beaver Creek, which was the arrival point for these Swiss Mennonites, to see the smaller of the stone houses there, where Henry first arrived to join others of his faith, and possibly family. The genealogists also visited  two of the sons original homes, which still stand today. The middle son's home and his fate have not yet been documented, but homes of the eldest and the youngest remain intact.

Log, native stone, brick and stucco have kept the house built circa 1769 to  1775, and its additions, livable during each of the periods of its habitation. Original features include a barn area beneath the house with a surviving door over door and original hardware, where the few cows would have been protected, the ports in the walls that fortified the building, and the massive hearth for summer cooking.

The other house, built of native stone circa 1790 to 1800, probably beside a log structure later converted to stone and used as the summer kitchen, has 20th-century additions, that address modern homemaking vaules. Again, great respect was given to protect the original design and architectural elements of the structure. One highly polished limestone doorstep indicates the length of its use and the many feet that crossed this threshold.

Remote and hidden, these homes remain true to their origins and retain acreage and waterways to delight their owners and allow them to continue to serve succeeding generations in fine style.

The reception of the current owners of these places to the visiting geologists could not have been more gracious.

The tour included old churches and churchyard cemeteries, using records established in the 1930s to find the locations of final resting places of Henry Eavey's ancestors. Benevola, Tilghmanton, Bakersville, Mercerville, Sharpsburg and Keedysville were accessible by the pastoral back roads of the county. These roads still have much of the flavor of the old wagon roads that would have connected them many years ago. With the strong family ties in Sharpsburg and surrounds the Antietam anniversary made the timing of such a trip by family geneologists more meaningful.

While this event was personal and five years in the planning, organized by me in collaboration with a fourth cousin in Nebraska, it is not as unique as it might sound. The genealogical resources available locally, together with on-line connections, are pulling more families together to make the journey, almost a pilgrimage, to the beginnings of their family line.

And, the good people of Washington County continue to welcome them with the genteel hospitality for which they are known.

Linda Irvin-Craig is executive director of the Washington County Historical Society. For more information, call 301-797-8782 or go to

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