Pocahontas County Bicentennial ~ 1821-2021

Q. What three turnpikes were built through Pocahontas County between 1836 and 1849?
A. Staunton-Parkersburg, Lewisburg to Beverly, and Warm Springs to Huntersville.
Q. What three schools were built as preparatory schools to the University of Virginia in 1842?
A. Hillsboro or Academy, Huntersville, and Green Bank.

Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County – 1901
By William T. Price
Pioneer Methods and Social Customs

The growing of wheat in Pocahontas in quantities sufficient for self-support was not thought of in early times. Ploughed in with the bull tongue or shovel plow, brushed over by a crab brush or thorn sapling, and in many instances simply laboriously dug in with a hoe, it was a precarious crop, owing to freezing out, blight or rust. The harvests were gathered with the sickle. The reaper clutching a handful of grain in his left hand would sever it with his right. The handfuls were bound into sheaves and then stacked into dozens.

Ten sheaves upright with heads pressed together and all sheltered and kept in place by the other two sheaves being broken at the band and spread out like fans and laid over the top. These dozens having dried out were carried by wagon or sled and stacked. When on steep ground the dozens would be brought off on stretcher-shaped contrivances attached to a man’s shoulders. At first, the threshing was done by flail, and fifteen bushels was a good day’s work. In value, one bushel of wheat was equivalent to two bushels of corn, and exchanges were made on that ration. Where crops were comparatively large, flailing was superseded by “tramping out” by horses freshly shod. In this innovation, the half-grown boy was much in demand as he could ride one horse and lead a second. Two or three pairs of horses would hull out forty or fifty bushels per day.

After tramping awhile, the horses would leave the floor and rest while the straw would be shaken up and turned over, and then the tramping would be resumed until the grain was all out. In separating the wheat from the chaff, the first method was to throw shovelfuls up when the wind was high to blow the chaff away, and then the wheat was cleaned by a coarse sieve, which was shaken by hand, and the chaff would come to the top and be raked off in handfuls. This was improved on the “winnowing sheet,” usually worked by two men, while a third would shade the wheat from a shallow basket. Finally the “winnowing sheet” gave way to the windmill or wheat fan, when the farmers became so advanced in circumstances as to feel themselves able to pay thirty or forty dollars for one.

After “horse tramping out,” came the threshing machine, and the sensation produced by its advent surpassed anything that has every occurred in our county, unless it was the coming of the cars, the 26th of October 1900.

This machine, known as the “chaff-piler,” was introduced about the year 1839, by William Gibson, of Huntersville. It was operated by Jesse Whitmer and John Galford, late of Mill Point. It was a small affair, simply a threshing cylinder in a box, propelled by four horses, and when in operation, the wheat would fly high and low as if it was all in fun. An immense sheet was spread on the ground, and this was enclosed by a wall of strong tent cloth about eight feet high on three sides. A person with a rake removed the straw as it came out. He would have his face protected with heavy cloth, for the wheat grains would sting.

After the “chaff-piler came the separator, at first propelled by horses, and then more recently by steam. At the present time, most of the crops are separated by the “steamers.”


Forty or fifty years ago, one of the most generally known citizens of our county was Peter Lightner, on Knapps Creek.
He was tall in person, active in his movements, always in a good humor, and one of the most expert horsemen of his time, and perhaps realized as much ready change swapping horses as any other of his citizen contemporaries.

He could come so near making a new and young horse of an old dilapidated framework of animal as was possible for anyone to do who has ever made a business of dealing in horse-flesh.

Near the close of the last century, he settled on Knapps Creek, on land purchased from James Poage, who emigrated to Kentucky. Mr. Poage had built a mill, which Mr. Lightner improved upon, and for years accommodated a wide circle of customers, who had gotten tired of hominy and hominy meal pounded in a goblet-shaped block. The pestle by which the trituration was done was usually a piece of wood like a hand-spike, with an iron wedge inserted in one end, and fastened by an iron band to keep it from splitting.

This mill was a precious and valuable convenience and brought comfort to many homes, and some of the most toothsome bread ever eaten in our county was made of meal from Lightner’s mill. Some families had hand-mills, but they were about as hard to operate as the hominy block, or mortar with the iron-bound pestle.

It is believed Mr. Lightner came from the neighborhood of Crab Bottom, near the headwaters of the South Branch of the Potomac.

His wife was Alcinda Harper, a sister of Henry Harper, the ancestor of the Harper connection in our county. She, therefore, brought that pretty name to Pocahontas, and there have been many Alcindas in her worthy descendants and relatives.
The property owned by Peter Lightner is now in possession of Hugh Dever and the family of the late Francis Dever, Esq., a few miles from Frost.

Mr. Lightner’s family consisted of one son and four daughters.

Jacob Lightener, their only son, married Miss Eliza Moore, who was reared on the farm now occupied by Andrew Herold, Esq., near Frost. Her father was John Moore, a son of Moses Moore, the noted pioneer, and her mother was a McClung, of the Greenbrier branch of that noted connection…

The eldest daughter of Peter and Alcinda Lightner was named Elizabeth. She was married to Joseph Sharp at Frost. Mr. and Mrs. Sharp were the parents of Abraham and Peter Sharp at Frost, and Henry Sharp at Douthards Creek…

Phebe Ann Lightner was married to John Cleek, on Knapps Creek, on the place now occupied by the homes of their sons, Peter L. and the late William H. Cleek, and their daughter, Mrs. B. F. Fleshman…

The annals just recorded of these persons may be brief and simple, but yet how very suggestive as one reflects upon them.
From these biographical notes, material may be gathered illustrating pioneer sufferings and privations, thrilling romance, tragic incidents in peace and war.

Editor’s note: The family histories presented in this column are short excerpts from the biographic sketches found in William T. Price’s book, which is available for purchase at The Pocahontas Times office.

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