Notes on Blacksburg

By Goodridge Wilson

Blacksburg is located on and near land that met with favor from the pioneer settlers. The pioneers, particularly those of the type which chose the Blacksburg land, fertility of its soil and other advantages of its location seem to have marked that locality from the beginning as a place of prominence in Virginia. Col. James Patton and his associates had it marked among their choice surveys. The Draper and Ingles connection, people who in each succeeding generation have shown sound judgment in land and other business affairs, selected it as their home. Col. William Preston, with practically all of the choice lands west of the Blue Ridge mountains to choose from, chose this as his place to live.

The location is prominent in the history of Virginia. The Draper Meadow massacre, one of the most noted of the Indian outrages, occurred there. In that affair, Col. James Patton, the empire builder and probably the most influential man on the frontier, was killed. His nephew, Col. William Preston, after establishing his home there and building the house that is called Smithfield, attained a position of leadership comparable to that of his distinguished uncle and made his home a sort of military and political capitol for a considerable section. One of his sons went from there to be Governor of Virginia and other to positions of prominence and from there his grandsons carried on in high places of both State and Nation. In due course of time, the location was chosen as the site of the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical college which was expanded into the Virginia Polytechnic Institute of national reputation.

The town of Blacksburg, incorporated in 1798, derives its name from the son of a pioneer Presbyterian preacher, the Rev. Samuel Black. This minister of the gospel, born in North Ireland in the year 1700, was educated at the University of Edinburgh and licensed to preach at Glascow, Scotland. In the year 1735 he emigrated to America, where he became pastor of a Presbyterian church in Brandywine Manor, Chester County, PA. After a few years of residence there, he moved down into the Valley of Virginia and finding that a very considerable number of his Scotch-Irish co-religionists had occupied the beautiful region east of the Blue Ridge along the Rockfish, he removed to that section and spent the remainder of his long and useful life administering to the settlers along the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge and in the lovely Rockfish valley.

Judge David E. Johnson in his History of Middle New River Settlement says that two sons of Rev. Samuel Black, "John and William, came across the Alleghanies and settled nearby where the town of Blacksburg, in Montgomery county is now situated. The year of their coming seems not definitely known, but it was during the border Indian wars. John married Miss Jane Alexander, who, with an infant son, he brought with him into the wilderness, where with the aid of a servant he erected a dwelling house which was shortly thereafter burned by the Indians, he and his family escaping to the woods and finally to Augusta, where he left his family until he could erect another dwelling, which he turned into a fort for protection against the savages. He served another dwelling, which he turned into a fort for protection against savages. He served in the American army during our War for Independence, under General William Campbell, and was with him at the time of the treaty with the Indians, at Long Island, Tennessee. John Black lived to the age of ninety-four years; his wife, Jane Alexander, was of the family of that name, some of whom settled in the county of Monroe.

William Black gave the land on which the town of Blacksburg, Virginia now stands, and which was incorporated by the General Assembly of Virginia, in the year of 1798. By this act George Rutledge, John Black, James P. Preston, Edward Rutledge, William Black and John Preston were made trustees. William Black removed to the county of Albemarle in the year 1880.

These two preacher's sons seem to have been enterprising young men of energy and character. A William Black, presumably one of these brothers, and according to Judge Johnston, the donor of the land on which the town of Blacksburg was originally built, appears in the records as fighting Indians on the Bull Pasture during the French and Indian War under the command of Capt. William Preston and Lt. Charles Lewis. He appears to have lived on the Cow Pasture and later on to have moved from there to the vicinity of the town that bears his name. He was a soldier in the Revolution.

Apparently his brother, John, went west earlier and was among the first settlers on New River. An Orange county court order of 1746 lists John Black, along with four Calhouns, three Rentfross, three Woolwines, Bryant White, William Handlow, Simon Hart, Michael Claines, John Stroud, "Georges the Tinker" and "All the Dunkers that are able to work" as workers on the road from Reed creek to the top of the ridge that parts the waters of New River and those of the South Fork of Roanoke. The quotation above from Judge Johnston indicates that the Indians burned his dwelling house and that he and his wife and infant son escaped and made their way back into safer regions of Augusta county, but that he returned and built another house which he made more secure against Indian attack. He seems to have had numerous children. Five of his sons moved to the State of Ohio and two of his daughters married and went farther west, one to Missouri and one to the Pacific coast. One son, Alexander Black, continued to make his home at Blacksburg.

A descendant, whom I presume was a grandson of Alexander, was Dr. Harvey Black, who rendered large services both to his state and to his native town. Dr. Black was with General 'Stonewall' Jackson when he received his fatal wound at Chancellorsville. It was largely through his influence and because of his hard work that Virginia Polytechnic Institute got its start at Blacksburg in the establishing of the Agricultural Polytechnic Institute got its start at Blacksburg in the establishing of the Agricultural and Mechanical college there. Dr. Black was connected with the State Hospital for the Insane at Williamsburg and more than any other one man, he was responsible for establishing the Southwestern State Hospital at Marion, while General Fitzhugh Lee was governor of Virginia. He was appointed the first superintendent of that institution and established it on a solid basis, but he died only a year and seven months after taking up the responsibilities of this office. The strain of overwork have caused his death. A grandson of Dr. Harvey Black, former State Senator Harvey Black Apperson of Roanoke, now a member of the State Corporation Commission, is continuing the family tradition of service.

Somebody somewhere a long time ago started a great big lie when he said that preacher's sons turn out bad. As a matter of fact, the records show that a larger percentage of preachers' sons attain outstanding success in life than those of any other profession or occupation. The two sons of the old pioneer preacher, Rev. Samuel Black, acquitted themselves like men in their day and generation and seem to have records of outstanding service. His descendants , even down to the present day, have more than made good.

Since they have been scattered widely, from Albemarle county, Virginia to the Pacific ocean, it would be a very interesting study to trace out what manner of people they have been as a whole and what sort of services they have rendered in the many places where they have lived, and thus to arrive at a total of the contributions to American life made by an humble preacher who lived quietly and died in the frontier settlements on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge mountains.

From the Roanoke Times, Sunday, August 27, 1944

Note.-- G.A. Wilson was pastor of our church from 1882 to 1886. He was the father of Goodridge, who was a nephew of the late Prof. TP Campbell (1892-1928).


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