History of Calhoun County

Calhoun County was created by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on March 5, 1856 from parts of Gilmer County. At that time, the county had less than 2,500 residents.

Calhoun County was named in honor of John Caldwell Calhoun (1782-1850), a famous statesman from South Carolina who championed the cause of slavery, the South, and state's rights. Born on March 18, 1782, he graduated from Yale University in 1804, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1807. He elected to the South Carolina state legislature (1808-1809), represented South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives (1811-1817); served as Secretary of War (1817-1825); Vice-President of the United States (1825-1832); represented South Carolina in the United States Senate (1832-1843); served as Secretary of State (1844-1845); and returned to the U.S. Senate in 1845 and remained there until his death on March 31, 1850.

The First Settlers

The first native settlers in central West Virginia were the Mound Builders, also known as the Adena people. Remnants of the Mound Builder's civilization have been found throughout West Virginia, with a high concentration of artifacts located at Moundsville, West Virginia, in Marshall County. The Grave Creek Indian Mound, located in the center of Moundsville, is one of West Virginia's most famous historic landmarks. More than 2,000 years old, it stands 69 feet high and 295 feet in diameter.

According to missionary reports, several thousand Hurons occupied present-day West Virginia during the late 1500s and early 1600s. They were driven out of the state during the 1600s by members of the powerful Iroquois Confederacy (consisting of the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida and Seneca tribes, and joined later by the Tuscaroras tribe). The Iroquois Confederacy was headquartered in New York and was not interested in occupying present-day West Virginia. Instead, they used it as a hunting ground during the spring and summer months.

During the early 1700s, central West Virginia, including present-day Calhoun County, was used as a hunting ground by the Mingo, who lived in both the Tygart Valley and along the Ohio River in West Virginia's northern panhandle region, the Delaware, who lived in present-day eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, but had several autonomous settlements as far south as present-day Braxton County, and by other members of the Iroquois Confederacy, especially the Seneca.

The Mingo were not actually an Indian tribe, but a multi-cultural group of Indians that established several communities within present-day West Virginia. They lacked a central government and, like all other Indians within the region at that time, were subject to the control of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Mingo originally lived closer to the Atlantic Coast, but European settlement pushed them into western Virginia and eastern Ohio.

The Seneca were the closest member of the Iroquois Confederacy to West Virginia, and took great interest in the state. In 1744, the Seneca boasted to Virginia officials that they had conquered the several nations living on the back of the great mountains of Virginia. Among the conquered nations were the last of the Canawese or Conoy people who became incorporated into some of the Iroquois communities in New York. The Conoy continue to be remembered today through the naming of two of West Virginia's largest rivers after them, the Little Kanawha and the Great Kanawha.

The Seneca, and other members of the Iroquois Confederacy, claimed all of present-day West Virginia as their own, using it primarily as a hunting ground. Also, war parties from the Seneca and other members of the Iroquois Confederacy often traveled through the state to protect its claim to southern West Virginia from the Cherokee. The Cherokee were headquartered in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee and rivaled the Iroquois nation in both size and influence. The Cherokee claimed present-day southern West Virginia as their own, setting the stage for conflict between them and the Iroquois Confederacy.

In 1744, Virginia officials purchased the Iroquois title of ownership to West Virginia in the Treaty of Lancaster. The treaty reduced the Iroquois Confederacy's presence in the state.

During the mid-1700s, the English had made it clear to the various Indian tribes that they intended to settle the frontier. The French, on the other hand, were more interested in trade. This influenced the Mingo to side with the French during the French and Indian War (1755-1763). Although the Iroquois Confederacy officially remained neutral, many in the Iroquois Confederacy also allied with the French. Unfortunately for them, the French lost the war and ceded the all of its North American possessions to the British. Following the war, the Mingo retreated to their homes along the banks of the Ohio River and were rarely seen in central West Virginia.

Although the war was officially over, many Indians continued to see the British as a threat to their sovereignty and continued to fight them. In the summer of 1763, Pontiac, an Ottawa chief, led raids on key British forts. Shawnee chief Keigh-tugh-qua, or Cornstalk, led similar attacks on western Virginia settlements in present-day Greenbrier County. By the end of July, Indians had captured all British forts west of the Alleghenies except Detroit, Fort Pitt, and Fort Niagara. Then, on August 6, 1763, British forces under the command of Colonel Henry Bouquet retaliated and destroyed Delaware and Shawnee forces at Bushy Run in western Pennsylvania, ending the hostilities.

Fearing more tension between Native Americans and settlers, England's King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763, prohibiting settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. However, many land speculators, including George Washington, violated the proclamation by claiming vast acreage in western Virginia. The next five years were relatively peaceful on the frontier. In 1768, the Iroquois Confederacy (often called the Six Nations) and the Cherokee signed the Treaty of Hard Labour and the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, relinquishing their claims on the territory between the Ohio River and the Alleghenies to the British. With the frontier now open, settlers, once again, began to enter into present-day West Virginia.

During the American Revolution (1776-1783), the Mingo and Shawnee, headquartered at Chillicothe, Ohio, allied themselves with the British. In 1777, a party of 350 Wyandots, Shawnees, and Mingos, armed by the British, attacked Fort Henry, near present-day Wheeling. Nearly half of the Americans manning the fort were killed in the three-day assault. The Indians then left the Fort celebrating their victory. For the remainder of the war, smaller raiding parties of Mingo, Shawnee, and other Indian tribes terrorized settlers throughout West Virginia. As a result, European settlement in the state came to a virtual standstill until the war's conclusion. Following the war, the Mingo and Shawnee, once again allied with the losing side, returned to their homes. However, as the number of settlers in the region began to grow, and with their numbers depleted by the war, both the Mingo and the Shawnee moved further inland.

First European Settlers

A Mr. Ennis is the first known Englishman to set foot in present-day Calhoun County. In 1770, George Washington was surveying in the vicinity of Calhoun County when he reported in his journal a chance meeting with Mr. Ennis, who had traveled down the Little Kanawha River through the present site of Calhoun County. Later that year, six men, including William White, Thomas Drennen, Paul Shaver, and John Cutright, scouted for Indians along the Ohio River and, in the process, passed through Calhoun County. In 1772, William Lowther, Jesse Hughes, and Elias Hughes journeyed from the West Fork Valley into the Little Kanawha Valley. They discovered and traveled along what is now known as the Hughes River.

George Washington also received reports during the 1780s from Captain Thomas Swearengen, Captain John Hardin and Zackquill Morgan of their explorations of present day Calhoun County.

Abraham Thomas was probably the first, permanent, settler in present-day Calhoun County. In 1774, he was granted four hundred acres in what is now Calhoun County, and he built a cabin on his land along the banks of the Little Kanawha River. He was soon joined by Richard Yates, Henry Castle, and Paul Armstrong. In 1811, Philip Starcher built a cabin near present day Arnoldsburg.

Important events of the 1800s

The first meeting of the Calhoun County court house was held on April 14, 1856 at the home of Joseph W. Burson. His home was located at the mouth of Pine Creek, on the Little Kanawha River (Mr. Burson was later killed in the Battle of Arnoldsburg during the Civil War).

During the Civil War, Calhoun County's county government ceased to function and postal services were suspended. The county seat at the time, Arnoldsburg, was the center point activity for both Federal and Confederate troops. In 1862, Federal troops constructed a military post in Arnoldsburg, named Camp McDonald in honor of Colonel Adonijah J. McDonald, a late commanding officer of the 186th regiment, Virginia Enrolled Militia.

In May 1862, Camp McDonald was garrisoned by four regiments of the Eleventh (West) Virginia Volunteer Infantry, under the command of Major George C. Trimble. Not long after the Camp had been set up, scouts discovered a gathering of four hundred Confederate irregulars in southern Braxton County.

Trimble ordered two companies of his companies to march up the West Fork of the Little Kanawha, and expected to meet the Confederate force in separate, small bands. However, after a march that lasted all day and all night, scouts discovered that the Confederates had divided their forces, and by a flanking maneuver, were attempting to cut Trimble's forces off from Camp McDonald. Major Trimble quickly retreated back to his base camp. They reached their base camp on the evening of May 5, 1862. The next morning, a thick fog had settled over the valley. Using the fog as cover, the Confederate force established a stronghold on the hills overlooking the camp. However, by a stroke up luck, a Union scout stumbled up the Confederate camp. A Confederate sentry noticed him, and fired a shot at him, thus waking the Union troops, and warning them of the impending attack. The Confederate irregulars opened heavy fire while the Union men were forming a line. However, the fog prevented them from getting clear shots, and they could only fire in the general direction of their target.

Lieutenant James Robinson, of Company C, Eleventh (West) Virginia Volunteer Infantry, was ordered to take the point overlooking the camp, where the Confederate troops had taken up their position. Lieutenant G. W. Baggs, commanding Company A, was ordered to take the opposite hill. Lieutenant George W. Parriott placed Company F in a position to defend the base camp.

The fighting went on for three hours. When the fog lifted, the Confederate troops focused their fire on the Union troops' horses, killing and wounding many of them. In the end, however, the muskets and rifles that the Confederate guerrillas brought with them from home could not compete with the power and greater range of the government issued rifles that the Union troops had. Seeing no way to drive off the Union troops, the Confederate troops fell back.

During the three hour battle, the only Union casualty was Private Francis Cunningham, of Company C., who lived, but was shot through the arm and shoulder. Two members of the Confederate force were killed, Joseph W. Burson (the same Joseph W. Burson, mentioned earlier) was shot through the head, and killed instantly, and Captain John Elam Mitchell, a Methodist Protestant minister, who was shot through the hips and died later from the wound. Also, Martian Douglas was seriously wounded, and crippled for life.

County Seat

Calhoun County's seat has changed location on several occasions. In September, 1856, the justices of the county court met at a house near the residence of Peregrine Hays in Arnoldsburg. In the meantime, the act creating the county specified that the county's residents were to determine if the permanent county seat was to be located at Pine Bottom, the mouth of Yellow Creek, or at the "neck of the Big Bend." The voters apparently choose the site at the mouth of Yellow Creek at the first general election held in the county in November 1856. However, the county justices did not get along, and two county courts emerged, one consisting of the leading citizens from Arnoldsburg, and the other from Pine Bottom. They later resolved their differences and a unified county court was established at Yellow Creek, the current site of Brooksville, on September 15, 1857. The following year, the county seat was, once again, moved back to Arnoldsburg and the county court acquired land from Peregrine Hays to build a county courthouse.

In 1862, Union forces under the command of Thomas M. Harris captured Arnoldsburg and placed Peregrine Hays under arrest as a political prisoner. The state legislature then moved the county seat to Grantsville. It was originally settled by Eli Riddle during the 1820s, but the land was owned by Simon and Ruth Stump when it was platted in 1866. They named the town in honor of General Ulysses Simpson Grant, General of the Union Army during the Civil War and later the 18th President of the United States (1869-1877). The town was incorporated in 1896.

Once the Civil War concluded, the citizens of Arnoldsburg demanded that the county seat be returned to them. A fire of mysterious origin, assumed to be arson, burnt the courthouse under construction in Grantsville to the ground before it was occupied in 1869. Soon after, the state legislature ordered the Calhoun County court to move the county seat, apparently back to Arnoldsburg. The court met in Arnoldsburg on August 26, 1869, but then met at Grantsville in September, and then back in Arnoldsburg in November. An election to settle the matter was held in October 1869, and the county electorate selected Grantsville as the permanent county seat. The leading citizens of Arnoldsburg then contested the election as irregular. Their appeal failed. But, refusing to give up, the leading citizens of Arnoldsburg charged in 1898 that the courthouse at Grantsville was unsafe. They tried to get the county seat changed once again. It was put to the vote, but, by a vote of 935-925, it was decided to keep the county seat in Grantsville. Two year later, in 1890, the county government tore down the courthouse in Grantsville, and replaced it with a two-story brick building at a cost of $8,400. It was later replaced in 1941.


Calhoun County Centennial, 1856-1956. 1956. Grantsville: Calhoun County Centennial Corp.

Calhoun County Historical and Genealogical Society. 1989. History of Calhoun County, West Virginia. Waynesville, NC: Walsworth Publishing Company.

Calhoun County Historical and Genealogical Society. 1982. Calhoun County in the Civil War. Grantsville, West Virginia: Calhoun County Historical and Genealogical Society.


Dr. Robert Jay Dilger, Director, Institute for Public Affairs and Professor, Department of Political Science, West Virginia University.

Joseph White, undergraduate history major, West Virginia University.

P.O. BOX 508
304-275-4231   304-354-7797
Diane Ludwig, Director