Early History of the Calmes Neck Area

Presentation by Charles Burwell at Tenth Calmes Neck Ecology Outing, Oct. 1984.
Transcribed from tape and edited by Paul Zeisset, Feb. 19, 1995

Indian Settlement

Indians inhabited this area from 9000 BC to just before whites came here–they got the word somehow. It was the late 17th Century that the Indians, for reasons still unknown, left the valley but used it as a hunting ground. The Delaware to the north and the Shoshonees to the south came here to hunt. We know they burned the valley in the fall. Using westerly winds, they would start the fires near Waterloo and burn the valley down to the rivers edge. All the game had gathered at the edge of the river. There are a great deal of Indian relics, and there are still people who go down there. I find most today are searching with electronics for Civil War relics instead of Indian relics.

How my Ancestors Got Here

Everything good starts when you chop off a king’s head. In 1649, my ancestors chopped off Charles I. If Charles head had not been chopped off, I certainly would not be here. The young Charles Prince of Wales went to Flanders (Belgium today), and with him went several faithful lords and ladies. One named Culpeper, who for his fidelity was later given by Charles II what was called the Northern Neck–all of the land between the Potomac and the Rappahannock. The Rappahannock only goes up into the top of the Blue Ridge down near Rappadan; the Potomac as you know goes through and across, and you can at least on paper make claim to anything from here to the Alleghenies. Culpeper’s daughter married Lord Fairfax and their son was the one who came here later, Thomas Lord Fairfax.

In our case, two of my ancestors, Robert Carter and Thomas Lee, were agents of Fairfax here. I must say that it sounds like real estate agents in those days were no better than those today. Carter ended up with more property than Fairfax had. As a result they called him King Carter. He was the biggest man in the real estate business at the time. He had a grant from Fairfax for 50,000 acres on the other side of the river. It basically went from the river to the Old Chapel, in fact almost to Berryville, and up to the Boyce railway track, and up to old Cook’s garage, the rise between here and Winchester, to new Route 50, and back to the river.

Fairfax had also divided his land into manors. There was the Manor of Leeds, which was on this side of the river. Leeds was the name of Fairfax’s castle back in the Shire of Kent in England. It was this Manor of Leeds from which Calmes Neck became a grant.

Terms of Leases

The terms for the leases in those days were interesting. You either leased from Fairfax for 21 years or three lives, that is for yours, your spouses, and a child’s life, and there could be other combinations with grandchildren. After three lives it reverted back. There were conditions for the lease. You had to build a house of at least 16 x 20 feet. It had to have a basement and a chimney, brick or stone. You had to plant a hundred fruit trees. George Washington, who did much of the surveying around here, in fact, always recommended the planting of apple trees, and that they be planted 33 feet apart. Apple orchards are a big industry in the valley today. The last requirement was that you had to maintain a good fence around that orchard.

Wording in Surveys

The interesting thing is to watch the surveys. The survey of the Manor of Leeds portion, 25,000 acres here running up the mountain, is dated 1730. A survey might say “you go from an old tree”. One says not just from a sycamore or an old oak, but “from a strange tree” to the lot across the river. What in the world is a strange tree? This particular survey made by John Warner (not the incumbent) in 1736 on the Manor of Leeds, including the Neck, said that you went, in one case, from an “old hollow oak tree to a mud hole in the Great Road”. Someone had commented on that survey that mud hole was going to be there longer than the oak tree. That was the problem. Apparently some of those roads were absolutely incredible. Anyone who came here commented on two things: the snakes and the roads, and they were both bad.

Importance of Wheat Farming

My family legend had it that an ancestor of mine came up here from Williamsburg and stayed here because of yellow fever down there in Tidewater, and because another king got his head cut off. Our family has just benefited. If ever I see a king, there is something about the neck that appeals to me. Louis XVI got his head cut off and his successors went to the usual excess, and there resulted the Napoleonic Wars.

As in all wars, the price of wheat went up. The price of wheat going up in the 1790’s and in the early 19th century had an immense effect on this area. This area was a breadbasket for the country and for the British. And those “island farms”, as we call them across the way (McIntire owns one and our foundation the other three), were great producers of wheat, and this was true all down along the river, and in other parts of the valley later, as the price of wheat became higher and higher.

The wheat was taken down the river. That is why two mills were built. Great barges went down to Harpers Ferry, and were broken apart there, and they sold both the wheat and the wood of the barges. The canal came in in about the 1830s, and they went on down to Georgetown to what was called the falls, where the great mills were.

In some ways there was a connection here between the river you live on and the Capitol of the United States being where it is, because Alexandria and Fredericksburg, VA were at one time among the biggest ports in the United States. Alexandria was the port for all the flour that was milled at Georgetown from this breadbasket here in the valley. It went to the West Indies, to New England, and sometimes, during the Napoleonic Wars when Bonaparte couldn’t control it, it went to England.

Earlier Settlers of the Calmes Neck Area

The point of this is that basically the people came increasingly into the valley in the 1790’s. But there were already people here. But who was here from the time of the Grants? 1736 was when Calmes arrives and is granted 500 acres in 1747. Who was here then? That is a whole generation ahead of my family coming here. Warner’s map shows a small stone cabin about where Kingdom Come is, and that is the only structure noted on that survey on this side of the river. Who lived in it we have no idea. The other names going upriver were Fishback, Timmers, and oodles of Ashbys, around the Route 50 bridge and, as you know, Ashby’s Gap. It used to be Ashby’s Ferry, and then Berry’s Ferry.

Arrival of the Calmes Family

My family legend is that my ancestor had invited from Williamsburg a Marquis de Calmes, a French Huguenot, to set out a vineyard for him in the 1790s after my ancestor had moved up here. In fact, that couldn’t be true because we later learned someone had dug up a tombstone just across the river were the Sites live, opposite the end of your Neck. The tombstone was that of Winifred Calmes, who died in 1751. So the Calmes family was not brought here 50 years later as the Marquis de Calmes; they were here well before my family arrived. What we now believe is that there was a Huguenot refugee named Marquis Calmes I, who came into Stafford County near Fredericksburg at the beginning of the 18th century.

Marquis Calmes II

He had a son born in 1705, Marquis Calmes II, who worked his way up from Fredericksburg, obviously lived at Mannassa Gap, the mountain above Front Royal, because that used to be called Calmes Gap. He arrived and was one of the first circuit judges in Winchester in the early 1750s, and bought one of the first lots there (lot 16) from Col. James Wood, who plotted Winchester when it was incorporated. In 1747, he bought from Lord Fairfax 500 acres at Calmes Neck.

He was one of the earliest settlers, because there was hardly anyone here in the valley up to the 1730s. And he prospered. He was a judge in Winchester, and had one of the four “chairs” as they called them. A chair was a two-wheeled carriage. He was in distinguished company, because the only others were Lord Fairfax and Joyce Hite, the other big landowner in the west part of the Valley, and Col. James Wood. Obviously Marquis Calmes II was a distinguished person. He was born in 1705, came here in the 1740s, and died in 1755.

Where Did Calmes Live?

The big mystery is where did he live? There is no record that Calmes ever lived on this side of the river. The strange thing is that Dick Plater has discovered just below his house, toward the river but still high up on the bluff, ruins built with the old style slate, about 6 inches thick, which you see quarried near the run. These include foundations of a house which is thought to be the house where Marquis Calmes lived.

John Estin Cook was a best-selling novelist in his day, just before and after the Civil War. He lived in the house where we live; his brother built it. John Estin Cook, writing in 1851, a hundred years after that period, wrote “Where did Marquis Calmes live? Where you see the threshing wheat near the tilthammer mill [that is where the stream comes in across from your beach; that was a sizeable settlement in the 18th Century] once stood the greatest tavern in all these parts. The level there was the racecourse …”

Horse racing was for the 18th Century gentlemen their greatest source of recreation. We have a local historian Alec Mackay-Smith who has just published a book on the quarterhorse. The quarterhorse was developed here in Virginia largely because we couldn’t clear the forest for the classic English oval racetrack. They took whatever open stretches they could find. These bottom lands were ideal for it. Quarterhorse racing prevailed. We have a brick barn on Foundation land, presumably the oldest brick barn west of the Blue Ridge mountains, which was the stud barn for that breeding.

“The level there was the racecourse where now old fellows of the county assemble to back their favorite horses [this was written in 1851]. The tavern was burnt down 20 years ago, in 1830. By the tilthammer, beneath a group of lofty palm-like trees were some obscure graves, the Huguenot graves, no doubt a century old. See how the moss has covered that obscure stone. That Marquis Calmes lived on the Vineyard Farm rests only on tradition however. There is no known evidence that he leased it, and it is certain that he never owned it.”

There is no known evidence that he lived on this side of the river either. That settlement there had not only the largest tavern in these parts but it had a chapel, with a public cemetery. Winifred Calmes’ gravestone was moved to the Old Chapel; his was so shattered it couldn’t be moved when discovered a hundred years ago.

The Settlement Across the River

There was a tilthammer mill where the stream opposite your beach joins the river and makes a falls. Col. Burwell had an iron ore mine up here in the mountains. A tilthammer mill works on the same principle as a grist mill, and there were two grist mills down at the river. You have a wheel that turns, and you have a huge lever with a heavy hammer at the end, hundreds of pounds, and as the wheel turns, powered by water, it lifts up the hammer and then lets it fall down again. You can put whatever you are making–a plow, buckets, nails–underneath that hammer, so that you can hammer and mold that hot iron.

The Settlement Around the Tilthammer Mill

They had vineyards, a tannery, a grist mill, and a distillery, which did very well. One of the cheapest ways to transport your grain is a bottle.

There is a judge’s record in Winchester, a judge having ordered someone to keep open the road from Millwood to the tilthammer mill, so that the children can go to school. The implication is that the school was not in Millwood, but right across the river in the settlement in the bottom land there. There was a tavern, houses, cemetery, chapel, and several mills.

Residents on This Side of the River

If the Calmes didn’t live here then who did? The Anderson family lived here, what I was told, in a house the ruins of which are at the bottom of Sallie Anderson Ridge. What I alway heard was that Sallie Anderson was a man. John Kelly Lloyd said it was always known as Sallie Anderson Ridge. John Kelly Lloyd was a blind man who knew more about any of this than I will ever know. Other names here more recently were Pierces, Tomlins, and Fowlers. Warren Fowler of Berryville said his father was born “in the Neck”, not on the Neck or at the Neck. There was about 100 yards north of Fran’s place the “back barn”, a very large barn, and a little house that may have been for the person who took care of that part of the agriculture. But we have no way of identifying them with Calmes occupancy. Obviously there were a lot of occupants, because a lot of farming was done over here.

The Ferry

Lastly, I will mention how that farm product got out of here. It got out by rowing across the river on a ferry. The ferry I knew as a child was a more recent one, dating from the beginning of this century, but the older ferry was at “deep water” just upriver from your beach. It doesn’t look like the most compatible place to have the ferry. The stream was not the strongest there. Access did not seem as good as elsewhere. It may be that they had to have a place that was deep enough for the ferry at all times. The ferry was generally a barge, at least the one at the end of the Neck when I was a child, a barge about 50 feet long, because a tractor and a threshing machine could get on it.

The simplicity intrigues me, of using nothing but nature’s power. Such ferries go very slowly, and as Nelson Sipe across the river says, they always need a little help. You had a heavy cable tied from one huge sycamore to another. You had a another cable tied from each end of the barge to a pulley on the heavy cable. If you put your wagon with wheat on it on this side and wanted to go to the other side to the mill, you would let out the cable at this end of the barge, and use only the force of the stream current hitting the slope of the side of the barge to push it slowly that way, with a little help. When you get to the other end you pull it in. When you wanted to come back, you let out the cable at the other end of the barge and the current would push it back here again. That was apparently the power used on the old original ferries, and that was the power used when I was a child.


Since we have gotten up to my times, I will leave the rest up to you.