Crazy as it might seem, one enduring West Virginia legend posits that the land now within the boundaries of the Mountain State was first visited by a "lunatic," at least insofar as its discovery by Europeans goes.
"Early histories agree that the first white man to travel west of the Blue Ridge was a 'lunatic' from Winchester who, despite his mental condition, returned and gave an account of rivers flowing westward."
So wrote the late Jim Comstock, editor and publisher of the West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia and authority on the Allegheny Mountains region where the lunatic would have entered the borderland.
"He also reported that hunting was good in the country west of the mountains and that there was some fine farmland in the Greenbrier Valley."
"His journey took place in 1749," Comstock wrote, "and it was in that same year that the French engineer De Celeron [Pierre Joseph Céloron de Blainville] planted a leaden plate at the mouth of the Kanawha, claiming for his sovereign all the land drained by that river."
To establish French claims to the Ohio Valley, De Blainville buried at least six leaden plates at the mouths of major tributaries of the Ohio, including the plate at the mouth of the Kanawha at what's now Point Pleasant.
"The report given by the 'lunatic' influenced Jacob Marlin and Stephen Sewell to settle at Marlin's Bottom [now Marlinton] in Pocahontas County, the first permanent settlement in what is now West Virginia," Comstock wrote.
Comstock in his 1976 retelling in volume 13 (page 2883) of the encyclopedia neglected to cite a source for the tale, but Comstock, by his own admission, knew a good story and never let lack of a source prevent him from passing a tale along.
Tale of Eckerlin Brothers portrays struggle for religious freedom
The history of West Virginia is filled with stories of religious diversity — of hermits and holy men and of women who escaped the clamor and confines of civilization. Beyond the edge of the American frontier, its sheltered valleys promised both freedom and isolation in a potential Garden of Eden. That promise was not always fulfilled, as the case of the Eckerline Brothers demonstrates. Read the full story here.
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