|*To learn more about New London history be sure to visit the New London Museum website at www.newlondonmuseum.org.
New London The Forgotten
By Claude A. Thompson
No section of Virginia contributed more to the cause of freedom than the Piedmont region of Virginia, particularly that section comprising Bedford and Campbell counties. Action of its people for liberty centered in and around New London the seat of the first courthouse for Bedford County. Historians have failed miserably, however, to record the part so loyally taken by the people of Bedford and Campbell Counties to make this the great nation it is today. Those Piedmonters did much to make it possible for the framers of the Constitution of the United States of America one hundred and fifty-two years ago, on September 17, 1787, to declare to the world their creed contained in the Preamble to that great instrument:
“We the People of the United Stated, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The people of the Piedmont section of Virginia were as much a part of “we the people” as those of any other part of the thirteen colonies. They contributed their share of men, arms, and food in order that those who wrote the preamble and the constitution could do so in safety.
To know something about “we the People of Bedford and Campbell counties”, we should first bear in mind that they were not “We, the wealthy, the powerful, the ruling class, the aristorcrate.” They were democrats at heart who thought in terms of “Establish Justice”, “Domestic Tranquility”, “Common Defense”, “General Welfare”, and, above all, “Securing the Blessings of Liberty for themselves and their POSTERITY”. They well knew they themselves were soon to be passing on their way, yet unselfishly, they thought of their “posterity”. They had won their liberty on the battlefield, and had made their homes and farms secure from the tyranny of the agents of George III. These blessings came to them only by their valor, their hard work, and their self-denial. Such hard won blessings were dear to them. They knew what law and order meant to them and were determined that respect for the rights of man should never again be trodded upon on this soil when they declared openly and defiantly “to secure the blessings for our posterity.” The Piedmonters have never taken “liberty” to mean “license”. They respect law and order. For them it means the liberty to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience, to be free from legislation in which they had no part, and to be untrammelled by a state religion. Liberty to be safe and secure in their homes, in their property and possessions. Life for them was a correlative thing. They understood they owed certain duties to others and that others owed certain duties to them, for they emphasized such understanding when they used the words, “Insure domestic tranquility.”
To understand who these people were who lived in Bedford and Campbell counties we should first know something of their county origin, the boundaries thereof, and their local government.
In 4 Henning’s Statutes of Virginia, page 366, there is found the Act of the General Assembly of the House of Burgesses (Williamsburg) in the 5th and 6th years of the reign of George II (May 1732), creating the county of Lunenburg, from which county Bedford was formed (1754).
The Act reads,
“An Act for dividing every of the counties of Richmond, King George, and Prince William.
Whereas, by reason of the great length of the parishes of North-Farnham, Sittenburn, Hanover, and Hamilton, in the counties of Richmond, King George and Prince William, the inhabitants of those parishes do lie under divers inconveniences:
Be it enacted, by the Lieutenant Governor, Counsel, and Burgess, of this present General Assembly, and it is hereby enacted, by the authority of the same, That from and after the first day of November, the aforesaid county of Richmond, be divided into two distinct parishes; by Totaskey, and the Cross Creek thereof, to Colonel John Tayloe’s mill, and up that mill branch to the Forest-Quarter road, and by that road till it intersects with Westmoreland County, And that all that part of the said county of Richmond, which lies below the said bounds, shall, forever thereafter retain, and be called, and known, by the name of North-Farnham: And all that other part of the said county; which lies above those bounds, shall thereafter be called and know by the name of Lunenburg***”.
Twenty-one years later (November 1753) in the General Assembly of the House of Burgesses (7 Henning’s Statutes of Virginia p. 381, Chapter XVI, 27th George II), an Act was passed dividing the county of Lunenburg and the parish of Cumberland in said county. The Act reads.
“An Act for dividing the County of Lunenburg, and parish of Cumberland”.
Whereas many inconveniences attend the inhabitants of the county of Lunenburg, by reason of the extent thereof, and the said inhabitants have petitioned this General Assembly that the said county may be divided:
Be it therefore enacted, by the Lieutenant Governor, Council, and Burgesses of this present General Assembly, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That from and immediately after the tenth day of May next ensuing, the said county of Lunenburg be divided, from the mouth of Falling-river, up the said river to the fork, running by John Beard’s to the head, thence by a line to be run from the head thereof north, twenty degrees east, to the line dividing said county from the county of Albemarle; and all that part of the said county of Lunenburg, which lies on the upper side of the said river, and line to be run as aforesaid, shall be one distinct county, and called known by the name of Bedford; and that all the other part of said county of Lunenburg, shall be one other distinct county, and retain the name of Lunenburg.
And for the administration of justice in the said county of Bedford, after the same shall take place, Be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That after the tenth day of May, a court for said county of Bedford, be constantly held by the justices thereof, upon the fourth Monday in every month, in such manner as by the laws of this colony is provided, and shall be by their commission directed.
(This section provides for the sheriff to collect debts, serve process etc. in Bedford)
(Provides that Lunenburg shall retain jurisdiction of all suits begun before the creation of Bedford).
(John Payne and Matthew Talbot, the elder, of Bedford County and Peter Fontaine, the younger, and Lyddal Bacon, of Lunenburg County, were appointed to demand and receive all debts due the counties and to pro-rate it for the benefit of each county).
(Provides that Cumberland parish be divided, and the part in Bedford County to be known as Russell parish).
(Provides that the freeholders and housekeepers in Bedford County are to meet one month before July 10, 1756 and elect 12 vestrymen who must take an oath in court for the performance of their duties).
Twenty-eight years later, November 5, 1781, after the Revolution was about to come to a close, after General William Campbell had Valiantly led the Piedmonters to victory against General Ferguson at Kings Mountain, North Carolina, the General Assembly, meeting at Richmond, Virginia, passed an “Act for dividing the county of Bedford.” 10 Henning’s Virginia Statutes, p. 447, Chapter VII, 6th year of the Commonwealth. The Act reads,
Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That from and after the first day of February next, the county of Bedford shall be divided into two distinct counties, by a line to begin at the mouth of Judy’s creek on James river, thence to Thompson’s mill on Buffalo creek, thence to the mouth of Back creek on Goose creek, thence the same course continued to Staunton river, and that part of said county lying east of the said line, shall be called and known by the name of Campbell; and all the residue of said county shall retain the name of Bedford. That a court for the said county of Campbell shall be held by the justices thereof on the first Thursday in every month after the said division shall take place, in such manner as is provided by law for other counties, and shall be by their commission directed.
And be it further enacted, that the justices to be named in the commission of the peace for the said county of Campbell shall meet at the house of Micajah Terrill, in the said county, upon the first court day after the said division shall take place, and having taken the oaths prescribed by law, and administered the oath of office to, and taken bond of the sheriff according to law, proceed to appoint and qualify a clerk, and fix upon a place for holding courts in said county, at or as near the center thereof as the situation and convenience will admit of; and thenceforth the said court shall proceed to erect the necessary public buildings at such place; and until such buildings be completed, to appoint any place for holding courts as they shall think fit. Provided always, That the appointment of a place for holding court, and of a clerk, shall not be made unless a majority of the justices of the said county be present. When such majority shall have been prevented from attending by bad weather, or their being at the time out of the county, in such cases, the appointment shall be postponed until some court day when a majority shall be present. That the governor, with advice of the council, shall appoint a person to be the first sheriff of the said county, who shall continue in office during the term, and upon the same conditions as is by law appointed for other sheriffs.
Provided always, and be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for the Sheriff of said county of Bedford, to collect and make distress for any public dues or officers fees which shall remain unpaid by the inhabitants thereof at the time such division shall take place, and shall also be accountable for the same in like manner as if this act had not been made; and that the court of the said county of Bedford shall have jurisdiction of all actions and suits in law or equity, which shall be depending before them at the time of the said division, and shall try and determine the same, and issue process and award execution thereon.
And whereas by the division of the said county, the court-house in the county of Bedford will be inconveniently situated; be it therefore enacted, That the justices thereof shall hold their first court at the home of David Wright, and the said justices, or a majority of them, shall have power to fix on a place in the said county, as near the center thereof as the situation and convenience will admit of, for building a courthouse and prison, and until such buildings are completed, to hold courts at such place in the said county as they shall think proper. That in all elections of a senator, the said county of Campbell shall be of the same district with the county of Bedford.”
Campbell County was named for General William Campbell, a second cousin of Colonel Arthur Campbell, who was adjutant of the state militia in Western Virginia including Virginia’s largest county, Kentucky. Francis Preston Campbell wrote the biography of his illustrious father, General William Campbell, the hero of the Battle of King’s Mountain, North Carolina. He was, after a great debate in the Congress of the United States, declared the hero in that battle against General Ferguson, the British general who was killed there. Sevier of Tennessee and Shelby of North Carolina having taken part in that engagement contested Campbell’s right to the glory. General Campbell met the other generals near the old courthouse in Surry County, North Carolina and was selected to lead all the troops southward to meet Ferguson. General Campbell married Elizabeth, sister of the immortal Patrick Henry. He was the son of Captain Charles and Mary Buchanan Campbell. Captain Charles was the son of Patrick and Delilah Thompson Campbell the latter being the daughter of Captain William Thompson and ______Patton. Margaret, a sister of the General, married Colonel Arthur Campbell, the latter being the son of David Campbell brother of Patrick Campbell, the Grandfather of General William Campbell.
Campbell county’s poet, Frederick G. Speece, who was reared near New London, immortalized his county in 1829 with the following poem:
“Land of my birth! To thee belong
The bard, the subject, and the song:
Fair Campbell, tho’ thy verdant vales
Resound no shepherd’s fabled tales,
For thee no minstrel’s harp be strung,
And all thy beauties bloom unsung,
Yet thine are charms that might inspire
The pen, the pencil and lyre.
Mute is the chord whose tones should flow
In sprightly mirth or melting woe,
Silent the voice whose polished lays
Should vindicate the poets bays
Yet are the sons and daughters graced
With genius, learning wit and taste:
Plenty and health and hope abound
And peace and gladness laugh around.”
A few years after Bedford County was created New London was selected as the county seat. The General Assembly recognized it as a town and the County seat of Bedford, and in so doing provided (November 1761, 7 Henning’s Virginia Statutes, p. 474) certain building restrictions, among the most important were those prohibiting wooden chimneys. The court for Bedford county met on March 20, 1757, present John Phelps, William Callaway, Zachariah Isabelle, William Mead, Robert Ewing and Mattew Talbot as the presiding justice, and received and acknowledged and ordered recorded William Callaway’s deed to the trustees of Bedford County of 100 acres of land for “the building up and promoting the town of New London.” The court ordered that the trustees for the county lay out the land belonging to the county in lots of one-half acre each as long as wide to be sold for 101 pounds 8 shillings, with the provision that the purchase build a house framed twenty by sixteen within one year after purchasing same and a brick or stone chimney within four years, otherwise the lots to revert to the county. It was also provided in the order of the court “***that the subscribers for the said lotts after being numbered draw for their lotts at the May court and that the said town be called by the name of New London.”
Lot No. 10 was reserved for the courthouse and prison. It may be located today (1940) by a sunken place in the section of land lying in the southeast intersection of the present road, leading from the south into the Williamsburg-New London road, or opposite the home of Mr. William D. Abbott in the southwest intersection of the roads, whose home stood at the time of the old courthouse days, and the lot on which it stands was first purchased by William Stead from the county. The road from the south crossed the main road and continued to the north. The home of Dr. Nick Kabler now stands on the north side of the main road about in the center of where this old road from the south. His descendants still live on this site. Col. Richard Callaway bought lot 30 north of and adjoining the Thompson property. Colonel John Smith owned lot No. 11 on the main road east of the courthouse. Next came Henry Darnald, owner of lot No. 12, adjoining Col. Smith, then Joshua Early, owner of lot No. 20. The plat calls for a street across the main road east of Early’s lot. On the east side of that street Matthew Talbot, the first presiding chief justice, owned lot No. 21. Others who owned lots were: Col. Wm. Calloway, Lot No. 1; James Callaway, No. 2; Richard Doggett, Nos. 3 and 16; Alexander Sawyer, Nos. 13, 36, and 37; William Bumpass, No. 14; John Thompson, No. 10; 40 acres; William Inglis, Nos. 17 and 39; William Christian, No. 23; Ambrose Bramblatt, No. 28; Thomas Walker, No’s. 26 and 27; Alexander Boreland, No. 32; Matthew Talbot, No. 29; Patrick Hennies, No. 31; John Callaway, No 35; John Payne, No. 4; William Stead, No. 6; Nathaniel Geist, No’s 8 and 42 the latter containing 8 acres. James Noil ( probably Noel) No. 18 and 19; James Nail ( probably Noel) No. 44, 8 acres, adjoining lots 18 and 19 lying next to and south of the courthouse. Howard and Mead, merchants, owned Lot. No. 41, 11 acres; Lot 43, 8 acres; Lot 45, 5 acres. The foregoing enumerated list of the owners of lots in the town is not given so much to show the property owned but to show who were some of New London’s first settlers.
The road leading to the south from New London continued on the Staunton River, crossing that stream at Pocket Ford. It crossed the present Altavista - Leesville road at Mount Herman near Lynch’s station. It was known as the “Pocket Ford Road”. Troops moving south to the aid of General Nathaniel Green, as well as many people migrating to the Carolinas and Tennessee traveled over that old road.
Settlers who were pushing southward and westward replenished their stocks at New London, and sought protection from the Indians at that place. New London is on a plateau and had military advantages because of its elevation. The Militia located there gave protection not only to its inhabitants but, to the traveler, long before the Revolution.
When we consider the important part New London played in the early development of the Piedmont region and in the Revolution we shudder to think that its name was removed from the maps and replaced with the name of Bedford Springs solely because an adventurer wished to establish a summer resort hotel and needed the name to attract patrons. Those who had its name changed have long since passed on to their reward, and it remains for “posterity” to restore the fair name of New London.
Because of the importance of New London the General Assembly in 1787 established a general court (District Court) there for the counties of Bedford, Campbell, Franklin, Pittsylvania and Henry, and in order that those charged with a felony should not be forced at great expense to travel to the general court Richmond with their witnesses. This court (District Court) also had civil jurisdiction in matters beyond the jurisdiction of the justices’ courts in the enumerated counties. After Campbell County was formed in 1782 the land upon which the old Bedford county courthouse stood (Lot No. 10, New London) reverted together with the old courthouse to James and John Callaway, sons of William Callaway, who, at their own expense, repaired the old courthouse (1787), which had been out of use for 5 years, for use as the District Courthouse. In that same old courthouse Patrick Henry and William Cowan, both good lawyers- Cowan noted for his legal acumen and Henry for his oratorical abilities- opposed each other in the celebrated case of John Hook vs. Venable, an army commissary. Hook the plaintiff was a Scotsman and a merchant of great wealth in Bedford County. He evidently came to Bedford about 1772. The marriage records of that county show that he married Bett, (Betty?) daughter of John Smith, on February 29, 1772. James Donald was surety on his marriage bond.
Let J. L. Blake, a youth of 12 years of age and author of “The American Revolution and History”, published by Derby & Jackson, 119 Nassau Street, New York, 1857, (not copyrighted) tell about the celebrated Hook case. He says:
“The versatility of talent of which Patrick Henry, the American orator and patriot, was distinguished, was happily illustrated in a trial which took place soon after the war of independence. During the distress of the republican army, consequent on the invasion of Cornwallis and Phillips, in 1781, Mr. Venable, an army commissary, took two steers for the use of the troops, from Mr. Hook, a Scotsman, and a man of wealth who was suspected of being unfriendly to the American cause. The act had not been strictly legal and on the establishment of peace, Hook, under the advice of Cowan, a gentleman of some distinction in the law, thought proper to bring an action of trespass against Mr. Venable, in the District Court at New London.
Mr. Henry appeared for the defendant; and is said to have conducted himself in a manner much to the enjoyment of his hearers, the unfortunate Hook always excepted. After Mr. Henry became animated in the cause, he appeared to have complete control over the passions of his audience; at one time he excited their indignation against Hook – vengeance was visible in every countenance; again, when he chose to relax and ridicule him, the whole audience was in a roar of laughter. He painted the distress of the American army, exposed, almost naked, to the rigor of a winter’s sky; and marking the frozen ground over which they marched, with the blood of their unshod feet.
“Where was the man”, he said, “ who had an American heart in his bosom who would not have thrown open his field, his barns, his cellars, the doors of his home, the portals of his breast, to have received with open arms the meanest soldier in that little bank of famished patriots? Where is that man?-There he stands; but whether the heart of an American beats in his bosom, you, gentlemen, are to judge.”
He then carried the jury, by the power of his imagination, to the plains around York, the surrender of which followed shortly after the act complained of. He depicted the surrender in the most glowing and noble colors of his eloquence; the audience saw before their eyes the humiliation and dejection of the British, as they marched out of their trenches; they saw the triumph which lighted up every patriot’s face; they heard the shouts of victory; the cry of Washington and liberty, as it rang and echoed through the American ranks and was reverberated from the hills and shores of the neighboring river; “but hark’! continued Henry, “what notes of discord are those which disturb the general joy, and silence the acclamations of victory? They are the notes of John Hook, hoarsely bawling through the American camp, Beef! beef! beef!”
The court was convulsed with laughter, - when Hook, turning to the clerk, said, “Never mind you mon; wait till Billy Cowan gets up, and he’ll show him the law.” But Mr. Cowan was so completely overwhelmed by the torrent which bore upon his client, that when he rose to reply to Mr. Henry, he was scarcely able to make an intelligible or audible remark. The cause was decided almost by acclamation. The jury retired for form’s sake, and instantly returned a verdict for the defendant”.
In 3 Calendar of Virginia State Papers, p 604 is found this reference to John Hook.
“New London, Va., August 10, 1784, John Hook to the Governor of Virginia, requesting the seal of the Commonwealth attested upon a power of attorney he proposed to send to England, in order to collect a bond of 2000 pounds sterling, left by Jeffrey Gresley, late of King William County. This bond having been bequeathed to him by his mother Lady Gertrude Gresley of Leitchfield, England, payable to him or to his heirs at her decease.”
William Cowan was from Halifax County and practiced law in that and other adjoining counties. Notwithstanding Henry got the best of him in the famous beef speech at New London they were good friends. They had served together on the board of trustees of Hampden-Sidney College, Hampden-Sidney Virginia near Farmville, which college was established in 1775 and chartered in 1782, and for many years had as one of its distinguished professors Conrad Speece of New London, who taught there during the time Henry and Cowan were trustees of that school. Speece was not only a teacher at Hamden-Sidney, but he taught at Washington College (now Washington and Lee) and is buried at Staunton, Va. He was also a minister of the gospel in the Baptist and Presbyterian Churches in Campbell and other counties in the state. He never married.