Sheaves Of Golden Grain

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It’s the snugness that makes the valley. On both sides blue mountains hem it in, brooding over the farmhouses like a mother hen blooding over her chicks. There is a time, just when the sunlight touches the crest of the Blue Ridge, when there is too much beauty for believing. This is land to come to and not leave. The Indians loved it, and named it Shenandoah —“Daughter of the Stars.” They came to hunt in the thick green foliage, to drink the cool water, and to make up poetic stories that expressed their love for the valley.

 

It’s the snugness that makes the valley. On both sides blue mountains hem it in, brooding over the farmhouses like a mother hen blooding over her chicks. There is a time, just when the sunlight touches the crest of the Blue Ridge, when there is too much beauty for believing. This is land to come to and not leave. The Indians loved it, and named it Shenandoah —“Daughter of the Stars.” They came to hunt in the thick green foliage, to drink the cool water, and to make up poetic stories that expressed their love for the valley.

White men, coming first in the late Seventeenth Century, found grass growing from the limestone soil so high that they could tie it across their saddles. Many kinds of people came to settle. In the northern portion were Palatinate Germans, Mennonites. and Lutherans. Farther south were the Scotch-Irish, a brave and iron-veined people, who had such a fear of God that it left no room in their hearts for fear of any man. They liked this land, this gateway to the West. Fifteen hundred feet above sea level, with a brisk, pleasant climate, it was ideal for stock, grain, orchards, and tobacco. Settlers could stand on the crest of the Blue Ridge, wash their faces in the clouds, and look out over miles of land as bonny as that of Scotland.

This is the story of a Scotch-Irish family that came, and one member of it who changed our agricultural history.

Like many a Shenandoah saga, this begins not in the lonely valley, but in crowded Philadelphia. In the spring of 1735 Thomas McCormick and his wife Elizabeth Carrutli disembarked there and set out to make a new home in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. They eked out a living and brought five sons into the world. The filth, Robert, fought with Washington’s army against the British, returned home to marry Martha Sanderson, and then set off to the Virginia frontier. Hallway up the valley he found the right place, rolling fields into which he wanted his wooden plow to bite.

Though it was only 1779, the land had already had lour owners. Benjamin Borden, was the first; he obtained a grant of 100,000 acres in 1737 and opened the area for white settlement. Borden sold a portion of the tract to Tobias Smith, who in turn sold it to William Preston on May 12, 1760. On August 5, 1765, Preston deeded it to Daniel McCormick, who was no relation to the newcomer, Robert McCormick. Daniel’s heirs were willing to sell 450 acres and the two log structures erected by Tobias Smith, right on the boundary between Rockbridge and Augusta counties.

 

There exists no exact account of the buildings which Robert McCormick bought, but they doubtless had hewn logs for walls, shingles for the roof, plank doors cut with a whipsaw and trimmed with a broadax. There must have been an open stone fireplace, a pine table with benches, garners for holding grain, beds filled with straw or chaff. To the modern eye, little comfort here; but to the pioneers, home.

The newly established immigrants did the one thing all newcomers had to do. They got to work. That was the only way to put down roots, to belong to the land. Robert McCormick and the family he had brought with him worked hard; at the time of his death he would leave three slaves and eight horses. His only Virginia-born son, also named Robert, was born oil June 8, 1780. Young Robert grew up, learned to work the land, and married Mary Ann Hall, who lived two miles down the Great Path. Until they could build a home of their own, they lived in one of the log cabins on the McCormick homestead.

A year later, on a cold February night in 1809, their first child was born. They named him Cyrus Hall McCormick.

These were hardheaded, hard-working country people. Even if they had had time, they would not have daydreamed much about the little baby’s future. Surely they would not have supposed he would become one of the most important persons in the nation—any more than would another log cabin family out in Kentucky, the Lincolns, who had also had a new son just three days earlier and had named him Abraham.