When I read family traditions regarding an ancestor, I'm reminded of an Antiques Roadshow episode years ago when a woman produced a large decorative teapot and proclaimed, "This came over with my ancestors on the Mayflower in 1620." The host intoned, "Madam, the teapot didn't arrive in Britain until the early 1700s." Then turning it over to read the mark, he added, "And yours was made in England in the 1880s." You should have seen her face fall.
The descendants of Peter Whittinghill (c.1752-1844) (our 5th great-grandfather) had numerous family traditions about his origins.
From the 1987 revision of Michael L. Cook's The Whittinghill Family in America: "(1) One family legend is that he was kidnapped and impressed as a seaman on a ship sailing to America in 1770, at the age of eighteen, and upon landing in Virginia (or Pennsylvania), he escaped. [H]e either assumed a fictitious name in order to escape his abductors, or . . . was illiterate . . . and with an accent, the name sounded like Whittinghill . . . (2) . . . Peter was a stowaway on a ship sailing to this country, and the captain discovered him en route, grew fond of him, and sponsored his entry into the state of Pennsylvania where he took the name Whittinghill for safety. . . But the family favorite was (3) . . . Peter Whittinighill was a Hessian soldier, transported to this country by the British . . . he changed his allegiance and joined the colonists in their bid for freedom in the American Revolution." The author, however, found no similar name in German records of Hessian mercenary troops.
The first white settlements in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, lying west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, were not a result of the Virginia Tidewater Europeans spreading plantation life west, but founded by Pennsylvania German and Scots-Irish Borderers, who had originally immigrated to Pennsylvania Colony. They moved south down the Great Wagon Road from western Pennsylvania into the Valley of Virginia, trickling in during the 1730s, then at an accelerating speed into the 1750s and until the American Revolution.
|Augusta County, Virginia (originally covering more territory than now, much of it in present-day West Virginia)|
And here I should tell you that Peter Whittinghill married
Catherine Gabbart (Gerbert Gabbad Gabhardt Gabhart) (1750-1830) (our 5th great-grandmother) about 1778 in the part of Augusta County, Virginia, that later became West Virginia, and that he was closely associated, perhaps even before the marriage, with our 6th great-grandparents, Mathias and Christina Gabbart, who operated a grinding mill. Peter may have apprenticed with the Gabbarts, for he, too, became a miller.
|Lancaster County, Pennsylvania|
Well, back to Peter Whittinghill, who was most likely German-speaking and most likely migrated south out of Pennsylvania with the Gabbarts, apprenticed to Mathias as a miller. He married Mathias' oldest daughter Catherine Gabbart about 1778.
|Mill built in early 19th century in Rockbridge County, Virginia|
Peter Whittinghill's first known land purchase was in Rockbridge County (formerly part of Augusta). As a grantee, he was "Peter Whittingham." When he sold the property a few years later, he was "Peter Whittinghill."
|Rockbridge County, Virginia|
This we know is true. Peter served in the American Revolutionary War on behalf of the colonies in the Virginia Riflemen, 2nd Division, Virginia Militia, but not necessarily well. In Augusta County, on October 22, 1778, he was charged (spelled on the paperwork as Peter Wittenhill) for being absent without leave from Captain John Young's Company, and not appearing at a private muster on September 4, 1778 (along with a number of other militiamen), and summoned to appear at the next meeting of the military court held under Colonel Sampson Mathews. Read about Mathews HERE. Peter had recently married - a reasonable excuse for not showing up, I'm sure. But he additionally failed to muster six more times through 1782. The militia was so desperate for men, he probably was only fined for his repetitive breaches of proper military conduct. Because he was present and accounted for during the entire year of 1781, he likely participated in the Battle of Richmond early in the year against Benedict Arnold and the Siege of Yorktown in October. He might have witnessed Cornwallis' surrender. He never applied for a pension, and the militia roster appears lost; so these AWOLs are our only proof that he fought for his new country.
|Surrender of Cornwallis by John Trumbull|
Peter Whittinghill first appeared on the Augusta County tax list in 1779. During the following two decades he and his father-in-law Mathias would purchase land, build a mill, operate it for a few years and then sell it - at a profit, I expect. They stayed in business together until about 1796. By 1797 or 1798 when their last daughter Jane was born, Peter and Catherine were already "bound away for Kentuk." Mathias and Christina died in Augusta County in 1798.
|Mercer County, Kentucky|
|Kentucky River Watershed|
By 1816 they were in Ohio County, Kentucky, where daughter Elizabeth (Whittenhill on the marriage certificate) (1794-1859) and William Erwin (1790-1855) married and became our 4th great-grandparents. Perhaps Peter built a mill on the Green River.
|Green River, Ohio County, Kentucky|
|Green River Watershed|
Some of their children went with them but, now adults, they established their own homes there. Peter and Catherine were living alone in the 1820 census. In the1830 census they were in Grass Township, Spencer County.
|Spencer County, Indiana|
Peter does appear in the History of Warrick, Spencer and Perry Counties, published in the 1885; he was noted for having operated a grist mill in Spencer County. "The corn-cracker was turned by a sweep, each man hitching on his horse or oxen to grind his own grain and afterward turning the bolt by hand." Peter's son,William Whittinghill (1795-1850) is mentioned for having "caught a large black wolf across the line in Warrick County, and brought it over to Gentryville, where it was disabled and made to fight the dogs. It could lick any of them singly. Whittinghill tanned deer, wolf, bear and other skins at his tannery."
Peter was buried at the Samuel Gentry Burial ground, NW of Folsomville, in Owen Township. This cemetery is on land now largely strip-mined by the coal industry; a remnant of the cemetery lies on a knoll, part of it fallen into a pit. Only a few eroded sandstone markers remain.
Pleasant Whittinghill (1826-1907), a grandson, served in the Mexican War.
Benjamin F. Whittinghill, another grandson (1838-1910 ) served in the Union army, Company I of the 53rd Regiment, Indiana Volunteers, and saw much action with Grant. He was ordered with 31 others to charge across a field during the Battle of Kenesaw Mountain outside of Atlanta in 1864. Fourteen were killed or wounded and Benjamin, with two others, was captured. His two companions died in the Confederate prison and when he was released, he was so emaciated from ill-treatment and starvation, he could hardly walk.
A granddaughter of Peter, remembering him in her 80s, recalled that he was very old and still had an accent from "the old country." What country that was, we'll never really know.