THE PLANTATION HOME OF TWO MAKERS OF HISTORY
At Shepherdstown, the oldest town in what is now West Virginia, Moses Shepherd was born on November 11, 1763. His grandfather had founded the town.
When Moses was about seven years old his father, Colonel Shepherd, removed his large family to his plantation between Big Wheeling and Little Creek, which is now included within the limits of Elm Grove. On the banks of the creek he built Fort Shepherd, that the settlers for miles around might have a place of refuge from the Indians. Of this fort Colonel Shepherd was in command till it was destroyed by the Indians in 1777. The family was hastily removed to Fort Henry, nearer the present site of Wheeling. There they were hard pressed by the Indians. Moses, along with other children, assisted in the defence by moulding bullets and carrying ammunition.
Word went out to the neighboring strongholds of the endangered settlers at Fort Henry. Captain John Boggs, then at Catfish Camp (now Washington, Pennsylvania), hurried to the assistance of Colonel Shepherd with forty armed men. With him was his daughter, Lydia, who took her place with Moses and the other young people as an assistant to the defenders.
She was there when Molly Scott made her sally from the fort in search of shot, and she saw the heroine bring it in in her apron. She witnessed also the attempt of Major Samuel McColloch to enter the fort at the head of a squad of men which he had brought from Fort Van Meter, a few miles away. With joy she saw the men enter the gate of the fort, and her heart was in her mouth when she saw that McColloch, who was her cousin, was unable to follow because the Indians had managed to get between him and the gate. At last the gate was closed, lest the Indians gain entrance, and the gallant Major was left to his fate.
The Indians thought they could capture him easily. They hemmed him on Wheeling Hill, on three sides. On the fourth side was a rocky precipice almost sheer, coVered with growth of trees and bushes. But the savages were not to have such an easy victory after all, for Major McColloch urged his horse over the brow of the steep hill, and, to the astonishment of all, slipped, slid, and fell to the bottom, where the way across the creek and to safety was comparatively easy.
The Indians were finally driven away, but not until Moses Shepherd had made the acquaintance of Lydia Boggs, his companion in service at the fort. They were married later. In 1798, after the death of Colonel David Shepherd, Colonel Moses Shepherd took her to the palatial new home built on the site of the second Fort Shepherd, near the banks of Wheeling Creek. This house, which was called at first the Shepherd Mansion or the Stone House, later became known as the Monument Place.
The story of the third name, which still persists, is interesting. When, during Jefferson’s administration, certain farsighted statesmen advocated the building of a National Highway which should connect Washington with Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, Colonel Shepherd became one of the earnest and influential advocates of the road. He was a friend of Henry Clay, to whose indefatigable advocacy of the road was due much of the success of the venture. Clay was frequently a guest of the Shepherds, and in the stately stone house he talked with them about the difficulties, progress, and final triumph.
When the road was an accomplished fact Colonel and Mrs. Shepherd caused to be built on the lawn a stone monument dedicated to their friend, in appreciation of his service. The monument, whose inscriptions have become illegible, is in plain sight from the Cumberland Road, or, as it came to be called, the National Road, just before it makes a sharp turn to cross the sturdy stone bridge over Little Wheeling Creek. Possibly this was one of the bridges Colonel Shepherd constructed. At any rate he was a contractor for a section of the road, and several bridges were erected by him.
Along the Cumberland Road, which was the great highway between the East and the West, travelled home seekers outward bound and business men and politicians to whom Washington beckoned irresistibly. Among the regular travellers at this and later periods were Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, General Houston, James K. Polk, and others who made it a point never to pass the Shepherd Mansion without stopping. One of the early politicians who frequented the house, attracted there by Mrs. Shepherd, said: ” She had a powerful intellect in her younger days. Many of our caucuses were held in her drawing-room. She could keep a secret better than most women, but her love of sarcasm and intrigue kept her from being very effective.”
Mrs. Shepherd, in fun, had criticisms to offer of some of her visitors. Once she spoke of Burton, Clay, and Webster as ” those young men, promising, but crude, crude.”
She was accustomed to go every winter with her husband to Washington, where she would spend a few months during the season. They always travelled in a coach and four and they lived in great style at the Capital. There she was sought for her beauty, for her eccentricities, and her familiarity with private political life.
Colonel Shepherd died in 1832. In 1833 Mrs. Shepherd married General Daniel Cruger, a New York Congressman, who spent the last years of his life in West Virginia.
After the General’s death in 1843 Mrs. Cruger lived at Monument Place, receiving visitors as of old, and increasing in the eccentricities that kept any one from being her warm admirer. Always she proved herself an unusual woman. ” If fate had placed her in the compressed centre of a court, instead of in the inconsequent hurly-burly of a republic, she would have made for herself a great place in history,” Mrs. Rebecca Harding Davis once wrote of her.
She was still managing a large plantation during the Civil War, when a visitor dropped in to see her who has left the following picture of what she saw :
” We saw a well-built house of dressed stone, very large and solid, with the usual detached kitchen and long row of ‘ negro quarters.’ . . .
” Mrs. Cruger’s age was told by the skin of face and hands, which were like crumpled parchment, but the lips were firm and the eyes, deep set in wrinkled lids, were still dark and keen. She was then one hundred years old.
” We went up to see the ball-room, which was across the whole front of the house, with many windows and a handsome carved marble mantel at each end, and deep closets on both sides of these fireplaces.
” Like Queen Elizabeth, Mrs. Cruger would seem to have kept all her fine clothes. The whole walls were hung thick with dresses of silk and satin and velvet pelisses trimmed with fur; braided riding-habits; mantles of damasked black silk ; band-boxes piled from floor to ceiling full of wonderful bonnets, some of tremendous size, fine large leghorn straw, costing from fifty to one hundred dollars; also veils that would reach to the knee of ‘fine old English lace; gold and silver ruching; and fine embroidered cashmere turbans, a perfect museum of fashion from 1800 to 1840.”
To another visitor Mrs. Cruger explained that it had long been her custom to put aside each year two gowns made in the fashion of that year.
In her old age she liked to be alone. Frequently she would send every one from the house that she might bathe at night. Once her physician urged her to keep her maid near her. ” Why?” she asked; ” because I am afraid? afraid of what? of death? Death will not come to me for twenty years yet.” She was then ninety years old, and she lived to be nearly one hundred and two. She is buried, by the side of her two husbands, in Old Stone Church Cemetery on the hill above Elm Grove. A rough monument carries inscriptions to the memory of the three pioneers whose lives, as has been pointed out by a local historian, ” covered the Indian War, the Colonial Period, the War of the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War.”