A comment from frontier historian John Boback, regarding a claim made in the story below, “Tales of the Early Pricketts” from the 1917 history, Marion County in the Making:
Charity Taylor Prickett was not the first white woman to cross the Allegheny Mountains. She was not even among the first 100 white women across the Alleghenies. For example, Consider Mary Draper Ingalls who was in present Ohio and Kentucky as early as the summer of 1755. Another example can be seen in a diary entry written by George Washington where he mentions a white woman settler in the Kanawha Valley in the fall of 1753. And what about the upwards of 50 women killed alongside General Braddock in 1755? All of them were well beyond the Allegheny Mountains long before Charity Taylor Prickett arrived on the scene.
BJ Omanson replies:
Thanks John, we always appreciate your contributions. Of course, the information that Charity Prickett was not the first woman across the Alleghenies will not be news to most readers of this blog. But it did originate in oral tradition and might by now be said to have passed on into folklore.
The excerpts below from The Making of Marion County are included verbatim. Much of the charm, and real value, of this book is its inclusion, among a good deal of verifiable history, of folklore and legend, such as the final vignette at the end about the song of the dead Indian’s spirit. Not all of history can be reduced to hard evidence.
John Boback replies:
Widely held misconceptions and naive romanticized notions are indeed part of our collective story. In fact, such perspectives dominated local history throughout the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries. But then we learned better and began taking a more factually verifiable approach to history. The bottom line is that no matter how eloquently written or quaint a folktale may be, it is the historian’s responsibility to separate the wheat from the chaff. In other words, let’s call it as it is.
BJ Omanson replies:
Well, yes, call it as it is. If in fact we know what it is. In the case of Charity Prickett as the first woman across the Alleghenies, it may have begun as a sincere belief, based on incomplete information. In which case it would be an honest mistake.
If a story persists for decades in spite of all evidence to the contrary, until it takes on a life of its own, and spawns variant versions and a small body of literature, then it enters the realm of folklore. Many of the stories surrounding Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, for instance. These men were real historical individuals, to be sure, but they also exist as something more, something embedded in the national psyche, an idea, or ideal– a legend.
Certainly, as you say, the two must always be carefully distinguished, fact from folklore. I would not, however, characterize folklore as chaff. Folklore, mythology, art — these constitute a different class of truth. Not the truth of historical events, but the truth of a region’s, and of a people’s, psyche. Knowing how a people lived and what they did is only half the story. For the other half we must turn to other sources, folklore being pre-eminent among them.
John Boback replies:
Nineteenth and early 20th-century folklore is of great value to historians because it does indeed lend insight into the psyche of a people. The issue though is what people are being studied? Late 19th & 20th-century folklore tells us more about the psyche of late 19th and 20th- century people than it does the 18th-century subjects of those tales. Subjective truths published in a 1917 book on Marion County cannot be used to fill in the gaps of our objective knowledge of colonial America. To do so is a throwback to an older more error prone way of practicing history. And as a side note, I really like the book Marion County in the Making, especially the illustrations.
BJ Omanson replies:
I certainly agree that objective and subjective truths should kept distinct, and also that 20th-century folklore tales written about the 18th century are not true folklore, but only a type of historical fiction. — ( I’m not denigrating such writings; as literature they can be a perceptive exploration into the nature of their subject.) – But I agree with you that they cannot be used by the historian as if they were actual artifacts.
But I’m not clear on what exactly you are saying about Marion County in the Making. Can you clarify what you mean when you write, Subjective truths published in a 1917 book on Marion County cannot be used to fill in the gaps of our objective knowledge of colonial America. Can you give a specific instance? Are you suggesting that the authors concocted new stories and passed them off as genuine legends of 18th-century origin? Or are you saying that the authors misrepresented such old legends as actual historical events?
John Boback replies:
Let’s get to the crux of the issue. The bottom line is that there is a lot of bad local history out there. Errors find their way into books and blogs for any number of reasons. Misprints, misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and intentional falsification are just a few examples of how this happens. Unfortunately, once something shows up in print, it becomes self-perpetuating.
There are many documentable examples of authors intentionally fabricating accounts and documents relating to the Appalachian frontier in general, and the Monongahela frontier in particular. I suppose it will have to suffice to say that I have detected no evidence of anyone intentionally falsifying anything in Marion County in the Making.
Keep in mind that the intent of an author has a lot to do with whether a historical “fact” can be considered subjective or objective truth. By definition, an intentionally falsified document could not be a subjective truth for that the author. It would be an objective falsehood. However, hapless readers of that document could become unwitting victims as they incorporate those falsehoods into their conceptual understanding of a historical event.
Here are some specific examples from Marion County in the Making that contain subjective truths. By this I mean cited “facts” that an author believes to be correct, but in fact are not.
1) “Owing to conflicting claims in the Monongahela Valley, no land patents were issued before 1779”
What conflicting claims to the upper Monongahela Valley prevented land patents from being issued throughout the 1770s?
2) “Jacob Prickett, who located his claim in 1766, seems to have been the first settler in Marion County”
No, Jacob Prickett’s 1766 land claim was in present Fayette County, Pennsylvania. I can point out where it was located. Captain William Crawford had it wrong in his deposition.
3) “The men and women who braved the dangers of the wilds to plant new homes beyond the mountains were, of necessity, strong, fearless, persevering characters, inured to toil and hardships”
No. There were a lot of wimps on the frontier who ran for it at the slightest hint of danger. Even vague rumors of an Indian war party had settlers abandoning personal property and livestock as they fled east.
4) “Josiah Prickett and his wife, Charity Taylor Prickett, the first white woman that crossed the Alleghenies”
I already commented on this.
5) “not infrequently its [a fort’s] inmates were forced to withstand a siege of many days’ duration”
How many times did Indians actually lay siege to a fort in what is now Marion County?
6) “but of ninety or more important and well-known forts in West Virginia only three were in Marion County. These were Prickett’s Fort, at the mouth of Prickett’s Creek, in Winheld District, built in 1773 or 1774; Koon’s Fort, near the mouth of Koon’s Run, built in 1777; and Paw Paw Fort”
What about Buffalo Station at the mouth of Buffalo Creek? Does it count as a fourth for?
7) “roving bands of savages visited the community”
As opposed to the civilized Europeans . . .
“Isaiah Prickett and Susan Ox went out in the spring of 1774 to drive home the cows and were captured by Indians who killed Mr. Prickett and carried Mrs. Ox away into a captivity from which she never returned.”
There is no evidence that Susan Ox was carried into captivity. Perhaps she ran for it, got lost or became injured, and died in the forest never to be found
9) “He begged the white men to spare him”
Indian warriors did not beg for their lives.
10) “The last Indian killed in Marion County met his death at the hands of Levi Morgan”
So there were no Indians killed in Marion County during the 120 years between the closing of the frontier in the Marion county area and 1917? There is a stereotypical belief that Indians only occurred in the past and that they vanished with the closing of the frontier.
11) “the last red man seen in the county stood on a hill and watched the building of the Barnestown mill on Buffalo Creek”
Same comment as number 10 above.
BJ Omanson replies:
Most of what you list above are just honest mistakes, probably based on the best information available at the time. A few are stereotypical characterizations typical of the era in which they were written, and one or two others are probably hearsay.
These are things of which no history, even the most recent, is entirely free. Historians of the future will find our own efforts as flawed as historians today find the efforts of their predecessors. Each successive generation of historians attempts to improve on the efforts of the one before, and to uncover and rectify its errors. Yet every generation has its own peculiar prejudices and blindspots. Moreover, each new generation of historians is one generation further removed from the actual events in question. Which is why Marion County in the Making remains valuable, because its authors interviewed individuals who had known the first generation of settlers personally. In doing so– in saving numerous accounts which would otherwise have been lost– they rendered an invaluable service to this region’s history. It might also noted that the authors of Marion County in the Making were mostly high school students, which is probably one reason for its delightful freshness of tone– a rare quality in regional histories.
Lauren Prickett comments:
As a non-historian, an average Joe (or Josephine in this case), I could never keep up a conversation with John Boback or Bradley regarding historical fact. However, I wanted to share that after years growing up and living far away from Prickett’s fort, life circumstances brought me back within reasonable driving distance. I visited during the Fall Festival for my first time since 1997, and really enjoyed the experience. I commend those who dedicate time to studying, educating, and demonstrating history to people like me.
As far as I’m concerned, there is a genuine feeling that stirs inside people when history is brought to life. It offers some sort of sense of “belonging” to our own place in human history. I think inspiration happens when we have that sense coming up to the surface more consciously. My 6 year old daughter had that inspiration during our visit, and is terribly interested in all things colonial and native now. There is a sense of whimsy in her, a wide-eyed fascination with information, whether it be fact or fiction. It tickles me to see her tickled in learning about the past. She has some far fetched ideas, and makes up little tales in her mind of true historical figures, but that’s what engages her at this age.
Thank you for investing yourselves in sharing both facts and the human experience with average “Josephines”.