There is a pride when it comes to being first. The first in your family to go to college, the first doctor or first place in some competition. In my family history Major William Vance and Colonel Joseph Vance have always been better known because of their Revolutionary War contributions. They are the ones I used to point to for their heroic accomplishments. But there was someone before them and they would not have been able to do what they did without him. David Vance was our first in America.
Since this is a personal history account you should know there is in ‘Vance lore’ a story that there were 3 Vance brothers (some say 4 or 6) who came to America and started this whole thing. No one knows for sure who they were but there is a good argument that David could’ve been one of them. He, along with his brothers and their descendants, stocked the New World with Revolutionary War heroes, congressmen, governors and pioneers.
David was born in Ireland and married Sarah Colville. They had 5 (or 6) children; John?(b.1712) Sarah, Mary, James (b. 1715) William (b 1718, later known as Major William), and David Jr(b. 1721). At some point David and Sarah packed up their family and headed for the New World. (If you want to know why read the earlier post Ireland to America) He either travelled with his brothers (he had 5) or some went ahead. Either way, after the 3 month journey in a crowded ship packed with other Scots/Irish immigrants they disembarked in Philadelphia then headed west to Chester County, Pennsylvania. His brother, Andrew is on record of living there in 1732. This seemed to be a staging or regrouping area as the families they traveled with prepared to head south into Virginia because a German named Jost Hite had acquired a huge land grant in northern Virginia.
For historical context (and because it’s really cool) the year my family arrived in America is the year George Washington is BORN, construction begins on Independence Hall in Philadelphia where the Declaration of Independence will be signed in 46 years and Ben Franklin begins publishing Poor Richard’s Almanac.
There were no developed roads, trains or even permanent borders plus Virginia was huge. Part of it would be trimmed off later in forming other states. The land was raw. This was the Shenandoah Valley. Even though Lord Fairfax owned most of it, grants and contracts were issued for other families to move in where 5 Indian nations had hunted.
The better known Hite promised to bring in 16 to 20 families with him and several of the Scotch-Irish settled on the banks of the Opecquon (pronounced Oh Peck un), a small river that runs to the Potomac.
David Vance was one of those first settlers in the area. He lived south of Winchester and east of Kernstown. Even though he came with other like-minded pioneers they did not live close to each other. They had good land and were willing to take their chances “with the denizens of the virgin forests whether wild animal or Redskin”(1)
First order of business would be building a strong, secure blockhouse or log cabin. In 1736 his boys were 21, 18 & 15. They would learn here how to build their own and would do so later when they carved out their own piece of land in a few years. James and David Jr. were across the Opequon from each other and William was further south.
Even though the deed was issued in 1736 it was not recorded till later as the county name changed from Orange to Frederick. Plus, keep in mind, there was no courthouse yet. There wasn’t really anything. Everything was new and being done for the first time.
The Vances helped establish Presbyterian churches throughout the region, the Opequon Presbyterian being the oldest congregation west of the Blue Ridge mountains.
David’s name was added along with sons, James and William, to a petition for a road from Jost Hite’s Mill to the Shenandoah river in 1739.
With the population beginning to grow in Frederick County there arose a need for justices of the peace. On the 11th of November, 1743, eight persons took the magistrates’ oath, and composed the court. Morgan Morgan and David Vance administered the oath to the other six who, in turn administered the oath to them. So David Vance (spelled Vaunce in original court records) became one of the first justices in the region and proceeded to deal with the needed business of the day. The next year his son, James, served on the first Grand Jury.
Lands were cleared, orchards were planted and crops were raised. These residents grew more grain and raised more farm animals than they needed, and exported food to the towns on the eastern seaboard using the network of rivers.
And remember George Washington who was born when we got here? By 1750 he was a young surveyor and he came around the area marking out the territory for Lord Fairfax. He visited with the Vances and became friends with James who also became a surveyor.
In 1754 the Indians abruptly left the valley. They were aligning with the French and soon a war would start with several friends and family joining the Virginia militia.
The average age of death in VA during the mid to late 1700s was 54. Many Vance men lived in to their 70s and 80s. David Vance died in 1768 putting him in that range. That was also the year that British troops began to land in Boston due to the political unrest that was growing. He had seen enough of that growing up in Ireland. His family had fought for freedom there for hundreds of years. They would have to fight again very soon. As his body was lowered into the Opequon Presbyterian graveyard his sons would soon help a new nation achieve the liberty he could only dream about.
So he made the voyage across the Atlantic with his family carrying with him his hopes and dreams for a new start. He made the 200 mile trip by wagon and foot from Philadelphia to Winchester. He carved out a home in the wilderness by hand and sunk roots with his family by his side. They were industrious, self reliant and strong.
I like to think of David sitting on his front porch, drinking cider and remembering with his wife all they had accomplished. He’s looking at his land and thinking of all that lies ahead for his family. He didn’t know it at the time, of course, but it included me. And here I sit looking back at Great(x7) Grandpa marveling at what it took just to survive and thrive. Somebody had to be first and I’m glad it was him. He didn’t just come to America. He, his family and those like him, became America.
(1)Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants; A History of Frederick County, Virginia Copyright 1909 by T.K. Cartmell