Photo by Larry Wendt

Massanutten is a palimpsest landscape along the Shenandoah River overwritten many times by such events as European colonization, the French Indian War, the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and then another hundred and fifty some odd years of "worthy happenings" in the book of American history. To our good fortune, many of these events are extensively documented in Massanutten though often at the detriment of notating the day to day events of the public and private lives of the inhabitants. Still, there is enough general and intimate material available about this region I am sure to endlessly occupy the time of several graduate students working on a variety of historical theses.

Though I am specifically interested with this portion of my web site in the early history of the Beaver family during the late 18th and early 19th century (with hopes of eluding to some parallels with the early history in Fauquier County of this web site's supposed primary family, the Cockrills), it is difficult to gloss over the documented labyrinthine family interconnections of Massanutten. It is a story weaved into a rich and seemingly contradictory tapestry difficult to absorb in any concise way: it becomes a confusing mess when only one line is teased apart from the rest. Having made just a single short visit to the area, I am none the less deeply impressed by the profound sense of history one can easily perceive while attempting to learn a little about this place. What I have gathered on these pages are magpie snippets from a few random "classics" about the area augmented with what I could find in the libraries and on the Web about the various families which are connected in some way to the Beavers. By no means all-inclusive or the latest in accurate scholarship, it is however intended to be a representation of what histories are available as "low hanging fruit" to give one a grasp of the outlines of this enormous story.

From Forerunners: A History or Genealogy of the Strickler Families Their Kith and Kin, by Harry M. Strickler (Harrisonburg, Virginia: 1925), pp. 21-22:


Where the first settlement was

made in the Shenandoah

Valley of Virginia.

Massanutten to which I now refer is not the name of a town or mountain but of a beautiful section of Page County, Virginia, lying between the Massanutten Mountain and the Shenandoah River, a few miles to the north of the Fairfax line and immediately east of a gap in the said mountain known as the New Market Gap. An imaginary line drawn east from New Market across the mountain and thru the gap to the river would very nearly divide Massanutten into two equal parts. In going from New Market to Luray over the highway that passes through the gap, one is afforded a magnificent view from the top of the mountain of the Massanutten Country as well as of a large portion of Page County stretching out toward the Blue Ridge. The view east of the river at this point includes the territory drained by the Hawksbill and Mill Creek, eastern branches of the Shenandoah, and comprises probably half, if not more, of the better lands of Page County...

The Shenandoah River in Page County flows in a north-easterly direction along the eastern base of the Massanutten Mountain, describing on its way a series of graceful curves. As it approaches the Massanutten Country, it hugs the base of the mountain south of the gap but immediately sweeps out into the valley, only to return again to the mountain to the north of the gap, completing an irregular semicircle embracing a large extent of fertile level river bottom land, -- roughly speaking about 2,500 acres. This bend is easily distinguished from the other bends in the river, as it does not approach a point, as most of them do, but the river flows almost straight northeast for about two miles...

A small clear stream, called Massanutten Creek, rises in the gap and flows east through the Massanutten country to the river, dividing the territory into about two equal parts. It was on the banks of this stream that many of the first settlers built their homes. The home of at least four, Benjamin and Isaac Strickler, Brubaker and Stone, were built on the stream within a short distance of each other.

Originally the name Massanutten was applied no doubt to a larger scope of territory. Jacob Stover's lower 5,000 acre patent which reached from Alma to the the mouth of the Hawksbill on both sides of the river, a distance of ten miles or more, was referred to in the early days as the Massanutten patent.

On a map published in 1796 I find that the river in Page is designated "Massanutten or South Branch." This map is bound with the Heads of Families. Massanutten was an important name in the early history of the valley. It was probably the first place name. In 1746 the gap at New Market was known as the Massanutten Gap for the reason that Massanutten then was of much more importance than New Market, which was not even in existence. The mountain at this time was known as Peaked Mountain. Afterwards the name became attached to the mountain range that extends from Harrisonburg to Strassburg, a distance of fifty miles.




From Forerunners, p. 25:

When our ancestors located at this spot they found scenery not unlike their own Alps in Switzerland, not so sublime probably, nor so awe-inspiring perhaps, but beautiful scenery nevertheless, -- "God-like scenery for God-like men for God-like purposes." The scenery is too beautiful, too awe-inspiring, too grand, too sublime, too wonderful, and too much like Heaven must be to be described. So I will not attempt it. I think sometimes that the people who live amidst this wonderful scenery do not appreciate it. I may be mistaken. I hope I am.



 Photo by Larry Wendt, 5 Oct 2004   Photo by Larry Wendt, 5 Oct 2004


From A History of Shenandoah County Virginia, by John W. Wayland (Shenandoah Publishing House, Strasburg, VA: 1927), pp. 48 - 49:

Kercheval [A History of the Valley of Virginia, by Samuel Kercheval (1833)] the Herodotus of the Valley, says: "The two great branches of the Shenandoah, from its forks upwards, were among our earliest settlements." However, in his opinion, Jost Hite was the great Valley Pioneer. Hite, with a number of relatives and friends, settled a few miles south of the Shawnee Spring (Winchester) in 1731. John Lewis and his followers founded Staunton in 1732. Recent investigations by Mr. Kemper and others have revealed the fact that Massanutten was settled as early as 1727 or 1728. The names of the Massanutten pioneers, as preserved for us, are Adam Miller, Abram Strickler, Mathias Selzer, Philip Long, Paul Long, Michael Rinehart, John Roads, Michael Kauffman, and Jacob Stover. Their descendants are numerous and influential today in Massanutten land and adjacent regions of Page, Shenandoah, and Rockingham, and many have gone afar to fame and fortune. Most or all of these pioneers were Germans who had first come to Pennsylvania or adjoining colonies; and as to religious affiliation they were chiefly Mennonites and Lutherans. They chose out fertile tracts along the winding Shenandoah and began to carve out busy homes in the wilderness.

Massanutten was an "old field" (prairie) that nestled in a great bend of the river (south branch of the Shenandoah), just east of the New Market Gap in the Massanutten Mountain. The mountain at that time was probably called "Buffalo Mountain" or "Peaked Mountain"; but the gap was known as Massanutten Gap. At any rate, in 1746, when Thomas Lewis and his colleagues surveyed the Fairfax Line, the mountain was called "Peaked Mountain," while "Massanutten" was the name applied to the gap. At that time Philip Long was living on a fine tract only a few miles above Massanutten, at a place now celebrated as "Old Fort Long"; and the surveyors of the Fairfax Line visited him repeatedly.

Today the Massanutten country may be readily located by the tourist who crosses the Massanutten Mountain between New Market and Luray on the splendid Lee Highway. Massanutten Creek intersects the road at the eastern foot of the mountain; and "Massanutten Heights," the historic old homestead on the bank beside the road, overlooks the actual Massanutten "old field" -- a homeland dear alike to red and white men, scene of romance and tragedy, theme of bard and chronicler. In 1924 Mr. Harry M. Strickler of Harrisonburg, Va., a descendant of one of the pioneers, published a most interesting book entitled "Massanutten," in which many particulars, both historical and genealogical, are collected.

In 1727 Massanutten was in Spotsylvania County; from 1734 to 1738 it was in Orange; from 1738 (actually from 1745) to 1753 it was in Augusta; from 1753 to 1772 it was in Frederick; from 1772 to 1831 it was in Shenandoah (first called Dunmore); and since 1831 it has been a part of Page County.






From Forerunners, p. 19:

Adam Miller is now conceded to be the first white settler in the Shenandoah Valley. He located near Massanutten in 1726, as shown by his naturalization certificate. Abraham Strickler and other Swiss settlers came with him to the Valley, no doubt, as they purchased land from Jacob Stover, the Swiss land agent, at the same time in the same locality, and joined in the same petition in 1733 to the Governor of Virginia for the purpose of having title to lands purchased from Stover confirmed.

As the name Massanutting Town was so early applied to the place, the supposition is that it was an old Indian trading post long before the first settlers purchased land there. This might explain why Wm. Beverly, on Apr. 30, 1732, wrote to a friend in Williamsburg asking him to secure for him a grant of 15,000 acres "Including a place called Massanutting Town." Beverly also refers to it as an "Old Field," which indicates that there were no trees on the land. Probably the entire river bottoms were devoid of trees. Kercheval in his history of the Valley, says that great areas of the valley were covered with grass when the first settlers arrived. John Ledere, a German explorer, visited the valley in 1669 and drew a map of it, making the valley "Savannae" meaning prairie."


There does not appear to be any information describing a relationship between this Adam Miller to Jacob Miller another old pioneer in the area.


At first living in relative harmony with the native populations, difficulties soon arose with increased white incursions into the region. During the French Indian war, the white settlers were actually driven out of the Shenandoah Valley in 1758 for several months.

From A History of Shenandoah County Virginia, pp. 55-56, 64:

Kercheval says that nearly all of the early settlers in Shenandoah County were Germans and that most of them were Lutherans, Mennonists, or Calvinists; that there were few Tunkers and Quakers. He declares that the Indians troubled the whites very little during the first twenty-odd years of settlement -- that is, up to 1753 or 1754. From his accounts it is evident that for a number of years the whites and the Indians were neighbors in the Valley, living peaceably and on friendly terms. Tradition has it that the red man did not object to the Pennsylvanians coming in -- and most of the early settlers of the Valley were from Pennsylvania. The Indians did object violently to the invasions of "Long Knives" from Tuckahoe (that part of Virginia east of the Blue Ridge); but they probably thought of all Pennsylvanians as bound by the treaties of peace and friendship that William Penn had made with the sons of the forest on the banks of the Delaware. There were at least a few Quakers in the Valley prior to 1738, and some of them had followed Penn's example to the extent of purchasing their lands from the Indians...

Large portions of the Valley were prairie tracts when the first white settlers came. Surrounding these "old fields" were of course splendid virgin forests. Much of the greater part of the lower Valley, between Winchester and the Potomac, was savanna; so also was much of the Massanutten region. Perhaps one reason Jacob Stover and others came so far up the Valley was to get cleared land. Allen's Bottom and Meem's Bottom were also probably void of tress, as were numerous tracts of larger and smaller size here and there. The fires kindled annually by the Indians killed the tender sprouts of oak, pine, hickory, and other forest trees, and so the prairie tracts grew only grass and similar vegetation from year to year. After the whites came in and the prairie fires were checked, great forests grew up in many sections of the country.

...emissaries from the Ohio Valley came among the Shenandoah Indians in 1753, and the latter shortly withdrew westward across the Alleghanies. Their going was looked upon by the whites as an ominous sign. This was the year in which Governor Dinwiddle sent young George Washington to Lake Erie with a polite note to the French commander asking him to withdraw from the Ohio country. The Frenchman was even more polite, but said very plainly that he would not withdraw. Next year Washington was sent out to Wills Creek (Cumberland) and beyond with a small force, with inadequate support, and had to surrender at Fort Necessity. In 1755 came the bloody defeat of Braddock, a few miles this side of Pittsburgh. After that the whole frontier of the Virginia settlements was left exposed to the fury of the Indians and the enmity of the French. Not all of the Indians took sides with the French, but a great many of them did. The nine years of the French and Indian War were a long night of disaster and terror to the frontier families. Washington built Fort Loudoun at Winchester in 1756, and was charged with the defence of the frontier. A line of forts were erected from the south branch of the Potomac far down into the southwest, but the line was too long and Washington's men too few to keep the stealthy savages and their cunning French leaders from slipping through. Fawcett's Gap, Scheffer's Gap, Brock's Gap, Cedar Creek, Stony Creek, and Mill Creek prsented openings on the western side of the Valley that were rugged and sinuous, but sufficiently passable for small war parties that carried little "impedimenta" -- little except rifle, tomahawk, and scalping knife. No doubt scores of the Indian warriors who now invaded the Shenandoah settlements had been residents of the same cherished land and were familiar with every trail and hiding place. However, no records have been found of any raid into the Valley before 1757, but in that year, and especially in the next, raids were frequent and deadly. They continued from time to time until 1766 -- three years after the war between the French and the English was ended.



Many of the immigrants into Massanutten where Mennonites from Pennsylvania settling upon and working large fields of property along the Shenandoah River. Their faith was strongly rooted in pacifism, however events such as the murder of George Painter and several members of his family along with the capture of 50 settlers hiding in his home in 1758 and the massacre of the pacifist Mennonite preacher, John Roads, his wife, and six of his children, in 1764 galvanized the community between those who resisted all forms of warfare and those who defended themselves by whatever means necessary.


During Colonial times, the only approved religion for Virginia was the Church of Virginia: meeting and practicing another religion in the area was viewed as act of civil disobedience and often led to prosecution, suppression and beatings. Freedom of religion, as defined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, came about largely from the events which had occurred in Colonial Virginia (see Robert H. Moore II's useful newspaper column, "Page played a part in the early history of the Baptist Church in Virginia").

Around the time of the American Revolution, a majority of the Mennonites in the Massanutten area converted to the Baptist faith, in which they shared similarities.

From A History of Shenandoah County Virginia, pp. 207-208:

In early Shenandoah there were at least a few Quakers, as noted elsewhere; and there was a rather large German Quaker (Mennonite) population, especially in the section now Page County. The Mennonite ministers of Shenandoah were an outstanding element in the community's history, particularly in connection with the war of the Revolution. Their stand was taken on strict peace principles. Like others of the same faith in the same section and adjacent sections in the Civil War and the World War, their opposition was probably not directed towards this or that party in the strife, but against war as such.

Just before the Revolution the Baptists began to make inroads on the Mennonites through the preaching of John Koontz, James Ireland, and others. The Mennonites became alarmed and sent for the preachers from Pennsylvania. As a result, Peter Blosser, Mennonite minister, arrived in Shenandoah from Pennsylvania in 1776, during the opening stages of the war. He was a man of 60, but very active. He led a drive for non-resistance among the German Quakers. This may have been as effective in keeping men out the army as that of Muhlenberg was in making soldiers out of them.

Pursuit of Blosser by an officer named Bender illustrates Blosser's fearlessness. Bender swore he would seize and punish Blosser. The latter, to foil him, would hide in immediate proximity to Bender, while Bender's men were scouring the country elsewhere for the non-resident preacher. Discovery of the ruse threw Bender into rages, but Blosser eluded him. This incident is said to be well known as a reliable fact among Blosser's descendants, though it has perhaps not been put into print more than once.

Martin Kauffman, Baptist preacher convert from the Mennonites, did not believe in slavery, oaths, or war. He assisted Blosser in peace propaganda and caused a division in the White House Church.

The work of Blosser and his associates explains in large measure why the Shenandoah minute books contain so few names of militia officers appointed during the Revolution from the Mennonite sections of the country.

Among early Mennonite preachers of Shenandoah County were Michael Kaufman (1714-1788); John Rhodes, killed by Indians in 1764 or 1766; Jacob Strickler, of "Egypt"; Abraham Heistand, minister in Thornton's Gap after the Revolution; Henry Shank; and Revs. Stauffer and Graybill, who preached on the North Fork (Shenandoah) as early as 1754.



The Massanutten Baptists followed a division of the Baptist Church which occurred in the early nineteenth century and were first known as "Old School Baptists" and now as "Primitive Baptists." Initially the split was over the issue of establishing missionary societies within the church, with the Primitive Baptists taking the stance that such societies were the inventions of men and not defined by the word of God. In disagreement with the modern or liberalist changes in church doctrines and procedures of the "Regular Baptists" over the years, the Primitive Baptists follow an older order of the church which believes that the King James Version of the Bible as the true word of God, and among other things does not allow salaries for its church leaders, the use of musical instruments in Church other than the voice, or the establishment of religious seminaries, Sunday Schools, social groups, and bazaars (for more detail about this church see The Primitive Baptist Library of Carthage, Illinois and the Primitive Baptist page of Wikipedia). From the viewpoint of what this website is supposed to be about, several members of the extended Cockrill family who came to Sonoma County, California in 1853 were also Primitive Baptists.


Photo by Larry Wendt, October 2004   Photo by Larry Wendt, October 2005   Photo by Larry Wendt, October 2004

This old school house now stands next to the Page Public Library in Luray.



Photo from Ross Williams   Photo from Ross Williams


This monument to the pioneers of Massanutten stands on the north side of the U. S. Highway 211 (Lee Highway) not far from Hamburg, Virginia. It was designed by Philip M. Kauffman, a descendant of John Rhodes, the Kauffman family, and a C. S. A. veteran of the Civil War. He is also the designer (in 1924) of the Rhodes family massacre monument at the site of the Rhodes farm and probably Martin Kauffman's stone next to the White House property. The Massanutten founders are listed here as being: Jacob Stover, Christian Clemon, Henry Sowter, Mathias Selzer, John Brubaker, Ludwick Stone, Abraham Strickler, Michael Kauffman, John Rhodes, Michael Cryter, Phillip & Paul Long, Martin Kauffman, and Michael Rinehart.

(The photos of this monument were taken by Ross Williams in 2001)


Several short informative essays about historical events occurring in Page County, including the Massanutten area, can be found in an archive of newspaper columns by Robert H. Moore II, titled "Heritage and Heraldry" for the Page News & Courier,


More historical information on the Internet about the Massanutten region and Page County can be found at:

Page County Heritage Association

Historic Sites in Page County

Fort Egypt

The Genealogical Society of Page County, Virginia



Return to Cockrill homepage

This page created on 08/04/05 22:54. Updated 10/21/10 16:01.