I've been waiting quite some time to write this post. It gives me an odd mixture of pleasure and sadness to have finally reached a point where I can write it: pleasure because a rather long and convoluted bit of detective work has finally paid off; but I admit to a touch of melancholy because now the journey is over and I no longer have the thrill of discovery to look forward to.
Some fifty yards southeast of my house, in woods so thick that you can't pass through them in the summer when the undergrowth is dense (not to mention tick- and snake-ridden) stands this pile of stones:
Note the lack of mortar. This is quite an old thing. It was the first thing that attracted me to this place when we were house-hunting two springs ago: who wouldn't be intrigued by a ruined chimney-stack like this? Just how old was it? What had stood here? What stories did it have to tell?
Then and there I resolved to find out exactly who had built it, and when. This, then, was the mystery I set for myself, the one that I am now with confidence able to say I have solved.
The first thing I was able to determine was that the log-cabin portion of my house once belonged to that chimney-stack. The cabin was disassembled and moved uphill fifty yards and reassembled over an 1870s foundation, where it stands today:
The interior was completely renovated in 1991 when the rest of the house was radically remodeled, and this is what it looks like today. (This has nothing to do with the detective story; I just love this room so much that I never resist a chance to show it off):
Since I am sure that the timbers from the old cabin are the ones that now constitute my walls (measurements of foundation-stones taken from the old site fit these timbers perfectly), I am also sure that the person who erected that old chimney made these adze marks on the logs:
(It's a German technique, brought over in the eighteenth century. You don't want cylindrical-log walls: That's trashy. Your walls should be flat, like the genteel people who live in the nice houses have. Secure the log so it won't move. Take your adze -- an ax with the head set perpendicular to the handle, looks a little like a rather deadly hoe -- chop-chop-chop into the log surface a few inches, then with a two-handled draw-knife you remove the chips made by the adze. What you're left with is what you see in the picture above: a nice flat, squared-off surface, but with adze-marks left over where you struck too deeply. For a very detailed discussion of German log-cabin construction techniques, see this Ph.D. thesis summary. The log cabin photographed and discussed on that page is just on the other side of Short Hill, about half a mile as the crow flies.)
So who was this guy, and when did he make those adze marks?
At the County Courthouse, whenever I had some minutes to spare on my commute home, I would stop in an make a pest of myself in the Land Records Room. I worked my way back through increasingly older deeds until I hit a brick wall in the 1870s --right when the cabin was moved uphill. The trail became very convoluted at that point, and I gave up trying to mine that frustrating vein.
My friend and neighbor Tom Bullock is earning a degree in historical preservation. Toward this aim, he's doing a mindbendingly detailed map of the farm properties around Lovettsville, with overlays going back in time: Here's how the property lines looked in 1890, here's how they looked in 1860, and so forth. He's reaching some very interesting and surprising conclusions about rural life in this part of Virginia a hundred, two hundred years ago, but that's a topic for another post. What's relevant here is that one day he excitedly told me he'd found an original name to associate with my property:
You see, Tom had hit on the fiendishly clever expedient of going back to the original Piedmont land grants from Lord Fairfax's time (the 1740s-80s) and working forward in time rather than trying to work backward, as I had been doing. (Fairfax, you may recall, was the fat-cat whose enormous Shannondale and Piedmont grants were surveyed by the young George Washington. He got a whole county named after him.) Almost immediately Tom found a deed of sale of 108 acres from Fairfax to Mull. The plat showed it clearly encompassing what is now my eight acres.
The deed is dated 1775.
Now if you take that plat and overlay it on a modern USGS topographical map, something very interesting becomes immediately clear. There are three colonial-era farmhouses on my road -- mine and two others. Mine lies comfortably in the southwest corner of that 108-acre plat. Only one of the other two lies within it. The one that lies outside belonged to Robert Booth (which is today Mousetrap Farm, an utterly charming house a half-mile away whose very kind owner has us over for swimming parties in the summer). The other is -- well. I'm getting ahead of myself. That's another post.
On the strength of the evidence, it was nearly incontrovertibly David Mull's hardy adze who made those marks on my wall sometime soon after 1775. But who was he? What did he do for a living? What did he like for breakfast? Was he kind to animals? Where did he come from? The answers to these questions seemed hopelessly out of reach. For a long time, I had only this brief and frustrating mention in Eugene Scheel's Loudoun Discovered (Vol. 5):
During the 1760s, the Reverend Charles Lange, Reformed pastor in Frederick [Md.], shepherded the Reformed [Lutheran] congregation in Loudoun. His diary entries of 1767 note that he visited the German Settlement [i.e., Lovettsville]...and administered the Lord's Supper (Communion) to 35, among them Conrad Hickerman, David Edelman, David Moll, and Frank Ritchie.Assuming the "Moll" to be an alternate spelling, this might mean that Mull was one of the German (i.e., Pennsylvania Dutch) squatters who migrated south in the 1730s and '40s from Lancaster County, Pa., and founded what is today known as Lovettsville. But no guarantees.
I found his will, dated 1794, in the Old Records Room. Handwriting analysts among you should be warned: The will says explicitly that Mull was "very sick and weak but of perfect mind and memory" when he put this signature on the document:
"Daid Mooll." Hey: his son had to sign his own will with an X. Those were not literate times. (Oh, wait, that's right. Those were perhaps the most literate times the world has ever known or ever will again.) Well. Not literate times for Pennsylvania Dutch squatters, anyway.
But yesterday, light finally dawned. I caught the old reprobate!
Having ankled into the Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg (the definitive genealogical repository for Northern Virginia, a place where among a certain antediluvian and highly remunerated set, Breeding and Quality are highly prized), I inquired of the librarian on duty if she had within her databases any record of Mr. Mull's existence.
Two requests for information on Mull had come in from the Indiana area in the last twenty years, sent by descendants researching their roots. The more informative of the two included an excerpt from their family tree. Here, then, is an aggregated summary of what I now know about David Mull:
He was born in Germany in 1731 and came to Lancaster County, Pa., in 1740, at the tender age of nine years, as an indentured servant. His original name was Muhle, but he changed the spelling and pronunciation to the Scottish-sounding Mull. It is not known when he married Margaret, but it is likely that he met her in Lancaster County before he migrated south to Lovettsville. He would have worked off his indenture in seven years, earning his freedom at the age of 16 in 1747. Some ten years earlier, a squabble had arisen over the exact placement and nature of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, resulting in a "reconaissance in force" by Lancaster County troopers against Marylanders. (This conflict pointed up the need for an accurate survey of that border, which led to the employment of surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, who drew the Mason-Dixon Line.) A faction of Pennsylvania Dutch of Lancaster County resolved to escape the violence and decamped for Loudoun County, where they founded the German Settlement along the banks of Dutchman's Creek, a tributary to the Potomac. Mull was too young to have been among the earliest arrivals, but may have heard of greener pastures from those who had left. David and Margaret came to the German Settlement in 1757, both aged 26. Eighteen years later, during which they were most likely squatting on Lord Fairfax's Piedmont Estate, David bought land at the foot of Short Hill Mountain from Fairfax -- perhaps even the very land they'd been squatting on -- that was bracketed by two branches of Dutchman's Creek.
Through the sheer, indomitable force of his will, he cleared the ancient forest from that mountainside (it's since returned, in droves), built that chimney from native stone, and erected my cabin. He sired two sons and two daughters -- George, David Jr., Rachal and Modlain -- and died in 1794, having watched, I can't help but believe with approval, the birth of the United States of America.
(Later edit: Commenter Will Divide points out that in 1757, the year the Mulls split for greener pastures in Lovettsville, "Shawnee/French war parties from as far as Ohio were raiding settlements, killing, kidnapping and burning farms in eastern Pennsylvania to within 50 miles of Philadelphia. DM and his new bride could well have been fleeing that nightmare." Yes! The 1722 Treaty of St. Albans had pushed the local aboriginals west of the Blue Ridge -- they are conspicuously absent from Lovettsville history. "Come on down to these rich lands south of the Potomac, where we all speak German and that nasty Seven Years' War is a distant rumor," you can easily imagine the letter to Lancaster County reading...)
He and Margaret lie now in this beautiful spot, under a headstone appropriate for a prosperous Lovettsville farmer:
Here's his footstone:
The dedicatory inscription on his headstone has sadly worn away, but the particulars are still legible: Departed this life December 27 1794, aged 63 years, 7 months, 22 days. Margaret outlived him by seven years, having survived to see the new century. Tom Bullock has found evidence that she ran a distillery, for which I can't help but express my approval.
David and Margaret, I raise my glass to your memory. The fruits of your labors are safe in my hands, and I will respect them and preserve them as long as life flows through my veins.