The Vanbibber Dilemma

Spellings included: Van Bebber, Bebber, Baber, Vanbeber, Bibbee, Vanbibber, and many more! I’ve chosen to stick with one spelling: Vanbibber. This is the first in a series of posts about this family, its history, and its descendants.

Lately, I’ve been trying to trace my Vanbibber ancestors and relatives. It’s like looking for a needle in a stack of needles. My direct ancestor, Mathias Vanbibber, was born 1772 to (allegedly) Peter Vanbibber II and Margery or Marjorie Bounds and died in 1827 Nicholas County, West Virginia. His estate wasn’t probated until years later. I have been reading published histories, i.e. the Draper Manuscripts, Pioneers and their Homes on Upper Kanawha, and the tidbits of info that comes with the “hints” offered by Ancestry.  I am in awe of how quickly people pass on falsehoods then share them with one another. Frankly, some of this stuff is just hard to believe and to some extent untrustworthy.

Let’s take “Trans-Allegheny Pioneers” by John P. Hale, first edition published in 1886, for example. I have a copy of the 3rd Edition (Published by Roberta Ingles Steele, Radford, VA, 1971).  The book deals primarily with the capture of Mary Draper Ingles by a band of Shawnee from her home near Blacksburg, Virginia, her subsequent escape while making salt near Big Bone Lick (State Park south of Covington, Kentucky), and her tortuous endeavor to make it back home on foot. (See also, “Follow the River,” by James Alexander Thom, 1981). Hale, the author of “Trans-Allegheny Pioneers” however manages to include information about my Vanbibber ancestors and/or relatives.

But me-thinks Hale put quite a bit of too much emphasis on the stories proffered by 90-year-old David Vanbibber. For instance, this quip on page 70 states:

“…they passed the Falls of the Great Kanawha – over “Van Bibber’s Rock” where, in 1773, John and Peter Van Biber, Mathiew Arbuckle and Joseph Alderson spent a night under a shelving rock near the water’s edge, just under the Falls, to secrete themselves from a party of Indians, whose sign they had discovered, and where John Van Bibber pecked his name in the rock with the pole of his tomahawk. This fact is related by David Van Bibber*, ‘nephew of his uncle,’ still living and about ninety.”

*If this is David Campbell Robinson Vanbibber, son of Mathias, he would have been the ‘grand-nephew’ of John Vanbibber.

This story makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. Here are my reasons why:

  1. Tomahawk handles (“poles”) were usually crafted from hardwood, were they not? I’ve yet to find a wood hard enough to leave much of a mark in stone. OK, so say he used the sharp end to carve his name in the rock: Why would he make any kind of sound that could possibly attract the attention of the very people he was hiding from?
  2. If you’re “secreting” yourself and others from a band of warriors who will murder you upon discovery, why would you intentionally leave a mark – a sign you were there – for them to find?
  3. Yes, I’ve been there and yes, the falls make enough noise to deafen some sounds. I’m even aware that a dam was built upstream on the Bluestone since this time and the water/falls would have been much higher. But I’m also aware that they were near water and noises made near water tend to carry.
  4. I think David Vanbibber may have combined some of his recollections into one story. Or the author did.

“Get over it, Julie, and move on!” I hear you but I read this story and thought, “your life and the lives of your companions relied on how quiet you were.” So, not sure I believe this one in its entirety.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, however. Some of what is printed in Hale’s book is credible. For instance, on page 171, there is this paragraph:

The last survey made by [Daniel] Boone, before leaving the [Kanawha] valley, was on September 8th, 1798; Daniel Boone, marker; Daniel Boone, Jr., and Mathias Van Bibber, chainmen, as shown by the surveyor’s books.

This means I can probably go to the Archives in Charleston and see these surveyor books on microfilm. But it also led me to this conclusion: Daniel Morgan Boone (b. 23 Dec 1769) and Mathias Van Bibber (b. 27 Dec 1772) were close in ages, if these birth dates are correct and, as contemporaries, were doubtless the companions that the various histories tell us about. I think it likely that many of the stories that are told about Mathias “Tice” Vanbibber and Daniel Boone confuse the younger Boone with his father. That said, is the rifle in the possession of the WV Archives that was given to Mathias Vanbibber actually a gift from the elder Daniel Boone or the younger? I may never know.

Moving on through Hale’s “Pioneers,” there is this bit of info on pages 220 and 221:

John and Peter Van Bibber, brothers, came with the army from the Greenbrier, and afterward settled in this valley, and became the ancestors of a large and prominent family. One of them, Matthias, called “Tice,” was the companion of Boone in his hunting and trapping excursions, and chain carrier on his surveys. He became the father-in-law of Jesse Boone, Colonel Andrew Donnally, Colonel John Reynolds and Mr. Goodrich Slaughter, all prominent citizens of the valley, and still later, through the daughters of Jesse Boone, he became the grandfather-in-law of Governor Boggs, of Missouri, and Mr. Warner, a member of Congress from Missouri.

Wrong! The aforementioned in-laws were those of Captain John Vanbibber, Mathias “Tice” Vanbibber’s uncle. (Peter Vanbibber II, whom I believe was Mathias’ father, and John Vanbibber were brothers who fought together with brother Isaac Vanbibber at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774). I don’t know if the writer or the editor missed the switch from Mathias to his Uncle John or if it was intentional but this is misleading. The division of John Vanbibber’s estate, found in a Kanawha County Court Record dated 10 June 1823, the distribution of goods went to Col. Andrew Donnally, James Vanbibber, Hannah Slaughter, the representatives of Chloe Boone, and Miriam Reynolds. [2015. West Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1724-1985,].

    • Col. Andrew Donnally (Jr.) was married to Marjorie aka Mary Vanbibber;
    • James Vanbibber married Louise Reynolds;
    • Hannah Vanbibber married Goodrich Slaughter;
    • Miriam Vanbibber married John Reynolds;
    • Chloe Vanbibber married Jesse Bryan Boone, son of Daniel Boone & Rebecca Bryan. This is the only marriage for which I cannot find a record. The others are on file in West Virginia, specifically Kanawha County.

My point is that history books can be wrong, too. It’s best to gather them together, glean what each has to say, then determine what the truth might be. I’ve even read that Draper’s Manuscripts has errors therefore one must take the history books with a grain of salt. When history is written based on the recall of witnesses, let alone individuals from two or three generations later, it becomes less accurate.

One thing I have learned from personal experience: Eyewitness accounts are not 100% reliable.

Let’s me move on through this “sorting” dilemma.

*UPDATE 9/16/2022: Since posting this on 19 April 2020, I learned that in fact Peter Vanbibber III, son of Peter II, nephew of Isaac  and Capt. John Vanbibber, did participate in the Battle of Point Pleasant. He applied for a Revolutionary War Pension and subsequently received a monthly stipend. In his sworn affidavit, included with the records filed with the National Archives is his statement regarding his engagement at the Battle. Peter III moved subsequently to an area about the mouth of Little Sandy River in Ohio. He is interred in (present) Vanderburgh County, Indiana. There is no such proof that his father, Peter Vanbibber II, was also at the Battle but then there is no complete list of names of all those who participated.


Please follow and like us:

1 thought on “The Vanbibber Dilemma”

Leave a Comment