Sometimes we wonder about who-used-to-live-somewhere.
Say, like that large swath of land just to the north of Interstate 81’s Exit 140, starting with the Smartbus parking lot? Well, a man in Texas has the answer.
Mike Walsh, of Austin, is directly descended from landowner Thomas Walsh Sr. — listed repeatedly in Botetourt County records (before anyone dreamed up “Salem,” our area was “Botetourt”: Greater Fincastle, indeed). Mike’s latest visit to Salem in June taught him more about the storied family.
He’s working on a Walsh history, 1750-1903. Mike shared several pages of “Migration, Militia and Moonshine” with us and with a newspaper in Waterford, Ireland.
Thanks to crop failures in 1740s Ireland, Thomas Sr. agreed to become an indentured servant and set sail for Philadelphia (1746). He worked for half of his four-year commitment, but ran away from Joseph Ellis, “a man of influence.”
So, to Big Lick, Virginia. In 1760 Thomas Sr. acquired 140 acres along Mason Creek. He raised cattle and horses, and used skills learned in Ellis’ blacksmith shop — and added one of his own: Growing corn and transforming it into moonshine.
Son Thomas Jr. also tried an early exit from indenture, but returned. By 1777 he was free to join the American Revolution. He served “in the first American army ‘Special Forces unit’… Daniel Morgan’s Riflemen,” wrote Mike. Those were the “shoot-the-eye-out-of-a-turkey-at-100-feet”-guys. (Mike added that General George Washington exposed them to cowpox for immunity to smallpox.)
Thomas Sr. aided the Revolution by selling farm products — but was arrested at least twice for selling liquor without a license. Finally charged as a suspected Loyalist, he was “tried” at his tavern, “with spirituous liquors flowing.” Yet instead of the customary tree-hanging, he was merely fined “and ordered to ‘one hour of service.’ A good time was had by all.” (Mike emailed that the light sentence sounded “more for entertainment than for legal actions.”)
Mike notes another bit of legal goings-on: “The purchase of land through questionable methods may have been a Walsh family tradition.” TW Jr. wheeled-and-dealed in North Carolina. And the family has letters from George Washington to Botetourt County’s James Walsh futilely requesting payment for western lands (now West Virginia).
Most of the family’s wealth was lost following the Civil War, Mike wrote.
This 1936 WPA photo shows the Thomas Walsh Sr. house-&-tavern: a fine site for alcohol sales on the main road that cut through the property about 100-feet uphill from today’s Route 311.
Mike has visited the property several times. Someone told him that hunters burned the house in the 1950s, but a renter told him that a part of the old has been incorporated into the new house.
Long ago a sawmill was also on the large acreage. And downhill from the house may be three Walsh graves. Although Mike doesn’t think that Thomas Sr. and wife Joan were buried there, there are three six-by-three-foot sunken places — “holes [that] may have once held wooden coffins that rotted….”
Mike Walsh seeks more information on pre-1800 Botetourt County Walshes: Mike Walsh, Cedar Park, TX Mikewaustin@austinrr.com