You might think of him as a sort of Johnny Appleseed of our day. Tom Brown of Clemmons, NC became interested in finding and saving heritage, or heirloom, apples in 1999. He heads out to the backcountry of Appalachia regularly in search of remnant trees. His goal, via his group Applesearch, is to save these almost forgotten varieties for future generations to enjoy by donating ‘scion wood’ to heritage apple nurseries and preservation orchards. He also takes grafts of the trees from wherever he finds them, in order to return new plants to their counties of origin.
To date Brown has discovered over 900 apple varieties, with an actual original tree being found in each case. One variety that he’s heard about continues to elude him, however. “I decided to go to the Summersville, WV area last year to see if I could find any trace of the Peggy apple from 200 years ago; this was a very long shot, but my mantra is ‘If I am not finding an apple, it is not that it does not exist; instead it is because I am not hunting hard enough.’
“That day I spent about five hours going up and down country roads, stopping where I saw large apple trees, and following up leads to larger orchards. I did find one person who had heard of the Peggy apple, and a Mr. Keener, west of White Water Road, who told me of a beloved sweet apple that had been lost forty years earlier.”
But he hasn’t found the Peggy apple yet.
The story of the Peggy apple begins October 10, 1774 at the Battle of Point Pleasant in what was then Botetourt County, VA. American colonial General Andrew Lewis led his troops down western Virginia’s Great Kanawha Valley to confront a coalition of Mingo and Shawnee Indians in what is now considered the first battle of the American Revolution. A soldier by the name of Henry Morris was among the ranks.
The battle began early in the morning and lasted until sunset. Through the day, the voice of Shawnee Chief Cornstalk could be heard above the din of the battle as he called to the untrained warriors of the forest, “Be strong! Be strong!”
The whites were being slowly driven towards the forks of two rivers. In the afternoon, General Lewis sent a detachment along the bank of the Great Kanawha River and up Crooked Run to attack the Indians from the rear. Henry Morris, who later became the first settler in what is now Nicholas County, WV, was with this detachment. The Indians, thinking the whites were being reinforced, began to give way and retreat across the Ohio River back to their village near what is now Chillicothe, OH. The Virginians pursued their attackers and negotiated a peace treaty at Camp Charlotte on October 25, 1774.
Many years after the battle, during the spring of 1791, Morris built a cabin near the banks of Peter’s Creek. The Morris cabin stood close to the site of the current day Fairview Baptist church in Lockwood, WV.
“The bleating of the deer, the howling of the wolf, the screaming of the panther, the gobbling of the turkey, the incursion of the bear when he wanted a fat hog to feast upon, the occasional visit of the Red Man, induced [Henry Morris] to take practical lessons in the science of gunnery,” wrote historian A.N. Morris. (1)
Three families settled in the area concurrently. A path led from the Morris cabin through the woods to the cabin of Conrad Young, about a mile up the creek. Edward McClung and his family had also built a cabin nearby.
A white man named Simon Girty spent the winter of 1791 with the Morrises at their cabin. During the following spring, Henry Morris discovered that Girty was wanted for several crimes, and asked him to leave the farm. A dispute over the ownership of one of the Morris’ dogs ensued, with Girty being escorted off of the farm at rifle point one morning.
Henry Morris went out hunting immediately afterwards on Line Creek, but shortly past noon the dogs came to him “with their bristles up.”
Being alarmed by the action of the dogs, Henry hurried home and told his wife that he suspected the dogs scented Indians. It was, by this time, late in the afternoon and soon would be milking time. There were no fences and the cows had to be driven up.
Since neither Henry nor his wife thought the Indians would show themselves until dark, he laid his gun aside and started to the spring for water.
Their daughters Margaret (Peggy) and Betsy were sent to get the cows. The girls started for the cows, following the path to Conrad Young’s cabin. Hardly had they disappeared from the cabin when their mother heard their screams and called to Henry that the Indians were after the children.
He seized his gun and rushed up the path the girls had taken. Henry found Peggy lying in the path almost in sight of the cabin. She had been tomahawked and scalped, her back broken. He picked her up, but she died before he could get her back to the cabin. Before she passed she named a “mysterious stranger” and two Indians as her attackers.
Henry hurried on to find Betsy and saw an Indian crossing the creek. Henry attempted to shoot, but his gun failed to fire. Seeing nothing of Betsy and believing she had been carried away, he proceeded to carry Peggy to the cabin.
The neighbors and Henry stood guard until morning, at which time they found Betsy’s body scalped and thrown into the underbrush. A rude coffin was shaped from slab wood and the two little bodies were buried in one grave. Henry planted an apple tree where Peggy fell. It seemed she had tripped and fallen when the Indians caught up with her. Grafts from this tree in orchards of neighbors preserved the “Peggy Apple” for many years.
(1) West Virginia historical magazine quarterly, Volumes 4-5, 1904, pp. 77-80, West Virginia Historical and Antiquarian Society