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Land grants, charters and who is oldest

By Staff | Sep 14, 2012

During the celebration of Shepherdstown 250, we have learned much about the town once known as Mecklenburg. Thanks to diligent study by local resident Patrinka Kelsh, the Chronicle has read multiple documents regarding the establishment of the town as well as the application for the town’s charter to the Virginia House of Burgesses.

While we have spent the year, and continue with ongoing festivities to celebrate the granting of the charter of the town which officially established the town as far as the state government was concerned, Thomas Shepherd had certainly established his town much earlier. In fact, Shepherd received a land grant in 1734 for 222 acres, 50 of which he carved out and began apportioning into lots for settlers. While Shepherd did not officially name the area Mecklenburg until 1761 and he did not apply for its charter until 1762, we agree that the town was established and we currently celebrate not only the 250th anniversary of that charter but also the 278th birthday of the actually start of formation.

The oldest town in Jefferson County (although initially chartered in Frederick County), there is much controversy between Shepherdstown and Romney over who is the actual oldest town.

Thanks to documents provided by Ms. Kelsh, copies of Journals of the House of Burgesses she received from the Library of Virginia, it is clear to the Chronicle that Shepherdstown is, in fact, older in terms of formal charter classification.

Each petition for charter had to be read by the Burgesses three times (similar to a reading in today’s council for ordinances, etc.). The third reading of Shepherd’s request was read Nov. 24, 1762. The Burgesses, in their own Journals, indicate that approval of the bill establishing Mecklenburg was done on Nov. 30, 2762. While Romney founders had also applied for a charter, their third reading did not occur until Dec. 3, 1762 with approval coming after that third reading.

While the actual bills were signed Dec. 23, 1762 by a deputy on behalf of Sir Jeffrey Amherst, who never traveled to Williamsburg, Va., the official action necessary for establishment of the towns was clearly outlined by date in the governing body’s own documents. The official signature was just a matter of paperwork.

So for all those who continue to question the oldest town, check out the factual documents and see the date order of approval by the Burgesses. And for those who are having a fantastic time this year celebrating the 250th anniversary of the town’s official charter, remember that you are also celebrating the unofficial 278th birthday of Thomas Shepherd’s founding of the town he sought official recognition for 30 years later! And for those with a desire to mark the calendars: Oct. 3, 2034 will see the town’s 300th birthday from the date of land grant and portioning out of lots. Something to look forward to!