In the charming little town of Romney, WV lies a hidden gem of historical and legendary significance called Indian Mound Cemetery. Romney is the oldest town in West Virginia being established by consecutive acts of the Virginia House of Burgesses and approved by the governor on December 23, 1762. Romney, however, had been established since 1725 and had been known as Pearsall’s Flats. The name was changed after its incorporation in 1762 to Romney in honor of the Cinque Ports town of Romney, Kent, England.
Native American History of Romney, WV
Historic Route 50 which runs through Romney was once a Native American trade route. Long before Pearsall’s Flats was created, tribes we now call the Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois lived on this land. Today, modern Americans believe that Native American culture left little mark on the earth. However that is far from accurate. What is now the United States was etched with vast trade routes stretching from coast to coast, down into Central and South America, and from Maine down to Florida.
Furthermore, archaeologists have uncovered advanced public works and building constructed by Native Americans. The Hopewellian culture flourished in settlements along rivers from 100BCE to 500CE. They were responsible for building the Serpent Mound of Ohio. While many of these mounds have been lost to time and European expansion, the mound in Romney has been left untouched. It measures seven feet high by fifteen feet in diameter.
The mound, located at the crossroads of the Shawnee Trail (north to south) and the Indian Road (east to west) was eventually deeded to David Gibson. In 1860 Mr. Gibson gifted the mound and surrounding land to the town of Romney for a burial ground on the condition that the mound not be disturbed. While the town had kept its promise and has never allowed any sort of excavation, there is evidence that the mound had been opened at some unknown point in the past. Legend says that the mound is so ancient that the Indigenous tribes of the 1850’s were unable to remember who had built the mound in the first place. However, this area was used by tribes through the ages as a burial ground. Sadly, some of these graves were disturbed when the road was constructed through town.
The Real Story
Searching through newspaper articles there was nothing reported regarding Native American graves being uncovered. However, a local newspaper article from December 6, 1922, relates a story that is possibly the basis for the legend. During construction of the highway, a worker ran into town exclaiming that the steam shovel had penetrated a hillside and unearthed the mummy of a Native American man. The townsfolk hurried to the edge of town to see for themselves. The “mummy” was gone, and they were told that it was sold to someone out of state for a sum of $250. As they were leaving feeling disappointed another worker let everyone in on the joke. The body that had been uncovered was a cigar store Indian and not the remains of a human being. In the absence of factual historical evidence, it is likely that this is the root of the story regarding finding bones.
Additionally, as per an article from the 1950’s it relates that Romney had once been an Indian village. Yet, according to the book History of Hampshire County West Virginia From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present, by Maxwell and Swisher, “No tribe of Indians occupied and claimed this part of West Virginia when it first became known to white people; but large and small parties of the aborigines frequently occupied it temporarily, and no doubt sometimes remained for a considerable time.” The book goes on to remark upon the numerous indigenous graves discovered along the South Branch.
There Might Be Giants
According to Maxwell and Swisher, not only had Native American graves been uncovered but so had those of giants. They go on to recommend such stories should be taken with a grain of salt. However, it is also acknowledged that individual Native Americans may have been “abnormally” large. Farmers in the area had reported plowing up large jaw bones of such size that they would have had to belong to a man standing eight or nine feet tall. According to some, the mounds that were scattered across West Virginia are the resting places of these giants.
It was during the French and Indian War that saw the habitation of this area changed. Fort Pearsall was located at the Indian Mound due to the location’s excellent vantage point overlooking streams and roads. After the war, Lord Fairfax saw Romney as the perfect place to lay a town and set about deeding land to white landowners. Thankfully, David Gibson did not destroy the ancient Indian mound on his new property and sought to preserve it from those who would for the remainder of time.
Romney, West Virginia is a wonderful little town and the citizens are the kindest you may hope to meet. A sure rarity in today's day and age. Thank you for reading. Please be sure to subscribe to get updates on new content!