Levi Shinn - Founder of Shinnston
By Lena Golden and Jack Sandy Anderson
Among Harrison County's early settlers was Levi Shinn (1748-1807), who
came to the West Fork Valley with his brother, Jonathan, in the fall of
1772. He was born and grew to manhood near Burlington, New Jersey.
Burlington was where his great grandparents, John and Jane Shinn, had
settled upon their arrival from England in or about 1678.
Levi Shinn's grandfather, James Shinn, married Abigail Lippincott in
1697, thereby allying himself with a prominent and influential family that
was actively involved in the affairs of colonial New Jersey. In 1740,
Levi's father, Clement Shinn, married Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Webb,
and to them were born seven children. Four of these children -- Clement,
Levi, Jonathan and David -- became Harrison County pioneers, although
David eventually settled in Hampshire County and there ended his days.
In 1772, Levi married Elizabeth (1755-1813), daughter of James and Mary
Capon Smith and half-sister of Aaron Smith, a noted Simpson Creek pioneer.
A family tradition has it that soon after his marriage, he set out to
explore what was then the wilderness of western Virginia for the purpose
of choosing land upon which he could establish a home. In the West Fork
Valley in 1773, he found this land, and on this tract he built a two-story
log home that is now one of West Virginia's few remaining from the
Revolutionary War era.
Details about the original Shinn settlement are rather vague, but the
best available evidence indicates that Shinn established a permanent home
there sometime between 1775 and 1778. It's known that he and Elizabeth
lived for a while on Apple Pie Ridge, a region not far from
Winchester, Virginia, and it's generally assumed they came from there to
present Shinnston. At any rate, by 1778, the log house had been built, and
the Shinns were busy at work clearing their land and struggling for
survival in a rich, but often hostile wilderness.
A man above the ordinary, Shinn soon became a leader in his part of the
country. Records and tradition alike reveal him to have been an educated,
frugal, and honest individual who in later life was able to amass what was
then a considerable fortune. His neighbors frequently sought his counsel,
and he was always ready to help those in need.
Although reared in a strickt Quaker household, Shinn soon discovered
that Quaker tenets had to be abandoned if he were to survive on the
frontier, where death from Indian attack was ever a possibility. Bearing
arms was a necessity, and in the 1770s and 1780s, he helped protect the
frontier by assisting in the building of fortifications and by responding
to alarms that warned of immediate danger. Some of his descendants
believed that he served in the militia during the years of Indian warefare,
but thus far, no authentic record has been found to prove this.
In or before 1785, Shinn built a gristmill a short distance from the
mouth of Shinn's Run. This mill proved to be of importance, since it
formed the nucleus around which grew the village that gradually developed
into today's city of Shinnston. Milling was necessary in early times and
seems to have run in the family, for the immigrant ancestor, John Shinn,
was a miller in colonial New Jersey and at least three of Levi's sons at
one time or another were engaged in milling.
His extensive lands mostly obtained by grant, included some of the
choicest acreage in northern Harrison County and provided a goodly
inheritance for his children. However, in 1793, he sold the valuable tract
upon which the main section of the town and of East Shinnston today stand.
His brothers, Clement and Jonathan, were the purchasers, and it was the
latter's heirs who caused the land to be laid off into lots and sold,
thereby laying the foundation for a town. Levi had obtained this tract of
over 600 acres in 1784 as part of a preemption warrant he had for 1000
acres. His original tract containing his farm and home was acquired in
1773 and constisted of about 400 acres. Another large tract he onwed was
to the west on the waters of Bingamon Creek, and it was upon this tract
tha tthe village of Pine Bluff developed.
Tradition tells us that Levi was an unusually strong individual and
spent hours working on his farm and in his mill. He was well known for his
honest and for his generosity to people in need. Both he and his wife were
hopitable by nature, and their home was always open to relatives and
friends. For the most part, Shinn chose to live quietly and unassumingly
and was not active in the political life of the county. Shinn and his
wife, Elizabeth, had nine children who grew up in the Harrison County
area. He was a member of the Simpson Creek Baptist Church. In 1807, with
his family around him, he died and was buried in the family cemetery in
In time, Shinn's oldest chiled, Clement (1773-1840), gained possession
of the original log house. An industrious person, he managed with care his
inheritance, added to it, and died a well-to-do man. Most of his wealth
came from milling and raising livestock.
Following Clement's death and some complicated legal transactions, his
heirs sold the log house to David Morris, whose descendants owned it until
the mid 1900s. By the 1840s, when this sale occurred, the pioneer era in
the West Fork Valley was over, the log houses had become decidedly
old-fashioned. Frame dwellings of planed lumber, often large and
elaborate, and red brick "mansions," as they were called in
ante-bellum days, were fast replacing them. A quirk of fate is the fact
that trhough the marriage of David Morris's great-granddaughter, Mabel
Fleming, to one of Levi Shinn's great-great-grandsons, Claude S Randall,
the log house once more passed into possession of a descendant of its
builder. In 1959, Estelle Randall and her brother, George, children and
legal heirs of Claude and Mabel Flemming Randall, sold the Levi Shinn
House to Richardson Lumber & Construction Co. In 1972, the company
deeded the house as a gift to the Shinnston Historical Association, which
now owns it and employs it as a headquarters and museum. The Levi Shinn
House, which is one of West Virginia's oldest houses, was entered on the
National Register of Historic Places in 1973.