Colonial America – Jost Hite – Shenandoah Pioneer

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A native of Alsace, Germany, Hans Jost Heydt (also spelled Yost or Joist Hite) sailed from Strasburg to New York in 1710. Accounts vary, but popular history reports that he sailed in his own ships, The Brigantine Swift and Schooner Friendship and that he was a German nobleman with the title “Baron”. With Hite sailed his wife, Anna Marie (du Bois) and his daughter Mary. Sixteen families also sailed with him to settle his lands in the New World.

Hite and the German settlers remained in Kingston, New York until 1715. By 1717, records indicate that he had settled on the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania. Hite enjoyed a prosperous life in Pennsylvania, establishing a mill in 1720 that came to be known as Pennypacker’s Mills. After increasingly menacing Indian activity in Pennsylvania, Hite and other community leaders petitioned Governor Gordon for protection against the Indians. After his petition was ignored by the Governor, Hite sold his Pennsylvania holdings in 1730 and traveled to the unsettled Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

In 1731, Hite bought forty thousand acres of land from John Van Meter that came to be known as “Hite’s Grant”. In October of that year, Hite teamed up with Robert McKoy (McCoy/McKay) and obtained another one hundred thousand acres from Virginia Governor Gooch. In the spring of 1731, Hite settled the area of what is now Shepherdstown, West Virginia, naming it New Mechlenburg. Hite’s eldest son, John, traveled further south down the Potomac river and settled on the Opequon Creed, calling his holdings Springdale. By the June of 1734, the council of Virginia declared that Jost Hite had settled his required number of families and was assigned the patents for his land, leading some to declare that he was the first white settler in the Shenandoah Valley (this has later been disproved as it has been documented that Adam Miller settled in the Valley as early as 1726 or 1727.)

In 1736, legal troubles began. Lord Fairfax arrived from England that same year to settle on his lands granted to him on Virginia’s Northern Neck. Some of this land was within the boundary of Hite’s land which has not been patented. Fairfax gave his word that the lands would be given to Hite but later reneged on his promise. This led to petitions and a legal battle that lasted for fifty years and was not resolved until both complainants had died. In the end, the decision was in Hite’s favor.

Both Hite and all of his immediate descendants became important figures in local and national affairs. Hite’s eldest daughter, Mary Hite, married George Bowman and their family accompanied Hite to the Shenandoah Valley. Elizabeth Hite married Paul Froman, a Quaker from New Jersey and lived in the Shenandoah Valley for several years before moving on to Kentucky. Magdelene Hite accompanied her husband, German-born Jacob Chrismann Spring to the Shenandoah. John Hite, as noted earlier, settled at Opequon Creek and built “Springdale” in 1753. He is credited with building the first brick house in the Valley in 1787. John Hite became a decorated veteran of the French and Indian Wars and has been highly regarded in histories of the Valley. Abraham Hite was only two years old when he traveled to the Shenandoah Valley with his family. He married the daughter of Isaac Van Meter and was a member of the Hampshire County House of Burgesses from 1746 until 1774. Jacob Hite made several trips for his father to Ireland to recruit immigrants to settle in the Valley. On one of these trips he met his wife in Dublin, Catherine O’Bannon and the couple settled with their family in Jefferson County, West Virginia. The family later moved to South Carolina where all but their son (who was attending William and Mary College) and one daughter were killed by Indians around 1777 or 1778. Isaac Hite, commonly referred to as “colonel” settled to the north branch of the Shenandoah River and built the home “Long Meadows”. His son, Isaac Hite Jr., married Nelly Conway Madison of Montpelier, Orange County, Virginia, the sister of President James Madison.

Jost Hite died in 1760 and the Hite family became influential figures throughout the northern and lower Valley. Their descendants can be found throughout the United States and gather often at Belle Grove, the home built by Isaac Hite Jr. south of Winchester, Virginia which became famous for the Battle of Cedar Creek during the Civil War.

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