This is a biography of my ancestor Peter Nighswonger. You probably won't find his name spelled that way anywhere, but his kids all spelled it that way. His son Hamilton was married in 1809, Washington county, to Ann Nancy Vandevender. This is the earliest spelling of our contemporary name. Peter was born 1755 in Frederick county Va., near Winchester. He and his brothers, Jacob and John, moved to the Wheeling, presently W.Va., area in 1773. They were Rangers in the Virginia militia under Capt. Peter Helphenstine. Jacob died in 1775. John was killed by Indians in 1783 on a hunting expedition down the Ohio river, near Little Grave creek. His partner, Joseph Heffler, escaped as their canoe floated off down river. John was found some months later near Captiva Island, still in his canoe. Hamilton Kerr, Peter's brother-in-law, eventually killed the Indian that killed John. Peter then served under Lt.David Enoch. Peter was married to Jane Kerr. Their son, Hamilton, was born in 1784 (probably named after his uncle). Peter was a hunter and defender of the settlement at Wheeling and Fort Henry. Hildreth's Pioneer History (pp 330-331) names families at "The Point" (Marietta) and recounts one of his efforts in the siege of Fort Henry in 1788."While he was living at Wheeling, the Indians made their last attack on that place, in great force. During the midst of the siege a large palisade gave way, and greatly elated the Indians, as it afforded an opening by which they could enter, or fire at their enemies within. Peter volunteered to go out and set it up, while those inside secured it with a chain. This service he performed, amidst a shower of bullets from the Indians, without a single wound, and returned through the sally gate to the admiration of the savages, and with the plaudits of his companions."
Soon after the Revolutionary War, many of the Rangers who had proven their abilities at Fort Henry were pressed into service at the first permanent settlement into Indian territory at Marietta. Hamilton Kerr met and married Susan Niswonger, daughter of Col. John Niswonger, who was Peter's cousin. Joseph Barker's Recollections of the first settlement of Ohio erroneously recorded their relationship. He did though, to his credit, document a priceless history of Ranger life at The Point and Fort Harmar. After establishing the settlement in Marietta, the relative safety of the region prompted a rapid immigration of greenhorns seeking new land. This also marked the exodus of many of the Ranger families downriver to Gallia and Meigs Counties.
Peter settled into farming at what is now Portland, near the mouth of Town Creek. The Kerr and Warth families settled nearby, as did Col. John. Peter planted over 200 peach trees. He built a distillery and made whiskey and peach brandy. Around 1820, fed up with the rapid influx of civilization, Peter and his children floated down the Ohio to Gallatin County Illinois. Peter lived out the remainder of his life there near Shawneetown, living until the ripe old age of 79.
Contributed by: Mark Nighswonger
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