The Ritter’s
by Paul E. Maxwell
(Written c: 1975)
Submitted by Hiram W. Lynch

      This loosely connected discourse was compiled wholly from memory. Being of sound mind and a moderate stickler for truth, I vouch for the overall authenticity. But, being human, I must also admit to the possibility of occasional error or omission. I have no illusions that they will have any great impact upon history, but hope they may prove useful to some future generation Ritter in perpetuating the memory of a representative, Harrison County, pioneer family.

      All information available to date indicates that the family head of the first Ritter’s to live in Harrison County was Samuel. My grandfather, John M. Ritter told me that his father had come from Kentucky in the early nineteenth century bringing his aging parents and all his children at that time (with the possible exception of one son) with him.

      “The George Morris Family of Ten Mile” pp 16, locates the first Samuel Ritter home near Maken, which would have been in the vicinity of the Hiram Lynch place. If this is correct, it would have been some time later that he acquired considerable acreage and moved to Grass Run, where John M. Ritter was born April 29, 1833.

      Samuel had seven children, here listed approximately as to age, Banks, Susan, Harriet, Richard, Overton, Timothy and John Michael. Banks remained or soon returned to Kentucky, where he resided until a few years before his death. Around 1908, without a family and almost penniless, he came back to West Virginia and spent his last two or three years as the house guest of his several brothers and nephews. Before I was ten years old, he visited here with an orphan grandson named Willie Moran. What became of him or other relatives is unknown; but the Uncle Banks I knew was an uncomplaining, pitiful old man whose life had been filled with hardship and sorrow. Click_for_larger_picture

Picture features many of the Ritter family including Paul's grandparents, Capt. John & Nancy Jane Morris Ritter, front & center, on the first floor of porch. Others are Paul's aunts & uncles and a few tiny cousins of the Robt. and America Ritter Davisson family seated in front. Don't know who the teenagers are on the downstairs left of porch. Paul's mother, Ollie Ritter Maxwell is not in this particular Ritter reunion picture......neither is his father, Wm. Maxwell. Both the Maxwell as well as the Hiram Lynch family were not attending that day........Susie Lynch, Ollie's sister, was terribly ill that day.....both families stayed home......Ollie for the purpose of taking care of her sister. In the picture, the hired man, Erastus Ney, holding the horse in the foreground, was sent to represent the Lynch family at the reunion on Grass Run. Info: H.W. Lynch

Click on Picture for larger view.

      Aunt Susan married a minister named Rev. Dakon who also owned and operated a grist mill on Hall’s Run. She never bore any children of her own but Dakon had a son named Jerry by previous marriage that she reared with loving care. Dad often spoke of Jerry Dakon as his cousin but neglected to tell me whether Jerry’s mother was the sister of grandfather or Grandmother Maxwell. During my days in Lynchburg, Susie lived nearby in her long time log home. We visited often with them both and I never have ceased to marvel at the neatness and charm of her simple abode. Also, her culinary skills which transformed ordinary food into a gourmet delight.

      Aunt Harriet’s married name was Kyle. She lived and raised a family of three boys on Lambert Run. Her son’s names were Jasper, Aquille and George and she was the grandmother of Judge Karl B. Kyle and the great grandmother of Judge Samuel B. Kyle, Jr., both of Clarksburg. Shortly after birth and until I was three years of age, we lived on her Lambert Run farm, after she had gone to stay with her son, Jasper who lived nearby. I can faintly recall her as another grandmother and the name Aunt Harriet held a place high in our affections for many years to come.

      Richard was known as Uncle Dick. He lived across the hill from grandfather Ritter’s on an adjoining farm. Although I had heard casual mention of him and his family countless times over the years, I never knowingly saw any of them. He had at least two sons, Richard Jr. and Minter. I have no evidence to corroborate this conclusion but in later years it dawned upon me that there was an estrangement of long stand between Uncle Dick and others of the family.

      Before moving to Rinehart, Overton lived on a farm adjoining that of grandfather Ritter’s and Uncle Dick’s, which later became the home of Uncle Sam Ritter. There is reason to believe that these farms were land that originally was owned by the older Samuel Ritter. Overton had six children, Stephen, Alonzo, Banks, Julia, Hattie and Gertrude. For years, Stephen was our next door neighbor in Clarksburg and his wife was a Davis from Lambert Run area. Alonzo, when I can first remember, lived on Indian Run, a near neighbor of Uncle Bud Carter. He later moved directly across the hill to a place on Salem Fork. Banks resided in the Bridgeport section of Harrison Co. Julia Ritter Shahan lived in Bristol while Hattie Ritter Harbert and Gertrude Ritter Fowler remained in Rinehart.

      Timothy, who was mentally retarded, never married and was the ward of grandfather and Uncle Will Ritter until his death.

      John M. Ritter married Nancy Jane Morris and raised a family of four girls and seven boys. A complete record of these offspring can be found in the genealogical section of “The George Morris Family of Ten Mile” pp 257…..under the Dr. Dakon Edmond Ritter Family.

      I have never heard of a Ritter Family Coat of Arms, although one or more versions could probably be procured from one of the numerous agencies supplying such articles. However, they do have a prominent family trait which has persisted down to the youngest generation I have known. Because of its abstract nature, it is most difficult to describe and in trying to do so I wish to make clear first of all, what it is not. It definitely is not arrogance or conceit. For want of better words, I would term it a mixture of self assurance, pride and a sense of satisfaction with their status in society. More pronounced in some individuals but found to some degree in all. No claim of monopoly on these qualities is intended but they are something one Ritter instinctively looks for in recognizing one of his own.

      In the mid nineteen twenties, I met an elderly man in Charleston named Ritter. Had his name been Brown, Smith or Jones, his characteristics and mannerisms would immediately have associated him in my mind with the family. With two or three exceptions, he was more Ritter than anyone I had known before. He died shortly after this meeting and I was denied the opportunity of developing an acquaintance I would have liked. I did learn that he was originally from Kentucky and he was a cabinet maker. In fact, it was in this capacity that I knew him and I still have a cherished heirloom which he refinished beautifully for me.

      Grandfather Ritter was, among other things, a proficient cabinet maker. His wedding gift to mother was a huge corner cupboard, entirely handmade from oak and walnut. It was easily the family’s most attractive and useful piece of furniture until it was destroyed by fire in 1914. Probably his most treasured possession was a large assortment of planes, chisels, augers, mortising tools saws, etc. which had been his father’s and quite likely, his grandfather’s.

      I remember him pointing out several sturdy farm houses, including his own, which he had built. Quite unlike today’s practice, the frame work of these houses was six by six timbers, mortised and held together by wooden pins, somewhat like light bridge work. The roof was hand rived chestnut shingles; the inside walls, ceilings and floor wide, smooth, shiplapped planks and the outside walls finished with beveled, poplar clapboards.

      All the lumber was home grown and cut; hauled to the nearest local mill for rough sawing and home again for long months or years of air drying. That part of the lumber needing further refinement was transported to a Clarksburg planning mill, where it was smoothed, beveled and process as needed. The miller’s fee like that of grist millers was a legally fixed percentage of the raw product brought in. Nails, window glass and paint, if used, were the only manufactured products required, and they were often exchanged for other farm products. Even labor was usually on a swap basis; grandfather working so many days as a carpenter while his client cradled wheat, hoed corn etc., for him.

      From the planning stage to house warming was a period of three to five years and had required little or no cash outlay. It would provide a comfortable home for several generations although it lacked the modern conveniences of indoor plumbing, electricity and a 30 year F.H.A. mortgage.

      When visiting Grandfather Maxwell, he and I took daily walks around the farm which usually included a stop at the covered bridge some half mile from the house. This was a cool spot to spend a pleasant hour chatting with neighbors and an occasional stranger traveling the country road. He told me that John Ritter played an important role in the bridge’s construction. Since it was the only one of several in the community, others also may have been benefited by his skills.

      Once upon a time, Samuel Ritter decided to make another move in his conquest of the wilderness. This time it may have been to Grass Run. After spring crops had been planted, he went ahead of the family to chop out a clearing in the forest and build a home. His daughter, Susan, then a young woman, accompanied him to do the housekeeping chores and sometimes lend a hand at heavier work such as digging out a small tree stump or burning brush.

      By autumn, the cabin had been raised, roofed and almost completed except for installing the door. This inconvenience was overcome by hanging a blanket in the opening to keep out the cold. This day, Samuel had killed a deer; it was dressed and suspended from the lower branch of a nearby tree to keep it out of reach of marauding animals and to refrigerate in the chilly autumn air.

      In the evening a neighbor came by with the disturbing news that a small child had become lost and enlisted Samuel’s help in trying to find her. Susan was left along but thought nothing of it, accustomed as she was to frontier life. Shortly after nightfall, tired by the rigors of the day and comforted by a warm wood fire, she fell asleep; only to be awakened by the blood curdling scream of a panther. The beast had been attracted by the smell of freshly killed meat and frustrated in his attempt to reach it, was venting his disappointment by a snarling, screaming tantrum.

      Susan was terrified. Her only protection was a blanketed doorway and her only weapon of defense was an axe, which she could wield with skill. She threw more wood on the fire and waited for what seemed like hours. Finally, in desperation, she seized a blazing stick of wood, pushed aside the blanket and hurled the fiery missile in the general direction of the deer’s carcass. It worked like magic. The startle cat silenced his screaming, turned tail and fled; never to be seen again.

      Susan slept no more that night. After dawn, her father returned, reporting that the little girl had been found near her home unharmed, and life resumed it normal tempo.

      Most Ritter’s have a tendency to grayness rather young. Aunt Susie was no exception, but she always felt she had gotten off to a flying start through that experience. She was thankful though that she lived in a modern age when her hair was only scared gray by a panther instead of lifted by a hostile Indian.

      For better or worse, Harrison County has seen amazing change and progress in its two hundred year history. When the records of this progress are examined be it known that the Ritter’s “did their bit.”

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