In May, 1735, Benjamin Borden, an agent of Lord Fairfax, receives 100,000 acres along the branches of the James River in the upper part of the Shenandoah Valley in what would later become Rockbridge County, Virginia, from the Colonial Governor William Gooch. Borden was required to recruit 100 settlers within two years. So many settlers were Scotch-Irish that the area became known as the "Irish Tract."
On November 6, 1739, Britain’s King George II granted Borden the patent for 92,100 acres The land that is now Maple Hall estate was part of this “Borden Grant.”
On May 30th, 1751, Borden & Company conveyed 270 acres of Benjamin Borden's large tract to Isaac Gray. Just over a year later, on June 4th, 1752, Isaac Gray and his wife, Mary, conveyed the same 270 acres on Mill Creek to a Jacob Gray, most likely their son.
The Great Valley Road, sometimes called the Great Wagon Road, passed directly through Gray's 270 acres. Today Route 11 closely follows the same path as it crosses in front of Maple Hall Inn.
The Great Wagon Road, which followed an ancient path made by natives, was the main thoroughfare used by the early European settlers who swarmed down the Valley of Virginia and into the Carolinas.
In 1754, a man named Edward Tarr made the trek down the road from Philadelphia and purchased the 270 acres from Jacob Gray. But Tarr was far from the typical Scots-Irish settler though, he was a free African-American man who went by the name of "Black Ned," and he was married to a white Scottish woman.
"Black Ned" had purchased his freedom from the estate of his former owner, Thomas Shute, by paying his executors "six pounds per year for six years."
His purchase of the land that would later become Maple Hall made him the African-American landowner west of the Blue Ridge. On March 25, 1755, Augusta County court designated Tarr's forge as an official landmark on the Great Road. For several years Tarr and his wife lived in harmony with their neighbors, and he was one of the founders of Timber Ridge Presbyterian church.
Tarr's happiness in the community did not last however. First, in 1761 a man laid claim to him saying he had purchased him from Thomas Shute's son Joseph. Tarr successfully denied the claim at a trial in Staunton. But as the Timber Ridge community grew, more and more people began to question the presence of Tarr and his white wife.
So, when savvy businessmen saw great potential in Tarr's property, in particular the series of small waterfalls that tumbled along the southwestern edge of the property (now visible along McClung Road, on the west side of I-81 from Maple Hall), it was the beginning of the end for "Black Ned's" forge. The waterfalls, or lynns, were mentioned in the original 1751 Borden Grant deed, as well as in the 1765 deed to his neighbor William Lusk's land. This neighbor's heirs sold their land in 1772 to a Thomas Stuart.
Around the same time, in 1772, Alexander Stuart, brother to Thomas, looked fondly upon Tarr's land with the intention of building a saw mill and grist mill on what is now known as Mill Creek. Alexander Stuart persuaded a go-between to approach Edward Tarr and buy the land so that Tarr could leave the neighborhood. Stuart was afraid that Tarr would ask more money if he knew the Stuart brothers had a big business venture in mind. The go-between, Samuel McChesney was quite successful in his persuasion and, on August 19, 1772, Tarr deeded the land to McChesney, the latter paying 45 pounds for the property Tarr purchased for 60 pounds sixteen years earlier. Tarr left the community and little is known of what happened to him beyond that point.
Interestingly, while Alexander Stuart may have been trying to trick Tarr into selling his property, it backfired on him. Stuart's go between McChesney refused to hand the title over to him. The two went to court and, although he was granted a mill license for the site in 1773, the land was not conveyed to Stuart until four years later, in 1776.
In 1776 Stuart, then Captain Alexander Stuart, and his Timber Ridge neighbor Major Samuel Houston, donated 40 acres of land for Augusta Academy. In that same year Augusta Academy changed its name to Liberty Hall and relocated from Mount Pleasant to Timber Ridge. In 1782, Liberty Hall moved to Lexington and would become first Washington College and then Washington and Lee University.
Alexander Stuart did not have much time to enjoy the ownership of the land and his new mills however. In March 1781, he was Major Alexander Stuart leading a Virginia Militia regiment made up of his Rockbridge neighbors against the British during the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. It is said that he, "did not leave the field of battle until he had two horses shot underneath him and was himself severely wounded."
Incidentally, less than a century later, Major Alexander Stuart's great-grandson saw his share of battlefield action during the Civil War: Maj. General James Ewell Brown (J.E.B.) Stuart.
Sometime in the late 1790s, or early 1800's, the land passed by marriage from the Stuart family to the Kinnear family. Most likely through Hannah Kinnear who married Andrew Stuart on March 20, 1794.
From the Proceedings of the Rockbridge Historical Society, Volume 5 1954-1960, "As to be expected there was considerable intermarrying of old families on Timber Ridge with the result that family names of one generation often became given names of another. This fact, along with the tendency to cling to the usage of given names, has made searching old family records quite difficult and confusing..."
What is known is that, on March 11, 1835, John Beard Gibson purchased "Maple Hill Plantation" from the heirs of Andrew C. Kinnear. John Beard Gibson's descendants would live on the land until 1984, nearly 150 years.