Henry County, VA LEATHERWOOD : Dirca palustris :
Wicopy : next
Eggleston had spent her early childhood
near Beckham Church where her father,
George King Eggleston, farmed. In 1900, as
a little girl of about 6 years she asked him where
she came from. He told her he found her
floating down Leatherwood Creek
in a little basket. Sounds something
like the Bible story of course.
When she told that story we lived near Fieldale and we had no idea where
Leatherwood Creek was. Jordan Creek
near Snowbird Mill we knew and sometimes
on Sundays we fished in the Mayo.
Only after I grew up and moved to
the Chatmoss area did I realize
that the creek running through the
golf course once brought little Sally in a basket.
I had read that the creek was named for the Leatherwood shrub which grew along its banks. A search for information about
that shrub has been ongoing with
me for about 30 years. First I asked
Dr. Sherman Dutton about the plant itself.
Dutton was president of Patrick
Henry College early on and had a
reputation for knowing local
flora. He described Leatherwood
as a small shrub with a short stemmed
rounded leaf. Nothing like that
was forthcoming but maybe I was
looking in the wrong place. In this
site's photo archive there are some
references to it. "William
Thomasson purchased 100 acres on
'the branches of Leatherwood' Creek
in 1793 from John Collier."
William was the first
Thomasson to settle in Henry County
and was Sally's great, great, great
grandfather. At that time there
must have been many Leatherwood
shrubs. So why was it named Leatherwood
at all ... used for leather, tough like
leather, a leather smell?
internet is a gold mine for research
of any kind. In a quote summary from
Journal of the American Folklore
by Alexander Francis Chamberlain (editor 1901-1909) there
is mention of something called Wicopy
or Wickopy. "A plant growing
over much of the eastern part of the
United States and know to some as
'leatherwood' was called Wicopy by
the early indians." In Ojibwa
'wikop' is the word applied to the
'inner bark' of the basswood and also
the leatherwood. So Leatherwood derives from the shrubs' characteristics.
Many other Indian plant names still survive:
Chinquapin, Pipsissewa, Wankapin.
Wicopy or Leatherwood was strong,
tough bark, which taken in long strips,
made excellent ropes after the Indian
Leatherwood was also called Ropebark and Moosewood
but thankfully the name Leatherwood
prevailed. A story in an old area newspaper
relates the legend of how the community of Leatherwood
in Henry County, VA came by its
name. Two women were waiting near
a store as a man rode up on horseback.
The man was using a switch made
of a flexible Leatherwood branch.
He struck the ground with his
switch and proclaimed the place
be named "Leatherwood"
from that day forward. The ladies were glad he didn't
name it Moosewood.
Patrick Henry and Leatherwood Plantation >
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