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Biography: Lydia Boggs Shepherd Cruger


Lydia Boggs portrait courtesy Museums of Oglebay Institute.

Lydia Boggs Shepherd Cruger (1766-1867) lived through both the American Revolution and the Civil War. She was the daughter of a militia captain. They lived near Wheeling during the Indian wars and Lydia was present at the sieges of Fort Henry. She met Moses Shepherd at the 1782 siege, and they were married shortly thereafter. As wealthy plantation owners, the couple ascended to the apex of early Wheeling society, counting many influential individuals, such as U.S. Senator Henry Clay, among their friends. At their mansion, Shepherd Hall, they hosted the elite of the age, including the Marquis de Lafayette, and U.S. Presidents Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk. Senator Clay used his influence, at the request of the Shepherds, to ensure that the new National Road passed directly by the Shepherd plantation. The construction included what is now the oldest bridge in West Virginia, a three-span elliptical stone arch spanning Wheeling Creek built in 1817. To show their gratitude, the Shepherds commissioned a monument to Clay to be erected on their property, which subsequently became known as “Monument Place,” and is now home to the Osiris Shrine Temple.  Moses Shepherd died in 1832. Lydia later married Daniel Cruger. She died a recluse in 1867. (Sean Duffy for Legendary Locals of Wheeling)

Frontier's Woman, Mistress of Shepard Hall (Monument Place)


-- from Faction Records Taken From Congressional Library, Washington, D. C.

Only a very brief sketch can be given the wife of Colonel Moses Shepherd, Lydia Boggs, (Mrs. Cruger)

She was a very remarkable woman for many reasons, chiefly for the great length of her life, which extended from the colonial period through the Civil war.

Lydia Boggs, daughter of Captain John Boggs, was born in Berkeley county, Virginia, February 26, 1766. Captain Boggs was living at Chartiers Creek, Western Pennsylvania, previous to 1774. In that year he moved with his family to the vicinity of Wheeling. He was the intimate friend and associate of Colonel David Shepherd, and when Fort Henry was besieged by the Indians, September 1, 1777, Captain Boggs, who was stationed at Catfish Camp, (now Washington, Pa.) twenty-five miles from Wheeling, went to the rescue with forty men, arriving there the following morning and assisted in restoring order, burying the dead and preparing for the further defense of the fort.

Captain Boggs was sheriff of Ohio county, and was one of the magistrates of Ohio county in 1785. His son William was captured by the Indians in 1781, but escaped and returned home eighteen months later. In July, 1781, Captain Boggs lived on Buffalo Creek, but returned the following year to Wheeling. His daughter Lydia accompanied him in all these removals, and was with him in the siege of Fort Henry, and as her father was in command of Fort Henry during the second siege, she was also present then and did her part in assisting in the defense, in molding bullets, making ammunition and relieving the weary soldiers.

LORD DUNMORE

She remembered perfectly when her father was in command of Catfish Camp of seeing Lord Dunmore and his army when they stopped there. Moses Shepherd was also at the same place, therefore their acquaintance began very early in their lives. After her marriage to Colonel Shepherd she accompanied him on his various expeditions, and his interests were hers until his death in 1832.

During Mrs. Shepherd's frequent visits to Washington she met General Cruger, a member of Congress from New York state. They were married in 1833.

MRS. CRUGER

After the death of General Cruger, Mrs. Cruger continued to live in the "Stone Mansion", managing her extensive plantation and large business interests. Many noted people made it a point to visit this wonderful old lady. Several persons have written accounts of her, each giving a different aspect.

The following account is by Major S. A. Duke, a nephew, of Arkansas:

"When I visited Mrs. Cruger at her home, six miles from Wheeling, in June, 1858, she told me she was then in her 92nd year. I found her reading the National Intelligencer without glasses and I expressing wonder at it and suggesting that it was second sight, she told me it was not, hat she had never worn glasses nor failed in any of her senses, nor had she ever been a victim to any of the vicissitudes of women and could remember events as closely as a lass. She was certainly a wonderful woman, and I should have spent six days with her instead of the six hours I did spend most pleasantly. At that time her estate was the most valuable property taxed to one person or firm in Ohio county. She related many incidents of the early settlement of Wheeling and its environs. She also sang a little song about Lord Dunmore which was in vogue after his expedition. She also said that on his return march rumor outran Lord Dunmore and his forces, so that every-one was on the qui vive to see a live lord, especially the children, who were on the watch. When the party arrived and she was told which was Lord Dunmore, she ran to the house as fast as she could and called to her mother: 'Lord Dunmore is nothing but a man, and not a very big one at that.'"

Among those was most frequently visited Mrs. Cruger was Senator Benton and his family. His daughter, Mrs. Fremont, has left a graphic description of her visits as a child and of her last in company with General Fremont. It was during the Civil war and a party of army officers accompanied General and Mrs. Fremont. Mrs. Fremont wrote as follows:

"Coming out of the high, close hills on to the lawn belonging to "the Stone House" we saw a well built house of dressed stone, very large and solid with the usual detached kitchen and a long row of negro quarters. In a large library lined with books we found sated there the old lady who knew perfectly all about General and Mrs. Fremont, and understood why the party of armed soldiers rode down her glen. She talked wonderfully of the conditions that had caused the war and of its inevitable result. She was carefully dressed in rich black satin, with a cap of beautiful old yellow lace, with big bows of orange and red ribbons on top and broad strings tied under her chin. The inevitable false dark hair was framed in with rich lace quillings.
"Her age was told by the skin of face and hands, which were like crumpled parchment, but the lips were firm and the eyes deep set in wrinkled lids, were still dark and keen. She was then one hundred years old. She had in her hand a volume of "The Spectator," which she said was the kind of writing she liked. Her old books were the only kind she cared for.
"I know all that is going on, said Mrs. Cruger. I take a New York daily and the Wheeling papers, and when I want other information, I send for my lawyer.
"We went up to see the ball room, which was across the whole front of the house, with many windows and a handsome carved marble mantel at each end, and deep closets on each side of the fireplaces.

"Like Queen Elizabeth, Mrs. Cruger would seem to have kept all her fine clothes. The whole walls were hung thick with dresses of silk and satin and velvet pelisses trimmed with fur, braided riding habits, mantles of damasked black silks, bandboxes piled from floor to ceiling full of wonderful bonnets, some of tremendous sixe, fine, large leghorn straw, costing from fifty to one hundred dollars; also veils that would reach to the knww of fine old English lace, gold and silver muslin and fine embroidered cashmere turbans -- a perfect museum of fashion from 1800 to 1840. There were treasures of good lace in shawls and veils of old English Honiton, large capes of fine French needlework, yards of Mechlin, a shawl and flounces of Spanish lace. Most of these treasures, we are told, were carried off to the negro quarters. Mrs. Cruger was a remarkable woman in intellect but with not much heart."


-- from an unidentified typescript in the Ohio County Public Library; probably by Blanche Steenrod, ca. 1925  

MRS. CRUGER

(By Rebecca Harding Davis)

"I accidentally met again a curious old character, who was widely known, and whom if fate had but placed her in the compressed center of a court instead of in the inconsequent hurly-burly of a republic would have made for herself a great place in history.

"Old Mrs. Cruger could give the history of every inch of ground from Blennerhasset Island up to fort Du Quesne. There was no better authority for the legends of that time. She was a cousin of McCulloch, who made the famous leap. She also in the fort when Molly Scott went for the shot and brought it back in her apron. A small, withered old woman, seated bolt upright in her chair, her fingers loaded with rings of great value, a great turnip-shaped gold watch was fastened by massive chains, her white hair was drawn back on a thick puff under a cap of lace and fastened by a diamond pin. Mrs. Cruger led her visitors into the dining room, where a magnificent sideboard filled up one end of the room and was laden with massive silver. I found Mrs. Cruger a curious study for the dilettante in anomalies in human nature as well as one of the most noteworthy women of her time.

"She had a keen insight the delicate instinct, dainty in expression of manner and speech of a woman of the world, for many crowded, watchful, eventful years. From the time of her first marriage she spent her winters in Washington, at first as a beauty and bel esprit, then as an object of interest from her eccentricities, her cool skill, keen interest and long familiarity with the private political life of the capital. Her manner and her quaint archness overlying intense pride of an old French Marquise.

"In conversation she poured out an inexhaustible store of anecdote gathered during a long life that covered a broad field and one of glaring contrasts. There was not an Indian way back to the Colonial era with which she was not familiar. She remembered the first Declaration of Independence. She had known many men and sat on the side of the court room devoted to Burr's adherents during his trial at Richmond, a young and brilliant beauty, while her husband faced her on the other side. She talked of Clay, Benton, Webster, then political leaders, as young men, promising but crude.

"One of these men said of her: 'I never pass her mansion without stopping to pay my respects to her. She had a powerful intellect in your younger days. Many of our caucuses were held in her drawing rooms. She could keep a secret better than most men, but her love of sarcasm and intrigue kept her from being very effective.'

"Even in her most brilliant days she was accused of being selfish and even miserly. She was fond of boasting that her first husband, Colonel Shepherd, had ducal blood in his veins. She was a lonely eccentric old lady. Her eccentricity had been fostered by the hardships and the solitude of pioneer life. One of her morbid fancies was to intensify her love of solitude by banishing every living being from her house at night and sending the slaves to the negro quarters. Once when her physician remonstrated with her for not allowing her maid to remain in her room at night, she haughtily said: 'Of what should I be afraid? Of death? I do not expect him these twenty years.' She was then ninety.

"Mrs. Cruger was one of the last of the slave owners. As a slave owner she was a model. The fifteen or more slaves that she owned at the time President Lincoln liberated them were deeply attached to her and lived easy and comfortable lives. She had not sold a slave for many years, but frequently bought them. She was often heard to remark that she had seen the rise and fall of the slave system, and she herself was probably the only slave holder who stood by and saw the liberation of her slaves without regret. The writer went to call on Mrs. Cruger the year before she died. The Civil war was just recently ended and its effects deeply interested her.

"It was a great treat to a young girl to be permitted to roam over the old mansion and rummage in the chests and drawers to see the wonderful assortment of garments of by-gone fashions of which she said:

"Every year I put away two dresses made in the current mode. I like to turn them over as you do pictures, perhaps.' The unique old lady with so much vivacity was so deeply attached to this world and its many widely extended interests, it seemed as if she could leave it -- could not die. The end was slow in coming September 26, 1967. This visit made an ineffaceable impression upon the writer, who little dreamed she might one day recall these memories as tribute to the memory of one who was a Colonial Dame, a real Daughter of the American Revolution and a modern woman of the world."

HER SUN DIAL AND DOORWAY

The sun dial and the doorway of Mrs. Cruger's home remain today just as they were more than a century ago, in fact most of the interesting old mansion is just as it was when their memorable house-warming was given in 1798. The mansion is now owned by Mrs. Lucie Loring Milton, and is known as "Monument Place."

"Tomorrow pictures of this sun dial and doorway will be exhibited in the windows of the Nicholl Art Store, that the general public may have an idea of the beauty of their design. The pictures are water-color sketches and were done by J. J. Owens, West Virginia's artist and portrait painter.

The doorway is twenty-two years younger than the sun dial. Over the massive door a pure colonial sunburst is seen that admits the light into the stone mansion. the door hangs upon the same old hinges that have done its bidding for one hundred and twenty-seven years. Modern locks are now used, but one can easily see where the original old door-key, which was four inches in length, had served a purpose. There are also traces of the substantial bolts which held the heavy walnut bars that when swung across the door and barricaded it like a fortress.

That was all the idea of Colonel and Mrs. Moses Shepherd, (Later Mrs. Cruger). One may easily picture this young couple of early America, consulting together about the details of this fine old door. The flagstones in the walk which leads to the door are worn with the tread of many feet, but the ones which have left an indelible imprint in memory are those of Lafayette and Henry Clay.


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