Print | Back to e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Joseph Tomlinson


Frontiersman Joseph Tomlinson (October 12, 1745-May 30, 1825) was born near Cumberland, Maryland. In 1770, Tomlinson moved to the Ohio River in Western Virginia, then the far frontier. He established claims to choice tracts of land at the mouth of Grave Creek (present Moundsville) and opposite the mouth of the Muskingum River (present Williamstown). In 1772, Tomlinson discovered the Grave Creek Mound.

In January 1775, Tomlinson married Elizabeth Hartness in Maryland. Soon after their return to Grave Creek, Indian incursions forced them to flee to Pennsylvania. They returned in 1783 despite continued hostilities. In April 1784, during Tomlinson’s absence from home, two Wyandot warriors plundered his cabin but spared both it and his defenseless family. In gratitude, he wrote a letter thanking the tribal chief for the Indians’ compassion.

Following the 1795 end of the Indian wars, Tomlinson laid out on his Grave Creek property a town he called Elizabethtown in his wife’s honor, today’s Moundsville, where he died. Elizabeth survived until 1841. Her portrait now hangs in Henderson Hall near Williamstown.

Tomlinson’s older brother, Samuel Tomlinson, also settled on the Ohio Valley frontier in 1770. The brothers participated jointly in some transactions. Property of theirs that was later deeded to their sister, Mrs. Isaac Williams, became the modern Williamstown.

Samuel Tomlinson, who never married, was killed when he was ambushed by Indians near Wheeling, August 27, 1777, at the beginning of the first siege of Fort Henry.

Written by Ray Swick


  1. Bartlett, Margaret W. H. The Joseph Tomlinson Family. The Pioneer Daughter, (Apr. 1902).

  2. Hildreth, Samuel P. Biographical Sketch of Isaac Williams. The American Pioneer, (1842).

  3. Tomlinson, A. B. American Antiquities at Grave Creek. The American Pioneer, (1843).

  4. Tomlinson, A. B. First Settlement of Grave Creek. The American Pioneer, (1843).

  5. Tomlinson, A. B. Mr. Tomlinson's Letter. The American Pioneer, (1843).

  6. Thomas, Virginia H., comp. "Miscellaneous Notes of the Tomlinson Family." Henderson Family Papers. Williamstown, WV Henderson Hall.