Waddell's Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, from 1726 to 1871




We again go back to relate several events of more or less interest.

All Staunton people know of a cave in the hill formerly called “Abney’s Hill,” along the northern base of which the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad passes. The entrance to the cave is near the top of the hill, immediately opposite the southern termination of New Street, and above the Virginia Hotel, where the Washington Tavern once stood. It is very rugged and precipitous, and comparatively few persons have made the descent and attempted to explore the cavern. Marvelous accounts have sometimes been given of the interior of the cave, but the settled belief is that there is nothing there worth going to see. In the year 1788, however, the cave became famous as the recepticle of the body of a supposed murdered man. Several reputable citizens of the town were suspected of the crime, and groundless as the imputation undoubtedly was, it followed the accused all their subsequent lives. Intelligent and unprejudiced people generally regarded the suspicion as the offspring of misconception or malice, and unworthy of credence.

On May 19, 1788, an inquest was held by Joseph Bell, Coroner, over the body of a human being found in the cave. The body was discovered by Michael Grove, John Robinson and Robert Jacob, probably adventurous boys. The jury was composed of seventeen men. John Griffin was foreman, and among the members was Michael Garber, [doubtless the senior of that name], Samuel Merrit, William and Hugh McDowell, Francis Huff and John Gorden. The body was “much consumed,” but the jury found that it was the corpse of a white man named William R. Watson, who was an “inhabitant of Staunton” in November previous, and that he was wilfully murdered by some person or persons unknown.

On the 9th of June, 1788, a majority of the jury were called before the coroner to consider the matter further, upon the testimony of Dr. Alexander Humphreys and William Wardlaw. These witnesses testified that in the previous March, Wardlaw and James McPheeters, students of Dr. Humphreys, took up the body of a negro for dissection,

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