In the year of 1812, Samuel Tanner and his family, along with Jonathan Wolfe, traveled from Harrison County to Roane County, to the site of what is now the city of Spencer, West Virginia. This piece of land laying on the waters of Spring Creek, a branch of the Little Kanawha River, seemed an ideal place to settle. Samuel established a home for himself and his family in a cave, under the cliffs where Spencer Middle School now stands. Jesse Hughes may have been the first white man to see Roane County, but he did not settle here until much later. Jesse Hughes was so impressed with the area and painted such a beautiful picture of the place, his brother-in-law, Samuel Tanner, decided to make the journey from Harrison County. It seemed to be an ideal place to homestead. There was a huge overhanging rock shelf, a beautiful spring, a nearby creek, and abundant game in the surrounding forest. The cave, long used by both white men and Indians as a camping spot, seemed like a perfect place to set up housekeeping. Logs were cut and split, then stood up along the edge of the overhanging rock for an outside wall. A crude fireplace was constructed at one end and the smoke was allowed to go up through a crevice in the rocks. Leaves were piled into the back corners of the living room, a table and stools were added and they were ready for housekeeping. The cave consisted of two rooms, side by side with a partition of rock in between. The larger room must have been some fifteen feet deep and thirty feet long with a eight foot ceiling. The smaller room was just as deep but perhaps only half as long and served as a stable for livestock. The cliffs are no more than a shadow of their original selves. Because of the danger to children, much of the shelf has been broken off deliberately. It was while living under this rock their first daughter, Elizabeth, is supposed to have been born. It is said that she was the first white child born in Roane County.
The next spring Tanner erected a cabin across Tanner's Run. This log cabin stood until about 1855. The Tanners were so pleased with their new home in the wilderness that they carried the praise of the country back to their former homes. In 1814, other immigrants came and settled on Spring Creek, two miles below Spencer. Among the new arrivals were more members of the Tanner clan, Carpenters, Millers, and Runnions. In 1816, the name "Tanner's Cross Roads" was bestowed upon the place for the reason that two paths bisected each other here at right angles. It was later named New California, Cassville, and finally, Spencer. In 1835, Samuel purchased 243 acres, which included all of the land in New California from Robert Alexander for a dollar per acre (Jackson Co., Deed Book 3, page 271). At this time Samuel Tanner had lived on this land for more than twenty years. In 1850, Samuel sold half of the property to Alexander West, Jr., which encompassed all of the village, for slightly more than fifteen dollars an acre (Jackson Co. Deed Book 8, page 271). This included the land Alexander West later deeded to Roane County for the courthouse. More than seventy-five acres of this land was yet forest, but contained the water mill, the village of Cassville (Spencer) and several town lots.
Samuel Tanner was born in Augusta County, Virginia, May 15, 1759. He is thought to be a son of Edward Tanner, who lived in the Jane Lew area of Harrison County, (now Lewis Co.), Virginia. Little is known of his early life until he joined the military. In his application for a Revolutionary War Pension (dated June 22, 1833), Samuel Tanner states he entered into the service of the United States in April 1777, at Rockbridge County, Virginia. Samuel volunteered as a private in a company of militia commanded by Captain Hall and marched to Lexington, Virginia, where the company was assembled and organized. On May 10, 1777 they commenced a march towards Point Pleasant at the mouth of the Great Kanawha River, by way of Warm Springs and Hot Springs in Bath County. They crossed the Jackson River five miles from Hot Springs, and then proceeded to the fort where Lewisburg is now located. At this point Samuel's company joined a few companies of regulars and militia under the command of Col. George Skillern. They remained there two or three weeks for the purpose of obtaining a supply of cattle and other provisions. From there the march proceeded on by Walkers' Meadow on the head of the Meadow River, crossing the Sewell Mountains onto the Gauley River near its mouth. They then crossed onto the Great Kanawha a short distance below the falls. The company made camp there for about two weeks because some of the officers were ill. In August, Samuel's company finally reached Point Pleasant, where they found the fort garrisoned with a few regulars under the command of Capt. Matthew Arbuckle. They waited there to be joined by General Hand from Fort Pitt. In October, still at Point Pleasant, Samuel was a witness to the murder of the Shawnee Chief Cornstalk, who was being held hostage in a guard house. A Revolutionary soldiers had been killed by an Indian in that area and Chief Cornstalk was killed in retaliation. Soon after this event, General Hand arrived without an army. After a few days of consultation, the expedition against the Indians was abandoned. In November they left and retraced their steps to the forts on the Greenbrier River. The company separated in December and Samuel returned home to Rockbridge County in January 1778, after serving eight months and twenty days as a private in the Revolutionary War.
Once Samuel Tanner was discharged from revolutionary service, he emigrated to the frontier settlements on the Greenbrier River. In February 1780, he volunteered as an Indian Scout under Colonel Andrew Donnally. Colonel Donnally immediately placed him under the command of Lieutenant John McClung. During the spring, summer, and fall of that year, Samuel made many excursions in the adjacent counties spying on the Indians on the Greenbrier, Kanawha, Meadow, Cole, and Guyandotte Rivers. He reported occasionally to the fort. In November 1780, after serving 9 months as an Indian spy, Samuel was dismissed from service by Col. Donnally. In June 1781, Samuel again volunteered as a private Indian spy and was placed under Ensign George Hamilton. This time he served six months and in May 1782, he volunteered again and served an additional six months. Whether Samuel Tanner actually was granted a Revolutionary War pension is unclear.
Following his exploits as an Indian Spy, Samuel married Sudna (Sudner) Carpenter on December 5, 1791 in Harrison County, Virginia (Marriage Book 1, page 15). Sudna, the daughter of Solomon Carpenter and Sudna Hughes, was born about 1765. Samuel and Sudna appear in the 1850 Jackson County Census (Roane County was not formed until 1856 from Gilmer, Kanawha, Wirt, and Jackson Counties). In the 1850 census Samuel was 96 years old and Sudna was 85. Unfortunately, no one seems to know when Samuel died or where he is buried. It is suspected, however, that Samuel's body may have been lost when a number of graves were moved from a cemetery on Locust Avenue to the Spencer Memorial Cemetery on Parkersburg Road. It is not known for certain just how many children Samuel and Sudna had. Jesse Tanner, born about 1800 was documented as their son. Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, Louise, Elijah, William, and James Tanner are, also, thought to be their children. They may have had several other children of which there are no records.
In June 1999 a historical marker and nearby playground was dedicated in honor of Spencer's first family. A ceremony at the Spencer Middle School near the rocky overhang marked the end of a long effort to honor the pioneer Tanner family. A cast aluminum sign at the cliff is navy blue with antique gold lettering to match the colors of the former Spencer High School (now Spencer Middle School) which is pictured on both sides. Information, also on both sides, tells of the area's first settlers.
Written by Donna J. Walbrown, a descendant of Samuel and Sudna Tanner