On March 16, 1742, John Peter Salling and four others started out from Natural Bridge, Virginia, on a trip to explore the Mississippi River. Their goal was to strengthen England’s claims to western lands.
Salling kept a journal of the trip, including his trek through what is now southern West Virginia. When they reached the New River, they built a boat and covered it with buffalo hides.
They followed the New River until it became too treacherous. Then, they cut overland and found another stream. While traveling downriver in present Boone County, Salling documented the region’s massive coal outcroppings in his journal. Many historians give Salling credit for naming this stream Coal River.
Next, the explorers followed the Kanawha and Ohio rivers to the Mississippi, which they reached in June. The next month, they were captured by a band of Indians, blacks, and Frenchmen. The prisoners were transported to New Orleans and held as spies.
Salling escaped from captivity two years later and returned to his home in Augusta County, Virginia. His account of the trip offers the earliest known description of West Virginia’s vast coal reserves.