Civil War: Figures deserving of a tribute

Parkersburg was never seriously raided but was threatened constantly. It was not safe to travel outside town to the south without protection.

Regardless, many leaders disregarded the threats and in midst of the turmoil of war, carved a new state out of Confederate Virginia. Let us review those from the area deserving such a tribute.

* P.G. VanWinkle – Van Winkle, a local attorney, probably deserves more credit than any other for his role in the West Virginia statehood movement. He played the lead role in writing the constitution. He also played a lead role in the first and second Wheeling conventions and was elected to the first governor’s advisory commission. Van Winkle, after deferring leadership positions in the statehood process, ended up running against A.I. Boreman for governor, losing only after numerous votes. Being the brother-in-law of the Rathbones of Burning Springs and president of the local branch of the B&O Railroad, he provided the funds to pay for the first Wheeling Conventions. He was elected to become one of the first West Virginia senators.

* Gen. J.J. Jackson – It was Gen. Jackson who made the impassioned speech at the Secession Convention in Richmond when Virginia was deciding to secede. In this speech he was the first of lay down the gauntlet that the northwestern counties would not follow if Virginia seceded. His speech caused the convention initially to reject secession. Jackson was a fervent Union supporter and was summoned to the White House by President Lincoln in recognition of his effort to keep Virginia in the Union. Jackson helped organize the first meeting in Parkersburg to pass resolutions to fight against secession, first in the state promoting staying with the Union. He led the 70-person delegation, the largest assembled, to the first Wheeling convention. He was promoted for governor, but convinced the delegates not to try and unconstitutionally organize a new state, thus pitting him against Clarksburg leader John Carlile and Wheeling editor A.W. Campbell. After this, without explanation, he withdrew from politics.

* Arthur I. Boreman – He was a local Parkersburg attorney and early on promoted the statehood movement and remaining in the Union. He was a member of the Virginia legislature from Wood County. He wrote letters to many northwestern leaders promoting staying with the union. He helped organize first meeting in Parkersburg on Jan. 1, 1861, to take a stand against secession. Boreman was elected to chair the Second Wheeling Convention and played a lead role throughout the statehood process. He was elected the first governor of the new state in the Parkersburg nominating convention in 1863, where he served two terms.

* Jacob Beeson Blair – Blair was a delegate to the first Wheeling convention and was appointed to the U. S. House of Representatives. He worked tirelessly to move the statehood bill through Congress. He made friends with President Lincoln and the night before a reluctant president was still in doubt, concerning the statehood bill, he met and helped convinced him to affix his signature. This was a pivotal accomplishment. Blair played a lead role in keeping Sen. Carlile from subverting the bill in the Senate.

* William E Stevenson – He was a Wood County resident and became president of the reformed Constitutional Convention. He later became the second elected governor, succeeding A.I. Boreman.

* Dr. J W. Moss – He was a local Parkersburg physician and attended the first Wheeling Convention where he was elected president in May 1861. He was later elected to the reformed legislature from Wood County but resigned from the legislature to join the Union Army as a medical doctor, where he died while on duty.

* J.H. Diss Debarr – He was friend of all these political leaders and traveled with them. While we know little of his contributions, his main legacy is the sketches of the events leading up to statehood. He would have known President Lincoln, for two sketches of Lincoln in Washington survive. As an artist, he was assigned the task of designing the new state seal. He later was given the job in charge of promoting immigration to the new state.

* Judge J.J. Jackson – He was appointed district judge by President Lincoln and was located in Wheeling during the war. Both his brothers would not join statehood movement, in fact were both arrested for not signing loyalty oath. As judge, Jackson became the enforcer of Union laws in the northwest and in the new state, including the contentious loyalty oath required to participate in public activities. He played an important role in providing stability during this difficult time, when maintaining law and order was almost impossible.

* G.W. Henderson – He was a highly respected and successful farmer and justice of the peace and was elected in Wood County to replace Dr. Moss when he resigned to become an Army surgeon. Henderson was an ex-slave owner but was convinced by A.I. Boreman to help keep northwestern Virginia in the Union. He also was an important member of the contingent attending the 1st Wheeling Convention in May 1861. He did not become a member of the West Virginia legislature in 1863, but returned to his farm and family duties.

So, we offer tribute here to these leaders for their service and hope that in the future West Virginia, Parkersburg and Wood County residents and historians continue to remember their contributions. Currently, state historians in Wheeling and Charleston give more credit to John Carlile, who actually tried to subvert the statehood movement, than most of the above important contributors. We would hope that in the future this will change.

We have gone to great lengths in the Civil War gallery in the Oil & Gas Museum picturing these statehood leaders and telling their stories. This provides a permanent reminder of their wonderful service.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dave McKain is director of the Oil and Gas Museum and is chairman of the area Civil War Roundtable which is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Contact him at dlmckain@yahoo.com