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Diss Debar created State Seal of W.Va.

June 20, 2013
Parkersburg News and Sentinel

Joseph H. Diss Debar (1817-1906), formerly of Parkersburg, is best known for creating the State Seal of West Virginia following the creation of the new state during the Civil War.

Diss Debar lived on what is now 12th Street in the Julia-Ann Square Historic District in Parkersburg and is buried in Riverview Cemetery on Juliana Street, as is his first wife, Clara Levassor.

Born in Alsace, France, in 1817, Diss Debar spoke several languages and was a talented artist, with many sketches of early West Virginia history bearing his name.

Article Photos

Joseph H. Diss Debar

He met his wife, Clara, when both were young in France. Her family moved to Parkersburg on the banks of the Ohio River in what was then Virginia. In 1824, Diss Debar followed them to Parkersburg. During his steamship voyage across the Atlantic, he met and became friends with Charles Dickens.

After traveling to Parkersburg, he and Clara reunited and were married in 1847 in Marietta, he at the age of 30 and she at 17 years. She died April 29, 1849, after giving birth to a son.

Following his wife's death, Diss Debar went to Doddridge County where he had bought land. He brought a Swiss colony to the region and settled them near Leopold, a little town which he called Santa Clara for his wife.

It was in Cove district near Weston, almost on the Lewis County line.

This was an early settlement, and the chief industry of the community was cheese.

Diss Debar's second marriage was to Amelia Cain of Doddridge County, where the marriage is recorded on Aug. 3, 1859, and they had five children.

During this time Diss Debar was prominent in matters of state, especially after the creation of West Virginia as a separate state.

In 1863, the West Virginia Legislature appointed Diss Debar to make drawings in compliance with their suggestions for a state seal and coat-of-arms. The design was made and was adopted in September 1863.

The seal is two-and-a-half inches in diameter and bears the motto "Montani Semper Liberi" which means "Mountaineers Always Free" in Latin.

The picture Diss Debar put on the seal depicts symbolic representation of the state, its people and its industries.

The two men standing on either side of the rock marking the state's foundation on June 20, 1863, indicate the people and their occupations.

The plowhandles and the axe indicate the cultivation taking place where original forests were cleared. The wheat and cornstalk represent grain. Mineral wealth is shown by the miner, his pick, and the lumps of coal at his feet. The crossed rifles in the foreground tell of liberty, maintained by force of arms.

The reverse side, which is not seen or used as often is encircled by a wreath of laurel and oak. Emblematical objects typical of West Virginia's landscape, productions, resources and natives are grouped inside.

In 1864, following the establishment of West Virginia as a state, Gov. Arthur I. Boreman appointed him commissioner of immigration. He did surveying and acted as agent for a land company.

He prepared, compiled and published the first "Handbook of West Virginia."

He was a member of the House of Delegates from Doddridge County in 1864.

In later years, Diss Debar left West Virginia and went to Pennsylvania. He died in Pittsburgh in 1906 and is buried in Philadelphia.



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