The Formation Of Wood County West Virginia
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The Formation Of Wood County WV
PRIOR to the Independence of the United States in 1776, the popular branch of Colonial legislation in Virginia was titled the House of Burgesses." By its enactments from time to time, under supervision of the English Crown, was the wilderness territory divided into counties, as new settlements increased and the population pushed westward beyond the Blue Ridge mountains. Many of these political divisions were formed, and again subdivided, as the old records frequently state, to avoid difficulties to the inhabitants by reason of passing certain creeks and rivers to prosecute their suits and attend court sittings.
In 1634 the Province of Virginia was divided into eight shires, which were thereafter to be governed as the shires in England, with Lieutenants to take care of war against the Indians." From one of these divisions, or some combination of them, eventually was formed just when and how the oldest official records do not disclose the county of Lancaster, which first appears to have recognition on the roll, in 1652, as sending members to the Burgesses. Pour years later Rappahannock sprang from its ancient limits.
Among other counties created in 1691 was King and Queen, and in 1692 Essex, and King William in 1701. In 1720 from parts of these three divisions was formed and named Spottsylvania, in honor of Alexander Spottswood, who, in 1713, when Lieut. Governor of the Colony, was the first with his troop of horse to cross the then western boundary of civilization—the Blue Ridge. For this daring feat, and the discovery of the beautiful Valley of Virginia, the English King conferred upon him the reward of knighthood, and established the new Transmontaine Order of St. George, whose insignia was a golden horse shoe, with the engraved motto there on. Sic jurat transcendere montes—thus he swears to cross the mountains. To each of the troop was given the miniature emblem, and as an inducement to emigration into this western land, any one who would accept and pledge a compliance with the inscription, was furnished a similar badge, and became a member of the Pioneer Order.
In 1730 Spottsylvania was divided into two parishes, and four years later the one called St. George was rechristened Spotsylvania county, and the other, St. Marks, .to be called Orange, in honor of William, Prince of Orange. The limits of the latter county were defined to be "Southward by the line of Hanover County, and westerly by the utmost limits of Virginia," which meant in a vague way all the territory west of the Blue Ridge barrier. Such a tide of population from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the Potomac river counties of Virginia, through Harpers Ferry gap, had poured into this section, that in 1738 the legislature of the Colony restricted the county of Orange to that portion of her territory east of the Blue Ridge, and created two new ones out of the land beyond, named in honor of the Prince and Princess of Wales.
Frederick comprised the northern part of the great intermountain valley with Winchester as its seat, and Augustathe southern section and all the remainder of Virginia west, with Staunton as its seat of Government. In 1754 Hampshire was formed from the Trans-Shenandoah portions of Frederick and Augusta counties. In 1770 Botetourt was created by division from the south part of Augusta.
DISTRICT OF WEST AUGUSTA.
From about 1763 to the dawn of the Revolution, settlements west of the mountains in the territory claimed by-Augusta county rapidly increased. The land west of the Alleghenies was without defined limit, Virginia claiming under her royal charters to the Mississippi river. This wilderness was considered by the Tide-water inhabitants as the unexplored land, and vaguely titled the District of West Augusta. The settlers of that wilderness were so noted soon for robustness of body, steadiness of mind and purpose, and bold patriotism, that Washington was willing to risktheir valor and courage as a reserve force which all England could not intimidate or conquer.
This district included all the territory from the Alleghenies westward, and from the Great Kenawha Valley on the south to Pennsylvania on the north. At that time Fort Pitt and much of southwestern Pennsylvania were claimed by Virginia, and their ownership as violently resisted later by the authorities of Pennsylvania. Militia were called out, two sets of magistrates appointed, and each imprisoned by the power of the other, and a struggle and conflict kept up till the storm of the American Revolution sank the less in the greater, and the question of jurisdiction was left to be settled by litigation and compromise, and the extension of Mason and Dixon's line defining the northern limits of West Augusta.
This district was an exception, in having no definite limits westward, or any legislation separating it from Augusta county, till the Act of October, 1776, by the Commonwealth of Virginia, then only three months an independent state of the new republic. It read: "Whereas it is expedient to ascertain the boundary between the county of Augusta and the District of West Augusta, Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and it is hereby enacted by authority of the same, that the boundary between the said district and county shall be as follows, to wit: Beginning on the Allegheny mountain between the heads of Potowmack, Cheat and Greenbrier rivers (said to be Haystack Knob, now at the northeast corner of Pocahontas county), thence along the ridge of mountains which divides the waters of Cheat river from those of Greenbrier, and that branch of the Monongahela river called the Tyger's Valley river to Monongahela river, thence up said river and the West fork thereof to Bingermans creek, on the northwest side of said fork, thence up the said creek to the head thereof, thence in a direct line to the head of Middle Island creek, a branch of the Ohio, and thence to the Ohio, including all the said waters of said creek in the aforesaid district of West Augusta, all that territory lying to the northward of said boundary, and to the westward of the State of Pennsylvania and Maryland, shall be deemed, and is hereby declared, to be within the district of West Augusta.
In another section of this act the three new counties of Ohio, Yohogania and Monongalia were created and defined.
The latter included all that part of the said District lying to the northward of the County of Augusta, to the westward of the meridian of the head fountain of the Potowmack, to the southward of the County of Yohogania, and to the eastward of the County of Ohio, shall be one other distinct county, and shall be called and known by the name and county of Monongalia. In this tri-partite division of the northern portion West Augusta disappeared. Ohio county was created north of new Monongalia, and Yohogania in the subsequent fixing of state boundaries was merged into other divisions of both commonwealths, and became the lost county of the Old Dominion.
West Augusta, in 1777 and the following year, was again divided and formed into Montgomery and Greenbrier counties, extending west of the Alleghenies to Big Sandy river, and down its valley and that of the Great Kenawha to the Ohio river. Greenbrier then formed the southwestern line of Monongalia county. In May 1779, there was added to Monongalia, from Augusta, ' 'all that part which lies to the northwest of the following lines: Beginning at the dividing ridge between the running waters of Elk and Little Kenawha rivers, and running thence till it intersects the ridge between the West Fork of Monongahela and Elk rivers, thence with said dividing ridge to the ridge dividing the waters of Tyger's Valley and Buchanan prongs of the Monongahela, thence with said ridge to the intersection of said Tyger's Valley Prong, by said ridge, thence with said ridge to the old line on the ridge between the waters ofTyger's Valley Prong and those of Cheat river, and thence with said ridge that divides Cheat river and the waters of Potowmack.
In October, 1780, another part of Augusta was added to Monongalia, thus described: "All northwest of the line that divided Augusta from Green Brier on the top of the ridge, that divides the waters of Green Brier from those of Elk and Tyger's Valley, and with that ridge to the ridge that divides the waters of Potowmack from those of Cheat, and with the same to the line that divides Augusta from Rockingham.
From Monongalia, to take effect 20th of July, 1784, was enacted the formation of Harrison county, named after the then Governor. Its territory was thus defined: By a line to begin on the Maryland line, at the fork ford on the land of John Goff, thence by a direct course down the said creek to Tyger's Valley Fork of Monongalia river, thence dowft the same to the mouth of West Fork river, thence up the same to the mouth of Biggerman's creek, thence up the said creek to the line of Ohio county, and that part of the said county lying south of the said line."
The Justices named in the Commission of the Peace were to meet at the house of George Jackson, at Bush's Old Fort, on Buchannan river. The new county had a frontage on the Ohio river of eighty miles. In 1789 the county of Kenawha, named in virtue of the principal river that bisects its territory, was created, on the South-west of Harrison, by dividing Greenbrier.
Ere, in England, Victoria Regina was enjoying her honey-moon with her dear Prince Albert, when "Washington was dying in his picturesque and ever-to-be-enshrined Mount Vernon on the historic Potomac; ere the isle of Blennerhassett had been recognized by that name, or even thought of as the starting point of a great conspiracy, and was, like some primeval power, listening to and reflecting the eddying chant of the current around its sand-embraced shores, the territory which now constitutes Wood County, (Pleasants, Jackson, Ritchie and Wirt) had recently emerged from the power of the Indian, and was in process of establishment as a separate county in Virginia. It was to have a renowned and grand future, but unlike Minerva, did not spring full fledged from the brain of Virginia's legislative Jove, equipped and panoplied for instant action.
There were two edicts of legislative power, one 21 December 1798, and the other in 1800, needed to create it. The first act is as follows:
1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that all that part of the county of Harrison, lying westwardly of a line to begin thirty miles from the Ohio river on the line dividing the counties of Harrison and Kenawha, thence northeasterly to intersect the line of Ohio county at twenty-one miles distant from the Ohio river on a straight line from that point where the line of Ohio county strikes the said river, shall, from and after the 1st day of May, next, form one distinct county, and be called and known by the name of Wood County.
The Justices to be named in the commission of the peace for the said County of Wood, shall meet at the house of Hugh Phelps in the said county, upon the first court day after the said county shall take place, and having taken the oaths prescribed by law, and administered the oath of office to, and taken the bond of the sheriff according to law, proceed to appoint and qualify a clerk, and fix upon a place for holding courts in the said county, at or as near the center thereof, as the situation and convenience will admit; and thenceforth the said court shall proceed to erect the necessary public buildings at such place, and until such buildings be completed, to a point any place for holding courts as they may think proper: Provided, always, that the appointment of a place for holding courts, and of a clerk, shall not be made unless a majority of the Justices of the said County be present; (where such majority shall have been prevented from attending by bad weather, or their being at the time out of the County, in such case the appointment shall be postponed until some court day when a majority shall be present. The Governor shall appoint a person to be sheriff.
2. The County shall remain in the same Judicial district as Harrison, for which courts are held at Morgantown, and to be of the same brigade district, and to be in the same Senatorial and Congressional district as Harrison. Addition to its boundary was made 30 Dec. 1800, in the following language: That all that part of the county of Kenawha within the following bounds, to wit: beginning at the mouth of Devil's Hole creek, otherwise called Pleasant river, thence eastwardly parallel with the line at present dividing the counties of Kenawha and Wood, until the back or eastern line of the county of Wood, being extended, would intersect the same, shall be, and it is hereby added to and made part of the said county Wood. At this date the county had a boundary of over sixty miles along the Ohio river, and included all the continuous rich islands, some of them constituting large farms, within the shore limit. Its area was 1223 square miles, its population 1217, and collections from taxes amounted to only $1257, an average of over a square mile for every person, and a taxation of a dollar a head. Its area and boundaries so remained until 1832.
In 1804 Kenawha County was separated and Mason constructed, taking in the Great Valley to and up along the Ohio river. For years thereafter it was the southwestern boundary of Wood. Tyler, in 1814, was formed from the south-western part of Ohio county, and was then the north-eastern boundary for Wood. Lewis, in 1816, was constructed from Harrison, and for years was the Southern boundary of Wood county.
The census of 1830 revealed only a population of 6,414 persons, paying taxes aggregating $4,257. Such a vast land area beyond the Ohio was unrolled to the sight of emigrants during the previous two decades that the increase of Wood county population was slow. Many of her own pioneer families were induced to follow the westward star of empire, and departed, leaving no descendants within our borders. Nevertheless, the settlements were so far apart that new counties, with nearer and more convenient seats of local government were demanded.
In the consequent and subsequent divisions, Wood County lost nearly three fourths of her territory, cutting down her area to its present one, of 375 square miles But her population, as will be seen from the tables, has increased beyond the dream of her oldest inhabitant or pioneer descendant.
In 1831 was created, from Mason, Kenawha and Wood, the first county, named in honor of "Old Hickory," President Andrew Jackson. About one half of' its area was obtained by taking from Wood the land southwest of a line running from the mouth of Pond Creek on Ohio river, in a southerly direction to the northern limit of Lewis county, and Ripley on Mill Creek, was made its seat of power. This diminished our river frontage over eleven miles. The Northeastern portion of Roane County, originally part of Wood, passed away from Jackson subsequently.
From the eastern portion of Wood, and from Harrison and Lewis, in 1844, was constructed Ritchie county, named in honor of a noted editor, Thomas Ritchie of Virginia. Its seat was Harrisville, on the north fork of Hughes river. Subsequent to this date a portion of Wood, which was legislated to Ritchie, was separated from it, and now forms part of Doddridge county.*
From Wood and parts of Jackson originally in Wood, was formed a county named in honor of the celebrated orator and statesman, whose eloquence had been heard in the famous Burr-Blennerhassett trial, William Wirt. Elizabeth, the Beauchamp settlement, above Tucker's creek, on the south side of the Little Kenawha river, was chosen as the county seat. Eight miles above are the worldrenowned burning springs, the center of a wonderful oil excitement in 1861 and later.
From Wood, taking all the territory between Bull Creek and Middle Island on the Ohio, and from parts of Tyler
and Ritchie, was formed in 1851 a county named from James Pleasants, Virginia's Governor in 1822. St. Marys, below the mouth of Middle Island creek, was made the county seat. In this division the Ohio river frontage was reduced ten miles, leaving less than thirty five miles of Ohio coast. From the foregoing it will be noted that from 1788 to 1776, 38 years, the county was in the District of West Augusta; from 1776 to 1784, eight years, in Monongalia; from 1784 to 1799, fifteen years, in Harrison. The earliest settlements made in Wood wei-e during the one and a half decades made whilst in Harrison. In 18yl it paid into the State Treasury a total tax of $52,610.72, and amount for commissions paid to its sheriff was $1,855.10, an excess of 1655.48 over the entire county's income in 1800. For year 1898 were liaised in the county for all State purposes, including licenses, $61,339.29, and the valuation of real estate and personal property was $9,527,010. The county levy for all purposes for year ending 30 September 1898, was $140,146.14. Ninety-eight years before it was only $1,199.52
COUNTY SEAT LOCATION AND TOWN BUILDING.
We are apt, in this age of crowded population and intense commercial competition and the struggle for subsistence and superior wealth, to look backward to pioneer days, with their mist and uncertainty, and to fancy that all was harmony and tranquil content; that a sharing of common deprivations and dangers would prevent a conflict of personal interest. To some extent this is true. But history only shows that man, in the aggregate and as individuals, aims in every latitude and age, for personal and local advantage.
The question of where the seat of justice, the repository of popular power and concentration should be in Wood county was not an exception. The trio of ambitious leaders, each, planned and labored, and in modern legislative vernacular we might say filibustered, to have the court building established and erected upon his broad acres. Out of the desire grew the platting and legislating for the establishment of three different towns, Newport, Vienna, and Monroe. Each acquired by act of the General Assembly, power to lay out into squares and streets, and sell lots by auction. This divided the commissioned Justices in opinion, and doubtless led to all the hesitancy and vacillation in the proceedings of the court, during its first and formative years. Squire Hugh Phelps' friends advocated Monroe, on the south side of Kanawha river near Neal's Station; Justice Joseph Spencer's adherents urged Vienna; and even ranger Williams, in compromise, desired the court of Justice near his plantation; while Clerk Stokely, who held the ear of all and the balance of power, pushed the claims of Newport, and finally prevailed, without reaping full benefits in a landed way from the location. As a fact historical, below is introduced the legislative authority for these contending embrio towns:
As early as December 1795, was enacted in the following words its creation: "That one hundred acres of land, the property of Joseph Spencer and Abner Lord, on East bank of the Ohio river in the county of Harrison, shall be, and they are hereby vested in James Pewtherer, Thomas Lord, Eleazer West, Isaac Williams, Samuel Beaumont, George Selden, Nehemiah Spencer, Samuel Hally and Asabel Grilling, gentlemen, trustees to be by them, or a majority of them laid off into lots of half an acre each, with convenient streets, and establish a town of Vienna.
As soon as one hundred acres shall be laid off into lots and streets, the trustees shall sell at public auction, after previous advertisement for three court days at the Court House, and convey the said lots to purchasers in fee, subject to the condition of building on each a dwelling house, sixteen feet square at least, with brick or stone chimney, to be finished fit for habitation within seven years from day of sale, and pay money arising from such sale to said Spencer and Lord, or their legal representatives. If the purchaser fail to build thereon, then the property is to revert to the owners for public sale. This charter was partly repealed by an Act, 21 January 1799, section 2 of which read: "That sixty acres of land, the property of Joseph Spencer, Abner Lord and Austin Nichols, in the county of Harrison, as the same are already laid off into lots and streets, on the east bank of the Ohio River, shall be established a town by the name of Vienna, and that Thomas Lord, Eleazer West, Samuel Beaumont, George Selden, Samuel Hally and Stephen R. Wilson, gentlemen, shall be and are hereby constituted Trustees thereof. This amending act had similar conditions as to building thereon.
By somewhat similar Act, 6 January 1800, Section 5, was established this town as follows: "That fifteen acres of land, the property of John Stokely, lying at the mouth of The Little Kenawha river, so soon as the same shall be laid off into lots with convenient streets, be established a town by the name of Newport; and that William Lowther, Jacob Bennett, Isaac Williams, James Neal and John G. Henderson, gentlemen, shall be, and they are hereby constituted trustees there of.
Section 8 of the foregoing act, ushered into charter another rival, named in honor of the President, in the following words: That twenty-five acres of land, the property of Hugh Phelps, lying at the place known by the name of Neal's Station on the Little Kenawha River, so soon as the same shall be laid off into lots, with convenient streets, be established a town by the name of Monroe; and that William Lowther, Jacob Bennett, Isaac Williams, James Neal and John G. Henderson, gentlemen, shall be, and they are hereby constituted trustees there of. So soon as the purchaser of any lots, in either of said towns, shall have built a dwelling house thereon equal to twelve feet square, with a brick or stone chimney, such purchaser shall enjoy the same privileges that the freeholders and inhabitants of the other towns not incorporated shall hold and enjoy. Whilst those interested in at least three different tracts of land were pulling in as many separate paths, effort was made to put into effect the enabling act of 21 December, 1798. From the minutes preserved, and natural inference as to the misplaced or unfiled ones, we make extracts.
The Justices of Wood County, Hugh Phelps, Jacob Bennett, Thomas Pribble, John G. Henderson, Caleb Hitchcock, Abner Lord, Joseph Spencer, Thomas Lord and Ichabod C. Griffin met on the 12th of August, 1799, at the house of Hugh Phelps. The first five of these were commissioned under the territory of the mother county of Harrison, and the remaining four were named by the Governor at the time of the legislative creation of Wood. The five old justices objected to the four newly commissioned participating in the organization, and a motion was made to call on an attorney present, naming a Mr. Delarey,* whom the record says was "learned in the law," to direct them in their proceedings, which being the organization of the county was an important work. The motion prevailed, and Mr. Delarey was called upon by the court for an opinion. He first suggested the appointment of a clerk pro tem. Stephen R. Wilson was named by some of the justices, but not being generally approved, John Stokely was 'selected by a majority as the temporary officer.
Counsel Delarey then observed that there appeared an additional Commission, and that it was his opinion the
Governor, neither in equity nor in law, had a right to add to the existing number, produced the Constitution of Virginia, as well as several other law authorities, to support his position, advising the four new magistrates to withdraw. The acting members decided this opinion correct, * The records are so indistinct as to leave a doubt who this attorney was. It is often spelled in print Delacey. The name nowhere else appears as one ot the practitioners in Wood County. In 1784 Henry Delarey was a Justice of the I'eace. He was also at this period a 'Lieut-Col. in tlie militia, in the regiment of whicli William Robin.son was 'Major, Benjamin Wilson Colonel and John P. Duval (Jounty Lieutenant. In the Deed Book of Harris* n County In 1801, John Dealncey is conveyed land on Little Kanawha river, near Samuel Smith's survey, It is probable he was the counsel called upon by the Court.
but the other four refused to recognize this duty, and Abner Lord and Joseph Spencer "dared any person to attempt to remove them, but, " says the old record, ' 'when William Lowther came forward and offered to swear in as sheriff, two of them abandoned the Court House. Thereupon Hugh Phelps and the other old justices proceeded to organize the new county of Wood, and the entry upon the Minutes appears in these words: "Whereas Hugh Phelps, Thomas Pribble, commonly called Thomas Tribble, Jno. G. Henderson, commonly called John Henderson, and Jacob Bennett, Gentlemen Justices, in and for the said County of Wood in the State of Virginia, agreeably to an Act of the Assembly of said State, passed 21st day of Dec. 1798, did meet at the House of Hugh Phelps, on the second Monday of August 1799, and then and there did swear in William Lowther as Sheriff in and for said county, and took bond of him agreeably to law, the Court having been legally organized, appointed John Stokely Clerk in and for said county, swore him into office and took Bond agreeably to law.
The Court further proceed and appoint as a seat for the Court House and other necessary Public Buildings to be fixed at a place well known by the appellation of Neal's Station, on Little Kanawha, upon the lands of Hugh Phelps. The Court recommended Robert Triplett as a fit person for the office of Principal Surveyor of this county. The Court recommended John Neal and Peter Misner as fit persons for the office of Coroner, that one of them may be commissioned as such for this County. The Court recommended Herman Blennerhassett, Daniel Kincheloe and Hezekiah Bukey as Gentlemen, qualified for Justices, that they may be commissioned as such in and for this county. The Court appoint John Shults and William Dearth constables in and for this county.
The Court order that the Court be continued at the House of Hugh Phelps until the necessary Public Buildings be erected. Ordered that the Court do now adjourn until Court in Course. This is signed by Hugh Phelps as Presiding, and "Tested" by John Stokely as Clerk, W. C. The Justices met again 2d September, 1799, and without transacting any business, adjourned till 8 o'clock of next morning, when the following entry appears: "Agreeably to adjournment of yesterday, the Court was called at the House of Hugh Phelps, Esq. Justices present, Hugh Phelps, Thos. Pribble, Jacob Bennett and John G. Henderson, Gentlemen. The Sheriff made proclamation and opened Court about the hour of three o'clock in the afternoon. The Rev. Robert Manley, of the M. E. Church, came into open court, took the oath of Fidelity and gave bond agreeably to law for the true and faithful solemnization of Marriages. Ordered that he have a permit accordingly.
Ordered that the Court do now adjourn until tomorrow at 8 o'clock in the morning. On the 4th of September, 1799, Hugh Phelps, Jacob Bennett, Thomas Prebble and John G. Henderson opened court. Ordered that notice be forthwith given Thomas Lord, Caleb Hitchcock, Ichabod C. Griffin, Abner Lord and Joseph Spencer, Justices, or such of them as may conveniently be found, that they may appear at the House of Hugh Phelps at the hour of 1 o'clock and take seats in Court and hear and determine certain matter and things. Agreeably to order of the Court of this day, Sheriff gave notice to Jos. Spencer, Abner Lord and Ichabod C. Griffin, these being the only Justices that said sheriff could conveniently notify, who refused to appear.
The Court conceive it necessary that Herman Blennerhassett, Daniel Kincheloe, Hezekiah Bukey, John Neal, and Jacob Beeson be recommended as qualified to execute the office of Justice of the Peace. In case of vacancy by death or inability, or the necessity of a greater number of magistrates being in commission, the court, by law, named two persons to the Governor, as suitable, one of whom he appointed to the place. Through the balance of September, October and early November, only one or two Justices attending at each, adjournments continue, till 11 November 1799, when were present Hugh Phelps, Thos. Pribble, Jacob Bennett and Jiio. G. Henderson, who adjourned till next day, and then entered the following order:
There not being a sufficient number of magistrates at October Court, no commissioner hath been yet appointed for this Court; wherefore the Court taking the earliest oiiportunity to appoint, do now appoint John Stephenson as Commissioner of this County. The absentees and adjournments still continued, and here there is a hiatus in records, and an attempt to cross out preceeding pages. In the mean time, it is tradition and inference, there were held sessions of a minority Court, of the dissatisfied Justices, at Vienna, and at their several convenings, probably the missing ones, the two Lords, Hitchcock, Griffin, and Spencer, were passing orders. There other Court officers were chosen, and among them, Stephen R. Wilson, brother-in-law of Squire Joseph Spencer, was made Clerk. His subsequent attempt by Superior Court action, to secure the position, would indicate his plea to be a selection by a County Court not mentioned in the present records. In the case the minutes of the Vienna session may have been filed, and there remained to burn up in the Court House of Monongalia. This part of the Court no doubt selected Vienna, or Williamstown as the County seat.
The next step was in the Virginia Assembly, 10 January 1800, by the following quieting enactment: Whereas, it appears to the present General Assembly, that the Justices of the County of Wood have not as yet formed a court agreeably to the terms of the Act entitled An act for dividing the County of Harrison, and that it is essential for the good people of the said County of PD Commons Wood that the said act should now be carried into full effect:
1. Be it therefore enacted, That the Executive be, and they are hereby empowered to commission Four Justices of the Peace, who in conjunction with the Justices heretofore commissioned for the said County, a majority of the whole number being present, shall, on the second Monday of February next, meet at the house of Hugh Phelps, and constitute a Court, who are hereby vested with all the powers vested in the Justices of the said County of Wood.
2. Provided always, that this act shall not be construed as affecting the right of any person claiming the right to clerkship, or any other appointment made by the Justices of the said County of Wood, or any of them, but their claim shall remain subject to a decision before the Judiciary. And any officer who shall be displaced by the Court as established by this law, shall be, and is hereby, revested with his appointment whenever a decision shall be made in his favor by the Judiciary. All persons who may have acted erroneously under color of the said recited Act, are hereby indemnified for such transactions, so far as the Commonwealth might otherwise have been entitled to reparation, but this indemnification shall not extend to any case whatsoever of an injury done to any individual under colour thereof, who may take such measures to obtain redress as if this act had never passed.
In compliance with this legislative decree, the following appears upon the minutes, dated 10 March 1800: "Pursuant to an act of the General Assembly, entitled an act concerning the County of Wood, passed the eleventh day of January in the year of our Lord I8OO, the following Justices convened at the House of Hugh Phelps, viz: Hugh Phelps, Thomas Pribble, Jno. G. Henderson, Hezekiah Bukey, John Stephenson, Daniel Kincheloe, William Hannaman, Thomas Lord, Caleb Hitchcock, Abner Lord and Ichabod C. Griffin. The said Justices having been duly qualified, proceeded, took bonds of and swore in William Lowther, as sheriff, according to law. The said William then made proclamation and the Court was opened according to law.
The Court, having been duly organized, proceeded and appointed John Stokely Clerk, by a majority of three, for the Court of said County, the said John Stokely then gave bond and security and was qualified according to law. Nathaniel Davidson was made Attorney for the Commonwealth, with salary of $45 for a year from date; whereupon Davidson came into Court and made compliment of twenty dollars to be deducted out of said salary, when collected, towards building a Court House. This completed the organization of the county, and properly dates its beginning, and also terminated the question of what justices constituted a legal court.
The minutes, 14 July 1800, read: "Agreeably to an order of the District Court, held at Monongalia Court House, at the last term, the Sheriff summoned the Court of Wood County to appear at the next district Court, to show cause on the first day of next term, why a mandamus should not issue to the said Justices directed, commanding them to restore Stephen R. Wilson to the office of Clerk of Wood County." The Justices then summoned were Pribble, Stephenson, Bukey, Hannaman, Woolf, Beeson, Jesse Lowther and John Neal. The selected Clerk of the Vienna Justices still contended for his alleged investiture, as it is recorded in the minutes that a Writ of Mandamus was read and delivered to the Sheriff, directing the Court to restore this contestant to the office of Clerk, or show why they do not. The suit was finally decided against the applicant, and Stokley was secured in his position.
FIXING COURT ROOM.
In the same March 10 session, the records state, eleven Justices being in place: The Court proceeded and appointed the place for fixing the Court House and other necessary Buildings at the dwelling of Hugh Phelps, Esquire, or at the place known by the appellation of Neal's Station, or between the two said places on the west side of the Little Kenawha river. Ordered that John Stephenson's vote be entered respecting the fixing of the Court House. His vote was that the Court House and other buildings be fixed at the House of Hugh Phelps, temporarily or until land can be obtained at the point and junction of Ohio and Little Kenawha rivers. Said Stevenson voted in the above with Thomas Pribble, Jno. G. Henderson, William Hannaman, Daniel Kincheloe and Hugh Phelps, for fixing the public buildings on the lands of Hugh Phelps, excepting as aforesaid. Ordered that Daniel Kincheloe, Thos. Pribble and Abner Lord be appointed as a committee to lay off the particular spot on which the Public Buildings shall be fixed. The Court order that the Committee do lay off the said spot and report the same to the next Court.
At the session next day, eleven justices were again present, and the Court "ordered that it be entered that Hugh Phelps came into court and made a present of two acres of ground to erect the public buildings upon, which shall be laid off agreeably to the report of the committee, provided, nevertheless, that the dwelling house of the said Phelps shall not be comprehended within he said two acres. The said Phelps also engages to furnish 5000 feet of sawed boards for the use of the Public, to be applied to erecting said public buildings." A little later he came into court, assuming to have a ferry over the Kanawha river near the room in which the court was then sitting, and offered to ferry any and all persons across that may reside on the upper side of the river, free of charges, at all courts and elections. The court accepted the favors and returned thanks for the several donations made. The exact site of the proposed public building cannot now be determined.
Many of the older citizens believe it to have been below the mouth of Neal's Run, in the vicinity of the old Bradford residence. Others maintain that it stood on the banks of the Kenawha, immediately above the ravine, near the western line of his lands, and that subsequent freshets carried it away along with other log cabins of that era which lined the banks at intervals as far as the block-house. Not far away, by either supposition, near the Kanawha river, beautiful in its primitive grandeur, stood the military post and cabin-group called Neal's Station, in honor of Capt. James Neal, a Revolutionary soldier and pioneer. At this period, five years after the close of the Indian war, the poplar and sycamore canoes lay quiescent upon the placid bosom of the Kenawha, moored near the spot, and bow and arrow and tomahawk hung unfeared upon the cabin walls over the hospitable door of the hunter-rangers, while the deer-hide latch-string hung out to invite a pull from any settler or caller.
As Gentleman Justice, Hugh Phelps took his seat upon an old puncheon bench or split-bottomed chair and opened court. It was an hour of proud independence. The few pioneer citizens of that day looked on with awe and reverence, while the bear, wolf, panther and nimble deer might have stared from the dense woods encircling and wondered what all this invasion of their ancient domain meant. Col. Phelps was a large, robust pioneer, endowed with great energy and endurance, and he used his position and comparative wealth with liberality for the public good.
Opposite is presented an imaginative drawing, but one not far from fact, and in consonance with the log structures of that era, the dwelling and court room of the first presiding officer of our county. The memory of no oldest inhabitant in our boyhood could designate the site of it, but the records, as has been shown, leave inference it was near Neal's Run, and "in sight of the ancient ferry. There met the Justices Gentlemen in the first decade to determine legal matters, and exchange views upon the conflict of land entries, to barter hatchet claims, relate incidents of the late American Revolution in which many of them participated, and to describe the terrors and estimated land. Col. Hugh Phelps' Dwelling The First Court House Pen Driving by J. h. Diss ebar. capes of subsequent Indian incursions along the trail of the elm-bordered Kenawha.
In their home-made suits of jeans and flax, shaped in convenient ranger style of fringed hunting shirts, belted short-coats from which hung hunting knives, and in varied head covers of coon-skin caps, felt hats and bearskin turbans, with open countenances, honest faces and greetings, they were unique, as this generation would view them, stalwart, social, brave and jovial cousins and friends, ready to welcome a new settler, swap land warrants, beaver and wild pelts for powder, shot, calicoes or flint rifles, or administer law without technical environment, on the basis of common sense and unentangled equity. They had many virtues; inflexible integrity, for which as descendants we honor their memories and herein historically inscribe their names. Vanished are their dwellings and the cabin court hall, and at the opening of this second century even the exact site thereof is not only unmarked by stone or tablet, but unknown.
At the April Term, 1800, the committee authorized to fix a proper place for the erection of buildings, made report, upon which there were six of the bench voting to affirm and six opposed. There were present at the sitting 13th October, 1800, eleven members, as follows: Hugh Phelps, Thomas Fribble, William Hannaman, Juo. G. Henderson, Abner Lord, Hezekiah Bukey, Thos. Lord, Joseph Spencer, Joseph Cook, Caleb Hitchcock and Ichabod C. Griffin. This entry appears: "Whereas, there never has been, under the late act of the General Assembly, passed on the 11 day of January, 1800, a permanent place fixed on and appointed to erect the Public Buildings of the County on. It is therefore ordered by the court that the necessary Public Buildings for the County be erected on the land of Isaac Williams, on the Ohio river opposite to the mouth of Muskingum river near where said Williams' Barn now stands. Ordered that the next court to be held for the county, be held at the house of Isaac Williams. Ordered that the Court do now adjourn.
The Court was unanimous, except Joseph Cook, respecting the Court House being removed to Isaac Williams, as he opposes it. The Court do now adjourn until court in course, to the house of Isaac Williams opposite the mouth of Muskingum.This was signed by the Justice presiding, Thomas Lord, and below on the same page of the minutes was: "N. B. The above and foregoing record of the proceedings of this day is Ironious (erroneous) and not true, though wrote according to the order of the then sitting Court, particularly the part resj)ecting the removing of the Court House, or Seat of Justice, and the minutes was signed without reading or having been previously read. This I certify, Oct. 13 1800. Teste, John Stokely, Clerk W. C. Notwithstanding this clerical statement, the Court did meet, Nov. 10, at the designated home of pioneer Isaac Williams, and the records show that: Jno. G. Henderson moved to adjourn Court to the house of Hugh Phelps.
Those favoring were: Hugh Phelps, Daniel Kincheloe, Jacob Beeson, Thos. Pribble, Reece Wdolf, John Neal, William Hannaman, Jno. G. Henderson, Jesse Lowther and John Stephenson, Those opposing said order were: Joseph Spencer, Abner Lord, Thomas Lord, Caleb Hitchcock, Hezekiah Bukey and Joseph Cook, The order is as follows: "The Court proceded to reconsider
the adjournment of the last Court to the house of Isaac Williams, which they consider to be a measure very injurious to the body of people in this county, embarrassing to the Judicial Proceedings, inimical to the harmony of the people, and adopted with sinister views against the interest of the County at large. There upon it is ordered that Court do now adjourn to the House of Hugh Phelps, at 9 o'clock tomorrow. " This was signed by Hugh Phelps as presiding Justice.
Accordingly next day, at a full court assembled at the designated house, it was ordered and unanimously agreed to, that the Point, above the Mouth of the Little Kanawha river, at the Union of said Kanawha and Ohio rivers, on lands owned by John Stokely, is the proper place for the Seat of Justice for said County, and it is accordingly ordered that the necessary Public building be erected thereon. John Stokely voluntarily agrees to give the Court, for use of the county, as much of said land as will be deemed sufficient for the said purpose by a Committee to be appointed by the Court, so as not to exceed two acres, and to make a sufficient deed for same when required by the Court, with a promise to revert to him, said Stokely, whenever the Seat of Justice is removed from his ground. And it is further unanimously agreed that they will support the above order, and never will raise any objections to the same. It is also agreed, and is hereby ordered, that the several donations heretofore made by Hugh Phelps to the Court for the use of the County shall now revert to him, and that the Court relinquish all claims to the same.
Witness our hands. It is to be understood that the Justices here subscribed do not object to the legality of these orders." Signed on the Minute Book by Hugh Phelps, Jos. Spencer, Jno. G. Henderson, Daniel Kincheloe, Caleb Hitchcock, Thomas Lord, Jacob Beeson, Ichabod C. Griffin. John Stephenson, Jesse Lowther, Reece Woolf, Joseph Cook, William Hannaman and Abner Lord, 14 Justices. William Hannaman, Edward Stephenson, and Stephen R. Wilson were appointed a committee to view and lay off grounds suitable for Public Buildings, to be erected upon at the mouth of Little Kenawha, and report same to next Court. Ordered that Court do now adjourn to the Point at the upper side of the Mouth of the Little Kenawha river until Court in course." This was signed by Justice Phelps acting for the Court.
Deed book No. 1 has the following, as the report of the committee on public grounds: Agreeable to an order of Wood County Court, made the 12th day of November 1800, we, Stephen R. Wilson, William Hannaman and Edward Stephenson, have this day viewed and laid off the ground most proper for erecting the Public Buildings upon for said county, which is situate as follows, viz: Beginning at a stake near a marked Cherry Stump about three hundred and fifty-five feet from the Ohio river and running thence south forty-four degrees West 74 feet to a marked White Walnut tree on the banks of the Little Kanawha river.
North forty-six degrees West one hundred and four feet, thence 74 feet to the beginning stake. In witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands this 13th day of November, I8OO. Stephen R. Wilson, William Hannaman. Committee. Edward Stephenson. Recorded agreeably to the order of the Court made Dec. 8, 1800. The Justices Minutes, on the 6 April, 1801, have this entry: "Ordered that George D. Avery, John Stokely, Stephen R. Wilson, Hezekiah Bukey, Joseph Halley and William Enoch be commissioners to promote and receive subscriptions for purpose of erecting Public Buildings at the mouth of the Kanawha, and report their progress at next June Court.
Diligent search fails to reveal among the scant files preserved, or upon the records anywhere, the original or copy of the report of the building and soliciting committee. The primitive Temple of Justice was put into existence, and as no allowance was made by the court for its erection, it is properly to be inferred that the pioneer few met the expense from their individual funds. These grounds covered two acres, and were along the river above and below Juliann street, along whose foot the winding Rifie Run, now filled up, passed across First street and into the Kanawha current. Over this ravine for years rested wide poplar gunwales, a primitive bridge, used by lawyers, clients, judges and citizens to and fro between court house and clerk's office and "The Tavern' at the Point.
Here, near deep pawpaw thickets which sheltered the horses of witnesses, plaintiffs, defendants, jurors and the settlers from sultry summer rays, and in sight of many canoes moored at the run's mouth, under wide-spreading elms, was erected the first building owned by the county. Hewed logs were to be used for walls and puncheon boards for a floor. This primitive building is still standing, and the busy population of our city to-day, while rushing across to South Parkersburg, upon the Kanawha iron bridge above, scarcely recognize the structure as one built of hewed logs from the near-by forest nearly a hundred years ago. It is owned by Mrs. Leonora G. Rex, a descendant of pioneer John Gibbens. Many years ago it was weather boarded and later tin roofed, and since was used by the Rex Hardware Company as a warehouse. It is a dilapidated structure, in the march of improvements neglected by the Council, and which should be transferred to the City Park, restored to enduring shape, as a souvenir of olden days. It might properly be the Museum Hall, under charge of a County Historical Society, for the collection, preservation and exhibit of curios, Indian relics, pioneer heir-looms, and antique souvenirs now unseen and unprized by descendants of pioneers of Wood County.
If the okl walls could talk, no doubt many interesting stories would come to light in which the legal talent of pioneer days participated, and in which defeat to plaintiff or defendant meant as much in the way of chagrin or disappointment as do the verdicts of the present day. Doubtless the voice of the eloquent Philip Doddridge, as well as of Edwin S. Duncan, Jonathan Jackson, Judge Lewis Summers, Blennerhassett, Capt. James Neal, Lewis Cass, Gen. Joseph Spencer and Sheriff Thos. Tavenner resounded through the open windows into the numerous branches of the huge encircling elm and ghostly sycamores. In front of the court building slaves were put up at sale and cried off to satisfy some debt incurred by the master or where estates must be settled and a sale of the blacks seemed necessary to complete the distribution of the assets. Among these is recollected Blennerhassett's favorite servant, Ransom Reed, who brought the trifling sum of thirty-tive dollars.
The minutes show innumerable adjournments from 1800 to 1815, the completion of the First Court House on Public Square. The first year Presiding Justice Phelps had the honor at his home below Neal's Station; Stephen R. Wilson in 1801, shared the privilege with him; Caleb Barley and Edward Stephenson in 1802 and 1803; and Bailey principally in 1804, receiving therefor $15 for use of house; James G Laidley in 1805; John Stephenson, Phelps and Bailey in 1806; Thomas Neale and Lovott Bishop in 1807; John Neale and Thomas Neale in 1808; John Neale in 1810, for which he was allowed the munificent sum of one dollar [per day; Thomas Neale again in 1811; he and in 1812 and others 1813; and Caleb Bailey in 1811, while constructing the new court building.
John Stokely, in 1799 and later, lived in a cabin of logs, near what is still called "Snakeville Spring, on one of his many tracts of forest land. There he kept, taking them home with him at the close of each day during the Justices courts, the minutes to be entered in a thin, leather-backed home-made volume. This primitive building might properly be considered the first clerks-office of the new county. The old site is readily defined by existing unhewn stone corners in the old foundation, and should be marked by a marble shaft designating it as the spot where the clerks office was in the days of disputed organization and seat location. The acreage is almost in sight of the City Park and Electric-car line, and the improvements of an expanding Parkersburg are rapidly approaching the spot.
Justice George D. Avery, 3 April 1809, was made superintendent to cause the erection of new steps to the court house, and subsequently, in June, Nimrod Saunders, jail deputy, was allowed $24.12 for the building, Jonas Beeson $5.20 for pine boards, and Charles Price $5 for joists for same. This stairway was on the outside, leading from the ground to the upper story or court room.
Nov. 8, 1810, the same Justice was authorized to purchase a stove and pipe for the court use, and glass for the repair of the windows, "should-the appropriation for these purposes at last court of claims be sufficient." So, it is easily inferred that the court room, if not the prison below, had the sunlight of pioneer days flowing in upon the Justices, and that they were honest and economical enough not to exceed the appropriations, even in sniiiU matters. The old court house structure and lot was bought of Deacon Dana of Belpre, O., by Samuel Rex, is still extant, has been covered by A Weatherboards, and cost him $3500.00 The mouth of Rifle Run, which once passed out its current into the Kanawha near this cabin, has disappeared in the march of improvement, with the poplar gunwale bridge spanning it.
In the session of 1810-11 the delegates from Wood county in the popular house of the Virginia Assembly were John Neal and Jacob Beeson, sturdy, able, vigilant pioneers, and the peers in acumen and integrity of any from the Tide-water section. The Richmond Enquirer of that date states that, "Agreeably to a resolution of the last session most of the members appeared, partly dressed in domestic manufacture. Among those were our representatives. Doubtless, upon their own plantations were raised the sheep and spun the wool and woven the Virginia or Kentucky jeans which gave them stalwart and impressive personnel as they leaped from their steeds of flesh and blood, after a protracted journey over the state roads and entered the principal tavern or hostelry of Richmond, ready for their part of legislative duties. They had left a constituency and opponents somewhat distracted and divided on the question of county-seat location and court house building.
The Juntas had held meetings, framed addresses and petitions, each determined to win. Friday, Dec. 7, petition was presented in the house from William Robinson, Jr., and sundry citizens from Wood county, praying the passage of a law authorizing the Justices of the county, when they shall think proper, to erect a Court House on the public square, in the town now laid off by the name of Parkersburg, and thereafter to hold the courts of the county therein. Also petition from William Robinson and Mary, his wife, praying that the taxes assessed upon certain lands in the County of Wood may be remitted in favor of the petitioners, and that a town as now laid out on said lands may be established by the name of Parkersburg.
The Committee to which reference was made, 12 Dec, 1810, reported as its opinion that "the petition of Robinson and wife praying that an act be passed exempting them from the payment of taxes on certain lands in the county of Wood, which they recovered by a final adjudication in the Superior Court of Law, holden for said county at the September term in the present year, of a certain John Stokely and Hugh Phelps, which taxes have been paid by the said John Stokely and Hugh Phelps, in the name of Thomas Thornton, is reasonable. In the House of Delegates, 13 Dec, the committee resolved, as the opinion of this committee that the petition of sundry inhabitants of the county of Wood, praying that an act may pass establishing the lots and streets as already laid off near the town of Newport, including the same, into a town by the name of Parkersburg, and authorizing the Justices of said county, whenever they shall think proper to do so, to hold the courts of said county in Parkersburg instead of Newport, which is to be added to and made part of the said town of Parkersburg, is reasonable The session of the Assembly in 1811-12 developed more agitation and some bitterness among contending factions in the county as to the proper location of the seat of power. Saturday, 14 Dec, 1811, there was presented in the House a petition of the inhabitants of Wood county, praying a removal of the seat of justice for the said county from the town of Parkersburg, which petition being partly read, a motion was made and agreed to by the House, that the reading thereof be stopped, as containing matter highly indecorous and scandalous, reflecting on the character of a member of this house, and couched in terms unworthy of its dignity.
The result was that a
motion to withdraw the offensive petition was granted. The influence of Vienna,
Monroe, and old Newport from the south side of the Kenawha, continued to agitate
removal for the next two years and longer. The waves of discussion from the
pioneer taverns at the "Point," at Neal's Station, and the cluster of cabins at
Bellville and the settlement of Williams and above, reflected their force into
the legislative halls.
NEW COURT BUILDING.
The Justices having decided by a majority of votes the proper location of a building, entered upon their minutes, 5 Nov., 1811, this record: The Court, taking into consideration the decayed state of the Court House of this County, and the great inconvenience resulting from the Clerk's oftice and Jail now building, being at a considerable distance from the place of holding the present court, as well as the impropriety of holding courts in a building the title to the lands on which it stands being in dispute. It is therefore ordered that James G. Laidley, John Stephenson and Ichabod C. Griffin be appointed commissioners to let to the lowest bidder the undertaking the building a Court House, to be built forty by forty feet through the center each way, two stories high, of brick, stone, lime, mortar, timbers, plank, nails, glass and iron, on such part of the public square in the town of Parkersburg as the said commissioners may fix upon.
And the said commissioners are authorized and required to take bond with good security, payable to the Justices of this County, in double the sum agreed upon, conditioned for the faithful performance of the contract so entered into, according to the Act of Assembly, entitled an Act to establish a Town in the county of Wood, and for other purposes passed January 11, 1811. And it is further ordered that the Commissioners aforesaid bind the undertaker, or undertakers, to finish and complete said court-house on or before 1st August, 1813. And the Court, considering that, inasmuch as the whole tax for building the Clerk's Office and Jail aforesaid has not been collected, and itwould be most convenient to levy a tax for building said Court House in three years; It is ordered that one fourth of the sum agreed upon for building said Court House, believed and collected in the ensuing year, and the balance to be levied and collected one half in the year 1813, and the other one half in the year 1814; and that the commissioners report, January term next, their proceedings.
"In due time the commissioners reported that, having previously made known the day of sale, through the -Bye-Stander, published in Clarksburg, and the "Western Spectator, in Marietta, and other means they had let the building of a Court House to Bennett Cook, for the sum of $3,168.75 that they have fixed on the center of Court Street one foot beyond a line with the Clerk's office, and fronting the Ohio river, as the most eligible spot for the court house, and that they have taken Hugh Phelps, Jos. Cook, John Neal, Isaac Morris and Jonas Beeson securities in the bond for the faithful performance of the contract.
This order and contract was rescinded, 12 April, 1812,and Isaac Morris, Stephen R. Wilson and Geo. D. Avery were made commissioners to let a building, 45 by 45 feet, but similar in other respects. These second commissioners to the court of 1 June, 1812, reported that By virtue of an order of the court as directed, passed at May term 1812, we have, at public sale at the door of the present Court House, sold the undertaking of the building of a new court house on the Public Square in the Town of Parkersburg, to Caleb Bailey, for $3,950 to be finished agreeably to the order of the court; and we have also taken bond and security for the performance of the same. "Isaac Morris, Stephen R. Wilson, Geo. D. Avery.
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