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Residents’ role in W.Va.’s formation highlighted

Several prominent Wood County figures played important part in creation of state

May 22, 2013
Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG - While the creation of West Virginia took place at conventions in Wheeling, Dave McKain, local historian and director of the Oil and Gas Museum, said several prominent figures in the creation of the state were tied to Wood County.

McKain said men like Peter Van Winkle, Arthur Boreman, William Stevenson, Jacob Blair and John Moss, all Wood County residents, had huge roles in the development and early years of West Virginia.

"The power and the players were from here," he said.

Article Photos

The giant mural on the outside of the Oil and Gas Museum in downtown Parkersburg pays tribute to the men responsible for the secession of Western Virginia and the founding of West Virginia, the only state formed out of the Civil War.

Bob Enoch, president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society, believes McKain.

"According to local history, people from this area played a very important role," Enoch said.

McKain said Wood County had a wide swath of Confederates and those sympathetic to the Confederate cause. He maintains several of the area's prominent businessmen, despite owning slaves and supporting Confederates, chose to side with the Union.

According to McKain, whose authored several books, local oil and gas interests were key influences in the decision to stay with the Union. He cites Blair and Van Winkle as instrumental to the pro Union cause.

"They wanted to protect their interest," he said. "They thought the Confederacy would fail."

It was Gen. John Jay Jackson who informed the Richmond Secession Convention western Virginia would not secede.

George Henderson, who built Henderson Hall in Williamstown, served in the Virginia Senate in Wheeling under the reformed government of Virginia that was created and remained loyal to the Union. The reformed government approved the secession of western West Virginia.

Stevenson, another Parkersburg resident, was elected president of the Virginia Senate. He would later serve as the state's third governor.

Moss was chairman of the first Wheeling Convention.

McKain said the state capital might have been located in Parkersburg.

During the Civil War, Confederate troops were in the area and a raid on Parkersburg was a constant threat.

Wheeling was tucked away behind Union lines and appeared a safe haven for the new state's capital, but the new government of West Virginia, would have a decidedly Wood County flavor.

"That is the only reason the capital was in Wheeling. It was secure and it was predominantly Union," he said. "They had to have the state capital in a safe place, but they had the nominating convention for officers of the new state government was in Parkersburg."

Boreman was elected West Virginia's first governor.

Blair was elected to Congress, where he helped approve the state Constitution and persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to sign the bill making West Virginia a state.

Van Winkle, who crafted the state's first Constitution, was elected as a U.S. Senator.

Ray Swick, historian at Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park, said Van Winkle, who was also tied to the railroad, had a hand in establishing the state's boundaries.

"They were formed in great part because of the route of the B&O Railroad," he said. "They were determined to keep the railroad (which ran from Parkersburg to Baltimore) in the Union territory, which is how we got the Eastern Panhandle."

John Jay Jackson Jr., one of Jackson's sons, was appointed federal judge, while another son, Jacob Beeson Jackson, became the state's sixth governor.

The state seal was designed by Parkersburg resident Joseph Diss Debarr.

Enoch credited McKain with first explaining and promoting the region's role in the creation of the state.

"Until Dave, you weren't aware of the important role people in this area did play," Enoch said. "Dave has brought that to light and he needs to be commended for that."

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