The history of Jefferson County is replete with connections to many men and women who played a significant role in exploring, establishing, and developing an “American” presence in the “Valley of Virginia,” as the Shenandoah Valley was known during Colonial times. In this section we provide links to brief biographies of several of these historic figures and encourage you to explore in more detail the heritage of these people and their families who not only greatly influenced county life in their times but whose echoes of spirit, accomplishment, and action continue to ring throughout the valley.
The research and writing of these biographical sketches were prepared by Nicholas Redding, a student at Shepherd University. Reviews and edits by Society members Betsy Wells and Doug Perks are appreciated.
NOTABLE AMERICANS AND JEFFERSON COUNTY HISTORY
John Peale Bishop and F. Scott Fitzgerald | John Brown | William Jennings Bryan
John Peale Bishop and F. Scott Fitzgerald
Spending his high school years in Hagerstown, Maryland, at the Washington County High School, he excelled in his studies and in 1913 was fortunate enough to be accepted to Princeton University.2 At Princeton he applied his love of the past and his creative talent to his pursuit of a degree in literature. It was also at Princeton that John became friends with some of the future greatest names in literature, creating a lifelong friendship with F. Scott Fitzgerald during those years.
Following graduation John published his first volume of collected poetry, Green Fruit, and enlisted in the United States Army for service during World War I. In the time between enlistment and induction into the United States Army, John hosted his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald at the Bishop’s family home in Charles Town, West Virginia. Fitzgerald credited writing portions of his novel, This Side of Paradise, during that visit, even casting John as a character in the novel, “Tom D'Invilliers.”
John and his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald would both leave soon thereafter for service in World War I, with John serving in the 334th Infantry, 84th Division on the staff of General Harry Clay Hale. After the cessation of hostilities in Europe, John returned to the United States, where he worked for Vanity Fair Magazine for a short period until his marriage to Margaret Hutchins took him abroad, where he lived in France and published poems and collections of short stories. One of his more famous works entitled, Many Thousands Gone, was about his beloved Virginia and the Civil War experience he gained an appreciation for back in his days spent in Charles Town. In his novel Act of Darkness, he builds upon the true story of the rape of a prominent Charles Town social figure by a local Charles Town man. The book apparently scandalized the town upon its release.
After returning to the United States in 1933, Bishop took on various literary positions and jobs. He edited poetry for The Nation magazine, and accepted a fellow position with the Library of Congress before his untimely death on April 4, 1944. Physically gone from this world, his lasting impact on literature and on the history of Jefferson County, West Virginia was permanent.
1Elizabeth Carroll Spindler, John Peale Bishop: A Biography (West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia: 1980).
John Brown was born in Torrington Connecticut in 1800. His father vehemently opposed slavery and when John was five years old, the family moved to an area of northern Ohio that would become known for the antislavery views of its people. During the fifty years thereafter, Brown moved several times, settling in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York with his ever-growing family. Although trying his hand at several professions (farmer, merchant, and land speculator), he never had much in the way of financial resources. However, this did not keep him from supporting causes he believed in, for he helped finance the publication of David Walker's Appeal and Henry Highland's "Call to Rebellion" speech. He and his wife participated in the Underground Railroad and he helped establish the League of Gileadites in 1851, an organization which assisted escaped slaves avoid capture by their masters.
In 1847, Brown first met Frederick Douglass in Springfield, Massachusetts, and first outlined his plan to Douglass to lead a war to free slaves. Then, in 1849, Brown moved to the black community of North Elba, New York, which had been established to assist black families willing to clear and work the land. Brown volunteered to establish a farm there as well and attempt to lead the blacks by his example.
Even after his contributions to the antislavery cause, Brown did not become a significant force until 1855, when he followed five of his sons to the Kansas territory. There, he became the leader of a group of antislavery guerillas who, in 1856, brutally murdered five citizens of a pro-slavery town. Brown and his sons would continue to openly wage warfare on pro-slavery settlements for the remainder of the year.
Returning to the east coast a few years later, he began to think more seriously about his plan for a war in Virginia against slavery. He sought money to fund an "army" he would lead, and eventually targeted the Federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, hoping to capture the 100,000 weapons at the arsenal to arm the slaves of Jefferson County and beyond in a war to eliminate slavery by force.
Thus, on the cool, misty evening of October 16, 1859, John Brown, readied his “provisional army” of 21 men including 16 whites and five blacks for their raid on the Federal Armory of Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Attacking at 4:00 am the next morning, the raiders' order and discipline disintegrated rapidly as more resistance to Brown’s forces arrived throughout the day. By evening, Brown and the remaining survivors of his raid, who had not already escaped from the complex, fortified themselves in the arsenal’s fire-engine house until they were forcibly taken on the morning of the 18th by a detachment of United States Marines, under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee.
Following his capture, John Brown was tried, convicted and hanged on a gallows constructed on a field just outside Charlestown, Virginia (now West Virginia). Today the hanging site is within the city limits. What didn’t die was the issue at hand, and the repercussion of his raid was immense, setting the climate for the bloody American Civil War that would follow. That war was in essence the conclusion to what Brown had started during the raid, the completion of his initial vision and the validation of his statement prior to his hanging that, “the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”3
3James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford University Press, New York: 1988), 203.
Known as the “Great Commoner” for his belief in the ultimate goodness of the common man, William Jennings Bryan brought his campaign for the presidency to Jefferson County’s common residents in September of 1900.4 The enigmatic Democratic candidate from Illinois appealed to the populist ideals of the late 19th century supporting popular democracy, prohibition, and a peace platform while opposing trusts, the gold standard and the railroad and banking industries.
The powerful speaker was historically the first presidential candidate to “stump” for votes, blanketing the United States from coast to coast in an effort to gain widespread support. On September 6, 1900, Bryan arrived in Shepherdstown, West Virginia in Jefferson County to find a large gathering awaiting his arrival. According to the September 6 edition of the Shepherdstown Register Mr. Bryan enjoyed a fine breakfast at “Bellevue” the home of Mrs. Minnie Shepherd where he was served, “fresh Potomac bass, fried chicken, Virginia ham and trimmings . . .”5
At 9:15 A.M., Mr. Bryan and his gathering of Democratic Party supporters headed to Morgan Grove Park where his speech was to take place. As they arrived, the throngs of interested Jefferson County residents swarmed the progressive leader. His speech began by proposing the question to his audience of how any farmer could be a Republican – following his question was a powerful speech on the Republican Party’s mistakes and the Democratic Party’s alternatives.6 His speech finished in an hour and ten minutes, but his effect on the voters of the largely agricultural county was significant.
In the subsequent election of 1900, William Jennings Bryan would carry the majority of the Jefferson County voters in November that he had so passionately appealed to earlier in September.7 While his majority in Jefferson County was impressive, he was unable to secure the required votes throughout the rest of the United States and lost to the Republican candidate, William McKinley. While unsuccessful in later bids for the presidency, he would be remembered for many years as the powerful speaker who appealed to the common man of Jefferson County, West Virginia, in the late summer of 1900.
4Millard K. Bushong, History of Jefferson County, West Virginia (Jefferson Publishing Company, Charles Town, West Virginia: 1941), 243.
5The Shepherdstown Register, September 6th, 1900.
7 Millard K. Bushong.
Leaving his home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and arriving in the wilds of the Virginia frontier in 1741, pioneer Joseph Darke had entered a truly inhospitable place.8 In what would become modern day Jefferson County, the Darke family settled around the modern location of Duffield’s Station and scratched out an existence in an area which had seen little settlement.
Their son, William, who was five years old when they arrived, was there with his parents during the early years of their toil on the Virginian frontier. While little is known of William’s earliest years, one can only imagine the extreme difficulty and hardship associated with living in such a wild environment. At the age of 19, in 1755 some sources state that William entered service as a Ranger under George Washington during Braddock’s march toward Ft. Duquesne.9 William was unscathed by this early combat and returned home to an increasingly more settled Frederick County (present day Jefferson County).
Peace was impermanent, and as the American Revolution began with the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord, William Darke answered the call and left his native Virginia for service in the Continental Army. He enlisted as a captain in the Eighth Virginia Regiment on February 9, 1776, attaining the rank of Major by 1777. At Germantown, Darke was wounded and was taken prisoners. Exchanged in 1780, he saw active service until his retirement in 1783 as a Lieutenant Colonel.10
In retirement William Darke returned to present day Jefferson County to live at his home near Duffield’s Station. He voted for the ratification of the United States Constitution on June 25, 1788, as a representative from then Berkeley County, Virginia, and saw some military service again in the 1790s during campaigns against the Native Americans in the Old Northwest Territory.
On November 20, 1801, William Darke passed away and with him passed a part of the earliest European history of Jefferson County – but what would not soon pass was the memory of this man and the debt of gratitude owed to him for his service to the fledgling republic.
8Ross B. Johnston, West Virginians in the Revolution (Clearfield Company: 1998), 74.
9“The Memoirs of Generals Lee, Gates, Stephen, and Darke,” Harpers New Monthly Magazine, Volume 17, Issue 100, September 1858.
10Ross B. Johnston.
This comment is terribly impressive considering the circumstances of Martin’s birth in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia) on May 6, 1812. He was the son of Patty Delany, a freed black, and an enslaved father, Samuel, who resided in the Charles Town area. Few would have expected that one day such a child would garner the admiration of a sitting president, yet Martin Delany would prove to surprise even the harshest critics throughout his life.
As a child growing up in Charles Town, the young Martin was taught to read and write from The New York Primer for Spelling and Reading, which his mother Patty had acquired from a traveling peddler.12 The Virginia state laws of that era explicitly prohibited blacks – freed or enslaved from ever learning to read, and so in fear of retribution for aiding local enslaved blacks with her ability to write, Martin’s mother slipped across the Mason-Dixon Line in 1823, moving to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
By 1831, Delany was a resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and while there he studied the classical languages at Jefferson College, established himself as a “cupper and a leacher,” and prepared to attend Medical School at a later date. In 1850 he was accepted into the Harvard School of Medicine – only staying on for a semester before protests over his admittance brought about his dismissal from the program. During the decade prior to the American Civil War, he wrote extensively including his novel, Blake: Or the Huts of America, which was his reply to Uncle Tom’s Cabin misrepresentation in his estimation of the complicit, passive slave. This novel itself was groundbreaking, published in a serialized format first; it was in fact the first novel by a black man to be published in America.13
Delany traveled extensively, visiting Africa between 1859 and 1860; however when the Civil War broke out he immediately returned to the United States. Throughout the conflict he recruited soldiers for the Union, primarily in Rhode Island and Ohio – meeting with President Lincoln in 1865 regarding the idea of forming a “Corps d’ Africa” of contraband slaves who followed the major Federal Armies throughout the conquered south. It was also late in 1865 that he was commissioned a Major in the Army, thereby attaining the honor of being the first black commissioned field officer in the history of the United States Army.
Following the war during Reconstruction he worked to create a cooperative in the Sea Islands of South Carolina that helped blacks and whites alike to rebuild, but the conservative policies of President Johnson quickly smothered the gains he had made.14 After leaving his post with the Freedman’s Bureau, Delany remained politically active supporting various causes, and championing American Black Nationalism. He practiced medicine in Charleston, South Carolina, prior to his return to Ohio, where on January 24, 1885, he passed away leaving a legacy of extraordinary firsts, and an indelible mark on American and Jefferson County history.
11 Jim Surkamp, “To Be More Than Equal: Martin Delany, 1812-1824” The Magazine of the Jefferson County Historical Society, Volume LXV, December 1999, 43.
12 Ibid, 46.
13 Martin Delany, http://www.libraries.wvu.edu/delany/home.htm, West Virginia University, Accessed April 12th, 2007.
Forced to meet in Niagara Falls, Ontario, after members of the African-American civil rights advocacy group were denied lodging at their meeting place in Buffalo, New York, the next meeting of the Niagara Movement in 1906 would occur at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia on the campus of Storer College. Led by W. E. B. Du Bois, the movement supported basic civil rights and reform for African Americans and opposed the “accommodation” platform offered by Booker T. Washington in his Atlanta Compromise speech of 1895. Washington’s “accommodation” essentially laid out a policy of vocational education for African Americans at the expense of basic civil liberties and political power.
On August 15, 1906, at the Harpers Ferry, West Virginia site of John Brown's infamous raid, the movement convened at Storer College – a Freewill Baptist school opened during reconstruction in 1867 for all races on Camp Hill above Harpers Ferry.15 The meeting of the movement lasted five days from Wednesday, August 15 until Sunday, August 19 with speakers broaching countless subjects with regard to African-Americans in society.
On the morning of the 17th, a self-proclaimed “John Brown Day,” the gathering made a barefoot pilgrimage at 6:00 a.m. to visit the old “fort” where Brown had barricaded himself in 1859 before the raid was put to an end by United States Marines. The pilgrimage was held in total silence, each member of the group holding a candle apparently the result of Du Bois’ eye for the dramatic. That evening Reverdy Ransom told the gathering that, “God sent John Brown to Harper’s Ferry to become a traitor to the Government in order that he might be true to the slave.”16
Continuing on into the night of the 17th, Ransom eloquently explained who was gathered at the second meeting of the Niagara Movement – a class of “Negroes” which, “. . . believes that it should not submit to being humiliated, degraded or remanded to an inferior place.” Following this impressive tone and rhetoric W .E .B. Du Bois spoke to the gathering in Jefferson County on Sunday the 19th through his Address to the Country, in which he explained, “We will not be satisfied to take one jot or title less than our full manhood rights. We claim for ourselves every single right that belongs to a freeborn American, political, civil and social; and until we get these rights we will never cease to protest and assail the ears of America. The battle we wage is not for ourselves alone but for all true Americans.17”
hus concluded the most impressive gathering of African-Americans and the second meeting of the Niagara Movement, which itself was the precursor for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) that was founded in 1909. Of this momentous event in national and Jefferson County history the remarkable W. E. B. Du Bois explained that it was, “one of the greatest meetings that American Negroes ever held.”18
15 David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography of Race, 1868-1919, (Henry Holt & Co., New York: 1993), 328.
17 Niagara Movement at Harpers Ferry, http://www.nps.gov/archive/hafe/niagara/history.htm, National Park Service, Accessed April 2nd, 2007.
In July of 1864 with Union forces operating in the area of Jefferson County it had become brutally clear that this was not simply a war amongst soldiers. Rather this had become a “total war” which would be executed upon the citizens of Jefferson County and the surrounding areas of the Shenandoah Valley. On July 19, 1864, Union General David Hunter – then attempting to drive Confederates from the Shenandoah Valley ordered the burning of three specific homes in Jefferson County as a part of this planned “total war” Specifically he chose, “Hunter Hill,” near Charles Town, the home of Andrew Hunter who had prosecuted John Brown, “Fountain Rock,” near Shepherdstown, the home of Confederate Congressman Alexander Boteler, and “Bedford,” also near Shepherdstown, the home of Edmund Jennings Lee (Robert E. Lee’s first cousin).19
The hideous events which transpired made it clear that this war had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Confederate General Jubal A. Early and his force of nearly 15,000 men was operating in this part of Virginia, and actively campaigning against the Federal Army. When Early was made aware of the brutal tactics being employed in nearby Jefferson County he would later write that he: "Came to the conclusion that we had stood this mode of warfare long enough, and that it was time to open the eyes of the people of the North to its enormity, by an example in the way of retaliation."20
On July 30, 1864, under the direction of Confederate General Jubal Early, a cavalry force approached Chambersburg, Pennsylvania demanding $100,000 in gold or $50,000 in U.S. currency and, when this demand was not met, the Confederate force set fire to the town of Chambersburg in retaliation for the atrocities committed in Jefferson County.21
This action, in what was the beginning of the Valley Campaign of 1864 would not be General Early’s last brush with Jefferson County history. Again in the late summer of 1864, Early was forced to skirmish and attack then Union General Phillip Sheridan and his forces near Summit Point (August 21, 1864) and Kearneysville (August 25, 1864) prior to General Early’s defeat at Cedar Creek, Virginia (October 19, 1864). Early’s actions in this part of the Valley have been credited with prolonging the Civil War by possibly an extra nine months and, in Jefferson County history, he will forever be remembered for his role in the retaliatory burning of Chambersburg.
19 James T. Surkamp, The Land Where We Were a Dreamin’: A People’s History of Jefferson County, West Virginia (James T. Surkamp, Shepherdstown, West Virginia: 2002), 62.
20 Jubal A. Early, A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence in the Confederate States of America, Containing an Account of the Operations of His Commands in the Years 1864 and 1865, 1867 (Cornell University Press: 2007) 66-70
21 J. Melchior Sheads, Border Raids into Pennsylvania During the American Civil War (Unpublished Masters Thesis, Gettysburg College: May 20th, 1993), Appendix F.
Writing to his neighbor and future Continental General Charles Lee on July 1, 1774, Horatio Gates swore that, “I am ready to risque my life to preserve the Liberty of the Western World.” 22
For both men, each resident of Berkeley County, Virginia (present-day Jefferson County, West Virginia) risking their lives for liberty would be their choice to make in the coming months and each rose to the occasion. Horatio Gates was a native Englishmen by birth and would eventually command large continental armies in various campaigns against the British during the Revolutionary War.
Of all the Generals to come from the lower Shenandoah Valley, Horatio Gates was the most recent immigrant to the colony of Virginia. Gates distinguished himself in the British Army earlier in the 18th century but his liberal political tendencies caused him to associate with the plight of the colonists and, by 1773, he resigned his commission with the British army and moved to a 659-acre plot of land a few miles from Shepherdstown known as “Traveller’s Rest.”
Gates’ early service with the Continental Army came shortly after a meeting with George Washington at Mount Vernon in June of 1775 when he was appointed a brigadier general, acting as the adjutant of the army.23 The campaigns of 1776 saw Gates actively pursuing the British in upstate New York, but 1777 would prove to be his year of laurels with the impressive victory against General Burgoyne at Saratoga in New York.
Sadly, the disastrous defeat at Camden, South Carolina , in August of 1780 proved to essentially end Horatio Gates career as an officer in the Continental Army. He would return again to his home at “Traveller’s Rest” and would find himself in good company with the other revolutionary war officers who resided in the area (Charles Lee, Adam Stephen, and Daniel Morgan). Gates eventually left his home at Traveller’s Rest, settling on Manhattan Island in New York Harbor where he purchased a farm. Supporting Thomas Jefferson and the Anti-Federalist platform, Gates continued to be politically active in his final years prior to his death on April 10, 1806.
22Paul David Nelson, “Lee, Gates, Stephen and Morgan: Revolutionary War Generals of the Lower Shenandoah Valley”, West Virginia History, Vol. 37, No. 3, April 1976, 190.
The history of Jefferson County is a rich one, filled with intriguing events, personalities, and connections with some of the greatest men and women associated with early American history. The fact that Jefferson County is so rich in culture and history has been no recent discovery. In 1853 it was that rich history which brought Washington Irving and William Makepeace Thackeray, two well recognized and respected authors, to this county to research places and people associated with their pending works.24
Washington Irving, one of America’s most beloved authors, best known for his work, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, came to Jefferson County in 1853 as a part of a research trip for his biography of George Washington. George Washington regularly visited the area which today comprises the county, and in his youth he helped to survey a major part of the lower Shenandoah Valley that now also comprises Jefferson County. With this in mind, Irving arranged a visit with noted author John P. Kennedy whose brother Andrew was a Jefferson County resident living in Cassilis near Charles Town.
In a letter dated June 22, 1853, Irving wrote his niece of his arrival in Jefferson County explaining that, “Here I am in the center of the magnificent valley of the Shenandoah the great valley of Virginia. And a glorious valley it is -- equal to the Promised Land for fertility, for superior people . . .”25 Visiting with George Washington Lewis who resided at Audley, Irving was able to inspect personal items and original manuscripts relating to the late first President of the United States. Irving would return to Cassilis two more times in 1853 as he prepared to piece together the life of George Washington.
Along with Mr. Irving for his trips to Jefferson County was William Makepeace Thackeray, an Anglo-Indian writer who was friends with both Irving and their host while in Jefferson County – John P. Kennedy. Thackeray, who was the author of Vanity Fair, was second only to Dickens in his era and was preparing to write a novel on colonial Virginia at the time of his visit to Jefferson County.26 While no direct references to Jefferson County or its environs can be found in his finished work entitled, The Virginians – he undoubtedly drew from the rich tapestry of early American history in the County to write his novel.
Of their trip to the lower Shenandoah Valley and their stay in Jefferson County to study the impressive historical record, it was written in the journal of their host Mr. John P. Kennedy that his guests were, “quite enchanted with this visit to the Shenandoah Valley . . . [and] in a continual rapture of exclamation.27
24Custis Chappelear, “Irving’s Visit to the Valley,” The Magazine of the Jefferson County Historical Society, Vol. 1, December 1935.
26“Album of Historic Homes,” The Magazine of the Jefferson County Historical Society, Vol. XXXIII, December 1967.
27 Henry T. Tuckerman, The Life of John Pendleton Kennedy (G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York: 1871), 358.
Few other names conjure up images of military power, ability and skill like that of “Stonewall” Jackson – a man who commanded the attention of a nation at war, and in doing so made a lasting impact on the history of Jefferson County. Born in 1824 in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) Thomas Jonathan Jackson attended the United States Military Academy at West Point where he would graduate in 1846 and gain a commission as a second lieutenant in the 1st US Artillery seeing combat during operations in the Mexican War of 1846 to 1848.28
In 1851, following his service in the U.S. Army, he accepted a teaching position at the Virginia Military Institute (V.M.I.). With the V.M.I. Corps of Cadets, Major Jackson was present for the hanging of the convicted John Brown in Charles Town following the raid at Harpers Ferry.29
On April 27, 1861, as the American Civil War began Jackson was given a commission in the Virginia State Forces as a Colonel and would return again to Jefferson County to take charge of the United States Arsenal at Harpers Ferry.30
At Harpers Ferry in the spring and summer of 1861, Jackson assumed command of the 1st Brigade of Virginian Volunteers – later known to history as the “Stonewall Brigade.” Comprised of men from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Jackson commanded numerous Jefferson County natives, including Shepherdstown resident Henry Kyd Douglas who would eventually serve on Jackson’s staff. In July of 1861 at the 1st Battle of Bull Run or Manassas then Brigadier General Jackson gained the nickname, “Stonewall” for his impressive defense of Henry House Hill – a title which he asserted belonged solely to the brigade.31
Following the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in the spring of 1862 and later campaigning alongside the venerable General Lee, “Stonewall” would again find himself back on Jefferson County soil in 1862 – this time attacking and capturing the garrison of Union soldiers at Harpers Ferry under the command of Dixon S. Miles. The capture on the morning of September 15, 1862, resulted in nearly 12,500 prisoners being taken – the largest surrender of United States troops until World War II.32
Following the battle of Antietam, a scant three miles from the Jefferson County border, Jackson continued to add to his brilliant reputation. The culmination of his success came at the Battle of Chancellorsville in April of 1863, which consequently would also be his final campaign as he was wounded there and would die of pneumonia on May 10, 1863, thus ending the life of one of the south’s most brilliant soldiers and one of Jefferson County’s most famous visitors.
28James I. Robertson Jr., Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend, (MacMillan Publishing, New York: 1997)
29 Stonewall Jackson Chronological Biography, http://www.vmi.edu/archives/jackson/tjjbio.html, Virginia Military Institute, Accessed April 2nd, 2007.
30 John W. Schildt, Stonewall Jackson Day by Day (Antietam Publications: 1980), 8.
32 Dennis E. Frye, Stonewall’s Brilliant Victory: The Siege and Capture of Harpers Ferry, http://www.nps.gov/archive/hafe/jackson.htm, National Park Service, Accessed on April 2, 2007.
On October 25th, 1783, while on a trip through the “gap” created by the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, Thomas Jefferson, the writer of our Declaration of Independence, was stunned by the magnificent intrinsic beauty of the area known as Harpers Ferry. Nestled on a magnificent piece of land, this area has charmed and amazed visitors from around the world even before Jefferson’s visit and continues to do so today.
The description of this impressive section of what would become Jefferson County was destined to live on through the writings of Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia which was published in 1787. In it Jefferson created a description of Virginia and its environments, including the scene at Harpers Ferry which to this day remains a classic environmental look at the state on the cusp of the industrial revolution. Of the area including Jefferson County at Harpers Ferry, Jefferson had this to say: “The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature. On your left approaches the Patowmac, in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass off to the sea . . . It is as placid and delightful, as that is wild and tremendous. For the mountain being cloven asunder, she presents to your eye, through the cleft, a small catch of smooth blue horizon, at an infinite distance in the plain country, inviting you, as it were, from the riot and tumult roaring around, to pass through the breach and participate of the calm below.”33
In the years following Jefferson’s visit he would make an unforgettable mark on the nation, eventually rising to the highest elected office as the third President of the United States in 1801. During his tenure as President, on October 26, 1801, the area which today comprises Jefferson County officially became such after breaking away from the larger Berkeley County – and, in honor of the Jeffersonian Presidency, the county was named Jefferson. Though the visit from this renaissance figure in American history was brief, and over 200 years ago, his words are a lasting reminder of the beauty of this county and the impressive impact of, “one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.”
33 Notes on the State of Virginia, http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=JefVirg.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/ texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=al, University of Virginia, Accessed March 3, 2007.
John F. Kennedy
On January 2nd, 1960 Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy of Massachusetts declared his intent to run for the Presidency of the United States. The campaign to secure the presidency would be an uphill one, forcing the senator to overcome both regional biases as well as issues regarding his membership in the Roman Catholic Church. One of the key battlegrounds to prove his legitimacy as a candidate for the nation’s highest elected office would take place in the Mountain State – and a visit to Jefferson County would help to win that battle.
In Charles Town, West Virginia the senator planned to deliver a speech to the loyal Democrats of Jefferson County, in hopes of winning their votes and securing the national Democratic nomination. The Spirit of Jefferson; Farmers Advocate for Thursday, April 21 st 1960 highlighted the upcoming event explaining that it would be the, “. . . biggest political get-together in recent years . . .”34 The speech which was given at the Charles Town race track on April 27th was very well attended with nearly 3,000 Jefferson County Democrats turning out to listen to the 43 year old senator. His message was clear to the massive gathering and focused both on the problems of the state, especially the problem of automation, as well as issues which plagued the nation both domestically and abroad.
Kennedy completed his speech before the excited crowd by declaring that, “we can’t afford to continue to have our country frozen in the ice of its own indifference . . ."35
The senator returned to Washington, D.C. later that night but this would not be his only trip to West Virginia as later that week his campaign returned to visit coal miners and countless other underprivileged Americans throughout the state prior to the primary election.
On May 10th, 1960 Senator Kennedy won the nomination of his party in West Virginia with 60% of the electorate’s vote. With the nomination of this key battleground in hand, his opposition, Hubert Humphrey conceded and it was clear Senator Kennedy would indeed be the next Democratic Presidential candidate. The visits to West Virginia and Jefferson County deeply affected Senator Kennedy, causing him to mention the underprivileged he met in West Virginia in many subsequent addresses and speeches. Senator Kennedy’s brief connection with the state of West Virginia would come to symbolize both a battle to secure his candidacy, and the experience that changed his view and understanding of America. “This is the place where all presidential candidates should be – in the hills and valleys and fields of West Virginia.” – John Fitzgerald Kennedy, April 27th, 1960
34The Spirit of Jefferson; Farmers Advocate, April 21st, 1960.
35The Spirit of Jefferson; Farmers Advocate, April 28th, 1960.
Considered an eccentric fool by some, an impolite scoundrel by others and one of the great generals of the American Revolution by many more, General Charles Lee has continued to stir debate in the many years since his service in the American Revolution. Born in 1731 in Cheshire, England Charles has remained somewhat of mystery to most historians, especially with regard to his eccentric social behaviors, but what is well recorded is the story of his excellent service early in the struggle in Charleston, South Carolina and New York City in readying their defenses for impending British attacks.36
Along with the rest of Washington’s Army he was driven back from New York Harbor, and was eventually taken prisoner at Basking Ridge, New Jersey on December 8th, 1776.37 Rejoining the American Army after a year in captivity, General Charles Lee regrettably continued to maintain his reputation as a cantankerous critic of General George Washington. Such criticism, coupled with a supposedly ill advised, and unauthorized retreat at the battle of Monmouth eventually caused Lee to resign his commission after a court martial failed to clear his tainted name.38
General Charles Lee returned to his estate of “Prato Rio” in present day Jefferson County, West Virginia. There the once famed General who had early in the war been considered for overall command of the entire Continental Army now sat in sullen disgust and despair. About 12 miles from Shepherdstown, West Virginia was the home of the resigned General Lee, known to locals as “The Hut” for its squat, unattractive appearance. The house itself had an odd layout, with no partitions or walls, only chalk lines drawn on the floors to distinguish specific “rooms,” – the sort of eccentric behavior one might expect from such a character.39
His years at “Prato Rio” following his resignation did not last long and in 1782 he passed away, mourned only by his dogs and the two slaves listed in the assessment of his property. His last Will and Testament bore the following direction, a fitting final commentary on the life of General Charles Lee and his bitter distrust of the world, explaining, “I desire most earnestly that I may not be buried in any church or church yard . . . for since I have resided in this country I have kept so much bad company when living that I do not choose to continue it when dead.”40
36 Paul David Nelson, “Lee, Gates, Stephen and Morgan: Revolutionary War Generals of the Lower Shenandoah Valley”, West Virginia History, Vol. 37, No. 3, April 1976, 193.
38 Ibid, 195.
39 John D. Sutton, Major General Charles Lee, in West Virginia Historical Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 4 (West Virginia Antiquarian Society, October 1902), 10.
40 Nelson, 198.
No other name more appropriately evokes a sense of the antebellum southern legacy, nor has any other soldier in the pantheon of the Confederate generals achieved the near mythological status and respect garnered towards Robert E. Lee. He has become synonymous with southern military heritage and the Confederacy itself, and in life he was thrust into Jefferson County, Virginia’s rich tapestry of history.
Born January 19, 1807, at Stratford in Westmoreland County, Virginia (south east of Fredericksburg, Virginia) he was born a member of the landed southern class – the son of Revolutionary War hero, General “Lighthorse Harry” Lee.41
Graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1829 second in his class, it was obvious from his impressive beginnings that the young Lieutenant Lee was destined for greatness.
His intimate relationship with Jefferson County began when an abolitionist with a desire to end the institution of slavery attacked the United States Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia – located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. On the evening of October 16, 1859, there was scant resistance when John Brown attacked the arsenal, and hardly any troops to oppose the hostile takeover of the Federal property in the heart of Jefferson County. Though organized militia companies arrived from Charles Town, Shepherdstown, and the surrounding areas, a Federal response was necessary – in Washington D.C. Robert E. Lee was summoned and ordered to take charge of a company of U.S. Marines to subdue the insurrection.42
Arriving on the night of October 17, 1859, Colonel Lee, and his Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart first offered the militia companies the honor of storming the Fire Engine House in which the abolitionist Brown was barricaded. Declining, Robert E. Lee ordered the Marines forward at approximately 6:30 a.m. to take Brown, and within a matter of moments he was in custody.43
This dramatic course of events naturally altered the lives of many men, both north and south, and the raid at Harpers Ferry put the nation on a disastrous course for a great sectional conflict. As that great conflict began, and the southern states began their fateful secession from the Union, Robert E. Lee also made the decision on April 23, 1861, to accept command of all Virginia forces – a decision which altered the fabric of American and Jefferson County history.44
Throughout the American Civil War, forces directly and indirectly under the overall command of Robert E. Lee marched across, suffered, and skirmished in the farm fields and dusty roads of Jefferson County, Virginia (now West Virginia). On numerous occasions his army forded the Potomac River at Shepherdstown near “Boteler’s Ford” – and in that same town nearly a thousand soldiers from his battered army would find care for their hideous wounds, inflicted at the battle of Antietam.
One of the finest military practitioners of the 19th century, Lee perfected the art of engaging an adversarial army that was almost always larger than his, and for this his campaigns have been the subject of study and intrigue for years. Similarly, his experience and relationship with Jefferson County which began during the fateful events of October, 1859, has also been the subject of much study, and has forever bonded him to the history of this place.
41 John W. Wayland, Robert E. Lee and His Family (McClure Printing Company, Staunton, Virginia: 1951), 1.
42 James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford University Press, New York: 1988), 203.
44 John W. Wayland.
On May 2nd, 1803 a treaty was signed between the United States and France that handed over an area comprising nearly 503,000,000 acres of territory west of the Mississippi River. This “Louisiana Purchase” which cost the United States Government approximately $15,000,000, was largely the result of then President Thomas Jefferson’s efforts to expand the republic into the vast western reaches of the North American continent. As a result of this purchase, Jefferson lobbied the congress for $2,500 to send a “Corps of Discovery” across the new vast territory, to explore and report back their findings of what existed in the western most reaches of the continent.
Prior to the final ratification of the treaty, legislation was drafted and funds appropriated to send out the proposed “Corps of Discovery.” Captain Meriwether Lewis was chosen to lead that expedition, later selecting William Clark as his subordinate officer. Before the corps set off for the shores of the Pacific Ocean they would require all of the various logistical necessities upon which their survival would depend. To obtain the arms and ammunition required, Meriwether Lewis left Washington, D.C. for Harpers Ferry, Virginia (located in Jefferson County) on March 15, 1803.45
Lewis carried a letter which dictated that the superintendent of the U.S. Army Arsenal at Harpers Ferry was to, “make such arms & Iron work, as requested by the bearer Captain Meriwether Lewis and to have them completed with the least possible delay.”46 While in Harpers Ferry, Lewis drew arms produced at the Harpers Ferry Armory. [For a full listing of supplies gathered refer to the list at the end of the article] Lewis also oversaw the construction of a complex iron framed, collapsible boat which caused his stay at Harpers Ferry to last one month.
Finally, on April 18, 1803, Lewis left Harpers Ferry and Jefferson County for Pennsylvania to meet President Jefferson for more pressing matters concerning the “Corps of Discovery."47 Lewis and a contingency of the expedition returned to Harpers Ferry in July of that same year to receive the supplies and weapons ordered in March. The Corps would eventually make the incredible journey to the Pacific Ocean and back, encountering countless native cultures, identifying new species, and truly opening the west for American settlement. Their journey took them across the continent, but it began in Jefferson County.
List of Inventory Acquired by Meriwether Lewis at Harpers Ferry:48
45Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (Simon & Schuster, New York: 1996), 84.
46 Ibid, 85.
48 Meriwether Lewis at Harpers Ferry: History, http://www.nps.gov/archive/hafe/lewis/lewis.htm, National Park Service, Accessed April 3rd, 2007.
Dolley Payne Todd Madison and James Madison have each carved out a special place in the hearts of many Americans, with James considered the “Father of the Constitution,” and Dolley one of the most revered and loved first ladies, and their union as husband and wife took place in Jefferson County.
James Madison was extremely well read, impressively educated and serving as a United States Congressman in the House of Representatives by the time he met his future wife Dolley. The future Mrs. Madison who lived in the early nation’s capital of Philadelphia was a widow, having lost her first husband John Todd Jr. to yellow fever. When the 26-year-old Dolley and 43- year-old James met in Philadelphia in 1794, after an introduction by the now infamous Aaron Burr, it appears the young Dolley was impressed by the man she referred to as, “the great little Madison.”49
By the end of the summer of 1794, it appears the feeling was similar for Mr. Madison as he asked for Dolley’s hand in marriage. With some reservation Dolley left Philadelphia before providing an answer to Mr. Madison. Dolley headed for the Samuel Washington family home of Harewood, an impressive colonial home and estate in present day Jefferson County. Dolley’s sister Lucy who had recently married into the Washington family urged her sister to answer Mr. Madison.50 Dolley appears to have done just that by written correspondence to a jubilated James Madison who arrived at “Harewood” soon thereafter for their wedding on September 15, 1794.
Dolley who by her upbringing was a Quaker appeared in stunning attire, in direct opposition to Quaker dress, for her marriage to the Episcopalian James Madison. A description of Dolley on the day of her marriage exclaimed, “She looked a Queen . . . It would be absolutely impossible for any one to behave with more perfect propriety than she did." 51
Cherished by the American people for generations since, the uniting of these two bold and interesting individuals itself is a story cherished by the County of Jefferson, which they graced with their presence in the late summer of 1794.
49The White House, http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/firstladies/dm4.html, Dolley Payne Todd Madison, accessed on March 12, 2007.
50“A Factual Account of the Wedding at “Harewood” of James and Dolley Madison,” The Magazine of the Jefferson County Historical Society, Vol. XLVII, December 1981.
51 The White House.
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