William Erskine Stevenson

Parkersburg Daily State Journal
November 30, 1883

A Sketch of Gov. Stevenson's Life

Ex-Governor William Erskine Stevenson, was born on the 18th of March, 1820, in Mifflin Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. His parents who were Scotch-Irish, were tenant farmers and quite poor. He was the next to the oldest of nine children, five of whom survive him. His early education was exceedingly limited and he was emphatically a self educated man. He attended night schools when his father removed to Pittsburgh in 1829 and in every way improved his opportunities. Very soon after their residence began in that city he went to work with Andrew, the older brother, at stripping tobacco. Shortly after, he and Andrew were bound out for seven years to learn the cabinet making business. Their apprenticeship expired in 1837 or 38. During this period, in the year 1836, their father died. He had saved up some money to buy some wild wood lands in Ohio, but it was left in the hands of a canal commissioner who absconded with the money and left the widow penniless with six small children at home. Thus early in life these two young lads had the sharp discipline of providing not only for themselves but for others. On the expiration of their apprenticeship Andrew and William started a shop, with sixty cents capital, and did cabinet or carpenter work as they could find it to do. The business gradually grew into considerable proportions, but Andrew drew out and William went into partnership in the same business with Mr. Lowry, afterwards Mayor of Pittsburgh. In 1842 he was married to Sarah Clotworthy, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By this union they had two sons Theodore and Orlando, the former deceased. William continued in business with Mr. Lowry and in 1854 he was nominated on the Whig ticket for the Legislature from Allegheny county. It might be noticed in passing that he was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat but went off with the Free Soil movement. Owing to a Know Nothing combination young Stevenson was defeated for the Legislature. He was a member of all the debating clubs in Pittsburgh and his talents as displayed at their meetings was what first drew public attention for the young carpenter. In 1856 he was renominated, as a Republican, to which party he ever after belonged, and triumphantly elected. Before his term expired he moved to what is now known as Valley Mills, Wood county, W. Va., where he went to farming. A special session of the Legislature of Pennsylvania, called him back and as he was returning home again, the Republican Convention of Allegheny Co., then in session, was about to renominate him, when he arrived and declined the honor on the ground that he had moved out of the State. He was a marked man among the people of his new home and in 1862 he was a member of the May and June conventions of "Restored Virginia." In 1863 he was a member of the West Virginia Constitutional Convention. He was elected next a member of the West Virginia Senate where he served from 1863-8, being president of that body for five sessions. He took an active part on the side of the Government all during the war. He was elected Governor of the State and served for the years 1869 and 1870. In 1873 he became editor of the STATE JOURNAL which important trust he filled with signal ability up to January, 1882. He remained on his farm, as his home, from 1858 to 1882 when he removed to his late home in Parkersburg. He was made Receiver of the West Virginia Oil and Oil Land Company in 1881 and held this office up to twelve days before his death, discharging his duties with marked fidelity and ability. He leaves a wife and one son to mourn his loss.

In whatever walk of life he moved he was the same pleasant, whole-souled, upright man. We cannot enter at this time upon a discussion of his great services to his State and country or his many qualities of head and heart which have endeared him to thousands and thousands. He will be missed irrevocably. He was the devoted friend of our public school system and a worker in the Sunday School cause. On every great measure of public policy or principle his voice and influence were always on the right side. He was a born leader and his fellow citizens were his cheerful and loyal supporters. In his death the State loses a man who did more to mould her destinies, probably, than any man now living. He was a man of the people, by the people and for the people. The faithful historian will find so much to note in his busy and eventful life that we may well shirk from any further presentation of his many merits or achievements. His history can not be written in one article and ours is necessarily brief. The main facts in his life are given above; the reader and his many friends will fill in the groundwork of the life of this great and good man, - William Erskine Stevenson.

A. B. W.

Government and Politics

West Virginia Archives and History