"Time Trail,
West Virginia"
December 1997 Programs

December 1, 1790: Shepherdstown considered for nation's capital

If early western Virginia leaders had had their way after the Revolutionary War, the national capital would now be located in the vicinity of the Jefferson County community of Shepherdstown. That may seem hard to believe, but Jim Surkamp, who's researched eastern panhandle history, says Shepherdstown had a legitimate shot at becoming the nation's seat of government.

Surkamp: They were an early front runner. They made the most substantial offer in land and money of any of the sites that were submitting for the nation's capital.

The Virginia General Assembly approved the idea and made its position clear to President George Washington, who was to make the final decision. Washington's only stipulation governing his choice of sites was that the capital be located along the Potomac River.

On December 1, 1790, two prominent Shepherdstown residents, Henry Bedinger and William Good, wrote to Washington supporting Shepherdstown's bid. There was a great deal of support on both sides of the Potomac River for the capital. Over $25,000 had been raised and 475 acres of land donated just across the river in Maryland.

Ultimately, Washington chose to create a new city, which is now known as the District of Columbia. Transportation was a major factor in Washington's decision and the roads around Shepherdstown left much to be desired.

Surkamp: I think that Washington, being ever sensitive to what posterity would look at, feared that the fact that his brothers owned a lot of land up here might have dissuaded him from doing something that looked personally and politically motivated. Moreover, he owed a big favor to George Mason, another Virginia politician, who owned land where the nation's capital eventually became situated.

Despite being passed over, today, the eastern panhandle has strong ties to the nation's capital. As the metropolitan D.C. area expand, the eastern panhandle has become home to many who work in Washington.

For More Information:

Shepherdstown History.

Written by Natlie Godwin, Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School, Buckhannon, WV

The Hanging of John Brown

John Brown, son of abolitionist Owen Brown, grew up to continue his father's cause. In 1854 in Kansas, Brown, with four of his sons, murdered five pro-slavery white men near the Brown settlement. He claimed that this act was the will of God. Brown believed that it was his divine duty to free the slaves.

On July 3, 1859, Brown and three men arrived at Harpers Ferry. Assuming different names, they rented a farm five miles from town. For three and a half months they gathered arms and assembled troops.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and his men captured the Harpers Ferry Armory in a fast, orderly fashion. Brown's biggest mistake was letting a Baltimore & Ohio train leave. The train's crew and others spread alarm quickly.

Soon armed militia entered the town and fighting began. Brown was given a chance to surrender but refused. An attack on the armory engine house lasted but a few minutes as the troops either captured or killed Brown's men.

In court Brown confessed to charges of riot and claimed he came to Harpers Ferry to liberate slaves. He claimed innocence to the rest of the charges. He was convicted and the judge stated that the hanging of John Brown would be held December 2, 1859.

People had strong feelings both for and against Brown. Authorities knew the day of his execution would cause turmoil so troops were present to keep order. Brown remained calm to the end. His body was delivered to his widow, then it was buried in North Elba, New York, as the nation chanted:

John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
His soul goes marching on.

For More Information:

"Time Trail" shows: John Brown's Raid & John Brown's Trial.

December 3, 1787: James Rumsey Demonstrates His Steamboat

In spite of repeated failures, James Rumsey invited the public to witness a demonstration of a boat propelled by steam. Rumsey's demonstration attracted a large crowd to the cliffs and shores of the Potomac River at Shepherdstown on December 3, 1787. The jubilant crowd watched as Rumsey piloted the boat upstream for about a half a mile. He continued to take his steamboat up and down the river for about 2 hours. A week later, Rumsey performed another even more successful steamboat experiment on the Potomac.

James Rumsey was born in Maryland in 1743 and is said to have served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He began working on his steamboat in 1785 and, after the success in Shepherdstown, he went to Philadelphia, where the Rumseian Society was formed to promote Rumsey and his ideas. Benjamin Franklin headed the list of subscribers to the society and acted as organizing chairman until a president was elected. Rumsey then went to London in search of financial backing.

After much difficulty, he built a new boat, the Columbian Maid, but died before achieving success with it. A few weeks later, the Columbian Maid was tried out on the Thames River and performed satisfactorily.

Shortly before his death, Rumsey is said to have written a letter in which he mentioned a meeting with a young man named Robert Fulton. Fulton was supposed to have been in London at the time to sell a torpedo boat to the British government. It was Fulton who found success with steam-powered boats aboard the Clermont 20 years later and is commonly credited with inventing the steamboat.

For More Information:

Hindle, Brooke, "James Rumsey and the Rise of Steamboating in the United States," West Virginia History 48(1989): 33-42.

Kemp, Emory, "James Rumsey and His Role in the Improvements Movement," West Virginia History 48(1989): 1-6.

Layton, Edwin T., Jr., "James Rumsey: Pioneer Technologist," West Virginia History 48(1989): 7-32.

December 4, 1868: Birth of Baseball Hall of Famer Jesse "The Crab" Burkett

The first West Virginian enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, was Jesse Burkett. Burkett and his cousin Jack Glasscock, also inducted into the hall of fame, were natives of Wheeling. Burkett emerged from the Ohio Valley sandlots to play 16 seasons with the New York Giants, Cleveland Spiders, St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Browns, and Boston Pilgrims.

Burkett earned the nickname "The Crab" for his cantankerous personality. He was once thrown out of both games of a doubleheader in Louisville and ushered from the park by six policemen. Burkett and several teammates were later fined for precipitating a riot.

His temperament didn't overshadow his prowess on the field, however. Burkett was one of the greatest bunters in the history of the game and his .339 lifetime batting average falls only one point shy of Lou Gehrig's career total. In 1895, Burkett hit .423 which still ranks as the 6th highest single-season total in history. When he retired in 1905, he had amassed more than 2,800 hits in more than 8,400 trips to the plate. He played in more than 2,000 games, smacked 322 doubles and 183 triples, and stole 389 bases.

Burkett was born December 4, 1868. After his retirement, Burkett coached and scouted for John McGraw's New York Giants and managed minor league and college teams in New England. He died in Massachusetts in 1953.

December 5, 1885: The 1st Lawsuit over a Coal Mine Disaster

Miners know all about the deadly gases that are released when coal is removed from deep beneath the earth's surface. The gases are the inevitable result of coal mining and are destructive to health. When the gases become trapped inside a poorly ventilated mine, one spark can set off an explosion that can be heard and felt miles away.

One of West Virginia's earliest recorded mine explosions occurred in 1880 at a Marion County mine owned by the Gaston Coal Company. The mine investors included future governor A. B. Fleming, who later defended his coal company. He blamed the explosion on what he termed the carelessness of the miners.

The blast killed two and injured a man named Charles Berns, who filed what is believed to be the first lawsuit in the state involving a gas explosion. Berns worked as a mule driver, hauling coal out of the mine. He maintained in his lawsuit that the Gaston Coal Company was careless and negligent because it had not properly ventilated the mine. Berns claimed $5,000 in damages.

Berns' case was moved to Taylor County because the Marion County judge felt it was improper for him to preside. In 1883, the Taylor County Circuit Court awarded Berns $2,000. The case was appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

On December 5, 1885, the State Supreme Court reversed the lower court's decision. It was the court's opinion that the facts presented in the case were insufficient to substantiate Berns' claims.

For More Information:

Massay, Glenn F., "Legislators, Lobbyists and Loopholes: Coal Mining Legislation in West Virginia, 1875-1900," West Virginia History 32(April 1971): 135-170.

West Virginia State Archives' Biography of Governor A. Brooks Fleming.

For Discussion

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, many of West Virginia's politicians and judges owned interest in coal companies. They often created laws and ruled in cases which effected the same companies they owned.

December 8, 1908: Jared Arter & the WV College & Seminary at Hilltop

After a school for black students burned to the ground at Hilltop in Fayette County on December 8, 1908, superintendent Jared Arter worked hard to reestablish the West Virginia College and Seminary, one of the most respected denominational schools in the state's segregated school system. He solicited support from the local business community and persuaded Fayette County coal operators Charles & George Jones to give land to the school, which was operated by the West Virginia Baptist State Convention.

Jared Arter was born into slavery in 1850 and rose to become a prominent African-American educator in West Virginia. Arter was a Baptist minister who was educated and later taught at Storer College in Harpers Ferry. He became the first African American accepted to study at what is now Penn State University.

Barbara Rasmussen, a history professor at Fairmont State College, says Arter's experience at Hilltop in 1908 was an all too familiar occurrence for black schools.

Rasmussen: A lot of black schools burned in this era. It was a problem that all schools struggled with, even Storer. And he agreed to take on the task of rebuilding the school. He negotiated with the coal companies for land. He negotiated with the business community for funding and financing. He was very successful. By the time of his departure eight years later, he had a campus of 50 acres and a physical plant that was worth $25,000.

Arter eventually returned to Storer College, a school that Rasmussen says was an important institution for black West Virginians.

Rasmussen: I think it's fair to say he probably was the embodiment of what Storer College intended to accomplish in West Virginia and that was to educate teachers to educate blacks -- black teachers for black students.

In addition to Storer, what became West Virginia State and Bluefield State colleges were the only institutions of higher learning for black teachers in West Virginia. After segregation was struck down in 1954, the black teachers' colleges had to find a new focus. West Virginia State and Bluefield State expanded but Storer was unable to make the transition and closed its doors soon after desegregation.

For more information:

Rasmussen, Barbara. "Storer College: A Bygone Harpers Ferry Institution." Goldenseal (Spring 1990): 46.

December 9, 1969: UMW Presidential Election

In 1969, a bitter election for president of the United Mine Workers (UMW) union was waged between incumbent Tony Boyle and Jock Yablonski, a veteran of the union's International Executive Board. Boyle had drawn the ire of rank-and-file members following the Farmington mine disaster the previous year. Twenty-one miners were rescued after an explosion at Consolidation Coal Company's Number Nine mine but 78 others were killed. Boyle had reacted to the disaster by saying that "coal mining always brings with it an inherent danger of explosion."

During the campaign, Yablonski alleged that Boyle had misused union funds in his efforts to win reelection. Yablonski took his case to the miners during a campaign stop in Fayette County.

[Yablonski quote]

Despite allegations of embezzlement, illegal use of UMW employees as campaign aides, and questionable loans, Boyle was reelected on December 9, 1969.

Twenty-two days later, Yablonski, his wife, and daughter, were murdered in their Pennsylvania home by hired gunmen. Tony Boyle was later convicted in connection with the Yablonski murders.

For More Information:

Hume, Brit, Death and the Mines: Rebellion and Murder in the United Mine Workers (New York: Grossman, 1971).

For Discussion

Tony Boyle's corruption turned many miners against their own union. Jock Yablonski was a hero to many of the rank-and-file miners. His murder was a turning point in the union's history. It prompted rank-and-file miners to oust the corrupt UMW leaders.

December 10, 1931: The State Upholds Its Anti-Lynching Law

On the night of December 10, 1931, about 50 armed and masked men drove to Lewisburg to avenge 2 murders. To protect their identity, they traveled in cars from which the license plates had been removed.

Two white men, Constable Joseph Miles and Jack Brown, both of Quinwood, were killed after Miles had been called to quiet the revelry at a dance near Rainelle. Nearly 3 weeks later, Tom Jackson and George Banks, the African-American men charged with the crime, found themselves the target of a lynch mob. The two were forcibly removed from the Greenbrier County Jail and taken about 2 miles west of Lewisburg, where they were hanged from the cross arm of a telephone pole. The mob then unloaded their rifles, shotguns, and pistols into the men's bodies. Empty shells gathered at the scene filled a half-gallon bucket.

A few hours after the lynching, 3 brothers, R. E., Jack, and Pete Legg were ordered held for investigation. The prosecuting attorney promised, in his words, "the fullest investigation" of the lynching. Governor William Conley called the murders "a horrible thing" and asked the state police to look into them.

The 3 brothers were later convicted in Kanawha County of the lynching. Significantly, the West Virginia Supreme Court used the case to uphold an anti-lynching law passed by the legislature in 1921.

For More Information:

Biography of T. G. Nutter, West Virginia legislator who backed anti-lynching and other civil rights legislation.

For Discussion

The state's anti-lynching law was an important step toward decreasing violence against African Americans. However, local police were often involved in the lynchings and failed to enforce the law.

December 11, 1893: Death of Governor Jacob B. Jackson

West Virginia's 6th Governor Jacob Beeson Jackson, a cousin of Confederate General "Stonewall" Jackson, challenged powerful industry and farm lobby groups over property tax exemptions. Before his election as governor in 1880, Jackson had served as a member of the House of Delegates, mayor of Parkersburg, and prosecutor for both Wood and Pleasants County.

Jackson was the first governor to address the inequities of West Virginia's tax system. After the formation of the state, the legislature offered tax incentives to out-of-state investors, particularly to company's involved with the railroad and mineral industries. During the depression of the 1870s, the legislature extended benefits to farmers. The result was a significant state government revenue shortfall by the 1880s.

In 1882, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled in the case of Miller v. Chesapeake & Ohio Railway that all property must be taxed unless otherwise exempted by the Constitution. Despite Governor Jackson's order to enforce the ruling, many county assessors were reluctant due, in part, to pressure from farm groups. Although his immediate attempts were largely unsuccessful, Jackson helped initiate a reform movement that culminated in a complete restructuring of the tax system in 1904.

Jackson died in Parkersburg on December 11, 1893, at the age of 64.

For More Information:

West Virginia State Archives' Biography of Governor Jacob B. Jackson.

December 12, 1975: The 1st Shoney's Restaurant Closes in Charleston

When Alex Schoenbaum closed the doors to his first restaurant, it was the end of an era. Schoenbaum, the founder of the Shoney's Restuaurant chain, locked the doors to Shoney's No. 1 on Kanawha Boulevard in Charleston, December 12, 1975.

The restaurant opened as a drive-in called the Parkette in 1949 and, in 1952, it became the first restaurant in the Shoney's chain after Schoenbaum obtained the regional marketing rights to the Big Boy trademark.

Closing ceremonies for the store were attended by several Charleston business leaders, original drive-in staff, and Governor Arch Moore. Schoenbaum himself made these remarks.

Schoenbaum: I don't know that the archive building [West Virginia Science & Culture Center] which is now being built up there can hold all of the stories--marriages, divorces, kids being put through school, earning their money here, families being supported by youngsters who were working the curb where they had disabled parents or something of that nature. But there's been a lot of good things that took place right here on this lot and I can truthfully say that I will have nothing but fond memories.

The closing of Shoney's No. 1 was mandated by a 1971 agreement with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), made at the time Shoney's Big Boy Enterprises sold a public stock issue. Under the agreement, Schoenbaum (Shoney's chairman) and Ray Danner (the company president) agreed to divest themselves of the Shoney's Restaurants they owned personally. The SEC would not permit the two to act as both company officials and franchisers.

In 1975, the Shoney's Restaurant chain had operations in 13 states. It has since expanded to 1,800 restaurants in more than 35 states. Alex Schoenbaum died in December 1996 at the age of 81.

For Discussion

Shoney's is one of the largest businesses to originate in West Virginia.

December 15, 1967: Silver Bridge disaster

When the Silver Bridge at Pt. Pleasant collapsed at about 5 o'clock the evening of December 15, 1967, Governor Hulett Smith was pulled out of a meeting of the State Board of Public Works.

Smith: My assistant Paul Crabtree came in and said, "You better get hold of Burl," that's the road commissioner. He said that he just heard that the Pt. Pleasant bridge had just collapsed. And so they got the State Police and we used what communications we had then and, in a little bit, we were all in the cars going down to Pt. Pleasant. And there, I met the governor of Ohio. Everybody was concerned. Then, of course . . . it was just hard to imagine. It was raining, cold, and December, and we go out there and there wasn't any bridge.

The Silver Bridge was built in 1928. It spanned the Ohio River between Pt. Pleasant and Kanauga, Ohio, for nearly 40 years. When it collapsed during rush hour, 46 people died.

A bridge of identical design at St. Marys in Pleasants County was closed immediately out of concern for its safety. Authorities later replaced it.

Following the collapse of the Silver Bridge, it's pieces were recovered and taken to a field south of Pt. Pleasant. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Transportation revealed that an eyebar pin had failed, causing the bridge's tragic drop into the Ohio River. The Silver Bridge disaster resulted in more stringent regulations for bridge construction and inspection.

A new bridge across the Ohio was dedicated at nearby Henderson, two years to the day after the Silver Bridge tragedy.

For more information:

Kraina, Jane M. "Nightmare in Point Pleasant: The Fall of the Silver Bridge." Goldenseal, (Winter 1995): 46.

December 16, 1897: West Virginia's Last Public Hanging

Thousands of spectators gathered in Ripley, December 16, 1897, to witness West Virginia's last public hanging. People came from all over Jackson County and surrounding parts of West Virginia and Ohio to watch John Morgan die.

Morgan was convicted of killing 3 members of a Jackson County family. Chloe Greene was a widow who still had 3 children at home. Daughters Alice and Matilda were children of her first marriage to Francis Pfost. Chloe's second marriage produced a son, Jimmy Greene.

Morgan knew the family well. He stayed with them for about 7 years and helped to work the family farm. He eventually married and moved to a nearby house but occasionally still worked for the family.

Jimmy Greene was killed first with a mattock. Morgan then wounded Alice Pfost in the head with a hatchet. After she fled for help, Matilda and her mother Chloe were killed.

It didn't take long for authorities to find John Morgan. They arrested him within hours of the murders and took him to Ripley. Morgan was indicted the next day, tried and convicted the following day, and sentenced the day after that.

Even though he escaped jail about 2 weeks before the scheduled hanging, Morgan couldn't keep the gallows at bay. After a 2-day search, he was captured again near Walton in Roane County.

The day of Morgan's execution, Ripley was jammed with people. A New York Sun reporter sent to cover the hanging likened the town's atmosphere that day to a festival.

Shortly after Morgan's hanging, the West Virginia Legislature, embarrassed by the Sun reporter's depiction of the spectacle, passed a bill prohibiting public executions, allowing them to be carried out only at the state penitentiary in Moundsville. The death penalty was abolished in West Virginia in 1965.

For More Information:

Bumgardner, Stan and Chris Kreiser, "`Thy Brother's Blood': Capital Punishment in West Virginia," West Virginia Historical Society Quarterly 9-10(March 1996).

Goodwin, Jacqueline G., "`I Remember Well': Events Surrounding the Last Public Hanging in West Virginia," Goldenseal (Spring 1990): 10-16.

"`Boys, He'll Hang': An Eyewitness Report," Goldenseal (Spring 1990): 17-20.

For Discussion

Prior to the 20th century, public executions were popular social functions. This was West Virginia's last public hanging because of the embarrassment caused by outside news sources. Another New York paper, the World, had depicted negative images about West Virginia several years earlier in its portrayal of the Hatfield-McCoy feud.

December 17, 1861: Death of Henry Ruffner

In 1847, Henry Ruffner, who was an honored minister and professor, delivered an address to the Franklin Society in Lexington, Virginia, in which he denounced slavery in the region where he made his home, western Virginia. His remarks before the society were later published as a pamphlet which fuled a growing schism between eastern and western Virginia.

Ruffner was born in Page County, Virginia, in 1790, and moved with his family to the Kanawha Valley when he was 6 years old. His father David's success as a pioneer of the Kanawha Valley's salt industry enabled Henry Ruffner to attend the best schools, including Washington College which later became Washington & Lee University. He delivered his address to the Franklin Society while serving as Washington College's president.

Ruffner has traditionally been labeled as an abolitionist--an individual who worked to abolish slavery. Yet, Ruffner himself owned slaves. While many leading abolitionists opposed slavery on moral grounds, others like Ruffner objected to the economic problems it created. In 1847, slavery was a common practice in eastern Virginia but it was far less prevalent in the western regions. Slavery was largely unprofitable on the small farms in the west and took town jobs away from white laborers, such as Wheeling's iron workers. Ruffner told the Franklin Society that Pittsburgh was growing faster than Wheeling because Pennsylvania had abolished slavery. He contended that western Virginia was suffering economically under the institution.

On December 17, 1861, Ruffner died in Malden at the age of 71. Eighteen months later, West Virginia was admitted to the Union with a provision for gradual emancipation of slaves similar to that proposed by Ruffner in 1847.

For More Information:

West Virginia State Archives' History of Slavery in West Virginia

For Discussion

Although many northerners opposed slavery on moral grounds, slavery was generally unprofitable in the northern states. In border regions such as western Virginia, slave labor was used in certain industries. By using slaves, business owners did not have to pay other workers to do those same jobs. Ruffner and others believed the abolition of slavery would help other workers get jobs.

December 18, 1841: Birth of U.S. Senator Nathan Bay Scott

Nathan Bay Scott rose from modest beginnings on a farm in Guernsey County, Ohio, to represent West Virginia as a U.S. Senator. Scott was born on December 18, 1841. He took his first job at age 11 as an assistant clerk in a country store, earning $25 a year, including board, clothing, and washing. Scott worked in the store until 1859, when he left for Kansas. He ended up driving an ox team across the prairies to present-day Denver, Colorado. Returning to Ohio, Scott became an apprentice to a tanner and a currier. He served in the Union Army in the 88th Ohio Volunteers during the Civil War.

In 1875, Scott moved to Wheeling and, one year later, became president of the Central Glass Company. By the end of his 22-year tenure there, Scott had become one of the 4 richest men in West Virginia. He also helped found Wheeling's Dollar Savings & Trust Company and the Continental Trust Company of Washington, D.C.

Scott's political career matched his career in the business world. As a young man barely old enough to hold office, Scott had been elected mayor of his native town of Millwood, Ohio. Later, he served as president of Wheeling's city council and for 8 years in the West Virginia Senate. For 24 years, Scott was West Virginia's representative on the Republican National Committee and was partially in charge of the Republican Headquarters in New York during 4 presidential campaigns. President McKinley appointed Scott commissioners of Internal Revenue in 1898. A year later, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served 12 years.

Along with Stephen B. Elkins, Senator Scott dominated West Virginia's Republican party throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. Scott died of heart failure at his home in Washington in 1924.

Several senators, including Democrats Henry G. Davis and Johnson N. Camden and Republicans Stephen B. Elkins and Nathan B. Scott controlled West Virginia politics in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were also West Virginia's wealthiest citizens and controlled much of its economy.

Written by Sarah Lynch, Horace Mann Junior High, Charleston, WV

Charleston becomes an official city

On December 19, 1794, the town of Charleston, in western Virginia, was established by an act of the Virginia General Assembly. Colonel George Clendenin, a Virginia legislator, owned the forty-acre tract of land we know today as Charleston, West Virginia. In December of 1794 the town's population was about thirty-five people living in seven houses.

The town had been surveyed and divided into thirty-six lots in an area that reached from Elk River to what is now Capitol Street. There was Front Street, which ran along the riverbank in the present location of Kanawha Boulevard and a parallel Main Street where Virginia Street is today.

The act specified that the new town be named "Charles Town" after George Clendenin's father, Charles Clendenin. The name was often confused with the Charles Town in Jefferson County. In 1818 the name was shortened to Charleston.

A post office was established at Charleston in 1801 and officially designated as "Kanawha Court House." It was not until 1879 that the post office name was changed to Charleston.

Seventy-six years after the Virginia General Assembly established the town of Charleston, it became the capital of West Virginia.

December 22, 1972: Arnold Miller elected UMW president

The presidency of the United Mine Workers union was never more hotly contested than during the last years of Tony Boyle's leadership. By the late 1960s, many miners believed Boyle had closer ties to the coal industry than to the union. In 1969, Boyle had to fend off a challenge from Jock Yablonski for the UMW presidency. Soon after Boyle won the election, Yablonski, his wife, and daughter were murdered in their Pennsylvania home by hired gunmen.

A group of miners who believed Boyle was involved in the murders formed the Miners for Democracy campaign, a grass roots movement to rid the UMW of corruption. Arnold Miller, a native of the Cabin Creek region of Kanawha County, picked up the banner of the miners dissatisfied with Boyle's leadership and led a campaign to oust him.

Miller gained the presidency after federal judge William Bryant ruled the 1969 election invalid. Bryant found that Boyle had misused union funds for his reelection campaign. He scheduled a new election for the first eight days of December 1972 and ordered the U.S. Labor Department to oversee it, a move that pleased Miller.

Miller: Mr. Boyle sowed the seeds for his own downfall in the '69 election by all the irregularities and by the manipulation of the pension program which brought on some form of intimidation with the pensioners themselves. I think in a fair election we're gonna win. Judge Bryant's decision is a pretty good guarantee that we are gonna get a fair election. It's gonna be monitored by the Labor Department and we're gonna monitor the Labor Department too. We're gonna watch as many observers as possible.

On December 22, 1972, the Labor Department certified the election's results. Arnold Miller had defeated Tony Boyle to become the first native West Virginian to head the UMW. Miller served as president for seven years. He resigned in 1979 due to health problems and returned to West Virginia. He died in 1985.

The Yablonski murders eventually caught up with Tony Boyle. He died in prison after being convicted in connection with the crime.

For more information:

Hume, Brit. Death and the Mines: Rebellion and Murder in the United Mine Workers. New York: Grossman, 1971.

Michael Kline. "Growing Up on Cabin Creek: An Interview with Arnold Miller." Goldenseal (Apr.-June 1981): 35-43.

December 23, 1762: Incorporation of Romney and Shepherdstown

There has been a long-running dispute over which town in West Virginia is the oldest. The dispute between Shepherdstown and Romney goes back well before West Virginia even became a state.

Shepherdstown was originally established as Mecklenburg by Thomas Shepherd, who laid out 50 acres of his land into lots and streets. In late 1762, he presented a bill of incorporation to the Virginia House of Burgesses just 6 days before Romney's bill was introduced. The house approved both bills and, on December 23, 1762, the governor of Virginia signed them.

Even though there was a settlement at present-day Shepherdstown several years before there was one at Romney, the dispute centers around the order in which the towns' bills of incorporation were signed. Of the group of bills signed on December 23, Romney's preceeded Mecklenburg's. This technicality appears to give Romney the distinction of being West Virginia's oldest town.

The name Mecklenburg eventually ceased to exist. For years, the townspeople had used the name Shepherdstown in honor of Thomas Shepherd and, in 1798, Virginia's General Assembly made the name official.

December 24, 1852: Completion of the B&O Railroad

It may have taken more than 24 years but when the last spike was driven completing the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad to the Ohio River at Wheeling, it had a tremendous effect on what is now West Virginia. Two B&O crews, one working west from Baltimore, the other pushing east from Wheeling, met in the Grave Creek Valley about 18 miles east of Wheeling on Christmas Eve, 1852.

Historian John Hankey says a track supervisor, Roseby Carr, had the honor of driving the last spike.

Hankey: Carr, being pretty good with words, made a little speech. He said we have laid the last rail of a long line of railroad which connects the Chesapeake Bay and the water of the Ohio. Even then, in 1852, these fellows knew that they were completing a major national work.

The B&O had begun work on the line in 1828. When it was completed in 1852, it stretched 370 miles from Baltimore across western Virginia's mountains to Wheeling. At the time, it was the longest railroad in the world and John Hankey says it was probably the most difficult to build.

Hankey: Especially that part in what is now western Virginia. It was the first time a railroad had confronted a mountain range head-on and actually conquered the Alleghenies.

After it was finally completed, Hankey says the B&O Railroad had a profound effect on the region.

Hankey: It quite literally set the stage for the creation of the state of West Virginia during the Civil War because the railroad linked that part of what was then Virginia firmly to Baltimore and the northern states. The B&O even helped shape the boundaries of West Virginia when the 6 eastern panhandle counties came into the state to preserve the line of the B&O in northern territory during the war. Most importanly, the railroad began the process of opening West Virginia to development.
For more information:

Blizzard, William C. "The Mystery of Rosbys Rock." Goldenseal (July-September 1976): 37.

For Discussion

The B&O Railroad tied Wheeling and northwestern Virginia to the markets of the East. At the same time, it helped break its ties with Richmond and the South.

December 25, 1856: A Slave Escapes on the Underground Railroad

On New Year's Night of 1857, Robert Brown arrived in Philadelphia, successfully escaping slavery in what is now Martinsburg, West Virginia. Brown, who also went by the alias Thomas Jones, was welcomed into the home of a member of the Underground Railroad Vigilance Committee. He spoke emotionally of his family and took from his pocket a likeness of his wife and a lock of her hair. He also had locks of hair from each of his 4 children.

On Christmas day, December 25, 1856, Brown escaped from slavery by plunging into the frigid waters of the Potomac River. He braved the river on horseback during a stormy and freezing Christmas night.

Five days earlier, Brown's family had been sold to a slave trader in Richmond, Virginia, allegedly because his wife had resisted the advances of their owner, Colonel John Franic. Brown decided to attempt an escape after he and some of his friends failed to someone in the Martinsburg area to purchase the family.

After emerging wet and freezing from the river, Brown road about 40 miles. He finally had to leave his faltering horse behind and continue on foot. Cold and hungry, it took Brown a couple of days to reach Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where friends secured his safe passage to Philadelphia.

For More Information:

West Virginia State Archives' History of Slavery in West Virginia.

For Discussion

It was extremely dangerous for slaves to try to escape. The Underground Railroad was established to help runaway slaves escape through unfamiliar territory and avoid authorities.

December 26, 1811: John George Jackson Escapes a Deadly Fire

On December 26, 1811, a devastating fire swept through a theater in Richmond, Virginia, killing, among others, Governor William Smith. Among those to escape was Clarksburg' John George Jackson, who was serving in the Virginia General Assembly. This was Jackson's second narrow escape from death. Several years before, he had been severely wounded in a duel with North Carolina Congressman Joseph Pearson.

Jackson was the son of one of central West Virginia's earliest settlers, an ancestor of "Stonewall" Jackson, and the brother-in- law of President James Madison. During his career, he served in the United States Congress and as the first prosecuting attorney of Lewis County. He was also one of the first citizens to demand equal rights for western Virginians.

Jackson protested what he considered two flaws in the Virginia state constitution: the requirement to own property in order to vote and the apportionment of only two delegates to each county, regardless of population. Since many western Virginians did not own land and there were few counties in existence, Jackson felt the constitution discriminated against the west.

He addressed his grievances in an 1803 letter to the Richmond Examiner written under the pseudonym, "A Mountaineer." He emphasized that non-landowners often paid personal property taxes but were still denied the right to vote, thus violating the basic tenet of the Declaration of Independence--that there should be no taxation without equal representation. Eastern politicians belatedly conceded these issues during a constitutional convention held nearly 50 years after John George Jackson had planted the first seeds of the western Virginia statehood movement.

For Discussion

John George Jackson was one of western Virginia's first important politicians. He brought attention to the fact western Virginia paid its share of taxes but did not receive its share of roads and public institutions.

December 29, 1861: Burning of Sutton

The Civil War is often referred to as a struggle of "brother against brother" and "neighbor against neighbor." Nothing better illustrates this than the burning of Sutton in 1861. Braxton County was sparsely populated at the outbreak of the Civil War but presence of the Weston and Gauley Bridge Turnpike made Sutton an important military crossroads. Union troops occupied Sutton during the early months of the war. But they fled December 29, when Captain John Sprigg led about 100 Confederates to a hill overlooking Sutton. Convinced they were outnumbered, the larger Union force evacuated.

Because Captain Sprigg lived just north of Sutton, a false sense of security fell over the town. Sprigg took some of his men to pursue the retreating northern troops and left Jack Tuning in charge of the remaining soldiers. Tuning and his brothers Al and Fred, who were also from the area, tried to extort money from the townspeople. When they refused, the Tunings set fire to a frame house. As the flames spread quickly to other buildings, John Camden, a hotel proprietor and southern sympathizer, pleaded with Tuning to stop the destruction to no avail. Finally, Sprigg returned to town and ordered his men to put out the fire.

The Confederates had to dash from Sutton after 400 Union troops from Summersville began pursuing. After an argument over strategy, Sprigg and Tuning split up their forces in Webster County. Sprigg's men were defeated in a skirmish near present-day Cowen. However, Tuning's Rangers escaped and continued to terrorize Union troops and northern supporters for the next two years. Considered the scourge of central West Virginia, a bounty was placed on the Tunings. Two of the brothers were gunned down in 1864 but the leader, Jack Tuning, was never killed or captured. Guerrilla raiders such as Jack Tuning's men operated thoughout West Virginia but were most active in regions where loyalties were divided, such as Roane, Calhoun, Gilmer, Braxton, Webster, and Pocahontas counties.

December 30, 1969: President Nixon Signs the Coal Mine Health & Safety Act

When word reached West Virginia's coalfields that President Nixon intended to sign the Mine Health & Safety Act, nearly 1,200 wildcat strikers centered in the Kanawha Valley began trickling back to work. Activists had called upon the nation's miners to walk off the job because Nixon had hinted he would veto the bill but only the 1,200 responded.

The president had threatened the veto because of a provision concerning black lung, a disabling disease caused by coal dust. Nixon feared the provision would set a precedent for changing the way workers' compensation programs were administered.

Commonly managed by states, the black lung provision in the Mine Health & Safety Act set up a federally administered program. It was to be phased out after 7 years in favor of a plan using funds provided jointly by states and coal mine operators.

Nixon signed the bill December 30, 1969, less than 24 hours after he refused to meet with 7 West Virginia women. The women had been widowed 13 months earlier by the Farmington mine disaster which initiated a movement to standardize health and safety practices.

The Mine Health & Safety Act set the first federal standards on levels of coal dust on the mines, required a minimum of 4 annual inspections in each mine, and prescribed safety measures to prevent disasters such as the one that killed 78 miners at Farmington.

For Discussion

The Mine Health & Safety Act was a landmark bill which enabled miners and their families to receive benefits for black lung. It also strengthed safety regulations in the mines.

Written by Carley Struble, Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School, Buckhannon, WV

West Virginia's Bill of Approval

Many years ago, when Abraham Lincoln was president, there was a bill sent to the White House. This bill was in concern of making western Virginia a 35th state. President Lincoln thought hard about this decision. He finally approved of the bill.

Lincoln explained to the nation why he thought it was important for West Virginia to become a part of the union. He said:

We can scarcely dispense with the aid of West Virginia in this struggle much less can we afford to have her against us, in Congress and in the field. Her brave and good men regard her admission into the union as a matter of life and death.

When Lincoln signed this bill it was December 31, 1862. However, this wasn't nearly the final step. President Lincoln wrote a proclamation on April 20th to take effect sixty days later. This helped create the state of West Virginia.

On May 28, 1863, the final step was taken. Candidates for state office were elected by the people. Finally, West Virginia became the 35th state of the union on June 20, 1863, almost six months after President Lincoln signed the bill admitting West Virginia to the union.

For more information:

West Virginia State Archives' History of Statehood

"Time Trail, West Virginia" December 1997 Schedule

West Virginia History Center