Joseph H. Diss Debar was born in France on March 6, 1820. He immigrated to the United States at age 22. On his voyage across the Atlantic, he happened to meet and become friends with author Charles Dickens.
Diss Debar eventually wound up in Parkersburg as a land agent. For 29 years, he lived in either Parkersburg or the Doddridge County community of St. Clara, which he founded for German-Swiss immigrants. During this time, he sketched numerous people and scenes, providing some of our best images of life on the western Virginia frontier.
In 1863, he was commissioned to design the Great Seal of West Virginia. To symbolize the state’s economic potential, he drew a farmer and a miner standing beside a rock with the state’s founding date. His state seal remains one of the most iconic and recognizable images from West Virginia history. Then, for seven years, as commissioner of immigration, he recruited immigrant workers and landowners to the state.
Diss Debar died in Philadelphia in 1905 at age 84. Today, many of his historic drawings are in the collections of the West Virginia State Archives.