This Week in West Virginia History

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / West Virginia Division of Tourism

On February 17, 1735, pioneer Morgan Morgan was commissioned a captain of militia in present Berkeley County. Nearly three centuries later, a successor to Morgan’s militia regiment is still going strong.

The militia’s original purpose was to protect settlers against Indian raids. Then, in the early decades of the nation, the militia took part in every American conflict: from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War. One of the first state militia units reorganized after the Civil War was the Berkeley Light Infantry.

February 12, 1901: Congressman Jacob Blair Dies at 79

Feb 12, 2020
Jacob Beeson Blair
e-WV Encyclopedia

Congressman Jacob Blair died in Utah, on February 12, 1901, at age 79. He was born in Parkersburg in 1821 and orphaned at a young age. He studied law under his uncle John Jay Jackson Sr., was admitted to the bar, and then elected prosecuting attorney of Ritchie County.

Wikimedia Commons

On February 11, 1923, eight gangsters were arrested in Harrison County for their involvement in Black Hand activities. Black Hand was a name given to underworld extortion techniques, such as threatening lives in exchange for money. During the early 20th century, it was most commonly associated with Italian and Sicilian mobsters who extorted money from their fellow countrymen who had emigrated to the United States.

February 10, 1904: The Murder of Jay Legg

Feb 10, 2020

On February 10, 1904, Sarah Ann Legg shot and killed her husband, Jay, in their home at Harden’s lumber camp in Clay County. Jay floated logs downstream on the Elk River to Charleston. On the day of the shooting, he returned home early and was fatally shot with his own rifle.

February 6, 1732: General Charles Lee Born in England

Feb 6, 2020
After being captured in 1776, Lee supplied the British with plans to defeat the Americans.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

General Charles Lee was born in England on February 6, 1732. As a young man, he served with distinction in the British army before immigrating to America in the early 1770s. When the Revolutionary War began, he sided with the Americans and served as a major general in the Continental Army.

February 4, 1861: Peace Conference Opens in Washington

Feb 4, 2020
George William Summers
e-West Virginia Encyclopedia / WV Regional and History Collection

On February 4, 1861, a Peace Conference was held in Washington as a last-ditch effort to avert the looming Civil War. The deep divisions between the North and South carried into the conference, which failed to find a compromise. The Civil War started two months later.

Governor Arthur Ingraham Boreman (1823-96)
e-West Virginia Encyclopedia / WV State Archives (WVSA)

On February 3, 1865, West Virginia Governor Arthur Boreman signed a legislative act banning slavery in the state. A common misconception is that West Virginia entered the Union in 1863 as a free state.

January 29, 1876: W. Va. Senate Removes Treasurer Burdett From Office

Jan 29, 2020
West Virginia Legislatire Chamber
E-WV, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On January 29, 1876, the West Virginia State Senate removed state Treasurer John Burdett from office. Burdett had been accused of pilfering funds in a scheme with his son and offering to deposit state funds in certain banks for a personal kickback on the interest.

Burdett’s impeachment was something of a shock given his background. The Taylor County native was one of West Virginia’s founders. At the outset of the Civil War, he’d served in the Richmond Convention and voted against Virginia’s secession from the Union.

January 28, 1864: State Legislature Authorizes W.Va.'s First Flag

Jan 28, 2020
West Virginia State Flag
DollarPhoto Club / DollarPhoto Club

On January 28, 1864, the state legislature authorized West Virginia’s first flag. The new flags were presented to each of the state’s military regiments before the end of the Civil War. Consequently, these first state flags are commonly referred to as regimental or battle flags.

January 27, 1933: Folk Artist Connard Wolfe Born in Kanawha County

Jan 27, 2020
Michael Keller via e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / Goldenseal

Folk artist Connard Wolfe was born at Standard in Kanawha County on January 27, 1933. The self-taught sculptor started carving wood and stone after being discharged from the army about 1955. His first significant carvings were stones for a wall and two headstones. Other early works included a gigantic reclining nude carved from a boulder in the hills near his home and two life-sized sculptures in tree trunks: ‘‘Mountain Girl’’ and ‘‘Standing Christ.’’ Both tree sculptures were later destroyed.

January 27, 1925: Reverend Bernard Coffindaffer Born

Jan 27, 2020
Preacher Bernard L. Coffindaffer (1925-1993)
Frank P. Herrera / Charleston Newspapers/The Humanities Council

On January 27, 1925, the Reverend Bernard Coffindaffer was born at Craigsville in Nicholas County.

During World War II, he served in the Marines and was wounded on Iwo Jima. After the war, he returned to West Virginia and amassed a small fortune through a coal-washing business.

January 22, 1810: State Founder Daniel Lamb Born in Pennsylvania

Jan 22, 2020
Daniel Lamb
West Virginia State Archives

State founder Daniel Lamb was born in Pennsylvania on January 22, 1810. Lamb’s family moved to Wheeling when he was 13. He was elected city clerk at age 21 and worked for two Wheeling banks and an insurance company.

When the Civil War began and Virginia cast its lot with the Confederacy, Daniel Lamb became a leading pro-Union figure in Wheeling. He was a member of the West Virginia Constitutional Convention and the state’s first legislature. The first codification of West Virginia’s laws, known as the Lamb Code, was begun by Lamb but finished by James H. Ferguson.

January 21, 1861: Joint Resolution Concerning the Position of Virginia

Jan 21, 2020
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On January 21, 1861, the Virginia General Assembly adopted a joint resolution stating that if differences between the North and South couldn’t be settled, Virginia would join the Confederate States of America. It was a key turning point in history. First, the Confederacy considered Virginia a prize jewel—a necessity for its success as a separate country. Second, Virginia’s eventual secession would lead to West Virginia becoming a state.

January 20, 1978: A Great Blizzard Strikes West Virginia

Jan 20, 2020
Wikimedia commons

On January 20, 1978, one of the worst blizzards in modern history struck West Virginia. It was the result of a Nor’easter that developed the previous day in the Atlantic.

January 15, 1890: West Virginia Legislators Convene to Choose Governor

Jan 15, 2020
After the initial election tally in November 1888, Republican Nathan Goff Jr. had held a 106-vote lead over Democrat A. B. Fleming.
E-WV/The Humanities Council

On January 15, 1890, West Virginia legislators convened in special session to choose the state’s new governor. The most recent gubernatorial election had been deadlocked for an incredible 14 months.

January 15, 2012: Former Governor Hulett Smith Dies in Arizona

Jan 15, 2020
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Former Governor Hulett Smith died in Arizona on January 15, 2012, at age 93. Born in Beckley, Smith was surrounded by business and politics during his youth. His father, Joe L. Smith, was a newspaper publisher, bank president, mayor of Beckley, state senator, congressman, and state Democratic Party chairman.

January 14, 1977: Governor Moore Accepts $1 Million Settlement

Jan 14, 2020
Arch Moore
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On January 14, 1977, Governor Arch Moore accepted a $1 million settlement from the Pittston Coal Company related to the 1972 Buffalo Creek Flood. It was one of many lawsuits filed against Pittston after an improperly built coal dam collapsed, unleashing a muddy torrent that killed 125 people. 

January 8, 1926: Comedian, TV Host Soupy Sales Born

Jan 8, 2020
Soupy Sales
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Comedian Milton Supman was born on January 8, 1926. Changing his name to Soupy Sales, he became a major TV star in the 1960s.

Although Sales was born in North Carolina, he was raised in Huntington, graduated from Huntington High School, and earned a journalism degree from Marshall College (now University). He started his comedy career as a script writer and disc jockey at WHTN Radio in Huntington. At night, he played club dates throughout the Tri-State area and honed his witty slapstick style.

January 7, 1924: Ground Broken on New West Virginia Capitol Building

Jan 7, 2020
Capitol
davidwilson1949 / wikimedia Commons

On January 7, 1924, ground was broken for West Virginia’s new state capitol building in Charleston’s East End. The previous capitol, located in downtown Charleston, had been destroyed by fire three years before.

The new capitol was designed by architect Cass Gilbert, who’d previously designed the Woolworth Building in New York and state capitols for Arkansas and Minnesota. He’d later design the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington.

January 6: 'Old Christmas' Celebrated Across West Virginia, Appalachia

Jan 6, 2020
Jesse Weese / Flickr

 January 6 is the day traditionally known as Old Christmas. It’s a relic of the Julian Calendar, developed 2,000 years ago. In the late 1500s, Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar to match the solar cycle more closely. To do so, the Julian Calendar had to be reduced from 376 to 365 days, eliminating 11 full days. Some countries, though, resisted the change and kept the old Julian Calendar. It took nearly 200 years for England and Scotland to come around. Both countries adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1752.

BotMultichillT / wikimedia Commons

On December 31, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln paced the halls of the White House contemplating whether West Virginia should become a state.

Lincoln had supported the Restored Government of Virginia—a pro-Union government of Virginia established in Wheeling in 1861. However, the question of making West Virginia a separate state from Virginia gave Lincoln pause. The U.S. Constitution says one state cannot be carved from an existing state without the original state’s approval.

In this case, the Virginia government in Wheeling had given its permission, but did the Wheeling government have the authority to do so? Or could only the pro-Confederate state government in Richmond give its blessing?

December 31, 1952: Hank Williams' Final Concert

Dec 31, 2019
By the end of 1952, Williams was trying to get his life and career back on track. He’d even released a new single entitled “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.”
E-WV / Humanities Council

On New Year’s Eve 1952, country music legend Hank Williams was scheduled to perform at Charleston’s Municipal Auditorium as part of his comeback tour.

His life had been descending into turmoil for a long time. Various issues were to blame, including marriage troubles, back problems, prescription drug abuse, and alcoholism. In August 1952, he had been fired from the Grand Ole Opry because his notorious unreliability had finally overshadowed his incomparable talent.

Wikimedia commons

On December 30, 1901, the Carnegie Corporation approved a $20,000 grant to build a new library in Huntington. It was one of more than 2,500 libraries that industrialist Andrew Carnegie funded around the world over nearly a half-century. In West Virginia, Carnegie-funded libraries were also built in Hinton, in Parkersburg, and at Bethany College. In addition, Carnegie provided funding for a performing arts center in Lewisburg. 

December 26, 1917: Instrument Maker Harold Hayslett Born

Dec 26, 2019
One of Hayslett's cellos earned the society’s prestigious gold medal for tone. In 1996, filmmaker Robert Gates took an in-depth look at Hayslett’s life and work in the documentary Building a Cello with Harold.
E-WV / Humanities Council

Harold Hayslett was born in Putnam County on December 26, 1917. After serving in France during World War II, he worked as a pipefitter for Union Carbide in South Charleston. He retired in 1980 after 33 years of service.

While working at Carbide, he started a side hobby—making violins, cellos, and other instruments. His reputation spread quickly—first locally, and then worldwide. The Violin Society of America honored Hayslett on several occasions.

December 25, 1937: Statesman Newton Baker Dies at 66 in Cleveland

Dec 25, 2019
Newton Diehl Baker
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / Library of Congress

Statesman Newton Baker died in Cleveland on Christmas Day 1937 at age 66. The Martinsburg native earned a law degree in 1894 and practiced law briefly in his home town. In 1896, he became private secretary to U.S. Postmaster General William L. Wilson, a native of Charles Town and former president of West Virginia University. After a year in Washington, Baker resumed his Martinsburg law practice before moving to Cleveland, Ohio, where he served as city solicitor and mayor. 

Joseph F. Rutherford
Wikimedia commons

On December 24, 1942, the President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practices ordered that seven Jehovah’s Witnesses have their jobs reinstated at the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company plant in Clarksburg. The seven had been fired a year earlier after declining to participate in union-sponsored, flag-salute ceremonies due to their religious beliefs. Union truckers refused to accept glass produced by the workers, prompting the company to fire all seven Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

December 23, 1995: Newspaperman Sam Shaw Dies at 82

Dec 23, 2019
Sam Shaw, editor of Moundsville Daily Echo
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / Moundsville Dailt Echo

Newspaperman Sam Shaw died on December 23, 1995, at age 82. From 1951 until his death, he was the beloved and eccentric editor of the Moundsville Daily Echo.

Shaw was a tinkerer, hiker, musician, photographer, linguist, and bird watcher. During World War II, he was a decoder in army radio intelligence. As editor of the Echo, his quirky ‘‘Jots’’ column served as a sounding board for community projects, including his 30-year crusade to build the Moundsville Ohio River bridge.

December 21, 1891: Senator Frank Hereford Dies in Monroe County

Dec 21, 2019
Honorable Frank Hereford
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / Library of Congress

Former U.S. Senator Frank Hereford died at Union in Monroe County on December 21, 1891, at age 66. The Virginia native had gone west in 1849, during the California Gold Rush, and practiced law in Sacramento. After the Civil War, he moved back east, settled in Union, and married Alice Caperton, who came from a prominent Monroe County family. 

Hereford, a Democrat, was a leader in the successful push to restore voting rights and other political privileges to West Virginia’s ex-Confederates. Shortly thereafter, he was elected to Congress.

December 19, 1907: Colonel Ruby Bradley Born

Dec 19, 2019
Ruby Bradley
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online

Ruby Bradley was born near Spencer on December 19, 1907. As a member of the Army Nurse Corps, she would become one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history.

Bradley’s ordeal also is one of the most incredible stories of World War II. Just hours after attacking Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japan bombed American defenses in the Philippines, where Bradley was stationed as an Army nurse.

About three weeks later, she was captured and imprisoned in an internment camp in Manila. Conditions in the camp were brutal and kept deteriorating as the war dragged on.

December 18, 1944: Bernard Bell Earns the Medal of Honor

Dec 18, 2019
Bernard Bell
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / United States Army

On December 18, 1944, during World War II, Bernard Bell captured more than 30 German prisoners, earning the Medal of Honor. 

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