Allen discusses important figures in W.Va. history

PARKERSBURG – Thursday night, Bernard Allen spoke about some of the events and people who have shaped West Virginia since the Civil War.

West Virginia University at Parkersburg began its speakers series in its celebration of the sesquicentennial of West Virginia with a presentation by Allen, professor of history and philosophy emeritus.

Allen, who is teaching at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., said he spent part of Thursday with students at Edison Middle School. Allen said he left impressed by the students.

“I was impressed by the enthusiasm of these eighth-grade students for West Virginia history,” he said. “Of the eight winners of the Golden Horseshoe in Wood County, four were from that school.”

As a student, Allen said, he tried to win the Golden Horseshoe but did not make it; four others in his school were better students in history.

“It may have been the biggest disappointment in my life but it did not stop my interest in West Virginia’s history, birth and development and beyond,” he said.

Allen asked what connection there was between the area that became West Virginia and South Carolina. He said if South Carolina forces had not fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, Virginia might not have seceded from the union and the people of the northwestern part of the state might not have broken away from Virginia.

South Carolina voted to secede from the union on Dec. 20, 1863, and five days after the attack on Fort Sumter, Virginia followed South Carolina in leaving the union.

“Seventy people met in Clarksburg on April 22, to talk about what to do,” Allen said. “In the debates some called for immediate independence.”

Allen said it was pointed out the U.S. Constitution stated the only way a state could be created from another was with the state’s permission.

Francis Pierpont of Fairmont, the Father of West Virginia, was appointed governor of the Reorganized Government of Virginia, Allen noted.

“Then they decided they would seek approval from the federal government to allow them to proceed as the legitimate government,” he said.

One of West Virginia’s first congressmen, Jackson Beeson Blair of Wood County, met with Abraham Lincoln on Dec. 31, 1862 and on New Year’s Day 1863, Lincoln informed Blair he had decided to support the creation of West Virginia.

“He told Blair while he supported statehood, approval was needed from Congress,” he said.

Allen said the election of the state’s first governor took place in Parkersburg.

“Two hundred or so people gathered in downtown Parkersburg for a convention to decide who was going to be the new governor,” he said. “Two candidates from Parkersburg competed against one another for that nomination.”

Arthur I. Boreman won and his opponent was Peter G. Van Winkle, also from Parkersburg.

In the first meeting of the West Virginia Legislature, William E. Stevenson of Wood County was elected president of the state Senate, Van Winkle and Waitman T. Willey of Monongalia County were elected as the first U.S. senators, and Jacob Beeson Blair of Wood County, William G. Brown of Preston County and K.V. Whaley of Cabell County are elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Allen said Van Winkle’s place in history is tied to the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1868. He said the vote in the Senate fell short by one vote to remove Johnson.

“The vote was taken by roll and Van Winkle was near the end,” he said. “Many people back in Parkersburg and northwestern West Virginia thought he should have voted to remove. Boreman was a radical Republican and Blair was a radical Republican and they wanted Johnson removed but Van Winkle said no.”

Allen said the first governor, Arthur Boreman, called for the creation of a free, public education system in the state.

“Parkersburg High School, established in 1867, was among the first high schools and later they created the Agriculture College of West Virginia and normal schools for training teachers,” he said. “On Dec. 4, 1868, the name of the agriculture college was changed to West Virginia University.”

The first high school graduation in the new state took place at Parkersburg High School on June 22, 1874, Allen said. The three graduates were Mary E. Harris, Sue Crichton and Anna Hatcher.