by Scott Powell, 1925
Contributed by Linda Fluharty.
DISCONTENT Pages 99-105.
DISSATISFACTION developed in Northwestern Virginia at an early date and about 1830, citizens began to desire a separation from the Commonwealth of Virginia. It was, perhaps, because of the distance to the seat of government of the state and the inconvenience in getting to it; and the fact that all state institutions were east of the mountains. While this feeling ceased to be voiced, it did not cease to exist, and eventually resulted in a separation and a new state being made of the territory west of the Allegheny mountains with a few counties east of them, thirty-three years later.
A clipping from the "Wheeling Gazette," of November 10, 1830, gives a clear view of the situation and an idea of the feeling at that date:
At a numerous and respectable meeting of the citizens of Elizabethtown and its vicinity held on the 13th, inst. to take into consideration the propriety of petitioning the Legislature of Virginia to cede that portion of her jurisdiction comprised in a line due West from the South West corner of the State of Maryland to the Ohio river, including the territory North of said West line, to the State of Maryland-John Jefferson was called to the Chair and Walter Gray was appointed Secretary.
The following resolution was unanimously adopted.
Resolved, That the meeting approve the proceedings of our fellow citizens held at the Court House at Wheeling on the 1st, inst., relative to the proposed cession of a part of the territory of this State to Maryland, including all that portion of the territory North of a West line from the South West corner of said State to the Ohio river.
Resolved, That this meeting appoint a committee of five persons to ascertain by correspondence and otherwise, the feelings and disposition of the inhabitants included with the above described limits, relative to the proposed cessation.
Resolved, That this meeting appoint Messrs. John McCullock, Samuel Howard, Daniel Terrell, Timothy Mayhall, and James Green, as a committee to carry the above proceedings into effect.
Resolved, That the proceedings of this meeting be published in the Compiler and Gazette at Wheeling; the Wellsburg Gazette and the Clarksburg Enquirer.
Resolved, That this meeting adjourn to meet at this place the second Monday in January, 1831.
JOHN JEFFERSON, Chairman.
WALTER GRAY, Secretary.
The citizens in the lower part of Ohio County became dissatisfied with the county court of the county and of the location of the county seat, as it was far from being centrally located. There seems to have been general dissatisfaction, and it is probable that there was cause for it. Records show that in the selection of officials, either by election or appointment that official honors were not equally distributed. Of the residents of that part of the county now comprising Marshall County, two men were elected members of the General Assembly of the State.
William McMechen, the first settler in McMechen's Bottom, in which Benwood and McMechen now stand, was elected a member of the House of Delegates and attended the annual session of the General Assembly which convened January 30, 1788, and was elected to the same office and attended the session which convened at Richmond, October 17, 1791.
John Parriott, a resident of the Flats of Grave Creek was elected to the House of Delegates at an annual election held on the fourth Thursday of May, 1827, and was reelected to the same office on each of the following seven years, making eight years of successive service in the General Assembly.
Blair Moran, a resident of the lower part of the county was appointed sheriff of Ohio County in the early part of 1835, and by the act of separation of the county, was made sheriff of both counties for the official year for which he was appointed.
A memorial to the legislature of Virginia covers the ground and sets forth the several grievances of the citizens and of the unfair course pursued by the county court in regard to an effort to locate the seat of justice in a more central location. The result of the course taken by the county court resulted in an act of the General Assembly cutting off the tower part of the county and making a new county of the territory cut off and locating the county seat in a very convenient location for the new county.
THE memorial of the undersigned inhabitants of Ohio county respectfully represents. that on the 8th day of December, 1832, an act was passed for appointing commissioners to fix on a site for a court-house and other public buildings for said county and requiring the county court thereof, at their first term after said commissioners shall have determined on the spot, or as soon thereafter as practicable, to appoint commissioners to contract for the erection of said buildings, and to appropriate money for carrying the same into effect; that five commissioners chosen by the legislature in conformity with said act, met at Wheeling according to its provisions on the 15th day of May in 1833, and having proceeded thence to examine the county with a view to the object of their appointment, made choice of Elizabethtown and there laid out ground for said purpose; and the proprietors of the lots thus selected have since made a donation of and conveyed them to the justices of the county and their successors in office agreeable to the requirement of the aforesaid act. But the court (obviously under an improper bias for the wishes and interest of Wheeling) have pertinaciously refused or evaded a compliance with the law, in wholly omitting to make the required appropriation, and in choosing commissioners with the design that they should not - and unquestionable reasons to know they would not act. Thus has the authority of the legislature been set at defiance and a law of the state defeated by the magistrates of the county. And as if this manifest spirit of insubordination and total disregard of legislative injunctions were not sufficiently disrespectful, what was the astonishment of your memorialists, to find set up at the door of their court-house a notice that a petition or petitions would be presented to your honorable body at their present session, praying a repeal of the very law which had been violated (by the movers themselves probably of these petitions) and a revocation of the decision of the commissioners, with sundry other matters tending to evince that rather than submit to the arbitrement of disinterested men selected by the grand inquest of the state, the authors of these proceedings would sever the county and throw the administration of its internal concerns into disorder and confusion. They ask of the legi- timJite power of the commonwealth, not merely a silent approbation of their disobedience but a reward for their contumacy.
Of what use is arbitration, if the parties disputant are not bound by the judgment of the arbitrators? If the party dissatisfied, shall be at liberty to reject the award with impunity?
A reasonable hope was indulged that when this vexatious and long protracted strife about the location of the court house was brought to the test of impartial enquiry and decision of competent and disinterested judges, it would forever be laid at rest by the acquiescense of the parties. But this reasonable hope has been frustrated, and the citizens of the county again involved in all the bitterness of party collision by the determination of one side not to abide by the issue thus fairly obtained.
And what is the ground assumed for this virtual nullification of the law-this illegal resistance of the act of the commissioners which has again embroiled brethren of the same county in the evils of an acrimonious controversy for their local rights, of uncertain continuance, unless brought to a close by the intervention of your honorable body? Has any acknowledged principle of justice been infringed? any just claims of Wheeling sacrificed? or has the voice of the people been sported by the commissioners in the fulfillment of the trust confided to them? On this last point let the late election testify. It will not be questioned that the strength of the county was put Iforth on that occasion; or that the entire vote was concentrated upon the sole object of the removal of the seat of justice to the Flats of Grave Creek.
Every political feeling - every private prejudice was utterly merged in that single consideration. Yet what was the result of the animated contest, and by many hundred votes the largest ever taken in the county. Out of more than 1600 votes given, the parties came out strikingly near equality in numbers; and though the Wheeling candidate was returned by an extremely meagre majority, the investigation of contested votes which has been since instituted, the report of which will be laid before the house of delegates, will, memorialists confidently believe prove that even that majority was not merited.
In this trial, the three lower precincts, with trifling of one or two persons, gave a consolidated vote in favor of the location at Elizabethtown. The two upper precincts polled a respectable majority for the same interests, leaving the opposite side, in the whole county, exclusively of the Wheeling district, less than 140 votes. And even the extreme upper end, and most of the remote corners of the county, sanctioned by merely a moiety, the removal of the seat of justice to the place designated by the commissioners; thus evincing that distance is not the sole object to its continuance in Wheeling, and that the tenderness expressed by the latter for the hardships to which the people of that section would be subjected by having the courts established at Grave Creek, is altogether gratuitous and not felt by themselves.
Much dissatisfaction has arisen from the belief, prevalent in the country, that the internal economy of the county - the disbursement of its funds, and the distribution of improvements, the appointment and recommendation to office, etc. the town of Wheeling and the county court of Ohio are Soynonimous terms. And the unworthy intrigues which have been practiced by that body on special occasions, by convening early in the day, which the facility of collecting magistrates of the town enabled them to do; transacting the business designed and adjourning before the magistrates from the country can arrive, gave weight to the opinion, and strengthen the desire to separate their "local habitation".
That the citizens of Wheeling and its immediate vicinity should have felt themselves impelled, in this struggle to bring their whole force into the field, was naturally to be expected; and had they confined themselves to their legitimate resources, no complaint would have been heard. But when, besides intimidating persons dependent in their pecuniary circumstances on the monied aristocracy of the town, from voting agreeable to their sentiments, it was known that they unscrupulously introduced to the husting and received the votes if not of "foreign mercenaries" at least of men alien to the suffrage of the state, it was deemed by the opponents of a duty they owed to themselves, to justice and purity of elections to institute a scrutiny at the polls. Of the propriety of adopting this course your honorable body will be better able to judge when the matter shall have been fully sifted by that branch to which it has been appropriately committed.
It is alleged in favor of retaining the county seat at Wheeling that the main part of the judicial business originates in that town and in the northern section of the county. We are aware of no reason why the farmers of Short Creek should be more involved in law suits, or more inclined to litigation than their neighbors of the South; but if it be so, we must deem it a misfortune; and if this litigious disposition is encouraged by the proximity of the courts their removal would doubtless be a blessing. Nevertheless if the fact be as stated, we are not conscious of its resting on any natural or abiding cause; and in the fluctuations and vicissitudes of time, the reverse of the present may be the posture of affairs at no very remote period. And this will appear more probable from a view of the comparatively stationary population of the North and the rapid increase of the southern portion, especially since the confidence given to land titles by the late law passed for that purpose. And even this growing settlement of the lower end, would no doubt be still accelerated were a few monopolizing landholders of the North to remove the barriers by opening their immense tracts to the purchase of actual settlers at fair prices. However, the best evidence of public feeling on this disputed subject is the sense of the people, and that has been recently expressed at the election.
Elizabethtown, seated on the elegant extensive Flats of Grave Creek, with a population of about 800, commanding from the higher parts a handsome view of the Ohio river and extending along its margin, surrounded by a fertile hill country capable of sustaining a dense population and ready to pour in its abundant products by the numerous avenues which descend along the converging ridges, etc. to beauty adding salubrity of situation, is a flourishing and rapidly increasing town and bids fair at no remote period to be a place of commercial and domestic enterprise.
The judicial business of town and country conjoined is even now unwieldly. The accumulation of suits on the docket has already become too burdensome for continuance. The sessions are protracted from six to eight weeks, and suitors and witnesses from a distance are sometimes detained on expenses ten or twelve days before they can get a hearing. This state of things imperiously demands alteration and renders at no distant period a separation of the legal business of the town and country indispensable and inevitable. Wheeling then must have her borough courts whether the other be removed or not. Yet has she employed her ingenuity and illegal power for retaining within her borders in the face of a plain statute the courts of the county, notwithstanding more than four-fifths of the territory lies south of the town, and an equal proportion of the qualified voters of the county have declared in favor of the selected site selected by the commissioners. Should Wheeling succeed against law and these evidences of equity and popular will, the southern part of the county will be left void of redress. And the people, who have long felt and complained of the grievance under which they labored from the unequal distance of the judiciary of the county and who, confiding in the stability of their legislature, thought themselves on the point of relief, would have the mortification to find themselves thrust back upon the evils from which they fondly believed they had emerged, and doomed to endure them in hopeless perpetuity.
To the sum of these wrongs (could their occurrence be supposed to lie within the sphere of probability) must be added the flagrant injury and injustice which would be inflicted on those individuals who, trusting to the good faith of the legislation of the state. have made investments in real estate at enhanced prices in the vicinity of the contemplated courthouse, some of whom have perhaps expended nearly their all in those purchases aIld improvements and who, should they be disappointed in their expectations must consequently sink. But we will not harbor a sentiment so abhorrent to our feelings or derogatory to the character of the representatives of the "Ancient Dominion."
The location which shall now be established will be permanent and forbids the idea of future change to accommodate itself, at successive intervals to the varying circumstances of the people, and consequently ought to be prospective in its view.
Your memorialists owe perhaps an apology to your honorable body for the length of this communication. But they wish to present a comprehensive view of the subject the better to enable you to judge of the merits of their case.
And now, relying with perfect confidence on the justice and rectitude of the high tribunal to which they appeal, your memorialists most respectfully solicit your honorable body to take such measures as in your judgement shall seem meet to vindicate the sanctity of your laws against the infraction of bold invaders and carry into effect the act passed on the 8th day of December, 1832 for the appointment of commissioners to fix on a site for the court-house of the county.