History of Ritchie County

The following is taken from the book "History of Ritchie County" written by
Minnie Kendall Lowther, and published in 1910.
Transcribers are Janet Waite, Earl Cowan, Erin Stewart and Bonnie Ryan.

Chapter XXXIV
Ritchie County Formed

Transcribed by Bonnie Ryan

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Ritchie County Formed

Ritchie county was formed in 1843, from portions of Wood, Lewis and Harrison counties, and was named in honor of Thomas Ritchie, a journalist, who for many years edited "The Richmond Enquirer," and later the "The Washington Record."

This county covers an area of four hundred fifty-seven square miles, and is bounded on the north by Pleasants and Tyler; on the east by Doddridge, on the south by Gilmer, Calhoun and Wirt; and on the west by Wirt and Wood. It is divided into four districts, Grant, Union, Clay and Murphy. The North and the South branches of Hughes river are its principal streams; and its highest* elevation of land (1380 feet) is in the north-eastern corner of the county near Stranley, and King Knob two miles southwest of Pullman is the second highest point, it being 1367 feet. Its population, according to the first census after its organization, was three thousand eight hundred fifty-six, it now numbers near twenty thousand.

The first court convened, on April 4, 1843, at the residence of John Harris, near the late residence of John P. Harris, and was composed of Daniel Haymond, Daniel Ayres, William R. Lowther, Alexander Lowther, senior, and James Malone, junior, justices of the peace, each holding a commission from the Governor. The first three had, for many years been justices in Wood county, and the last two, in Harrison and Lewis counties.

The following named officers were chosen by this court: William R. Lowther, clerk of the county court; Thomas

*King Knob, near Washburn, has always been regarded the highest point of land in the county, but this information comes from the late U. S. Geological report.

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Stinchcombe, clerk of the Circuit court; Hon. J. J. Jackson, of Parkersburg, Attorney for the Commonwealth (a position which he held until his death in 1850, when he was succeeded by J. B. Blair, a Harrisville barrister) Archibald Wilson, County surveyor; Austin Berkeley, Sheriff, with his brother, Granville, deputy. . They (the Berkeleys) served one term, and from the expiration of this term until the adoption of the Constitution in 1851, this office was given to the oldest justice of the peace.

Then after Mr. Berkeley, came Benjamin Webb (as sheriff from 1845-48) with James McKinney as deputy for the first two years, and James and John P. Harris, for the last year. John Harris was the next in line (1848-9) with James and John P. Harris deputies. Noah Rexroad then filled the office until the new Constitution (1851) made all the offices elective by the people, and he was the first sheriff chosen under this new provision. Then came William M. Patton, James Taylor, Benjamin Wells, Eli and John Heaton, B. F. Mitchell, John B. Hallam, D. F. Haymond, John B. Hallam (again) Job Musgrave, M. H. Tarleton, D. B. Patton, B. F. Hill, Okey E. Nutter, and John Hulderman, the present incumbent.

Henry Collins was the first clerk of the Circuit court chosen by the people, in 1851, and William M. Patton was his deputy. This office has since been filled by Amos Culp, W. H. Douglass, Will A. Strickler, John H. Lininger, and H. E. McGinnis.

James McKinney was the first clerk of the County court under the new Constitution (1851-8), and William M. Patton was his successor (1858-62). He (Mr. Patton) was also made clerk of the records. He was followed by Josiah M. Wood; and then came the late George W. Amos who filled this office from 1871 until 1896, when W. R. Meservie, the present clerk, took his place.

Cyrus Hall was the first prosecuting attorney chosen by the popular vote (1851-61); and F. P. Peirpoint was his successor. The office since that time, has been filled by E. G. Day, Robert Kercheval, John A. Hutchinson, C. F. Scott, R. S. Blair, senior, T. E. Davis, Henderson Peck, R. H. Freer,

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H. B. Wood, and S. M. Hoff. The last four named gentlemen still survive.

John Douglass was the first County surveyor elected by the people; and among others who have filled this office since that time are: Fred Douglass, Alexander Lowther, junior, H. N. Wilson, Wm. Bennett Hayden, A. A.. Clayton, and John W. Cain.

Benjamin Webb, Robert Tibbs, Richard Wanless, John Haris, Jacob Hatfield, Isaac Lambert, Peter Reed, and William R. Lowther were the first justices to be elected by the vote of the people, Mr. Wanless being the presiding officer. The justices continued to form the Court until the Constitution of the "Little Mountain state" went into effect in 1863. Then a Board of Supervisors became the law-making body of the county.

Henry B. Collins, Jacob Hatfield, and Christopher N. Nutter comprised the first Board of Supervisors. Among others, who served in this capacity were: Benjamin Wells, Solomon Stull, Phillip Reitz, A. C. Garnard, Richard Wanless, senior, Andrew Law, James Moyer, John McGinnis, J. P. Strickler, John Sommerville, J. H. Haddox, George Corbin, and H. N. Wilson.

In 1872, our State Constitution underwent a change and since that time, the members of this court have been called commissioners. Among those who have served as commissioners are: P. S. Austin, M. A. Ayres, Dr. M. S. Hall, S. R. Dawson, A. C. Barnard, J. R. Brake, Alexander Prunty, Samuel Hatfield, W. G. Lowther, Benjamin McGinnis, S. J. Taylor, B. F. Marshall, E. N. Summers, L. D. Bartlett, W. A. Flesher, J. M. Brown, C. W. Nutter, I. M. Jackson, and Jacob T. Reeves.

Among those who have filled the office of assessor, we find the names of, J. B. Collins, Eli Riddel, Nathaniel Parks, James H. Harris, Alexander Lowther, junior, J. W.Troy, James W. Shroyer, Benjamin McGinnis, W. G. Lowther, M. A. Ayres, Alexander Prunty, Samuel Hatfield, George Crummett, John O. Lynch, H. Kibbee, Ellet Woofter, C. S. Jackson, G. M. Britton, H. C. Buzzard, and G. M. Britton, who

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is now the only one in the county, under a new provision of the law, there having been two heretofore.

The following named gentlemen represented this county in the Legislature at Richmond, when this state was a part of the "Old Dominion:" James Malone, Jacob Prunty, William L. Jackson, Henry B., and John Collins.

Cyrus Hall was a member of the Richmond Convention that passed on the ordinance of secession, which finally resulted in Virginia becoming a part of the Southern Confederacy.

Archibald Wilson represented Ritchie county in the Convention that framed the first Constitution for the State of West Virginia, in December 1861; and J. P. Strickler was a member of the body that gave us our present State Constitution. Other citizens of this county, who have occupied seats in our State Legislative halls are: (Senators) Daniel Haymond, David McGregor, P. W. Morris, and Samuel Hatfield: (House of Delegates) Eli Riddel, S. R. Dawson, A. S. Core, Noah Rexroad, Gen. T. M.Harris, James Taylor, E. J. Taylor, J. B. Crumrine, Felix Prunty, G. W. Miller, J. M. McKinney, T. E. Davis, J. C. Gluck, P. W. Morris, R. H. Freer, Benjamin McGinnis, C. L. Zinn, Job Musgrave, E. C. Goff, M. M Luzader, W. A. Flesher, M. K. Duty, and Sherman Robinson; and J. C. Lacy and Newton Law are the newly elected ones.

S. R. Dawson was a member of the Legislature when the first "Free School Law" was enacted, and was prominently identified with its formation.

Only three citizens of the county, R. H. Freer, M. H. Willis, and H. B. Woods, have been honored with the Judgeship; and Mr. Freer is the only one that has occupied a seat in the Congressional Halls of the United States.

In 1863, an act, providing for the sub-division of the different counties of the state into townships, was passed: and the following named gentlemen were appointed to do this work in Ritchie county: Province Murphy, John P. Harris, and Jacob Hatfield. Archibald Wilson played the part of surveyor, and thus Grant, Clay, Union and Murphy were formed. By the requirements of the second Constitution,

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(1872) these divisions were retained, but the name township was changed to that of magisterial district.

Union was named in honor of the "Union cause," which was at that time so dear to many hearts. The name was suggested by Q. Manly Zinn, late father of C. L. Zinn, of Auburn. The first settlement in this district was made at Harrisville in 1803.

Clay, the most northern district, was named by Archibald Wilson, in honor of Henry Clay. Its first settlement was at Pennsboro in 1800.

Murphy took its name from the Murphy Brothers, early settlers in the Smithville vicinity, in 1801. Its first settler was William Layfield, near Smithville in 1800.

Grant was first settled near Cairo at a date unknown, and in honor of General Grant, it was named.

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Down to the year 1830 the country developed slowly. Some of the earlier pioneers, becoming discouraged with the toils and privations of this wilderness-live, had sought homes elsewhere, principally north of the Ohio river, and the country was still very sparsely settled.

One great aid to progress and immigration, was brought about in 1832, when the General Assembly, at Richmond, passed an act providing for the satisfactory adjustment of land titles, and for the sale of delinquent and forfeited lands.

Up to this time wood-lands had ranged in price from twenty-five to fifty cents and acre; but under this law large tracts were sold, as delinquent, for taxes, and were forfeited to the State at prices ranging from seven to fifteen cents an acre.

The construction of the North-western turn-pike from Winchester to Parkersburg, between the yeas 1830-40, was a most important factor in behalf of immigration; and this period was one of remarkable progress, the people now having commercial advantages and other intercourse with the out-side world.

The construction of the Staunton and Parkersburg turn-pike between 1840 and '50, was another valuable aid to advancement in the Southern part of the country. But the greatest incentive to immigration and development was the completion of the North-western Virginia railroad (now the Parkersburg branch of the B.& O.) in 1858. This road gave rise to the towns of Tollgate, Pennsboro, Ellenboro, Cornwallis, Cairo, and Petroleum as railroad stations.

Road-making in pioneer days was an arduous and imperative

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task, as all able-bodied men, between the ages of sixteen and sixty years, were required to work upon the public high-way under the supervision of an over-seer; and this system was continued until 1872-3 when the Legislature formulated two systems, and, leaving a choice to the vote of the people, the present one was adopted by this county-to sell out the contract to the lowest and best bidder. But they are now principally kept in order by a road-machine which is manipulated under the superintendence of a road- surveyor.

The Legislature of 1909 provided for a road-engineer, and V.W. Kittle was the first to be appointed to this new office, he being selected by the County court at the June term in 1909. But he resigned in March, 1910, and John Pew of Cairo became his successor.

The first road through what is now Murphy district, which was known as the old "State road", was made in 1832, by Abraham Springston (late father of Mrs. T.M.Goff, of Harrisville), who was at that time a single man, and a resident of Glenville.

The country was so thinly settled that he and his men were compelled to camp out during the construction of this road. Their first camp was at the head of Spruce creek where L.S. Goff now lives, and it was made of poles and bark; and another, was under a shelving-rock near the present hamlet of Hazelgreen.

Mr. Springston's sister, Joanna, (later Mrs. George F.Bush) then a girl of twelve years, camped with him and did his cooking.

Bridges.--The bridge across the river at Smithville, and the one at the forks of Hughes river are said to be the pioneer bridges of the county. They were built, some time during the forties, by the company that constructed the Staunton turn-pike, and a man by the name of Foutty was the contractor; but the one at Smithville was swept away by the flood in 1852, being replaced by the old structure, which recently gave place to a new iron bridge. There are now not fewer than thirty-five bridges in the county, and their average value is from four to five thousand dollars.

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The County Infirmary was instituted near the year 1858. The farm that is now the estate of the late Edward Lough was purchased for this purpose, and John Starr, senior, was the first superintendent. This farm was sold a number of years later, and for a time the contract, for caring for these unfortunates, was given to some responsible individual. Enoch B.Leggett was among the number that cared for them under this provision. But near the year 1874, the James Drake estate on Indian creek (just the widow's thirds) was purchased for this purpose, and this has since been the home for the County infirm. Perhaps, near the year 1904, the Asbury Zickafoose homestead (of some seventy acres) was purchased and added to the original farm, and since that time the Zickafoose residence, which has been enlarged and remodeled, has been the home of the County family, the old home being torn down. This farm now contains two-hundred fifty acres, and is valued at ten thousand dollars,or near it.

Tobacco Industry.--Not far from the time of the close of the Civil war, and for a number of years after, the tobacco industry was a profitable one in the Northern part of the county, especially. Large tobacco houses sprang up in different sections, and this was the principal staple of product: and not a few of the citizens date their financial success, in

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after life, to this beginning. But an exorbitant tax was imposed upon this product, which put an end to its profit; as this tax did not permit its manufacture in any form, and did not even allow it to be twisted, but compelled it to be sold in "the hand." However, this industry continued into the eighties to some extent, though the manufacture had been prohibited.

The Springstons.-This chapter would not be complete without a few lines, at least, in regard to the ancestry and identity of the pioneer road-builder of Murphy district "Abraham Springston."

The Springstons are of German origin, and of hardy pioneer stock.

Jacob Springston and his wife, Elizabeth Lambert Springston, came from the Fatherland in Colonial times, but the date and the place of their settlement is unknown; but they evidently lived in what is now Tucker county at some time, and here, possibly, they died.

Jacob Springston, junior, their son, however, was born on August 4, 1772, and in April, 1807, he was married to Miss Luda Goff, daughter of John T. and Monacah Cerrico Goff, who was born in April 1784. The marriage took place in Tucker county, where they resided until near the year 1826, when they migrated to Gilmer county, and settled on the farm that is now designated as the "Dr. Egan farm" near Glenville. Here Mrs. Springston died in 1835, and he in 1841. Both rest in the Woodford burying-ground at the mouth of Leading creek.

Mr. Springston was the first member of the old Leading creek Baptist church class that was ordained as minister. He and his venerable wife were the parents of nine children, whose descendants are now a mighty host in this and different other counties of this state, as well as other states; viz, Lydia, Abraham, John, Rebecca, Joseph, James, Joanna, William, and George G. Springston.

Lydia Springston (born on July 19, 1808) was the late Mrs. David Fisher of Lewis county.

Abraham Springston, who distinguished himself in pioneer road-maker in this county, was born in Tucker county on February 7, 1810, and with his parents removed to Gilmer

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county in his youth. In January 1836, he was married to Miss Effie Goff, daughter of Hiram, and granddaughter of Salathiel, who was born on August 18, 1811, and the first years of their married life were spent on the Dr. Eagen farm, near Glenville-at the old Springston homestead. From here, in 1842, they removed to Roane county and settled on Little creek near four miles north of Spencer. Here on March 9, 1852, Mrs. Springston died, and some time afterwards, Mr. Springston married Miss Jane Wilson, of Lewis county; and near 1859, they removed to Richardsonville in Calhoun county, where death again deprived his of his companion, in June 1885. After laying his second wife away (at Richardsonville), he went to Gilmer county and made his home with his sister, Mrs. Joanna Bush, until his death, on June 10, 1893, and at the Union church on Sinking creek he lies at rest. His first wife sleeps on the old homestead in Roane county.

He and his first wife were the parents of the following named children: J.H., of Wirt county; the late Chapman, of Gilmer, and the late James, of Texas; Calhoun has also passed on; and George D. lives at Middleport, Ohio; Luda is Mrs. Greathouse, and Margaret was the late Mrs. Andrew J. Showen, both of Roane county; Mary L. is Mrs. Washington Shaffer, of Calhoun county; Sarah, Mrs. T.M. Goff of Harrisville; and Byrd, the only daughter of the second marriage, is Mrs. Wright, of Calhoun county.

Joanna Springston, the little sister that played the part of cook during the first road-making in Murphy district, grew to womanhood and married George F. Bush of Gilmer county. She was born on February 21, 1820, and died at her home on Sinking creek in 1904, leaving numerous descendants to "call her blessed."

She was the mother of eight children which are as follows: the Rev. Asa Bush, of the Baptist church of Iowa; Thurmander, of Gilmer, are the sons; Mary the late wife of the Rev. L.S. Vannoy of Harrisville, was the eldest Daughter; Alice is the wife of M.B. Zinn, of Holbrook; Tensa

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is the wife of Dr. A.J. Woofter, of Weston; Rebecca is Mrs. Homer Woofter, of Sinking creek.

Ira B. Bush, who is making a name for himself among the young educators of the State, and who is now Superintendent of the Parkersburg schools, is a grandson of this venerable woman.

Rebecca Springston (sister of Joanna) married John Hall and spent her life on Horn creek, only a short distance from Auburn, and her family are well-known in this county.

Jacob Hall, who met a tragic death in Monroe county; William, Henry, and Columbus, of Gilmer, were her sons; and Mary Jane, late wife of Charles Cooper, of Auburn (mother of Victor Cooper, and Mrs. Homer Adams, of Harrisville); Lydia Marcella, wife of Samuel Bush, of Wood county; Margaret Joanna, who is Mrs. Woodford of Colorado and Eriga, Mrs. Alfred Bush of Lynn. Gilmer county (mother of O.G. Bush, of Smithville) are the daughters.

Joseph Springston (brother of Joanna and Abraham), who was born on November 26,1817, married Miss Elizabeth Shoven, and settled in Jackson county, where he died in 1853. He was the father of six children; viz.,Virginia (Mrs. Ambrose Athens, Jackson county), Clarrissa (Mrs. Marshall Osbourn, Cleveland, Ohio), Joanna (Mrs. W.S. Goff, Glenville), Sarah (Mrs. A.J. Rymer, Connings) Lydia (Mrs. T.E. Gillispie, West Union), and Charles who died in infancy.

John Springston (another brother) remained in Gilmer county where he reared a family.

James Springston married a Miss Riddel and died in Roane county, leaving no issue.

William Springston also lived and died in Roane county, leaving a large family, as did his brother George G. Springston.

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Dr. John Creel, of Parkersburg was the first practicing physician in the county. In the year 1818, he, assisted by Dr. Jett, who was also of Parkersburg, performed the first surgical operation by amputating the arm of Sallie Stuart, daughter of William Stuart, senior, of the South fork, who had had her arm crushed by a falling branch of a tree during a storm, which had overtaken her while on her way to a neighboring house.

Dr. Morgan was the first resident physician. He came from Connecticut in 1836, and took up his residence at Harrisville, but finding little demand for his services in this healthful, thinly settled region, he only remained a few months.

General Thomas Maley Harris was the second physician in 1843. General Harris needs no introduction to the people of Ritchie county, since there is, perhaps, scarcely a man, woman or child within its boundary that are not familiar with the name of this late distinguished citizen, whose long and useful career belongs not only to local history, but to State and National as well.

In the "rede log cabin days" when this section of the "Little Mountain State" was one vast wilderness, "dotted here and there with a hunter's cabin and a patch of corn," he was born-not far from the present site of the Lorama depot, at Harrisville-on June 13, 1813.

He came of the union of two prominent pioneer families of this county, being the eldest son of John and Agnes Maley Harris, and one of a family of seven children.

At the time he stepped upon the stage, educational advantages were in their swaddling clothes, and his enviroments

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promised but little in the way of a career, but he improved his every opportunity, and at an early age joined the ranks of the teacher. His first experience was in the schools of this wilderness, but he later taught in Clarke and Greene counties, Ohio, and while there became interested in the science of medicine.

In October 1842, while engaged as first assistant of the Parkersburg Seminary, he led the principal of the female department of this institution, in the person of Miss Sophia Hall, sister of Dr. M.S. Hall, to the altar as his bride, and during the following winter, attended medical lectures at Louisville, Kentucky; but returned home in the spring and began the practice of his profession in his native town.

In 1856, he removed to Glenville, where he was established when the bugle-notes of the great Rebellion called men to action; he brought his family back to Harrisville, and recruited and organized the 10th West Virginia Regiment Volunteers, and entered the army as Lieutenant Colonel; and in May, 1862, was commissioned Colonel. During the years of 1862 and '63, his service was in West Virginia, he being in command of the posts at Buckhannon and Beverly; and while stationed at Beverly, on July 2, 1863, his regiment of seven hundred fifty men was attacked by a Confederate force of two thousand two hundred strong under the command of Col. William L. Jackson.* And though this was the first time that Col. Harris' regiment (in a body) had met the enemy, they succeeded in holding them at bay for two days, notwithstanding their superiority in number, until re-enforcements arrived, and helped to put Col. Jackson and his host to flight.

In June, 1864, General Harris was transferred to the valley of Virginia and with his command became incorporated in the Army of West Virginia under General Crooks, and had part in the various engagements in the valley during the summer and autumn. At Winchester he had command of five regiments, and at Cedar creek, on October 19th, when Col.

*Col. Jackson had been an old acquaintance of General Harris, he having resided at Harrisville in the ante-bellum days, where he figured prominently as a lawyer and filled the office of judge as early as 1848. He (Col. Jackson) was the step-son of Thomas Stinchcomb, the first clerk of the Circuit court in this county. He was a native of Lewis county, and a cousin of "Stonewall" Jackson, and in order to distinguish him from his eminent cousin, he was called "Mudwall."

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Joseph Thoburn fell mortally wounded, he came into command of the First Division of the Army of West Virginia on the field, the Division flag having fallen to him as the next ranking officer; and for gallantry on this occasion, he was brevetted Brigadier-General. During this same year, at the close of the Shenandoah valley campaign, a new division was formed, and he was placed in command with orders to report to General Grant at City Point; and in March 1865, when this division was reviewed by Secretary Stanton, he (the Secretary) remarked that General Harris' promotion had been urged by Generals Grant and Ord, but that there was no vacancy. However, turning to General Harris, he said, "You stay here with your command. I will go home and make a vacancy. I will muster out some fellow that we can spare." a few days later while enroute to Petersburg, General Harris received the commission of Brigadier-General, and three days after, broke the Confederate lines around Petersburg, and with his brigade took Fort Whitworth, one of the outer-posts of the city. And for this act of bravery, he was brevetted Major-General.

At Appomattox, by a forced march, his division was thrown between General Lee's army and Lynchburg, and when it became evident that General Gordon was trying to slip out of the surrender with his command, it was General Harris' division that compelled him to abandon the idea; and when he had finally succeeded in silencing the guns of this command, hostilities in Virginia were at an end, as this was the last firing done in the "Old Dominion."

In recognition of his service on the field, Secretary Stanton proffered him the Lieutenant- Colonelcy of the Thirty-seventh Regulars, but owing to his advanced age he declined the honor.

,P>At the close of the Rebellion when an assassin's bullet had laid the form of our beloved President low, and had turned a Nation's rejoicing into one of mourning and of sorrow, General Harris was again called into service (in May '65) as a member of the Military Commission that tried the conspirators of this dark tragedy, and upon this ever interesting trial, he wrote a book entitled the "History of the Great Conspiracy,"

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which attracted wide attention and added new laurels to his brow in the eventide of his life (The date of this production was 1892).

He was the last survivor of this distinguished military body, among which were numbered the late Generals David Hunter, and Lew Wallace, whose "Ben Hur" has found a welcome among the lovers of literature in every civilized land.

His military duties being at an end, he returned to his native town and resumed the practice of his medical profession, which was destined to be again interruped, in 1867, by his election to the House of Delegates, and by his appointment to the office of Adjutant-General of the State under Governor Stephenson, in 1869. He also served as United States Pension Agent at Wheeling from 1871 to '75, (having been commissioned by President Grant) but this agency being abolished, he once again returned to Harrisville and continued the practice of his profession until 1885 when he retired to private life. Here, in his old "mansion house," only a few hundred yards from the spot where he first "saw the light" the evening hours of his long life were spent. The loving devotion of his second wife, who was his cousin, Miss Clara Maley, of Iowa, was the staff and comfort of his declining years. His old age was characterized by that peaceful serenity which comes from the consciousness of a well spent

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life, and the sunset scene was one of tranquillity and perfect peace. It was the hour of noon, on Sunday, September 30, 1906, when the last ray vanished, when the announcement came from the silent chamber that the struggle was o'er; that Ritchie county's most distinguished son had passed. "He died rich in the love and esteem of all who knew him," and not a few demonsstrations of respect were in evidence at his funeral. Beneath the shadow of the beautiful old town that gave him birth, beside the companion of his youth who was laid there in 1885, he lies at rest.

The one cherished hope of his last hours was that a County High school, bearing his name and perpetuating his memory, might be established at Harrisville. He had given the grounds for this purpose, and the Legislature had passed favorably upon the measure, but this proved to be one of the unrealized hopes, as the movement was defeated at the November election, a little more than a month after his death.

He was the father of four children; viz., Agnes died in infancy. Mary Virginia, in early womanhood; Martha was the late wife of the Rev. J.R. Johnson, of Washington, Pennsylvania; and John T. Harris, the well-known Court stenographer of Parkersburg, is the only son.

Dr. Moses S. Hall was another early physician here. He was a native of the old Bay State, having been born near Hawley, on March 1, 1824, of Irish-Protestant parentage. His

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ancestors came from Ireland shortly after, the American Revolution, and settled at Cape Cod. Some of them took an active interest in Colonial or State affairs, they being ever loyal to the land of their adoption. The true, undaunted, spirit of patriotism that ch