One hundred and fifty years ago was October 2nd, 1871. Ulysses S. Grant was president, John J. Jacob of Romney was governor, and Frank Hereford of Monroe County was serving our district in Congress. Earlier this year, Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, essentially designating that group a terrorist organization and making their actions federal crimes. Later this week, the Great Chicago Fire will leave 100,000 people homeless, and toward the end of the month, Boss Tweed will be arrested for bribery in New York City.
A years’ subscription to Editor Tippett’s Weekly Register was $2, a six-ounce bottle of Laudanum (a painkiller derived from opium) was 6¢, corn is about 50¢ a bushel, and a semester’s tuition plus a boarding room at Bethany College was only $90. Having recently paid about $8,000/semester for tuition, I must admit I’m slightly jealous!
Among those advertising in the Register were the noted attorneys ex-Lieutenant Governor and Congressman Daniel Polsley, Secession Convention delegate James Henry Couch, Jr., and Judge John W. English; Drs. C.T.B. Moore and infamous ex-Confederate Andrew Barbee; the Kline House and Selbe House, both hotels near the 4th Street steamboat landing; and several dry goods stores, including those of Thomas Hale, C.H. McCormick, and the old firm of Setzer, Sehon, & McCullough. Point Pleasant was certainly hopping in 1870, well on its way toward Editor Tippett declaring in 1872 that the “curse of Cornstalk… is fading away,” and it’s clear that the rest of the county was booming as well.
For news, it was a slow week. The Ohio River was reportedly so low, an empty flat boat could not get from Parkersburg to Point Pleasant, and the Active, a steamboat on that route, had to enter the Charleston to Gallipolis trade. George Lewis fell from the second story of the Barrel Factory and was severely injured, though as the Register noted, “it was a wonder he was not killed.” D.W. Polsley was heading to New Orleans on business, and Mr. Morrow of the Fairmont Liberalist had announced his retirement.
The only major items of any note were on the upcoming Constitutional Convention, called be the recently elected ex-Confederates (former Confederates were pardoned and restored of their right to vote under Presidents Johnson and Grant) who wished to revise the West Virginia Constitution in their favor. Among the items on their wish list were the end of the public school system, reverting from the township governments back to county government, the disenfranchisement of African-Americans, and a weaker Legislature/stronger Executive branch.
A People’s Meeting, chaired by former congressman Kellian V.R. Whaley, was called in opposition to these changes, and based on the reporting, seems to have had widespread support in Mason County. They called for the 1863 Constitution to stand, and if changed, to be submitted to the public for approval instead of being approved by a small convention. These resolutions were signed by Whaley, former delegate Lewis Bumgarner, Hartford founder and mayor George Moredock, lawyer Frank Sisson, and several dozen others.
In the end though, this meeting stood for little. The ex-Confederates in the Legislature forced their call for a Constitutional Convention, helped elect mostly sympathetic convention delegates, and ensured that the majority of their wishes were included in the 1872 West Virginia Constitution. The township-style governments were abolished in favor of the old Virginia system of county government, the state judicial system was restructured, the Legislature was returned to a limited biennial term, and the terms of the Executive offices were lengthened. Fearing reprisals from Northern coal and railroad investors, the public school system and African-American voting rights were maintained, but determined to get their way, this constitution enshrined segregation into West Virginia law, where it remained until struck down in the 1960s.
Another episode in the history of Mason County.
Information from the Weekly Register and WV Encyclopedia.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical & Preservation Society and director of Main Street Point Pleasant, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.