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A History of The Middle
New River Settlements
and Contiguous Territory.

By David E. Johnston (1906).

  
 

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Chapter VI.  1837 - 1861  (Part 2)

 

One Samuel Waldron, who lived about 1 1/2 miles southeast of where the city of Bluefield is now located, but who under the law was not a voter, was present at the election at Princeton and expressed to Captain Pearis his desire to vote, and inquired of Captain Pearis whether he, Waldron, was a legal voter.  Being informed by Pearis that he did not think he was, but that if he would vote for Pendleton he thought he could arrange the matter for him.  Out of the three commissioners conducting  the election, two of them were Whigs and known friends of French.  Captain Pearis told Waldron to go in and offer his vote, and that when his name was called he, Pearis, would suddenly appear at the Court House door and challenge his vote, and that he had no doubt that the commissioners would promptly decide that he was a legal voter.  Waldron appeared before the commissioners and expressed his desire to vote, and the Crier called out "Samuel Waldron, who do you vote for?"  Before he could answer Captain Pearis appeared at the door and shouted at the top of his voice, "I challenge that vote, that man is not a voter."  From these circumstances French's friends concluded that Waldron wanted to vote for him, and they promptly decided that he was a qualified voter, and being again inquired of as for whom he wished to vote, he replied, "Pendleton," much to the chagrin and disappointment of French and his friends.    Another incident occurring at this same election is worth telling as Mr. Pendleton was the butt of the joke this time.  Mr. Pendleton very early on the morning of election day on his way to Pipestem voting place, went several miles out of his way to see Mr. John Comer, who lived on Christian's Ridge and after a talk with Comer, was led to believe  that he was a friend and would vote for him, so he took him up on his horse behind him and rode to the polling place about ten miles away, and when Comer's name was called by the Crier at the polls, Comer shouted "French."


A few years after this Cornelius White was elected to the House of Delegates from the Counties of Mercer and Giles.  Mr. White was a plain farmer, without much education, but a man of good native sense.  After reaching Richmond and entering the House,    he introduced a bill of some local nature, touching some local matters connected with roads, and seemed to have taken no further interest in the bill until within a day or two of the close of the session, when he inquired of some friend if he knew anything of his bill and being answered in the negative, Mr. White inquired what he should do about it; his friend told him to call up the bill and ask for unanimous consent to put the bill on its passage.  The next morning at the opening of the session.,   Mr. White addressed the Speaker telling him about the bill and how anxious he was to have it pass and then said "Mr. Speaker, if you will take up that bill and have it passed I promise you that I will show you the frog of my foot to-morrow morning."

In the year of 1847 difficulties growing out of relations between the United States and Mexico brought on war between the two countries.  No organized troops went from either of the two Counties of Giles or Mercer, though Colonel Daniel H. Pearis, the commandant of the militia of the latter county, sought to obtain a commission as Colonel of the Virginia regiment then being organized for the field, but failed, the commission being given to Colonel John M. Hamptrampeh, and to John Randolph as Lieutenant Colonel, and to Jubal A. Early as Major.

Captain James F. Preston, of Montgomery County, raised in that county  a company which was attached to the Virginia Regiment.  Many of these men who went with the Virginia Regiment to Mexico, became distinguished soldiers in our late Civil War: viz: Jubal A. Early became a Lieutenant General, Captain James F. Preston became Colonel of the Fourth Virginia Regiment of the Stonewall Brigade, Robert D. Gardner succeeded Preston in command of the Fourth Regiment, Charles A. Ronald also became Colonel of this Regiment, and at one time commanded the Stonewall Brigade, Joel Blackared became Captain of the first company from Giles County, and while such was killed in the battle of Frazier's farm in 1862,  W.W. McComas, a prominent physician of Giles County,  as Captain led a company of artillery from that County, losing his life in the battle of South Mills, N. C.    Judge Robert A. Richardson, at one time a Judge of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia, was a soldier in the Mexican War, and led the first company from Mercer County into the civil War, Andrew J. Grisby, who aided in the organization of the first company of volunteers that left Giles County, was made Major of the 27th Virginia regiment of the Stonewall Brigade afterwards becoming Colonel of that regiment, and several times in command of the Brigade, was a member of Doniphan's regiment of Missouri Cavalry in the Mexican War.  Harvey Wall, who long lived in Mercer County, was a member of Captain Preston's company,  as well and Daniel H. Harman, of Boone County, West Virginia, Benjamin Linkous, another member of Preston's company,  became a Colonel of a Confederate regiment, and Greenbury Chandler, who was with Preston in Mexico, became a Confederate officer and was slain in the battle of Piedmont Virginia.

Another step forward was to be taken by the Virginia people in the enlargement of the right to vote, and a convention assembled at Richmond on the 14th day of October, 1850, and framed a constitution which was adopted, whereby the restrictions upon the right of suffrage were practically swept away; excluding only persons of unsound mind, paupers, noncommissioned officers, soldiers, seamen, and marines in the service of the United States, and persons who had been convicted of bribery in an election or of any infamous offense.

The representatives in this convention from the district in which Mercer County was included were Albert G. Pendleton of Giles, Allen T. Caperton and Augustus A. Chapman of Monroe.

The Constitution framed by this convention was adopted as a compromise measure between the east and the west.

In 1850 Lewis Neal defeated John Miller, of Sinking Creek, for the House of Delegates.    In 1851 Captain George W. Pearis was elected to the house of Delegates over Alexander Mahood, and in 1852  Reuben Garretson defeated Colonel James M. Bailey.    Under the Constitution of 1851 Mercer was accorded a delegate.

The most remarkable and notable contest in the matter of an election, that ever occurred in Mercer County, was over that of a delegate to the Secession Convention.    The contest was between two brothers, William H. French and Napoleon B. French.   At the time of this election Napoleon B. French was serving as a senator in the Legislature of Virginia from the district of which Mercer County was a part, and was in Richmond at the time of this election. These men were and had for long years been prominent in politics, and were the two best known men not only in the county, but in this particular section of the state.  Both brothers had been Whigs all of their lives and up to a short time prior to the beginning of the Civil War, when William H. left the Whig and united with the Democratic party.  This action on his part so incensed his old political friends that they determined to get even with him the first opportunity, and when he announced himself a candidate for the convention and made known his views, which tended toward secession, his old political friends who had become his enemies, as well as the political friends of his brother, Napoleon, at once named the latter as the opposing candidate.  There was considerable feeling in this contest and some bitterness.   At this time a large majority of the people of Mercer County were strongly union in sentiment.

The great political battle between these two brothers was fought to the finish, and resulted in the election of Napoleon B. French by a majority of more than 300.  On the assembling of the convention in February, 1861, Mr. French took his seat therein as the representative of the people of Mercer County.

The next spirited contest was for the Legislature, a battle royal which took place between Captain Robert A. Richardson and Dr. Robert B. McNutt, in May, 1861.    Richardson had raised a company of volunteers for the Civil War, of which he had been elected Captain, and consequently had gathered to himself a very large following and was then on the eve of starting off for the war, and the people of the county were very much agitated and excited.  Dr. Robert B. McNutt had long lived in the county, was a very eminent physician, had quite a strong relationship, and a host of friends, personal and political.  He was defeated by Richardson by a small majority.

The secession Convention which assembled in Richmond in February, 1861, was composed of the ablest men in the state; they were not only able but patriotic, and weighed well and carefully every step that was taken.  A great deal of the time of the convention was taken up in considering the report of the committee on Federal relations.  The report of this committee recommended certain amendments to the Constitution Of the United States fixing the limits of the slave territory, and the rights of slaveholders to take their slave property into the limits of such territory.  There were a great many substitutes offered for this report, and it was evident from the various votes taken on these substitutes that in the beginning the larger number of the members of the convention were opposed to separation from the Union, and on the other hand the majority thereof seems to have been unwilling to see the Federal Government coerce the states which had seceded.  At last and when the point was reached and it became evident that the Federal authorities were determined to attempt to coerce the seceding states, it became necessary for the convention to take some decided step.  It went into secret session on Tuesday, the 16th day of April, 1861, and on that day Mr. William Ballard Preston, of Montgomery County, submitted an ordinance "to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United States by the state of Virginia, and to resume all the rights and powers granted under said Constitution."

In the afternoon session of that day Mr. Robert Scott, of Fauquier, offered a substitute for Mr. Preston's ordinance.  This substitute recited that there were still eight slaveholding states within the Union, and some members of the convention favored consultation and co-operation with these states, and that it was desirable to ascertain the preferences of the people of the state as to whether or not they desired co-operation with eight slave states or immediate secession, and to that end a vote of the people of the state be taken on the 4th Tuesday in May next thereafter.  When a vote on this substitute was called for, Mr. Baldwin of Augusta moved an adjournment, but the convention refused to adjourn by a vote of sixty- five to seventy-eight, Mr. French, the representative from Mercer, voting for adjournment.  After the transaction of some other business another motion was made to adjourn, which was carried by a vote of seventy-six to sixty-five, French again voting for adjournment.  On Wednesday, the 17th day of April, 1861, the convention resumed consideration of the ordinance submitted by Mr. Preston and the substitute offered therefor by Mr. Scott.  The vote was first taken on the substitute which was lost by sixty-four to seventy-nine, French voting for the substitute, and casting his vote with John A. Campbell, of Washington, John J. Jackson of Wood, John F. Lewis of Rockingham, John S. Burdett of Taylor, Jubel A. Early of Franklin, Samuel Price of Greenbrier, Henry L. Gillaspie, of Raleigh, and other members from northwestern Virginia.  The Monroe, Giles and Tazewell delegates voted against the substitute.  The substitute being lost, a vote was then taken on the ordinance proposed by Mr. Preston which was adopted by a vote of eighty-eight to fifty-five.    On this final vote French voted for the ordinance as did almost all the members from the southwestern part of the state, while the major part of the members from the northwestern part of the state voted against it.

It is here noted in this connection that the Congress of the United States agreed to and submitted an amendment to the Constitution, which was approved March, 1861, touching the slavery question and known as amendment number "Thirteen," and which was ratified by the Legislature of the restored Government of Virginia at Wheeling, the 13th day of February, 1862.  The amendment is in the following words: "No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere in any state with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of the said state."

The convention of Virginia provided for the submission of the ordinance of secession to the people on the 23rd day of may, 1861, for ratification or rejection.  It was ratified by a majority of 96,750 out of a total vote of 161,018 votes.  The counties of northwestern Virginia in a vote of 44,000 gave 40,000 majority against the ordinance.    The vote in Mercer County on the ordinance was practically unanimous, only seven votes being cast against it.  Giles County cast her 1,033 votes solidly for the ordinance; electing at the same time Captain William Eggleston to the House of Delegates over Dr. John W. Easly by 234 votes.

As has been seen by reference to the vote of the delegates in the convention from the counties west of the Alleghenies and north of the Kanawha, as well as the vote of the people of those counties, that they were intently and earnestly opposed to secession, while all the counties south of the Kanawha, and particularly those in the new River Valley and southwest Virginia were almost a unit for it.  Toward the closing days of the secession convention, a party of gentlemen from several counties in the state--representative men, catching the spirit of the people at home, which seemed to be in advance of the convention, by self appointment in the city of Richmond with the view and purpose of influencing if possible the action of the convention in favor of immediate secession.  What bearing if any the meetings of this self constituted body of men had on the action of the convention can only be conjectured.

Such was the intense feeling and excitement in Richmond, and in fact throughout the Commonwealth, that the representatives in the convention from the northwestern and other parts of the state who opposed the action of the convention and refused to vote for the ordinance, became alarmed for their safety, some leaving and traveling incognito, while others thought it necessary to procure letters of safe conduct from the Governor of the Commonwealth in order to enable them to reach their homes.

The news of the passage of the ordinance of secession, spread throughout the state like unto wild fire in a dry stubble on a windy day.  The intelligence was greeted with shouts of applause by the populace, bells were rung, cannons boomed, great gatherings of the people were had, and oratory dispensed without stint.

Virginia had stood for peace, placed herself in the position of mediator between the contending sections.  Her appeals on the one side were unheeded, and the threats and demonstrations on the other, did not move her.  She did not intend to act in haste, and only decided to leave the Union when the Federal Executive called for seventy-five thousand troops to coerce the Seceded States.

History can scarcely furnish a parallel of the beginning of a revolution so orderly, peaceful, and without blood shed or excesses of any kind, all accomplished in a quiet, Constitutional form and method--Virginia claiming nothing further than to be allowed to depart in peace, uttering as she withdrew from the Union the hope and prayer that war might be averted.  Without waiting for the result of the vote on the ordinance, the people went to work with energy to organize and equip the whole military force of the state for defense, not for aggressive war on the Federal Union, but to prevent if possible, the Federal power from crushing the state and overthrowing  Constitutional government therein, and to prevent further encroachments upon the rights of the state.    Virginia had resumed her original sovereignty, and had withdrawn all the powers and rights that she had delegated to the Federal agent; she had revoked the power of attorney that she had given that Federal agent, and did not propose to withdraw the revocation, but to maintain it by force of arms if necessary; that was all.

The position of the south, and particularly of Virginia, seems not to have been well understood by the great bulk of the northern people, who were led astray by the cry for the Union, and that these people of the south were preparing to establish a government and power which sought to destroy their Constitutional rights.  It was not the establishment of  a southern Confederacy that our people sought and fought for, but it was to uphold and maintain the integrity and sovereignty of the state and with no view of making war on the other States of the Union of the Federal Government.

 

 

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