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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 VIII.  1866 - 1905  (Part 3)

 

Mr. Thomas came to Princeton, and as he was quite fond of his drink and Mr. Joe Alvis had a little good liquor to give a man for his first drink, after which he always said he would then give him the bad and he could not tell the difference--furnished Thomas what he required along that line, after which he became exceedingly liberal, and took a tilt at what he denominated the "Cussed Registration Law," saying there was no reason to have such laws, and that the time had come for every body to register and vote.  It is very doubtful whether Thomas meant what he said, for it was believed that he meant just the reverse, and that his talk was only a ruse to deceive the people as to his real intentions, and to cover up some dark thing that he had in view to aid the Republican Party.  Thomas had by this declaration in favor of liberalism furnished all the cause necessary for his removal as a member of the Board, for it was only necessary for a whisper of this declaration to reach ears of the Governor's best friend to accomplish his removal.  No sooner had he uttered the declaration, than the Committee of Safety had a man getting up affidavits embracing Thomas' statements;  these were furnished to Mr. Evans, to whom it was made known that if Thomas carried out his declaration it would destroy the Republican Party in Mercer County;  and as no one wished to see Mr. Thomas disgraced by being removed from office, it was deemed wise that Mr. Evans should pay a visit to Mr. Thomas, and show him the affidavits and ask him to place his resignation in his hands to be sent to the Governor.  Mr. Evans made the visit and returned with the resignation of Mr. Thomas.

This was in the last days of July, or in the first days of August and time was becoming most precious, as the committee had determined to ask the Board of Supervisors to order a special election under the special act, upon the question of the location of the County site and had planned to have this election take place within a period of less than ten days next preceding the day on which the state election would be held;  the object of this being to prevent the Board of Registration from striking off the names of voters, who had been registered to vote on the local question, and thus allow them to vote at the state election;  the law forbidding the striking off of the names from the registration books within ten days of any general election.  The Committee being satisfied that there was a better showing for a fairer and fuller registration than could be had on state election, and it requiring thirty days' notice under the special act before the people could vote on the local question, it was determined that this thirty days should expire within less than ten days of the state election, and thereby the people would have the benefit of the full registration in the state election.

As soon as Thomas' resignation was made known to the committee, the question as to who should be his successor arose.  Various names were suggested, and finally that of Mr. Andrew J. Davis, and he was  found agreeable to Mr. Evans, because he had always been classed as a Republican, had held office as such, and no one belonging to that party doubted his being a Republican, although in fact he was a staunch Democrat.  To carry out this plan and have Mr. Davis appointed was also a matter of delicacy and required secrecy;  for the mails could not be trusted, none of the committee dare afford to go before the Governor on such a matter, it was therefore finally concluded that Mr. Evans was the only man that could or should be trusted with such an important mission.  A sufficient fund was quietly raised, and Mr. Evans set off for the capitol, and succeeded in having Mr. Davis appointed as President of the Board of Registration.  The secret of the appointment of Mr. Davis was so well kept by the committee, Mr. Evans, and the people at the Governor's office, that every one was surprised when Mr. Davis at the next meeting of the Board took his seat as a member thereof.  Mr. Davis and Mr. Reynolds, a majority of this board, were known as friends of the Princeton interest in the local fight.  The board appointed its District Registrars composed of liberal men;  and the Board of Supervisors met and ordered the election on the Court House question, and the fight opened with spirit and energy all along the line.

So far, the plans of the committee had worked well and were successful, but in their zeal to succeed they came near committing a serious blunder, which if they had, would have defeated the settlement of the vexed question.  The District Registrars seemed to forget that they had any other duty than to get out, hunt up, and register all the male citizens of the county over the age of twenty-one years.  This proceeding at once became known, and so loud was it noised abroad that it was heard in the gubernatorial office at Charleston, and gave alarm and great concern  to the Governor and his friends.  About the time the District Registrars had completed their list of voters, the September term of the Circuit Court of Mercer County began its session at Concord Church;  the Honorable Joseph M. McWhorter, of the Greenbrier Circuit, presiding.  There was a great throng of people at the court to hear Honorable Frank Hereford, Democratic nominee for Congress, make a speech.  There happened to be also present on the occasion Major Cyrus Newlin, a Republican lawyer from Union, who also addressed the people on the political issues of the day.  Newlin was a carpet-bagger of the lower sort and extremely partisan, and his abuse of the Democratic Party, particularly of the Southern people, aroused such intense feeling and indignation towards him that it became necessary for his friends to take care of him, in order to prevent personal violence.  The fact is, a crowd gathered that night with a rope, prepared to hand him, and but for the wise counsel of Colonel William H. French and others, who interposed, it would have been accomplished.  On the Court day on which this public speaking took place, it was discovered by the people in the interest of Concord Church, as well as the Republicans, that the registration had been indiscriminate, and that in returning the books to the County Board, the one containing the names of persons registered in Plymouth District, the district in which Concord Church is situate, had been misplaced, and it was suspected by the Concord people that there was some trickery about it;  and they became aroused to such a pitch of feeling and excitement as to forget everything  else except the local question, which not only absorbed their whole attention and interest, but some of them were willing to sacrifice their political interests and put in jeopardy the chances of shaking off their civil and political shackles;  and therefore, in order to wreak vengeance on those opposing them on the local question, they imparted to Major Newlin what they supposed to be the plan for registering every person, with the view to the overthrow of the Republican Party.

No sooner had Major Newlin caught on to the supposed scheme than he wrote a letter to the Governor, containing the startling news, that eleven hundred rebels had been registered in Mercer County, all of whom would vote the Democratic ticket;  and strange, yet true, it seems that this letter received the approval and endorsement of Judge McWhorter.  When this letter reached Charleston it, of course, very naturally,    aroused the fears of the Governor and his Republican friends for the safety of the party;  and in order to ascertain more fully the situation the Governor dispatched one A. F. Gibbons, armed with blank commissions to be filled if he, Gibbons, thought proper to do so, with the names of  a new Board of Registration.  This letter had gone and was in the hands of the Governor before the committee discovered that the same had been written, and by this time it was too late to counteract the effect thereof at the capitol;  in fact, Mr. Gibbons had arrived in the County before anyone was aware that he had been sent, or what steps the Governor proposed to take.  The committee was confronted by a new, formidable and serious danger;  hitherto it had been equal to every emergency as it had arisen, but the question now was, would it be equal to this?  Up to this time every movement of the committee's adversaries had been met and thwarted;  being always on the alert, and through information derived from its spies it was kept well advised, and before the blow was struck a counter one was given, and the arm of the adversary fell palsied at his side.

The reader must not suppose that these things were idle dreams--they were stern realities--actual occurrences;  and no question more certainly and effectually divided our people than did this local question.  The war between the states had not more thoroughly estranged the people of the North and South, than this question had the people of the two sections of our county.  Military lines were never better connected and more securely guarded and watched with greater vigilance, than were the lines between these contending factions;  and both money and brains were at work on both sides, and the struggle throughout resembled that of two great armies on the battlefield maneuvering for positions and preparing to join in deadly struggle.

Mr. Gibbons had scarcely more than reached Concord Church, than the information thereof was brought to the Committee of Safety.  A meeting was called and the situation discussed and the conclusion reached to watch Gibbon's actions and await developments, which would doubtless show up in a few hours;  and the committee was not mistaken in its conclusion, for Mr. Gibbons by some word or action had given offense to the Concord people, and he left there in high dudgeon and came to Princeton.  Now was the time for action, and the committee determined that Mr. Gibbons must be met with open arms and be fully assured that Governor Stevenson's interests should not suffer in the hands of the people who were espousing the cause of Princeton on the local question.    To this end large numbers of the people visited Mr. Gibbons, and assured him of their strong friendship for Governor Stevenson, and of their intention to vote for the Governor if the registration books were not blotched by erasure, and that the Governor had all to gain and nothing to lose by allowing the names then on the books to remain untouched.  Mr. Gibbons heard these assurances with seeming delight and satisfaction, and his faith in the truth of these statements was strengthened from day to day by the action of and conversations had with our people;  at length the adversaries of Princeton, seeing that its people had probably won Gibbons over to its side, and that he was a little too credulous, whispered in his ear that he was being deceived, that the names of too many prominent ex-Confederates were on the registration list for the strong professions of these people to be true;  so Mr. Gibbons became a little wary and somewhat alarmed, stating that he thought the names of the more prominent ex-Confederates should be erased from the lists.  The committee was reluctantly forced to yield and compromise by the elimination of about two hundred names from the list of voters;    yet enough remained to accomplish their purposes, for they knew that while the people had pledged themselves to stand by and vote for Governor Stevenson they had made no further pledges and Mr. Gibbons had not asked or demanded more.

The opponents of Princeton were not without resources, and while these events were transpiring at Princeton they were not idle;  for they formulated a plan which they supposed would prevent the people from holding the special election on the local question;  and that plan was to get an injunction, prohibiting and enjoining the election officers from opening the polls, holding the election and declaring the result;  and with this view, a bill was prepared by Attorney Newlin and entrusted    to Attorney J. M. Killey to be taken to Charleston by him and to be presented to a Circuit Judge for an injunction, and if refused, then to be presented to Judge James H. Brown of the Court of Appeals.  Mr. Killey had scarcely gotten away from Concord Church before the news of his leaving and that of his mission reached the Committee;    whereupon it determined that this last effort of the removalists must be headed off and defeated.  It was now only ten days until the election was to b held on the local question.  Mr. Killey started on Wednesday, and a messenger was selected and directed to follow Killey, and he started on Thursday morning;  however, before starting, Mr. Gibbons requested a little time to write some letters to be sent to the Governor and other friends in Charleston by the Princeton messenger, who took the letters and put off to Charleston, reaching there in less than two days, being only twenty-three and one- half hours in the saddle, and reaching there two hours ahead of Killey, although the latter had twenty-four hours the start and had traveled twelve miles of the distance by steamer.   Hurrying to the Governor's office, the Princeton messenger found no one there but Mr. Blackburn B. Dovener, now the Honorable Blackburn B. Dovener, member of Congress from the Wheeling district, private secretary to the Governor, to whom   the letters of which he was the bearer were delivered, the Governor being absent in the northern part of the state, leaving Mr. Dovener in charge of his office.

The messenger made known to Mr. Dovener that it was necessary that he should see Judge Brown, and requested him to accompany and introduce him to the Judge, which he did.  After stating to the Judge his mission and the character of the bill which would likely be presented to him for action, the Judge promised the messenger that if such bill was presented that he should have opportunity to be heard.  Mr. Killey presented his bill to Circuit Judge Hoge, at Winfield, who refused the injunction, and on Mr. Killey's return to Charleston, and on presentation of his bill to Judge Brown the injunction was also refused by him.  The Princeton messenger at once started for home, reaching there on the Thursday evening preceding the Saturday on which the election was to be held;  and which passed off quietly, a full vote was polled, and County Court House question was settled in favor of Princeton by a majority of over four hundred.    The state election followed on the Tuesday week thereafter, and resulted in the election of the whole Democratic county ticket by an average majority of about three hundred, and a majority of nearly five hundred for Mr. Hereford for Congress;    electing Mr. Upton to the House of Delegates;  and George Evans Clerk and Recorder over Mr. Green Meador--this was in fulfillment of the agreement of the Princeton interest with Mr. Evans.  The county authorities immediately went to work and had erected on the old Court House foundation at Princeton a new building which   was completed in 1875.  This building was destroyed by fire, but another building was erected immediately thereafter.

Mr. Upton, the Representative from Mercer County, on the assembling of the Legislature in January, 1871, immediately introduced his bill for the creation of a new county out of the territory hereinafter described;  and on the 27th day of February, 1871, the bill was passed creating the county of Summers out of parts of the Counties of Mercer, Monroe, Greenbrier and Fayette, within the following described boundary, to wit:

"Beginning at the mouth of Round Bottom Branch, on New River, in Monroe County, thence crossing said river and running N. 47 1/2 W. 5430 poles through the County of Mercer to a point known as Brammer's Gate, on the line dividing the Counties of    Mercer and Raleigh;  thence with said county line in an easterly direction to New River;  thence with a line between the Counties of Raleigh and Greenbrier, down New River to the line of Fayette County;  thence with a line dividing Raleigh and Fayette Counties, down said river to a station opposite Goddard's House;  thence leaving the line of Raleigh County, crossing New River and passing through said Goddard's house, N. 67 1/2 E. 3280 poles through said County of Fayette, to a station on Wallow Hole Mountain, in Greenbrier County;  thence S. 55 E. 3140 poles to a station east of Keeney's Knob in Monroe County;  thence S. 9 E. 1320 poles to a   station near Greenbrier River, and running thence S. 32 W. 7740 poles to the beginning."

The period between the close of the civil war and the settlement of the question of the location of the seat of justice of Mercer County, and the complete removal of all civil and political disabilities, under which our people had been laboring for a period of nearly seven years, was one of turmoil, trouble and unrest.  Business in Mercer County during this time was largely at a standstill, no one knew what to do, many suits had been brought against the ex-Confederates for alleged wrongs and injuries done or committed during the civil war, and they, the ex-Confederates, had little show in the courts, which had been organized, as a rule, in the interest of the dominant party and for oppression.  The men who sat upon the juries of the county were the political enemies of the ex-Confederates and of the people who had espoused the Southern cause.  No man who had served in the Confederate Army or sympathized with the South, regarded his life, liberty, property or cause, whatever it might be, as safe in the hands of the Courts and Juries as they were then organized and existed.  Hundreds of people who had owned valuable property before the beginning of the war and lived in opulence, were by its results reduced almost to beggary, and they had a long, hard struggle to earn even a livelihood.  The expenses of government--the taxes--had grown to such enormous proportions that the people had great difficulty in paying the same.  The levies of taxes for local purposes were often outrageous, on account of the character and amounts of the claims and demands for which they were levied;  and after the levies had been placed in the hands of the collection officers they were often squandered and never accounted for.  In the great struggle over the Court House question, a large amount of the public funds were squandered, stolen or wasted.  A jail had been erected at Concord Church and the walls for a Court House had been about half way built, and the expenditures in this regard amounted to thousands of dollars, which was an entire loss to the taxpayers of the county.  But, notwithstanding all these drawbacks, the people labored, toiled and struggled on in the hope of a better day coming, and it came at last when we had better government and lower taxes, and the end largely of all the difficulties growing out of the civil war and the questions therein involved.

The board of Supervisors had power to lay and disburse the county levies, and to make all contracts touching county affairs.  After the removal of the records and books from Concord Church to Princeton, the Board of Supervisors consisted of L. D. Martin, William C. Honaker, Silas T. Reynolds, Thomas Reed, and, for part of the time, Washington Lilley.

 

 

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