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West Virginia Archives & History

History of Barboursville Community

Prepared By J. W. Miller

Barboursville became the county seat of Cabell County in 1813. The county was taken from Kanawha County in 1809. It included all of Wayne, Lincoln, and a large part of Logan, Boone, and Putnam counties. Its area was 1750 square miles, with a population in 1810 of 2717, including 221 slaves and 25 Indians not taxed. Or about 1 1/2 persons to the square mile. We now have one sixth of this area, and more than 300 people to the square mile. Immigration began to come in about 1780 and land was easy to get, was marked out and claimed, and the state would sell the settler as much as one thousand acres or more, at the small price of $1.60 per 100 acres. Hence, everybody tried to see how much land they could get.

Miller & Thornburg Store
The Miller & Thornburg Store
As soon as the town became the county seat, immigration became heavy. Hotels, livery stables, stores, shops and factories of all kinds were built. The stores carried large stocks of goods bought in New York or Philadelphia; generally on six or twelve months time. We had no drummers then. The merchants would go to the eastern markets about twice a year to buy their stock. These goods were exchanged for country produce, grain, dried fruit, hogs, ginseng, deer hides, and feathers. Women brought in products of the loom, jeans, linsey, flax, tow linen, and white flannel, all of which had a ready sale at home. There was much traffic between Barboursville and Logan.
Among the business men and firms were Absolom Holderby, F.G.S. Buehring, Henderson & Miller (afterwards Miller & Thornburg), John G. Miller & Brother, Matthew Thompson, and others.

Barboursville was known as a manufacturing town. There was a furniture factory, a fan mill factory, hat factory, wagon and buggy factory, two or three harness shops, a large tannery, which supplied the home market and exported as well, large lots of leather, there were several tailors, blacksmiths, shoemakers, a large mill built by Miller & Moore, which cut large quantities of steam boat bottoms, lumber of clear oak, some of it 36 feet long. All of it went to Jeffersonville, Indian, by barges, which were built in Barboursville. This saw mill was wrecked during the Civil War. A great many of these workers were Germans. There were immigrants from every nation who came here to better their conditions, and to found peaceful homes. Our farmers came mostly from Virginia and Pennsylvania. Schools were good for those times and were well attended. Boys and girls came to school from all over the county, as nearly everybody had a horse, or in winter they could board in town at $1.50 to $2.00 per week.

The first teacher I have any record of was David McGinnis, who taught here in about 1840. He was one of the first Marshall College students, and was studying for the ministry. The teachers, as I remember them, were Mr. Simpson, Edward Vertegan and wife, Joseph Foster and wife, Miss Fannie Chapman, Jared Armstrong, Mr. McClelland, Dr. V. R. Moss, James Thornburg, B. H. Thackston. All taught private schools before the Civil War. Tuition was $1.00, $1.50 to $2.00 per month. If it were possible to trace the boys who attended these schools, it would undoubtedly be found that their education compared with the best.

Barboursville was surrounded by an agricultural section, producing large crops of grain, fat hogs, sheep, and cattle. Hogs constituted the "cash crop". They were butchered and packed in Barboursville. Hams and lard went to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia; side meat and shoulders to the salt works in Kanawha. Hogs were as fine as we have today, and were much cheaper to raise on mash, and finished with corn. Wagons came from North Carolina, loaded with apple brandy. They sold it here, and loaded back with bacon and salt.

It would no doubt create much consternation to hear a boat whistle here in Barboursville, for the gate to open at the locks, so the steamboat could pass through. Then the polite clerk, in the old days, went down, assisting the ladies and children ashore, followed by the colored porter with the baggage. Yes, we saw just that sixty-five years ago. For Guyandotte River was locked and dammed by the New York Navigation Company as far as Branchland. Seven locks were put in at great expense, in order that the company might ship coal out. This was the beginning of coal development in the Guyandotte Valley. These locks and dams had no keepers during the Civil War, and so were ruined by floods, and were eventually taken out by the Government. My father, W. C. Miller, built two of these locks by contract, one just above the mouth of Mud River, and one at Branchland. His foreman, Billingly Stafford, was drowned during this work, and was buried in our old cemetery.

Eventually they began to build the railroad, which is now the Chesapeake and Ohio. Every man in the county could get work of some kind during that time. This railroad line was about half finished at the beginning of the Civil War, and the work had to be abandoned until the close of the war.

When the West was settled, and trade began flowing East again, it went to Pittsburgh and through Pennsylvania. Virginia built three good turnpikes to divert travel through that state again. And so we were given the Kanawha and James River Turnpike, which ran from Covington, Virginia, to the Big Sandy, and to this day remains the great National Highway. There were toll gates every four miles, and mile stones at every mile along the way. It was well built, and well kept up. Immigration and general travel was at all times heavy, immigrants going West in covered wagons, with their dogs and tar bucket tied to the hind of the ox in harness. The old stage coach, drawn by four horses carrying twelve or more passengers would make good time. And when travel was especially heavy, we had two stages a day. There was heavy travel from the South, too, by carriages; these were most wealthy and prosperous planters on their way to the White Sulphur Springs. All livestock was driven to market over this road. Hogs were started from Kentucky half fattened, traveled about eight miles per day, and were fattened along the road; they were finally packed in Richmond.

Barboursville men and boys have participated in every war since the war for Independence. During the Revolutionary War they were mostly engaged in fighting hostile Indians on the raw border, allies of the British. During the War of 1812 Captain William Brumfield raised a Cavalry Company in this county. We had to raise men and supplies, and besides we were assessed $1,540.00. This Company had a hard time, as many of these brave volunteers died in a plague in Norfolk. Elisha McComas, then our of our town boys, raised a company to fight in the Mexican War. They camped on the site of what is now Mike Sanders' house. The state would not receive this Company, inasmuch as her quota was filled. Undaunted, they went to Norfolk, and enlisted in the United States Army, being known as Company C, Eleventh United States Infantry. I have no record of the losses among these soldiers, nor their history. From meager accounts I have been able to glean, their losses were heavy, and there is record that one Lieutenant Joe Samuels came back to Barboursville, his home town, and died shortly afterward of Mexican fever. Between battles and sickness of the climate, they were practically wiped out.

During the Civil War our people were grievously divided, and brother fought against brother, father against son. As was so splendidly the case through this section, every man had the courage of his convictions, and fought with courage for the principles which he thought were right. Many of our boys fill unknown graves. I seem to hear the shriek of the mothers ringing down through the years, when they received the terse words: "Killed in battle".

When peace was finally declared, our boys returned to a devastated country - no crops, no stock, no money. The pay of the Union soldier was so small he had no chance to save any. The Confederate soldier had better pay, but the more money he had, the poorer he found fimself, inasmuch as Confederate money was worthless. Under the generous terms of General Grant's decision, they were given some horses, and with a few condemned war-broken horses they went to work. The fertile soil soon gave forth crops of golden grain, the hum of the threshing machine was once more heard on the farms. As soon as their farms were re-established they went in for live-stock-horses, mules, sheep, cattle, and hogs. There were always ready buyers. Horses and mules were shipped to Richmond and North carolina, stock cattle to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, northwestern Virginia, and central Ohio, fat cattle to Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. We did not need to depend on Swift and Armour for our meats, as we had two good butchers here. Our county at that time was one of the best agricultural areas in the state. Everybody worked but father - he made all the others work for him, and he was the wise head of the family, as he ought to be, and was intended to be. In these latter days he seems to be the only one working, and wondering how he can make the others work.

The cultivation of soil is the first and most important feature of any thriving land since civilization began and ought to continue to be. No doubt it will always be. Herodotus, the father of history, tells us the story of the valley of the Euphrates; he brings out the fact that with poor cultivation the yield was fifty fold, with fair cultivation an hundred fold, and with good cultivation two hundred fold. That seems to have been the garden of the world during his days. Its great cities, Babylon and Ninevah are only marked by great heaps of sand today; instead of the millions of peoples who roamed in and out of the sand, it is now a barren desert, peopled only by a few wandering tribes of Arabs, grazing half starved sheep and goats.

The early histories also tell us that the Nile produced wonderful crops for Egypt, and stress the point of good cultivation. The Chinese, also, one of the oldest known nations found out years ago, that their land would have to be preserved carefully to feed their increasing populations. So they terraced the hillsides from bottom to top to keep the soil from washing away; today, any soil so washed away is carried back in baskets.

With the dense population of today, the Chinese people are on the verge of starvation, and great care is needed to preserve what they have left.

Which of these courses will we take? Shall we sap the land by unadvised farming, and make of it a desert waste to our children's children, or hand it down to future generations more fertile, richer than it is today? This should be food for thought. Let us not make the mistake of planting "corn and tobacco" until we sap the land our fathers gave us.

They were sent here when Loring took the Kanawha Valley, to cut off the retreat of the Union forces. They were the first Confederate soldiers to invade Ohio. They crossed into Ohio at Ravenswood, and recrossed at Greenbottom, arriving here just in time to meet the retreating Federals.
One of the first battles of the Civil War was fought in Barboursville on July 11, 1861, between the Wayne and Cabell County militia under Colonel Ferguson, and the Second Kentucky under Colonel Woodruff. The militia could not stand up under the bayonet charge, and retreated in haste, leaving one dead, a Mr. Reynolds, from Milton, and Absolom Ballinger wounded. Federal loss, five killed and eighteen wounded. I though our Militia was well trained, but lost confidence in them when I watched them in action during this fight. Our second fight was on Main Street in September 1862 between the Eighth Virginia Cavalry and a regiment of Ohio Cavalry under Colonel Powell. This battle was fought after night. Both sides retreated, one Union soldier being killed. The Eighth Virginia Cavalry was commanded by General Jenkins, and most of the boys from our county belonged to it. Barboursville
Cabell County Courthouse
Cabell County Courthouse
Our old court house, built about 1814 was located between Music Hall and the college. It had a whipping post near it. The first lawyers, I remember, were Henry J. Fisher, George W. Summers, Benjamin Smith and Gideon W. Camden; David McComas, Green Samuels, and J. H. Brown. There were very few criminal cases. Horse stealing was more frequent than any other crime.
Among the first preachers were Burwell Spurlock, Roland Bias, Sandy McCane, Claughton, Kelly, Shearer, Lancaster Reece, Ball, Chambers Hawkins, Elijah Adkins, and others. A great many of these local preachers were farmers. Some were eloquent preachers, their salary ran from $200 to $400 per year. The Baptists worshipped at Blue Sulphur and Bloomingdale. This church was on the hill back of Bailey Wertz's house, in a cedar grove, overlooking the Martha church. It was moved to Heath Creek. The Methodists worshipped at a church on Water Street, near where Mr. May lives. Also at Bethesda Church. All of these churches had better congregations than they have today.

I can't help coming to the defense of our old time people some modern writers and speakers tell us our old people did not have any education or did not want any, and that the aristocracy of Virginia did not want to be taxed to educate the people west of the mountains. Thomas Jefferson one of the greatest statesmen of his day was a great advocate of free schools. He succeeded in having a law passed providing for the education of all children whose parents were not able to educate them. Such children were certified by a board to the teacher who got an order on the sheriff for his pay at $.50 per month. This law worked all right in the cities and towns, but the country population was so thin they could not support schools. Town schools were good; our teachers were generally graduates of colleges, and taught all the higher branches and many of our boys and girls were sent off to colleges. I can name you grandmothers and mothers who have long passed away, who received their education at Mrs. Levis School at Shelbyville, Kentucky; Ohio Wesleyan, Cincinnati, Ohio; Steubenville, Ohio; and Staunton, Virginia. I can name the old boys who went to Marshall soon after it was made an academy and continued up to the Civil War frequently walking home in all kinds of weather, and as a result our community furnished a Lieutenant Governor of Virginia; two Adjutant Generals, one of state and one on General Military Staff; one Brigadier General, several Captains and Lieutenants, several fine lawyers, two judges, several doctors, financiers, a Vice President of the American Trust and Bonded Company, New York, and Commissioners of Internal Revenue, both terms under Grover Cleveland. We came to the conclusion that our boys needed education and got some of it.

Old time people were more patriotic than they are today, people from all parts of the county would meet here every Fourth of July, march out to some suburban grove, listen to addresses by speakers chosen for the occasion and then feast on barbecued beef prepared by expert Nego cooks, who commenced to prepare it the day before.

They had annual fairs; the Court House now the college building was used to display fruits, vegetables, wines, canned goods, needle work, etc. The stock was shown on the streets or lots. The exhibit was good and all took much interest in it. The first sorgham molasses I ever saw was at one of these fairs about 1852 was made in iron kettles it was very dark and thin, but was quite a curiosity. I have spoken of the amount of live stock on the farms. I quote prices from a memorandum book dated 1886, as I bought from farm to farm when I was in the live stock business.*

On one trip I bought 35 cattle for $707.00 or $20.25 per head.
On one trip I bought 99 sheep for 170.00 or 1.70 per head and 57 hogs for 417.00 or 8.00 per head.
On one trip I bought 10 Texas Ponies for 447.25 or 44.25.
On two or three trips, 695 sheep for 1435.00 or 2.05 per head.
On one trip I bought 212 sheep for 573.00 or 2.75 per head.
On one trip I bought 52 cattle for 936.20 or 3.25 to 3.40 per cwt.
On one trip I bought 34 yearlings for 466.00 or 13.75 per head.
On one trip I bought 30 head cattle including 11 yearlings at $2.85 per cwt.

The price of yearlings averaged about $10 to $15 per head; and the price of two-year-olds, $16 to $20 per head. I bought two car loads of Putnam County two-year-olds, one car at $27.50 and one at $30 per head. Putnam County cattle was the best that I handled, but I could find more cattle in Logan ranges than any of the other counties. In 1884 I found 108 yearling cattle on Island Creek, belonging to one man I did not buy this bunch but came out with sixty eight two-year-olds. I had special rates of $48 per car to Baltimore. The Range cattle were raised cheap with good profit to owner. Barboursville was the county seat from 1813 to 1888, or for seventy five years, after a hot election it was removed to Huntington and Barboursville College became the owner of the Court House. At this time Rev. Wads was holding a quarterly meeting here. He went up to my house to dinner with my wife, and in passing the home where I now live my wife told him it would be a good place for a female school, he said he would talk it up, and for me to see Mr. Poteet, the owner, and get his price on the property which I did. He priced it about $500 less than he had been asking. Before a deal was made, however, sentiment sprang up in Huntington in favor of giving the Court House building to the proposed seminary. The County Court; George Grobe, Thomas Bias, and George Hackworth, found out they could not legally give the property away, but if a stock company was formed they would put the price at one thousand dollars and deed it and take a lien for the purchase money. E. W. Blume, Henry Poteet, Henry Stowasser, Charles H. Miller, and Fredrick Miller or his son Will, each took two hundred dollars stock. The deed was made and a lien taken which was paid and released at the close of 1888. This Institution was turned over by the Stock Holders as a Conference School to the M. E. Church South, until 1901. The Institution was known as Barboursville College. In consideration of the liberality of Morris Harvey. The trustees changed the name to Morris Harvey College, the building and grounds have been greatly improved and beautified and the faculty increased. Rev. T. S. Wade was the first president and Rev. G. W. Hampton vice president.

It must not be thought that because our mothers and grandmothers brought the products of the farm to the stores to trade for other goods that they did not have any fine clothes. On extra occasions their silks would stand alone and when our sisters came out in their imported organdies and Empress Cloth dresses covered with a hand made silk or lace shawl that touched the ground they would get a beau in about fifteen minutes. Flax, hemp, and cotton were raised on every farm as part of the crops and had to be worked up.

Barboursville has kept up in the march of progress; she has grown until we reach from hill to hill. After being scored we feel proud of our score; perfect in transportation; perfect in our boys who have made prominent men. Sometimes we imagine we see the original owners of this land, John Samuels, and William Merritt walking over our town and looking over the improvement we have made and hear them say what fools we were to give this valuable property away.

I cannot close this history without saying something about our old time colored people. In making this state we took from Virginia more than half her territory, but we only inherited four per cent of the slaves. I never witnessed any of the cruelties Harriett Beecher Stowe tells us about in Uncle Tom's Cabin. The slaves were respected and honored by all regardless of the station they occupied in life. They received their freedom with full honor; they helped to carve this country out of a wilderness and no man can say aught against them. I call to mind a negro man my father raised from a small orphan boy. When he received his freedom we were glad to know he was ready to take his place in the world. He was an expert cook, his first salary was eight dollars a month as steward on a steam boat, his wife was chamber maid at a good salary, and when he wrote me, "I have a son named after you and a daughter named after your sister." It pleased me to know he remembered old home folks.


Morris Harvey College has an incorporated history of thirty-six years. The institution was founded in 1888 as the Barboursville Seminary; but finding it difficult to maintain the school because of the lack of endowment and equipment, the citizens of Barboursville induced the Western Virginia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, to take over the plant and make it a denominational college.

Chapel at Morris Harvey

Chapel at Morris Harvey
Postcard views of the chapel
at Morris Harvey
Accordingly, in 1889, it passed into the hands of the Southern Methodists of West Virginia, and name changed to Barboursville College.

In the above status, the school continued to function under the authority of state and church, until the close of the spring semester of 1909. Degrees in education, literature, arts, and sciences were conferred. The records show, that at this time, the requirements of education in the state and of endowment by the General Board of Education in the church were so raised, that the standard college rank was lost and the institution became a junior college, and so remained until 1919. In 1901, Mr. Morris Harvey, a resident of Fayetteville, West Virginia, became interested in education and his attention was toward Barboursville College. In recognition of his liberal gifts, the Board of Trustees changed the name of the school to Morris Harvey College.

On account of the growing demand for more complete education at the hands of the church, and at the request of the local Board of Trustees, the General Board of Education determined in 1919 that the school should be made once more a standard, four year, collegiate institution. Pursuant to this decision, in each of the scholastic years of 1919-1921, the addition of the senior year made the program complete, and at the following commencement (1921) the first class with degrees in Arts and Sciences was graduated after a lapse of more than a decade.

The curriculum now leads to bachelors' degrees in the college, or certificates in the special departments. The latter include four years in piano and voice; six grades and post graduate in violin; two years in home economics. There is also the standard academy following the requirements prescribed by the state for secondary schools. This is a distinctly separate unit.

In a survey of the history of such an institution as this, the following question is often asked: Why the church college in the program of education? In the concern to be rid of the dictatorial system of education at the hands of the medieval, and sometimes, the later church; the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, and an almost equally dictatorial and intolerant scientific system has taken its place.

The modern church college stands for investigation and advancement. It also stands for the development of the soul along all lines. The aim is broad. While one student is being prepared to enter advanced technical courses, another is being equipped to pursue liberal arts. Both students acquire a broader outlook by association; besides the influence of religion is brought to bear on each. The church college, while recognizing the demands of the state boards of education, preserves the equilibrium of society in a scientific and mechanical age by keeping a one-sided view of education from becoming predominant. In all fairness, in this connection, the church must recognize the state schools, university and colleges, in the maintenance of educational equipoise by preventing the return of any sort of scholasticism.

Development in education has run a cycle. At first colleges, secular or religious, were small but in the course of time the growth resulted in the great university. Now, the tendency is, in some universities to emphasize the college unit once more. In some universities the college is used as the basis of government because large student bodies are unwieldy and impersonal, or as in some instances, unmanageable and inefficient. The small college cultivates the more intimate fellowship of student with student, and of professor and student.

The alumni of Morris Harvey College have been going into big higher institutions of learning, especially is this true of more recent years. These graduates have made good and are now serving state and church acceptably.

Thus Morris Harvey College is justified in her existence by the aims and ideals of her curriculum, by the tendency of modern education, and by the records of her alumni.


George Vertegan
Edward Vertegan
John Morrow*
Alexander Samuels*
Lafayette Samuels
Mar Smith
John Williams
William Hensley
John Thornburg
George Shelton
John Morris
George Holderby*
Luie Hendricks
Charles Shoemaker
Sampson Seamonds
Charles Seamonds*
John Davis*
Joe Davis*
John Payne*
Wilson B. Moore
Thomas Merritt
Dr. V. R. Moss
B. J. McComas
Charles Latin
George McKendree
John Shelton
James Shelton
Frank Miller
Charley Wilson
Fred Baumgardner
John Baumgardner*
Linsey Carter
Gabe Crook
Jack Moore
Monroe Shelton*
William Sweetland*
Bird Hensley*
Peter Everett
George Rodgers
William Rodgers
John Tassen
Blackburn McCoy
William Messinger
Charles Kelley
Lemuel Wilson
Harvey Wilson*
Robert Holderby
Pate Seamonds
James Dundas
William Shoemaker
Lon Love
John Love
William Rolfe
Thomas Rolfe
Dr. Charles Moss
George Hodge
John Love* (No. 2)
Harvey Blackwood*
Jack Seamonds*
Jessie Dodson
George Heath
Isaac Blake
Horatio Sexto


Charles Shipe

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