William Erskine Stevenson was born in Warren, Pennsylvania. In 1829, he moved to Pittsburgh and worked as a cabinet maker's apprentice. He was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature in 1856, but moved to Valley Mills, Wood County, before his term expired. Stevenson served in the first state constitutional convention in November 1861, and was elected to the first West Virginia Senate in 1863, serving as president from 1865 to 1868.
As governor, Stevenson successfully advocated for the right of Confederate veterans to vote. Ironically, most Confederates were Democrats, leading to Stevenson's defeat for re-election in 1870. He supported equal education rights for blacks, increased immigration, improved transportation, and the development of industry. During his term, in 1870, the entire state government moved from Wheeling to Charleston, the first of three relocations.
After leaving the governor's office, Stevenson published the Parkersburg State Journal with O. G. Scofield until early 1882, when they sold the business to future governor Albert B. White. Stevenson held the position of receiver for the West Virginia Oil and Land Company until shortly before his death in 1883.
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