Henry Ruffner

West Virginia Historical Magazine Quarterly

April 1902

The Ruffners
No. IV. Henry. First Article.
By Dr. W. H. Ruffner.


Henry Ruffner, eldest son of Col. David Ruffner, was born in Shenandoah County, Va., Jany. 16th, 1790. The house of his nativity is still or was a few years ago, standing near the Willow Grove Mills on the Hawkshill Creek about a mile above Luray (now Page County). Here the child Henry remained in his father's family until the removal to Kanawha in the fall of 1796, at which time he was six years and nine months old. Usually in biographical sketches this infantile period is passed over with little or no remark; but when advanced in life he himself was fond of recurring to this budding stage, because even to old age he retained interesting memories of the period. When four years old he was taken to Pennebaker's iron works, and never forgot the new and terrifying scenes. At about the same age he remembers the birth of a sister, and how his curiosity was satisfied by being told that the baby was found in the mill-pond. And he was not much older when he caught his first stone-toter (fish), and witnes[s]ed the burning of his grandfather's great barn. An account of these and other incidents of childhood he has left among his biographical memoranda. Dr. Stanley Hall and other students of infantile psychology would be interested in such memorabilia.


On the 20th of October 1796, the little boy Henry arrived with the rest of the family at the Clendenin Blockhouse, and there he remained until the removal to The Licks in 1805. Here is a period of nine years concerning which we have but few memoranda. It may be supposed, though I have no knowledge, that there was by this time at least a primary school in Charleston, small as was the population. It is quite certain that before he left Charleston Henry had acquired a taste for solid literature. By this time he rode on bags to his father's little "Corn Cracker" on Elk, and it is said that he sometimes rode through Charleston with Hume's England lying open before him, his head bent forward, and he so absorbed in reading as to forget everything about him.

From early youth he was an omnivorous reader. When a boy he engaged with other boys in fishing, swimming, raccoon hunting and such like, but not with the usual boyish enthusiasm. He was graver and more abstracted than other boys. In truth his mind moved on a wider plane, and besides, he was extremely diffident. He used to tell of his father taking him when he was quite a big boy to the house of a German farmer. The farmer asked him some simple question, but Henry was so struck with embarrassment that he could not answer a word. The man after staring at him a moment turned and said in German, "The boy's a booby" - not knowing that German was the boy's mother tongue.

When the family removed to the salt works the Ruffners owned the whole bottom from the mouth of Campbell's Creek to the cross line above Malden. David and Joseph were the principal owners. By this time Henry did farm work and helped with the sinking of the first salt well.

In a former number I erred in saying that Col. David Ruffner built the house near the mouth of George's Creek in which he and his descendants lived so long. His first residence was a mile below that house, in Tinkersville, near the salt well. The nucleus of the upper house, afterward much enlarged, was built by George Alderson, and was his residence, where he died in 1805, a few months after he had sold to the Ruffners. Alderson had a small mill on the creek, and a blacksmith shop, neither of which did much business, both water and custom being scarce.

Alderson's death was a terribly unhappy one, and his restless ghost was supposed to haunt the premises. Whilst his family remained in the house, the ghost hung about the mill and blacksmith shop. What he did, and what happened in consequence was well told many years afterward by Dr. Henry Ruffner who when a youth had a startling experience in the haunted house. It is told in the Southern Literary Messenger for July 1856. After telling something of the mill and shop, the writer continues:

"Here, therefore, solitude and silence generally reigned at might; and here first the hapless ghost of Alderson was reported to give tokens of his presence. In the dead hours of the night, sounds of grinding were heard at the mill, and the clink of a hammer was heard in the shop, whilst will-'o-the-wispeth lights faintly glimmered and flitted about the place.

A few months before Alderson's death, my father and uncle had purchased the land on which he lived near the old salt lick above Charleston, with the view of experimenting for salt water upon it. A few months after his death, the surviving family left the dwelling house vacant, and so it continued to be for several months, because the owners had no immediate use for it. Now, as ghosts, like rats and owls, are apt to haunt a deserted house; so this poor ghost took possession of his old residence, and began to frighten passers-by. He was seen gliding through the dusky yard in the evening shadows, and was heard at late hours of the night making a pother [sic] in the empty rooms. These signs of his presence were the more frequently observed, because the house stood by the road side near the river bank. He had the boldness, one Sunday morning, when a fog obscured the atmosphere, to look out of an upper window at a couple of young people passing along the road, and to frighten them with an indistinct view of his physiognomy.

But this ghastly occupant was not permitted very long to keep exclusive possession of his old premises. My uncle, an old bachelor, had newly taken a wife; and not having the fear of ghosts before his eyes, took the occupancy of the house, had it swept and garnished, and made ready in every respect to receive him and his bride, when they should return from a visit to some kinsfolk in the east.

Now as there was valuable property in the house, my uncle asked me to go and lodge there every night, as a guard during his absence. An old negro woman, who occupied a cabin near the house, would be a sufficient protection by day; but not by night, because her fear of the ghost would cause her either to desert the premises, or to call in company who might not be altogether trustworthy.

I readily consented to be the night guard of the haunted house, though I felt rather queer, when I thought of the ghost stories. I was a youth of 16 years, devotedly fond of books, given to solitary misings [sic], of a nervous temperament and a susceptible imagination. My memory was full of ghost stories which I had read or heard; but I was a firm disbeliever in apparitions of the dead. Intellectually, therefore, I had no fear of seeing a disembodied spirit, or of any harm that could result from the sight of such intangible beings; yet I was so affected by mere association of ideas, that whenever I passed a graveyard, alone, by night, or other gloomy place reported to be ghost-haunted; I felt a vague, nervous apprehension, that some shadowy form might rise before my imagination, if not before my eyes. To the living, the state of the dead, and the nature of a disembodied spirit, are involved in mystery; and the idea of meeting with one of these departed spirits in gloom and solitude, raises an instinctive dread, lest the veil which covers the secrets of the grave to which we hasten should be prematurely raised.

The evening after my uncle's departure, I went alone to his house, a mile from my father's, and arrived at dark. The old negro furnished me with a lighted candle, and forthwith left the place, fearing it seemed, that the ghost might come upon her in the cabin, notwithstanding my presence in the house, a few yards distant.

The night - a September night - was warm and perfectly calm; the room - my uncle's bed room - was small and close. I therefore opened a window looking into the back yard, and placing the candlestand near it, I went to a small book case in the room, to get something to read until bed time. Some of the 30 or 40 volumes I had read; others I cared not to read. At length I met with a small duodecimo volume, bearing the strange title of "The Bloody Buoy," which I found to be a compilation by Peter Porcupine (Cobbett) of all the horrible atrocities committed by the French revolutionists during "the reign of terror." This volume excited my curiosity, and notwithstanding the horrifying nature of its contents, I selected it for my evening's entertainment.

I sat down by the open window, and was soon immersed in scenes of blood and murder - once shocking realties, and now reproduced in my imagination, and the more vividly by reason of the gloomy and exciting circumstances around me. Here was I, half a mile from all living men, alone in a dark night, in the room where the dissipated man had given up the ghost - that mad, miserable ghost, which was believed by many to haunt the place where he had lived so long and died so wretchedly.

Readily, therefore, did my imagination body forth the horrible scenes of the French revolution - atheistical frenzy, reveling in blood - base born wretches yelling, like demons, for death and destruction; - a good king and a beautiful queen dragged from the throne to the prison, and from the prison to the scaffold; - then the scaffold daily drenched with the blood of the aged and the young, the wise and the fair: - crowded prisons emptied by wholesale murder with knives and bludgeons, and whole families. of innocent citizens, jammed by hundreds into covered boats, and sunk, shrieking, to the bottom of the deep river. The longer I read the heart-sickening details of these cruelties, perpetrated by demonical atheists in the name of liberty, the more did my head grow dizzy and my blood run cold at the contemplation of so much wickedness and so much suffering. I could almost see the forms of the murdered, and hear them as they ascended from their gory beds, shrieking to heaven for vengeance upon their murderers.

I laid the book down. The night was nearly half gone. Every thing around me was still as death. Not even a cricket chirped on the hearth, nor did a beetle's low whir break the solemn silence. I heard nothing to indicate life or motion, but the pulsations of my own heart. Outside, the night was intensely dark and sultry. Dank vapors brooded over the earth. I held my candle out of the window, .but could see nothing except the branches of a golden willow tree that grew by the window.

I resumed my seat and fell into a train of musings. Gloomy and tragical thoughts ran through my mind. I reflected on the folly, the wickedness and the misery of my fellow creatures. Human life, (thought I), must appear to an atheist as a thing of no consequence; blood as merely a red liquor, thoughts and feelings as nothing more than changes of action in the electric fluid, and death as the stoppage of a worn-out or disordered machine. But man has a spirit within him, which outlives the body. That immortal part of our nature, when it leaves its house of' clay, carries with it the memory and the feelings of its former life in the body. If it went forth imbued with earthly affections, and unprepared for spiritual enjoyments, it would desire still to hover about the place of its former abode. And who knows whether it may not be permitted sometimes to do so, - to punish itself by frequenting the scene of pleasures now lost forever, and by seeing others enjoy there the warm life it loved and has lost. So, as the living go to renew their grief at the tombs of the dead, the dead may, for aught that we know, haunt the abodes of the living, to torment themselves with vain regrets for enjoyments past, and fruitless remorse for sins yet to be atoned for.

From this train of thought I was suddenly startled by the sharpest, the most ear-piercing cry that I had ever heard. I knew it instantly to be a cry, - quick and momentary, as a stroke of lightning: but what could have uttered it, was past conjecture. I knew of no earthly creature's voice, that could make a sound so quick, and penetrating; nor could I distinctly characterize it as a scream, a shriek, or a screech. Nor could I have told where it originated. It seemed to have been uttered close to my ear, and I would have been sure that it was, had any living or moving form appeared, when I looked suddenly around me. But no such thing was visible. All things remained as they were before, motionless and silent as death. I was frightened and perplexed. It seemed that the ghost was present; and knowing my thoughts, had shrieked an answer to the question then on my mind.

With tingling nerves and palpitating heart, I sat still and watched for some development of the mystery. For a long time, as I thought, - but perhaps not so very long, - I saw nothing, and heard nothing more. My nervous agitation began to subside, but my mental perplexity rather increased. In vain did I try to conceive what could have uttered that sound.

At last I was startled again by the repetition of the cry, as quick and shrill, but not quite so strong as before. Now, it did not seem so strange and unearthly as in the first instance. Me- thought that I had heard something similar in former times. Now too, I perceived that it issued from the darkness outside. I was not kept long in suspense. In a few seconds, the sharp cry was succeeded by sounds less shrill and less equivocal, - namely by

the uh-huh-h-hoo of my old acquaintance - Minerva's bird of wisdom - the owl. Probably my light had drawn him near to the window, on his silent flight; and as nothing to alarm him appeared, he perched himself upon a bough of the willow tree by the window to gaze at the candle. Not knowing what to make of this dazzling object, and perhaps intending to frighten it, if this light should conceal an enemy, he uttered that terribly startling sound."

Before leaving Charleston Henry formed a worthy friendship with Samuel Williams, who came with his father's family to Charleston from Ohio in 1803 and remained for some years. This- was one of the early Methodist families. The friendship between the boys was genuine, and continued through life. Ex- Governor Atkinson in his interesting history of Kanawha County gives some extracts from articles entitled "Leaves from. a Portfolio," written by Samuel Williams many years after he left Kanawha in the "Ladies Repository," a magazine published in Cincinnati in the years 1851-4. Mr. Williams writing of himself in the third person, says:

"During his sojourn on the Kanawha Mr. Williams formed an intimate acquaintance with a congenial spirit, a son of David Ruffner, Esquire, resident half a mile above Charleston on the river. Henry Ruffner the boy I allude to, was some four years the junior of Williams; but his sober-mindedness and steady habits, his love of books and the pursuit of knowledge, seemed to annihilate the difference in age. In their tastes and in their feebly-aided desires for mental improvement, as well as in their recreations and amusements, the hearts of these two juvenile friends beat in unison, and they sought and enjoyed each other's company as much as the proper attention to their daily avocations permitted. I hesitated when I commenced this paragraph about giving the name of this young friend of Mr. Williams, as he is still living. But as I write in all kindness to him, and cherish the recollection of our youthful associations and friendship, I hope the Reverend Doctor - for he has long been a distinguished divine in the Presbyterian Church - will pardon the liberty I have taken."

With this I close the youthful period of the subject of this sketch.


Before he had reached manhood, Henry showed plainly that he was not made for a farmer or a salt-maker. His inclination toward a literary life had grown with his growth and by the time he was 19 his father yielded, and sent him to Lewisburg in 1809, where only the year before the famous Rev. Dr. John McElhenney had commenced a classical school. This wonderful man by his preaching and teaching, and by his magnetic personality, exercised a wide, long-continued and transforming influence over the people for a hundred miles around him in every direction.

In 1845 a member of the New York press visited the Greenbrier country, and was so struck with the influence of Dr. McElhenney that he wrote to his paper: "Wherever in the hundred valleys that lie hidden in the mountains of South-western Virginia you shall observe a dwelling around which reign thrift and neatness, and within which are found domestic happiness and enlightened piety more than is common, there will you hear them speak with reverence and affection of this good man, and tell many a story of days spent at school in Greenbrier. Let it be known that he is to preach, and all will be seen moving as when John the Baptist preached in the wilderness of Judea; for even those who at other times neglect the house of worship, will not neglect it when this veteran officiates. For the space of two hundred miles all around him he is the bishop acknowledged by all hearts. * * * * I may add that in the best sense such a man never dies. His spirit and principles will live in ten thousand hearts in successive generations, while a single human voice is heard, or footstep seen among the mountains of Virginia."

Dr. McElhenney was a South Carolinian, educated at Washington College, and sent by Lexington Presbytery to Greenbrier and Monroe Counties. He settled in Lewisburg in 1808. He remained in charge of his congregation there for sixty years, but by rapid excursions and almost incessant preaching he evangelized a large proportion of a scope of country that may well amaze every one who knows how faithful in duty he was to his own people, and how successfully he at the same time conducted a classical school for 20 years. This school was developed finally into Lewisburg Academy, which has been a center of light ever since. Rev. Stuart Robinson who had been a pupil said of him: "Dr. McElhenney is the greatest man I ever knew in the ministry - great, I mean, with the greatness of action and faithfulness in the Master's work."

As to his school. Dr. Plumer another of his many distinguished pupils says: "He taught with great diligence and eclat. All his pupils admired him."

It was to this school and under the strong and healthful influence of Dr. McElhenney that Henry Ruffner came in 1809, and remained for three years. His mind and heart here found the peace and stimulus that he had craved in vain for years. Here he became a Christian. Here he gave himself wholly to study and to the cultivation of his spiritual nature.

He mastered the classical and mathematical studies taught in the Lewisburg School so thoroughly and was carried so far on his course, that when he went to Washington College in May 1812 he was able to graduate on the four years curriculum in a year and a half. He received his degree of A. B. in the fall of 1813. Whilst a student he also taught some classes in the Grammar School.

As was customary in those days he with the other students was examined in the presence of the Board of Trustees. In the only examination record I have been able to find he received the highest mark - Optimus on every study. At that time the upper grades were Bonus (Good). Melior (Better). Optimus (Best). He not only received Optimus every time, but upon one occasion a special prize offered for the best scholar. His devotion to study he confesses as an apology to his friend Sam'l Williams for epistolary neglect. Said he in a letter written June 6, 1812: "While drinking at the Castalian fount, I almost forget to raise my head, and view the passing scenes of real life."

The president of the College was Dr. George Baxter a truly great man, who was the son of the former Surveyor of Northwestern Virginia. Dr. Baxter was the successor of Rev. Wm. Graham, who near the close of the 18th Century endeavored to establish a colony on the Ohio river in Kanawha County, now Mason County. His name is still there. Mr. Graham and Dr. Baxter both taught theology during their College presidency; there being in those days no theological schools. Mr. Ruffner having completed his College course spent a year studying theology with Dr. Baxter. A part of his time during this year was occupied in teaching the classes of the professor of languages, who died after a long illness. This brought Mr. Ruffner to the fall of 1814.

He next gave a year to travelling. He says he travelled in the Western and Eastern parts of the United States, but he does not tell exactly where he went, or how he travelled. He was all his life fond of long excursions on horseback, and probably this was his mode of conveyance.

Missionary Period.

By the autumn of 1815 he was back in Lexington, ready to receive his license to preach, which was conferred upon him Oct. 8 by the Presbytery. Straightway he returned to the valley of Kanawha, whose religious destitution was one of the strongest motives that led him into the ministry. The character of the population which had gathered about the salt-works has been mentioned in a former article; but whilst there was less wickedness there was almost equal destitution elsewhere in the valley and in the side valleys. Here the young preacher came to devote himself, possibly for life, to the evangelization of these people.

In his old age he gives an account of his labors and changes in the Kanawha Valley between the autumn of 1815 and the spring of 1819. It is found in an address which he began to write for delivery to his Maiden congregation on his 70th birthday, Jan. 16, 1860, but which was not finished. After describing the moral condition of the people in 1815, he mentions other facts woven into a narrative, which I give in his own words, to-wit:

"From Charleston up this valley for miles beyond the saltworks, no religious society or church building of any sort existed, and few sermons were heard amidst the din of business and the shouts of profaneness. There were many women and some men of good moral character; but few of them were influenced by religious feelings, or could firmly withstand the evil influences that bore hard upon the principles of honesty and conscientiousness, which require the aid of religion to make them firm against worldly temptations.

When all these moral evils were rising to their full height, I commenced my ministry here in November 1815. I preached in the little old Court House in Charleston which could seat about 40 people or by using the jury-room benches, about 50 or 60. It was the only house in the town in which any sort of public assembly could be held. At the salt-works I preached in my father's house and sometimes at a little school house near the Burning Spring. Afterwards I was invited to hold meetings sometimes in other private houses on both sides of the river. The congregations for the first 2 or 3 years were small, varying from 20 or 30 to 50 or 60 persons. But the number gradually increased, and the attention became more serious; but although ministers of other denominations began now to preach more or less in this neighborhood, there was not in those times any strong or general excitement, such as we usually call a revival. The seed of the word did not spring up suddenly. Its growth was slow but sure. But within this first period of 2 or 3 years I had begun to extend my labors into the outer and most destitute parts of the county. In some parts my Baptist and Methodist brethren had done what circumstances permitted to supply the spiritual wants of the country, and had organized a few small societies. The Baptists were the oldest denomination in the country. In the upper parts of this valley and below Elk as far as Coal river, and on Goal river and in Teaze's Valley, they had small churches and 2 or 3 very humble buildings, in which they could meet for worship; but at this time they had no salaried minister who devoted his time to their services; but only 2 or 3 preachers who having to support their families by worldly labor, could not attend regularly to pastoral duties. By invitation I often preached for and among these feeble societies of Baptists, and was always treated with brotherly kindness.

But the most of my labors outside of Charleston and the Saltworks, were directed towards the parts of the country where the people had little or no preaching of any kind and where no Christian Society existed. I preached on Elk river as far up as the settlements then extended. I was the first minister who ever preached in the upper settlements of Pocatalico; and could, a year after I began to visit that people, have organized a Presbyterian Church there; but being as yet a mere licentiate, I could not regularly organize a church. Before I was ordained, and had authority to organize a church, a Methodist brother, who towards the last, began to join me in my visits to that region, succeeded in organizing a Methodist Society there. Having enough to do elsewhere, I then gave up that new ground to my Methodist brethren, and was pleased to hear that they continued to cultivate with success a field in which I had first and not a few times preached the gospel. But whilst I rejoiced that others had successfully entered upon a field which I had labored to prepare, I was then and am to this day convinced that our Presbyterian system is defective in its ways and means of providing for the spiritual wants of a new country, such as Kanawha then was. In this connection I ought to mention that for years after I began my ministry, I neither asked nor received any salary or reward for my labors; though I had only to ask that I might receive a missionary appointment with a salary. But in those flush times of salt-making my father, though not then a religious man, cheerfully afforded me what was needful to enable me to give my labors freely to those who needed spiritual assistance, and for that reason I chose to leave the missionary fund of my Presbytery whole for the benefit of other parts of West Virginia, and to labor as a volunteer without pay. In the third year after I began my ministry in Kanawha some friends took up a subscription for me, the most of which was collected and paid over to me, and the next year I received something more in the same way. My total receipts as a minister during my 3 1-2 years service liere may have amounted to 6 or 7 hundred dollars, and for this I had mainly to thank my good friend William Whitteker, Sen'r., who took the leading part in obtaining for me a remuneration for my services. Misfortunes in business reduced him to poverty in his old age; but he was an honest man and a Christian. He never in the days of failure and embarrassment, when the soul of honesty is tried, attempted, so far as I know, to defraud his creditors. This is highly to his credit, especially in this country in these days of adversity.

But to return to my narrative. In the 2nd year of my ministry here in Kanawha some gentlemen started the scheme of building an Academy in Charleston. Subscriptions were taken and in a few months the walls and roof of a large building were finished; but the funds proving deficient, the interior of the house was left unfit for occupancy and the enterprise seemed ready to fail entirely.

It seemed that from the first, I was expected to become chief teacher in the Academy when the building was prepared. The elder Judge Summers, then at the head of the Kanawha bar, and always a warm friend of mine, proposed that I should engage to teach in the Academy, as an inducement to further subscriptions to complete the building. I agreed to open a school there the next fall. Seeing the necessity of prompt measures to prepare the building for use, I hired carpenters on my own responsibility to lay floors, make benches, &c. After a room was prepared I opened school and had as many pupils as I could attend to; but after paying workmen's bills, I had the first session but $5.00 left as my share of the tuition fees. My school continued three half yearly sessions (if I remember rightly); the principal rooms of the house were finished, one of the large rooms contained in the building was fitted up as a place of worship, and continued for years to be the only place in the town in which a congregation of more than 50 people could be seated. As the citizens contributed something towards completing the house after my first session, I got some considerable share of my tuition fees; amounting I guess to several hundred dollars. Besides my earnings as a teacher, I received during the two last years of my ministry the proceeds of a subscription for services as a preacher. Altogether during these years I received a sufficiency to pay my necessary expenses, as I had no one but myself to provide for, and my best friend Wm. Whitteker gave me half a year's board gratuitously during my first session's teaching in the Academy, when my net income as a teacher was five dollars.

In the fall of 1818, I met the Lexington Presbytery in Lexington and was ordained to the full work of the ministry. On. my return I organized two churches, one in Charleston, which embraced the salt works. It numbered some 16 or 18 members, of whom but one is now living; she is now a member of this church (at Malden), a mother in Israel, waiting like myself, in much bodily weakness, for the Savior's call to the rest which remaineth for the people of God.

The other church was in Teaze's Valley about 18 miles from Charleston. Its members were nearly as numerous as those of the other church. This might have grown to be a strong church. had it been attended to by my successors in Kanawha. But having been neglected for years its members gave up in despair and joined other denominations. It is useless now for me to regret two things in regard to my first ministry in Kanawha; 1st. That I did not confine my labors to three principal points where I judged that with God's blessing strong churches could be founded, instead of scattering my labors among destitute neighborhoods where less good could be done in the long run: 2nd. That I had not procured ordination a year sooner, that I might in time have gathered unto the fold, the little flock on Pocatalico who were then waiting to be organized; and 3rd. That I was persuaded to teach school in the academy, by which my ministerial labors were circumscribed. And lastly perhaps I ought to regret that I was induced to leave Kanawha to become a professor in Washington College and pastor of an old church near Lexington. I studied the question of removal maturely, and concluded for several reasons that I ought to go. The college where I had got my degree, and near which I had found a wife was in a low condition and threatened almost with extinction by the splendid University just going into operation at Charlott[e]sville. It was thought my talents and turn of mind fitted me for the duties of a college professorship. In short I was persuaded to fio; and then for the space of 30 years, I was but a yearly visitor in Kanawha. I was gratified to find that notwithstanding some untoward circumstances, the foundation which I had laid in this the wickedest and most hopeless part of Kanawha stood firm, that the church grew under my successors, and that the Academy, though the building was burnt soon after I left, had gotten a start, which kept it alive. A second building on a smaller scale was erected on the ruins of the first, and has been used as an Academy ever since. In a few years the church at Charleston felt able and willing to erect their present house of worship."

Whilst going on with the work of preaching and teaching in Kanawha without any thought of change Mr. Ruffner was in the winter of 1818-19 surprised by an invitation to take the chair of Ancient Languages in Washington College. After due reflection he accepted. The College session was to open May 19 1819. He had however an important engagement to be in Lexington, April 1st. He organized the Charleston church March 14th of that year, and at once (the next day probably) he started for Lexington. On the first of April he was married by Dr. Baxter to Miss Sarah Lyle, daughter of Captain William Lyle, a large farmer near Lexington. This was the happiest event of his life.

Before the College opened he returned to Kanawha - perhaps bringing with him his wife - both on horseback - and held some meetings in and about Charleston. He attended two meetings of the elders (April 29th and May 2nd), and recorded the proceedings - as may be seen in the old session book now in the hands of the pastor of the church. The meetings were held in Mercer Academy.

When Washington College opened, May 19th, he was in place, and began what proved to be a thirty years' career as professor and president.

Lexington, Va., Feb. 16, 1902.

July 1902

The Ruffners.
IV. Henry: Second Article.
By Dr. W. H. Ruffner.

Dr. Henry Ruffner's career as professor, and afterward president of Washington College, began in May 1819 and ended in June, 1848. This was the prime section of his life, and was crowded with labors. Though modest and peaceable in his nature, he constantly labored even against opposition for the improvement of the College. Within two years he succeeded in doubling the amount of study required for the bachelor's degree, the time remaining the same. Thus the curriculum was placed on a level with that of the best colleges in the United States. Owing to the loose discipline existing at the time his improved course was not perfectly adhered to; but he waited in patience for the triumph he felt sure would come.

Meanwhile, however, dark and troublous times had to be passed through. In 1829 the Board of Trustees passed a resolution which caused all three of the members of the faculty to resign. Mr. Ruffner was promptly re-elected, and the college placed in his hands with authority to employ assistance until the institution could be re-organized. He was approached with regard to his acceptance of the presidency at this time and also on subsequent occasions, but owing to personal and other reasons, he felt that his time had not come, and he forbade the use of his name. Two other presidents were brought in for a short time, but in 1836 Mr. Ruffner was unanimously requested by the Board of Trustees to accept the presidency; which he did. From that time the college moved on a higher plane. A fourth professor was added to the faculty; a liberal course of study was carried out; a stricter discipline enforced, the number of students increased, and a new spirit of study pervaded the institution.

The President's devotion to his duties was remarkable. At 5 o'clock every morning he was in his office at college, and there he remained until 9 at night, only visiting his home for meals and lodging. His own hard study, his classes, and the duties of administration, soon began to pull down his naturally powerful constitution. This forced upon him the thought that at no distant day he must relax his labors, or must resign. An approaching crisis in his Kanawha interests inclined him toward the latter alternative. He was the owner of the original Salt Spring lot on which had been erected the first furnace, but for several years the Salt Company had been paying him a "dead rent;" to-wit, had paid him fifteen hundred dollars a year not to make salt, with a view of preventing overproduction. This rent was soon to cease by the dissolution of the company, and the conditions were favorable for salt-making.

These and some other considerations caused him to give notice to the College Board of Trustees at a meeting in January, 1841, that at their June meeting he would hand in his resignation. Earnest protest was made at once against the president's resignation and a special meeting of the Board was ordered for Feb. 22, to consider the subject. On that day the Board met, and passed strong resolutions commending the president's official services, and pressing him to remain. An addition of $200 was made to his salary. A committee was sent with the resolutions. The students also held a full meeting, at which they adopted a most kind and complimentary address to Dr. Ruffner, urging, even begging him not to resign. To these appeals were added a strong social influence. The end of it all was that as a matter of feeling more than of judgment he consented to remain - a decision which he never ceased to regret.

One of the first evil consequences was the loss within one year of $5,000 in Kanawha by the mismanagement of incompetent agents. He found too that he had lost much of his enthusiasm in his college work, and soon a succession of troubles arose in connection with outside affairs; which altogether laid upon his shoulders heavier burdens than he had ever been called to bear before. But he took up every burden as he came to it, and allowed himself no rest except on Sundays when he rode to the country and preached to the Monmouth or Timber Ridge congregation, and in vacation, which gave him opportunities for travel and especially for visiting Kanawha, which all his life he loved with boyish affection.

He relieved his mind occasionally by writing literary articles, and by attending the Saturday night debates of the Franklin Society; a high grade association, which was long maintained in Lexington by the most enlightened of the citizens. Here were tested all the great subjects appropriate to such a society. Between 1841 and 1848 occurred in Lexington three great controversies, two of which were discussed at great length in the Franklin Society. The other was ecclesiastical, but was taken up by the people of the town and county.

One of the controversies had reference to the proper mission of the Virginia Military Institute. The one that created the most excitement was the "Skinner War" - a war between the pastor of the Lexington Church and his congregation, who had asked him to resign; which affair of course was carried into the Presbytery, and which spread into the community. It was a long war and a very acrimonious one. Finally came the great debate in the Franklin Society on the question whether it was desirable to divide the State of Virginia by a line running on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountain. Into all these agitations was Dr. Ruffner immersed by the force of circumstances.

It was necessary to define the relations between the College and the Military Institute, and the college president could not avoid the taking of a leading part. The whole subject came up also in the Franklin Society, and there he made one of those great speeches which could only be called phenomenal.

In the Skinner case he was required by his Presbytery to lead in the prosecution of the rebellious pastor - a Scotchman of the Highland type. Ah! this was the toughest of the jobs required of him in his whole life, and it was a work of months.

Closely following (1847) came the question of the division of the State. The Western politicians were bitter against East Virginia for using their power to retain the mixed (white and black) basis of representation, and to deny to West Virginia its rights, as was affirmed. Dr. Ruffner's chief concern was for slave emancipation, which he knew could not be effected as long as East Virginia held the power. Still he did not take part in the controversy until specially invited to do so. When he went in he delivered an argument in favor of gradual emancipation, which by request was published in pamphlet and roused the State, and to some extent every State in the Union. In Virginia the weight of sentiment was heavily against emancipation - in fact, against the whole Lexington movement - and it came to naught. But the memory of the "Ruffner Pamphlet" still lives, and will not die. When Dr. Ruffner agreed to publish his speech he remarked privately that the publication of these sentiments would render it proper for him to resign the presidency of the college.

But more than all, his tired nature was crying aloud for rest. His physical frame was Herculean, and if he had lived an outdoor life he would have been as noted for physical strength as he was for intellectual.

In spite of all the troubles, the college enjoyed a fair degree of prosperity. A fifth professor was added, and in the heat of the controversies the number of students was 88, the highest number in the history of the institution up to that time except in 1842, when there was 97 on the roll. The numbers during Dr. Ruffner's whole administration were decidedly in advance of those in any preceding period. Handsome improvements had been made in the buildings and grounds. Peace had been restored in a great measure. So Dr. Ruffner thought that the time had come for him to carry out his purpose to withdraw. He left for Kanawha in May, 1848, and his resignation was sent to the Board of Trustees in June. Nothing disagreeable was said or done in connection with the event. Kind and appreciative resolutions were passed by the board, and he was requested to remain in the president's house as long as it suited his convenience.

His wifes' [sic] health, however, detained him in Lexington until after her death, which occurred in January, 1849. His four children were all grown; three of them were gone or ready to go off to themselves. Only his eldest daughter, Julia, accompanied him to Kanawha. His two sons, William Henry and David Lewis, spent part of their lives in Kanawha, and the youngest, Annie, married and was then living in Philadelphia. .

Two causes prevented Dr. Ruffner from settling down at once in Kanawha; one was his acceptance of an invitation to take part in the canvass then waging in Kentucky on the question of emancipation. He went to Louisville and wrote for the daily newspapers. His next sojourn was in Cincinnati, whither he went to consult some rare old tomes in the library of Lane Theological Seminary, in which he found some historical data which were useful to him in the preparation of his history of monkery. It was the summer of the cholera (1849), which he braved without fear.

The following winter he made his preparations for carrying out a scheme of retirement to the depths of the Kanawha Mountains. He had sold his salt and coal property in 1845 to Jacob Darneale, and invested some of the proceeds in mountain lands lying around the headwaters of Blue Creek, Campbell's Creek, Mill Creek and Indian Creek, an elevated region about seven miles from the river at Malden. Here in 1850, with his second wife and oldest daughter, he undertook to create a home where his fretted nerves might rest, and his eyes be regaled with the sight of flocks and waving corn. He found, alas! that 40 years of book study, preaching and teaching, was not a good preparation for opening and stocking a mountain farm, and that grubbing roots and building fence were something different from reading the bucolics of Virgil. Six or eight years dispelled his illusions, and he came back to Malden, where he took charge of the church which his father had established, and continued to preach there very usefully until his strength failed.

His history of monachism, entitled "The Fathers of the Desert," was published in two volumes, 12 mo., during his residence at Montovis (the name of his mountain home), but although a work of great learning, it was not on a subject that interested the public generally, and hence had but a limited circulation. Authorship was no part of his plan of life. In his earlier years at Lexington, he published two small volumes in defence of the Calvinistic theology, which, like all his arguments, were able. His preference was for literary composition, which he published in magazines. His power of description, and the purity and elegance of his style, always made his articles acceptable. But during his college life he considered all his publications as literary recreations. His story, "Judith Bensaddi," went through several editions. Numerous sermons and addresses were published in pamphlet form. Curiously, he wrote learned works on Mathematics, Latin, Political Economy, Hebrew Grammar, etc., but did not publish any of them. They seemed to be intended only to assist him in prosecuting his own encyclopedic studies.

A learned professor said he was the only student in the German sense who had ever lived in Lexington. In a debate in Lexington, some speaker quoted a distinguished man living in the place as authority, representing him as a very learned man. Captain David E. Moore said in reply, "I also will quote a distinguished man, who was not only the most learned man I ever knew, but if the next most learned man I ever knew were cut out of him, he would not bemissed."

During the decade preceding the Civil War, Dr. Ruffner foresaw the approaching catastrophe, as is shown by his Union speech delivered during that period, and it depressed him grievously in both body and mind, and no doubt shortened his life. About the time that the Cotton States seceded his nervous system broke down utterly, and he was no longer able to preach. Gradually his strength failed without any attack of acute disease. His mind continued clear and that sweet peacefulness of spirit which had always characterized him never changed. His trust in God and his own hope in the future retained firm to the latest hour. He ceased to breathe December 17, 1861, aged 71 years and 11 months.

Personal Sketch.

In the short space which it will be proper to use in describing Dr. Ruffner as a man, I can not do better than to copy a description taken from a newspaper article written about 1871, which belonged to a series entitled "Old Churches," this article being on Timber Ridge Church (7 miles from Lexington), a church where Dr. Ruffner preached for 12 years during his professorship in Washington College. I am not certain as to the authorship of the article, but I believe it to have been written by Rev. John Leyburn, D. D., who was born and educated in Lexington:

"Dr. Ruffner was educated at Washington College. There he became, first a tutor, then professor, and finally its able, efficient and distinguished president. He married Miss Sarah Lyle, daughter of Captain William Lyle, an elder of Timber Ridge Church. She was a lady of commanding appearance, gifted and cultivated in mind, and remarkable for her fine conversational power, her warm sympathies and cordial manners. She was just the "helpmeet" for such a man.

"We wish to write our recollections of him as a man and preacher. His appearance would have attracted the eye of any intelligent observer. He was six feet in height, erect, broad-shouldered, with a deep chest, a coal-black eye, and hair as dark. His face was always serious, calm and thoughtful. His manner was kind and gentle, though somewhat reserved. He was a friend through good and evil report. He did not fear the face of man. Had duty called him, he would have marched in a forlorn hope for the benefit of church or country with as much deliberation as he walked to his class-room. His modesty was proverbial. His charity was like the flowing streams of his mountain home, widening and deepening as they advance. Scandal stood abashed in his honest presence. In his stainless name, his domestic, social, college and pastoral life, he was an Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile. None ever merited better the doctorates conferred on him, and none ever bore so modestly the many notices of his literature and scholarship. He was a diligent student through a long life, and his well trained mind was stored with the most varied and accurate learning in all branches of science, literature and theology.

When roused in debate, he had few superiors. He never used his cultivated powers, however, to wound an adversary, or for the mere vanity of triumph. After he had reasoned out the subject of discussion, he sat down. Only once did we ever know of his being thoroughly excited. At a meeting of Synod in Lexington many years ago, some points of a case of discipline were under discussion. A disparaging remark, in some form not now remembered, was made of the father of Dr. Ruffner. Immediately he was on his feet. With the shrug of the shoulder peculiar to him, his eye meanwhile glowing with subdued excitement, and in a. voice tremulous with emotion, he said, "He who toucheth my father, toucheth the apple of my eye!" A prominent spectator present could hardly restrain in open Synod from applauding the noble sentiment.

"In his preaching Dr. Ruffner was always able, clear and practical. His style was simple, but not common. His general habit was to preach with the aid of a few notes only,

"In the latter period of his life, his sermons were sometimes distinguished for their beauty and eloquence. In his sermonizing, he improved to the last. He was greatly esteemed at Timber Ridge, and very successful in his ministry. In 1822, during his pastorate, in connection with his professorship, a revival occurred by which eighty were added to the church. In 1831, by his own request, the Church parted with him, but with the most unaffected sorrow. The last sermon he ever preached to this people was on the celebration of their centennial, about fifteen years ago. It was published, and is still treasured by the Church as a precious memorial of one who served them in the sweetest of life's ministries.

"And now he who told them of the deeds of their fathers, of the grace of their father's God, and of the vanity of human things, sleeps quietly at his "forest home' [sic] on the banks of the Kanawha. And here, at the simple grave of this good man, the writer of these sketches, who received his blessing and prayer in the day of early consecration, would offer this poor expression of his gratitude and veneration."

Dr. Henry Ruffner lies burried [sic] in the private burying lot of the Ruffners, in rear of the mansion, which has been occupied by different members of the family for 96 years.


West Virginia Archives and History