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First West Virginia Legislature

Biographical Sketches: John S. Barns

Wheeling Intelligencer
July 16, 1863

The First West Va. Legislature.


Sketches Personal, Political and Biographical.

JOHN S. BARNS, from Marion.

John S. Barns, one of the members from Marion, was born and reared in the county he now represents, the place of his nativity being near his present home, but a short distance from Fairmont. Mr. Barns is 47 years of age, though no one would suspect it by his looks. He belongs to an old and quite family numerous of that name. - His grand-parents were among the first settlers of that region, then included in Monongahala, half a mile below Fairmont. Mr. Barns' ancestors were English. He was reared a farmer; married at the age of 25; subsequently lost his wife, and married again about five years ago. His first wife was a sister of Dr. Z. Kidwell. Mr. Barns has been in business as merchant, a great part of his life. At present he is a farmer, and agent of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company at Barnsville.

He represented Marion county in the Legislature at Richmond in 1853, '54, '55 and '56, and was prominent in his advocacy of West Virginia rights and interests, and in his opposition to those enormous swindles, called by courtesy "internal improvements," by which the State debt was increased to such overgrown proportions. In the winter of '55, he spoke in opposition to the appropriations for the Covington and Manassas Gap railroad, and was ardent and zealous all the way through in his opposition to these and kindred measures.

Mr. Barns was in the hottest of the fight with Jones' cavalry at Fairmont, which took place on the 29th of last April, and then and there received a severe wound in the head from a musket ball, which cut the skull pretty deep but did not dangerously fracture it. He was confined several weeks to his room and the wound is barely healed now. It was a favorite saying of his defeated opponents that this wound elected Mr. Barns to the House of Delegates, and one of them is reported as having said to him, "ah, John, the bullet which wounded you killed me."

Politically, Mr. Barns has been a Democrat, from the time he was eighteen years of age. He did not vote for Gen. Jackson but only for the reason that he was not old enough. When the Democratic party split at Charleston he adhered to that wing of it represented by Mr. Douglas, and voted for that candidate, for President, in 1860. - His father was a Whig, as were his brothers, but singularly he enough did not imbibe Whig principles, but get out on a political road of his own. He has always been a strict constructionist, believing that the Federal Government was supreme, in all particulars where the Constitution expressly made it so, and that the States were supreme in all others, but utterly denies any power of secession on the part of any State. He was opposed to the call for Convention which passed the secession ordinance; believed the Legislature had no power to call it; for this reason, when solicited, declined to be a candidate for the Convention. He voted, with many others, in the June Convention against the ordinance for a division of the State, believing the time had not come, though he had always been for division; but when that ordinance was submitted to the people voted for it. He voted for the Constitution when submitted in April, 1862, and voted an informal vote at the same time for emancipation, and of course voted for the amended Constitution last May. Religiously, Mr. Barns is a member of the Methodist Protestant Church, and has been for the past twenty years; a great part of the time a steward and class leader in the Church.

Mr. Barns is the owner of two slaves; has always believed slavery an injury to the State and that it ought to be abolished, but holds it a traitor that belongs entirely to the States interested.

Personally, Mr. Barns is about five feet nine inches in height, and rather sparely built, wears a smoothly shaven face; hair rather dark, and growing somewhat thin on top; features not handsome, but agreeable in expression; eyes blue gray, and rather shrewd; is fluent in conversation, but does not speak often, though he is very attentive to and earnest about business, which he is likely to know as much about as the next one. That he is a shrewd business man, and looks out for the principal chance is evidenced by the fact that he is possessed of a very fair share of this world's goods; and if he attends to the interests of his constituents as well as he usually does to his own, they will have no cause to complain of him as a representative. In manner he is affable and unreserved, and upon the whole is a very good member and agreeable gentleman.

Biographies of the First West Virginia Legislature

West Virginia Archives and History