Wood County West Virginia

County History

Source: History of West Virginia ; By Virgil Anson Lewis; publ. 1887; Pgs.585-593

Transcribed for Genealogy Trails by Andrea Stawski Pack

    Wood county was formed from Harrison by Act of Assembly passed December 21, 1798, by which it was declared, "that all that part of the county of Harrison, lying westwardly of a line to begin thirty miles from the Ohio river, on the line dividing the counties of Harrison and Kanawha; thence northeasterly to intersect the line of Ohio county at twenty-one miles distance from the Ohio river on a straight line from that point where the Ohio county line strikes the said river, shall, from and after the first day of May next, form one distinct county to be called and known by the name of Wood county."

    James Wood.—The County was named in honor of James Wood, the son of Colonel James Wood, the founder of Winchester, Virginia; he was born about the year 1750, in Frederick county, which he represented in the Virginia Convention of 1776, which framed the State Constitution. He was appointed by that body, November 15, 1776, a colonel in the Virginia line and did valiant service in the cause of Freedom. He was long a member of the Council of State, and by seniority, Lieutenant-Governor of Virginia . He was elected Governor of the State, December 1, 1796 and served until December 1, 1799. Governor Wood was subsequently commissioned Brigadier-General in the United States Military, and served long as President of the Order of Cincinnati . He died at Richmond , June 16, 1813.

    First Courts.—August 12, 1799, the Justices of Wood County met at the house of Hugh Phelps. They were John Bennett, Thomas Pribble, John Henderson, Caleb Hitchcock, Abner Lord, Joseph Spencer, Thomas Lord, and Ichabod C. Griffin. William Lowther became the first sheriff and John Stokely first clerk. The court then fixed the location of the Court house and other public buildings at Neal's Station. John Neal and Peter Misner were recommended to the Governor as fit persons for coroner, and Harman Blennerhassett, John Neale, Daniel Kincheloe, Jacob Beeson and Hezekiah Bukey for justices. John Stephenson was appointed Commissioner for the county, at the November term, 1799.

    There was some difficulty in getting a sufficient number of justices to serve, and it was not until March 10, 1800, that there was a full bench. Then the justices were Hugh Phelps, Thomas Pribble, John G. Henderson, Hezekiah Bukey, John Stevenson, Daniel Kincheloe, William Hannaman, Thomas Lord, Caleb Hitchcock, Abner Lord and Ichabod C. Griffin. Nathaniel Davison was appointed Attorney for the State; Robert Triplett qualified as Surveyor, and Peter Misner as Coroner. Elias Lowther was appointed to ascertain and mark the boundaries of the county.

    October 13, 1800, it was "ordered by the court that the necessary public buildings be erected on the lands of Isaac Williams, on the Ohio, opposite the mouth of Muskingum River, where the said Williams' barn now stands, and that the court be held at the house of Isaac Williams. Here the court convened at the next term, November, 10, 1800, and a vote was again taken on the location of the county seat, when ten to six voted to return to the house of Hugh Phelps, and the court adjourned to meet there the next morning."

    The same term, "at a full court held at the house of Hugh Phelps, it was unanimously agreed that the point above the mouth of the Little Kanawha river, at the union of the said Kanawha and Ohio rivers, on lands owned by John Stokely, is the proper place for the seat of justice, and it is accordingly ordered that the necessary public buildings be erected thereon." It was further unanimously agreed by each member of the court: "We will support the above order and never will raise any legal objection to the same." Then the court adjourned "to meet at the point at the upper side of the Little Kanawha where a block-house has been built."

    Mr. Parker died about the year 1800, and the lands descended to his daughter Mary, who married William Robinson, Jr., of Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. The title was as usual disputed, John Stokely, being one of the contestants. The Parker heirs saved about seven hundred acres. At the time the county seat was located the town was called "The Point." A half-dozen log cabins composed it. Occupying them were the families of William Enoch, Caleb Bailey, John Stephenson, Jesse Murdock, Edward Stephenson and John Stokely. Stokely's patent was dated December 8, 1800, and he laid out the town of Newport on the Parkersburg side, and it was so known until 1809; then the abovementioned heirs of Parker gained the land from Stokely, and December 11, 1810, the town was laid out and named Parkersburg. The plat was recorded in 1816. The present court house was built in 1815. The first was a log house in Stokely's town of Newport.

    Blennerhassett's Island is situated in the Ohio River two miles below Parkersburg . Its historical associations render it an object of interest to all. To tell the story would be to write a volume. Once the home of luxury and refinement, it has become a "Deserted Isle." In its desolation is told the fate of ambition.

    Harman Blennerhassett was a representative of a distinguished and wealthy Irish family, but was born in England during the temporary residence of his parents in that country. He began his education in England, but graduated at the University of Dublin, after which he entered the profession of law. In England, he married Miss Adeline Agnew, who was a granddaughter of General Agnew, who was with Wolfe at Quebec. Soon after he sold his estate in Ireland and sailed for America, landing at New York, where he was hospitably received by the first families. In 1797, he journeyed to Philadelphia, and from there came to Marietta in 1798. Having purchased the beautiful island which now bears his name, he began the erection of a splendid mansion, the architect being a Mr. Greene of New Castle, Pennsylvania, and the carpenters coming from Philadelphia.

    Harman Blennerhassett was an accomplished scholar, well versed in mathematics and languages and possessed of refined tastes and manners. So perfect was his memory, that it is said he could repeat the whole of Homer's Iliad in the original Greek. He brought with him to his island home a library of choice and valuable works and a complete set of chemical apparatus and philosophical instruments, to the accommodation of which one wing of the mansion was appropriated. Possessed of an ample fortune to supply every want, a beautiful and accomplished wife and lovely children, he was surrounded with everything which can make life desirable and happy. The adjacent settlements of Belpre, Parkersburg, and the more distant one of Marietta , although buried in the heart of the wilderness, contained many men of cultivated minds and refined manners, with whom he held constant and familiar intercourse, so that there was lacking none of the social advantages which his remote and insular situation would seem to indicate. Beneath his hospitable roof were many merry gatherings of the people of these towns, when song and dance echoed through the halls.

    In 1805, Aaron Burr, the slayer of Alexander Hamilton, when descending the Ohio , landed uninvited upon the island, but met with a cordial reception. He remained only three days, but that was too long. In this short period he succeeded in enticing the unsuspecting Blennerhassett into his plans. These were to settle an armed force on the Wichita, for the purpose of colonizing that region, and, in the event of a war between Spain and the United States—at that time threatened —to conquer Mexico . To Burr, Blennerhassett advanced large sums of money, the former giving as his security his son-in-law, Joseph Alston, afterward Governor of South Carolina. The scheme progressed, and in the meantime Blennerhassett had a flotilla of small boats, about twenty in number, built at Marietta , destined for use in the southern expedition. The peculiar form of the boats excited apprehension, but there was no interference, and on a December evening in 1806, with supplies and thirty men on board, the fleet began the descent of the river. On the same day Colonel Hugh Phelps, commandant of the Wood county militia, received orders to arrest Blennerhassett and his associates. Late at night, with a body of the military, he proceeded to the island; but it was too late. Colonel Phelps at once began an overland journey to Point Pleasant, hoping to intercept the boats at that place, but they had passed when he arrived. The troops were met by Mrs. Blennerhassett, who forbade them touching anything not named in the warrant. But the mob spirit ran riot, the well-stored cellars were assailed, the mansion sacked, balls fired into the rich gilded ceilings, fences pulled down to light the sentinel fires and the shrubbery trampled under foot. By the aid of friends, Mrs. Blennerhassett was enabled a few' days later to embark on a flatboat with her two children and black servants, and finally joined her husband at Louisville . Well might they look with grief in after years to the fair Eden from which they had been driven by their own indiscretion and the deception of Aaron Burr.

    In the year 1812, the mansion was destroyed by an accidental fire; the garden with its beautiful shrubbery and rare plants was converted into a cornfield; the graveled avenue leading to the river was turned by the plowshare, and since that time nothing remains of the once beautiful home of Harman Blennerhassett save the name. More than fourscore years have passed away since the once happy occupants left it, still the thousands of travelers who annually pass it by rail and river, eagerly inquire after and gaze with pathetic interest upon the island.

    Burr and Blennerhassett were both arrested, taken to Richmond and confined in the penitentiary.. The former was acquitted and the latter never brought to trial. Blennerhassett and his family afterward went to Europe, where he died on the island of Guernsey, at the age of sixty-three years. The widow afterward returned to the United States and died in great poverty in New York, in 1842. But one representative of the family is now known to be in this country—that the wife of Joseph Lewis Blennerhassett, now residing at Troy, Missouri.


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