State founder Francis
Harrison Pierpont, first and only governor of the Reorganized Government
of Virginia, was born near Morgantown, January 25, 1814, and died at Pittsburgh,
March 24, 1899. He was a great-grandson of Col. Zackquill Morgan, founder
of Morgantown. He received his middle name in honor of Gen. William Henry
Harrison, under whom his father was serving at the time of his birth.
Often called "the Father of West Virginia," Pierpont's statue
stands in Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building in Washington, one of
two West Virginians so recognized.
While Francis was an infant, his family moved to a farm in Marion County
and later, when he was 13, to Fairmont, where his father built and operated
a tannery. Educated in a log schoolhouse near his home, Pierpont entered
Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania, in 1835. Following graduation,
he taught school in Harrison County but also studied law and was admitted
to the bar at Fairmont on May 2, 1842. Among the friends of his youth
and young manhood were Waitman T. Willey, Gordon Battelle, and John S.
Carlisle, all of whom played key roles in the West Virginia statehood
In 1848, Pierpont began an association with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad,
serving as a right-of-way attorney in Marion and Taylor counties. He started
a coal mine on family property in 1854 and entered into a partnership
with coal pioneer James Otis Watson, whose family later controlled Consolidation
Coal Company. On December 26, 1854, Pierpont married Julia Augusta Robertson
of Wisconsin. Beginning in 1856, he helped to found Fairmont Male and
Female Seminary, forerunner of Fairmont State College (now University).
In the opening days of the Civil War, Pierpont spoke frequently and forcefully
for the Union and against secession. He was a representative to the First
and Second Wheeling Conventions in 1861, where he worked with other conservatives
such as Willey to delay the immediate declaration of a new state, which
he believed to be unconstitutional. On June 20, 1861, Pierpont was unanimously
elected as governor of the unionist Reorganized State of Virginia, which
sat at Wheeling until West Virginia entered the Union two years later.
Pierpont worked assiduously to obtain funds for the loyal government,
raise troops for the state militia, defend northwestern Virginia from
guerillas and keep as much of it as possible under federal control, and
protect the B&O and Northwestern Virginia railroads. He worked hard
for the recognition and admission of West Virginia.
Following the establishment of the new state, he headed a loyal Virginia
government at Alexandria. In May 1865, at the direction of President Andrew
Johnson, he proceeded to Richmond, where he headed the civil government
as reconstructed under the Lincoln-Johnson Plan. As a result of the creation
of military government in Virginia under the Military Reconstruction Act
of 1867, Pierpont was removed from office on April 4, 1868, by Gen. John
Schofield, the military governor.
Following his return to West Virginia, Pierpont served a term in the West
Virginia House of Delegates but lost his seat when the Democrats "redeemed"
the government and took control of the young state. His partnership with
Watson, a Democrat, was dissolved due to political tensions. In his retirement
he helped to found the West Virginia Historical Society and served as
president of the General Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church.
Pierpont died at the home of his daughter in Pittsburgh and was buried
with military rites at Woodlawn Cemetery, Fairmont.
See also Formation of West Virginia, Reorganized Government of
Ohio Valley College
Charles H. Ambler, Francis H. Pierpont: Union War Governor and Father
of West Virginia,1937.
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