Monday, September 22, 2008

The Independent State of Webster

Today, I thought I'd share with my readers a little of the colorful history of Webster County, WV. When I think of Webster County, several things come to name a few...the largest hardwood tree in West Virginia (and perhaps the world), Custard Stand Hotdog Chili, the site of the last buffalo killed in WV, the excellent quality of potatoes grown there, and of course, The Independent State of Webster.

This post is dedicated to the Independent State of Webster, an oft-forgotten segment of West Virginia history.

Be sure that you read the county court records at the end of the article, it has been said that the truth is stranger than fiction and in this is the stuff that legends are made of.

Printed in the Parkersburg News, April 1902
"Webster County and the Foreign Press. The Independent State of Webster"
by H. Coleman Thurmond.

"Webster county was formed in 1859 by an act of the legislature of Virginia, but there was no county organization until about 1864, as the Civil War came on and delayed the organization. But long before that date the section called Webster was and is now known as "The Independent State", and even before it was formed it had a Governor and other officers of its own, who recognized no superiors and paid tribute to no other authority.

The Independent State was then almost an unbroken forest, with a few settlersalong the rivers, without roads of any kind, except mere bridle or cattle paths, over which the natives transported their seng, pelts and other produce to Charleston or Clarksburg, and brought back coffee, calico and such articles on horseback, attached to a pack saddle.

At that time this was indeed a hunter's paradise, as deer, bear and all kinds of game were abundant, and every family could, if they desired, have venison for breakfast by simply going out in their yard or "patch", and shooting such game as they wished. The country was indeed flowing with "milk and honey", and even now no other section of this state equals it for pure, nice white honey.

Such grain as the settlers wanted was raised and in the littlemills, so common now, along the streams, each man who had a grist could go in and grind it himself, which he always did, as there was no such thing as a miller, and "toll" the grist, putting the toll into a barrel or box and taking his meal or buckwheat home to his family.

The Independent State of Webster at that time was not taxed, and had no representation, but the people cared little for that matter, as it was immaterial to them who was President or Secretary or whether slavery was abolished or not, as there were no Negroes here to be freed. Long before the War the Independent State was organized.

George M. Sawyers was Governor and had under him a full set of State officials down to constable, and ruled the land to theentire satisfaction of all concerned, with none to molest or make afraid, as the roads were such that not even soldiers of an army could invade the Independent State, and the people enjoyed their freedom, as well as buckwheat cakes, honey, and moonshine.Such things as these were good enough for any king and it is no wonder that many of the Governor's subjects lived to be over 100 years of age and deaths were few and far between.

It is said that when the county court of Nicholas heard that the Independent State had chosen a governor and officers that "the court doth appoint Pat Duffy as ambassador to the Independent State to make a treaty of peace and friendship and to arrange for our people to go inthere and buy 'seng and to hunt in the fall of the year", and Pat came and was so overjoyed at this reception that he decided to stay, and did stay, reporting to his court as follows:

"I came, I saw, but they conquered, and I am now one of the natives, having been chosen sheriff. Their venison, buckwheat, honey, tree molasses and moonshine cannot be excelled on earth. The governor extends a hearty welcome to the court and all people, languages and tongues to come here and live, hunt, fish, dig ramps, and trade among the natives".

On receipt of this report the court acknowledged the independence of the Independent State, and this action was followed by the county courts of the adjoining counties.

A few items from the proceedings of the county court of the Independent State may be of interest, which are about as follows:

"Ordered that hereafter the price of seng and pelts shall be this: One pound of dry seng for one pound of coffee; one deer or wolf pelt for one pound of coffee, or a yard of jeans or calico; bear pelts, one dollar, or four pounds of coffee; and further, that taxes may be paid in seng, pelts or coffee."

"Ordered that slavery be abolished in this State."

"Ordered that the license on moonshine shall be one-eighth of the 'juice'."

"The court expresses its sympathy of Kelly Ben Hamrick as he fell out of his tater patch into the river and hurt his back."

"Ordered that Dave Lilly be admitted to practice law in this court, and be licensed to preach and celebrate matrimony."

"This day came the parties in the case of Benny Cogar vs. Silas Clifton, and the jury rendered the following verdict:

'We the jury find that the mule sued for had only one eye and was hip-shot, ring-boned and clumsy, and not worth much of any thing, so we fix its value at one pound of green coffee, one bear pelt and two pounds of seng, which said Clifton can pay said Cogar next fall or winter'

"Ordered that Tunis McElwain, Bob Clevinger and Andy Shanks be and they are appointed a committee to go and locate the grave of Moses, and also to locate the landing place of the Ark, and report to this court next summer."

"This day came the parties in the case of Pat Carr vs. Pat Duffy, sheriff, and the jury rendered the following verdict:

'We the jury find that Pat Duffy did imprison said Carr and big old sow in the same cell of the county jail, and that said Carr being full of moonshine did wake up in the night and beat the old sow nearly to death, but that said Duffy did not know the old sow was in the jail when he put said Carr therein, and as the said old sow is still alive and said Carr was turned out as soon as the noise of the old sow awakened Duffy and he could get there, we find a verdict in favor of said Duffy.'"

It being reported that the Yankees are coming, it is ordered that court do now adjourn."


tipper said...

I've never heard of Webster-very interesting. Love the laws they had. Maybe thats what we need in Washington.

Granny Sue said...

Oh man! Would that newspapers were so interesting to read today!

Homesick is: said...

Home sweet home! I had heard of the so-called 'Independent State of Webster,' but have not read this article. *insert hearty chuckle* How did you find it? Thanks for sharing!

Cynthia Cogar said...

My Home Sweet Home !!
Born and raised here and will die here place like Home! ♡♡♡♡♡

Thistle Cove Farm said...

thoroughly enjoyable post and blog...have spent pleasurable time perusing it. Webster Springs, county seat, started out as Addison. Daddy's Mothers' people, the Hamrick's, settled Webster County and Granpa Sampson was the first Methodist minister. I love listening to Daddy and the rest of the family tell the old stories.
Thanks for this post!