Yesterday And Today-
Vote Selling Not New In West Virginia
By SHIRLEY DONNELLY
Fayette County historical notes were uncovered during the annual clearing of the desk where this column is written.
They include a copy of a letter written almost 125 years ago by Henry Clay to a Fayette Countian, Hiram Hill , who was responsible for the Fayette courthouse being located at Fayetteville, then known as Vandalia.
Other notes are concerned with tobacco raising in Fayette County nearly a century ago.
HENRY CLAY’S letter, written in Ashland on Sept. 30, 1844, to “Hiram Hill Esq.” carried a “Dear Sir” salutation above this body content:
“I received your friendly letter and was gratified with the many expressions of your sentiments.
“It is to be expected that independent minds will not agree on all subjects, and, as I am sensible of my own infallibility, it is quite possible that I may be wrong and you are right on the two questions, respecting which you state that you differ from me, but such is my confidence in the correctness of the opinion I entertain on those questions that I should be happy to compare with you the views and considerations which have brought our respective judgments to opposite conclusions.
“An opportunity for that purpose will be afforded if you will call on me when on your way to Missouri. I expect to be at home and shall be happy to sec you.
“Meantime, I am, Respectfully, Your obedient servant, (signed) Henry Clay.”
THIS LETTER was printed in the Fayetteville Enterprise on Oct. 28, 1875, 31 years later, with the following explanation:
“The following letter was written during the rage of the strife between the Whigs and the Democrats. Hiram Hill differed with Henry Clay upon some national questions and this letter was written in reply to Mr. Hill’s Views upon the questions.
“Henry Clay and Hiram Hill were very particular friends. Mr. Hill informs us that their relationship during the life of Mr. Clay was very pleasant, though they were members of opposite political parties.
“Mr. Hill is now 75 years old and is quite active. He was for many years clerk of the court of Fayette County and served for two or three terms in the legislature of Virginia before the Civil War.
“He was one of the active members in getting the charter and appropriations for the Giles, Fayette and Kanawha Turnpike. His whole life has been one of the usefulness and service to the people of Fayette.
“A SUBSEQUENT article in the Greenbrier Independent on July 29, 1876, concerning Abraham Vandal, a Revolutionary War soldier, serves to recall that the site of Fayetteville today was once the farm of Abraham Vandal.
That location, with a few houses, was first known as Vandalia, and this was the site selected in an election to determine the location of the seat of justice of Fayctte County.
Only “freeholders” — those who owned real estate in the county — were allowed to vote in that election. Hiram Hill worked to get the courthouse at Vandalia and induced others to vote with him on the issue.
In order to increase the size of the vote, he deeded an acre of land to anyone who would vote to make Vandalia the county seat. A lot of new “freeholders” voted as Hill wished them to do, but when they went to have their deed recorded, it was discovered there were no “calls” on them. Net result was that the folks had only deeds but no land!
Nevertheless the courthouse was fixed at what today is Fayetteville, where it still is. Hiram Hill’s chicanery should have served as a good lesson to men not to sell their votes!
ANOTHER ITEM in the Greenbrier Independent — this one on April 3, 1875 — states that, “Fayette County, W. Va., has long enjoyed the reputation of being the banner county of this, or any other state, in the line of producing the finest tobacco. Fayette County cannot be bested on fine tobacco.”
A note of the same period says that “James T. Carwile, George W. Demsey, William Riggs and William T. Harvey weighed a total of 996 pounds of tobacco at Captain Ankrom’s store at Fayetteville last week.” Ankrom was Capt. Joseph Ankrom (1830-1887), a Union Army cavalryman of Co. E, West Virginia Cavalry.
Another note, dated April 7, 1877, reads, “The tobacco raisers in Fayette County are realizing handsome prices for their last year’s crop. One gentleman, a Mr. Johnson, received $39 per hundred for his best tobacco on the Richmond market. Samuel Carter sold one hogshead for $30 per hundred and another for $12 Cincinnati. The tobacco business in Fayette County is a big thing.”
Land where the Oak Hill grade school buildings stand today used to produce tobacco that brought as much as $750 an acre. Tobacco was king in Fayette County until “King Coal” took over in the 1890s.
A Little Extra On Abraham Vandal