In Mason County WV, along Rt 62, Just below the Mason County airport, there is a historical marker for John Hall. It notes: “Born 1805 in Ireland but moved to Mason County as a child. He served as sheriff and in both houses of Virginia legislature. Delegate to the first Wheeling convention, he was elected president of the first constitutional convention, serving 1861-62 until he killed newspaper editor Lewis Wetzel. Two of Hall’s sons were killed while serving in the Union army. He died in 1881.“
John Hall (April 1805 – April 11, 1881), born in Ireland, became a farmer, local sheriff and politician, and possibly the wealthiest man in Mason County (which became part of the state of West Virginia in part through his efforts). However, in October 1862 he killed another West Virginia founder, local newspaper editor Lewis Wetzel, because he was displeased with a publication, which ended his political career.
October 25, 1862The Killing of Lewis Wetzel.
We published yesterday a dispatch announcing the death of Lewis Wetzel on the morning of the 23d, at the hands of John Hall. Mr. Wetzel was acting as the editor of the Point Pleasant Register, and, as it appears, had been for some time back alluding offensively to the Governor here on on [sic] account of some appointments made in the military service, as well as on account of some that were not made. It appears, also, that Mr. Hall called the attention of the Commander of the post (at Point Pleasant) to these articles, on the ground that they were doing much to impair the confidence of the people in the existing order of things in Western Virginia, and gave it as his opinion, that either the editor of the paper, or the paper itself, ought to be suppressed.
These statements we make on general rumor. We have seen nothing reliable concerning the origin of the quarrel between Mr. Wetzel and Mr. Hall. We know that the Register is a loyal sheet, a truly loyal one, and that Mr. Wetzel was a sound Union man. We have seen two or three allusions in his paper to the appointing powers here at Wheeling, criticizing harshly and unjustly their actions in some cases.:But we looked upon the criticisms as the natural mistakes of a man remote from the source of explanations and justifications, and not as prompted by any other motive than a zeal and anxiety in the good cause. Certainly no more devoted patriot than Lewis Wetzel lived in Western Virginia.
The suggestions which it appears Mr. Hall made to the commandant at Point Pleasant irritated Mr. Wetzel to a high degree and in his paper (the Register) coming to hand yesterday, we find the violent editorial that no doubt lead to the deplorable collision between himself and Mr. Hall.:We most deeply regret this terrible affair, inasmuch as it has cost the Union cause in Western Virginia, so needy at the best, the services of one patriotic man and the influence of another. Mr. Wetzel is dead and Mr. Hall’s remaining days will count for nothing. Bitterness and feud will reign between the friends of each party, and their efforts in the great cause of the Government will, we fear, now be subordinated to their personal feelings.
One of the strongest and most decided articles that we have seen on the late elections appears in the number of the Register to which we refer. It grieves us to think that the hand that penned it is now stilled in death and will no more be moved in aid of the cause which the writer loved so well. We devoutly hope that the true friends of the Union cause and of each of the unfortunate parties to the terrible tragedy, will exert themselves to see the [sic] that the county of Mason is not lit up with the burning passions of personal animosity on account of this misfortune. Let the matter be investigated and tried by the proper authorities, and all unnecessary feeling held to subjection to the pressing necessities of the common cause. All patriotic men in Western Virginia will deplore this unfortunate affair between two of our prominent Union men, and all will hope to see it confined to the legitimate circle of the law.
John Hall Jr. was born in Tyrone County, Ireland, and was an infant when his father John Hall Sr. brought his family to Rockingham County, Virginia. He was still a boy when the family (including his brother James) moved to Mason County (then in Virginia). He never received a formal education, but learned to read and educated himself. He married Olivia Hogg, daughter of a local planter and granddaughter of Peter Hogg (a frontier surveyor and justice of the peace. They had ten children, although only one daughter would survive the long-lived father.
On October 23, 1862 (barely a month after the Battle of Antietam and West Virginia’s bloodiest battle the Battle of Shepherdstown and the day before President Lincoln relieved Gen. Don Carlos Buell of command for failing to pursue CSA Gen. Braxton Bragg following the victory at the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky’s bloodiest battle), John Hall shot and killed Lewis Wetzel, editor of the Point Pleasant Register. Wetzel (1825-1862) had been one of Mason County’s delegates to the Wheeling Convention the previous year and continued to serve at all sessions until his murder. Hall was upset at an article and some called him in his “dotage”. He was convicted of manslaughter due to his mental upset. Although his political career ended, he became a member of the Presbyterian Church and served as an elder.
The Weekly Register and The Point Pleasant Register
The Point Pleasant Weekly Register premiered on March 6, 1862, in Point Pleasant, Mason County, Virginia (now West Virginia). George Ways Tippett, a printer from Maryland who had been working in Point Pleasant as a compositor since 1855, served as sole publisher and proprietor from 1862 until his death in 1902. The Register published four pages per week and played an important role in regional political discourse. The newspaper initially supported the preservation of the Union, though not the abolition of slavery. It favored the Republican Presidential ticket of Lincoln-Johnson in 1864 and advocated radical reconstruction following the Civil War. Its editorials were often antagonistic, and on October 23, 1862, Lewis Wetzel, the newspaper’s editor, was murdered for a bold editorial criticizing the local military. His killer, John Hall, a prominent Republican politician, was convicted of manslaughter and heavily fined. Following brief tenures by two subsequent editors, Tippett took over that role by August 1867.
The newspaper’s viewpoint shifted, apparently with prevailing political winds, to support for the Democratic Party in 1871, the year after Democrats swept both houses of the West Virginia legislature and the governorship. Tippet contended that the Register represented a Democratic county and should serve its patrons, and that he would always oppose John Hall. However, the newspaper’s contents suggest that Tippett had in fact lost faith in Republican rule, and he remained a loyal Democrat thereafter. Although he held a variety of local and state political posts from the 1870s to 1890s, Tippett eventually determined he could better serve the party as editor of the Register. His chief Republican rival was the State Gazette, published and edited by Livia Nye Simpson Poffenbarger.
The newspaper operated under constant fiscal strain during the late 19th century, but Tippett navigated financial difficulties more successfully than most of his contemporaries. He employed a variety of strategies to keep the Register viable, such as increasing both local and national news coverage, expanding into other markets, admonishing local businesses and local Democrats that their support would be in their own best interests, distributing free papers, and offering discounts for advance payment. The Register even printed St. Patrick’s Day issues on green paper. Like many editors in the era, Tippett compromised on moral positions to run advertisements necessary to maintain profits. For example, the Register published advertisements for alcohol and tobacco, at times juxtaposed with editorials propounding the virtues of temperance and dangers of tobacco use. The newspaper reached a degree of fiscal stability that sustained it through the 1884 Ohio River Flood that destroyed the Register’s office and much of Tippett’s personal property. Tippett’s success provided the capital to begin another Point Pleasant newspaper in 1895, the Daily Register. Tippett’s family added to his legacy; five of his six sons became printers.
From December 11, 1889, Tippett employed his son Frank Burner Tippett as the Register’s city editor. The younger Tippett held that position until the elder Tippett’s death on May 19, 1902. At that time, the son assumed the positions of proprietor, publisher, and editor, roles he performed until January 1909 when the Register Publishing Company purchased the newspaper, changed its name to the Point Pleasant Register, expanded to eight pages, and continued its strong Democratic viewpoint.