MORGANTOWN — The scribe of West Virginia
Every year, for 50 years, John Stealey has visited the WVU Libraries. And if any one person has a chance of seeing nearly everything there is to see about West Virginia history there, it’s him.
“These are broad statements, but it may be the most unique and valuable resource that West Virginia University has,” Stealey said.
Stealey, a retired professor of history at Shepherd University, spent 40 years on his most recent book on West Virginia statehood – West Virginia’s Civil War Era Constitution: Loyal Revolution, Confederate Counter-Revolution, and the Convention of 1872 – and 90 percent of that information was from the West Virginia and Regional History Center.
“Any work on the Civil War could not be done without that collection,” he said.
Across the backdrop of history, he’s found the personal stories, too.
There’s the letter Gov. Francis H. Pierpont wrote to a congressman from Kingwood. The angry message included a large drawing of a copperhead snake in derision of the congressman’s views, which went against Pierpont’s sentiments that Confederate politicians should be forgiven.
Delegate, and later congressman, John J. Davis wrote letters to his wife explaining his loyalty to the Union as West Virginia began to form.
A Morgantown woman describes in a letter how the Confederate Jones’ Raid attacked Morgantown, raising the Confederate flag over the courthouse, stealing horses and breaking into homes.
“You can find financial matters, you can find personal likes, dislikes, there are a lot of letters between men and women, and you can use your imagination,” Stealey said.
Fifty years ago, Stealey was writing his dissertation on the salt industry in the Great Kanawha Valley during the antebellum period. He was exploring slavery’s history inside industry instead of the more widespread agriculture. He asked his professor about the topic.
And the professor said: “Why don’t you go over to the West Virginia Collection and see what you can find out?”
He’s still finding it.
Visit the West Virginia and Regional History Center from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Sundays, or go online to view several electronic portions of the collection at http://wvrhc.lib.wvu.edu/.