By Bill Miller
When digging up your family roots, pay some attention to all of your great-grandparent’s children. They and their children are your cousins. Often times they are more interesting than their parents. That proved true again while researching the descendants of Col. Morgan Morgan, one of the first white settlers in what is now West Virginia, and my wife’s 5th great-grandfather. The Morgan’s had seven sons and two daughters. His first son, David, “West Virginia’s Daniel Boone,” is my wife’s 4th great-grandfather. His fifth son, Zackquill, founded Morgantown, WV and, through his daughter Nancy Anne, produced the “Father of West Virginia.”
Nancy Morgan married Francis Pierpont, who at the time was serving in the military under General William Henry Harrison. When they had a son he was given the name of Francis Harrison Pierpont to honor General Harrison. Francis H. Pierpont is my wife’s 3rd cousin. The Pierpont family settled in what is now Fairmont, WV, where they operated a tannery. Educated in a log schoolhouse and later Allegheny College, Francis H. taught school while he studied law. At the age of 28 he was admitted to the bar in Fairmont. He was an ambitious young man.
While he was an attorney for B & O Railroad, he started a coal mine on family property, and entered a partnership with coal pioneer James Watson, which would become Consolidated Coal Company. In 1854 he married Julia Robertson. Two years later, he helped establish Fairmont Male and Female Seminary, which is now Fairmont State University. In 1860 he began a political career making speeches across western Virginia in support of presidential nominee William Henry Harrison, after whom he was named, and John Tyler. However, in the opening days of The Civil War Francis began to speak frequently and powerfully supporting the Union, condemning slavery and arguing against secession.
In April 1861, Francis H. was at the Convention in Richmond when Virginia voted to secede from the Union. Within weeks, Pierpont and Virginia’s western delegates organized the First Wheeling Convention (May 13-15, 1861) to discuss their response to that decision. Pierpont argued hard for the reorganization of the Virginia state government. With the May 23rd passage of the Virginia Ordinance of Secession by state referendum, the 2nd Wheeling Convention was convened on June 11-25. Pierpont’s plan for the “restored government of Virginia” was adopted. On June 20, 1861, Francis H. Pierpont was unanimously elected governor of the Restored Government of Virginia. The City of Wheeling was the first headquarters of that government. After the formation of the State of West Virginia on June 20, 1863, which he strongly supported, Governor Pierpont and the Restored Government moved to Alexandria, Virginia. Though Francis was not elected Governor of West Virginia, he is revered as “The Father of West Virginia.”
In Alexandria, Pierpont worked closely with the Lincoln administration to recruit troops and raise money for the war and worked to return Virginia to the Union. He promoted the idea of “free schools,” dealt with Confederate sympathizers, worked to extend constitutional rights to freedmen, and in 1864 convened a state constitutional convention to abolish slavery. After the Civil War ended, he moved the Virginia government from Alexandria to Richmond. There he began the long process of reconstructing Virginia, rebuilding the economy and healing the nation. He shared Lincoln’s desire for conciliatory policies toward ex-Confederates. That is reflected in this letter written on March 12, 1863 on behalf of his Confederate cousin and my wife’s 5th great-uncle, Andrew Jackson Jones:
“…He is I think sincerely sorrow for his course, has taken the oath of allegiance and desires to go home to his fathers in Monongalia. I think it is right to let him do so and think that he ought not to be arrested–but be permitted to reside at home–peaceably.
- H. Pierpont, GOV”
Pierpont was removed as Governor in 1868 and they moved back to his home in Fairmont, WV. The next year Marion County voters sent him to the WV Senate. He died in Pittsburgh, PA but he and his wife, Julia, are buried in Fairmont.
That’s the way it is with cousins. They are here and then they are gone, but sometimes the life they lived helped shape ours. The moral of this story is, when researching your great-grandparents do not neglect your cousins. If you need help finding them go to your local genealogy center or library.