The Father of West Virginia: A Perplexing Name Change
By: Stan Klos
By: Stanley Yavneh Klos
Francis Harrison Pierpont, AKA Peirpoint, the "Father of West Virginia," was a lawyer, statesman, Civil War Virginia Governor and Virginia's first Reconstruction Governor, serving in that capacity until April 4th, 1868. In recognition of his WV founding role, the people of West Virginia donated a marble statue of Francis Harrison Peirpoint as its second contribution to the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection. The Statue honoring the Governor records his last name as Pierpont despite the statesman’s historic works all having been accomplished as Governor Francis Harrison Peirpoint.
For example, the 1862 US Senate official printing of the West Virginia Constitution records the Virginia Governor's transmittal letter as Peirpoint:
|Image Courtesy of the Historic.us Collection|
I, Francis H. Peirpoint, governor of the State aforesaid, do hereby certify and make known unto all whom it may concern, that the document annexed is a true copy of the constitution and schedule proposed for the State of West Virginia by the convention thereof, assembled at Wheeling on the 26th day of November, 1861: and I do further certify that an election was duly held, pursuant to the said schedule on the ratification or rejection of said constitution which resulted in the adoption thereof, according to the returns certified by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, and hereunto annexed; and I further certify that Gibson L. Cranmer, whose name is subscribed to the act of General Assembly, of which a copy is hereto annexed, is, and was at the time of subscribing the same clerk of the house of delegates, and keeper of the rolls of the Commonwealth of Virginia duly elected and qualified; that his attestation is in due form, and that he is the proper officer to make the same, and to the same full faith, credit, and authority are due and ought to be given.
In testimony whereof, I have subscribed my name, and caused the great seal of Wheeling this nineteenth day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, and of this commonwealth the eighty sixth.
By the Governor: Francis H. Peirpoint
L. A. Hagans, Secretary of the Commonwealth
Virginia Governor Francis H. Peirpoint signed Commissioner Appointment of William B. Isaacs as Morrill Act Commissioner .
On January 27, 1866 - the Virginia Senate passed the House Bill No. 92 into a law. House Bill 92 entitled an act providing for the sale of lands or scrip donated by Morrill Act for education, was passed 26 to 0 and signed into law by Governor Francis H. Peirpoint. On March 22, 1866 the Governor appointed commissioner William B. Isaacs to accept the Morrill Act’s federal lands, sell them, and place the proceeds in accounts to ensure a Virginia Land Grant College. The Appointment states in full:
The Commonwealth of [Virginia] To William B. Isaacs, Greeting. Know you, that our Governor, in pursuance of authority vested in him by an act of the General Assembly of Virginia passed January 27th, 1866, doth hereby constitute and appoint you a Commissioner to apply to and receive from the Government of the United States, the scrip or warrant of land to which the State of Virginia may be entitled by virtue of the act of the Congress of the United States approved the 20th of July 1862, entitled “an act donating public lands to the several states and territories which may provide colleges for the benefit of agriculture and mechanic arts.”
In testimony whereof, these our letters are Sealed with the Great Seal of the State and made patent.
Witness Francis H. Pierpont, our said Governor, at Richmond, this 22nd day of March, A.D. 1866 and in the 90th year of the Commonwealth.
The document is signed by both Governor, F. H. Peirpoint and by M. Herndon as Secretary and keeper of the Seal. The document contains the official state seal affixed to the document by a ribbon and measures 7 ¾ x 9 ¾. It is complete except for a small tear at the upper right corner that has been repaired.
Mr. Isaacs was successful in his role as a Morrill Act Commissioner enabling Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, Blacksburg, Virginia (Virginia Tech University), the all “Negro” Virginia Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, in Hampton, Virginia (Hampton University) and the all “Negro” Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (Virginia State University) were all funded with proceeds from the Morrill Acts of 1862 & 1890.
|August 5th, 1865 Gubernatorial Appointment signed F. H. Peirpoint|
The Encyclopedia Virginia’s website on the Governor exhibits a rare Carte de Visite autographed image signed as F. H. Peirpoint:
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History Archives, in preparation for their State's 150th birthday celebration on June 20th, 2013, has placed online numerous letters and documents addressed to or signed by the Governor. All their WV founding primary sources report Peirpoint as the Governor’s last name:
The Library of Congress' Abraham Lincoln Papers displays numerous civil war date letters all addressed to and signed as Peirpoint:
Also in the Abraham Lincoln Papers, a Mrs. Samuel Crane, Mrs. Francis H. Peirpoint, and Mrs. L.A. Hagans' letter to Abraham Lincoln, dated Thursday, January 01, 1863 congratulating the President on signing bill that admits West Virginia into the Union, records Virginia's first Lady signing her name as Mrs. F. H. Peirpoint:
Whereas, but two days of the present session of the general assembly remain, and it being impossible to consider and dispose of the matters of legislation of great importance and general interest which remain unfinished and undisposed of, and of others of perhaps still greater and more vital importance which may arise, and require prompt and speedy action by the representatives of the people : Therefore, be it Resolved by the general assembly. That His Excellency the Governor Peirpoint be and he is hereby respectfully requested to convene the general assembly of Virginia at the capitol of the state, on Monday next the fourth instant, at ...
So why the name change? Francis H. Pierpont’s biographer Charles H. Ambler writes:
FRANCIS HARRISON PIERPONT (January 25, I8I4-March 24, 1899), third son of Francis Peirpoint was born at the Peirpoint "Plantation" in the "Forks of Cheat" on the Morgantown-Ices Ferry Road, Monongalia County, (West) Virginia. At the time of Francis Harrison's birth his father, Ensign Francis Peirpoint, was absent from home with the "War Hawks" of the Ohio Valley, fighting for "free trade and sailors' rights." The infant was given the name "Francis," which had been perpetuated through generations of the Pierponts in honor of an ancestor, Lady Frances Cavandish of the blood of William the Conqueror. A middle name, "Harrison," was added later by the boy's father in honor of his commanding officer, General William Henry Harrison. At the outset, an explanation of the varied spellings of the Pierpont or Peirpoint family names is necessary. After using "Peirpoint" until 1881, Francis Harrison, the subject of this biography, changed to "Pierpont." In this he was influenced by the form then in use in New England, but his avowed purpose was to correct an error which he thought had been made in spelling his grandfather's name in a patent to lands in transallegheny Virginia. When convinced that a mistake had been made in this way and that his family was of New England origin, Francis Harrison Pierpont, in defiance of the wishes and practices of friends and relatives/ but in a manner quite characteristic, ado ted the form which he thought to be correct.
Unfortunately, Ambler offers no specific primary sources that provide documentation that Francis Harrison Peirpoint legally changed his name to Pierpont in 1881. Moreover, the 1873 Acts and Joint Resolutions, Amending the Constitution, of the General Assembly of the State of Virginia, An ACT to Establish the Seals and Flags of the Commonwealth, passed March 27th, 1873, spells the Governor's name as Pierpont eight years before the Ambler reported name change.
Preamble Whereas, the seals of the commonwealth of Virginia, which were adopted in seventeen hundred and seventy-nine, and used until the year eighteen hundred and sixty-five, were stolen or mislaid at the time of the evacuation of the city of Richmond, in April, eighteen hundred and sixty-five; and whereas, on the restoration of the state government, under governor Pierpont, he caused a new seal to be engraved similar in every respect to the old, except that it contained the words "Liberty and Union," which said words seem to have been added to the seal without any authority of law; and whereas, the legislature of Virginia, on the twenty-eighth day of February, eighteen hundred and sixty-six, passed an act entitled an act concerning the seals of the commonwealth, defining their use ...
To complicate matters further, Marion County, which houses the records for his West Virginia home town of Fairmont, records Francis Harrison’s Last Will and Testament and his 1899 Death Certificate as Pierpoint. Even the 1899 executor of his will, Francis W., spells his own name Pierpoint.
|The Official Marion County's 1899 Death Record Ledger list Francis Harrison's lat name as Pierpoint and not Peirpoint or Pierpont.|
The Official Marion County's 1899 List of Fiduciaries Ledger for 1899 Wills list Francis Harrison's lat name as Pierpoint and not Peirpoint or Pierpont. His son Francis W. is also listed as Pierpoint.
Three years later, the 1902 WV legislation written for Statuary Hall, and the 1903 WV Journal of the House of Delegates report his name as Peirpoint:
Six years later, somehow the very statue that was referred to in the Statuary Hall legislation as Francis H. Peirpoint became Francis H. Pierpont:
|Image Courtesy of the Historic.us Collection|
The book entitled, Proceedings of Statuary Hall and the Senate and the House of Representatives upon the unveiling, reception, and acceptance from the State of West Virginia of the Statue of Governor Francis Harrison Pierpont, April 10, 1910 is filled with testimonials to Francis, all using the Pierpont spellings. The book also has an autographed photograph of the Governor as noted below:
The signature as "F. H. Pierpont," although close in form, does not compare favorably to known historical signatures:
Handwriting, however, does change with age and Archivist Jane Metters, at the West Virginia and Regional History Center, provided us with numerous letters, documents and a remarkable Pierpont biographical narrative from the State's archives. This unsigned autograph manuscript addresses the Governor's name change:
Autograph Narrative from the West Virginia & Regional History Center, WVU Libraries's Pierpont, Francis Harrison (1814-1899), Papers 1811-1949. The Biographically narrative reads in full:
Gov. Peirpont in speaking of his ancestry says the name is is derived from a robber, who was a Norman Frenchman. He came with William the Conqueror and helped to rob Englishmen of their land. And when William rewarded his friends he gave to Robert the Mannor of Land which had on it a stone bridge called in Norman French Peirpont. Hence the Barron took the titled name Peirpont or Pierpont. It is amusing to note the differ ways of spelling the name as spelled in the history of English heraldy.
His grandfather John Peirpont removed from New York State about 1770 and built a block house four miles East of Morgantown in Monongalia County, which was the arsort of the settlement on the alarm of Indians. He married a daughter of Col. Morgan the founder of Morgantown. The spelling of his name was altered in the land office at Richmond, VA in issuing patents for land he deed early. His children were told by chiney corner lawyers to hold their land they must spell as in the patent. To brothers who went onto Kentucky to whom Patents issued in the name of Peirpoint.
While Gov. Peirpont was Gov. he spelled his name Peipoint as his father did. When President Garfield appointed him Collector of Internal Revenue in 1880, he sent his name to the Senate, Francis H. Pierpont at the urgent request of his wife and children and some disencet friends. He consented to the change of his name because it was right. The newspapers generally spelled his name Pierpont and so now he spells his name. His father was born near the old block house in 178 -- and married Katherine Weaver a neighbors daughter of German extraction, her mother was a Foster.
His father was a soldier in the War of 1812 under General Harrison at For Meyers. Hence his name Francis Harrison. Major F P Peirpont of the 12 WVA Vol. and Adjutant General under Gov. Boreman was a nephew & son of Zack Peirpon an older brother & Col. Larkin Peirpont of the 4th WVA Vol. was a younder Brother of Francis H.
Archivist Jane Metters wrote Kevin Fredette, Coordinator for Public Services, West Virginia and Regional History Collection, this email in transmitting the Pierpont biographical narrative:
Attached is the "letter" to which I think John referred--actually a biographical narrative. Based on my amateur handwriting analysis, I think it was written by F.H. Pierpont himself, in third person. In it, he explains the history of the last name, the business about it being altered in the Richmond land office, and when and why he changed it back to "Pierpont".
For what it's worth, I believe Pierpont did change the spelling of his name. In addition to this document, Pierpont's post-1880 letters that I looked at show his signature as either "Peirpont" or "Pierpont" (due to his handwriting, the second and third letters were frequently ambiguous); his wife spelled her name "Pierpont" in an 1880s ALS (her handwriting is much more legible than her husbands'); and the invitation to his daughter's wedding printed his last name as "Pierpont". I also think it would fit his personality to correct the spelling of his name if he found such an error had been made at a land office decades ago--in his letters and writings, he seems the sort to call a spade a spade, and is unabashed when it comes to exposing things he sees as wrong.
You may have more experience in this area than I do, but I wouldn't put too much stock in name spellings on official records of that time, since I've seen so many variations of names in the official census. Even Pierpont's friends and colleagues (not to mention the newspapers) didn't spell his name correctly on a consistent basis.
Let me know if you'd like me to look into anything else. I look forward to the conclusions of Mr. Klos's research.
Included with the transmitted documents was an August 12th, 1881, letter from Francis H. Pierpont to his children, on United States Internal Revenue Collector letterhead. The letter is imaged below and it enable us to complete the handwriting analysis of the former Governor.
This letter is reproduced with permission from the West Virginia & Regional History Center, WVU Libraries
My Dear Little Ones,
It occurred to me that you would need some funds in a short time. I wrote you to tell me particularly how much and to be Care in directly how to send. Your letters get here in up than two days from date. I think I have not missed more than one day that is I write Every other day. But my letters appear to be delayed in getting to you. And as you were going to Niagara Yesterday. I heard you would get short and uneasy so I send you $40. You observe it is payable in N. York and is as good as specie in your hand.
Any merchant or your Boarding house Keeper will give you the money for it. I have endorsed on the back Pay to Mrs. F H Pierpont you sign your name on the under mine Mrs. FH P etc. If you need any more money write immediately.
We have delightful weather, had a little rain last Saturday & Sunday. It has been nice this week. And everything is nice at home, had washing done Wednesday. Ironed yesterday. The grapes are ripening fast. We don’t look for you before sometime after the 20th suppose you will want to stop on the road. So take your leisure. If you want money at Pittsburg draw a check on me payable at 1st National Bank of Fairmont WVa. Cousin Jim will give you the money - less cost of collection. Now i have been writing about money I feel perfectly matter of fact. There is nothing to write about.
F. H. Pierpont.
This letter is reproduced with permission from the West Virginia & Regional History Center, WVU Libraries
A analysis of the letter and the Autographed Narrative indicates that both documents were written by the Francis H. Pierpont.
|A Pierpont handwriting comparison from a letter, dated August 12th, 1881, to his children with the unsigned and undated Autograph Narrative. Both the letter and narrative word images are reproduced, for the comparative study, with permission from the West Virginia State Archives.|
Other known Pierpont letters were also compared with the Autographed narrative. These letters all indicated that the Autographed Biographical Narrative was in the hand of Francis H. Pierpont.
Nevertheless, the primary sources signed prior, during, and up to twelve years after his Virginia Gubernatorial term ended, record Peirpoint and not Pierpont as his last name. The Father of West Virginia's name during the State's birth, his Civil War Virginia governorship and post reconstruction gubernatorial years was Francis Harrison Peirpoint. Therefore, Historic.us will use the name Peirpoint while exhibiting Francis Harrison’s historical documents, letters, and manuscripts dated before 1880 and Pierpont on primary sources dated after 1880.
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