SHOOTING THE TOWN BULL
During the last decades of slavery, from 1830 through 1865, many dramatic events took place along the Ohio River between pro-slavery and anti-slavery advocates. Although slave escapes and attempted escapes were anything but humorous, incidents incited by slavery occasionally broke through the prevailing tension along this part of the Mason-Dixon Line to make people forget their enmity for a moment. This particular episode began typically on a very serious note.
On July 9, 1845, a group of abolitionists from Decatur Township in Washington County had gathered at Hall's Landing near Constitution on the Ohio’s northern shore to rescue a party of fugitive slaves that had escaped from a plantation downriver from Blennerhassett's Island. Having discovered the plot, the slave-owner had stationed 17 or 18 armed Virginians in the bushes along the Ohio side of the river to intercept the errant slaves.
Five slaves were captured, while one was rescued and quickly dispatched on the Underground Railroad. However, three abolitionists, Messrs. Garner, Loriane and Thomas, were seized by the Virginians and taken to jail in Parkersburg, Virginia, where they were imprisoned without a hearing, the opportunity for bail or permission even to contact their families. A company of militia was raised to defend Parkersburg against any armed attempt to free the prisoners.
One night in the middle of September, while some of the soldiers were visiting a nearby sporting house and others were in the whiskey shops or sound asleep, the alert sounded down on Ann Street close to Court Square. Within half an hour the militia was assembled and called to order by their captain, then sent to the bushes near Pond Run where an impending invasion force was thought to be gathering. The Virginians found only a deadly silence. Even the late summer night’s serenade of insects was missing. Nerves grew raw as the citizen soldiers quietly waited in the dark with rifles and pistols at the ready.
Then the cry went out, "The abolitionists are coming!” Even the captain trembled as a shapeless hulking form parted the bushes. "Fire!" he ordered. A hail of bullets lasting several minutes rained upon the unidentified intruder, and a horrible roar that witnesses described as a cross between thunder and a steam whistle arose from the bushes. Then once again there was silence.
The strain of this second silence was too much, and the formerly brave captain, followed by his loyal troopers, bolted for the safety of home. Next morning some boys playing near Pond Run discovered the carcass of the "town bull," so riddled with bullets that the hide was unfit for tanning. Legend holds that for the next quarter century, the ghost of Parkersburg’s town bull would rise from Pond Run at midnight to stare balefully toward the Ohio shore where the abolitionists who had brought about his untimely demise resided. Finally, on January 10, 1846, six months after their capture, the abolitionists were released, but not before the incident had escalated into imminent war between Virginia and Ohio over bullshots heard from western Virginia to the Potomac.
THE END OF AN ERA
The Underground Railroad completed its remarkable service in southeast Ohio around 1861, when many of the abolitionists who had operated it left home to join the Union Army in the Civil War. On Apr. 12, 1861, Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter; five days later, at a state convention in Richmond, Virginians had to decide whether to join the war on the side of the Union or Confederacy. A majority voted for an ordinance of secession, but delegates from the northwestern part of the state returned home and held two conventions at Wheeling, on May 13 and June 11. Declaring the government at Richmond void, the second Wheeling convention established a "restored" government of Virginia and appointed Francis H. Pierpont governor. In a public referendum on Oct. 24, 1861, voters overwhelmingly supported creation of a new state, Kanawha. The next month a third convention met at Wheeling, changed the name of the state to West Virginia, and began to draft a constitution. Voters approved the new constitution in April, 1862, and a year later President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed West Virginia a state, to be admitted to the Union 60 days later, on June 20, 1863.