History comes alive in Belington
History enthusiasts gathered at Belington Public Library Wednesday afternoon to see and hear a presentation by Art and Pam Dodds as part of the Sesquicentennial celebration for West Virginia’s 150th birthday.
The Dodds are living history re-enactors from Barbour County who portray Gov. and Mrs. Francis Pierpont. Gov. Pierpont served the restored government of Virginia during the American Civil War and is often called the “Father of West Virginia.”
The presentation opened with the couple returning from a ball in honor of Mrs. Pierpont being inducted into the Grand Army of the Republic.
Gov. and Mrs. Pierpont’s children include Samuel (Sammie), Anna (Nannie), Mary Augusta (Mamie), and Francis William (Willie). Mamie passed away, which caused much sadness to the family.
Julia Pierpont, the governor’s wife, is believed to have been the originator of Decoration Day, which is now known as Memorial Day. She told the story of how she would take her children on field trips to the cemetery. The children liked to go there, believing they might see ghosts. While there, she noticed that the cemetery was in disarray, so they cleaned it up in honor of the fallen soldiers. This action inspired others to do the same, thus resulting in Decoration Day.
Gov. Pierpont was originally the commissioner of schools in Marion County. At the time, there was a required 24 days of education per year for children. He extended that period to three months per year.
He was also instrumental in persuading President Abraham Lincoln to sign West Virginia into statehood. A telegram was sent saying, “President Lincoln: I am in great hope you will sign the bill to make West Virginia a new state. The loyal troops from Virginia have their hearts set on it; the loyal people in the bounds of the new state have their hearts set on it; and if the bill fails, God only knows the result. I fear general demoralization and I must not be held responsible.”
During his career, Gov. Pierpont had numerous threats made to his life. He was an abolitionist and involved with the temperance movement. He did not show favoritism to the Union nor Confederacy and was removed from office on April 4, 1868 under the direction of President Andrew Johnson.
Julia Pierpont passed away in 1886, with the governor following in 1899. They are buried in Fairmont.
Local resident Brandon Shahan was present Wednesday to display his 1861 muzzleloader. He also explained how to load the weapon. Shahan helps with re-enactments in the area, including the Blue & Gray Reunion in Philippi.
Librarian Tammy Smith thanked everyone for coming and said, “This presentation was very interesting. It’s different than just reading about it in a history book. With Gov. and Mrs. Pierpont here, we can ask questions and history comes to life.”