Francis H. Pierpont

Francis H. Pierpont (1814–1899)

Francis H. Pierpont was a lawyer, early coal industrialist, governor of the Restored government of Virginia during the American Civil War (1861–1865), governor of Virginia (1865–1868) during the first years of Reconstruction (1865–1877), and a state senator representing Marion County in West Virginia (1869–1870). Pierpont was an antislavery member of the Whig Party and delegate to the First and Second Wheeling Conventions in 1861, during which Unionist politicians in western Virginia resisted the state's vote to secede by establishing the Restored government of Virginia. The second convention unanimously elected him governor. Although never actually governor of West Virginia, he is still remembered as one of the state's founding fathers. MORE...

 

Francis Harrison Pierpont was born in Monongalia County, Virginia (now West Virginia), on January 25, 1814. He spent his youth in Fairmont, Virginia (also in what is now West Virginia), and, from 1835 until 1839, attended Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. After a brief stint as a teacher, Pierpont began his legal career in trans-Allegheny Virginia representing such influential clients as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Pierpont, along with partner James Otis Watson, became one of Virginia's earliest coal operators. A lifelong Methodist, he married Julia Augusta Robertson on December 26, 1854.

Pierpont's political career began in 1840 when he made speeches across western Virginia in support of Whig presidential nominees William Henry Harrison of Ohio and fellow Virginian John Tyler. During the presidential election of 1860, he campaigned for Constitutional Union nominees John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts. (The Constitutional Union Party attracted conservative Southern members of the Whig Party and anti-immigrant Know Nothings who sought to emphasize the Union and downplay slavery.) During the secession crisis of 1860 and 1861, Pierpont delivered pro-Union, antislavery addresses to large crowds across northwestern Virginia.

After meeting since February, the Convention in Richmond voted to secede in April 1861. This prompted the still-Unionist western delegates of the state to organize the First Wheeling Convention (May 13–15, 1861). During the meeting, Pierpont promoted the reorganization of the state government, and following the passage of the Virginia Ordinance of Secession by statewide referendum on May 23, Pierpont was elected to attend the Second Wheeling Convention (June 11–25, 1861). On June 20, he was unanimously elected governor of the Restored government of Virginia.

The city of Wheeling initially served as the headquarters of the Restored government of Virginia, but after the formation of West Virginia on June 20, 1863, and Pierpont's reelection as governor that December (governor, that is, of the Restored government and not of West Virginia), the reorganized state government relocated to Alexandria. Pierpont dedicated his energies to raising troops and funds for the Union war effort, coordinating with U.S. president Abraham Lincoln's administration, combating Confederate sympathizers, and working to return Virginia to the Union. Pierpont promoted the creation of "free schools," the extension of constitutional rights to freedmen, and in 1864 the convening of a state constitutional convention aimed at abolishing slavery.

After the conclusion of the Civil War, the Alexandria government moved to Richmond, where Pierpont began the process of reconstructing Virginia. Pierpont and his civilian administration oversaw local and state elections, promoted the rights of freedmen, and worked to rebuild the state's economy. Due to his conciliatory policies toward ex-Confederates, Pierpont was criticized by Radical Republicans. In March 1867, the United States Congress, as part of its new Reconstruction policy, placed Virginia under the military command of General John M. Schofield. Despite his protestations, Pierpont was removed from office on April 4, 1868.

After his ouster, Pierpont quietly returned to Fairmont, where his support for the statehood movement earned him election by Marion County voters to the West Virginia state senate in 1869. Due to the increasing Democratic control of the state government, he was not reelected in 1870 and subsequently retired from politics. Pierpont spent the final years of his life as a founder and member of the West Virginia Historical Society. He died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on March 24, 1899.

Time Line

  • January 25, 1814 - Francis Harrison Pierpont is born in Monongalia County, Virginia (now West Virginia).
  • 1835–1839 - Francis H. Pierpont attends Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania.
  • 1840 - Francis H. Pierpont's political career begins when he makes speeches across western Virginia in support of Whig Party presidential nominees William Henry Harrison of Ohio and John Tyler of Virginia.
  • December 26, 1854 - Francis H. Pierpont, one of Virginia's earliest coal operators, marries Julia Augusta Robertson.
  • 1860 - Francis H. Pierpont campaigns for the Constitutional Union Party nominees for U.S. president, John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts. He delivers pro-Union, antislavery addresses to large crowds across northwestern Virginia.
  • May 13–15, 1861 - During the First Wheeling Convention, representing the still-Unionist western portion of Virginia, Francis H. Pierpont promotes the reorganization of state government.
  • June 20, 1861 - During the Second Wheeling Convention, Francis H. Pierpont is unanimously elected governor of the reorganized Virginia government still loyal to the Union.
  • June 20, 1863 - The newly elected governor, Arthur I. Boreman, in front of Wheeling delegates, proclaims West Virginia the thirty-fifth state. Only forty-eight of the fifty existing counties become part of the new state. The other two, Berkeley and Jefferson, will be added in 1866.
  • December 1863 - Francis H. Pierpont is reelected governor of the Restored government of Virginia, which has relocated to Alexandria, Virginia. He runs the governor's office from a house at what is now numbered as 415 Prince Street.
  • 1865 - Following the end of the Civil War, Francis H. Pierpont, previously governor of the Restored government of Virginia, becomes governor of Virginia.
  • March 1867 - Amid mounting pressure from Radical Republicans, the U.S. Congress places Virginia under the military command of General John M. Schofield.
  • April 4, 1868 - Francis H. Pierpont is removed as governor of Virginia.
  • 1869–1870 - Francis H. Pierpont serves as a state senator representing Marion County in West Virginia.
  • March 24, 1899 - Francis H. Pierpont dies in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Further Reading
Ambler, Charles H. Francis H. Pierpont: Union War Governor of Virginia and Father of West Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1937.
Curry, Richard Orr. A House Divided: A Study of Statehood Politics and the Copperhead Movement in West Virginia. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1964.
Cite This Entry
APA Citation:
Barksdale, K. T. Francis H. Pierpont (1814–1899). (2014, June 20). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Pierpont_Francis_H_1814-1899.

MLA Citation:
Barksdale, K. T. "Francis H. Pierpont (1814–1899)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 20 Jun. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: July 7, 2009 | Last modified: June 20, 2014


Contributed by Kevin T. Barksdale, an assistant professor of history at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. He is the author of The Lost State of Franklin: America's First Secession (2009).