Spirit of Jefferson
Place of publication: Charles Town, VA [W. Va.]
The Spirit of Jefferson debuted July 17, 1844 in Charles Town, a community of about 1,400 inhabitants in Jefferson County, Virginia. Founder James W. Beller published the weekly newspaper for a decade, and his departure, in late 1854 or early 1855, triggered a series of editorial and publishing changes. By April 1857, Benjamin F. Beall and Thomas P. Beall were the editors and proprietors, and Benjamin became the paper’s lone official two years later. Beall’s management during the ensuing tumultuous decade ended on January 11, 1870. The new publisher John W. Dalgarn brought George William Haines into partnership. Upon Dalgarn’s death on June 9, 1874, the newspaper’s trustee Stephen S. Dalgarn became publisher and editor until Haines succeeded him on July 13, 1875. Haines, a Confederate veteran and prisoner of war, served until his death in April 1914. He was succeeded by his son, Clayton L. Haines.
The Spirit of Jefferson supported the Democratic Party in direct competition with John S. Gallaher’s Virginia Free Press, Charles Town’s Whig newspaper. The politically neutral Shepherdstown Register appeared in 1849 in the town of similar size only ten miles away. Jefferson County benefited from its Shenandoah Valley location and from commercial relations in the Potomac River basin and Maryland. Its slave population was the largest in what became West Virginia. National attention focused on Jefferson County after John Brown’s Raid on nearby Harpers Ferry and then as the arena for frequent Civil War military action.
Despite its opposition to separation in the antebellum period, the Spirit changed its position soon after the February 1861 election of delegates to Virginia’s Secession Convention. The county’s populace later voted for secession in a referendum. The Spirit contended that the honorable position was to support resistance against the occupying Union armies. The Virginia Free Press labeled the Spirit as secessionist, and the Spirit responded by branding its rival as “submissionist,” a derogatory term for southerners who favored the Union.
As part of the process of forming a new state, a May 1863 referendum on a new constitution determined what counties were to be incorporated within West Virginia. Because of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s presence, Jefferson County was included. Many county citizens could not vote because of their secessionist activities. Although Jefferson County had nearly 2,000 pre-war voters, 248 voted for and two against joining the new state of West Virginia in the referendum on the question.
After the Civil War, Virginia demanded that Jefferson, and its neighboring county Berkeley, be returned. Many residents, especially of Jefferson County, expressed their desire to be part of Virginia. In 1866 the United States by statute assented to the county’s inclusion within West Virginia. The Spirit continued to declare its location as Virginia for nearly eight years following statehood while regularly reviling the new state and its officers. Even the Virginia Free Press declined to identify any state in its address. After a Supreme Court decision confirmed the constitutionality of West Virginia’s statehood, the Spirit finally conceded. Dalgarn’s editorial on March 21, 1871, announced that “the present issue of this journal is the first time that it has recognized West Virginia as a sovereign and independent State,” and the Spirit included ‘West’ in its masthead and nameplate for the first time. Recalcitrant citizens who had followed the newspaper’s example gradually accepted their new geographic designation, too.
The Spirit of Jefferson continued to be a strong Democratic voice and has become the longest running newspaper in the state of West Virginia.
Provided by: West Virginia University