Jackson County Historical Society

Brief History of Jackson County, WV

Additional historical information about Jackson County can be found in the following articles
Jackson County was created on March 1, 1831 from parts of Kanawha, Mason and Wood counties. It was named in honor of Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), who was then President of the United States (1829-1837).
Probably the first European to set foot in Jackson County was in 1669 when Robert de La Salle sailed down the Ohio.  The first European to settle in Jackson County was probably James LeTort, a French fur trader who established a trading post sometime before 1740 in the area near the current border of Jackson and Mason Counties.

In February 1752, Christopher Gist led a survey expedition into present-day Jackson County on behalf of the Ohio Land Company. He reportedly killed four bison while camped there. He reported that he could not recommend any permanent settlements in the area because of the harsh living conditions and the unfriendliness of the Indians, who claimed the area as part of their hunting grounds.
In 1770, George Washington explored the region and claimed two tracts of land in the county (2,448 acres near the present site of Ravenswood and 4,395 acres in the Millwood area) in exchange for his service during the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763).

William Hannamon, Benjamin Cox, and James McDade were the first known English settlers in Jackson County, moving into the Mill Creek area in May 1796. The first two built homes and took up permanent residence in the county. McDade served as an Indian scout, travelling the banks of the Ohio River, with his only companion, a faithful dog, at his side.
The first school was built in the county in 1806, and the first teacher, Andrew Hushan, had 15 students when it opened in 1807. In addition to being the county's first teacher, Andrew Hushan also constructed the county's first mill in 1799.

During the early 1800s, life in present-day Jackson County was difficult and fraught with danger. For example, in 1817, John Greene, a former resident of Botetourt County, Virginia, moved to Jackson County and constructed a home along Allen's Fork of the Pocatalico River. Reuben Harrison, another early settler in the region, had a home along Thirteen Mile Creek, located in present-day Mason County. The two men became close friends and hunting partners. Their hunting expeditions would often last several nights, requiring them to spend the night in the open wilderness. One night, the two men had their young sons, Edward Greene and Zebulon Harrison, with them. The boys had hoped to witness their fathers chop down a very large tree which was believed to be inhabited by a bear. They chopped the tree down, but there was no bear to be found. As it was getting late in the day, the men took refuge in a nearby cave for the night. They built a fire and settled in. After they had all fallen asleep, an overhead rock collapsed into the cave, crushing the men from the waist down. The two young boys were also hurt, but their injuries were not life threatening. The boys did not know the way home, and waited for help to arrive. Four days later, Josiah Harrison, Reuben Harrison's brother, found them. Unfortunately, by the time he arrived, his brother was dead. Josiah Harrison then raced back home to get help for Edward Greene, who was still trapped beneath the huge boulder. Unfortunately, by the time he returned with help, Greene was dead.
Early transportation in Jackson County was primitive. Because the land was heavily wooded, settlers relied on the Ohio River and its tributaries for most of their long-distance travel. Roads were few and far between. They consisted of Indian trails and rudimentary packhorse trails. Jackson Smith built the first "real" road in the county in 1832. It ran from Ripley to Millwood. By the 1850s, several turnpikes were built within the county. These toll roads vastly improved local transportation. Unfortunately, during the Civil War many of these turnpikes were damaged from heavy use and were not fully repaired until the 1870s. By the 1880s, railroads began to replace roads as the primary means of moving large quantities of goods in the county. By the 1890s, three rail companies served the county's residents.
By the 1840s, Jackson County's residents had moved from being primarily self-sufficient, small scale farmers to specialists in different crafts, ranging from blacksmiths and gunsmiths to tanners and shoemakers. Also, several grist mills were constructed to grind corn and wheat on a large scale. Grist mills were often the center of economic activity and became the focal point around which towns were built. Ripley, for example, owes its beginning to the Starcher Mill, built there in 1824 by Jacob Starcher. Other early industries in Jackson County included timber and lumbering companies, oil and gas wells, a woolen mill, and a handle factory.
During the Civil War, Jackson County remained under Union control. The only exception was in September 1862 when Confederate forces, under the command of General Albert Gallatin Jenkins, briefly gained control of the county.
Jackson County holds the dubious distinction of being the site of the last public hanging in the state of West Virginia. On December 16, 1897, John F. Morgan was hanged from gallows that had been erected in a field outside of Ripley. More than 5,000 people attended the spectacle. Morgan had been tried and convicted of murdering Mrs. Chloe Greene, her son Jimmie, and one of her daughters with a hatchet. Morgan also struck Mrs. Greene's other daughter with the murder weapon, but she escaped and identified him as the murderer. A reporter covering the event for The New York Sun wrote, "every road and path leading into the town of Ripley was clogged with men and women on horse back, families in wagons, buggies and every conceivable type of conveyance." Worried that the Governor might grant Mr. Morgan a reprieve, the local sheriff decided to conduct the hanging a little earlier than planned. The Sheriff announced to the crowd, "I promised you a hanging and there's a-going to be one." Soon afterwards, the West Virginia State legislature passed a law banning public hangings.