Clio Logo

Born in 1805 in Ireland, John Hall grew up in western Virginia and rose to prominence within Mason County. He served as sheriff and single terms in the Virginia House of Delegates and State Senate. With secession and Civil War approaching in 1861, John Hall attended the First Wheeling Convention and favored remaining in the Union. He proved a firm supporter of West Virginia statehood and was the first president of the state constitutional convention in 1861-1862. John Hall's sons, James and John Thomas, both served and died in the Union army. In November 1862, John Hall got into a dispute with newspaper editor Lewis Wetzel and killed him. Convicted of manslaughter and heavily fined, Wetzel's murder ended Hall's political career. In 2019, a historical marker was erected in Point Pleasant acknowledging Hall's role in West Virginia history.


Born in 1805 in County Tyrone, Ireland, John Hall's family moved to Virginia just two years later. Although Hall came from humble beginnings, he rose to political prominence in western Virginia. Hall became the deputy sheriff of Mason County at age eighteen and sheriff at twenty-one. He was a stolid Whig, and he represented Mason County in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1844 and in the Virginia State Senate in 1851. John Hall married Olivia Hogg, and together they had ten children, although only three survived to adulthood: James, John Thomas, and Elizabeth.

As the Civil War loomed in 1861, Mason County contained supporters of both secession and the Union. John Hall proved a loyal Union man, as did his sons. Hall served as a delegate to the First Wheeling Convention, which advocated for the creation of a new state (loyal the U.S.) should Virginia secede. Virginia did secede, setting in motion events leading to the creation of West Virginia.

While John Hall opined on political matters, his sons enlisted in the Union army. Attending the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in 1861, John Thomas Hall returned home upon Virginia's secession and helped raise the 4th West Virginia Infantry. John Hall, Jr. served as its major. In August 1862, John Thomas Hall, Jr. was killed in a skirmish with Confederate guerrillas at Beech Creek in southern West Virginia. Around the time of John's death, his brother James Hall (also a VMI graduate) enlisted in the 13th West Virginia (indeed, legend holds James enlisted to avenge his fallen brother). James Hall was killed at Winchester in 1864. His commanding officer, future President Rutherford B. Hayes, wrote to father John Hall, "Your son will be remembered as the bravest of the brave."[3]

While his sons took arms for their nation in the field, John Hall continued to advocate for West Virginia statehood. Hall was chosen president of the Constitutional Convention, which convened in November 1861 and ran through February 1862 (and would resume duties again in 1863). His political experience, wealth, and "poise and dignity" contributed to his selection as president.[9]

In November 1862 (shortly after his son John Thomas Hall's death), John Hall became involved in a dispute with Lewis Wetzel, another prominent Union man and editor of the Point Pleasant Register. "Both men seemed to be aiming at the same end," a Ohio newspaper noted, "They differed somewhat as to the mode of operations."[8] Wetzel used the newspaper to criticize military appointments, a tactic with which John Hall disagreed. Hall, in turn, tried to convince local U.S. military authorities to suppress publication of the newspaper. Wetzel angrily responded with a "violent editorial" entitled "Suppression" in the Register's pages, in which he castigated Hall for his machinations. Upon reading the column, John Hall went to visit Lewis Wetzel. The two men exchanged angry words, Wetzel retreated to a backroom, but John Hall shot him. Hall was subsequently convicted of manslaughter and paid considerable fines but was eventually set free. The dispute ended his political career. As the Wheeling Intelligencer lamented, "We most deeply regret this terrible affair, inasmuch as it has cost the Union cause in Western Virginia, so needy at the best, the services of one patriotic man and the influence of another. Mr. Wetzel is dead and Mr. Hall's remaining days will count for nothing."[7]

John Hall lived out the rest of his life in comparative quiet, joining the Presbysterian Church and serving as an elder. He deeply mourned his sons' passing and arranged to have both of them reburied in the family cemetery. He died on April 30, 1881.

In 2019, as part of a wider effort to commemorate both the Civil War and West Virginia sesquicentennial, a historical marker was erected in Point Pleasant acknowledging Hall's role in West Virginia history.

1. Carolyn S. Quinlan. "John Hall." 2010. West Virginia Archives and History. Web. Accessed August 5, 2020. http://www.wvculture.org/history/sesquicentennial/halljohn.pdf

2. Arline R. Thorn. "Mason County." July 13, 2015. e-WV: West Virginia Encyclopedia. Web. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1563

3. Chris Rizer. "Mason County Memories: 'The bravest of the brave.'" July 28, 2017. Point Pleasant Register. Web. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://www.mydailyregister.com/news/16890/mason-county-memories-the-bravest-of-the-brave

4. Chris Rizer. "Mason County Memories: The story of the Hall brothers." May 15, 2020. Point Pleasant Register. Web. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://www.mydailyregister.com/news/53918/mason-county-memories-the-story-of-the-hall-brothers

5. Randall S. Gooden. "Constitutional Convention of 1861-1863." December 8, 2011. e-WV: West Virginia Encyclopedia. Web. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1566

6. George W. Atkinson and Alvaro F. Gibbens. Prominent Men of West Virginia. Wheeling, WV: W.L. Callin, 1890. Digitized. https://books.google.com/books?id=vLYUAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=prominent+men+of+wv&source=bl&ots=9mO46TGFfI&sig=d3B9o7HLgIMG2tPSb9a87-#v=onepage&q=hall&f=true

7. "The Killing of Lewis Wetzel." October 25, 1862. Wheeling Intelligencer. Web. Accessed August 5, 2020. http://www.wvculture.org/history/sesquicentennial/18621023.html

8. The Weekly Register [Point Pleasant, WV]. October 30, 1862. Digitized via Chronicling America. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026817/1862-10-30/ed-1/seq-2/

9. Charles H. Ambler. "The Makers of West Virginia." West Virginia History, Vol. 2, No. 4 (July, 1941): 267-278. Digitized. http://www.wvculture.org/history/journal_wvh/wvh2-4.html