Gordon Battelle Highway Historical Marker
A prominent educator and Methodist preacher in Western Virginia, Gordon Battelle served as the Ohio County delegate to the state's Constitutional Convention in Wheeling in 1861. At the convention, Battelle proved a powerful advocate for public education and managed to secure a constitutional amendment for public-funded schooling. More controversially, Battelle called for the gradual emancipation of slavery in the state. Although his proposal was rejected, slavery came to an end via statehood and the 13th Amendment. Enlisting as a chaplain in the First (West) Virginia Infantry, Battelle died of typhoid fever in 1862. In 2016, a historic wayside marker was placed to commemorate Battelle's place in West Virginia history.
Backstory and Context
Gordon Battelle was born in Ohio in 1814. He attended college at Marietta Collegiate Institute (now Marietta College) in Ohio and Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. Pursuing a career in education, Battelle taught first at Asbury Academy in Parkersburg then at the Northwestern Virginia Academy in Clarksburg. A religious man, Battelle became a Methodist minster in 1847. In the 1850s, he left teaching and served as a pastor to Methodist congregations in Charleston, Clarksburg, and Wheeling.
More than just religious leaders, however, Methodist preachers like Battelle wielded considerable moral and political influence in western Virginia. Battelle opposed slavery at a time when the Methodist Episcopal Church itself was fracturing over the issue. When the Civil War came in 1861, Battelle remained loyal to the United States, as did many western Virginians, and he supported the creation of the new state of West Virginia. Battelle's stature as an educator and religious leader led to his selection as the Ohio County delegate to the First Constitutional Convention in Wheeling during 1861-1862.
At the Constitutional Convention Battelle left an indelible mark on the proceedings through is powerful advocacy for free public education and emancipation. A former educator, Battelle believed state-funded education "vital to the welfare of the whole people of the state." In his quest for public schools, Battelle succeeded in gaining a constitutional provision for state-funded public education.
Battelle's anti-slavery views proved more controversial during the convention. Battelle proposed a ban on the importation of slaves in West Virginia and a plan for gradual emancipation. The diverse convention membership declined both proposals, although they did agree to bar the entry of any African-Americans, slave or free, into the state. Although Battelle's proposals fell short during the Constitutional Convention, they were realized in West Virginia's statehood. Congress required the abolition of slavery to accept West Virginia's entry into the Union, and Waitman T. Willey's amendment to the West Virginia Statehood Bill freed all slaves upon reaching the age of 21 who were born prior to July 4, 1863 (the 13th Amendment later abolished all slavery, regardless of age, in 1865).
Beyond Battelle's political contributions to West Virginia statehood and emancipation, he also served with Union forces in the field. He enlisted as Chaplain in the First Virginia Infantry (later the First West Virginia Infantry) in the United States army. Battelle feel ill with typhoid fever and passed away on August 7, 1862 in Washington, D.C. The prominent Wheeling newspaper the Daily Intelligencer mourned his passing. "He was devoted heart and soul to the interests of Western Virginia, and she has lost in him perhaps the ablest and most earnest friend she had."
In 2016, as part of an effort to commemorate the Civil War and West Virginia sesquicentennial, West Virginia placed a historic marker in downtown Wheeling in honor of Gordon Battelle's contribution to the state and its people.
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2. Matthew Tyler Foulds. "Enemies of the States: Methodists, Secession, and the Civil War in Western Virginia, 1845-1872." PhD dissertation, Ohio State University, 2012. Accessed June 15, 2020 via OhioLink. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/pg_10?0::NO:10:P10_ACCESSION_NUM:osu1337031505
3. Gooden, Randall S. "Constitutional Convention of 1861-1863." e-WV: Encyclopedia of West Virginia. December 8, 2011. Web. Accessed June 15, 2020. https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1566
4. "Debates and Proceedings of First Constitutional Convention of West Virginia." West Virginia Archives & History. Web. Accessed June 15, 2020. http://www.wvculture.org/history/statehood/cctoc.html
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6. "Death of Rev. Gordon Battelle." [Wheeling] Daily Intelligencer. August 8, 1862. Accessed June 15, 2020 via Chronicling America. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026845/1862-08-08/ed-1/seq-2/
West Virginia Archives & History, http://www.wvculture.org/history/markers/sesqui/gordonbattelle.html
West Virginia & Regional History Center, https://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/027102
e-WV: Encyclopedia of West Virginia, https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/406