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Francis Harrison Pierpont
Portrait of Francis Pierpont
Governor of Virginia

In office
Preceded by William Smith
as the undisputed Governor
Succeeded by Henry H. Wells
as "Provisional Governor"
Personal details
Born (1814-01-25)January 25, 1814
Morgantown (then in Virginia)
Died March 24, 1899(1899-03-24) (aged 85)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Julia Augusta Robertson
Occupation Lawyer
Religion Methodist

Francis Harrison Pierpont (January 25, 1814 – March 24, 1899), called the "Father of West Virginia," was an American lawyer, politician, and Governor of the Union-controlled parts of Virginia during the Civil War. After the war, he was the Governor of all of Virginia during the early years of Reconstruction. In recognition of his significance to its state history, in 1910 the state of West Virginia donated a marble statue of Pierpont as its second contribution to the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection.[1]

Early life

He was the third son of Francis Peirpoint and was born at the Peirpoint "Plantation" in the "Forks of Cheat" on the Morgantown-Ices Ferry Road, Monongalia County, (West) Virginia.[2] His middle name, "Harrison," was added later by the boy's father in honor of his commanding officer, General William Henry Harrison. Pierpont, the original family name, was altered to Peirpoint in the land office at Richmond, VA in issuing patents for land deeded to his grandfather.  The family was advised, by Virginia lawyers, that in order to hold their grandfather's land they must spell their last name as recorded in the patent.  His father used the name Peirpoint throughout all of his life. Francis Harrison also utilized Peirpoint throughout most of his adult life including during his terms as the Civil War and Reconstruction Governor of Virginia. In 1880, when President Garfield appointed him Collector of Internal Revenue, Peirpoint sent his name to the U.S. Senate as Francis H. Pierpont.[3]  Pierpont writes that "He consented to the change of his name because it was right." [4]   Pierpont grew up in western Virginia, in what is today Marion County, West Virginia; he was linked with the region's history for the rest of his life.[5] He graduated from Allegheny College, and taught school in Virginia and Mississippi while also studying law. He was kin to Morgantown's founder Zackquill Morgan. He was admitted to the bar in 1841, and became the local attorney for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1848. Prior to entering politics, he also helped found Fairmont Male and Female Seminary, the forerunner to Fairmont State University.[5]

Political career

Francis Harrison Pierpont, NSHC statue

Civil war

An active supporter of Abraham Lincoln, Pierpont became more involved in politics as an outspoken opponent of Virginia's secession from the Union. When Virginia seceded and entered the war, delegates from the northwestern counties of Virginia, which refused to join the Confederacy, met at the Wheeling Convention.[5] These counties ultimately declared that their elected officials had abandoned their posts and established a rump government in Wheeling, with Pierpont as the provisional Governor. This "Restored government of Virginia" drafted a new Virginia Constitution and sent representatives to the Union Congress.[1] The Second Wheeling Convention met on June 11, 1861, and on June 20, 1861, Piepont was unanimously elected governor of the Restored Government of Virginia with the recognition of President Lincoln.[6] In 1862, Pierpont attended the Loyal War Governors' Conference in Altoona, Pennsylvania, organized by Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin, which ultimately backed Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the Union war effort. Pierpont was again elected governor for a four-year term on May 28, 1863.[6]

Under Pierpont's leadership, the Wheeling government called for a popular vote on the question of the creation of a new separate state. Despite a lack of overwhelming support and widespread fraud in the voting process, the Restored Government pressed the U.S. Congress for statehood, which also approved the issue.[7] The new state took the name West Virginia and was admitted into the Union in 1863. When Arthur I. Boreman was elected governor for West Virginia, Pierpont became Governor of the "restored" state of Virginia, comprising the several Northern Virginia, Norfolk area, and Eastern Shore counties under Union control.[1] The capital of the "restored" state was established in Alexandria for the remainder of the Civil War.

On May 9, 1865, President Andrew Johnson recognized and/or appointed Pierpont as the Provisional Governor of Virginia.[8] He moved the capital back to Richmond, Virginia.[9]


Pierpont followed a policy of forgiveness to those politicians who had served in the Confederate military and government. The Virginia government started to pass laws restoring ex-Confederates to their lost privileges, to the displeasure of most former Union Republicans. As the South became increasingly resistant to Reconstruction after the war, the United States Congress passed the Military Reconstruction Act of 1867. Through this Act, Virginia was designated the "First Military District" in 1868, and military commander John Schofield replaced Pierpont with Henry H. Wells until state delegates could write and enact a new constitution could be enacted. According to the Civil War historian Richard Lowe, Hiram Bond, a former Vanderbilt University functionary and friend of Grant, planned the removal of Pierpont and installation of Welles. Pierpont became one of the key figures in the Virginia constitutional convention of 1867-1868, which resulted in the Underwood Constitution of 1869. After this, Pierpont left Virginia politics and returned to his law practice in West Virginia.[9]

Pierpont subsequently was elected to one term in the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1870, but lost his seat when the Democrats took control of the state.[5] His last public office was as collector of Internal Revenue under President James Garfield.[1] After his retirement, he helped create the West Virginia Historical Society. He died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on March 24, 1899. Three years later, his remains were relocated to Woodlawn Cemetery in Fairmont, West Virginia. They are next to his wife Julia and three of their four children.[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"Francis Harrison Pierpont". U.S. Architect of the Capitol. Retrieved 2007-03-08.
  2. Ambler, Charles H. Francis H. Pierpont: Union War Governor and Father of West Virginia (1937), page 6
  3. Francis H. Pierpont Autograph Narrative from the West Virginia & Regional History Center, WVU Libraries's   Pierpont, Francis Harrison (1814-1899), Papers 1811-1949, manuscript -
  4. Klos, Stanley Y., The Father of West Virginia: A Perplexing Name Change,
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"Francis Harrison Pierpont". West Virginia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-03-08.
  6. 6.0 6.1 A Guide to the Francis H. Pierpont Restored Government Executive Papers, 1861-1865. Library of Virginia. OCLC 63209030.
  7. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"West Virginia Statehood". West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Retrieved 2007-03-08.
  8. Presidential Executive Order No. 4, 9 May 1865, 13 United States Statutes at Large 777
  9. 9.0 9.1 Morgan, Lynda (1992). Emancipation in Virginia's Tobacco Belt, 1850-1870. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 0-8203-1415-3. 

Further reading

  • Ambler, Charles H. Francis H. Pierpont: Union War Governor and Father of West Virginia (1937), the standard scholarly biography
  • Downing, David C. A South Divided: Portraits of Dissent in the Confederacy. Nashville: Cumberland House, 2007. ISBN 978-1-58182-587-9

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
William Smith
Unionist Governor of Virginia
1865 – 1868
Succeeded by
Henry H. Wells
Provisional Governor

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