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John Baker White
Portrait of John Baker White
Clerk of Court for Hampshire County

In office
Preceded by Samuel McGuire
Succeeded by Thomas A. Keller
Personal details
Born (1794-08-04)August 4, 1794
near Winchester, Frederick County, Virginia, United States
Died October 9, 1862 (1862-10-10) (aged 68)
Richmond, Virginia, Confederate States of America
Resting place Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia, United States
Nationality American
Political party Constitutional Union Party (1860–1861)
  • Alcinda Louisa Tapscott
  • Frances Ann Streit
  • Susan J. White Armstrong
  • Juliet Opie White Tabb
  • Arabella White Thompson
  • Robert White
  • John Baker White
    Louisa White
  • Christian Streit White
  • Alexander White
    Henry White
  • Frances Ann White Flournoy
  • Lucy White
Residence Liberty Hall, Romney, Virginia (now West Virginia), United States
Religion Presbyterian
Military service
Allegiance United States United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1812–1814
Rank Ensign
Battles/wars War of 1812

John Baker White (August 4, 1794 – October 9, 1862) was a 19th century American military officer, lawyer, court clerk, and civil servant in the U.S. state of Virginia. White served as the Clerk of Court for Hampshire County, Virginia (now West Virginia) for 47 years (1815–1861), after which he served in the Confederate States Department of the Treasury during the American Civil War. He was a member of the White political family of Virginia and West Virginia and was the son of prominent Virginia judge Robert White (1759–1831) and the father of West Virginia Attorney General Robert White (1833–1915). To date, White is the longest-serving Clerk of Court for Hampshire County, West Virginia since the office's creation in 1757.

Early life and military career

John Baker White was born on August 4, 1794 near Winchester in Frederick County, Virginia.[1][2][3][4] White was a son of prominent Virginia General Court judge Robert White (1759–1831) and his wife Arabella Baker.[1][2][3][4] Among his other relations, White was a great-nephew of United States House Representative Alexander White (1738–1804) and a nephew of another United States House Representative, Francis White (1761–1826).[1] During the War of 1812, White enlisted in the United States Army as a soldier and was promoted to the military rank of ensign.[1][2]

Clerk of court career

Following his service in the War of 1812, White settled in Romney, Virginia (now West Virginia) where he was appointed as deputy clerk for both the superior court and circuit court in Hampshire County in 1814.[1][2] On March 20, 1815, White was qualified as Clerk of Court for both the superior and circuit courts of Hampshire County and he continued to hold these offices through successive appointments and elections for 47 years between 1815 and 1861.[1][2][4][5] To date, White remains the longest-serving Clerk of Court for Hampshire County since the office's creation in 1757.[1][2][5]

Academic affairs

As a prominent lawyer and court clerk, White conducted the teaching of jurisprudence in both his Clerk of Court office and residence, where he allowed his law students to reside during their studies.[2] Many of White's law students later became eminent lawyers and public officials in their own right, including: Henry Bedinger, United States House Representative and United States Ambassador to Denmark; James Dillon Armstrong, Hampshire County Circuit Court judge and son of William Armstrong; Dr. Robert White, Presbyterian minister of Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Virginia lawyers Newton Tapscott, Alfred P. White, and Philip B. Streit.[2] In addition to his law instruction, White was an active member of the Romney Literary Society.[6] When the act of incorporation for Romney Academy was amended by the Virginia General Assembly on March 25, 1839, White was appointed as a trustee along with other prominent Romney area residents David Gibson, Angus William McDonald, Daniel Mytinger, and John Kern, Jr.[7][8] The 1839 act authorized any of the five appointed trustees of Romney Academy to fill vacancies on the board "occasioned by death, resignation, removal, or legal disability" thereby preventing future prolonged vacant trustee seats.[7]

Business affairs

By 1839, White was serving on the board of directors of the Bank of the Valley of Virginia in Romney.[9] During the absence of the board's president, David Gibson, White served as president pro tempore November 29 through December 13, 1839.[9] The Wirgman Building housed the Bank of the Valley of Virginia's during White's tenure on its board of directors.[10]

American Civil War

Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, White was in support of preserving the United States.[1][2] In the United States presidential election of 1860, White supported Constitutional Union Party presidential candidate John Bell and his running mate Edward Everett.[2] The Constitutional Union Party was formed by former Whig Party members seeking to avoid secessionism over the issue of slavery. In 1861, White voted for Union candidates to serve as delegates from Hampshire County in the Virginia secession convention,[2] one of which was his son-in-law Colonel E. M. Armstrong.[2]

Photographed in 1937, the Wirgman Building in Romney was built for and housed the Bank of the Valley of Virginia around 1825. The structure was razed in 1965 for the construction of the current Bank of Romney building.

White's national loyalties shifted following the Battle of Fort Sumter and other Union encroachments into the Confederate States of America,[1][2] after which White supported the defense of Virginia's states' rights and of the United States Constitution.[2] White's eldest three sons out of four joined the Confederate States Army[2][11] and White became active in enlisting and arousing support within Hampshire County for the Confederate States cause.[2] Because of his Confederate sympathies, White was threatened by occupying Union Army forces to either vacate his residence in Romney or face arrest.[2][11]

Preservation of Hampshire County records

No court proceedings convened in Hampshire County between 1861 and 1864[5][11] and the county's courthouse was utilized as a stable by Union soldiers stationed in Romney during the war.[12][13] In 1861, Union Army forces under the command of Lew Wallace occupied Romney following a minor battle there during which White "kept close watch over" the county's record books so that they would not be destroyed by Union forces.[12] Later in the Fall of 1861, Union Army forces under the command of Benjamin Franklin Kelley advanced upon Romney.[12] Upon learning of this, White was again concerned for the safety of the county's records and proceeded to load land registration records ledger books onto wagons[12][13] and had them transported to Winchester for safekeeping.[12][13] White selected for transport only the bound volumes of records which included "deed books, wills, and settlements of estates" and kept the unbound paper records in the courthouse, thus separating them so that the entirety of the county's records could not be destroyed by Union forces.[12][13] White likely chose to transport the bound volumes of records, as the loose paper records would have been more cumbersome to keep together.[13]

The Hampshire County Courthouse in Romney, where John Baker White served as Clerk of Court for Hampshire County. This courthouse was built in 1833 and remained in service until it burned in 1921.

In 1863, when Winchester was no longer a safe location for the storage of Hampshire County's records and they again risked destruction by Union Army forces,[12][13] White's son Captain Christian Streit White took responsibility for the records and transferred them to Front Royal.[13][14] When Front Royal became endangered by advancing Union Army forces, Captain White had the records moved to Luray Caverns where they remained for several months.[11][13][14] In the Fall of 1864, the county's record books were rescued by Captain White and his company as Union Army troops were in the process of destroying them.[13][14] Captain White's company loaded about 150 record books into a wagon and they were taken to North Carolina where they remained safely for the duration of the war.[11][13][14] Hampshire County's land records survived and were returned to the courthouse following the conclusion of the American Civil War,[11] likely by a soldier returning to the area from North Carolina.[14] Had White not separated the records and sent the bound volumes away for safekeeping, Hampshire County would have lost all its records during the course of the war, as those that remained in the courthouse were destroyed.[12] In addition to the desecration of courthouse's loose paper records, a Union Army officer on duty in Romney confiscated an old Scots language Bible belonging to White, which had been passed down to him through his White family ancestors.[15]

Removal to Richmond

White left Romney with his wife and youngest children and traveled to Richmond where he was offered a position in the Confederate States Department of the Treasury within the government of the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis.[2][4][11]

Death and legacy

White died soon after his arrival in Richmond on October 9, 1862.[2][4][11] He was interred by Scottish Rite Masons at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.[2][11] Distant relative Reverend Moses D. Hoge of the Presbyterian Church in the United States|Southern Presbyterian Church, Bishop Duncan of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and Bishop Minegerode of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America|Southern Protestant Episcopal Church participated in White's funeral services.[2]

White's friends and family believed that he "died of grief" caused by the loss of his property in Romney and his concern for the safety of the records in the Hampshire County Courthouse during the conflict.[2][11] In their History of Hampshire County, West Virginia: From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present (1897), West Virginia historians Hu Maxwell and Howard Llewellyn Swisher remarked of White:[2]

"[White] was a man of great integrity, kind heart, strong sense, sound judgment, high principle, and broad cultivation. He was a Christian, and was prominent in every enterprise for the advancement of the county or the betterment of its people, a good lawyer and safe counsellor, true and trusty in all the relations of life, and with a heart and hand ever open to charity. His life was rich in good deeds, and his means and large influence were potent factors in promoting the material interests and moral, religious, and intellectual advancement of the people of his county. Few men have been more beloved and honored than he was among his own people."

 — Hu Maxwell and Howard Llewellyn Swisher, History of Hampshire County, West Virginia: From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present (1897)[2]

Personal life

Marriage and issue

Robert White
Christian Streit White

White married first to Alcinda Louisa Tapscott of Jefferson County, Virginia (now West Virginia).[1][2] White and his first wife Alcinda had three children together:[1][2]

  • Susan J. White Armstrong,[2] married William James Armstrong (son of United States Representative William Armstrong) of Romney[2]
  • Juliet Opie White Tabb,[2] married Noble Tabb of Berkeley County, Virginia (now West Virginia)[2]
  • Arabella White Thompson,[2] married Judge Lucas P. Thompson of Augusta County, Virginia[2]

White married for the second time to Frances Ann Streit (c. 1809 – 1879),[1][2][3] a daughter of Reverend Christian Streit of Winchester, Virginia.[1][3] He and his second wife Frances had nine children (one of which died in infancy):[1][2][3]

  • Robert White (February 7, 1833 – December 12, 1915),[2][3] married Ellen E. Vass and served as West Virginia Attorney General (1877–1881)
  • John Baker White (born 1837),[3][16]
  • Louisa White[3]
  • Christian Streit White (March 10, 1840 – January 28, 1917),[3][17][18] married first to Bessie J. Schultze and second to Catharine Steele[17]
  • Alexander White (born 1841),[3][16] married Susan L. Williams of Hardy County, West Virginia[16]
  • Henry White[3]
  • Frances Ann "Fannie" White Flournoy (born April 1843),[3][19] married Samuel Lightfoot Flournoy[19]
  • Lucy White[3]


White's residence, which later became known as "Liberty Hall," along East Main Street in Romney, West Virginia.

White and his family resided in a large brick mansion located along East Main Street (Northwestern Turnpike) which was later known as "Liberty Hall."[1] Due to his upbringing in an affluent family, White was a person of means from a young age and in his early adulthood, he was able to construct a "large brick mansion" at this location.[2] His original residence was destroyed by fire in 1857, and White replaced it with a more modest brick edifice where he resided until his departure from Romney in 1861 during the American Civil War.[2] White's home was a "seat of true old Virginia hospitality" and it was frequented by all socio-cultural strata of Hampshire County and the greater Valley of Virginia region.[2]

During the construction of the Northwestern Turnpike through Romney, the state superintendent for the project, Angus William McDonald, proposed building the thoroughfare through White's garden in front of his residence.[20] White won an appeal in court which caused the turnpike to be rerouted, thus creating the present curve on East Main Street in front of White's former residence.[20]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 Munske & Kerns 2004, p. 39.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 2.30 2.31 2.32 2.33 2.34 2.35 2.36 2.37 Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 741.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 Brant and Fuller 1890, p. 476.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Kerns 1995, p. 110.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 278.
  6. Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 433.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Virginia General Assembly 1839, p. 131.
  8. Morrison 1917, p. 152.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Virginia House of Delegates 1839, pp. 40–42.
  10. Brannon 1976, p. 248.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 11.7 11.8 11.9 Munske & Kerns 2004, p. 40.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 12.7 Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 370.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 13.8 13.9 "Guide to the (West) Virginia Court Documents Collection". Marietta College Library. Marietta College. Retrieved June 19, 2013. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 371.
  15. Indiana Historical Bureau 1939, p. 296.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 742.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 743.
  18. "Death Record Detail: Christian Streit White". West Virginia Vital Research Records. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Retrieved June 19, 2013. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Marriage Record Detail: Samuel Lightfoot Flournoy". West Virginia Vital Research Records. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Retrieved June 19, 2013. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 Munske & Kerns 2004, p. 122.


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