About Francis Harrison Pierpont
Francis Harrison Pierpont (January 25, 1814 – March 24, 1899), called the "Father of West Virginia," was an American lawyer, politician, and unelected "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.
Born near Morgantown (and kin to its founder Zackquill Morgan), 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. He graduated from Allegheny College, and taught school in Virginia and Mississippi while also studying law.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. The capital of the "restored" state was established in Alexandria for the remainder of the Civil War.
At the end of the war in 1865, President Andrew Johnson appointed Pierpont as the provisional "governor" of Virginia. He moved the capital back to Richmond, Virginia.
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.
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. His last public office was as collector of Internal Revenue under President James Garfield. 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.