About Jackson County
Jackson County is a county located in the U.S. state of West Virginia. As of 2000, the population was 28,000. Its county seat is Ripley and its largest municipality is Ravenswood. Jackson County was formed in 1831 from parts of Kanawha, Wood, and Mason Counties, and named for Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 472 square miles (1,221 kmē), of which, 466 square miles (1,206 kmē) of it is land and 6 square miles (15 kmē) of it (1.23%) is water. The Ohio River forms part of Jackson County’s western border. Sandy Creek and Mill Creek, tributaries of the Ohio, flow through the northern and central portions of the county.
View Larger Map
- Interstate 77
- U.S. Highway 33
- West Virginia Route 2
- West Virginia Route 34
- West Virginia Route 62
- West Virginia Route 68
- West Virginia Route 87
- Wood County (north)
- Wirt County (northeast)
- Roane County (east)
- Kanawha County (south)
- Putnam County (southeast)
- Mason County (west)
- Meigs County, Ohio (northwest)
As of the census of 2000, there were 28,000 people, 11,061 households, and 8,207 families residing in the county. The population density was 60 people per square mile (23/kmē). There were 12,245 housing units at an average density of 26 per square mile (10/kmē). The racial makeup of the county was 98.75% White, 0.08% Black or African American, 0.21% Native American, 0.23% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.10% from other races, and 0.62% from two or more races. 0.29% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 11,061 households out of which 31.90% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 61.60% were married couples living together, 9.40% had a female householder with no husband present, and 25.80% were non-families. 22.70% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.30% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.50 and the average family size was 2.92.
In the county, the population was spread out with 24.10% under the age of 18, 7.90% from 18 to 24, 27.70% from 25 to 44, 24.90% from 45 to 64, and 15.30% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 94.80 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.40 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $32,434, and the median income for a family was $38,021. Males had a median income of $32,991 versus $20,253 for females. The per capita income for the county was $16,205. About 12.20% of families and 15.20% of the population were below the poverty line, including 21.60% of those under age 18 and 9.00% of those age 65 or over.
(The above is based on the entry in Wikipedia, April 2009,
|Date||Population||Population Change||Annual % Change|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Census
By Dr. Robert Jay Dilger and Steve Kovalan, WVU
President and General Andrew Jackson, known as “Old Hickory”, had a distinguished military and political career. Born in a backwoods settlement in South Carolina in 1767, he received little formal education as a child. His father died a few days before he was born. His mother died when he was 13, while he was away from home serving as a courier during the American Revolutionary War. After the war, he moved to North Carolina and decided to pursue a legal career. After reading law books for about two years, he was admitted to the Bar in 1787. The following year he moved to Nashville (then still part of North Carolina) where he met and fell in love with Rachel Donelson Robards. She had moved to Nashville to be with her mother after separating from her husband, Captain Lewis Robards, who resided in Virginia. Believing that she had been granted a divorce from her husband, she married Andrew Jackson in 1791. However, her previous marraige was not officially dissolved until 1793. As soon as they found out, they promptly remarried in January 1794, but Jackson’s later political opponents often charged him with having stolen another man’s wife and, worse, having lived with her in adultery from 1791 to 1794. Fiercely jealous of his honor, Jackson often physically confronted anyone who spread rumors about his relationship with Rachel. In 1806, he killed Charles Dickinson, a Nashville lawyer, in a duel for casting a slur against Rachel.
Jackson’s political career began when he was elected the newly formed state of Tennessee’s first representative to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1796. The following year he was selected to by the Tennessee state legislature to represent the state in the U.S. Senate, but he resigned after serving only two years due to financial difficulties. His financial problems were solved by his appoinment to the Tennessee Superior Court in 1798. He served in that capacity until 1804. He then retired from political life and focused on raising cotton and breeding thoroughbred horses on his estate near Nashville. During this time, he served as a member of the Tennessee militia, rising to the rank of major general. Because he was not on the best of terms with President James Madision, when the War of 1812 began he was granted a commission as major general of U.S. volunteers, considered a relatively modest appointment. His command was initially provided supportive missions for other troops, but in 1813 the Creek Indians went on the warpath in the Mississippi Territory. Jackson was given the responsibility of dealing with the problem and he soon gained national fame for his successful campaign against the Creek Indians. He was promoted to major general in the regular army and given responsibility for the defense of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The following year, his fame grew to historic proportions for his masterful defense of New Orleans. During the famous Battle at New Orleans on January 8, 1815, Jackson led a contingent of Louisiana militia, Tennessee and Kentucky riflemen, and Baratarian pirates against a vastly superior British force. During the battle, more than 2,000 British were killed, compared to six American casulties. The Battle of New Orleans, subject of numerous scholarly books and Hollywood movies, was the last campaign of the War of 1812. The Battle of New Orleans was fought after the Ghent Peace Treaty was signed on December 24, 1814. Although it has often been asserted that Jackson’s victory at New Orleans was won after the war’s conclusion, that was not the case. The Ghent Peace Treaty specifically called for continued hostilities until the treaty was formally ratified by both governments, which did not take place until February 1815, the month after the Battle of New Orleans.
After the war, General Jackson retired to his estate near Nashville, only to be recalled to active duty in 1827 to put down the Seminole Indian uprising in Georgia. In the process of putting down the uprising, he pursued the Indians across the border into neighboring Florida, then owned by the Spanish. Jackson marched through the state, capturing city after city. His unauthored “invasion” caused an international furor. With American forces firmly in control of Florida, and Jackson being hailed by the media as a national hero, President Monroe was placed in a difficult situation. Firing Jackson for insubordination would have been a political disaster, but the international community demanded Jackson’s recall, and Spain was threatening war. The crisis was resolved when Spain agreed to sell Florida to the United States. Jackson later resigned his commission to serve as the provisional Governor of the Florida Territory (in 1821). He then ran unsuccessfully for President in 1824, winning a plurality of the popular vote and of the electoral college in a four man race (Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William H. Crawford and Henry Clay). Because none of the four won a majority of the electoral college vote, the election was decided by the U.S. House of Representatives. It choose John Quincy Adams over Jackson. He ran again in 1828 and, although the presidential race was considered one of the dirtiest in American history, with cartoonists and opponents focusing attention on Jackson’s relationship with Rachel, he won, becoming the 7th President of the United States. He was re-elected in 1832. Although the modern Democratic party’s roots extend back to Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson is generally credited for starting the Democratic political party. He is also known as the first president to use the veto power to achieve political goals.
European Pioneers and Settlers
Robert Cavelier de La Salle was probably the first European to set foot in present Jackson County. He sailed down the Ohio River in 1669. James Le Tort, a French fur trader, was probably the first European to settle in Jackson County. He established a trading post sometime before 1740 near the current border of Jackson and Mason Counties. In 1749, Louis Bienville de Celeron explored the Ohio River and claimed all of the lands drained by the Ohio River for King Louis XV of France. He met several English fur traders on his journey and ordered them off of French soil and wrote strong letters of reprimand to the colonial governors protesting the English’s presence on French soil.
Joseph Le Tort, a French Heugonot, arrived in present-day Jackson County around 1740. He came to western Virginia from his home in Pennsylvania. While in Jackson County, he traded furs with the Indians.
In February 1752, Christopher Gist led a survey expedition into present-day Jackson County on behalf of the Ohio Land Company. He reportedly killed four bison while camped there. He reported that he could not recommend any permanent settlements in the area because of the harsh living conditions and the unfriendliness of the Indians, who claimed the area as part of their hunting grounds. In 1770, George Washington explored the region and claimed two tracts of land in the county (2,448 acres near the present site of Ravenswood and 4,395 acres in the Millwood area) in exchange for his service during the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763).
William Hannamon, Benjamin Cox, and James McDade were the first known English settlers in Jackson County, moving into the Mill Creek area in May 1796. The first two built homes and took up permanent residence in the county. McDade served as an Indian scout, traveling the banks of the Ohio River, with his only companion, a faithful dog, at his side. It was said that his sole ambition in life was to alert some poor traveler of the presence of Indians and preventing them from becoming a victim of what he beleived were murderous savages. The first school was built in the county in 1806, and the first teacher, Andrew Hushan, had 15 students when it opened in 1807. In addition to being the county’s first teacher, Andrew Hushan also constructed the county’s first mill in 1799.
Important Events During the 1800s
During the early 1800s, life in present-day Jackson County was difficult and fraught with danger. For example, in 1817, John Greene, a former resident of Botetourt County, Virginia, moved to Jackson County and constructed a home along Allen’s Fork of the Pocatalico River. Reuben Harrison, another early settler in the region, had a home along Thirteen Mile Creek, located in present-day Mason County. The two men became close friends and hunting partners. Their hunting expeditions would often last several nights, requiring them to spend the night in the open wilderness. One night, the two men had their young sons, Edward Greene and Zebulon Harrison, with them. The boys had hoped to witness their fathers chop down a very large tree which was believed to be inhabited by a bear. They chopped the tree down, but there was no bear to be found. As it was getting late in the day, the men took refuge in a nearby cave for the night. They built a fire and settled in. After they had all fallen asleep, an overhead rock collapsed into the cave, crushing the men from the waist down. The two young boys were also hurt, but their injuries were not life threatening. The boys did not know the way home, and waited for help to arrive. Four days later, Josiah Harrison, Reuben Harrison’s brother, found them. Unfortunately, by the time he arrived, his brother was dead. Josiah Harrison then raced back home to get help for Edward Greene, who was still trapped beneath the huge boulder. Unfortunately, by the time he returned with help, Greene was dead.
Early transportation in Jackson County was primitive. Because the land was heavily wooded, settlers relied on the Ohio River and its tributaries for most of their long-distance travel. Roads were few and far between. They consisted of Indian trails and rudimentary packhorse trails. Jackson Smith built the first “real” road in the county in 1832. It ran from Ripley to Millwood. By the 1850s, several turnpikes were built within the county. These toll roads vastly improved local transportation. Unfortunately, during the Civil War many of these turnpikes were damaged from heavy use and were not fully repaired until the 1870s. By the 1880s, railroads began to replace roads as the primary means of moving large quantities of goods in the county. By the 1890s, three rail companies served the county’s residents.
By the 1840s, Jackson County’s residents had moved from being primarily self-sufficient, small scale farmers to specialists in different crafts, ranging from blacksmiths and gunsmiths to tanners and shoemakers. Also, several grist mills were constructed to grind corn and wheat on a large scale. Grist mills were often the center of economic activity and became the focal point around which towns were built. Ripley, for example, owes its beginning to the Starcher Mill, built there in 1824 by Jacob Starcher. Other early industries in Jackson County included timber and lumbering companies, oil and gas wells, a woolen mill, and a handle factory.
During the Civil War, Jackson County remained under Union control. The only exception was in September 1862 when Confederate forces, under the command of General Albert Gallatin Jenkins, briefly gained control of the county.
Jackson County holds the dubious distinction of being the site of the last public hanging in the state of West Virginia. On December 16, 1897, John F. Morgan was hanged from gallows that had been erected in a field outside of Ripley. More than 5,000 people attended the spectacle. Morgan had been tried and convicted of murdering Mrs. Chloe Green and one of her daughters with a hatchet. Morgan also struck Mrs. Greene’s other daughter with the murder weapon, but she escaped and identified him as the murderer. A reporter covering the event for The New York Sun wrote, “every road and path leading into the town of Ripley was clogged with men and women on horse back, families in wagons, buggies and every conceivable type of conveyance.” Worried that the Governor might grant Mr. Morgan a reprieve, the local sheriff decided to conduct the hanging a little earlier than planned. The Sheriff annouced to the crowd, “I promised you a hanging and there’s a-going to be one.” Soon afterwards, the West Virginia State legislature passed a law banning public hangings.
When Jackson County was formed, the residents of the county could not decide where to locate the county seat. The people who lived along the Ohio River near the Ravenswood settlement favored that location. The people who lived farther inland objected. The General Assembly appointed an independent commission to make the final decision. The commissioners were John McWhorter of Lewis County, John Miller of Kanawha County, William Spurlock of Cabell County, Cyrus Cary of Greenbrier County, and John McCoy of Tyler County. They choose Ripley.
Ripley was originally owned and settled by William, John, and Lewis Rodgers. They received a grant of 400 acres in 1768 where “Sycamore Creek joins Big Mill Creek” (the current site of Ripley). The land was later sold to Jacob (and Ann) Starcher, most probably in 1803. At that time, Captain William Parsons was one of the county’s most prominent citizens. He arrived in the Ripley area shortly before 1800. Jacob Starcher laid out the town in 1830, and named it in honor of Harry Ripley, a young minister who was to be married, but drowned in Big Mill Creek, about one and a half miles north of the town, shortly before the ceremony took place. In 1832, the Starchers donated eight acres of land to the county, two acres for the location of the county courthouse and jail, and six for the general use of the new county (a public school and a cemetery were later located on the land). The town was chartered by the Virginia General Assembly in 1832.
In 1832, James Smith was commissioned to build the county courthouse and jail. The jail was to be 34 feet by 17 feet, and the courthouse was to be 36 feet square. The one-story brick buildings were completed in 1833 at a cost of $3,700. Nicholas H. Bonnett was commissioned to build a new, larger two-story courthouse in 1854. He completed the project in 1858 for $8,993. In 1917, after attempting repairs to the courthouse’s heating system, the county commission decided to move its meetings to the lower hall of the existing I.O.O.F. building while a new courthouse was being built. They rented the space from Herbert Skeen and W.F. Boggess. The new courthouse, still in use today, was completed by the Prescott Construction Company in 1920. An addition was built in 1961 at a cost of $350,000.
Bicentennial Committee. 1976. Early History of Pioneer Days in Jackson County. Jackson County: Delta Gamma Society International.
Jackson County Historical Society. 1982. The Emergence of Jackson County and of Ripley, Its Seat of Justice. Jackson County Historical Society: Ripley, WV.
Jackson County Historical Society. 1990. Jackson County West Virginia Past and Present. Marceline, MO: Walsworth Publishing Co.
Morrison, Okey J. 1897. The Slaughter of the Pfost-Greene Family of Jackson County W.Va. Gibson and Sorin Co: Cincinnati, Ohio.
O’Brien, Winnifred E. 1979. Early Settlers and their Contributions to Jackson County and its County Seat Ripley, West Virginia. Ripley: Jackson County Public Library.
Dr. Robert Jay Dilger, Director, Institute for Public Affairs and Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University.
Steve Kovalan, undergraduate history and political science major, West Virginia University
February 19, 2002