John Wesley Seibert – The Revered Black Barber of Shepherdstown

2147 words

from left to right names below (History of Shepherdstown 1730-1733 by C.S. Musser p. 97 –
Addison Reese

The wagon moving the coffin of black barber, John Wesley “Wes” Seibert, rumbled gingerly on to the entrance to Rose Hill Cemetery, on the north side of Shepherdstown’s High Street in the black part of town – followed on foot by Henry L. Snyder, the editor of the superb Shepherdstown Register and Wes’ neighbor, three ministers from the black Methodist Church, the white Presbyterian Church and, followed by those, still alive and wearing grief arm bands, from the 2nd Virginia Infantry regiment forty years ago -John G. Unseld, Jacob Wintermoyer, the haberdasher; J. William Taylor, David Hout, George G. Adams, the confectioner; J.T. Grove; John Philip Entler, , carpenter; Joseph Yontz, a painter; Edward Lucas, Charles Ferrell, William Arthur, Post Humrickhouse.

These were just some of the heads – what Beatle Paul McCartney sang – “that he had the pleasure to know,” first, in a building that burned, then in half of a rebuilt one on the same site with a partitioned interior. The other half matched the clipping sounds and small talk of Wes with his patrons with the hair-raising howls and screams through the wall of those patrons as the dentist was determined to yank out that bad tooth.

As those veterans made their way, memories flew to their young selves waking up with no tent protection in December, 1861 to find their blankets covered with a blanket of snow. Henry Kyd Douglas of Ferry Hill awoke startled by the men flailing on flames of his blankets from the crackling fire. So how Wes – the official cook for Company B of the 2nd Virginia – found them something to eat. When supply wagons couldn’t make it there on the ice, somehow it was Wes who found them food and cooked it for them. On this march, Wes looked out for them better than Stonewall, who seldom did. All through the war you could count on Wes. So they were walking behind their brother in war to his grave.

John Wesley Seibert’s home in later years; his next-door neighbor of H.L. Snyder, was the editor of the Shepherdstown Register – Google Maps

Wes never had children. He lived on New Street in his final years in a fine house still standing today and once owned by Brooks Lucas and Daniel Bedinger Lucas that Wes gave a fine porch across the front.


drawing in summer 1859 by A.R. Boteler of Morgans Springs estate where Wesley Seibert was a teenager

Born in January, 1846, he was a busy teenager at the Falling Springs farm of Eliza Morgan — where Richard Morgan’s 1734 cabin site was neighbor’d by a majestic mansion — cooking for a huge barbecue and celebration in the summer of 1859 a few weeks before the John Brown Raid.

Congressman Alexander R. Boteler

Congressmen Alexander Boteler who lived nearby at Fountain Rock with his family wrote:

We arrived at Morgan’s Spring, which is less than a mile from the town; and having consigned our horses to the care of the servant, we were glad to leave the carriage and take a stroll about the premises.

No lovelier spot could be selected for a rural festival. In front of an old-fashioned and somewhat dilapidated house, long since abandoned by its proprietors for a more modern mansion, not far off, upon a loftier but less romantic site, a sloping lawn sweeps down to the margin of a mimic lake, which mirrors on its silver surface the “high o’er-arching” trees that bend their sheltering arms above it.

Morgan Springs – My Ride to the Barbecue by A.R. Boteller

This is “Morgan’s Spring” and such has been its designation for more than a century, the property of which it constitutes a part having continued in possession of the same family since the first settlement of the valley. In former times it is said to have been a favorite trysting-place for the faithful lovers of the neighboring town.

We found the principal improvised tables arranged for dinner in the form of a quadrangle, inclosing an area of at least an acre, in the center of which was a large tent or booth, filled with a great variety of provisions. In convenient proximity to the tables the culinary operations were progressing upon a scale of profuse abundance, and after a fashion that was no less primitive than profuse.

There appeared to be about half a hundred whole carcasses of full-grown and well-fattened sheep and hogs, each having two long iron rods run through its length — ” barbe a queue” — so as to keep it spread open in the position termed by heraldic writers “displayed.” These were all laid across a trench (the projecting ends of the rods resting upon each side thereof), which was about a hundred feet in length by four deep, and in the bottom of which was a bed of glowing coals, that was replenished from time to time from large log fires kept constantly burning close by for that purpose.

At suitable intervals along the sides of the trench were iron vessels, some filled with salt, and water; others with melted butter, lard, etc., into which the attendants dipped linen cloths affixed to the ends of long, flexible wands, and delicately applied them with a certain air of dainty precision to different portions of the roasting meat.

This part of the process was done with such earnest solemnity of manner, as to impress a beholder with the conviction that there was some important mystery meant by the particular mode in which the carcasses were so ceremoniously touched with the saturated cloths. During this operation, other attendants were busily engaged in turning over the huge roasts, one after another, so that all sides of each should be done equally alike.

William Augustine Morgan, descended from Eliza, brought his family to Falling Springs and took it over for Eliza who still owned it but lived in Shepherdstown with the Parran’s on the northeast corner of German and Mill Street. A sale of enslaved at Fallings Springs executed by William Morgan appeared to have included Wesley’s parents, Jacob and Susannah Seibert.

When Virginia voted to secede in mid-April, 1861 and local militias raced to at least capture equipment and guns from the federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, William Morgan was joining the 1st Virginia Cavalry as other Shepherdstown men were becoming Company B in the 2nd Virginia regiment. Wes, in the shuffling around and still “owned” by the Morgans, became the cook for Company B.

(semblance only of Seibert) – A Confederate picket post near Charleston, S.C., 1861 –

Their commander, Thomas Johnathan Jackson, was hard on his men, expecting miracles. Wes and the others at his funeral survived the next four years.

The 2nd fought at First Manassas, First Kernstown, and in Jackson’s Valley Campaign.

Winter 1861-62 – Wesley Seibert had the impossible task of providing for the men amid starvation, no supplies, men dying of disease and freezing in blowing snow without tents. Jackson, still inexperienced, drove them on ice covered byways towards Bath, Virginia from Winchester, expecting to find Union opposition, but no. They got wind of his movements and Jackson found no one to fight at Bath, leaving death and meaningless suffering in his wake.

It went on to fight with the Army of Northern Virginia from the Seven Days’ Battles to Cold Harbor.

It reported 90 casualties at First Kernstown,
25 at Cross Keys and Port Republic,
27 at Gaines’ Mill, and
77 at Second Manassas.
The regiment lost 2 killed and 19 wounded at Fredericksburg,
had 8 killed and 58 wounded at Chancellorsville,
and had about eight percent of the 333 engaged at Gettysburg disabled.

On April 9, 1865, it surrendered with 9 officers and 62 men.

by William Gilbert Gaul Birmingham Museum of Art


Historic Shepherdstown Museum NOTE: focus on left side of the image beyond the tree

The boys would doze back with this black man, gliding a razor across their face and throat. Wes, at times, startled the dozer up by flicking-clicking his brush against the walls of his mug.

April 3, 1880 – The Shepherdstown Register
May 1, 1880 – The Shepherdstown Register
August 29, 1884 – The Shepherdstown Register


He takes a warm wet towel from water on an wood stove and places it over the man’s face while Wes paused to resharpen his razor on the strop about fifteen pulls each for each face of the razor. Then with the face and necks’ pores open from the heat, Wes took his moistened left hand to pull the skin smooth for the resharpened blade, his right hand set with the straight-edge between his third and pinkie finger.

Wes carefully kept his thumb and finger holding chin skin tight despite its tricky slipperiness all while learning the skill of pulling the razor – sometimes against the whiskers’ grain or with it – in neither a too heavy or too light way.

Wes very gently turned his customer’s head slightly in the headrest. He sets his razor down, takes from the shelf a menthol preparation and applies it to the man’s face, then fetches a very warm wet towel and covers the man’s face. Wes removes the towel, and taking the other, dry towel across the man’s breast and tucked in and around his neck and wipes off all wetness on the man’s face and neck. Then Wes finishes with a face powder he made by adding the essential oils of lemon and bergamot into a mix of rose pink and corn starch in his mortar. After Wes applied this from his dry folded hand towel, he ceremoniously closes his straight-edge and sets back on the washstand. He resets his customer’s chair back into the upright position to see if he wishes more.

Facing a head of dirty hair with lice

His hair would be washed with a pint of boiling water, a half ounce of powdered borax, two drams of aromatic spirits of ammonia, two ounces of sherry wine, and two drams of tincture of arnica.

If he had lice his head was washed with rum made very strong with black pepper, followed by combing with fine tooth comb.

Then Voila. Out goes the happy fellow with a bouquet of jockey club cologne (jasmin-rose-orange pomade, 3rd wash, jockey club compound and cloves) or another favorite called new mown hay – (jasmin-tuberose-orange-rose pomade, 3rd wash, and a spritz of new mown hay compound in his train as he sa-shays down German Street.
New Mown Hay cologne

“It seems to me,” said a customer to Wesley Seibert the other day,”that in these hard times you ought to lower your prices for shaving.” “Can’t do it,” replied Wesley. “Now-a-days, everybody wears such a long face that I have a great more surface to shave over.” – recounted his neighbor H.L. Snyder, the editor of The Shepherdstown Register (July 10, 1885)

1891 – Entlers build new building for Seibert and another tenant

February 3, 1891- The Shepherdstown Register
Sanborn Insurance Maps Shepherdstown, WV November, 1894 –

Then, on Sunday May 12, 1895

May 16, 1895 – The Shepherdstown Register

Wes Seibert’s barber shop is rebuilt and is bigger and all Wesley Seibert’s by late, 1899 The split use of the building didn’t work partly because the howls of agony from the dentist working on the other side of the wall dampened the spirits of Wesley’s people.

January 20, 1898 – The Shepherdstown Register
Note barber pole of Wes Seibert’s barber shop around 1899 – West Virginia and Regional Collection – photos
Sanborn Insurance Maps Shepherdstown, WV March,1899 –

A prosperous man owning several properties and with Lester Wells as his trained assistant and likely successor to him in running the business. Wesley Seibert always could find a meat bargain.

December 6, 1900 – The Shepherdstown Register

Wes agreed with his wife Josephine’s urging to mind his health better and sold his barbering business to his one-time assistant, Lester Wells.

February 12, 1903 – The Shepherdstown Register
Henry Lambright Snyder, editor, neighbor, and friend of Wesley and Josephine Seibert

Lester’s parents, William and Hannah, lived near the Seiberts and H.L. Snyder, the newspaper’s editor all on the west end block and the north side of New Street.

“Aunt Fanny” taken in the backyard of William and Hannah Wells home located on the north side of New Street between Church and Duke Streets. West Virginia and Regional History (West Virginia History On View)

May 3rd, 1903 – John Wesley Seibert died of heart trouble, leaving Josephine – and an unforgettable day in the chapters of Shepherdstown’s long history.

May 7, 1903 – The Shepherdstown Register