Shepherdstown, Va. – July, 1860 – Drumbeats By Jim Surkamp

1638 words

This is an account of Census-taker Joseph Coyle making his way around Shepherdstown in July, 1860, using the record of the Census to chart his course. It is interspersed with reports in the town newspaper, “The Register,” reflecting the rising anxiety and fear of future divisive conflicts, in the wake of the John Brown Raid. DeWitt Clinton Gallaher writes of growing up in Shepherdstown. His family moved and he was a student at Waynesboro Academy in Pennsylvania in 1860.-ED

Caught Between “A Rock” of the John Brown Raid and “A Hard-Place” of the Upcoming Presidential Election

On July 24, 1860, Census-taker Joseph O. Coyle kept going down Washington Street in Shepherdstown as a strong, dry wind pushed.

He counted the Cookuses, a butcher family: John H., 29; Ann, 31; John, 6; Eliza, 4; Mary Ida, 2; and Michael Cookus, 57, who owned the place. Then, Blacksmith John Snyder; his wife, Josephine; their three girls and son. Then, Plasterer Tom Fawcett, his place and family of five. Then, Coach Trimmer David Conner with his wife, Josephine, their 20-year-old-son, Newton, who was a boatman.

At one o’clock, the storm unleashed hail the size of walnuts on the Lewis Washington, John Moore, Francis Yates, and John Yates Beall farms southward. “The corn is so completely riddled that fields which gave promise of ten barrels to the acre will now scarcely produce one. In many instances the gardens are entirely destroyed, stones by hail large as walnuts literally tearing to pieces any vegetation it comes into contact,” the “Shepherdstown Register” reported.

Coyle passed George Fayman’s hattery and home (POST OFFICE AND STREAM) that he counted the day before.

“On Washington below King, near the run, lived the Faymans, who had on the opposite or lower side of the street a felt or wool hat shop,” wrote DeWitt Clinton Gallaher.

“I wore one of their make and still almost feel its weight on my brow, like all wool hat factories, the odors therefrom were simply fierce.”

Mr. Coyle called on 29-year old blacksmith, Conrad “Peg-Leg” Snyder, and his mother, 54-year-old, Nancy Snyder – just east of the Princess Street turn.

To his right on the southwest corner of Princess and Washington Streets was John Boroff blacksmith and home place and, to his left north on Princess Street, 39-year-old John Hoffman’s new coach-maker shop (CARLOS NIEDERHAUSER/LIZ WHEELER SITE).

The jovial Boroff got a homesick poem dedicated to him by the ambassador to Denmark, Henry Bedinger from Shepherdstown: “To My Good Friend, Mr. John Boroff, by the Exile,” starting, “I am walking on a Sandy Shore, hard by a Sounding Sea; And to save me, John, I cannot tell why I should think of thee; And yet, throughout this lengthened day, thy friendly face will come; To fill my soul with memories of happier houses and HOME . . . .”

Coyle hadn’t seen much of his family and farm in Middleway, since the 17th. But his farm, fortunately, wasn’t hit by the hail.

Boroff reported to Coyle that he had an enslaved twelve-year-old boy who ran off. Sometimes you send them to run an errand and they just kept running. The same thing happened to Coyle back at his farm.

The County remained shaken by the John Brown Raid in Oct, 1859, the trial, and the executions that occurred through the spring of 1860. Those enslaved, sensing a new world, were fleeing in the hundreds in the County, while census takers in Clarke or Berkeley reported just a few. Coyle, as he wrote down what he was told by the residents, was the first to know its vast scope.

Ahead was the November election for president. Election Commissioners were made official that week in July. Locals didn’t support Lincoln, but they didn’t support Breckinridge either. They preferred a pro-unionist “conciliator,” named John Bell.

John Zittle, living up on German Street, wrote in the “Register:” “There are four candidates for president of the United States. The contest bids fair to be the warmest ever known in the political annals of our country. The troubled waters appear so threatening to engulf us we can invoke the blessings of providence to direct us through.”

The Fourth of July celebration at Big Spring near Morgan’s Grove held together – barely. It began “with the Hamtramck Guards; Capt. V. M. Butler with the spirited notes of the fife and the inspired music of the drum . . . All hands did justice in relieving the table of it’s ponderous weight of provisions ‘done up brown’ by our friend Martin Yontz,” wrote Zittle. Capt. Heskitt had earlier marched the Guards, the town militia, from the town armory in full parade dress, each man having fifteen rounds of blank cartridges.

Auctioneer George McGlincey lifted his glass to: “The Union . . . may the ship of state ride safely into port over the troubled waters.” Then C. W. Yontz counter-toasted: “To Virginia, so long as she contains the graves of Washington, Jefferson, and a Madison, she must be faithful to her glorious title of Old Dominion.”

Coyle, with a schedule, continued on north on Princess, to the corner. Rain often turned that place on the street into a pond. Not this day. It had been high nineties and hot since late June and a rain didn’t help.

He recorded 51-year old Margaret Cookus’ place and her three grown children on the east side; at the southwest corner of Princess and New Streets, was the tailoring family, the Camerons, with their storefront around the corner on German Street.

The free school (STILL STANDING ON S.E. CORNER) could barely house the terrors borne by its teacher:

“A northern man by the name of Alder was the teacher. He never believed in ‘sparing the rod and spoiling the child,’ but kept a fine lot of long hickory rods in his desk. He was one of the terrors of my early boyhood for several months and I still recall him as a sort of bete-noir or cruel tyrant, though he never whipped me,” wrote Gallaher.

56-year-old Prudence Conley’s fine garden along the east side of Princess Street fronted where she lived with her 63-year old wheelwright, Eli Conley.

Coyle went toward the intersection of Princess and German Street to do an accounting in Daniel Entler’s hotel, Tommy Hopkins’ furniture shop, Cato Moore’s home and the “Rising Sun” tavern – the four corners.

Behind the Entler Hotel, the elderly Jacob Line ran his big tannery along the Town Run and the saying was – whenever the Lines hauled more tannin bark through the lane on a wagon, it was a sure predictor of rain. Line would live three more years.

60-year-old Tommy Hopkins made cabinets and rented to lawyer, 35-year old John A. Jones. His place on the southeast corner preceded the one built in the 1890s by Matt and Hattie Tolliver that stands today.

A few doors west from southwest corner was where 38-year old merchant, Cato Moore Entler, lived with his wife, 31-year old Mary, and their three children: William, Ellen, and Sallie.

The “Shepherdstown Register” reported on the 14th of July that the board of school commissioners of Jefferson County were asked to meet at their room in the courthouse in Charles Town to receive recommendations and reports on resolutions to improve the schools. The improvements were to include a school to begin as a military school at Harper’s Ferry. Mr. John Zittle, the Register’s editor, commented that the school, was not quite like the 30-some schools already funded by the education-conscious county residents. To get federal or Virginia funding, it would have to be open to all applicants from beyond the County’s borders.

The paper also suggested the students be trained and used to guard the Harper’s Ferry armory from attack.


Gallaher, D. C. “Shepherdstown Sixty or Seventy Years Ago: Boyhood and Other Reminiscences.” The Shepherdstown Register. 19 April, 1923. P. 1. Print.

Shepherdstown Register, July 14, 1861. Print.

United States. Bureau of the Census; United States. National Archives and Records Service. (1967). “Population schedules of the eighth census of the United States, 1860, Virginia [microform] (Volume Reel 1355 – 1860 Virginia Federal Population Census Schedules – James City and Jefferson Counties).” Jefferson, Kanawha, King George, King and Queen, and King William Counties).” Internet Archives: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music, and Wayback Machine. 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 10 Sept. 2010.

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All images by Jim Surkamp, except

DeWitt Gallaher image from Driver, Robert J. (1991) “1st Virginia Cavalry.” Lynchburg, VA: H. E. Howard, Inc. Print.