Appalachia, Battle of Buena Vista, Ben Bolt, Charles Porter, Charleston, Edgar Allan Poe, George P. Morris, Green Gables Inn, history, Huntington, Know Nothing Party, Logan, Logan Banner, Logan Grazier, McDowell County, N.P. Willis, Nelson F. Kneass, New York Mirror, Philadelphia, poems, poetry, Rafting on the Guyan, Roy Fuller, Staunton, Thomas Dunn English, Vicie Nighbert, Wayne County, Welch, West Virginia, West Virginia Review, Wyoming Hunter
From the Logan Banner of Logan, WV, comes this bit of history concerning Thomas Dunn English and his famous poem “Ben Bolt,” which was reportedly composed in Logan:
Poem Ben Bolt Not Written In This City
Legend Concerning Thomas Dunn English Is Refuted by Roy Fuller in Magazine Article
Another forceful kick has been directed against the legend that Thomas Dunn English wrote the poem Ben Bolt under the big elms back of the former Vicie Nighbert home, now known as the Green Gables Inn.
Though all reliable investigators agree that this famous poem was written before Dr. English settled in this community, the legend survives with a strange pertinacity.
The subject is discarded in an interesting and enlightening way in the current number of the West Virginia Review by J. Roy Fuller. He has written before in a similar vein for other publications.
Fuller, a native of Wayne county, had been connected with Charleston, Huntington, and Welch papers for several years. Recently he went to New York to take an editorial position on Picture Play. On the subject “As to Ben Bolt,” he writes as follows:
If a man writes a poem a little more sentimental than any other, and then some ten years later moves to another state, it seems that the towns and counties around his new home will, years later, recall the very spot where the poem was written. Such has been the case with Ben Bolt, by Thomas Dunn English. The people of Logan county point with pride to the very tree under which the poet scribbled Ben Bolt, and time and again articles have been written in support of the legend, and people who speak of it choose to believe nothing else. Why this should be considered in the least important is amusing. But that is not all. In McDowell county, it is said, Thomas Dunn English wrote the feverish lines while at the old county seat town, now called English. A clerk in a hotel informed this writer that he knew exactly where Ben Bolt was written and offered to show him the house somewhere just over the Virginia state line.
The rare honor of being the birthplace of Ben Bolt cannot be claimed truthfully for this section at all. It was written in Philadelphia nine years before he ever came to West Virginia. There was no romantic posing over the grave of the beloved lady in the song as it has been said in Logan county. A New York editor asked English to write something for him. He insisted, and finally English mailed the verses with instructions to burn them if not satisfactory, after combining parts of two poems into one. So any weeping we do can be for our own images, and not for sympathy with the poor poet.
English was once postmaster of Logan (1857), and also a resident doctor, politician, poet and lawyer. One time he attended a convention in Staunton where he made a speech that was influential in helping to bring about the downfall of Know-Nothingism. He wrote many local poems such as Rafting on the Guyan, Logan Grazier, and Wyoming Hunter. Before coming to the south he was well known in the east and was mentioned—unfavorably—by Edgar Allan Poe in his Literati. For calling him Thomas Dunn “Brown,” English wrote a severe criticism of Poe. Some time later Poe answered him in a Philadelphia paper, and brought suit against him. Poe was awarded $225 damages for English’s sarcastic literary thrust.
It has always been a matter of chagrin to English that his Ben Bolt was the most popular of his literary works. He himself called the song “twaddle.” But the German melody, mention of old mills, school, a loved one, friendship—these things made it take hold of the heart.
He wrote Ben Bolt in 1843 after having dabbled in his professions for several years, and quite unexpectedly found himself famous. The story of the song will show how far removed it is from the cherished pastoral story told in Logan county. The story persists, however, this being one of the cases where the “moving finger writes,” etc., and nothing more can be done about it.
N.P. Willis and George P. Morris had revived the old New York Mirror. The former asked English to write a poem for the paper and suggested a sea song. English tried to write it after renewed pressure but he reported to the editors that his muse was not working. Later he drifted into reminiscence and produced four and a half stanzas of the well known song. His muse balked again, and after some thought he added the first four lines of a sea song he had started and sent the whole with a note to Willis telling him that he would send something else when he was in a better writing mood. The poem was printed with a little puff, and was signed with the author’s initial.
Later it was suggested that the poem be set to music, but several attempts failed. English composed a melody for it, but another got the start of his. In 1846 Charles Porter, manager of the Pittsburgh theatre had Nelson F. Kneass, a fine tenor, in his company. Porter told the singer that if he could find a song suitable for his voice he would cast him in The Battle of Buena Vista. An Englishman, a sort of hanger-on named Hunt, had read Ben Bolt and could recall most of it. The gaps were patched up and to this Kneass adapted a German air and sang the piece. The drama was soon dropped but the song took the country by
Source: Logan (WV) Banner, 11 December 1928
Andrew Howlett, Appalachia, Augustus Fowler, Ben Bartram, Bill Driver, Boone County, C.S. Wilson, Carroll County, constable, crime, Delbarton, Floyd Allen, Frank Adams, Frank Allen, genealogy, Harts Creek, Hillsville, history, Kirk, Leonard Conley, Lew Webb, Logan, Logan Banner, Logan County, McDowell County, Mingo County, moonshining, Moundsville, Nancy E. Ayres, Shanklin Creek, Sidna Allen, T.L. Massie, Virginia, W.M. Foster, W.M. Ray, Wallace Dillon, Welch, West Virginia, West Virginia State Penitentiary, Williamson, Wythe County
In 1912, Floyd Allen and other members of his family participated in a sensational gunfight during a trial at the Carroll County Courthouse in Hillsville, Carroll County, Virginia. The incident resulted in the death of Judge T.L. Massie, Prosecutor W.M. Foster, Sheriff L.F. Webb, juror Augustus Fowler, and witness Nancy E. Ayres, while seven others were wounded. In 1927, Frank Allen–a reputed relative of Carroll County Allens–was captured on Harts Creek in Logan County, WV.
Frank Allen Caught On Murder Charge
“Bad Frank” Allen was captured on Harts Creek last night and was lodged in jail here at 6 o’clock this morning. An hour or so later he was taken to Williamson to answer to a murder charge.
State police from Williamson, accompanied by Trooper Wilson and Constable Frank Adams, made the capture. They went to a house where he was known to be and called him to the door. As he appeared in view he was “covered” by high powered rifle and was commanded to drop a pistol he held in his hand. He refused to let go but one of the officers walked up to him and took possession.
Source: Logan (WV) Banner, 11 November 1927.
“Bad” Frank Allen Moved to Welch Jail for Safe-Keeping
Charged With Murder, He Eluded Officers from October 1 Until Captured on Harts Creek Week Ago–Kinsmen of Allens of Carroll Court House Fame.
“Bad Frank” Allen, who was captured on Harts Creek a week ago last night, to answer to a murder charge in Mingo county, was subsequently moved from the Williamson jail to the Welch jail for safe-keeping. Boys with hard heads or big feet are in the habit of kicking holes in the Williamson bastile, but a ball bearing nutmeg grater will be presented to the first one who bumps his way to freedom through the thick walls of the McDowell prison.
Allen is accused of killing Wallace Dillon at a horsetrading carnival held near the Baptist Association meeting on Shanklin Creek October 1. Stories of the affray are conflicting. It is said Dillon and others had a whale of a fight, after there had been much imbibing of strong liquor. In the free-for-all Dillon was a star performer, upsetting friends and foes with little regard for consequences. Allen missed the “party,” but when he heard that Dillon had beat up the other participants in the affray, he is said to have construed it as a challenge. Saddling his horse he rode to the scene of the fight and presumably without any provocation fired at Dillon with fatal effect. He escaped after the shooting and officials of both Mingo and Logan county waged a strenuous man hunt in an effort to capture him.
The arrest was made at the home of Leonard Conley in a wild and isolated corner of Harts Creek. His captors were Deputy Sheriffs Bill Driver and Ben Bartram, of Williamson; State Police Wamsley and McClure, of Delbarton, and State Trooper C.S. Wilson, of the Logan detachment.
Conley, wanted on a liquor charge, was not at home, but the officers had a tip that “Bad Frank” was there. One yelled for him to come out and he appeared in the doorway, pistol in hand, and ready to “shoot it out,” until he saw several high-powered rifles leveled at him. Even then he ignored the command to drop his gun, but stood motionless as an officer approached him and took possession of the weapon, which proved to be of 45-calibre.
Allen told his captors that during the six weeks he was a fugitive he had slept in caves and barns and had nearly starved at times. It is thought he fared much better in the hospitable hills of Harts, altho he said that was the first night he had sought shelter in a human habitation.
Big Shoot Recalled
Allen hails from Wythe county, Virginia, and is said to be a kinsmen of the Allens who shot up the Hillsville court house on March 14, 1912. Two of the clan were executed for the crime and Sidney Allen was released from prison on a conditional pardon a year or more ago, the first fusillade in the court upon Judge T.L. Massie and Sheriff Lew F. Webb fell dead. Augustus Fowler, a juror was shot through the head and died two days later. Commonwealth’s Attorney Forst was also shot. Andrew Howlett, another juror, was shot through the _____st. Another juror and Clerk of the court Dextor Goad were wounded but recovered. Miss Elizabeth Ayres received a death wound. Sidna and Allen Floyd were wounded also.
Source: Logan (WV) Banner, 18 November 1927.
Penitentiary Awaits “Bad” Frank Allen
“Bad” Frank Allen, whose recent capture under dramatic circumstances on Harts Creek, will be recalled by Banner readers, was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the circuit court at Williamson this week. Sentence has not been pronounced but that offense is punishable by from one to five years in the penitentiary.
This desperado of a picturesque type killed Wallace Dillon at a horse-trading gathering near Kirk, on October 1. State’s evidence indicated he rode on the scene when the crowd was watching a fight between Dillon’s brother and another man and shot Dillon without any provocation. Allen testified he shot in self-defense, claiming there was no ill feeling between them and that they were unacquainted.
Allen is 28 and said to be related to the Allens of Hillsville court house fame.
Source: Logan (WV) Banner, 16 December 1927.
“Bad” Frank Allen Escapes from Pen
“Bad” Frank Allen, said to be one of the Hillsville Allens and known in these parts, has escaped from the penitentiary and is at large. W.M. Ray, a Boone county man serving a two-year sentence for moonshining, escaped with him. They were missed at the prison mine Monday.
The usual reward of $50 has been offered for Allen’s recapture, but those familiar with his record are likely to believe the reward is too small to be tempting.
Allen entered the pen last December 26 to serve a term for shooting and killing Wallace Dillon at a horse-trading carnival near the Baptist Association meeting on Shanklin Creek, Mingo county, October 1. After that affray he escaped but late in November was captured at the isolated home of Leonard Conley on Harts Creek. State policemen armed with rifles and pistols surrounded the house and several were pointed at the front door when Conley, .45 pistol in hand, opened the door in response to a knock. He ignored commands to drop his gun but allowed an officer to seize it.
During the six weeks preceding his capture, Allen stayed in the wilds, subsisting on nuts and fruits largely, he told his captors, though he fared better after getting into the hospitable Harts Creek country.
Source: Logan (WV) Banner, 24 April 1928.
45th Virginia Volunteer Infantry, Appalachia, Araminta J. Harless, Bird Lockhart, civil war, Confederacy, Confederate Army, Dixie E. Harless, Elias E. Harless, Elizabeth Harless, Elizabeth P. Harless, farming, Francis M. Harless, genealogy, Henry H. Hardesty, Henry L. Harless, history, India I. Harless, James C. Harless, Jane Lockhart, Lorenzo D. Harless, Lucy A. Harless, McDowell County, Millie E. Harless, minister, North Spring, R.A. Brock, Rachael Harless, Richmond, Sarah M. Harless, U.S. South, Virginia, Virginia and Virginians, West Virginia, William H. Harless
From “Virginia and Virginians, 1606-1888,” published by H.H. Hardesty, we find this entry for Francis M. Harless, who resided at North Spring, West Virginia:
Son of Lorenzo D. and Elizabeth P. (Kelly) Harless, was born in Giles county Feb. 22, 1844. His parents were born and both died in this county, the father born Nov. 12, 1817, and died July 16, 1864; the mother born April 8, 1822, dying May 2, 1882. Francis M., the subject of this sketch, enlisted in the service of the Confederate States July 3, 1862, in Co. H, 45th Va. V. I., serving honorably and creditably until discharged on Oct. 15, 1864. On Feb. 22, 1866, he was joined in wedlock with Rachael Lockhart, who was born Aug. 15, 1845, their marriage being solemnized in McDowell county, W.Va. The offspring of this union have records as follows: Elizabeth, born Jan. 20, 1868, now married; Araminta J., Dec. 20, 1869; Millie E., May 8, 1871; James C., Jan. 29, 1873; Elias E., May 1, 1875; William H., Oct. 12, 1876; India I., Nov. 10, 1878; Dixie E., Aug. 18, 1880; Henry L., Sept. 29, 1883; Sarah M., born Nov. 3, 1885, and died Oct. 17, 1887p and Lucy A., born Oct. 15, 1888. The parents of Mrs. Harless were Bird Lockhart, who died April 15, 1851, and Jane (Staten) Lockhart, now residing in McDowell county, W.Va. Mr. Harless is a minister of the Gospel, and is engaged in farming: post office address, North Spring, W.Va.
Source: Dr. R.A. Brock, Virginia and Virginians, 1606-1888 (Richmond, VA: H.H. Hardesty, Publisher, 1888), p. 831-832.
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