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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
abolitionists, Appalachia, Aracoma, Ben Bolt, Bergen County, Columbian Fountain, Daily Dispatch, Democrat, Democratic Party, history, Logan, Logan County, Lucretia Mott, New Jersey, New York, New York Daily Tribune, poet, politics, Thomas Dunn English, U.S. Congress, Virginia, West Virginia, William and Mary College, writers
From various newspapers come these items relating to Thomas Dunn English, the famous poet who once lived in Logan County, (West) Virginia:
The Columbian Fountain (Washington, DC), 19 September 1846
Thomas Dunn English is to be the Democratic candidate for Congress in the fifth district, New York.
New York (NY) Daily Tribune, 27 December 1850
Doctor Thomas Dunn English will lecture concerning Hungarian matters on Sunday the 22d inst. and Lucretia Mott concerning Woman’s Rights upon the 29th of December, Sabbath evening.
Daily Dispatch (Richmond, VA), 29 July 1853
Dr. Thomas Dunn English is engaged in making geological exploration for some New York capitalists in Western Virginia.
Richmond (VA) Enquirer, 6 March 1855
We have seen the proof-sheets of a selection of the poems of Thomas Dunn English, the author of “Ben Bolt.” The same author is collating and arranging materials for an illustrated history of South-western Virginia.
Nashville (TN) Union and American via Richmond (VA) Enquirer, 6 September 1861
THOMAS DUNN ENGLISH MOBBED.–This gentleman was mobbed in Bergen county, New Jersey, on Friday, while on his way to speak at a peace meeting. He was severely maltreated by the Abolitionists, and, though he fought his way boldly, was with difficulty saved from assassination by the sheriff of the county. Dr. English resided in Logan county, Va., for several years. He represented Logan county in the legislature several years ago, and last year he delivered the poem at the commencement of William and Mary College. He is a genial poet and eloquent speaker. Since 1855 he has resided in New Jersey.
Appalachia, Broadway Journal, Charleston, Edgar Allan Poe, Evening Mirror, history, Logan, Logan Banner, New York, Philadelphia, poetry, Ravenscourt, Roy Fuller, Saturday Gazette, St. Albans, Sweet Alice, The Literati, The Mirror, The Raven, Thomas Dunn English, West Virginia, West Virginia Review, White Sulphur Springs
From the Logan Banner, of Logan, WV, comes this item of interest relating to Thomas Dunn English, former mayor of Logan, and Edgar Allen Poe:
EDGAR ALLAN POE AND DR. ENGLISH, LOGAN’S POET, HAD VERBAL DUEL
Some interesting matters are brought to light by Roy Fuller in an article titled “Edgar Allan Poe in West Virginia” in the January number of West Virginia Review.
Of special interest is what he writes of the hostility between Poe and Thomas Dunn English, who was probably the most widely known citizen this city or county ever had.
Fuller, a Charleston newspaper man of real talent, smashes the tradition that Poe visited St. Albans and wrote “The Raven” in a house long afterward named “Ravenscourt” by a resourceful real estate agent and still an object of reverent interest to credulous folk.
“Oddly enough, Poe really spent three summers in what is now West Virginia, but this is never mentioned if it is known here,” says the Review article. “The unsubstantiated tale has precedence over the truth, a situation not at all rare. He came into West Virginia not as a wanderer but as the recently adopted son of the Richmond tobacco merchant. The three summers following his adoption by the Allans he was taken to White Sulphur Springs, then the most popular resort in the south. This is the only claim that the State’s romantic folk can establish, so far as it can be learned from his biographers, except his dealings with Thomas Dunn English, whom West Virginians claim as one of their poets…
“As to ‘The Raven,’ it is generally believed that he wrote it while living near West Eighty-fourth Street, New York. It was published in the ‘Evening Mirror’ January 29, 1845.
Poe wrote “The Literati” condemning and puffing some thirty-eight of his contemporary New Yorkers, including Mr. English. Poe called him “Thomas Dunn Brown” and spoke further of him in such a light way that the author of “Sweet Alice” became peeved. The versatile gentleman lately of West Virginia poured out his heart in a few columns of “The Mirror.” Poe replied four days later in the Philadelphia “Saturday Gazette” and followed his answer with a suit for damage. He got $225 on February 17, 1847. Thus Poe got perhaps his greatest “stake” from Mr. English, an amount great in comparison with $10 he got for his greatest work “The Raven.”
“English also brought out one issue of the ‘Broadway Journal’ after it was given up by Poe. Thus good West Virginians may claim that one of their boys ran a Broadway paper–for a day.”
Source: Logan (WV) Banner, 18 January 1927.
Alice Lawson, Aracoma, assistant postmaster, Ben Bolt, Charleston Gazette, Edgar Allan Poe, George T. Swain, George Washington, Guyandotte River, history, Karl Myers, Logan, Logan Banner, Logan County, logging, mayor, New York Mirror, Pennsylvania, poems, poetry, postmaster, rafting, Rafting on the Guyandotte, Savage Grant, St. Albans, Thomas Dunn English, timbering, Vicie Nighbert, Walt Whitman, West Virginia, writers
Thomas Dunn English (1819-1902) was a Pennsylvania-born writer who lived briefly in present-day Logan, WV, before the Civil War. At one time, many Loganites believed he wrote his famous work titled “Ben Bolt” while a resident of Logan, then called Aracoma. For more information about his biography, follow this link: https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/2205
The following story appeared in the Logan Banner on November 23, 1926:
“Logan gains quite a bit of notoriety from the fact that the song ‘Ben Bolt’ was written here,” said G.T. Swain in his short history of Logan county, published in 1916. Dr. English wrote “Ben Bolt” for the New York Mirror about 10 years before he ever came to Logan. So here explodeth another nice literary myth–if a myth concerning “Ben Bolt” may be called a literary one. They even tell how Dr. English laid aside his law and medicine practice, his novel writing, and his duties as assistant postmaster and politician and dreamily to go to the shades of certain elm trees overlooking the Guyandotte and there wrote the poem to a sweetheart of other days. The truth is that English wrote the poem while in the east at the request of “The Mirror” and while trying to compose a sea song he suddenly hit upon the sentimental mood and dashed it off, tacking the first four lines of the sea song-in-the-making onto the one in question. He sent it to the editor and told him the story and remarked that if it was not worth using to burn it. It was always a matter of chagrin to Dr. English that it was the best received piece he ever wrote and his prestige in congress was largely due to his fame from the song.
“For information relating to Dr. English we are indebted to Mrs. Vicie Nighbert, who gave us the information as told to her by her mother, and to Mr. Bryan [who] was personally acquainted [with English, now in his] 80th year and living at present in Straton street,” said Mr. Swain. “Mr. Bryan was personally acquainted with Dr. English, having at one time been postmaster of the town and employed Dr. English as assistant postmaster.”
English was mayor of Logan, according to Swain, in 1852. Mr. Swain said that Dr. English suddenly disappeared while living in Logan and showed up again with a woman and two children. Dr. English announced at the time that he had married a widow but rumors around the Logan chimney corners had it that the versatile gentleman had added that of wife stealing to his accomplishments. He did not permit the woman to visit or receive but a few friends “and she always carried a look of apprehension.” It is known that English, by act of the general assembly, had the names of the children changed to his own.
Although the whole thing is not worth refuting or proving, English did not write his “Ben Bolt” as told in Logan county. Mrs. Nighbert told the author of this historical sketch that “Dr. English used to often visit the large elm trees that stood by the bank of the Guyandotte near the woman’s residence. It was beneath the shade of the elm that stands today by the railroad bridge that he composed the song ‘Ben Bolt.'” Dr. English was a frequent visitor to the home of the Lawson’s, but the story to the effect that this song was dedicated to Alice Lawson is only imaginary for there was at that time none of the Lawson children bearing the name of Alice, nor were any of the girls at that time large enough to attract the attention of Dr. English.
The “Ben Bolt” myth is comparable to the story around Charleston that Poe wrote some of his works at St. Albans. Poe was never at St. Albans. It is like that pet tradition of the Huntington D.A.R. that George Washington surveyed lands in the Savage grant, the first grants involving the present site of Huntington.
Dr. English wrote a thousand rimes and jingles and couplets but no poems. “Ben Bolt” is a spurt of sentimentality of which the author was ashamed. Its popularity began when the German air was adapted to it, and has lived only on the strength of the music which is a sort the folk will not forget.
Don’t you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt…
Sweet Alice whose hair was so brown.
Who wept with delight when you gave her a smile.
And trembled with fear at your frown?
In the old churchyard in the valley, Ben Bolt.
In a corner obscure and alone,
They have fitted a slab of the granite so grey,
And Alice lies under the stone.
And so forth. English was at a loss how to open the verses when he hit upon the idea of tacking the first four lines of a sea song he was trying to compose for Willis, editor of “The Mirror,” and his last lines reflect the influence of the idea:
Your presence a blessing, your friendship a truth.
Ben Bolt, of the salt sea gale.
English wrote “Rafting on the Guyandotte” and two other “poems” while waiting on the return of a friend he was visiting, taking about an hour to [write] the poem. The opening to his poem is:
Who at danger never laughed,
Let him ride upon a raft
Down Guyan, when from the drains
Pours the flood from many rains,
And a stream no plummet gauges
In a furious freshet rages
With a strange and rapturous fear
Rushing water he will hear;
Woods and cliffsides darting by,
These shall terribly glad his eye.
He shall find his life blood leaping
Feel his brain with frenzy swell;
Faster with the current’s sweeping;
Hear his voice in sudden yell…
And so on for a 100 lines or more he describes the thrills of rafting. It would be interesting to have the collectors of West Virginia verse to rise up [illegible] now and tell exactly their reaction to this “beautiful verse” and why they like it, or why they attach importance to the scribbling pastimes of Dr. English, politician, physician, and lawyer.
Although he went to congress on “Ben Bolt,” there is no legitimate claims to list him as a West Virginia poet. Karl Myers writes much better verse than English ever achieved. A sixth grade pupil of native brightness a notch or two above his classmates can write pages of rhymes as good as the rafting poem. It is the sort of rhyme that is easier to do than not to do, once you establish the swing of it. Youngsters have been known to turn in history examination papers done in rhyme as good as this. But West Virginia is so anxious to claim some poets. Why this should worry the state is a mystery, for European critics say that the whole of America has produced but a poet and a half… Edgar Allan Poe the poet and Walt Whitman the half poet. So why should we feel sensitive about it?
Source: Charleston Gazette via the Logan Banner, 23 November 1926.
A.F. McKendree, Abbotts Branch, Abijah Workman, Abner Vance, Admiral S. Fry, Albert Abbott, Alexander Tomblin, Allen Adkins, Allen Butcher, Anderson Barker, Andrew Dial, Andrew Elkins, Anthony Lawson, Archibald Elkins, Arnold Perry, Baptist Fry, Barnabus Carter, Big Ugly Creek, Burbus C. Toney, Cabell County, Charles Adkins, Charles F. Dingess, Charles J. Stone, Charles Lattin, Charles Spurlock, Charleston, Christian T. Fry, Crispin S. Stone, Cultural Center, Dicy Adams, Douglas Branch, Edmund Toney, Elias Adkins, Elijah A. Gartin, Evermont Ward, Fourteen Mile Creek, Francis Browning, Garland Conley, genealogy, George Hager, George Perry, Grandison B. Moore, Green Shoal, Hamilton Fry, Harts Creek, Harvey Elkins, Harvey S. Dingess, Harvey Smith, Henderson Dingess, Henry Adkins, Henry Conley, history, Ira Lucas, Isaac Adkins, Isaac Fry, Isaac Samuels, Isaiah Adkins, Jacob Stollings, Jake Adkins, James Browning, James Butcher, James Justice, James Smith, James Toney, James Wilson, Jeremiah Farmer, Joel Elkins, John Dalton, John Dempsey, John Fry, John Gore, John H. Brumfield, John Rowe, John W. Sartin, John Washington Adams, John Workman, Joseph Adams, Joseph Fry, Joseph Gore, Josephus Workman, Joshua Butcher, Kiahs Creek, Levi Collins, Lewis Adkins, Lilly's Branch, Limestone Creek, Little Harts Creek, Logan County, Lorenzo D. Hill, Low Gap Branch, Mathias Elkins, Meekin Vance, Melville Childers, Moses Brown, Moses Harrison, Moses Workman, Noah Hainer, Obediah Merritt, Obediah Workman, Paris Vance, Patton Thompson, Peter Dingess, Peter Mullins, Polly Vance, Price Lucas, Ralph Lucas, Reese W. Elkins, Richard Elkins, Richard Vance, Robert Elkins, Robert Hensley, Robert Lilly, Royal Childers, Sally McComas, Samuel Damron, Samuel Ferrell, Samuel Lambert, Samuel Parsons, Samuel Short, Samuel Vannatter, Sand Creek, Sims Index to Land Grants, Spencer A. Mullins, Squire Toney, Stephen Lambert, Thomas A. Childers, Thomas Dunn English, Thomas P. Spears, Wesley Vance, West Virginia, West Virginia State Archives, William Brown, William Buffington, William Dalton, William Hainer, William Johnson, William P. Blankenship, William Smith, William Straton, William T. Nichols, William Thompson, William Vance, William Wirt Brumfield
Persons receiving land grants between 1812 and 1860, including acreage totals, for the following streams located in Logan and Cabell counties, (West) Virginia: Big Harts Creek, Big Ugly Creek, Fourteen Mile Creek, Little Harts Creek, Sand Creek, Kiah’s Creek, Green Shoal, Brown’s (Abbott’s) Branch, Douglas Branch, Low Gap Branch, Lilly’s Branch, and Limestone (partial). This list does not necessarily reflect ALL of the person’s landholdings; only land in the Harts Creek community are noted. Also, some persons are duplicated due to receiving grants individually or jointly. Known nonresident landowners are denoted by a (*). My ancestors are placed in bold font. Note: This is a work in progress.
Anthony Lawson*, 6502 acres
Anthony Lawson et al*, 3400 acres
Charles Lattin et al, 2667 acres
John H. Brumfield et al, 2328 acres
Spencer A. Mullins, 2145 acres
John Dempsey et al*, 2090 acres
Isaiah Adkins, 2058 acres
Evermont Ward*, 1800 acres
William Johnson, 1794 acres
Elijah A. Garten, 1620 acres
Charles J. Stone, 1610 acres
Hamilton Fry, 1488 acres
William Johnson et al, 1435 acres
Burbus C. Toney, 1332 acres
William Straton et al*, 1319 acres
Thomas Dunn English*, 1085 acres
Thomas A. Childers et al*, 1050 acres
Samuel Damron et al, 1043 acres
Joshua Butcher, 808 acres
William Straton*, 791 acres
Elijah A. Garten et al, 770 acres
Isaac Adkins, 720 acres
Moses Harrison et al, 700 acres
Abner Vance, Jr., 642 acres
George Hager et al, 600 acres
Isaac Adkins, Jr., 595 acres
Samuel Short et al*, 561 acres
Elias Adkins, 560 acres
George Hager, 520 acres
Crispin S. Stone et al, 485 acres
John H. Brumfield, 480 acres
Moses Brown, 412 acres
Peter Mullins, 408 acres
Robert Lilly, 393 acres
Joseph and Dicy Adams, 384 acres
Charles Lattin, 378 acres
Albert Abbot, 370 acres
Christian T. Fry, 367 acres
Lorenzo D. Hill, 340 acres
Lewis Adkins et al, 325 acres
Enos “Jake” Adkins, 320 acres
Richard Elkins, 311 acres
Obadiah Merret*, 310 acres
Squire Toney, 307 acres
Isaac Samuels et al*, 300 acres
William T. Nicholls et al*, 296 acres
Samuel Lambert, 269 acres
Richard Elkin, Jr. et al, 260 acres
Anderson Barker, Jr. et al, 250 acres
Noah and William Haner et al, 250 acres
William Smith et al, 250 acres
Harvey S. Dingess, 242 acres
Abijah Workman, 239 acres
Samuel Ferrell, 238 acres
Noah Haner et al, 235 acres
Charles F. Dingess & Peter Dingess, Jr., 233 acres
Henderson Dingess, 233 acres
Richard Elkins et al, 230 acres
James Justice*, 220 acres
John Fry, 204 acres
Elias and Allen Adkins et al, 200 acres
James Smith and Harvey Smith, 200 acres
James Toney et al, 200 acres
James Browning, 190 acres
William Buffington et al*, 190 acres
Charles Lucas, 190 acres
James Wilson et al*, 190 acres
James Butcher, 185 acres
Jacob Stollings, 185 acres
A.F. McKendree et al*, 185 acres
Grandison B. Moore, 180 acres
Peter Dingess, 170 acres
Joseph Fry, 162 acres
Robert Elkin, 160 acres
Admiral S. Fry, 157 acres
Robert Hensley, 154 acres
Richard Vance, 153 acres
Levi Collins, 150 acres
Harvey Elkins, 148 acres
James Smith, 148 acres
Reese W. Elkins, 125 acres
John Fry, Jr., 125 acres
Price Lucas, 125 acres
Ralph Lucas, 125 acres
William Dalton, 123 acres
Andrew Dial, 120 acres
Lewis Adkins, 116 acres
Patton Thompson, Jr., 112 acres
John W. Adams, Jr., 110 acres
Charles Adkins, 110 acres
Obediah Workman, 106 acres
Stephen Lambert, 105 acres
John Goare, 104 acres
Moses Workman and John Workman, 100 acres
James Toney, 95 acres
Francis Browning, 94 acres
Alexander Tombolin, 94 acres
Allen Butcher, 93 acres
Ira Lucas, 93 acres
William P. Blankenship, 92 acres
David Robison, 92 acres
Joseph Gore, 90 acres
Archibald Elkins, 87 ½ acres
Anderson Barker et al, 85 acres
Isaac Fry et al, 85 acres
Paris Vance, 84 acres
William Brumfield, 75 acres
Henry Conley, 75 acres
Squire Toney et al, 75 acres
Andrew Dial et al, 73 acres
Burbus C. Toney et al, 73 acres
Henry Adkins, 70 acres
Isaiah and Charles Adkins, 70 acres
John W. Sartin, 70 acres
Barnabus Carter, 65 acres
Mathias Elkin, 63 acres
Patton Thompson, 62 acres
Samuel Parsons*, 60 acres
Harvey and Andrew Elkin, 55 acres
Meken Vance, 55 acres
Joel Elkins, 50 acres
Jeremiah Farmer, 50 acres
Baptist Fry, 50 acres
William Smith, 50 acres
Thomas P. Spears, 50 acres
Charles Spurlock, 50 acres
Samuel Vannatter et al, 50 acres
Edmund Toney, 46 acres
Sally McComas et al heirs, 45 acres
George Perry, 44 acres
Arnold Perry, Jr., 40 acres
William Thompson, 40 acres
John Workman, 40 acres
Josephus Workman, 40 acres
John Rowe, 38 acres
Melville Childers et al*, 37 acres
John Dalton, 34 acres
Polly Vance and William Vance (son), 33 acres
Garland Conley, Jr., 32 acres
Moses Workman, 26 acres
William Brown, 25 acres
Royal Childers*, 25 acres
Wesley Vance, 25 acres
Richard Vance, Jr., 13 acres
Source: Sims Index to Land Grants in West Virginia (Charleston, WV: State of West Virginia, 1952). Thanks to the West Virginia State Archives at the Cultural Center in Charleston, West Virginia, for use of the book.
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