Black History Month in Doddridge County
For Black History Month I would like to tell you a true story about a Doddridge County man named George Revels. His history prior to the Civil War is unknown, but he is buried in the Old Seventh Day Baptist section of the Blockhouse Hill Cemetery in West Union. His Civil War medal remains unclaimed at the West Virginia State Archives in Charleston. This is what I know about George Revels and his life here in Doddridge County.
George W. Revels was born about 1816 in Lynchburg, Virginia. I’ve not found any records for him prior to his enlistment in the Civil War in 1865. Blacks were not allowed to enlist in the military prior to 1862, because the Militia Act of 1792 did not permit African Americans to bear arms in the US Army. The Militia Act of 1862 was the first step toward the enlistment of African Americans in the Union Army. It authorized the president “to employ as many persons of African descent as he may deem necessary and proper for the suppression of the rebellion, in such manner as he may judge best for the public welfare.”
In 1863 government instituted the Enrollment Act, which mandated that all male citizens between the ages of 20 and 45 be subject to military draft. One way to avoid the draft was to pay someone to take your place. George Revels enlisted in Grafton in Company R of the 45th US Colored Infantry on April 9, 1865 as the substitute for William Valentine.
From his military records we know that George Revels was 5’5” tall, with black hair and black eyes. His occupation was a farmer. His unit went to Edinburg, Texas. where he served as a cook on the Mexican frontier until September 8, 1865. He mustered out as a Private in Brownsville, Texas on November 4, 1865. Shortly after that he returned to West Virginia.
After the Civil War, West Virginia issued medals of honor to all West Virginia Union soldiers as a token of respect for their service. Many of the medals minted for West Virginia troops failed to be claimed because of the state's inability to establish contact with the veterans. George Revels’ medal is among the approximate 5,200 unclaimed medals being housed at the Division of Culture and History's Archives and History Library in Charleston. Only a direct descendant of a veteran can claim his medal. To do this, a claimant must submit his or her line of descent from the veteran along with documentation to support this line of descent. According to Terry Lowry, a published Civil War historian at the WV State Archives, medals issued to US colored troops are among the rarest and most valuable Civil War medals.
Because of the circumstances surrounding the children of George Revels, I am having a very difficult time finding a living descendant. Pre- and post-Civil War African-American genealogy can be very complicated. The fact that George was never enumerated in any census until 1870 indicates that he could have been a slave prior to 1863, when the Confederate States were required to free their slaves after President Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. George’s ancestry may never be known, but I would love to find a living descendant to claim his medal. Below are a few facts that have been obtained from vital statistics records, census records, newspaper articles and court documents.
Circumstances bringing George Revels to West Virginia from his native Virginia are unknown. According to census records, in 1870 George and his wife Ann were living in Ritchie County, near Harrisville. Ann either died or they were divorced before 1880, because in the 1880 census George was living in West Union with a one-year-old son, P.A. Also living with him was his mistress, Isabelle A. Washington, and her two children. As far I know, Isabelle never married before she married George in West Union in 1881. In a deposition (Doddridge County Criminal Case #2713, Cheuvront vs. Cheuvront), she stated that she “had some babies with Sampson Harden ” [Hardman] well before she met George. She also had another daughter named Ann, born in 1872. The known children of George, Ann and Isabelle are:
Children of George Revels and Ann:
Charles - Born about 1874 and died July 21,1889 in West Union from tuberculosis. Death records say he is buried in West Union.
P.A. (son) - Born about 1879 and death unknown. Never appeared in any census after 1880.
Children of George Revels and Isabelle Washington:
Claud - Born Jan 28, 1881 in Doddridge County, death unknown. Never appeared in any census record.
Luther - Born July 20, 1883 in Doddridge County and died Oct 3,1958 in Reynoldsville. Never married and had no children.
Belle - Born Oct 8, 1888 in West Union and died Feb 20, 1889 in West Union.
Beulah - Born Jun 30, 1891 in Doddridge County, death unknown. Married first, Henry Clay and second, Mr. Williams. Living in Cleveland in 1928 and 1958 according to brothers’ obituaries
Alice - Died before 1900
George - Died before 1900
Isabelle Washington’s children, father unknown (possibly Sampson Harden/Hardman):
Anna Laura - Born in 1872 in WV and died March 31, 1956 in Clarksburg of coronary occlusion. Married Charles Sylvester Woods before 1906 and had one child named Gladys who never married or had children.
Thomas - Born May 1, 1874 in WV and died Jan 1, 1928 in Gypsy of pneumonia. Married Elizabeth Broadnax and had two children: Winnie who died in 1917 at the age of 14 from pneumonia and Willliam who was born in 1905, death unknown.
Albert - Born in 1878 in Doddridge County and died in Clarksburg Feb 19, 1917 from a gunshot wound. Occupation in death record: bootlegger. Married Florence Johnson Ball in 1913. Had no children
George and Isabelle are buried in the pioneer section of the Blockhouse Hill Cemetery. Even though George died in 1893, 28 years after the Civil War, he was still not permitted to be buried in the cemetery proper with the white people. He is buried outside of the fenced area, overlooking what was then the Northwestern Turnpike, now Old Route 50.. Close to his headstone is a single fieldstone, probably that of one of his children. Even though three of Isabelle’s children did not belong to George Revels, he raised them as his own and they took his last name.
I found the following article in the archival holdings of the West Virginia and Regional History Center at WVU. It was written by J.A. Earl in a manuscript titled The History of Doddridge County:
“There was a Revels family of Negroes. There was a son Luther Revels who was janitor of the Doddridge County Bank and said to be the best dressed man in town. He was a man widely read. Some of the Revels are buried in the old West Union Cemetery. Mrs. Harold Ford remembers ‘Aunt Betty Revels who worked in India Ash’s Hotel. She was a woman of prayer and lived over the old livery stable on Columbia Street’. Mrs. Ford said she cried when she heard this Negro woman pray. Her funeral was held in the India Ash home, near the home of Kathleen Summers.”
The Betty Revels above refers to is George’s wife, Isabelle, who sometimes went by that name. India Ash’s hotel was the Columbian Hotel in West Union, where the former Bunnell Apartments were located. In the mid-1920s George Revels’ son Luther moved to Clarksburg where he was a porter in several hotels.
My hope in writing this article is that George Revels’ service to our county and his part in our county’s history will never be forgotten, and that a descendant of his might be found to claim his Civil War medal.
(NOTE: This article, written by Heritage Guild member Jennifer Wilt, originally appeared in The Doddridge Independent as part of her weekly column “Our Heritage: The REAL History of Doddridge County.”)