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The Hard-Living John Jarvis of Morgans Run

When we hear the surname Jarvis, most of us tend to think of Jarvisville in Harrison County. But there were also Jarvises living near Smithburg over two decades before Doddridge County was even conceived. 


John Jarvis was born about 1789 in either Baltimore or Anne Arundel County, Maryland. It is unclear exactly when or why he came to present-day West Virginia, but we know from his wife’s military pension application that he enlisted in a Harrison County regiment during the War of 1812. He served as a Private in the 1st Reg. Virginia Militia from August 16, 1812 to April 15, 1813 under Captain John McWhorter, and again from August 30, 1814 to February 22, 1815 under Captain Steed. He was discharged at Fort Meigs, Ohio, having served 415 days.


He married Margaret Jameson in Wood County, [West] Virginia in 1815. Shortly afterward, the young couple settled in present-day Doddridge County. By 1838 they had at least three sons and five daughters, all still living at home at the time of the 1840 Census. The 1850 Census of Doddridge County showed John as a farmer with real estate valued at $1,000.  The household consisted of John, Margaret and five children.  The Census also indicated that Margaret and their adult children were able to read and write, but John was not.

Margaret Jameson Jarvis (1).jpg

Margaret Jameson Jarvis

Ned Jones Describes John Jarvis

The following is an excerpt from Ned Jones’ 1901 book, History of Smithburg, describing John Jarvis’ unusual characteristics: 


“In the following chapter I speak of perhaps the most peculiar character of the time, John Jarvis. In the first place he was the most powerful man physically that it ever had been my fortune to meet, and I firmly believe that he could have felled a horse with a blow of his hand. I have frequently heard it said that he could raise a barrel of whisky from the floor and drink out of the bung hole. Be this as it may, I know that he possessed the strength of three ordinary men. Jarvis settled just across the creek from where Clarence Maxwell now lives or about a hundred yards north of what might have been the new bridge if it had not been an abortion. The field is known to this day as the Jarvis field. 


“Jarvis was a hard worker, a hard drinker, and a brave and successful hunter, and many a night I have listened to his hunting stories till long after midnight. He told me that one fall whilst he lived at the place I speak of, that he killed forty-two deer and one bear in two months time, adding that one of the deer was snow white. He never used but one gun, which was a very large bore rifle running sixteen balls to the pound, and a flint lock without saying. This gun he never mentioned only as ‘Old Arbitrary.’ It was well named for it was a formidable weapon for those days, and in the hands of Jarvis, it dealt death at almost every discharge. 


“Jarvis was a man of no learning at all so far as books went, but he knew a great deal outside of them and was as quick to see the advantage as any man, and yet he loved sport, too well to accomplish much. In fact if he had not had one among the very best of women for a wife he couldn't have done anything. They raised a large family of boys and girls and raised them right. Mrs. Jarvis was a woman of fair education, a great thing for families in those days. 


“… I heard him [John] say that he sold the Webster tract of six hundred acres for a horse. He explained that he thought the horse worth more than the land and that land was more plenty than horses, which was true enough, but short sighted. When I first knew him he lived on Morgan’s Run where A. B. Leatherman now lives, and died there. His wife lived many years after his death and died being very old. She was my mother's closest friend and when I think of one, I think of the other.”


John Jarvis Buys Land on Rock Run

In 1821 John Jarvis took part in a land transaction that to this day, almost 200 years later, is indelibly linked to the origins of West Union and Doddridge County. The following paragraph is taken from Hardesty’s 1883 History of Doddridge County:


“The land upon which the town of West Union now stands, was patented about the year 1787, by James Caldwell; the survey contains 20,000 acres, the whole of which he sold to Nathan Davis and his brothers William and Joseph, in the year 1807, for the sum of 23 cents per acre. They removed to the lands in 1808, and soon after sold the greater portion of the land to Lewis Maxwell, at the same price.”


There are a few inaccuracies in Hardesty’s rendition of the above land transactions. 

  • There were actually 20 separate land grants totaling 16,200 acres.

  • James Caldwell patented only 5,000 of the 16,200 acres. The other land patents were held by John Caldwell, Archibald Woods and Moses Chapline. They had formed a partnership called Archibald Woods & Company. 

  • Nathan Davis was not the sole grantee of the 16,200 acres. The other equal purchasers were Joseph Davis, James Davis, Jonathan Howell, David Kershner and John Jarvis. To my knowledge William Davis had nothing to do with the transaction.

  • Nathan Davis and others did not actually obtain legal ownership of the land until 1821, when Archibald Woods & Co. filed suits of ejectment against them. By 1825 they still had not paid off Archibald Woods & Co., so Lewis Maxwell paid the purchase price to Davis and others. Maxwell purchased all of the land except the 1,415 acres that Davis and others were living on.  

John Jarvis retained only 45 acres of the original survey. His tract was described in a deed as: “23 acres beginning at a water beech by the roadside on Middle Island near the mouth of Rock Run and 22 acres lying in the 4th 620 acres purchased of Archibald Woods & Co.” 

Family of Nine Children

Here John and Margaret Jarvis raised a family of nine children. Drusilla married Thomas Wells and settled in Wood County. Edmund J. married Caroline Chapman, joined the Confederate Army, and died in the Civil War. Mary married Abraham G. Leatherman and spent the rest of her life on Morgans Run in Doddridge County. Margaret (Magy) married first William Ripley and later Thomas A. Jones Jr. (Margaret was the mother of Mary India Ripley, who married Joseph Cheuvront and later became the owner and proprietor of the Columbian Hotel in West Union.) Lydia married John Smith, a miller, sawyer and farmer of Nutters Fork. Two sons, Granville and Lorenzo, moved west and settled in Missouri. Louisa married William T. Tate and moved to Marion County. Martha married William Tate’s brother, Charles, and lived the rest of her life in Smithburg. 


John Jarvis died in 1859 at age 70 of scrofula, a form of tuberculosis. Margaret died in 1892 at the age of 96. They are both buried at the Archbold Cemetery in Smithburg, along with two daughters, Mary and Martha. 


Captain Edmund J. Jarvis

I found the following article about John and Margaret’s son, Captain Edmund Jameson Jarvis, in the September 17, 1864 issue of the [Wheeling] Daily Intelligencer, reprinted from the Ritchie Press:



On Friday, eleven of the Ritchie scouts came across the notedly notorious E. J. Jarvis  and thirteen of his infernal cohorts. The scouts immediately fired upon them, killing William H. Jones, formerly of this immediate vicinity, a man by the name of Furby, and badly wounded Jarvis, the Captain of the motley band of thieves. Jarvis tried to make his escape, but was captured by Captain J. M. Woods, brought to Harrisville and lodged in jail; from thence he was sent to Parkersburg, from thence to Wheeling, and from thence, we presume, to Camp Chase, unless his aged father, the Devil, called for him before he reached that point. A day or two before they had captured J. Daugherty, one of the same lousy band, and sent him ahead to select quarters for his captain.


“The scouts, by the killing of Jones and Furby, and the wounding and capturing of Jarvis and Daugherty, have done good service to the country and rid society of four of the meanest horse-thieves that ever stood on pegs. Another one or two of this clan are known to have been wounded. We hope the scouts, or Home Guards, may yet secure the whole band and parole them to judgment. (Ritchie Press)”

Captain Edmund Jarvis

The above article is a one-sided view of how Edmund and his fellow Confederate soldiers were captured. The specifics were clearly written by a pro-Union author. 


Edmund Jarvis was indeed sent to Camp Chase, a Union prison in Columbus, Ohio, where he died the following month as a result of the wounds he received at the hands of the Ritchie County scouts. He was originally buried at Camp Chase, but was later disinterred and reburied at Tollgate Cemetery in Ritchie County. 


Historical Footnotes

I am often surprised at whose names have been lost in the shuffle of history. John Jarvis’ is definitely one of those names. Ned Jones’ book, a fascinating mix of nostalgic memoir and straightforward history, has proven to be an invaluable research tool for me. He left us stories about many of our ancestors who have been completely overlooked by other local historians, but who deserve to be recognized for their role in the Real History of Doddridge County. 


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