Friday, May 21, 2010

Yeeah, West Virginia!!!

Since moving to Kentucky, I have noticed that they have a little self-deprecating joke here. Depending on the issue (education, joblessness, poverty rate, or such) it is often exclaimed, "Thank God for West Virginia...(or maybe Mississippi), meaning that at least Kentucky is not last in something. This year the reference has been expressed with extra disdain since the Mountaineers beat the Wildcats in the NCAA basketball tournament. Although I don't have anything against West Virginia personally, I must admit I certainly don't enjoy driving through it on I-64. It seems every time I make the trip to Virginia from Kentucky, or to Kentucky from Virginia, I get another chip in my windshield from a piece of gravel some huge truck kicked up while driving in the "Mountaineer" state. But, finally, I have found something that affords me the opportunity to heap praise on the state that seceded from a state that seceded (follow that?).

I have found the West Virginia Memory Project from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History that features the collections of the West Virginia Archives and History. More specifically, I have found the John Brown/Boyd B. Stutler Collection Database website for the West Virginia Memory Project.

Anyone doing research on John Brown has probably come across the name Boyd B. Stutler. Stutler was the man! If you think I am fascinated by John Brown, you'll think this man was a John Brown nut! Stutler (1889-1970) was a WWI veteran, a newspaper man, and long time editor of the American Legion Magazine. For over half his life, Sutler was dedicated to collecting anything related to John Brown and of Brown's efforts at Harpers Ferry. Stutler was mainly a collector, but he did contract to write a biography of Brown in the 1950s. Unfortunately, the work was never completed. He did write "The Hanging of John Brown" for American Heritage, which appeared in the February 1955 issue. Although he did not prove to be a prolific writer, he did not jealously guard his collection, but rather, he made it readily available to those scholars working on John Brown projects. When Stutler passed away his collection went to the state of West Virginia and is now housed in The West Virginia Division of Culture and History in Charleston.

This "searchable" online collection has already proven to be valuable to me in my research. I had been searching for a few month for Kentuckian Cassius M. Clay's speech in Frankfort on January 10, 1860 without luck. This source appeared to be important to me because I had found references to it in period newspapers that mentioned Clay's reactions to Brown's Harpers Ferry raid, and that the same day Clay made his speech, a pike and the noose used to hang Brown were passed around Frankfort as propaganda tools by the Democrats. Well, I found the speech in printed form on the Stutler collection website and confirmed those references. Tremendous! Without this valuable research tool I would have had to search longer or made an unexpected trip to Charleston, West Virginia to get my hands on it. In addition, I also found another Clay speech, this one made in Covington, Kentucky, that also referenced Brown a number of times, as well as part of the testimony of John A . Copeland, a free black raider, who mentioned that he was aware of another insurrection planned for Kentucky. Huge find! And, it all would not have been possible without the state of West Virginia making it available to researchers like me. I think Mr. Stutler would be proud that his collection is being made so easily accessible to the public through this wonderful website.

To take a look and browse around for awhile use the following link:

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