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Gordon Battelle


Battelle Monument.jpg

From George J. Blazier, West Virginia History, Charleston WV, Vol. 15, No. 3, April 1954

Gordon Battelle 1814 - 1862 became a leading educator and ultimately a clergyman in the Methodist Church, as well as one of the influential men in the founding of West Virginia. He began his higher education in the early 1830's, at Marietta Collegiate Institute and Western Teachers Seminary. Later in the 1830's, he entered Allegheny College at Meadsville, Pennsylvania, where he was graduated in 1840. One of his fellow students with whom he was later to become associated in the founding of the new state became Governor of the Reorganized State of Virginia. Gordon Battelle became a teacher. His first teaching assignment, in 1842, was the principal ship of the newly organized Asbury Academy, founded in Parkersburg by the Parkersburg Academy Association under the sponsorship of the East Ohio Conference of the Methodist Church. A year later, he was called to the principal ship of the newly organized Northwestern Virginia Academy, chartered in 1842, at Clarksburg. This Academy was the successor, by virtue of having the same board of Trustees, to the Randolph Academy that had been chartered there in 1787. Here Battelle earned the high reputation as an educator by which he was known for the remainder of his life.

 

Throughout his professional life, Battelle had been closely allied with the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1847, he was ordained to its ministry, while still principal of the Academy. In 1851, he was called to the pastorate of the church in Charleston and after much consideration he resigned as principal and accepted the call. He spent the next four years as a church pastor in Wheeling. In 1855, he was appointed presiding elder of the church's Clarksburg District. While in the eldership, he was selected three times: in 1856, 1859, and 1860, as the regional delegate to the General Conference. In the latter year, he was appointed presiding elder of the Wheeling District.

 

When Battelle accepted the presiding eldership of the Wheeling District, the clouds of conflict between the North and the South were growing darker. His wide acquaintance with the people of the Northern and western section and with the former students of the Northwestern Virginia Academy, and his keen insight into the trends of the political affairs enabled him to write and speak as few other men could in the closing days of peace. Not only did he speak from public platforms, but he also contributed articles to the Wheeling "Intelligencer." Through his newspaper contributions, Battelle influenced the thinking of his reader against secession (as attested by the votes of the western delegates at the Richmond Convention), and second, he emphasized that the western section should separate from the lower part of the state. Too, he foresaw the problems that would arise in the formation of new commonwealth.

 

Battelle's first appointment to the public service came in October, 1861, when Governor Pierpont of the Reorganized State of Virginia appointed him to visit the military camps in the mountain regions of western Virginia: Philippi,, Elk water, Cheat Mountain, and other points where conditions of insufficient clothing, lack of necessary medical doctors, nurses, and medicines had been reported. He found that the reports were true and in his report made recommendations for relieving the situations. Meanwhile, since the beginning of the War, the agitation for statehood of the people of Western Virginia had been growing in intensity, culmination in the First and Second Wheeling Conventions., May 13 - 15, 1861, and June 11 - 25, and an adjourned session, August 6 - 21. In October, 1861, delegates were elected to a constitutional convention. Gordon Battelle was elected a delegate fro Ohio County. The convention convened on November 26. Battelle submitting for consideration the following three resolutions: one, the provision for "a thorough and efficient system of free schools"; two, a clause providing that "no slave shall be brought into this State for permanent residence, after this Constitution goes into operation"; and three, a proposal for the gradual abolition of slavery, beginning July 4, 1864. The resolution for education became a part of the constitution, but the slavery clauses were not adopted, being tabled by the insignificant margin of 24 for and 23 against. Great disappointment was expressed throughout the state over the failure to secure the passage of the slavery resolutions.

 

In November, 1861, the same month of the opening of the Constitutional Convention, he enlisted as a chaplain in the 1st (Loyal) Virginia Regiment of Volunteers. Following a furlough in June, 1862, he was transferred from his regiment to make an investigation of sanitary conditions in the military camps encircling Washington. While thus engaged, he was stricken with typhoid fever, and epidemic of which he was then seeking to alleviate and prevent. His premature death at the age of 48 came on August 7, 1862.

 

Battelle was awarded the degree of Master of Arts by Allegheny College in 1843. IN 1861, he was recognized for his outstanding leadership as an educator and clergymen by Ohio University, in an honoring degree of Doctor of Divinity. After his death, Battelle Township of Monongalia County was named in honor of him.

 

One of the many resolutions from various churches: From Upshur County, "Resolved, that in his death we lose a most zealous and able supporter of the doctrine of Holy Christianity and defender of the principles of Methodist Episcopal Church, that we lose a sacrificing patriot, devoted to the cause of our country, the union of the States, the best interest of Western Virginia and the cause of liberty and Humanity everywhere."

 

The Wheeling "Intelligencer" stated editorially, "His pulpit brilliance and spiritual influence were paralleled by his astuteness. He foresaw that the greatest problem in admitting the Western Territory in those turbulent years...would arise over the question of slavery, particularly in regard to the new state's constitutional interpretation. His determined effort to bring convention action upon the touchy point was his greatest contribution...His influence was potential in preserving Western Virginia from the whirlpool of secession.