The West Virginia. Cyclopedia

Autobiography of Alfred Beckley

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General Alfred Beckley (1802-1888), founder of Beckley, WV, and father of Raleigh County composed the following autobiography on 10 November 1887. It has been reprinted in several publications and grammar and punctuation may not be true to Beckley's original.

"I, Alfred Beckley, Sr., was born in Washington City, on Capitol Hill, on May, 26, 1802, during the first term of the immortal Thomas Jefferson's presidency.

"My father, John Beckley, was the Clerk of the House of Representatives during the presidency of Washington, the elder Adams, and Jefferson; was, in 1783, Mayor of the City of Richmond and a member of the Board of Aldermen; and served as Clerk of the House of Delegates and Secretary of the Convention of 1787. He was the warm personal and political friend of Jefferson, and was the first Librarian of Congress.

"My father died on the April 8, 1807, and my mother removed to Philadelphia in that year with myself, a boy of five years, her only child. She lived in Philadelphia until May, 1814, when she removed to Frankfort, Ky. While in Philadelphia I was sent to several schools of repute, and in Kentucky was the pupil of Kean O' Hara, one of the finest classical scholars in that state, and I became a Latin scholar.

Early Military Career

"In 1819, Mr. Monroe, then President (and a warm personal friend of my father) on the application of my mother, through General William Henry Harrison, gave the warrant of cadet of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. (This warrant, signed by the great War Secretary, John C. Calhoun, I keep as a relic of the past.) Upon Gen. Harrison's invitation, I became an inmate in his family at North Bend for six months, availing myself of the instruction of the General's private instructor to his children.

"In August, the General, placing me in the care of Mrs. Kirby and paying my expenses to West Point, out of his own pocket, I started for West Point, but was taken sick on the journey and did not reach the Point until September 25, 1819, when my class of 1823 had been at their studies a whole month. I was examined alone by the academic staff and admitted on the September 25. I graduated on July 1, 1823, (nine in a class of thirty-five) and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of the Fourth Regiment of United States Artillery on the same day.

"I served thirteen years honorably in the U.S. Army: two in Florida (1824-26); two at Old Point Comfort, Va., in the schools of artillery practice; six on ordnance duty at the Allegheny Arsenal near Pittsburgh; and two in garrison at Fort Hamilton Narrows, N.Y.

Wilderness Years

"In 1836, having married Miss Amelia Neville Craig, daughter of Neville B. Craig, Esq., editor Pittsburgh Gazette, I resigned my commission as First Lieutenant, and removed to Fayette County, Va.,(now Raleigh County, W.Va.) to improve a body of unsettled stony lands (See article: Wildwood) in the southern part of Fayette for my widowed mother and myself.

"I devoted myself to building up wild lands and was instrumental in the building of the Giles, Fayette, and Kanawha Turnpike and in the establishment of the new county now embracing above 10,000 inhabitants.

"I was first Clerk of the Circuit Court of Raleigh County; in 1872 the County Superintendent of Schools; was treasurer of the school funds; was the delegate from the Thirteenth Electoral District of Virginia to the National Whig convention at Baltimore, and voted for Henry Clay and Theodore Frelinghuysen for President and Vice-President.

"In 1876 I was delegate-at-large from West Virginia to the National Democratic Convention at St. Louis, Mo., and in 1877 represented Raleigh County in the House of Delegates at Wheeling and was appointed by that legislature to deliver at the evening session of February 22, 1877, an address on the character of George Washington, and read his farewell address.

"These duties I performed and received the unanimous thanks of the House of Delegates. I was as warm an advocate for the acts of that Legislature -- which eventually placed the State Capitol at Charleston -- as any other member, and I rejoice that our efforts were successful.

Civil War

"In 1849 the General Assembly of Virginia elected me Brigadier General of Military, creating for me a new brigadier district. In the Civil War of 1861 to 1865, I was called out by General Henry A. Wise and served with my brigade in guarding the fastnesses of Cotton Hill and the ferries of New River. The militia rendered poor service, and at my earnest solicitation General Floyd disbanded the militia early in 1862 at Jumping Branch.

"In 1861 Col. Hays garrisoned Raleigh Court House (now Beckley) with part of the 23rd Regiment of Ohio Volunteers, and I came home and surrendered myself to Col. Hays.

"In April 1862, General John C. Freemont sent a telegraphic order from Wheeling to Col. Hays to arrest me and send me under guard to the headquarters of the Mountain Department at Wheeling. I was started with a guard of a lieutenant, sergeant and eight privates, but at Charleston, General Core sent back the guard, and told the lieutenant to conduct me honorably to the Mountain Headquarters. After some detention, Freemont sent me on to Camp Chase Prison. I was in Pen No. 2 about a month when Governor Todd released me on my parole and gave the U.S. quartermaster orders to give me transportation to Raleigh County Court House. I went as a prisoner under guard and returned as a gentleman, thanks to Governor Todd.


"Since I left the Army I have spent half a century in West Virginia and have filled many civil offices and been instrumental in founding a new county and improving West Virginia and have ever-aimed by the Grace of God to present a good, religious, moral, temperate record to my fellow men.

"I have omitted my record as a friend of temperance. I had always kept up a division of the Sons of Temperance at Raleigh C. H., and I think I saved my two eldest sons by this means.

"In October, 1839, I attended the session of the grand division of Virginia of 1839 at Lynchburg, composed of delegates representing 15,000 Sons of Temperance, and I was elected Grand Worthy Patriarch of the Sons and served during 1860 as Grand Worthy Patriarch. This I regard as the greatest honor I ever received from my fellow men.

"I laid the corner stone, or rather dedicated, the monument in memory of Rev. Lucian Munroe, a most distinguished son of the order at Williamsburg, Va., and then attended the session of the National Temperance Grand Division at Portland, Me., and ascended Mount Washington, N.H., and with my brethren of the national division. We held a temperance meeting with a good many sisters of temperance on top of the White Mountains."