Visitors take a walk through history at W.Va. courthouse

February 06, 1997

Visitors take a walk through history

at W.Va. courthouse


Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The fiery oratory of Mother Jones once again filled the Jefferson County Courthouse as an actress portrayed the leader of the union movement Wednesday night before a crowd of about 100 people.

"Let's get one thing straight, I'm not a humanitarian. I'm a hell-raiser," said actress Karen Vuranch in her role as Mother Jones.


Vuranch said it is important to remember that things taken for granted by workers today such as 40 hour work weeks, workers compensation, sick days, were fought for and obtained by union members.

"These things were not given to you by the corporate persons, they were fought for you by the union movement," Vuranch said.

"I was fascinated," said Bob Williams of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., after the program. "I just recently moved to West Virginia and it seems like the people in West Virginia are really into their history."

Jones had spoken at the Jefferson County trials of coal miners who fought mine owners at the end of World War I. The union had agreed not to strike during World War I, but after peace was declared, the mine owners cut the workers' salaries in half.

The federal government ruled the miners still were not allowed to strike because a peace treaty had not been signed.

The dispute lead to armed conflict. Hundreds of coal miners were indicted, but only 12 stood trial. Most were acquitted. Three men who were found with weapons in their homes were found guilty.

It was not the first trial of radicals held at the Jefferson County Court House.

Earlier in the evening, Nan Furioso, director of tours for the Jefferson County Court House, spoke to about 55 people on the history of the building.

In 1859, abolitionist John Brown was tried for leading the raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, W.Va. He was found guilty of treason and sentenced to hang. Brown had attempted to seize the arsenal to arm escaped slaves and lead them in a revolt.

During his trial, Charles Town was under martial law. Residents were not allowed out of their homes and armed soldiers patrolled the streets, she said.

The strict measures were imposed because of a fear that Brown, who had many supporters in the North, would be rescued before his execution, Furioso said.

There had been 15 announced rescue plans announced by different groups, Furioso said.

Vuranch will portray Mother Jones again tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Shepherd College's Reynolds Hall.

The program is sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Alliance of Jefferson County, with funding from the West Virginia Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Courthouse tours can be arranged by calling 1-304-728-7713.

The Herald-Mail Articles