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Historian: Old jail has story to be told

December 31, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The history surrounding the treason trials at the Jefferson County Courthouse stemmed from an effort by coal miners to unionize Logan County in 1922.

The Battle of Blair Mountain resulted, involving warfare that included machine guns and aerial bombardment. About 2,000 federal troops were called in to stop the fighting, according to a history of the courthouse compiled by Berkeley County Circuit Judge David Sanders.

A special grand jury was convened and 738 indictments were returned, charging treason and murder, Sanders said.

The venue for the trials was moved to Charles Town.

Doug Estepp, who has researched the history of the trials, told the Jefferson County Commission Thursday that about 24 miner leaders spent time in the jail.

Estepp, a resident of Wardensville, W.Va., had documents and photographs with him that he says proves the miners were in the jail. Estepp said he obtained some of the documents from an archive at West Virginia University.

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Estepp said the treason trials represent the second largest insurrection in the country behind abolitionist John Brown's attempt to free slaves at the beginning of the Civil War in Harpers Ferry.

"It's an incredible story and one that should be told," Estepp said.

Commission President James K. Ruland said county officials could not find a "shard of evidence" that any miners were held in the jail. But it is clear they were in the courthouse, Ruland said.

"To us, that was the defining moment," Ruland said.

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