Captain, Company "E" 9th West Virginia Infantry
Chaplain, 9th West Virginia Infantry
First President, West Virginia State Senate
Secretary of State, West Virginia

Presented by Linda Fluharty, 2006.


John M. Phelps, formerly Captain, Co. "E" 9th Infantry

Image owned by Linda Fluharty. [Donated to West Virginia Archives & History, 4/2019.]

NOTE, 4/2019: An ebay seller has this same image of Mr. Phelps, identified as "John M. Phelps." SEE IMAGE

For many years, the West Virginia State Archives had an image of John M. Phelps, first Senate President (1863-64), on the archives' website. This writer always believed the image had been misidentified. In April 2019, Archives & History Director Joe Geiger and his staff concluded that their image had, indeed, been misidentified.

     John M. Phelps, the minister, and later a lawyer from Mason County, was known to have lived in the Wheeling area in 1860. In 1850, his first wife was still living and they resided in Gilmer County.

     JOHN M. PHELPS, a saddler, is found in the 1850 census of Gilmer County, (W) Virginia. His first wife, Mary Loudin, died in February or March 1853 in Harrison County, (W) Virginia and is buried at the Horeb Church Cemetery in Mount Clare. The death and burial information was provided by Mary's brothers, Nicholas and Samuel Loudin, in an affidavit in the pension application of John M. Phelps' second wife.

1850 Census, District 17, Gilmer County, (W) Virginia
John M. Phelps, 29, Saddler, b VA
Mary, 29, b VA
Oliver, 5, b VA
Cordelia, 4, b VA
William, 1, b VA
Sophonia Gousher(?), 30, b VA

     On 10 July 1856, John M. Phelps married Susan Jane Hagerman, d/o William "Bailey" Hagerman, at Malden, Kanawha County, (W) Virginia. By 1860, they were residing in Ohio County, (W) Virginia:

1860 Census, West Liberty, Ohio Co., (W.) Virginia
John M. Phelps, 45, Minister Meth. E., $250, b VA
Susan J., 30, b VA
Oliver, 16, b VA
Cordelia, 14, b VA
William, 11, b VA
Charles, 3, b VA
Thomas, 1, b VA

     John M. Phelps mustered as CAPTAIN at the organization of Company "E" 9th (W) Virginia Infantry 28 Feb 1862. His age was 44, according to the 1864 Report of the West Virginia Adjutant General. He was mustered in as CHAPLAIN 2 May 1862. He resigned 18 Mar 1863 "on account of business and family affairs."

     John M. Phelps of Mason County, West Virginia, was a delegate to the First Wheeling Convention, assembled in Wheeling June 20th, 1863, the day the state was officially born. He was elected President.

"The constitution was ratified, and on the 20th of June, 1863, the statehood of West Virginia began. On that day the first legislature of West Virginia assembled, and on Wednesday, June 24th,--four days later--Hon. John M. Phelps, another Mason county man, who had been elected president of the senate, then sitting in the Linsly Institute at Wheeling, appointed a senate committee on education consisting of John H. Atkinson, of Hancock county; Thomas K. McCann, of Greenbrier county; John B. Bowen, of Wayne county; Chester D. Hubbard, of Ohio county, and William E. Stevenson, of Wood county. At the same time, Spicer Patrick, of Kanawha county, speaker of the house of delegates, appointed a house committee on education composed of A. F. Ross, of Ohio county; S. R. Dawson, of Ritchie county; George C. Bowyer, of Putnam county; Daniel Sweeney, of Tyler county; and Thomas Copley, of Wayne county. The joint work of these two committees was the first school law of the state, known as Chapter CXXXVII of the Acts of 1863, passed December 10 of that year, and entitled "An Act providing for the Establishment of a System of Free Schools." It was largely the work of Mr. Ross of the house committee, who was himself an efficient and experienced teacher who had served sixteen years as professor of ancient languages in Bethany College, and later as principal of West Liberty Academy. Under this law our school system had its origin and first years of development." - [ West Virginia History, Vol. 1].

     The service of John M. Phelps in the West Virginia Senate was 1863-65 and 1869-70. At the time of the 1870 census, John M. Phelps, minister and Civil War veteran, was a LAWYER in Mason County:

1870 Census, Lewis Twp., Mason Co., West Virginia
John M. Phelps, 49, Lawyer, b VA
Susan J., 36, Keeping House, b VA
Cordelia, 24, b VA
Charley, 14, b VA
Thomas, 12, b VA
James M., b VA
John M. 3, b WV
Frank, 1, b WV

     John M. Phelps became the Secretary of State in 1870 and served 1871-1873.

1880 Census, Lewis District, Mason Co., W.Va.
J. M. Phelps, 59, Invalid, Debilitated, VA CONN VA
S. J., 47, Wife, Keeping House, VA PENN VA
Cordelia, 33, dau, VA VA PENN
Thomas, 21, Son, laborer, VA VA PENN
J. M., 17, VA VA PENN
John M. Jr., 13, Son, Works on farm, VA VA PENN
F. K., 11, Son, VA VA PENN
R. R. [Robert R., b 2 Aug 1871], 9, Son, VA VA PENN
H. H. [Harry Hayes, b 24 Aug 1876], 4, Son, VA VA PENN

NOTE: Birth record of Robert R. Phelps, Kanawha County, West Virginia, gives father's occupation as "SECRETARY OF STATE."

     The death of John M. Phelps occurred 26 Aug 1884 at Point Pleasant, Mason County, West Virginia; he is buried in Lone Oak Cemetery, Point Pleasant (p. 81, Lone Oak Cemetery book; provided by Merry Anne Pierson.) According to his physician, Andrew R. Barbee, John M. Phelps had been ill since his military service. This affidavit is contained in the WIDOW'S PENSION APPLICATION of Susan Jane Phelps:

A. R. Barbee, M. D.
Member of the State Board of Health
Pt. Pleasant, W. Va., June 8th 1889

Hon. James Tanner
Commissioner of Pensions,
Washington, D. C.

Dear Sir.--
     In response to enclosed returned letter, respectfully submit -- That I became acquainted with Captain John M. Phelps, on or about the middle of May 1865 immediately after the close of the late war. At the time, he was not in good health, was complaining with his stomach and bowels. Saw the said Capt Jno. M. Phelps frequently on from date above given, through the remainder of year 1865, on through 1866, 1867 & 1868, and during the Presidential campaign of the late Gen. Grant saw him and was frequently with him. Heard him on many occasions complain of indigestion, pain in stomach & bowels with diarrhea & sometimes would prescribe for his relief as best we could in the County in a heated campaign. Capt Phelps was a most effective and able political speaker, and the best political organizer in the State, hence the duties imposed upon him by the Repub. Ex. Com. were so arduous, and he so ardent, determined & deeply earnest that his physical condition had let down smartly when I took professional charge of him, soon after taking up my residence in this City (the home of said Capt Phelps) the latter part of 1868 or early part of 1869. At this time I found his physical condition pretty much as I had seen it and known through latter part of 1865, through 1866 and on through 1867 & 1868, tho some what worse than formerly. His appetite was very variable, digestion greatly impaired bowels loose & a frequent sufferer with hemorrhoids. I treated the said late Capt John M. Phelps from early 1869 on at intervals of a day, week or month or two through the years of 1870-71-72-73-74-75-76-77-78-79-80-81-82-83, till date of death - the latter part of August 1884.
     The disease for which I so long treated the said soldier, the late John M. Phelps, and which disease was the immediate cause of his death, was Chronic Inflammation of the Stomach and Bowels and Internal Hemorrhoids.
     For a year or more before the death of said soldier, his digestion was so impaired, the diarrhoea so exhausting that he became emaciated to a bare skeleton. Remedial agents seemed to have lost all therapeutic effect and it might be said that literally he starved to death by reason of disease & want of tone of gastro-enteric canal.
     This case, from the outset deeply impressed me - the late soldier & self had met & crossed swords on many battle fields - immediately at close of war we met & came home together - became warm social and political friends - which extends beyond the grave. I knew him as a gallant soldier & he frequently told me, as he repeated on his death bed, that his disease (from which he died) was incurred while in the Service.
     Surviving, is an afflicted, helpless poor widow. Have the honor to be, very Respectfully, Yr Obt Servt.
Andrew R. Barbee, M.D., U.S. Exg. Surg.

     Susan Jane (Hagerman) Phelps was receiving a government pension of $20 per month at the time of her death 16 Oct 1893. Her attorney throughout the pension application process was her son, Charles W. Phelps.


Captain, Company "E" 9th West Virginia Infantry


Oliver Phelps, son of John M. Phelps.

Eventually promoted to Captain, 9th West Virginia Infantry.

(Image from U.S. Army Military History Institute.)

     OLIVER PHELPS, the oldest son of John M. Phelps and his first wife, Mary Loudin, mustered in as 2nd Lieutenant at organization of the 9th West Virginia Infantry. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant 2 May 1863 and was promoted to Captain 1 Sept 1864, upon the resignation of William Engleman. He continued as Captain when the 9th and the 5th West Virginia Infantries consolidated to form the 1st Veteran Infantry. Following the war, in the spring of 1866, he was commissioned 1st Lieutenant in the 19th U. S. Infantry.


by H. H. Hardesty's History of Mason County - in West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia (Supplemental), by Jim Comstock, 1976.

     OLIVER PHELPS was born in Taylor county, West Virginia, September 24, 1843, a son of John M. and Mary (Loudon [sic]) Phelps. In 1857, his mother having died, he came with his father to Mason county, which has since been his home. July 22, 1861, Oliver Phelps enlisted in the Federal army, in Company E, 4th West Virginia Volunteers, and March 9, 1862, was promoted to second lieutenant, and transferred to the 9th Regiment, May 2, 1862, was commissioned first lieutenant, and was made captain of Company E, 9th Regiment, December 1, 1863. He was transferred, December 17, 1864, to the 1st West Virginia Veteran Volunteer Infantry, and there served as captain of Company B, until mustered out of the volunteer service at Wheeling, West Virginia, June 17, 1865, at the close of the war. He served several campaigns through West Virginia and the Shenandoah valley. In the spring of 1866 Oliver Phelps was commissioned second, and, same date, first lieutenant in the 19th United States Infantry, and served until March 7, 1871, when he resigned. He was appointed State superintendent of weights and measures for West Virginia, holding the position from March, 1871, until March, 1873. In Hartford City, this county, May 1, 1870, he was united in marriage with Minnie, daughter of Henry and Jane McBrien, who was born in Jackson county, this State, in 1841. Mr. Phelps is now engaged in teaching, and his address is Mason, Mason county, West Virginia.