West Virginia, the Mountain State

By Charles H. Ambler; Festus P. Summers | Go to book overview
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Chapter XXXVII
Life in the Mountain State


IMPELLED by the possibility of diverting to West Virginia a goodly number of the thousands of Immigrants who were then moving into the Midwest annually, her legislature, on March 2, 1864, authorized the governor to appoint a commissioner of immigration to aid him in inducing settlers to make homes in the state. For the position Governor Boreman chose Joseph H. Diss Debar, an immigrant and a member of the legislature. Debar accepted the appointment with the understanding that he would serve without pay until the state was able to provide a salary.

Born March 6, 1820, at Strasbourg, Alsace, of German-French parents, Debar came to the United States in 1942 on the same ship that brought Charles Dickens as a visitor. For a time he resided in Cincinnati, Ohio, where, in 1848, he married Clara Julia Levassor. In April, 1846, he came to Doddridge County, (West) Virginia, as the agent of John Peter Dumas, trustee of the James Swan interests in about 10,000 acres of land located on Cove Creek, which he was trying to settle with immigrants from Central Europe.1 With his ready command of English, German, and French, Debar was well equipped for such an undertaking. For about three years he resided in Parkersburg, where, on April 23, 1849, his wife died. Soon thereafter he established a residence on Cove Creek which became the center of a German-Swiss settlement which he named Santa Clara in honor of his deceased wife.2

The "Swan Lands" comprised about one sixth of present West Virginia and were located mostly south of the Kanawha River. The nucleus of these lands was a tract of 500,000 acres which Robert Morris of Philadelphia, sold in 1796 to James Swan who spent most of his life trying to colonize them on a large scale with immigrants from Continental Europe. Following his death ( 1831) the conveyance previously made by him became the subjects of extensive litigation as the "Swan Land Cases."
Boyd B. Stutler, "Joseph H. Diss Debar--Prophet, Colonizer," in The West Virginia Review, IX, 154-156, 171.


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