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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program


Degree Type

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



This thesis analyzes the editorial content of a popular regional newspaper from the Shenandoah Valley, the Spirit of Jefferson, during the height of the Civil-War Era (1848-1870). The newspaper’s editor during most of the period, Benjamin F. Beall, was a white, southern slaveholder of humble origins, who spent time serving in the Confederate military. Beall, however, had also quickly established himself as one of the preeminent Democrats in his home county of Jefferson, as well as both the Shenandoah Valley and the new state of West Virginia. Beall firmly believed in the institution of racial slavery and fought to preserve that institution. Yet, not all of Beall’s white neighbors decided that secession was an appropriate idea worth pursuing. Typical of other areas in the Upper South, these unionists existed in large numbers due to the survival of a strong, two-party political system built from an increasingly diversifying local economy. These white unionists shared a complicated relationship with local blacks, who also sought to defeat the Confederacy in order to claim freedom and citizenship rights in the United States. This paper, hence, traces the path to disunion in Jefferson County and the troubled attempts to reunify during the immediate aftermath of the war from the perspective of the largest population demographic in the county—albeit smaller than elsewhere in the South—the cultural conservatives like Beall. Beall’s words serve as some of the best surviving evidence of how most local whites felt toward the attempts to shatter slavery and how difficult it was for those whites to prevent its destruction.


First Advisor

Barbara Krauthamer

Second Advisor

David Glassberg

Third Advisor

Sarah Cornell