Blennerhassett Family Tree
Genealogy one-name study      by Bill Jehan
   Introduction      Property      Blennerhassett Island WV
"Blennerhassett Island"
in the Ohio River
Wood County, West Virginia, USA
(at the Ohio - West Virginia border)
 Blennerhassett Island: photo c1957 by Floyd Hivnor
In March 1797 Harman Blennerhassett, formerly of Castle Conway, Co.Kerry, Ireland, purchased for $4,453 from Elijah Backus, a Marietta lawyer, a farm consisting of the upper half (179 acres) of "Backus Island", usually called "Isle de Belpre". The name comes from the nearby Ohio town of Belpre or Belle-Prarie, meaning "Beautiful Prairie" or "Beautiful Meadow".
The island is between 3 and 4 miles in length, 1/3 mile wide at its widest point, a total of 297 acres. The largest of a group of five islands in the Ohio River, at the mouth of the "Little Kanawha", 15 miles below Marietta and two miles below both Parkersburg, West Virginia & Belpre, Ohio. The river was the border between Ohio and Virginia (now West Virginia), the islands falling within Virginia juristiction. Isle de Belpre formerly belonged to George Washington, it had been purchased by Elijah Backus in 1792 for about $900 in Virginia currency.
On moving to their island the Blennerhasett's resided in, and added to, an abandoned wooden army blockhouse that had been built in 1792 as a place of refuge during Indian Wars. They acquired ten negro slaves, later increasing that number to 20. The island then lay within the jurisdiction of Virginia where slavery was permitted, although on the opposite bank of the river in neighbouring Ohio slavery was outlawed, as it was throughout the entire North-West Territory. His behaviour here can be somewhat suprising to a modern audience, when considering Harman's youthful sympathy and support for self-determination of people as expressed by the Society of United Irishmen and the French Revolution.
In 1798 Harman and his wife Margaret commenced clearing a site, then building, amid magnificent scenery, what was later described as the most beautiful mansion west of the Allegheny Mountains. Timber came from sawmill of Jonathan Sprague of Adams, Ohio. Completed late 1800, the white painted wooden house had two dependencies or wings, also barns, out-houses & other structures, and was surrounded by fine grounds & adorned with costly pictures. It had cost upwards of $30,000, consuming a large part of their fortune.
In 1805 Harman and Margaret were visited by Col. Aaron Burr (b.1756 d.1836). Burr had been Lt-Col. in the army of the American Revolution; a lawyer in New York; Attorney-General of the U.S. in 1789; U.S. Senator 1791-97 & leader of the Republican Party in the Senate; and Vice-President of USA 1800-05, under Thomas Jefferson (b.1743 d.1826). Burr had tied with Jefferson in the 1800 U.S. Presidential election & was elected Vice-President by ballot of the House of Representatives. Burr was now in public disgrace, indicted for murder by both the States of New York & New Jersey for killing Alexander Hamilton, a hero of the American Revolution, in a duel at New Jersey on 11-Jul-1804.
It is said that Burr devised, with Gen. James Wilkinson, a plan to build an empire in the south and western territories of North America, by separating New Orleans & the trans-Appalachian states from the Union, and colonising what is now Texas (then a part of Spanish New Mexico); thus he planned to establish an empire under his own rule, west of the Mississippi. Burr legally acquired title to more than a million acres of land in Orleans Territory. Harman Blennerhassett also published a series of papers supporting the views of Aaron Burr, in the "Ohio Gazette" under the pen-name Querist.
Financial backing came from Burr's son-in-law Joseph Alston & from Harman Blennerhassett, who conspired in Burr's plan, providing  financial backing and donating a large sum for procuring boats, supplies, arms, provisions & men, his island becoming HQ for the enterprise. For the expedition he ordered, in Sep-1806, 15 flat-bottomed boats or "batteaux", ten 40 feet & five 50 feet long, from Joseph Barker of Muskingum, they being delivered about the end of Nov-1806. In addition there was to be a single large keel-boat for transporting supplies and housing the Blennerhassett family.
They were betrayed by Gen. James Wilkinson, Governor of the Louisiana Territory, who revealed the plan by writing to President Thomas Jefferson. The U.S. Government viewed the plan as treason, seeing it as a plot to dismember USA, & on 27-Nov-1806 the president issued a proclamation warning US citizens against participating in an illegal expedition against Spanish lands.
Burr's whole force at no time exceed 150 men. On 6-Dec-1806 Col. Comfort Tyler landed at Blennerhassett Island with four boats & about 30 men, some of whom were armed. In Dec-1806 Burr was at the mouth of the Cumberland River with 60 recruits, waiting for the flotilla of keelboats and supplies of men & munitions being assembled at Blennerhassett Island, but they never arrived. On 11-Dec-1806, shortly after Harman Blennerhassett left the island to join Aaron Burr, President Jefferson sent Wood County (Virginia) Militia to invade Blennerhassett Island, "to end the plans of Aaron Burr and Harman Blennerhassett to lead a group of settlers to establish a colony on the Baron Bastrop lands in the Southwest"; The Militia looted & badly damaged the Blennerhassett's house, capturing his wife Margaret; she fled downriver on 17-Dec-1806.
Their furniture was sold to local people at two auctions held in 1807. The house was accidentally burned by slaves in 1811. Their part of the island was sold in 1817.
In 1984 Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park commenced reconstruction of the house, on the foundations of the original but raised a few feet higher to protect against flooding. The Blennerhassett Mansion opened to the public in 1991. The Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History was opened by BIHSP in 1988 at nearby at Parkersburg, West Virginia. Ray Swick, historian for West Virginia State Parks, has an unparalleled knowledge of Blennerhassett Island and written several book on the island and its history.
The city of Parkersburg lies on the east bank of the Ohio River, across the water from "Blennerhassett Island" (also in Wood County, West Virginia) and from the city of Belpre (in Washington County, Ohio).  The Parkersburg community directly opposite the island is known as Blennerhassett and over the years several businesses and institutions and in the Belpre/Parkersburg/Blennerhassett area have taken their name from that island (examples here). The Blennerhassett Hotel in Parkersburg has been an important local landmark since 1889 and is listed by "Historic Hotels of America". 



This view of Blennerhassett Island in the Ohio River, with Parkersburg, West Virginia in the distance, shows a glimse of the wooden house built c1835 on the foundation of  the north dependancy or wing of the Blennerhassett mansion.
A print from a steelplate engraving by F. E. Jones, titled Blennerhassetts Island, published in “The Ladies' Repository” vol.19, Issue 2, Feb.1859, pp.97-99, to illustrate a paper titled “Blennerhassett's Island” by Rev.W.B.Watkins of Cincinnati. 
Henri Lovie (1829-1875) was a portrait painter, landscape painter and illustrator at Cincinnati, Ohio and the publisher of this engraving "Blennerhassetts Island", which view was taken from an original sketch by Lizzie Forbes. A painting of this same view, perhaps the original sketch by Forbes, sold c2000 in the U.S for $10,000.

click on image to enlarge  
This is the earliest known representation of the Blennerhassett Mansion, used to illustate
sheet music titled Blennerhasset's March & Quick Step, published 1847.
 the image used here is as reproduced in
"An Island Called Eden: The Story of Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett"
by Ray Swick, Historian for West Virginia State Parks
(edition of 2000, Ch.3 "Building Paradise", opposite p.15)
image copyright © 2000-2010 Library of Congress 

Furniture from the Mansion on Blennerhassett Island  
click on image for further information...
"The True Story of Harman Blennerhassett" by Therese Blennerhassett-Adams 1901, published in "The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine" vol.LXII, new series vol.XL, July 1901, pp.351-6
Minnie Kendall Lowther author of "Blennerhassett Island in Romance and Tragedy" 1936  

List of Books & Articles about Blennerhassett Island to be found at West Virginia State Archives Library

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