A Guide to the Jonathan B. Beckwith Letters, 1861, 1866 Beckwith, Jonathan B., Letters Ms2009-063

A Guide to the Jonathan B. Beckwith Letters, 1861, 1866

A Collection in
Special Collections
Collection Number Ms2009-063


Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

© 2009 By Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. All rights reserved.

Processed by: Kira A. Dietz Special Collections Staff

Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.
Collection Number
Jonathan B. Beckwith Letters 1861, 1866
Physical Characteristics
1 folder; 0.1 cu. ft.
Beckwith, John B.
The collection contains two letters to relatives by Beckwith. In the 1861 letter, Beckwith writes of the burgeoning Civil War in Virginia and what he has heard about actions in surrounding states. The 1866 letter refers to family business and Beckwith's views on ante- and post-bellum West Virginia.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Collection is open to research.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish material from the Jonathan B. Beckwith Letters must be obtained from Special Collections, Virginia Tech.

Preferred Citation

Researchers wishing to cite this collection should include the following information: Jonathan B. Beckwith Letters, 1861, 1866, Ms2009-063 - Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.

Acquisition Information

The Jonathan B. Beckwith Letters were purchased by Special Collections in March 2009.

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement, and description of the Jonathan B. Beckwith Letters commenced and was completed in April 2009.

Biographical Information

Jonathan Brockenbrough Beckwith was born in Virginia in June of 1800. His paternal great-grandfather, Sir Marmaduke Beckwith, a baronet, settled in Virginia in 1748 and became a merchant. His parents, Marmaduke Brockenbrough Beckwith and Rebecca Beckwith, cousins, were both born in Richmond. They were married in 1795. Jonathan Beckwith was their second son, younger brother to Francis Marion.

Sometime between 1830 and 1835, Beckwith married Margaret (Margarette) Dawkins (1802-1855), also a Virginia native. They had four children: Francis William (1836-1884), John B (b. 1840?), Roma Rebecca (1843-1924), and Roxa (sometimes Rosa) Ellen (1846-1927). Beckwith was a farmer in Parkersburg, Virginia (later Parkersburg, Wood County, West Virginia). In one of his letters, he also refers to having spent three years in a clerk's office, though he does not say during what part of his life. He is listed as a slave owner in 1850 and although he does not appear on the 1860 Federal Census Slave Schedules, his letters reveal clear Confederate bias and a dislike for the "abolitionists and their allies here the union men as they call themselves."

In 1863, a portion of land in Parkersburg reportedly belonging to Jonathan B. Beckwith (although it may have been the possession of his brother or the extended Beckwith family in the region) was confiscated by the US government. The land was noted to be the property of someone "of doubtful loyalty to the Union," which makes this Beckwith the likely owner. Construction began on Fort Boreman in May. Beckwith's younger son, John, served in Company E ("Border Rangers"), 8th Virginia Cavalry of the Confederate army as a private, then sergeant. Conflicting sources report he was either killed in action during the battle of Fisher's Hill, September 22, 1864 or he survived the war and died in Wood County, West Virginia at a later date.

Following the Civil War, the Beckwith family did reclaim the property that housed Fort Boreman. Jonathan B. Beckwith faced a number of lawsuits and railed against West Virginia and the local government in an 1866 letter. Although he professes a desire to sell his land and leave (if not for the legal predicaments), he remained in Wood County for the rest of his life. He died in 1891.

The identity of the recipient of both letters is uncertain, as Jennings was a family name among several generations of Beckwiths. Since Beckwith addresses the second letter to "Uncle," the most likely candidate is his father's brother Jennings. Little information, however, is available on this particular Jennings Beckwith, other than his parentage. His parents (and therefore Jonathan B. Beckwith's paternal grandparents) were Marmaduke (1734-1801) and Sybel (Sybil) (Ellzey or Elsie) Beckwith (1740-1825).

Additional information from:
Matheny, H.E. Wood County in Civil War Times, Wish an Account of the Guerrilla Warfare in the Little Kanawha Valley. Parkersburg, WV: Trans-Allegheny Books, Inc., 1987.
Dickinson, Jack L. 8th Virginia Cavalry. The Virginia Regimental Histories Series. Lynchburg, VA: H.E. Howard, 1986.

Scope and Content

The collection contains two letters to a relative by Beckwith. Both letters feature discussion of family business. Beckwith is attempting to act as an agent for a family member interested in estates in Virginia, but writes of how local troubles seem to be preventing him from success in 1861 and 1866. What dominates Beckwith's letters are his sentiments towards the charged climate in Virginia in 1861 and his dissatisfaction with post-bellum Virginia and West Virginia in 1866.

The 1861 letter is to Jennings Beckwith in Texas. The letter opens with talk of business. Beckwith details his inability to find a lawyer to represent Jenning's interest in the Summers estate. He also admits that while he is capable of examining the paperwork involved, he is not able to travel to Putnam County due to poor weather, and perhaps more importantly, because Virginia is "just on the eve of a civil war along the border here." Beckwith writes of the growing militias, the rumors of aid from sympathetic states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, and application of the "infernal traitors" to Lincoln for troops. He mentions leaving the area with his wife and daughters, but cannot think of a safe place to take them. At the same time, he emphasizes his and his sons' staunch support of "the Old Commonwealth" versus those "against the south" around Parkersburg. Beckwith's brief return to business is again interrupted by his observations on the troop concentrations in Virginia and his fears about losing his land to northern soldiers, who may receive it as a reward for service. He closes with descriptions of what he has heard of happenings in "Meriland" [sic] and promises to write updates as the action progresses.

The 1866 letter to "Uncle" centers around Beckwith's concerns about the lawsuits he is facing. His uncle's interests in the Summers estate are still uncertain, as everything has been delayed by the war. Beckwith writes of his dislike for the officials and government in West Virginia and (again) of leaving. He ends the letter with an update on his family. The postscript refers to the will of "Uncle William"–likely Jonathan's father's brother, William Beckwith.


The collection is arranged chronologically.

Index Terms


  • Civil War
  • Local/Regional History and Appalachian South
  • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865

Contents List

Folder 1
Letter to Jennings Beckwith, 1861; Letter to "Uncle," 1866