Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking



As you are no doubt aware, this weekend Doddridge County will be enjoying the Ephraim Bee Festival 2023. Doddridge County citizens are certain to take in some long-awaited and most-needed socializing with their local friends and neighbors, as well as new friends that they haven’t yet met. Some of the friends of whom I speak include the famous E Clampus Vitus members “Clampers” from CA, NC, MI, and elsewhere.
It is for this reason that I chose to revisit the life and times of Ephraim Bee. Just who was Ephraim Bee? I hope you enjoy our walk down memory lane. If you haven’t heard of him, let me familiarize you with the legend and the man through an article written by Dr. Alton Childers. He wrote in an article for this newspaper the following:
“Ephraim Bee [1802 – 1888] One of the early settlers of West Union.”
In the past, when checking some needed information about Doddridge County, I would often see the name Ephraim Bee. Especially in Hardesty’s Historical & Geographical Encyclopedia (1833) and in Jim Comstock’s reprinting of Hardesty’s Doddridge County (1973). Also, Joseph H. Diss Debar in his Reminiscences of Doddridge County (1893) relates information about Ephraim Bee and his family.
I came to admire this man highly and planned to write about him. But I had no picture to go with his story. Since several of his descendants live in this area, I was hoping that someday I could locate his photograph. Recently I had the good fortune to be talking with Mrs. Nellie Smith, whose husband was the late Forest B. Smith. She told me she had Ephraim Bee’s picture and information which I could use.
Most of the following was written by H.H. Hardesty in 1883. Ephraim Bee came of sturdy pioneer stock. He was the son of Asa Bee, a Revolutionary War soldier who was born at Salem, New Jersey. His father’s family joined the westward movement of the Seventh Day Baptists. After a brief stop in Preston & Taylor Counties, they established their home at Salem, West Virginia. Ephraim’s mother was Rhoda (Cox) Bee. Asa & Rhoda Bee had thirteen children.
Ephraim was born on Dec. 26, 1802. At the age of 19 he came to Doddridge County, living here the rest of his life.
On June 19, 1823, he married Catherine Davis. They had ten children: Josiah, Keziah, Amos, Stinnet, Wickliff, and Ephraim W., Houston C., Augustus J., Martha Louisa (Smith) and Edmund S.
His second wife was Mary Welch (Bee). Their marriage was March 27, 1853. They had seven children: Mary E., John, Hannah, Susan, Rachel, West Virginia, and Tabitha.
The fifth daughter of his second marriage was born on the day Pres. Abraham Lincoln signed the proclamation or bill making West Virginia a state; hence her name was West Virginia Bee.
In 1883, H. H. Hardesty [History of Doddridge County] wrote: “Ephraim Bee is a self-made man, having had but four months of schooling in all of his life. He held district offices, was a magistrate, a postmaster. He had a blacksmith shop (near the present railroad bridge in West Union) for thirty-five years, making everything – guns, cowbells, augurs, etc. He has in his possession a gimlet he made when he was nineteen years old and is a good one yet.”
(Please note: In 1976 Floyd Crouse gave me an old newspaper clipping 6om the West Union Herald. In it A.A. Bee had written: “The first bridge across Middle Island Creek was of hewed logs with a center abutment of stones. In the great flood of 1835 if’ was washed away.”
In 1842 a contract was awarded to build a new covered bridge. Ephraim Bee at that time had a hotel and blacksmith shop on what is now known as Block House Hill. He made all the bolts and bands for the bridge which was completed in 1843. “)
In 1863 Ephraim Bee was elected to be a member of the first West Virginia Legislature. He helped make the state’s first laws. He served a second term in the legislature in 1866 and a third in 1867.
“To the people of Central West Virginia, Ephraim Bee was a personage, combining the qualities of a shrewd wit and love of fun, with a keen eye for value in a horse trade or a deal in land. To the younger generation he has become something of a legend, so great and widespread was his fame.”
Ephraim had a reputation as a great storyteller and practical joker. Hardesty wrote: “Lincoln & Bee had more in common than a sense of humor. They were both long, lean, and lanky and with faces that could not be termed handsome by their dearest and closest friends. They were saved from ugliness by a sense of humor and softened, kindly eyes that lit up and redeemed an otherwise unprepossessing appearance.”
Along this line of having fun, Ephraim established a secret order of his own, called E. Clampus Vitus, and with a ritual similar to existing orders. His goal was to produce a grin where only a grouch had flourished.
This order was quite a success, too lengthy to describe here. It was started at West Union perhaps as early as 1850 “By 1853 it was being introduced to other towns and had won a very considerable following of zealous members.” A report of the activities was recorded in the “Weston Herald for Nov. 28, 1953.
“In 1828 Ephraim Bee established himself as a blacksmith on Blockhouse Hill (Lewisport). His business was good. To add to his family income, Ephraim and his good wife opened a tavern for the entertainment of travelers. The hostelry became justly popular and was soon made a stagecoach stop (on Northwestern Turnpike). Here the passengers broke the tedium of their journey with food and drink.”
One of those travelers was Joseph H. Diss Debar (designer of W.Va. State Seal.) He wrote of the excellent quality of food, saying that he had a smoking hot dinner of boiled ham, greens, mashed potatoes, dried peach pie, and store tea; all of a quality to be gratefully remembered…. When he settled his modest bill and learned that the proprietor’s name was Bee and observed the number of children playing about, said that it had never before been his pleasure to dine in a “Beehive.” For years, afterward, the inn was known by that name.
Certainly, for his accomplishments, Ephraim Bee was a remarkable man. An item in the West Union Record in 1885 stated that “Honorable
Ephraim Bee, one of the first settlers in this area & now an old & respected citizen of this county is dangerously ill at his home on Cabin Run. He died on Oct. 23, 1888, at age 86. Place of burial Cabin Run Cemetery.”

Another interesting incident occurred when a large rattlesnake was killed on Ephraim Bee’s farm at Oxford during the summer of 1854 due to a newspaper article that stated it was 5’ 10” long and 7” in circumference. It weighed in at 9.75 lbs. with fangs measuring 2.5”. The article stated that a large hawk, which was then only about 2’ from it, and gazing steadily at it. The giant rattlesnake met his fate that day. It was front-page news on July 26, 1854.
Last week’s article had such a one-sided slant to it, that one could easily see the political bias of the journalist who wrote it back in 1870. (That’s right. They even did it back then.)
This week, I felt it necessary to publish another article giving a kinder view on our early founder. (Written here exactly as published, errors included):

Daily Intelligencer, Wheeling, WV, July 18, 1863

“The First West Va. Legislature”
Sketches Personal, Political and Biographical.
EPHRAIM BEE, from Doddridge.
Ephraim Bee, the member from Doddridge, was born December 26, 1802, and is therefore in his sixty-first year. He is a native of what is now Marion County; and was born in a house no longer standing, on what is now known as the “Reynear Hall farm” immediately opposite Benton’s Ferry, on the Tygart’s Valley river. His father built the first boat ever used at that ferry. His parents were from Salem county, New Jersey, and returned thither when Ephraim was about two years old and remained for about thirteen years. They then returned to Virginia and located in Preston county, and his father died there, leaving a widow and twelve children. Ephraim was bound out to a blacksmith to learn the trade, and got along so fast that in three years he left his boss to get along the best he could, and went to Elk creek in Harrison county and worked a while at “Jackson’s Forge,” belonging to Judge Jackson of Clarksburg. – From there he shortly after went to Pruntytown, in Taylor county, and there bought a set of blacksmith’s tools on credit and removed to Doddridge county to a place called Middle Island, situated on the creek of that name. Soon afterward he married, (to Catherine Davis) still before the age of twenty.
For thirty years (from the time of going to the trade) Mr. Bee worked at the forge, and as there can be no higher praise than to say that a man excels in his calling, it is proper to say that Mr. Bee was an excellent blacksmith, the best in all his region of country, and was patronized from far and near. During twenty years of this time, he kept a house of public entertainment or “tavern,” and for several years was engaged in merchandizing – was blacksmith, tavern keeper, and merchant, at the same time. He was besides mail contractor for many years, and a magistrate. In 1852 he abandoned blacksmithing and moved upon the farm where he now lives. Latterly has been jobbing in lands and owns many thousand of acres of wild lands in that region.
Mr. Bee opposed the secession of Virginia from the time it was first talked of; and was the first man on the waters of Hughes’ river, in the spring of ’61, before the passage of the ordinance, to raise the stars and stripes over his house. He also began the organization of the first home guard company raised in his county, and has been a member of it ever since. He of course voted against the ordinance of secession, and exerted his influence in the same direction. He also voted for a division of the State in October, ’61 – for the constitution when first adopted, and for the amended constitution.
Politically, he was always a democrat, up to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise by the Kansas-Nebraska bill. The first, second, and third votes he ever gave were for Gen. Jackson. The Kansas-Nebraska business put him out with the democratic party, and he voted in ’56 for Fillmore, and in ’60 for Bell and Everett. Has always until recently been a strongly pr-slavery man, but never owned but one slave. When the rebellion broke out he deprecated the agitation of that question, but as soon as he discovered that slavery was at the bottom of the rebellion and was forcing a bloody war on the country, his convictions underwent a complete change. He voted for the constitution with the emancipation amendment in it, favored the President’s proclamation last September; and wants every Southern State in the rebellion to be brought back as free States, and to let slavery alone in the border States to be managed as they see fit. He would be glad if today Virginia were free soil from the Allegheny to the tide-water, and if West Virginia had not a negro in it. He is even in favor of arming the negroes, and making them help whip the rebels into subjection. Wouldn’t give twenty-five cents for a hundred of the best negroes he ever saw, and taken altogether may be set down as a pretty strong anti slavery man at this time. He is so strong a Union man that he told the people when electioneering last spring that he was for sustaining the government if it took every man in the country to do it, and the government had to be carried on by the women and children.
Mr. Bee is not connected with any Christian denomination, though he was at an early age a member of the Seventh-day Baptist Church. He has been married twice and has fourteen children living.
His claim to a seat in the House is contested by Mr. J. H. Diss Debar. The matter is undergoing examination by the committee on elections, & c. The probabilities are that Mr. Bee will be allowed to retain his seat.
In person Mr. Bee is about five feet ten or eleven inches in stature, and of large muscular frame. Shaves smooth and wears his hair, which is light colored, and slightly tinged with grey, cut very short; eyes light blue, and face rather striking but not handsome. In conversation talks incessantly and with a peculiar tone of voice which runs up an octave about the middle of each sentence leaving upon the hearer an impression of grief. Has an inexhaustible fund of humor and anecdote for all places and occasions, and is therefore the centre of every circle he happens to get into. Is quite as widely known in Western Virginia as many men who have spent their lives in public station. Is the founder, and was for a number of years the “Grand Lama” of the celebrated order of the “E Clampus Vitus,” which at one time prevailed very extensively over this region of country. Spent the winter of ’57-8 at Richmond, and while there initiated the greater part of the Legislature, a number of the state officials, and many gentlemen of distinction from various Southern States into the “Celestial order.” Had Henry A. Wise set down for initiation, but he was prevented from joining by William L. Jackson “(at present threatening our frontier with a force of guerrillas) who spoke disparagingly to Wise concerning the character of the order and the ceremonies of initiation. Since coming to Wheeling Mr. Bee has been repeatedly requested to revive the order of the “mystic scroll” and open a lodge here for the benefit of the Legislature and favored outsiders, and he has about consented to do so.
In the House Mr. Bee is attentive to business, always in his seat, is frequently upon the floor, but does not speak long at a time. In Committee he is a working member, but somewhat of a drawback on account of his fund of anecdote upon which members are prone to draw when more serious business is in order.”
For many years, Ephraim Bee tried to establish E Clampus Vitus lodges, which he claimed to have originated in Hong Kong, China all over this region, including Gilmer County, and considered one in Wheeling. He lectured on ECV often and was quite successful in his efforts to establish it. He offered hope and laced it with laughter for all common, hardworking men who were brought up the same way that he was and were dedicated to amount to something; that they too were important and their opinions on important matters would be heard, at least by this delegate.

A marker was placed by fellow “Clampers” several years ago identifying the approx. location of the Beehive tavern and blacksmith shop on the east side of West Union below Blockhouse.
God Bless
Patricia Richards Harris, President
Doddridge County Historical Society