9_an ambitious importer and ship-owner
Image by Jim Surkamp
Money Wizard R. D. Shepherd and His Fabled Building – McMurran Hall, Shepherdstown, WV by Jim Surkamp
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Patriarch R. D. Shepherd’s Homecoming 1859
1_About how a young boy from Shepherdstown
About how a young boy from Shepherdstown built a massive fortune through work, smarts and an act of his own heroism for another; then, turns around and gives much of it back as McMurran Hall, an Almshouse in New Orleans and other gifts.
2_R. D. Shepherd had a strict, flinty way
R. D. Shepherd had a strict, flinty way, but on paper and in the world at large did his huge generosities stand tall, pervade the landscape and enrich the hearts of humanity.
Seventy-five-year-old Rezin Davis Shepherd, described by the New Orleans Picayune as having “the largest and most productive estate which has ever been held by one person in this city and State” – began the construction Thursday, October 6th, 1859 of a gift to his home town, this time right on lot no. 1 in Shepherdstown, the very lot where he was born in August 1, 1784.
4_Who knew that in ten fleeting day
Who knew that in ten fleeting days – October 16th – history would be blown off its hinges by the John Brown raiders’ attack fifteen miles away at Harpers Ferry, the match that lit the simmering fever of division between
5_North and South over slavery
North and South over slavery and claimed rights to secede from the Union. The tempest raged back and forth over the county and the town for 1300 hundred days of pitiless strife and war before settling back into being a barren, alien landscape.
RD’s (“RD” henceforth for “Rezin Davis Shepherd”) building – beautiful as were all his buildings remains a Greek Revival style, with a two-story-portico and Corinthian flourishes. But in the 1860s, it would bear witness to all that was rent asunder and itself narrowly avoid destruction, unlike a less lucky altruistic juggernaut project of Shepherd’s in New Orleans – the palatial Almshouse. But this, RD’s Town Hall, first named, would eventually live a “long, happy life” first as the County Court, then into its present-day majesty as the signature building of Shepherd University.
Growing Up – RD Learns the Trade:
7_When he was just nine years old
8_placed him in the store and counting house
When he was just nine years old, RD’s father, Abraham, placed him in the store and counting house in Baltimore of William Taylor,
9_an ambitious importer and ship-owner
an ambitious importer and ship-owner. RD’s incredible gifts surfaced when he – just eighteen – was sent to New Orleans to assure a good return on a huge shipment of British goods his firm had purchased for New Orleans’ customers. Then his first big “killing” was with another fresh-faced, hard-driving Taylor colleague, James McDonough. Wrote the Picayune: In October, 1803, it was well known throughout the country that Louisiana had been purchased by the United States. Mr. Taylor was the only merchant who seemed to comprehend the profit from one consequence of the this great political event.
10_in becoming a state
11_all sugar imports thereafter
12_cornered 1800 of those hogsheads
The firm realized that in becoming a state, a duty of 2.5 cents would be added to the price of all sugar imports thereafter. So Shepherd and McDonough – when all the sugar produced in the state was between 2100-2200 hogsheads – cornered 1800 of those hogsheads, giving young RD “a handsome capital for a young man to start in mercantile life.” He soon created a new firm shared with Taylor, then in time through age and retirement became RD’s alone.
13_Coming into his own
Coming into his own, he married Lucy Taylor Gorham of Barnstable, Massachusetts in 1808, who was “a niece and adopted daughter” of Taylor. On August 22nd, 1809, their only child, Ellen Shepherd, was born in Louisiana. (Lucy would die in 1814).
14_the penchant of RD
It was at this juncture the penchant of RD for regular, publicity-averse benefactions took root, in the moment of his willed defiance against a direct military order to work, instead, to save one particular wounded man, left for dead in war, a man who himself would live on to become the epitome of the proverbial Good Man, albeit
15_His name was Judah Touro
extraordinarily wealthy. His name was Judah Touro, a top-hatted, but humble Jewish businessman who believed in respect for all religions and daily applications of the code of good works. He was beloved throughout his circles and region as “the Israelite without guile.”
Wrote Author Colyar:
16_Wrote Author Colyar
17_carrying ammunition on the battle field
While carrying ammunition on the battle field Jan. 1, 1815 Mr. Touro was struck by a 12-pound shot which tore
19_a large mass of flesh from the thigh
a large mass of flesh from the thigh and prostrated him among the dead and dying. Mr. Rezin Shepherd, was carrying a special order from Commodore Patterson across the river to the main army. On reaching the bank he met a friend, who told him his friend Touro was dead. Inquiring where he was, Shepherd was informed that he had been taken to
an old building in the rear of Jackson’s headquarters. Forgetting his orders, Mr. Shepherd went immediately to the place and found he was not dead, but, as the surgeon said, in a dying condition. Disregarding what the surgeon said, Shepherd got a cart, put him in it, administered stimulants, and took Touro to his own house. He then procured nurses, and by the closest attention, Mr. Touro’s life was saved. Mr. Shepherd returned late in the day,
21_Commodore Patterson in a bad humor
having performed his mission, to find Commodore Patterson in a bad humor, and, speaking severely to him, the latter said: “Commodore, you can hang or shoot me, and it will be all right, but my best friend needed my assistance, and nothing on earth could have induced me to neglect him.”
RD’s businesses continued to grow exponentially and his brother, James Hervey Shepherd, was summoned from Shepherdstown to assist.
22_Shepherd, was summoned from Shepherdstown to assist.
1817-1837 – RD travels to Europe, settles in Boston doting on his daughter’s education.
23_1822 – RD maintained his businesses
24_at 5 Pearl Street and nearby 28 Indian Wharf house.
1822 – RD maintained his businesses and shipping concerns at 5 Pearl Street and nearby 28 Indian Wharf house.
25_her portrait painted by Thomas Sully
26_Gilbert Stuart is commissioned to paint his own portrait
He has her portrait painted by Thomas Sully in 1831, a few years after Gilbert Stuart is commissioned to paint his own portrait. (Stuart died in 1828).
1829, April 20 – Ellen Shepherd marries Gorham Brooks of Medford, Massachusetts.
1834 – RD commissions Samuel Fuller to build the 480-ton merchant ship in Medford, named after his daughter, the “Ellen Brooks.”
27_James Hervey Shepherd dies
1837 – James Hervey Shepherd dies. RD returns to run businesses in New Orleans.
1837, July 23 – Ellen (Shepherd) Brooks and her husband, usually in Boston or Medford, temporarily reside in Baltimore.
28_nephew, Henry Shepherd Jr.
1837-1865 – RD’s nephew, Henry Shepherd Jr., who was brought up in his uncle’s counting room, gradually assumes the role as RD’s agent in New Orleans.
29_painting of the ship the “Ellen Brooks” is completed
1839 – RD’s commissioned painting of the ship the “Ellen Brooks” is completed, attributed to Samuel Walters (British, 1811-1882), called “Ellen Brooks, Off Holyhead, Homeward Bound.”
1841 – RD buys 468 acres of land and begins building Wild Goose Farm, but not yet living there full-time; he also pays for most of the remodeling of the original Trinity Episcopal Church in Shepherdstown.
1842, June – RD signs a petition to Congress along with numerous other planters and sugar manufacturers in the state of Louisiana that asks for an increase in the duties on imported sugar.
1849 – RD places responsibilities on his eighteen-year-old nephew, Henry Shepherd Jr., who would become his agent in New Orleans through the Civil War, allowing RD to return more permanently to his Wild Goose Farm.
30_Wild Goose Farm
31_the 1850 Census shows
32_1850 and 1860 Census slave schedules
1850 – In Shepherdstown & Wild Goose Farm; the 1850 Census shows 66-year-old RD with a period worth of 0,000, living only with workmen: 26-year-old German-born master stonemason Conrad Smith and an overseer. Although one account states Touro stipulated that RD free his enslaved persons, RD is shown to having owned numerous persons, enumerated in both the 1850 and 1860 Census slave schedules.
1854, January 6th – Touro’s Will makes Rezin Davis Shepherd residuary legatee of the estate and executor; 5,000 is willed to specific recipients. A sum iof ,000 is set aside for a palatial almshouse, with the added stipulation to RD that more sums, if needed, should be used to complete this priority project.
Judah Touro made out his will January 6, 1854 a few days before his death that said:
33_my dear, old, and devoted friend, Rezin Davis Shepherd
34_I hereby appoint and institute him
As regards my other designated executor, say my dear, old, and devoted friend, Rezin Davis Shepherd, to whom, under Divine Providence, I am greatly indebted for the preservation of my life when I was wounded on the 1st of January, 1815, I hereby appoint and institute him, the said Rezin Davis Shepherd, after payment of my particular legacies, and the debts of my succession, the universal legatee of the rest and residue of my estates, movable and immovable.
35_funded remodeling of the Trinity
RD continued his projects both in New Orleans and Shepherdstown. He had already funded remodeling of the Trinity
36_planned a clock and bell to its original church
Episcopal Church. He planned a clock and bell to its original church then after some legal squabbling – the clock – to everyone’s assent – was reassigned to be inserted in to the new government building.
The Shepherd Family is Scattered By War:
37_The war hit the family hard
The war hit the family hard. Most of the young men enlisted in Virginia units. RD had to recalibrate his business strategies. Wrote the Richmond Daily Dispatch: June 8, 1861:
The New Orleans Delta states that R. D. Shepherd, Esq., who is now at an advanced time of life, living on his beautiful farm near Shepherdstown, Virginia, has directed his agent in New Orleans to pay over to the treasurer of the Confederate States a large sum of money, including, it is said, his whole annual income from rents in that city — the largest income enjoyed by any property holder — to be applied to the defence of the rights and the support of the independence of the South.
38_spring of 1862 when Federal General Banks
In the spring of 1862 when Federal General Banks with his army entered into Jefferson County, RD took refuge in Boston with his daughter.
39_As the war progressed
As the war progressed, its maw of destruction came closer to Shepherdstown’s nearly complete building. 130,000 troops moved in the area in September, 1862 for the bloody Maryland Campaign, just across the Potomac river. Wounded from the nearby battles poured into Shepherdstown, putting the unfinished Town Hall into service as an outdoor hospital.
Wrote Mary Bedinger Mitchell:
40_The unfinished Town Hall had stood in naked ugliness
The unfinished Town Hall had stood in naked ugliness for many a long day. Somebody threw a few rough boards across the beams, placed piles of straw over them, laid down single planks to walk upon, and lo, it was a hospital at once.
There were six churches and they were all full, the barn-like place known as the Drill Room, all the private houses after their capacity, the shops and empty buildings, the school-houses – every inch of space and yet the cry was for more room.
We went about our work with pale faces and trembling hands, yet trying to appear composed for the sake of our patients, who were much excited. We could hear the incessant explosions of artillery, the shrieking whistles of the shells, and the sharper, deadlier more thrilling roll of musketry; while every now and then the echo of some charging cheer would come, borne by the wind, and as the human voice would pierce that demoniacal clangor we would catch out breath and listen, and try not to sob, and turn back to the forlorn hospitals, to the suffering at our feet and before our eyes while imagination fainted at the thought of those other scenes hidden from us beyond the Potomac.
Had Federal General George McClellan crossed the Potomac and pursued General Lee’s scattered and mauled army, as historians have much criticized him since for not doing, Shepherdstown would have likely suffered greater damage, but, as it was, shells landed in the yards of the Lees and Morgans and one or two even hit Shepherd’s new Town Hall, but were of little consequence.
Property Losses in New Orleans:
41_RD’s fine residence at 18 Bourbon Street
42_18 Bourbon Street in New Orleans
More invasive, improvised use was being made of RD’s fine residence at 18 Bourbon Street in New Orleans, causing his nephew to formally appeal to the Federal powers-that-be in early 1864. He wrote:
43_From Brig. General James Bowen
January 29, 1864
From Brig. General James Bowen
Provost Marshal General
Department of the Gulf.
The undersigned acting as the duly authorized agent and attorney in fact of Rezin Davis Shepherd, formerly the State of Virginia, but for more than eight months past residing with his daughter Mrs. Gorham Brooks in the city of Boston and State of Massachusetts, respectfully represents: That the said Shepherd is a loyal citizen of the United States and the true and lawful owner of the Brick Dwelling No. 18 Bourbon Street between Canal and Custom House Streets in the City of New Orleans and also of all the furniture and contents thereof: that in the month of June, 1862 Col. Stafford without show of authority, placed in possession of said house and contents, a man by the name of Horton or Houghton, who has ever since occupied and now occupied and uses the same as a Boarding House, and who never has paid any rent or compensation there and continually refused to do so.
Under the circumstances, the undersigned respectfully appeals to you, General, for relief, and asks that the matter be referred to Capt. Edward Page and Thomas Tileston, or other of them for investigation and that the aforesaid premises and contents be restored to the possession of the owner without delay; Henry Shepherd Jr.
Like The Town Hall, the huge, magnificent Almshouse in New Orleans remained unfinished, to be hit by a worse fate. Shepherd was charged by Touro’s will to first put ,00 toward its construction, then be prepared to put more money into its construction- including even some of Shepherd’s own funds – as recipient of Touro’s residue.
44_occupied by detachments of the 2nd Maine Cavalry
45_The fire started
46_Baked beans fired the building
On September 1, 1865, at a time the Almshouse in New Orleans – still with an unfinished, floorless top floor – was occupied by detachments of the 2nd Maine Cavalry and Company K, First Louisiana Cavalry. A baking oven was in heavy use at one end of the building so that heat would be carried through a fissure in a ventilation system close by. The fire started in the rafters above the third floor. It was night-time with a high wind and no flooring yet laid for the third floor in that wing. Coals dripping from the fire then ignited tar on the lower walls. “Baked beans fired the building” said one from the 2nd Maine Cavalry. The building was uninsured. Just a few months later R. D. Shepherd died of typhoid fever, November 10, 1865, no longer the executor of the estate, leaving no philanthropist to help make up the loss.
Wrote the editors of the Times-Picayune in a long obituary:
In his native village he erected a splendid building, designed for a town hall, also a large academy, with beautiful grounds and a walk. He also deposited with the Mayor annually a large sum to buy fuel and provisions for the poor. He also erected the largest and most costly church in Jefferson County. Many other acts of public and private benevolence were performed by him in his quiet, furtive manner.
With war ended and when he was still healthy, RD had urged that his Town Hall become the County Court since the Charlestown courthouse was a battle-scarred ruin, especially from a shelling it took in the fall of 1863.
A Visitor Contemplates Charlestown’s Ruined Courthouse in mid-1865:
47_the court-house, where that mockery of justice was performed, was a ruin
48_Four massive white brick pillars, still standing, supported a riddled roof
A short walk up into the centre of the town took us to the scene of John Brown’s trial. It was a consolation to see that the jail had been laid in ashes, and that the court-house, where that mockery of justice was performed, was a ruin abandoned to rats and toads. Four massive white brick pillars, still standing, supported a riddled roof, through which God’s blue sky and gracious sunshine smiled. The main portion of the building had been literally torn to pieces. In the floor-less hall of justice rank weeds were growing.
49_Names of Union soldiers were scrawled along the walls
Names of Union soldiers were scrawled along the walls. No torch had been applied to the wood-work, but the work of destruction had been performed by the hands of hilarious soldier-boys ripping up floors and pulling down laths and joists to the tune of “John Brown,” the swelling melody of the song, and the accompaniment of crashing partitions, reminding the citizens, who thought to have destroyed the old hero, that his soul was marching on. It was also a consolation to know that the court-house and jail would probably never be rebuilt, the county-seat having been removed from Charlestown to Shepherdstown — “forever,” say the resolute loyal citizens of Jefferson County, who rose to vote it back again.
50_either buried in Elmwood Cemetery or the Shepherd Burial Ground
The Shepherd boys who enlisted in Virginia companies each – over time – came home and were either buried in Elmwood Cemetery or the Shepherd Burial Ground – or lived.
51_Clarence Edward Shepherd
Clarence Edward Shepherd became a teacher in Maryland.
While RD’s nephew and agent, Henry Shepherd Jr. was in New Orleans during the war, minding the family interests, three of his brothers were at war. The eldest Rezin Davis, his older brother who had a young family
52_eldest Rezin Davis, his older brother who had a young family
since 1858, died of disease November 2, 1862 at his “river cottage” after imprisonment in the Old Capitol Prison for being an associate of Confederate spy, Redmond Burke. He left his widow, Elizabeth Boteler Stockton Shepherd, two children (Fannie and Alexandria) and a third (David) on the way. Probably first buried on his farm, Rezin Shepherd (a nephew of the patriarch) was reburied after peace came in the new Elmwood Cemetery. His site was joined by all his family as time unspooled.
53_twenty-five year-old Abraham
Henry Jr.’s next brother, twenty-five year-old Abraham, enlisted May 22nd, 1861, would move over to Co. F. of the 17th Virginia Cavalry, get wounded at the third battle of Winchester in September 19, 1864, and become a prisoner of war. But he survived the war and died many years later in 1907.
54_Henry Jr.’s younger brother, James Touro (Truro) Shepherd
Henry Jr.’s younger brother, James Touro (Truro) Shepherd, enlisted as a Private May 1st, 1861 in the 2nd Virginia Infantry. Like many, the rigors of marching under Gen. Stonewall Jackson proved an impetus to transfer out into a Cavalry regiment, and he joined Co. B of Gen. Stuart’s Horse Artillery under John Pelham, with a promotion to first lieutenant. His service record ends abruptly in the spring of 1862. The Shepherdstown Register in September, 1865 reported him having died in “Richmond City” in March, 1862. His marker dates his death as August 13, 1862, which may be the date of his re-internment into the family burial ground.
Two sons of James H. and his wife, Florence Hamtramck Shepherd were buried a few feet apart in the family burial ground on Shepherdstown’s New Street adjacent to the Episcopal rectory. Robert F. Shepherd, who joined Co. H, 2nd Va. Infantry, died May 4, 1862 of pneumonia.
55_Robert F. Shepherd, who joined Co. H, 2nd Va. Infantry
56_Alexander H. Shepherd
Alexander H. Shepherd, who enlisted when he was about twenty-eight April 4, 1861 in Co. H of the 2nd Virginia Infantry; he died of typhoid fever at Camp Harman near Fairfax Courthouse September 25-26, 1861.
57_Rezin Davis Shepherd was buried there too
Rezin Davis Shepherd was buried there too, in his own time.
He left all his fortune to his daughter, who, since 1855, had been a widow.
Wrote the Shepherdstown Register: A Large Estate – the late Rezin D. Shepherd left an estate valued at about ,500,000 all of which goes to his daughter, Mrs. Brooks of Boston. He was born in 1784 (on the lot where the court house would be built). In 1809 he went to New Orleans and engaged in the commission business until 1849 and was the executor of the estate of the late Judah Touro. Mr. Shepherd was formerly a merchant in this city, residing on High Street. He accumulated a very large property in New Orleans and was reputed to be one of the wealthiest men of that city. Upon the breaking out of the rebellion, he returned to Boston and resided for a short time with his daughter and sole heir, Mrs. Gorham Brooks, widow of a son of the late Peter C. Brooks. His estate on High Street was formerly, we believe the property of Samuel Dexter.
The Massachusetts Historical Society today displays a cannon donated by the family and acquired by RD – a smaller version of the one that so severely wounded RD’s friend, Judah Touro.
The visiting journalist Trowbridge was proven wrong – the county seat DID go back to the Charlestown Courthouse. Wrote the editors of the Charlestown-based newspaper, The Spirit of Jefferson, in 1894:
58_The Normal College building, formerly the town hall
The Normal College building, formerly the town hall, on Main Street, is a handsome structure, the gift of one of the Shepherd family, Rezin D. from which the town takes its name. You will remember that it was used as a court house since the war and the courts of Jefferson county were held there, one Judge Hall sitting on the bench. A political rape was perpetuated on Charlestown, the party in power, fitly termed radicals, thought they had a sure thing of it, built a jail and added a wing to either side of the town hall, but “the best laid schemes of mice and men gang af’t aglee.” The fellows that did all this mischief were turned down by the people and things took their normal shape and Charlestown was again the county seat.
Shepherd University began when the county seat of Jefferson County, West Virginia, was moved from Shepherdstown to Charles Town in July 1871. On February 27, 1872, the Legislature of West Virginia passed the following act: “That a branch of the State Normal School be and the same is hereby established at the building known as Shepherd College, in Shepherdstown, in the county of Jefferson.”
59_RD’s descendant, Shepherd Brooks
RD’s descendant, Shepherd Brooks, made it final when he deeded the property and building over to the School and a three-person board of trustees to maintain it.
As they say, settings reverse, the tide of life had gone out – and – came back in again.