Upshur offers rich history: Dr. David S. Pinnell

BUCKHANNON — This series of regular articles explores aspects of Upshur County’s history, culture, or people honored by the West Virginia Highway Historical Marker Program. The state register lists 20 of these iconic white plaques in Upshur County, and each article will present as much information on the subject as can be found. This fifth installment discusses the local statesman, David S. Pinnell, whose historical marker is among the newest in the county, erected in 2019.

Details on Pinnell’s personal life are scant; records indicate he was born June 9, 1812, in Greenbrier County. On December 1, 1831, he married Catherine Wolfenbarger, originally of Berlin in modern-day Germany, and had eight children with her. According to the University of Virginia, David was a member of the Whig Party and campaigned for presidential candidate Winfield Scott in 1852; he is also said to have owned at least one slave and $1,500 in real estate, equivalent to over $54,000 today. He was a prominent doctor in the Buckhannon area, and during the Main Street fire of 1855, he is said to have lost his “office, books, and medicine.”

Pinnell served as an assistant surgeon with the third (West) Virginia Cavalry during the Civil War, joining in 1862. He also served as a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention in 1863, filling the vacancy caused by the resignation of Richard L. Brooks. A letter from Pinnell’s son, Philip, dated December 9, 1864, asked that he would return home from the army to see Catherine, who was sick with typhoid pneumonia; evidently, he returned by the end of the war, serving in the West Virginia Legislature from 1865-69. Catherine would survive her brush with illness, living until 1873.

As a politician, Pinnell would serve as the third Speaker of the House for the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1866-68, now as a Republican. From this position, Pinnell would lobby for Buckhannon to be named as the permanent site of West Virginia’s state capital; while this motion would ultimately fail, this is supposedly the reason why Buckhannon has streets named after every West Virginia county. Additionally, Pinnell Street, connecting West Lincoln and Franklin Streets, is named in David’s honor.

Pinnell was eventually appointed as Consul to Australia, following Col. George R. Latham, another resident of Upshur County honored with a historical marker. Pinnell set sail for Melbourne in May 1869, along with his wife and Clark Heavner, his assistant. However, Pinnell’s consulship seems to have been cut short, as in May 1871, he was on his way back to America. Most likely, this was due to Catherine’s declining health, as she died on April 16, 1873, in Buckhannon.

In 1874, Pinnell was listed as living in Martinsburg and, in that same year, married a widow from Clarksburg, Isabelle F. Smith. He died at his son’s Buckhannon home on August 31, 1885, and his buried in Leonard Cemetery next to Catherine.


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