Story of Ephraim Bee

BY: ALTON CHILDERS

Ephraim Bee [1802 - 1888] One of 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 month's 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 story teller 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 had 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 Norwestern 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, 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 observing the number of children playing about, said that it had never before been his pleasure to dine in a "Bee Hive." For years, afterwards 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, age 86. Place of burial Cabin Run Cemetery.
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