"Parkersburgh, Virginia!"

By: Bruce Layman
By: Bruce Layman

A couple of old envelopes can provide hours of fascinating research - and some insight into the Mid-Ohio Valley!

Every now and then, I come across on eBay and at estate sales old letters and post office cancellations that have a unique spelling of "Parkersburg."

In 1810, when the city was of Springfield was resurveyed, it received the new name of "Parkersburgh" - with an "h" on the end - in honor of Captain Alexander Parker. 

This spelling evidently stuck for a mighty long time, possibly because of the way our neighbor to the north, Pittsburgh," was spelled with an "h" on the end.  Even the U.S. Postal Service recognized this spelling as late as the 1890s, based on two letters I found several years ago on eBay.


This past weekend, I purchased at the monthly Hillbilly Barn auction in Veto, Ohio, two really interesting envelopes. Each is addressed to an attorney named Joseph Spencer, in "Parkersburgh, Virginia."  The "Virginia" reference, obviously, dates these envelopes back before June of 1863, when West Virginia was still part of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

But another almost overlooked tidbit dates one of these envelopes even further back.  Faintly written on the back of one of these envelopes was a rather uncommon lady's name - Susan Steenbergen.

Thank goodness for unusual names and the Internet!  A search of Susan Steenbergen and Joseph Spencer turned up documentation of a marriage between the two on October 4th, 1847 in Mason, Virginia (later West Virginia).

Further research into this Parkersburg attorney Joseph Spencer, who married at the age 26, led me to records of another, slighly older, "Dr. Joseph Spencer," also a Wood County resident.  This Dr. Spencer received a 5,000 acre settlement in return for his services during the Revolutionary War.  Rather than naming it after himself, he chose to name it "Vienna," in honor of a Revolutionary War battle that took place in Vienna, New Jersey. 

Could these Joseph Spencers be related?  A father and son, perhaps?  It's possible.  Unfortunately, the trail went cold on both of them after the 1850 census.  But a couple of old envelopes made for several hours of fascinating research.

Not a bad buy for $5 dollars!


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