NPS Logo

Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

Suggested Reading

Founders and Frontiersmen
Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

West Virginia

Wood County, in the Ohio River, 2 miles south of Parkersburg.

In 1805 Harman Blennerhassett and Aaron Burr, meeting at Blennerhassett's mansion on this island, made plans for setting up an empire in the old Southwest. In 1797 Blennerhassett, a wealthy Irishman who had come to the United States with his young bride in search of a refuge where he could live undisturbed and carry on his experiments in the natural sciences, had acquired 170 acres at one end of the island. Three years later he completed a long, semicircular, stone mansion, where he entertained local socialites. Burr, on hearing of Blennerhassett's wealth and influence, visited him and persuaded him to support his plot to create a Southwestern empire. He convinced Blennerhassett that, under the empire, his home would become a Utopia surrounded by intelligentsia.

In December 1806 Blennerhassett and a company of adventurers, planning to meet Burr at Natchez, started down the Ohio River in a small fleet of river boats. Rumors of treason had reached President Jefferson, who sent the Virginia Militia to the island to arrest the conspirators. Before the militia arrived, Mrs. Blennerhassett and the children had fled. Not finding anyone on the island, the troops partially destroyed the mansion and confiscated all of Blennerhassett's property. Burr and Blennerhassett were subsequently captured in the Southwest. The court in Richmond, chaired by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall, acquitted Burr; and Blennerhassett, although never brought to trial, was held in custody to answer any indictment against him. By the time authorities released him, creditors had seized his estate, and in 1811 fire destroyed what remained of the mansion. A few dwellings hidden in the overgrowth of willow trees are on the island today, but only some foundation stones and a well remain of the mansion. The island, owned by the State of West Virginia, is accessible only by boat.

Previous Next
Last Updated: 29-Aug-2005