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A New Addition to the Museum’s Collection: The General’s Table

A New Addition to the Museum’s Collection: The General’s Table

The latest addition to the Museum’s collection of early Shepherdstown furniture is a table that was once in the home of Col. John Francis Hamtramck, Jr.

The mahogany drop-leaf dining room table is on loan by Wanda Perry of Charles Town, WV.

Col. Hamtramck was the son of a Revolutionary War General and graduated from West Point. He led Virginia’s volunteers in the Mexican-American War and subsequently served as governor of the Mexican State of Saltillo.  He was elected mayor of Shepherdstown in 1850.

In the fall of 1986, following the death of Elise Selby Billmyer, the owner of the Wyncoop-Morgan- Selby-Hamtramck-Shepherd-Billmyer house on East German Street in Shepherdstown, the home’s contents were sold at public auction. The sale grossed $90,515.00 at a time when the house and lot were appraised at $135,000.00. At the sale, Wanda Perry of Charles Town, WV, purchased this dining room table.

Mrs. Perry recalled that family members often referred to this piece as the “General’s Table,” a reference to Col. Hamtramck, who lived in the German Street home with his wife, Sarah Ellen Selby Hamtramck.   The couple moved into the German Street house in 1855, following the death of Sarah’s father, Walter Bowie Selby.  Colonel Hamtramck was the great-grandfather of Elise Selby Billmyer,

The table, dating to the period 1830-40, has had some alteration over the years, but is in excellent condition. Ms. Perry, whose family has lived in Jefferson County for several generations, loaned the piece to the Historic Shepherdstown Museum so that the table would remain as part of the county’s rich heritage.

For more information on Col. John Francis Hamtramck, visit:  https://historicshepherdstown.com/portfolio-item/john-francis-hamtramck/

A Shepherdstown Murder Mystery

In the middle of an upstairs room in the Historic Shepherdstown Museum is a detailed scale-model steam boat, made of tin and about three feet long.

 The boat was built by Henry Snyder, a Shepherdstown resident who was murdered in 1864, in a violent robbery by masked bandits.  The crime caused a stir in Shepherdstown at the time, and for some years after.  One of the stories in the Shepherdstown Register, shortly after it resumed publication at the end of the Civil War, was a reprint of an article that had appeared in a Baltimore newspaper in November of 1864. The article told of the robbery at the Snyder farmstead and the murder of a young family member, Henry Snyder.

Who was Henry Snyder and who was responsible for his death?  Were they Northern sympathizers or “carpet baggers” as some claimed, or perhaps others closer to home? And why?

Henry Miller Snyder, “a good citizen and esteemed by all who knew him” according to the Shepherdstown Register,  was born in 1836 at the family farm, Rock Springs, located off of Ridge Road, a few miles outside of Shepherdstown.  A loyal Virginian, he enlisted as a private in the Confederate Army in May of 1861, a month after the state joined the Confederacy.  Just two months later, his unit was sent to Manassas, Va., where he was wounded at the First Battle of Bull Run.  Sent home to recuperate, he began work on his model steam boat. Partially painted red, it would never be finished.


Henry Miller Snyder

Still in the Confederate Army, in 1863 he married Mary Virginia Moler.

Whenever his unit was encamped nearby, he would at times sneak away from camp without leave to visit his wife and family.

One such occasion was on November 9th, 1864.  According to the article in the Shepherdstown Register, four men on horseback— three wearing masks and one wearing blackface — approached the Snyder farmstead at about 8:00 PM and  knocked on the door.  The robbers apparently knew the area and likely assumed that the elderly Snyders were alone in the house.  Mrs. Snyder, Henry’s mother, expecting the return of a family member, opened the door and three of the men barged in. Demanding money, they grabbed Mrs. Snyder and blindfolded her. Henry’s father, John Snyder, who had been sitting by the fire, stood up, only to be knocked down by one of the intruders, who then tied him to a chair.  The robbers again demanded money.  Mrs. Snyder agreed and they removed her blindfold.  She went to an upstairs bedroom to retrieve the money, which was kept in a small purse.

Henry, who lived with his wife in another part of the house, heard the noise and rushed to his parents’ aid.  In the scuffle, Henry was shot in the arm and the bullet passed through his abdomen and lodged in his back.

Mrs. Snyder gave the robbers her purse with forty dollars in it. They took the money and then threw the purse on the floor, threatening to shoot the two men’s wives if they didn’t stop their “hallooing.”

Henry Snyder lay bleeding in the front hall of the Rock Spring farmhouse and died some 36 hours later.  A tall-case clock that stood in the room still has a hole where another bullet entered, and it is said that the blood stain on the floor where Henry lay dying is still visible.

After leaving the Snyder Farm, the bandits went to the house of Christian Rhinehart, a few miles away.  They called for him to come out on his porch and demanded money, saying that just as they knew him, he would know them if they took off their masks. They told him that they had already killed one man and would kill Mr. Rhinehart as well if he didn’t hand over his money.  They then hit him with a revolver, knocking him down and taking what money he had in his pockets.

Were the robbers members of a Confederate raiding party, as reported in the Daily National Republican, a Washington, D.C., newspaper a few days later?  According to this article, on the evening of the 9th, Major Harry Gilmor, well known at the time for leading daring raids on Union positions, and his men were on their way to attack Chambersburg, Pa.  Passing through Shepherdstown, they robbed stores and individuals, and murdered a man named Henry Snyder.  Gilmor, in his autobiography, Four Years in the Saddle, admits to being in Shepherdstown at the time, but claims to have gone there to “discover the perpetrators of the fearful robberies, murders, and outrages of all kinds that had been committed in that neighborhood, scarcely a house having been free from such depredations.”

The Snyders apparently knew the identity of the bandits, but never revealed their names “for the sake of their families.” It wasn’t until 1991 that Henry Miller’s niece, Mary Saum, revealed to a select few, who have also remained silent, the names of the murderers. She did add, howeve, that they all died horrible deaths.

In July 1865, the Shepherdstown Register reported that a man named Enoch Thompson was acquitted in the murder of Henry Snyder. No further information was given.  Records of the trial could not be located at the Jefferson County Courthouse, so the full details of the murder may never be known or if the other bandits were ever arrested or even identified.

But the story doesn’t end here.  Even though Enoch Thompson was acquitted in this instance, he apparently went on to live a life of banditry and crime. In 2017 an interesting medallion appeared at an auction in Connecticut. The medallion is inscribed:

“We Honor the Brave
Presented to
Sergt. J.F. Wilt
by the citizens of
Shepherdstown, VA
for killing a
noted highwayman
Enoch Thompson”

The donors of the medallion are “J.W. Grant, & many Friends.”

Sergeant Wilt has yet to be identified; no date or other information was given on the medallion, although it is known that J.W. Grant was treasurer of Shepherdstown in the years after the Civil War. It would seem that Enoch Thompson met his fate shortly after his acquittal.

Who was really responsible for killing Henry Snyder will likely continue to remain a Shepherdstown murder mystery.

Sheetz Family Bible Returns to Shepherdstown

Sheetz Family Bible Returns to Shepherdstown

The Historic Shepherdstown Museum recently received a Bible that belonged to the Sheetz Family.

The donor, Christine Saulsbury, of Desert Center, California, was helping a friend clear out her mother’s bookstore, when she came across a Bible that once belonged to William Miller Sheetz.  Inscribed inside the cover were “Shepherdstown” and the date, May 12, 1842. Knowing that the book would be of historical interest, she researched the Sheetz Family and contacted the Museum.

Although a bit tattered, the Bible contains some family genealogy and a hand-written prayer.  The Bible was originally published in Philadelphia in 1835.

The Sheetz were a prominent family in Shepherdstown and were known throughout the Shenandoah Valley for the production of fine firearms. Several generations of Sheetz produced rifles for almost a century, from the time of the Revolution until the Civil War.

William Miller Sheetz was born in 1810.  He was the son of John Jacob Sheetz and grandson of Philip Sheetz, all gunsmiths in Shepherdstown. He was probably the last of the Sheetz family to make rifles.  There is evidence that his son, William Miller Sheetz, Jr., repaired rifles but not that he made any.

The Sheetz Family dwelling and workshop was located on Lot 1, at the corner of King and German Streets, across from McMurran Hall.  The building is now a restaurant.

William Miller Sheetz married Juliann Barnhardt.  Juliann’s date of birth (May 6th, 1815) is recorded in the Bible, along with notations for two of their nine children:  Mary Elizabeth (October 3rd, 1848) and Emma Kate (January 4, 1855).

William Miller Sheetz died in 1866 and is buried in Shepherdstown’s Elmwood Cemetery.

Several rifles produced by the Sheetz Family, including one made by William Miller Sheetz for Rezin Shepherd, grandson of Shepherdstown’s founder, are on display at the Historic Shepherdstown Museum.

An interesting entry in the Bible is a prayer in which Sheetz writes that he has purchased the Bible “as a remembrance of the most true and holy and merciful God.

William Miller Sheetz died in 1866 and is buried in Shepherdstown’s Elmwood Cemetery.

Several rifles produced by the Sheetz Family, including one made by William Miller Sheetz for Rezin Shepherd, grandson of Shepherdstown’s founder, are on display at the Historic Shepherdstown Museum.