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George Koonce Collection


George Koonce Collection
Koonce, George
Collection number:
7 items
Bulk dates:
Inclusive dates:
Collection Area:
State of Maryland and Historical Collections
Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries, Hornbake Library, College Park, MD 20742. Tel: 301-405-9212, Fax: 301-314-2709, Email:

Seven documents attesting to the loyalty of Harper's Ferry resident George Koonce, who defended the town against the Confederate army in 1861 and lost his business as a result. The collection includes a letter of support from Baltimore merchants and trade documents relating to the movement of goods using the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

Important Information for Users of the Collection


This collection is open for research.

Preferred citation:

George Koonce Collection, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

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Publication rights:

Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials policy for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator.

Alternate formats:

Digital copies of this collection are available at in the University of Maryland's Digital Collections.


This collection is PROCESSED.

Historical Note

George Koonce was born in April 1818 in Ohio to Nicholas and Elizabeth Koonce. Soon after his birth, the family moved to Harper's Ferry, Virginia. He was married twice, first to Emily Piles, and then to Bettie Ellen Brittain. Koonce had at least one son, George William Koonce (b. 1840).

On April 18, 1861, less than a day after Virginia seceded from the Union, Lieutenant Roger Jones was stationed at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, with a company of forty-two regular United States soldiers. Upon learning of the approach of Confederate soldiers, whose intent was to take over the armory, he made preparations for its defense, calling upon the local citizens for volunteer aid. Many responded, including George Koonce, a former town constable according to the 1860 census and Justice of the Peace for Jefferson County, who led the local men against the Virginia army of 2,000 soldiers. Koonce and his fellow citizens halted the larger Virginia army at Smallwood's Ridge, near Bolivar. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Jones, acting on orders received from Washington, set fire to the armory and arsenal and, with his men, retreated northward. Koonce and his fellow volunteers did not return to Harper's Ferry until it had once again fallen into the hands of the U. S. government in 1862.

In June 1861, Koonce represented Jefferson County at the Second Wheeling Convention to vote on the secession of western Virginia. However, Koonce, who harbored ill feelings towards the Confederacy after the events of April 1861 and who was a Unionist, was not representative of the majority of citizens of Jefferson County, most of whom supported the Confederacy.

Koonce lost his home and his business as a result of his involvement in the April 1861 fight. During the Civil War, he operated a general store in Harper's Ferry with a Mr. Horner from 1863 to 1864.

Following the war, Koonce became active in politics once again, serving as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates (1865-1867) and a member of the West Virginia Senate (1870-1871), running on the Radical ticket. He was also a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

George Koonce died in Halltown, West Virginia, in 1908 at the age of ninety.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The George Koonce Collection consists of seven documents dating between 1862 and 1864 concerning Harper's Ferry, Virginia, resident George Koonce, who lost his business and home as a result of his actions defending Harper's Ferry from Virginia Confederate troops. The collection includes a letter of support from Baltimore merchants and trade documents relating to the movement of goods using the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The University of Maryland Libraries purchased the collection from Stuart Lutz Historic Documents, New Jersey, in 2004.

Processing Information

Processed by:

Processed by Jennie Anne Levine, May 2004.

Processing note:

The documents were placed in acid-free folders and placed in an acid-free box.

Encoded by:

EAD markup created using EAD database in Microsoft Access. Markup completed by Jennie A. Levine.

Arrangement of Collection

The collection is divided into one series:

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Correspondence and Business Documents, 1962-1864 (7 items)

This series consists of seven documents. Five are letters written in defense of George Koonce's character, following his involvement in the April 18, 1861, attempt to prevent Confederate troops from invading Harper's Ferry, Virginia. In a letter dated January 17, 1862, R. Jones, Major and Assistant Inspector General of the U. S. Army, who had been in charge of defending Harper's Ferry during the events of April 18, 1861, wrote a letter of recommendation for Koonce, "Recollecting with satisfaction the loyalty...." On its verso, Colonel C. P. Kingsbury wrote: "I heartily concur with Major Jones as to the loyalty of Mr. Koonce... and sincerely commend him to the kind consideration of any who may be able to give him employment." Another letter, written by a group of ten "Merchants of the City of Baltimore" in October 1863, endorsed Koonce's desire to keep a "trade store" in Harper's Ferry. Also included in the series are letters written by Koonce himself, including a letter dated September 17, 1864, in which Koonce, George M. Flagg, and George N. Smallwood request a renewal of the license for Koonce to continue the sale of "merchandise, dry goods, groceries, house wares, guano, tine ware, boots, shoes, hats, ;&c." On the verso of this letter, General Stevenson wrote: "Permission is granted...." Additional letters also discuss the opening of a trade store in Harper's Ferry.

Also included in this series are two business documents relating to Koonce's importation of goods. The first, dated January 31, 1863, is a note from the Custom House in Baltimore, granting Koonce permission to transport goods via the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad for the exclusive use of his family. An inventory of goods is attached to the customs slip. The other document, dated November 24, 1863, granted permission for George Koonce, George W. Koonce, and Jason T. Reed to sell "wheat, flour, oats, potatoes, beeswax, wool, butter, eggs, turkeys, and chickens."

Arrangement is chronological.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / Frame
Business Documents (Online), 1862-1864 series 1box 1folder 1

Related Material

The Duke University Libraries Special Collections holds the largest collection of Koonce family materials: seven items and eleven ledgers documenting George Koonce's career as tradesman, constable, justice of the peace, and tax collector. This collection is also available on microfilm in the Archives and Manuscripts Department at the University of Maryland Libraries. Nineteenth century tax books and a copy of Koonce's membership card for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows are located at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

For other related archival and manuscript collections, please see the following subject guides.


  • Bushong, Millard Kessler. A History of Jefferson County West Virginia. Charles Town, WV, Jefferson Publishing Company, 1941.
  • Atkinson, George W. and Alvaro F. Gibbens. Prominent Men of West Virginia. Wheeling, WV, Callin, 1890.
  • Selected Search Terms

    This collection is indexed under the following headings in the University of Maryland Libraries' Catalog. Researchers desiring related materials about these topics, names, or places may search the Catalog using these headings.