Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    Secret service report on secessionist activity in West Virginia

    Civil War Secret Service Report on Secessionist Activity in Rowlesburg, West Virginia. Three pages of a tall bifolium, 7.75" x 12.5"; Wheeling; April 22, 1862. Signed and dated by Ira Cole, but written in a clerical hand. The report recounts the arrival of four black men into Rowlesburg, but evolves into an accounting of the potential disloyalty of several white business proprietors. "On 2d of April, 1862, four negroes came into Rowlesburg, each having a horse, saddle & bridle. Two of them said they were free born... The other two negroes said they were slaves and belonged to the este of Genl Boggs, - deceased -, that Boggs left a widow, four sons & three daughters; that the sons had been rebels, but two of them were at home and had taken the oath to be loyal men, The negroes admitted thy had stolen the horses, saddles & bridles. One of the horses belonged to the wife of Maj. Geo. Jackson, of the rebel army, one to a rebel army team, one to a doctor of Pendleton Co., and the fourth to a Mr. McCoy..." The report cites that after being in custody for one day and night, the four men were released, but were later arrested as runaway slaves by local proprietors of the town. A motion was filed to discharge the case, and the four black men immediately left town upon their release. The U.S. Marshals stepped in and took possession of the horses, bridles, and saddles from the white proprietors that had arrested the four black men.

    The second half of the report gives an accounting of the local white men that had arrested the four black men, and the overall state of the town: "The Jno. A. Peters mentioned is a hotel keeper in Rowlesburg & is one of the few who voted against the Union & for secession. Chas. Houten us a member of the legislature under new Constitution, pretends to be a union man but is a doubtful character. The telegraphic operator at Rowlesburg should not be trusted. The Dep. Marshall, Capt of the post and several respectable citizens say (also Mrs. Bell) that he gives information to Houten. I saw several looking over his dispatches & asked him why he allowed it - he said they were Rail Road men, but I discovered one of them to be Houten's son. The superintendent of R.R. at Rowlesburg is very intimate with well known secessionists. All the operators on the line of telegraphs to Washington probably need looking to. A great laxity discipline seems to prevail among the troops stationed on the Road... A few days since a party of 30 or 40 mounted guerillas (so says Mrs. Bell) came within 8 miles..." Signed "Ira Cole."

    Docketed on verso: "S.S. Case of Negroes & Horses - referred by Secy of War. / April 22, 1862 / with accompanying papers."

    Given that horse theft was highly punishable, especially when committed by blacks, it is possible that the four black men provided information and that the real purpose of Ira Cole's presence in Rowlesburg was to assess Secessionist activity. Although there was no formal agency called the "Secret Service", such intelligence work did occur throughout the war. That this particular report was referred to the Secretary of War signals its importance. This is the first "Secret Service" report we have seen, and we could not find any auction or dealer records for another.

    Condition: File folds, with some wear and soiling on exterior. Age toning and light wrinkling; with a small tear at top margins of both pages, and tiny separations at folds at margins.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2017
    19th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 335

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    25% on the first $250,000 (minimum $19), plus 20% of any amount between $250,000 and $2,500,000, plus 12% of any amount over $2,500,000 per lot.

    Sold for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2021 March 3 Rare Books Signature Auction - Dallas.

    Learn about consigning with us

    The department director has the heart of a true and highly knowledgeable collector with the business acumen of someone who has been not only successful but has decades of an impeccable track record
    David Greenburg,
    Chicago, IL
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search