William B. Zinn

William B. Zinn (December 6, 1795 – 1875) was a nineteenth-century farmer, mill-owner, militia leader and politician, who ultimately freed his slaves and became one of the founders of the State of West Virginia.

William B. Zinn
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates
from the Preston County, Virginia district
In office
December 1, 1823 – November 28, 1824
Serving with William Sigler
Preceded byJohn Fairfax
Succeeded byBenjamin Jeffries Sr
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates
from the Preston County, Virginia district
In office
December 4, 1826 – December 6, 1829
Serving with William Carroll
Benjamin Shaw
Guy R.C. Allen
Preceded byBenjamin Jeffries Sr
Succeeded byBenjamin Shaw
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates
from the Preston County, Virginia district
In office
December 6, 1830 – December 2, 1832
Preceded byGuy R.C. Allen
Succeeded byWilliam Gay Brown, Sr.
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates
from the Preston County, Virginia district
In office
January 12, 1852 – December 3, 1855
Serving with John Scott
John A.F. Martin
Preceded byBuckner Fairfax
Succeeded byE.T. Brandon
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates
from the Preston County, Virginia district
In office
Preceded byn/a
Succeeded byn/a
Member of the West Virginia House of Delegates
from the Preston County district
In office
January 16, 1866 – January 14, 1867
Preceded byWilliam H. King
Succeeded byJoseph H. Gibson
Member of the West Virginia Senate
from the 3rd district
In office
January 15, 1867 – January 18, 1869
Preceded byJohn S. Burdett
Succeeded byJesse H. Cather
Personal details
BornDecember 6, 1795
Gladeville, Preston County, Virginia, U.S.
DiedFeb. 20, 1875
Kingwood, West Virginia U.S.
Occupationfarmer, miller, soldier, politician

Early lifeEdit

Born on December 6, 1795 in what was then called Gladeville, in Preston County, Virginia (but which became Kingwood, West Virginia during his lifetime), William Zinn was born to Jacob Zinn (1773–1857) whose father had emigrated from Germany, and his second wife, Sarah "Sallie" (Byrne) Bland, the widow of Thomas Bland. He had three older half-brothers, and two younger brothers: Charles B. Zinn (1797–1863) and Peyton Zinn (1807–1860) and sisters Clara and Permelia Zinn Brown (1804–1886). He married at least twice. From his first wife ___Franklin, he inherited slaves and about $8000 in gold and other property upon her parents' deaths.[1] His second wife was Juliet Caroline Franklin Zinn.


Zinn farmed and operated a mill in Preston County, which the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad reached in the mid-1950s. In the 1850 census Zinn owned 22 slaves.[2] At some time he may have freed most, for in the 1860 census he only owned three slaves, compared to the seven slaves owned by his fellow Unconditional Unionist, William Gay Brown, Sr. (who had succeeded him in the House of Delegates in 1832).[3][4] Preston County voters elected Zinn to represent them, part-time, in the Virginia House of Delegates eight times.[5] He also led the local militia, with the rank of Major.

After the Virginia Secession Convention of 1861 voted to secede from the Union over the vehement opposition of Preston County's delegates, Brown and James C. McGrew, Zinn became one of the Preston County leaders who attended the first Wheeling Convention in May 1861. Zinn served as the Convention's chairman beginning on May 13.[6][7] The Secession Convention expelled Brown and McGrew on June 29, and five Preston county men voting in a confederate camp on October 24, 1861 elected others to replace them. By contrast, Major Zinn also served as Preston County's representatives to the Restored Government at Wheeling beginning on June 25, 1863 alongside McGrew.[8]

Postwar careerEdit

After the war he served in the West Virginia House of Delegates for a term beginning in 1866 and then was elected to the state Senate and served until 1869.[9] In 1870, Zinn and his wife Julie lived in Rowlesburg, a lumber and mill town that was the second largest in the county, along with two young men who worked on his farm.


Zinn died in Preston County in 1875 and is buried in the family cemetery in Arthurville, West Virginia.


  1. ^ after the 1840 census, in which the nine member household included no slaves; the two subsequent censuses have indexing problems, for his only appears in the slave schedules
  2. ^ 1850 U.S. Federal census, Preston County Virginia District 45
  3. ^ Although the Virginia census is unavailable online, U.S. Federal Census for District 8, Preston County, Virginia shows this Zinn as owning three slaves: a 60-year old and a 26-year old black male, and a 45-year old black female. Technical issues prevent checking who might have become the county's largest slaveholder; on that particular page, no other Zinn appeared, and the largest slave owner was George W Fairfax, whose 8 slaves may have constituted a single family. Two other people surnamed "Fairfax" owned 7 slaves apiece.
  4. ^ Richard H. Owens, Rogue State: the Unconstitutional State of West Virginia (University Press of America, 2013) pp. 64-65 available at https://books.google.com/books?id=BNFoXzdP0LsC&pg=PA64&lpg=PA64&dq=
  5. ^ Cynthia Miller Leonard, Virginia's General Assembly 1619–1978 (Richmond: Virginia State Library 1978), pp. 320, 335, 340, 345, 356, 361, 450, 456
  6. ^ http://albionalumni.org/chevrons/civ/wv.html
  7. ^ http://www.wvgenweb.org/ohio/how-12.htm
  8. ^ http://www.wvculture.org/history/sesquicentennial/18630625a.html[bare URL]
  9. ^ West Virginia Bluebook, p. 115 available at https://books.google.com/books?id=tawGAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA115&lpg