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Joseph Ruffner (1739–1803) and his wife, Elizabeth, were the progenitors of the original Ruffner family of the Kanawha Valley. A native of the Luray area of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Ruffner purchased in 1794 from John Dickinson 502 acres including the famous salt spring at the mouth of Campbells Creek. Arriving to inspect the lands in the spring of 1795, Ruffner was so impressed with the nearby Clendenin lands that within five years he was to own everything from the Elk River up the Kanawha to the ‘‘head of the bottom,’’ except for a few town lots. This included all of present downtown Charleston, plus the city’s East End. He returned to the Kanawha Valley in the autumn with his wife, sons Joseph, Tobias, Samuel, Daniel, and Abraham, and daughter Eve. David Ruffner, the eldest son, remained behind until 1796 to close out the family business affairs in Old Virginia.

The Ruffners settled on the former Clendenin lands and leased the salt property to Elisha Brooks. Upon the death of Joseph in March 1803, his estate, including the salt property that was destined to become the most valuable land in the Kanawha Valley, descended to his sons.

Of all the Ruffners, Joseph’s son David (1767–1843) most strongly influenced the development of the Kanawha Valley. He and brother Joseph devised methods and tools for drilling the first salt well into the Kanawha bedrock, pioneering the industry that would produce within the Kanawha Salines up to 3.2 million bushels of salt annually. David was the first to use coal in the manufacture of salt. In 1831, he laid out the present town of Malden on his land. He was a justice of the peace for 47 years, a colonel of militia, and served several terms in the legislature of Virginia.

Henry (1790–1861), the eldest son of David and Ann Brumbach Ruffner and the grandson of Joseph Sr., was a Presbyterian minister who in 1819 organized the first church of that denomination in Charleston. Henry Ruffner was the author of the anti-slavery ‘‘Ruffner Pamphlet’’ and other published works and was president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University. His son, William Henry Ruffner, was a superintendent of public schools of Virginia.

Lewis (1797–1883), youngest son of David and Ann, was a saltmaker, state legislator, justice of the peace, and a delegate to the Wheeling Conventions of June and November 1861. In 1863, he was appointed a major general of militia for the new state of West Virginia. His second wife, Viola Knapp Ruffner, was credited with being the mentor of Booker T. Washington.

Daniel Ruffner, fifth son of Joseph Sr., was a saltmaker who in 1815 built Holly Grove mansion, which is located in the present state capitol complex and is the oldest house in Charleston. Opened in 1826 as a house of public entertainment, Holly Grove included such notables as Henry Clay, Sam Houston, Andrew Jackson, and John J. Audubon among its visitors.

This Article was written by Gerald S. Ratliff

Last Revised on October 29, 2010


Morgan, John G. & Robert J. Byers. Charleston 200. Charleston: Gazette, 1994.

The Ruffner Family of Kanawha. Kanawha Gazette, 7/23, 7/30 & 8/6, 1884.

Zimmerman, Marcellus W. Rev. Henry Ruffner, D. D., LL.D. and General Lewis Ruffner. Greenbrier Independent, 8/28/1884.

Cite This Article

Ratliff, Gerald S. "Ruffner Family." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 29 October 2010. Web. 22 February 2024.


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