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Artist, author, soldier, and statesman David Hunter Strother (September 26, 1816-March 8, 1888) was born in Martinsburg. After briefly attending Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, he studied art in New York City with John Gadsby Chapman and Samuel F.B. Morse. Following additional study in Europe, he returned to America and learned the craft of designing on wood for book and periodical illustration during the mid-1840s. He honed his skills on educational books and ephemeral tracts before a commission to contribute 20 illustrations to Swallow Barn: A Sojourn in the Old Dominion by John Pendleton Kennedy brought him critical acclaim in 1852.

In 1853, Strother was commissioned by Harper and Brothers to write and illustrate an article about a sporting expedition into the Canaan wilderness area. Submitted under the pen name ‘‘Porte Crayon’’ and published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in December 1853, the article proved to be immensely popular. In the ensuing years Strother became a regular contributor to Harper’s Monthly and achieved considerable renown. Among the more than two dozen illustrated travelogues he penned between December 1854 and May 1861 were ‘‘A Winter in the South,’’ ‘‘The Dismal Swamp’’ and ‘‘A Summer in New England.’’ These articles transported readers, introducing them to localities and characters from Maine to Louisiana.

When the Civil War erupted Strother remained neutral until political pressures and threats eventually induced him to join the Union army. He served as a topographer and staff officer to various generals, his intimate knowledge of the Valley of Virginia making him a boon to the North and consequently the bane of the South. At the war’s end he was appointed adjutant general of Virginia but served only briefly. Between June 1866 and April 1868, Harper’s Monthly published 11 installments of Porte Crayon’s ‘‘Personal Recollections of the War.’’ Written with accuracy, detail, and criticism toward each side, the series contains an immediacy and an objectivity often lacking in the Civil War reminiscences of other writers.

In the years that followed, Strother continued to contribute to Harper’s Monthly and to various other periodical publications. His most significant effort of this period was a ten-part Harper’s series titled ‘‘The Mountains’’ which introduced America to the rural character and folkways of West Virginia. A staunch supporter of the fledgling state, Strother moved to Charleston briefly during the early 1870s. There he edited a newspaper and dedicated his efforts to convincing the state’s leaders to invest in the infrastructure essential to West Virginia’s economic well-being. Strother was one of the first writers to fully appreciate the state’s dilemma in encouraging economic development while preserving its rustic beauty.

Strother’s appointment and service, 1879–85, as U.S. consul general to Mexico brought his literary career to a halt. He was planning to resurrect Porte Crayon for an article focusing on Virginia’s Eastern Shore when he died of pneumonia in Charles Town.

 

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This Article was written by John A. Cuthbert

Last Revised on December 08, 2015


Sources

Cuthbert, John A. & Jessie Poesch. David Hunter Strother: "One of the Best Draughtsmen the Country Possesses.". Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 1997.

. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1960.

Eby, Cecil D. Jr., ed. A Virginia Yankee in the Civil War: The Diaries of David Hunter Strother. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961.

Poesch, Jessie. "David Hunter Strother: Mountain People, Mountain Images," in Judy L. Larsen, ed, Graphic Arts in the South: Proceedings of the 1990 American Print Conference. Fayetteville, AK: University of Arkansas Press, 1993.

Cite This Article

Cuthbert, John A. "David Hunter Strother." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 08 December 2015. Web. 20 September 2018.

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