CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — West Virginia carries a history filled with distinguished figures who brought their own talents into making the mountain state what it is today. However, few were as integral and iconic as the Doddridge County artist and legislator, Joseph Hubert Diss Debar.
Joseph H. Diss Debar, born March 6, 1820, in Strasbourg in French Alsace, came to the U.S. in 1842, where he made quick friends with Charles Dickens during his trek to America via Liverpool, England on the steamer Britannia, according to appalachianhistory.net.
Diss Debar didn’t move to West Virginia until 1846, where he would stay for the next 29 years. He moved to Parkersburg as a land agent for John Dumas, “who represented the claims of French veterans of the American Revolution in regard to land bonuses,” according to wvencyclopedia.org.
In 1847, he married his first wife, Clara Levassor, who later died on April 29, 1849, giving birth to their son. He soon after founded the German-Swiss immigrant colony of St. Clara in Doddridge County. He would not marry again until Aug. 3, 1859, with one Amelia Cain of Doddridge County, according to archive.wvculture.org.
During his time in West Virginia, Diss Debar used his talents in languages and art to make a name for himself.
He was commissioned in 1863 to design the state seal as part of the movement for West Virginia’s statehood. The design would later be adapted for the state flag and the state motto “Montani Semper Liberi” (Mountaineers Always Free) would become the official motto via the state constitution, signed in 1872.
In 1864, he became the newly formed state’s first commissioner of immigration, a position he worked until 1871. He was also a member of the House of Delegates from Doddridge County in 1864.
While in legislation, Diss Debar involved the state in the 1867 Paris Exposition, “winning a prize for the petroleum exhibit from the West Virginia oil fields,” and helped to create the first West Virginia Hand-Book and Immigrant’s Guide in 1870, according to wvencyclopedia.org.
According to archive.wvculture.org, Diss Debar eventually moved to Pennsylvania. He died on Jan. 13, 1905, and was buried in Philadelphia.
A marker honoring his name was erected in 1963 by the West Virginia Historic Commission and can be found in Leopold, West Virginia.