Diss Debar's election was set aside, but he roundly defeated his opponents the next year. That same year, he was appointed commissioner of immigration.
Historian Boyd Stutler described Diss Debar as the first prophet of West Virginia, promoting its resources and possibilities "with the zeal and enthusiasm of a chamber of commerce secretary."
He produced pamphlets and handbills to attract settlers and wrote letters to New York papers that were reprinted in Europe. He received no salary and often was not reimbursed by the Legislature for his expenses.
On his own, he collected specimens of West Virginia products that he took to Paris in 1867 for the World's Universal Exposition. He was awarded a bronze medal for high-quality lubricating petroleum and West Virginia oils.
"In 1868, he began the arrangements that resulted in the settlement of the German-Swiss colony at Helvetia, Randolph County, a most successful experiment in transplanting people from one country to another, preserving their habits and customs," Stutler wrote in the West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia.
However, Stutler noted that most immigrants induced to settle in West Virginia didn't join colonies like Saint Clara and Helvetia, but rather settled in cities or on farms and soon assimilated into their new homes.
Diss Debar moved to Parkersburg in 1866 and lived there until he left West Virginia in 1875. He made news again five years later when he served a six-month prison sentence in New York for operating a confidence game.
He died in Philadelphia in 1905 at the age of 85.
At the turn of the century, state authorities were prevailed upon to buy Diss Debar's sketches, which depicted pioneer life, ordinary citizens and famous men such as President Lincoln, Stonewall Jackson, John Brown and Horace Greeley.
About 75 of his sketches and paintings are preserved in the State Archives.
Reach Rosalie Earle at ea...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.