Hamilton Hatter, a noted and celebrated African American educator, school administrator, and politician was born and raised in Jefferson County. He made his mark not only politically and academically, but also as an inventor, lecturer, and construction executive.
Hatter was born on April 24, 1856 to Frank and Rebecca in Jefferson County, Virginia. He often worked, as a youth and teenager, around Charles Town, starting with carpentry and then under the guidance of a mechanic. These skills would serve him well later in life. After completing what education he could at local free schools, Hatter went on to attend Storer College, which opened in 1867. By 1878, he completed the teacher certification program, but remained for two additional years as a student assistant.
Deciding to further his education, Hatter left for Maine where he enrolled in two different Free Will Baptist schools with connections to Storer College. He first attended Nicholas Latin School and then, in 1888, graduated with a Bachelors from Bates College, located in Lewiston, Maine. With his degree in hand, he returned to Storer College to teach a variety of subjects including Greek, Latin, and mathematics. Hatter also served on the Board of Trustees from 1891 until 1906.
In 1896, Hatter decided to leave Jefferson County and take a position offered to him by Governor Virgil A. Lewis, that of principal of the newly opened Bluefield Colored Institute, now known as Bluefield State College. He began with approximately 40 students and toiled especially hard to grow enrollment and meet the educational needs of those who attended. At the time, heads of colleges were given the title “president,” unless they were African American, in such cases they were instead called “principals.”
Abruptly in 1906, Hatter and most of the faculty and staff at Bluefield were dismissed. Drawing on skills he learned as a child and teenager, he decided to become a contractor and real estate investor. Interestingly he returned to Bluefield a few years later to take the position of Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, as well as that of Director of Industrial Education.
Hamilton Hatter also had an interest in politics. As was common for many African Americans in the late 1800s and early 1900s, he was a Republican. He was active within the Party in Jefferson County and in 1892, he was nominated for a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates, thus becoming the first African American nominated for the state house in a regularly scheduled election. An editorial in The Spirit of Jefferson newspaper indicated some Republicans were dissatisfied with Hatter’s nomination and hoped to find a white candidate to substitute. Clearly his popularity was underestimated, as he received more votes in the area than President Benjamin Harrison, who was running for a second term. Both, however, lost.
Spirit of Jefferson (Charles Town, Va. [W. Va.]), August 23, 1892
Hatter’s civic interests didn’t stop at elective politics. He served as president of the West Virginia State Teachers Association from 1901 until 1902. During World War I, Hatter spoke, often, in support of President Woodrow Wilson’s policies, though he seems to have remained a Republican.
Yet another area Hatter spent some time exploring was inventing. In 1893 he was issued a patent for a mechanism which improved the efficiency of corn harvesting.
Hatter remained in Bluefield and was active in various civic measures. He died on September 21, 1942 and was buried in Bluefield.