On May 18, (1805) in Bedford Co., VA, John McMullen and his wife,
Mary Wysong, became the proud parents of a son, christened Lafayette.
John McMullen was of Scotch-Irish descent and his wife Mary of French
descent. This boy is the subject of this narration.
John McMullen, Fayette's father, lived only one day's drive from Lynchburg,
a thriving port and trading center on the James River. At an early
date in the nineteenth century, he established a wagon train and coach
line service from Bedford to Estillville, now Gate City, VA. The service
hauled passengers, mail, and goods and did trading along the way.
It is said a contract provided for the delivery and pick-up of the
mail once each week.
The writer has been unable to establish definitely the date Fayette
began the driving of a coach; it was possibly in 1822 when he was
seventeen. He delighted in driving the coach which seated nine passengers
and had provisions for over-flow passengers on deck with the drivers.
He would decorate the harness and the coach with bells and tassels
and used a trumpet to announce the
coach's arrival in a town along the way. He made quite a figure with
his turned-up hat brim, his arms stretched their length and his body
swaying from side to side with the motion of the coach. He took delight
in cracking his long whip above the heads of the horses without any
intention of touching them. Upon his arrival at a town it was his
practice to toss his lines to a waitinggroom and alight among his
The trip from Bedford to Estillville, traveled at the rate of thirty
miles per day, took a week. Horses were changed at about each fifteen
miles. The towns after leaving Bedford served by the coaches and wagons
were Big Lick (now Roanoke), Salem, Christiansburg, Ingles Ferry (now
Radford), Fort Chiswell, Wytheville, Royal Oak (now Marion), Blountville,
and Estillville, as well as smaller places along the route. On the
return trip products purchased along the way were
delivered into Lynchburg to be marketed.
It can well be imagined that the roads at this early date were little
more than cut out passways. One of the early travelers over this route,
writing of the road from Wytheville to Abingdon, had this to say:
"We left Wytheville in the early dawn of a most beautiful summer
morning. It was a journey of only sixty miles but it would take two
days to accomplish it. We wended our way slowly over a broken mountain
road which had never been graded. We traveled in an old
fashioned nine seated stage coach drawn by four horses, changed at
long intervals. We lunched and rested at midday beneath the spreading
trees, whose interwoven branches made network of the dark blue light
of day. Waters from a gushing stream, the depth of whose source defied
the heat of summer, quenched our thirst, while we inhaled the fragrance
of rock hung flowers, the sweet briar and the health inspiring pine."
Over roads of this kind thirty miles was considered a good day's journey.
Fayette had two brothers, Mathew and Andrew J., who came also to Scott
County as coach drivers and settled here about ten years after Fayette.
Mathew married Eliza Jett, daughter of James Jett and granddaughter
of Peter Levingston, an early pioneer settler of the area. He, with
his family, left Scott County about 1860 to settle in Pettis Co.,
MO. The brother Andrew J. married Polly Newland of Sullivan Co., TN,
and remained in Scott Co. He was a tanner by trade. He became a member
of the first board of Supervisors when that office was established
in 1870. Andrew J. had a son, Joe, who was killed as a Confederate
soldier in the first battle of Manasses. Today, many of the Scott
County McMullens, the Catrons, and the Couches are his descendants.
Among these we may name Miss Georgia Jo Couch, our county Treasurer
from 1956 to 1964.
Jonathan Wood II was the sheriff of Scott County at the time Fayette
began his first trips by coach to the county. After a few years he
married the sheriff's daughter, Mary (Polly) Wood, and immediately
he began the accumulation of an estate. When only twenty years of
age, he purchased from William L. Dunlaney a tract of land of 100
acres on Stock Creek. Later, on September 11, 1826, he purchased from
Jonathan Wood the seventy-five acre farm adjoining the lands of William
Houston on Big Moccasin Creek, and known as the Zachariah Salyer place.
At his marriage to Mary (Polly) Wood, he used the name "Lafayette",
the only time the writer has been able to find him using the long
spelling of his name.
In October, following his marriage, Fayette McMullen began a long
series to the county, state, and nation by his selection as a Captain
in the Second Battalion, 124th Regiment of the State Militia. In the
same month, also, was elected Commissioner of the Revenue of the South
District, his first elective political office. A few years later he
was elected a member of the then County Court in which he served two
or three terms.
In 1832 Fayette and his wife were living on the south side of the
North Fork of the Holston River on a farm later known as the Pen Henderson
Place and near the present bridge on the Wadlow Gap road, then known
as the Block Road. There he operated a ferry boat service near the
present bridge site.
Fayette's series of elections to legislative offices began in 1832,
when he was elected a member of the House of Delegates to represent
Scott County. He served the following sessions in that Body: 1832/33,
1833/34, and 1835/36. His ambitions grew and in 1836 he was chosen
to represent Scott, Lee, and Russell Counties in the State Senate
and continued to serve for the sessions 1836/37, 1838 (Jan.), 1839
(Jan.), 1839/40, 1840/41, 1841/42, 1842/43, 1843/44, 1844/45, 1845/46,
Evidently, he was equally successful in his military aspirations,
begun in 1826. In 1837 he became a Major in the State Militia and
in November, 1840 was advanced to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Fayette McMullen's political ambitions broadened. In 1846, when he
ran his first race for Congress, the Thirteenth District was composed
of Smythe, Washington, Lee, Russell, Wythe, Tazewell, McDowell, Grayson,
Carroll, Pulaski, and Scott Counties. In that race Andrew S. Fulton,
the Whig candidate, defeated Fayette McMullen and Samuel E. Goodson,
the Democratic candidates, by a plurality of six votes. Fayette's
defeat resulted, no doubt, from the division in the
ranks of the Democratic party that resulted in the two candidates.
He took the defeat in a manly way and began immediately the mending
of his fences in preparation for future races. Again the candidate
of the Democrats in 1848, he defeated Mr. John B. George, the Whig,
by a majority of more than two to one. He was reelected in 1850 and
1852 without opposition and in 1854 he defeated Connelly F. Trigg,
the Whig or American party candidate, without difficulty.
Henry A. Wise became the candidate for governor of Virginia in 1855.
Mr. Wise, who had long been a democrat, joined the Whigs for a time
and later returned to the Democratic fold. It is to be noted that
Fayette McMullen and John Letcher failed to support candidate Wise.
This refusal to support Mr. Wise may be the explanation of Fayette
McMullen's refusal to run again for Congress in 1856.
By 1852 politics on the national level had become an interest of Fayette
McMullen. In 1852 he attended the National Convention of the Democratic
party in Baltimore; again in 1856 he was a delegate to the Convention
held in Cincinnati, OH, in the Smith-Nixon Hall on Fifth Street. The
Virginia headquarters were in the Burnet House. The Cincinnati DAILY
INQUIRER, of June 5, 1856, referred to the representation from Virginia
as "One of which the State may justly be proud
and to which the cause of Democracy, the Constitution, and the rights
of the States may be safely confided". This issue of the paper
refers to Fayette McMullen as a "popular and staunch member of
President Buchanan, in 1857, appointed Fayette McMullen to the Governorship
of the Washington Territory - a position he held for two years. It
is not known when Fayette first moved from Scott County to Marion.
However, upon his return from Olympia, he brought with him his second
wife. More about this later.
In 1861 Fayette ran for the Congress of the Confederate States, but
lost to Walter Preston in the district by a majority of nineteen votes.
Again a candidate in 1863, he was elected and served until the close
of the War.
Successful and happy he had been in political life; however, his home
life had not been a happy one. No children had been born to his marriage.
He had been away much in Richmond and Washington, and his home was
broken at many times. Numerous separations with his wife had occurred.
Recorded in the Clerk'sOffice of Scott County on November 11, 1843,
is a Separation Agreement in which Fayette had settled property on
his wife, Polly, with her father, Jonathan
Wood, as trustee. The property consisted of land, four slaves and
other holdings. Recorded on June 10, 1845, however, is a document
stating that this Separation Agreement, noted above, is rescinded
and that Fayette and Polly were then living together as man and wife.
Again, however, on November 17, 1853, a Separation Agreement is recorded
in which Polly's brother, James H. Wood, is named trustee. This document
settled a considerable amount of property on Polly and made provisions
for her support until a divorce could be arranged. Five years later,
the Territorial Legislature of Washington granted Fayette a divorce.
In July, 1858, he married Mary Wood, daughter of Isaac Wood of Thurston
Co., WA, a lady of the same maiden name as his first wife. He received
a result of his divorce and second marriage a great deal of criticism
at the hands of his political enemies. Some said he went west to get
rid of one wife to be able to marry another. This, of course, was
not true for in the Separation Agreement of 1853 provisions were made
the divorce and until he went to Olympia years later he had never
met the second Mrs. McMullen. Upon the completion of his services
as Governor, he returned with Mrs. McMullen to Marion. She was held
in high esteem in Marion. She made many donations to Marion Female
College. When she died in 1889 and the body was returned to Marion
for burial, the Board of Trustees, faculty, and students met the body
at the depot and accompanied it in a procession to the Round
Much could be said about McMullen's philosophy of government. It is
easy to know he was a Democrat of the Jefferson-Jackson type. When
the Civil War began he was a seccessionalist. A glimpse of his philosophy
may be seen from the quotations below. Shanks, in his book THE SECCESSIONALIST
refers to McMullen's letter of April 8, 1856 in which he refused to
make the race for Congress - the only known copy of this letter is
in the Archives of the Virginia State Library, in Richmond. It reads
in part, "Fellow citizens, it has been my habit for many years,
whilst in the public service to address you by letter and in public
speeches. I feel that it is not only my privilege but a duty I owe
to you as a generous and confiding constituency, and to myself as
the representative of free and independent people to address you.
You will no doubt remember that during my late canvass as a candidate
for your sufferidge (sic), I told you in every speech if the administration
of the general government should by chance fall into the hands of
the Abolitionist and they should carry out the measures of public
policy to which they had pledged themselves, in and out of Congress,
and to which to interdict by Congressional legislation the slave trade
between the states, to repeal the fugitive slave law, to restore the
Missouri restriction, and to refuse to admit into the union another
state with a constitution recognizing slavery. That then these measures
being consummated, there would then be a dissolution of the union.
Nearly one half of my life has been spent in the council of my country,
and at no time in my opinion has there been such danger of a wreck
of the ship of state as at the present."
In Governor McMullen's letter to the Legislature of Washington Territory,
dated December 12, 1857, he outlined ways of protection from Indian
troubles and refers to the military road from Fort Benton to Walla
Walla. He refers to the many needs of the new commonwealth and in
conclusion he writes: "My countrymen, if we wish to preserve
his great and glorious union, which has recently been shaken to its
very center and which I seriously fear is still in imminent danger,
it can only be done by adhering to the constitution - that sacred
instrument which will be to us as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire
by night. We must at the same time practice and carry out the unmistakable
doctrine of nonintervention, a doctrine which will and must be maintained
so long as we recognize the doctrine of representative government."
The speech of McMullen that gives us much information about his views
was one delivered extemporaneously before the U. S. Congress on April
29, 1852 and is of record in the Library of Congress. There was at
the time pending the Homestead Bill granting to every settler 160
acres of the public lands in the middle and far west. In his speech
in support of the bill he says: "It cannot
be doubted that the speedy settlement of these lands constitute the
true interest of the Republic. The wealth and strength of a country
are its population and the best part of that population are the cultivators
of the soil. Independent farmers are everywhere the basis of society
and true friends of liberty. Suppose the poor man emigrates to the
west and settles down on 160 acres of land, he can instead of paying
one third of his labor to support the rich and indolent, appropriate
it to the
education of his children and the purchase of necessaries for his
family. I beg the house and the country also to remember that genius
and talent are not confined to those born and reared in brick houses
and marble palaces. As bright and brilliant intellects are often to
be found amongst the poor classes of the community as in the higher
walks of society."
From such evidence as is available, it may be said Fayette McMullen
was a successful business man. In addition to the part he played in
the operation of the stage coach and wagon train lines, he at an early
age dealt extensively in real estate and at one time owned land in
several sections of Scott County. Too, he operated a ferry boat across
the North Fork of the Holston River for a period of time until this
business was destroyed in the early 1840's by the construction of
carriage bridge near the same place.
Upon his moving to Marion, he was in the mercantile business for a
period of years. In 1869 he established a newspaper called THE PATRIOT;
after a few years he sold the paper to Marcellious P. Venerable who
combined it with THE HERALD and for a time it was published as THE
PATRIOT AND HERALD. Fayette was a member of the first board of trustees
of Marion Female College, founded in 1873; a year later he was one
of the founders of the Bank of Marion
and became a member of the first Board of Directors.
To the end of his days his interest in politics and his keen desire
for public office never deserted him. After the Civil War he left
the Democratic Party. However, he ran three or four races for Congress
but always as an independent candidate. In each of his final races
he received a respectable vote. In 1878 and only two years before
his death Colonel James B. Richmond, the regular Democratic candidate,
defeated Fayette, the Independent, by the slim margin of 291 in the
Lewis P. Summers writes that Colonel McMullen was one of the very
poplar men, effective politician, and excellent campaigner to be found
in the district; that he "kissed the babies, joked with the men
and flattered the women." The number of voters in his day was
relatively small since a man to qualify to vote had to be free, white
male and the owner of not less than twenty-five acres of land with
a house or 100 acres without a house. It was said, however, that Fayette
McMullen knew most of the voters of the district.
It is generally admitted that Colonel McMullen was one of the most
colorful political characters in Southwestern Virginia history during
Many are the stories told of his political exploits. Probably the
most widely quoted one is related by Senator Vest of Missouri, the
author of the immortal eulogy to the dog. The story was told to show
the driving urge in some people to make a speech. Said Senator Vest,
"Old Fayette McMullen was canvassing his district for a nomination
for Congress, years ago, and during the canvass a man was hung in
that locality for murder. About ten thousand men collected to witness
the scene, and among them Old Mac, who by favor of the sheriff, occupied
a place on the platform in the rear of the gallows, his oratorical
mouth watering at the sight of the magnificent audience in front.
When everything was ready, as is usual in such cases, the sheriff
asked the culprit if he had anything to say before the sentence of
the law was passed upon him; to which the condemned responded that
he would say nothing. Whereupon Old Mac stepped forward, rubbing his
hands, and remarked: "Mr. Sheriff, if the gentlemen will yield
his time to me,
I will embrace this occasion to make a few remarks on the political
situation, and announce myself a candidate for Congress." Incidentally,
it may be said this story was also used by the late Huey Long in his
campaign for the United States Senate from Louisiana.
Fayette McMullen, too, was a man of considerable temper. On four different
occasions he was charged in the Scott County Court with assault and
battery. The charges in three of the cases were dismissed without
trial; in one of the cases he was fined the sum of 44 « cents.
Dr. Goodridge Wilson relates an episode that occurred in Smyth County.
A group of horse traders once visited Marion; among them was at least
one horse thief who stole a horse belonging to James White Sheffey.
Mr. Sheffey inducted Fayette McMullen to go with him to their camp
four or five miles from the town. They found the horse, and Sheffey
demanded it to be given him. The thief refused, Mr. Sheffey reached
for his horse's bridge, and the thief for his gun. McMullen
pulled a long knife out of the back of his coat collar and with one
thrust cut the fellow's throat and killed him.
A third incident indicating a display of temper is related in a book
entitled THE FIGHTING PARSON, a book dealing with the life of William
Gannaway Brownlow and written by his son. The senior Mr. Brownlow
in 1842 was the editor of THE WHIG, a paper published in East Tennessee,
probably in Greenville; that year he was also running for Congress
against Andrew Johnson. In the course of the campaign the editor stepped
across the state line in a very critical attack upon the upcoming
legislator from Virginia, Fayette McMullen.
There was at that time a camp meeting in progress at Ketron's Camp
Ground, sometimes called the Reedy Creek Camp Grounds. Fayette, knowing
the Fighting Parson was conducting a church gathering there, decided
he, too, would attend and with his cane proceeded to thrash the Parson
very severely. The Parson, armed with a derringer pistol, attempted
to use it; fortunately, however, only the cap exploded.
Fayette McMullen was killed by a switching train near the depot at
Wytheville, Virginia on November 5, 1880. Scott County, in the 150
years of its organized history has probably never had the opportunity
to contribute its part in the making of a more colorful personality
or greater natural leader of men. Some may argue that Scott County
has no right to claim Fayette McMullen; but it was here he came while
yet in his teens to make his home; and it was here he was elected
to his first public office at an early age of twenty-one. It was Scott
County he represented in the Virginia Legislature for some fifteen
years; too, it was from Scott County he was first elected to Congress.
And it was in Scott County he had his many friends and admirers. Yes,
Scott County is entitled to claim Fayette McMullen, the picturesque
Southwestern Virginian, as one of her distinguished sons.
Editorial Note: The author of this paper was
getting ready to enter reference numbers to source material when he
became suddenly ill. Death followed. Consequently no one has been
able to make the citations. However the source materials are listed
NOTES: Library of Congress, Washington, DC; Washington State Library,
Olympia, WA; Ohio State Library, Columbus, OH; Virginia
State Library, Richmond, VA. I have also quoted from the following
historical books: THE SECCESSIONALIST MOVEMENT IN VIRGINIA by
Shanks; HISTORY OF WASHINGTON COUNTY by Lewis P. Summers; HISTORY
OF SMYTHE COUNTY by Goodridge Wilson; THE
Publication No 2
Pages 52 to 61