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Lafayette McMullen
Colorful Southwest Virginian

By E. Frank Hilton

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 many admirers.
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, and 1846/47.
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 Congress."
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 for
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
Hill Cemetery.
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 a
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 district.
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 his era.
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 below:
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
Publication No 2
Pages 52 to 61




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