Henry M. Mathews

Henry Mason Mathews (March 29, 1834 – April 28, 1884) was an American military officer, lawyer, and politician in the U.S. State of West Virginia. Mathews served as 7th Attorney General of West Virginia (1873–1877) and 5th Governor of West Virginia (1877–1881), being the first former Confederate elected to the governorship in the state. Born into a Virginia political family, Mathews attended the University of Virginia and afterward practiced law before the outbreak of the American Civil War. When Virginia seceded from the United States, in 1861, he volunteered for the Confederate States Army and served in the western theater as a major of artillery. Following the war, Mathews was elected to the West Virginia Senate, but was denied the seat due to state restrictions on former Confederates. Mathews participated in the 1872 state constitutional convention that overturned these restrictions, and in that same year was elected attorney general of West Virginia. After one term, he was elected governor of West Virginia.

Henry M. Mathews
Henry M. Mathews - Brady-Handy.jpg
5th Governor of West Virginia
In office
March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1881
Preceded byJohn J. Jacob
Succeeded byJacob B. Jackson
7th Attorney General of West Virginia
In office
GovernorJohn J. Jacob
Preceded byJoseph Sprigg
Succeeded byRobert White
Personal details
Born(1834-03-29)March 29, 1834
Frankford, Virginia
(now West Virginia)
DiedApril 28, 1884(1884-04-28) (aged 50)
Lewisburg, West Virginia
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Lucy Fry Mathews
RelativesMathews family
Alma materUniversity of Virginia
A.B. 1856
B.L. 1857
Military service
AllegianceConfederate States of America Confederate States of America
Branch/service Confederate States Army
Years of service1861–1864
RankConfederate States of America Captain.png Major of Artillery 1863–1864

Mathews was identified as a Redeemer, the southern wing of the conservative, pro-business Bourbon faction of the Democratic Party that sought to oust the Radical Republicans who had come to power across the postwar South. However, Mathews took the uncommon practice of appointing members from both parties to important positions, causing his administration to be characterized as "an era of good feelings." He sought to attract industry to the state, and courted immigration. His administration faced challenges related to the Long Depression, most notably the outbreak of the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, as a labor protest to wage cuts. After several failed attempts to quell the strike with state militia, Mathews called on President Rutherford B. Hayes for federal assistance, which brought national attention to the strike that spread to other states in what would be the first national labor strike in United States history. Mathews' handling of the strike, and his portrayal of the strikers, was criticized by labor activists at the time, and his calling for Federal assistance was questioned, though the involvement of the federal government in breaking up the strike has come to be seen as inevitable by modern historians. In later life, Mathews served as president of the White Sulfur Springs Company (now the Greenbrier Resort).

Early lifeEdit

Henry Mason Mathews was born on March 29, 1834 in Frankford, Virginia, U.S., (located in modern-day West Virginia) to Eliza Shore (née Reynolds) and Mason Mathews.[1][2] His family had been politically prominent in western Virginia since the beginning of its European settlement in the early 1700s, and his father was a successful merchant who held a number of local offices and later served in the Virginia House of Delegates.[2][3] His ancestry was Scotch-Irish and/or Welsh.[4]

Mathews received a primary education at the local Lewisburg Academy, and afterward attended the University of Virginia, earning a Bachelor of Arts in 1855 and a Master of Arts in 1856. He was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity.[1] In his Masters Thesis, "Poetry in America," Mathews advocated the study of fine arts and reconciled their apparent decline in the face of industrialism with the potential for societal advancement such industry implied. He concluded, "while we may regret to see the art of poetry declining, . ... we know also that this very fact is an evidence of the continual improvement of the mind of man, and of the advancement of the world in the accomplishment of its destiny."[5]

On the completion of his graduate degree, Mathews entered Lexington Law School and studied under John W. Brockenbrough, graduating in 1857 with a degree of Bachelor of Laws.[2] He was admitted to the bar and began practicing in the fall of that year; in November, at age 22, he married Lucy Fry Mathews, daughter of Judge Joseph L. Fry.[1] They would go on to have 5 children: Lucile "Josephine", Mason, William Gordon, Henry Edgar, and Laura Herne.[6] Soon afterward he accepted the professorship of Language and Literature at Alleghany College, Blue Sulphur Springs, retaining the privilege to practicing law in the courts.[1][2]

Mathews became active in local politics in the years proceeding the outbreak of the American Civil War, organizing for Democratic presidential candidate John C. Breckinridge during the 1860 presidential campaign.[7] Breckinridge lost the national vote to Abraham Lincoln, who did not receive a single vote in Mathews' home county of Greenbrier.[8] Nevertheless, Greenbrier opposed the growing movement of secession in the United States, voting against it in the Virginia Secession Convention of 1861. Several days after Virginia ultimately decided on secession, Mathews voiced, "I am in favor of the preservation of our glorious Union, and a resort to all Constitutional remedies for its restoration. Next to my Bible, I reverence [the] Constitution of my Country & the Union."[9]

Military serviceEdit

There is but one sentiment here. Every man, young & old is ready at a minute's warning to defend the Old Commonwealth.

—H. M. Mathews letter to Virginia governor John Letcher, April 21, 1861[10]

Brigadier General Alexander W. Reynolds, uncle of Major Henry Mason Mathews

Despite Mathews' objection to secession, he chose to follow his home state of Virginia on its joining of the Confederate States of America. Along with his two brothers, he volunteered for the Confederate States Army (CSA) in 1861 at the rank of private.[11] He was assigned to the staff of Brigadier General Henry Wise, who in 1861 engaged in a public feud with fellow CSA general John B. Floyd over authority of the western Virginia region.[12] Mathews' father, who at this time was the Virginia House Delegate for Greenbrier County, made field visits to each of the generals, then recommended to Confederate President Jefferson Davis that both be deposed.[13] President Davis removed Floyd from command in Virginia and reassigned him to Fort Donelson in Tennessee.[14][13]

In 1863, Henry Mathews was moved to the staff of his uncle, Brigadier General Alexander W. Reynolds, in Major General Carter L. Stevenson's division of Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton's army. He was promoted to major of artillery and served the Vicksburg Campaign.[1][15] When general Stevenson's division advanced to Baker's Creek for the Battle of Champion Hill, Mathews was left in Vicksburg as the chief of his department.[16]

Following the Vicksburg Campaign, Mathews was arrested by orders of General Robert E. Lee due to an unintended error. He described the circumstances in a letter to his brother, Capt. Joseph William Mathews:

On the night of the 6th [October 1864], I got into Camp tired and wet, went to bed and slept very soundly. About midnite a courier brought me a note that each brigade should move with its own ordnance. By a very dim light and just aroused, I read the note incorrectly, that each division shall move with its own ordnance. When I discovered my mistake I explained the matter to General S[tevenson]. He said that my explanation was perfectly satisfactory and asked me to make it in writing in order that he might forward it to Gen. Lee. I did so and just before Lee rec'd the explanation he ordered S. to arrest me and prefer charges. So here I am in arrest.[17]

Lee dismissed the charges on receipt of the explanation and Mathews returned to his camp. By the end of 1864, Mathews had lost enthusiasm for the war.[17]

Political careerEdit

Political riseEdit

While at war Mathews' reputation as a fledgling leader had spread through his home state. In a post-war state that was dominated by the Republican party, Mathews, a Democrat, was elected to the West Virginia Senate in 1865 but was not allowed to serve due to the restriction that prohibited former Confederates from holding public office.[2] As Democratic support increased in subsequent years, state Republicans amended the West Virginia State Constitution to return state rights to former Confederates in an attempt to appeal to voters. However, the effort backfired as the Democratic party quickly regained control of the legislature.[18] Mathews was sent as a Democratic delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1872 to overhaul the 1863 Republican-drafted state constitution. The drafting of this new constitution, of which Mathews was a part, enabled his rise in the politics of the state.[2][19] The following year, 1873, Mathews was elected 7th attorney general of the state under Governor John J. Jacobs, succeeding Joseph Sprigg, and served one term in which his popularity within his party rose.[20][2]

An 1870s political cartoon calling for "Death to Bourbonism"

At the conclusion of his term as attorney general, Mathews defeated Republican Nathan Goff by 15,000 votes in the most one-sided race for governor in state history at that time.[1] Thus, on March 4, 1877, Mathews became 5th governor of West Virginia, and the first Confederate veteran to be elected to the state governorship.[2] Mathews' conservative, pro-business platform aligned him with the Bourbon Democratic movement sweeping the South. Mathews was the first of the Bourbons to ascend to a governorship,[2] though many would follow all over the South in the 1880s.[21]

Governor of West VirginiaEdit

In his inaugural address, Mathews emphasized unity and progression in the wake of war, promising:

The legitimate results of the war have been accepted in good faith, and political parties are no longer aligned upon the dead issues of the past. We have ceased to look back mournfully, and have said "Let the dead past bury its dead," and with reorganized forces have moved up to the living issues of the present.[22]

Mathews' address was well-received across the state. The Republican Morgantown Post praised Mathews' "broad, manly, and liberal address, which possesses, to our mind, an honesty of purpose, and a freedom from disguise, that is truly refreshing. . . The skies are brightening all around, and argue well for a long lease of the best fraternal feeling."[23] Mathews' inauguration, one "of flowers and flags and banners and music, feasting and revelry,"[23] had been a more elaborate affair than previous gubernatorial inaugurations had been, setting a precedent in the state that has continued to the present.[24]

On assembling his cabinet, Mathews sought "perfect peace, that fighting might cease."[25] He appointed both Republican and Democratic party members to his cabinet, a move that was uncommon in the post-war political climate.[2]

Blockade of engines at Martinsburg, West Virginia, July 16, 1877

Great Railroad StrikeEdit

Awaiting Mathews in office were economic woes associated with the Panic of 1873 and the subsequent Long Depression. In July 1877, four months into his term, he was alerted that Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) workers in Martinsburg, West Virginia, had been stopping trains to protest wage cuts. Mathews called out local militia under Colonel Charles J. Faulkner to disperse the protest, but unbeknownst to Mathews, several in the company were rail workers themselves, and many others were sympathetic to the strike. The militia acted indecisively on arrival, and in the confusion a striker named William Vandergriff fired on the militia and was mortally wounded by return fire. Local papers blamed Mathews for the death and deemed Vandergriff a "martyr." The militia officially conveyed to Mathews that they would thereon refuse his orders.[26]

Mathews responded by sending another militia company—this time making sure no rail workers were among them—to address the growing strike, but he was informed that this company too would not act against the strikers.[27] Mathews finally complied with the urging of his administration to request Federal troops from newly elected President Rutherford B. Hayes. Mathews' decision to call for federal support garnered significant national notice to the strikes. Local newspapers were highly critical of the governor's characterization of the strikes to Hayes as an "insurrection" rather than an act of desperation, with one notable paper recorded a striking worker's perspective that, "[he] had might as well die by the bullet as to starve to death by inches."[28] Mathews' decision to call for federal assistance has been vindicated by historians, who have come to view federal involvement as inevitable.[28]

Hayes had vowed not to involve the Federal government in domestic matters during his candidacy several months prior, and he sought to solve the matter diplomatically. After failed negotiations with leaders of the railway "insurrection," he reluctantly dispatched Federal troops to Martinsburg. However, by this time the strike, by then referred to as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, had reverted to peaceful protest in Martinsburg while violence spread to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Missouri. The strike gained considerable support in other states across the country.[27][29]

In 1880, Mathews was again required to dispatch the militia, this time to Hawks Nest, Fayette County, to stop the state's first major coal strike, as miners from Hawks Nest were being threatened with violence to cease productivity by a rival constituent.[30]

Relocating the capitalEdit

West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia. Charleston was made the state's permanent state capital during Mathews' administration.[31]

From 1863, when West Virginia was formed, through 1875, the capital of West Virginia had traveled between Wheeling and Charleston, with its location largely dependent on political party control of the state, with Republicans favoring Wheeling and Democrats favoring Charleston. Early in Mathews' administration, a vote was held to determine a permanent location for the capital, which was currently located in Wheeling. Three options of Charleston, Clarksburg, and Martinsurg were presented (Wheeling was not listed as a voting option). During the campaigning, state Democrats employed a young Booker T. Washington to engage in a speaking tour to consolidate black opinion in favor of Charleston. Charleston won the vote, and has remained the state capital since.[31]

State debt and treasuryEdit

Questions of debt owed by West Virginia to Virginia persisted throughout Mathews' term in office. The question arose quickly when in 1863 West Virginia was created from the northwestern Virginia region. While both states recognized that a debt existed, determining the value of the debt proved difficult.[2] Virginia authorities had determined that West Virginia should assume approximately one-third of the state debt as of January 1, 1861 — the year Virginia was seceded from the United States, determining West Virginia's total to be $953,360.32. Mathews' advisers countered with the figure of $525,000. Another figure given to him by the Virginians was $7,000,000, owed by West Virginia to its eastern counterpart. Unable to determine the accuracy of these reports, and recognizing that the question had taken on political meaning, Mathews pursued policy intended to suspend a resolution until the specifics had become clear. His successor, Jacob B. Jackson, inherited the same problem and further suspended the resolution of the matter.[32] The argument dragged on throughout the 1800s and the debt was not retired until 1939.[33]

During Mathews' administration, Attorney General Robert White secured a decision by the United States Supreme Court in favor of levying taxes against the burgeoning railroad industry, which to that point had not paid any taxes to the State of West Virginia. This decision resulted in an influx of thousands of dollars into the State treasury.[34]

Views on race and slaveryEdit

Before the Civil War, western Virginia had a relatively low slave population compared to the eastern part of the state, or the South as a whole (4% in western Virginia as compared to about 30% in the South).[35][36] Mathews was raised in one such slaveholding western Virginia household.[37] Mathews' precise views on race and slavery are unclear, though he was a member of several local political conventions that issued statements and resolutions opposing racial equality, both before and after the Civil War.[7][38] He was also a delegate to the state convention that drafted the 1872 West Virginia Constitution, which codified policies of segregation in the state.[39] During Mathews' political career he was identified as a Redeemer – the Southern faction of the Bourbon Democrats. Redeemers dominated Southern politics in most areas from the 1870s to 1910 and were generally led by wealthy former planters, businessmen, and professionals who sought to expel the freedmen, carpetbaggers, and scalawags from Southern government and reestablished white supremacy in the South.[40] However, West Virginia historian Otis K. Rice objects to this characterization of the West Virginia Redeemers:

This fails to do justice to the flexibility of West Virginia Bourbons. The West Virginia Democrats who followed the Republican founders of the state included Governors Mathews, Jackson, Wilson, Fleming, and MacCorkle. These men were ready to adjust to changing political conditions and to the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the federal Constitution, which conferred freedom, citizenship, and the right to vote and hold office upon former slaves.

From 1865 to 1957 West Virginia passed eleven Jim Crow laws under Democratic leadership. None of these were passed during Mathews' administration.[41] In 1881, following the ruling of the Strauder v. West Virginia Supreme Court case, Mathews reversed a 1873 state law that prohibited blacks from serving on juries.[42] In his closing address to the West Virginia legislature in January 1881, Mathews urged his fellow statesmen to adopt a progressive attitude towards the divisive issues and institutions that precipitated the Civil War:

It is necessary . . . to fully realize that institutions under which some of us were reared and which have left an enduring impress on our character, -- which have influenced not only our habits of living, but also our opinions and habits of thought -- are now of the past and no longer factors of existing social or political problems; that while the fundamental principles of our republican institutions are forever true and sufficient for all time, yet they must be adapted to the changed conditions produced by the result of the civil war, an increasing population and an advancing civilization. West Virginia should be aligned with the most progressive of her sister States, between whose institutions and her own there is no longer any conflict, and we must live and think and act in the living Present, seizing promptly its advantages and discharging faithfully its duties.[43]

Later lifeEdit

Mathews retired from politics in 1881, at which point he returned to his law practice. He additionally served as president of the White Sulfur Springs Company (now The Greenbrier resort) following its post-war reopening. The resort became a place for many Southerners and Northerners alike to vacation, and the setting for many famous post-war reconciliations, including the White Sulphur Manifesto, which was the only political position issued by Robert E. Lee after the Civil War, that advocated the merging of the two societies. The resort went on to become a center of regional post-war society.[44]

Henry M. Mathews died unexpectedly on April 28, 1884 and is buried in the at the Old Stone Church cemetery in Lewisburg, West Virginia.[45]


Henry M. Mathews on a 2010 Republic of Guinea stamp

In policy Mathews was a strict Bourbon Democrat. He established a state immigration bureau to attract new workers to the state, expanded the coal and oil industries, improved transportation, and funded a state geological survey.[46] He was described by West Virginia historian James Callahan as "a patriotic, broad, and liberal minded ex-Confederate who had fully accepted the results of the Civil War and was well fitted to lead in meeting living issues."[47] His administration at large has been characterized as "an era of good feeling," due to his appointing of Republicans to office during his Democratic tenure.[48][49]

Fellow West Virginia Governor William A. MacCorkle, in Recollections of Fifty Years of West Virginia (1928), said of him: "He was not a good come-and-take debater, but when he had prepared himself to make an oration on the issues of the day, he was splendid. His oratory was easy, smooth, perfectly balanced, his voice was splendidly modulated, his gestures were perfect, and he could make as fine an impression on a rather cultivated audience as any man in the state."[50] Historian Mary L. Rickard, in the Calendar of the Henry Mason Mathews Letters and Papers in the State Department of Archives and History (1941), offered a critical analysis of his administration: "At this time there was less wealth per capita in West Virginia than in 1865, the result of which had a pronounced effect upon State politics. Those highest up in the social scale held the highest political positions and the entire organization became dangerously corrupt."[15] However, West Virginia historian Richard Fast notes that no committee to investigate any alleged scandal or mismanagement was appointed during Mathews' term.[25]


  1. ^ a b c d e f White, p. 431
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Addkinson-Simmons
  3. ^ Callahan, p. 7-9
  4. ^ Boots
  5. ^ Carmichael, p. 29
  6. ^ Atkinson, George Wesley (1919). Bench and Bar of West Virginia. Charleston, West Virginia: Virginia Law Book Company. p. 279. OCLC 8899470. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  7. ^ a b Rice, p. 251
  8. ^ Rice, p. 254
  9. ^ Rice, p. 257
  10. ^ Curry, p. 50
  11. ^ Combs, p. 7
  12. ^ "Confederate General Henry Wise Relieved of Duty; "Contraband" Allowed in Navy". Civil War Daily Gazette. Archived from the original on December 21, 2013. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  13. ^ a b Rice, p. 264
  14. ^ "John Buchanan Floyd". American Battlefield Trust. January 27, 2012.
  15. ^ a b Rickard
  16. ^ Stevenson, Carter. Report of Maj. Gen. Carter L. Stevenson, C. S. Army, commanding Division: May 16, 1863.--Battle of Champion's Hill, or Baker's Creek, Miss.
  17. ^ a b Combs, p. 39
  18. ^ Talbott, D. "Duke" (2011). "Flick Amendment". e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. West Virginia Humanities Council. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  19. ^ Stealey, J.E. (2010). "Constitutional Convention of 1872". West Virginia: e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  20. ^ Lewis, Virgil Anson (1912). History and Government of West Virginia. New York City & Cincinnati: American Book Company. p. 407. OCLC 609213478. Retrieved April 17, 2020 – via Google Books.
  21. ^ Woodward, Vann (1971). Origins of the New South, 1877–1913. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. p. 48. ISBN 9780807100196. OCLC 881290685. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  22. ^ Mathews, Henry M. (1877). "Inaugural address of Henry Mason Mathews". West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
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  24. ^ "Taking the Oath:150 Years of Gubernatorial Inaugurations; Chapter One: The Wheeling Years 1863-1885". West Virginia Archives and History. West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  25. ^ a b Fast, p. 185
  26. ^ Bellesiles, Michael (2010). 1877: America's Year for Living Violently. London: The New Press. p. 149. ISBN 9781595587084. OCLC 721839184. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  27. ^ a b Bellesiles, p.149
  28. ^ a b Caplinger
  29. ^ Laurie, Clayton (1997). The Role of Federal Military Forces in Domestic Disorders, 1877–1945. Washington, D.C: Center of Military History, U.S. Army. pp. 29–38. ISBN 9780160882685. OCLC 40177032. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  30. ^ Bailey, Kenneth (2016). "Hawk's Nest Coal Company Strike". West Virginia: e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  31. ^ a b Rice, p.475-476
  32. ^ Rice, Otis (2010). West Virginia: A History. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0813118543. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  33. ^ Bailey, Kenneth (2010). "Virginia Debt Question". e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia.
  34. ^ Biographical Publishing Company (1903). Men of West Virginia, Volume 2. Chicago: Biographical Publishing Company. p. 22. OCLC 670364755. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  35. ^ "Antebellum Slavery". West Virginia Archives and History. West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  36. ^ "Statistics on Slavery". Weber University. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  37. ^ Combs, p. 22
  38. ^ Rice, p. 312
  39. ^ Virginia, West (1905). Constitution of West Virginia as Adopted in 1872: With Amendments Since Made. Donnally Publishing Company. p. 30. Retrieved August 30, 2017 – via Internet Archive. west virginia 1872 White and colored persons shall not be taught in the same school..
  40. ^ Moore, James T. (1978). "Redeemers Reconsidered". The Journal of Southern History. XLIV (3): 357–378. doi:10.2307/2208047. JSTOR 2208047.
  41. ^ "Jim Crow Laws: West Virginia" (PDF). Jim Crow History. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  42. ^ Hornsby, Alton (2011). Black America: A State-by-State Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 915. ISBN 9780313341120. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  43. ^ Mathews, Henry M. (1881). Biennial Message of Gov. "Henry M. Mathews" to the Legislature of West Virginia. Wheeling, West Virginia: W.J. Johnson Public Printer. pp. 28–29. OCLC 34939564. Retrieved November 6, 2021.
  44. ^ Robert E. Lee (August 26, 1868). "White Sulphur Manifesto". Retrieved August 26, 2010.
  45. ^ "Henry Mason Mathews". West Virginia Division of Culture and History. West Virginia State Archives. 2007. Archived from the original on February 17, 2007. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  46. ^ Rice, p. 457
  47. ^ Callahan, James (1913). Semi-centennial History of West Virginia: With Special Articles on Development and Resources. West Virginia: Semi-centennial Commission of West Virginia. p. 242. OCLC 959554731. Retrieved April 17, 2020. Semi-centennial History of West Virginia: With Special Articles.
  48. ^ Callahan1913
  49. ^ Capace, Nancey (1999). The Encyclopedia of West Virginia. West Virginia: North American Book Dist LLC. p. 63. ISBN 0403098432. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  50. ^ MacCorkle, William A. (1928). Recollections of Fifty Years of West Virginia. New York: J.P. Putnam's Sons. p. 172. OCLC 561733136.


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Preceded by Attorney General of West Virginia
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