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.
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
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
to Estillville, traveled at the rate of thirty miles per day, took a
Horses were changed at about each fifteen miles. The towns after
Bedford served by the coaches and wagons were Big Lick (now Roanoke),
Christiansburg, Ingles Ferry (now Radford), Fort Chiswell, Wytheville,
Royal Oak (now Marion), Blountville, and Estillville, as well as
places along the route. On the return trip products purchased along the
It can well
that the roads at this early date were little more than cut out
One of the early travelers over this route, writing of the road from
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
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
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.
was the sheriff of Scott County at the time Fayette began his first
by coach to the county. After a few years he married the sheriff's
Mary (Polly) Wood, and immediately he began the accumulation of an
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,
he purchased from Jonathan Wood the seventy-five acre farm adjoining
lands of William Houston on Big Moccasin Creek, and known as the
Salyer place. At his marriage to Mary (Polly) Wood, he used the name
the only time the writer has been able to find him using the long
of his name.
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.
political ambitions broadened. In 1846, when he ran his first race for
Congress, the Thirteenth District was composed of Smythe, Washington,
Russell, Wythe, Tazewell, McDowell, Grayson, Carroll, Pulaski, and
Counties. In that race Andrew S. Fulton, the Whig candidate, defeated
McMullen and Samuel E. Goodson, the Democratic candidates, by a
of six votes. Fayette's defeat resulted, no doubt, from the division in
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.
on the national level had become an interest of Fayette McMullen. In
he attended the National Convention of the Democratic party in
again in 1856 he was a delegate to the Convention held in Cincinnati,
in the Smith-Nixon Hall on Fifth Street. The Virginia headquarters were
in the Burnet House. The Cincinnati DAILY INQUIRER, of June 5, 1856,
to the representation from Virginia as "One of which the State may
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.
he had been in political life; however, his home life had not been a
one. No children had been born to his marriage. He had been away much
Richmond and Washington, and his home was broken at many times.
separations with his wife had occurred. Recorded in the Clerk'sOffice
Scott County on November 11, 1843, is a Separation Agreement in which
had settled property on his wife, Polly, with her father, Jonathan
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."
that gives us much information about his views was one delivered
before the U. S. Congress on April 29, 1852 and is of record in the
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
In his speech in support of the bill he says: "It cannot
as is available, it may be said Fayette McMullen was a successful
man. In addition to the part he played in the operation of the stage
and wagon train lines, he at an early age dealt extensively in real
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
Marion, he was in the mercantile business for a period of years. In
he established a newspaper called THE PATRIOT; after a few years he
the paper to Marcellious P. Venerable who combined it with THE HERALD
for a time it was published as THE PATRIOT AND HERALD. Fayette was a
of the first board of trustees of Marion Female College, founded in
a year later he was one of the founders of the Bank of Marion
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.
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
his district for a nomination for Congress, years ago, and during the
a man was hung in that locality for murder. About ten thousand men
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.
relates an episode that occurred in Smyth County. A group of horse
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
refused, Mr. Sheffey reached for his horse's bridge, and the thief for
his gun. McMullen
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.
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
has probably never had the opportunity to contribute its part in the
of a more colorful personality or greater natural leader of men. Some
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
he was elected to his first public office at an early age of
It was Scott County he
author of this paper was getting ready to enter reference numbers to
material when he became suddenly ill. Death followed. Consequently no
has been able to make the citations. However the source materials are
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