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John Letcher

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Title: John Letcher  
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Subject: William Smith (Virginia governor), Virginia in the American Civil War, United States congressional delegations from Virginia, American Civil War spies, William L. Goggin
Collection: 1813 Births, 1884 Deaths, 19Th-Century American Journalists, 19Th-Century Journalists, American Male Journalists, American Newspaper Editors, Confederate State Governors, Democratic Party Members of the United States House of Representatives, Democratic Party State Governors of the United States, Governors of Virginia, Journalists from Virginia, Members of the United States House of Representatives from Virginia, Members of the Virginia House of Delegates, People from Lexington, Virginia, People of Virginia in the American Civil War, Randolph–macon College Alumni, Virginia Democrats, Virginia Lawyers, Washington and Lee University Alumni
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John Letcher

John Letcher
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 11th district
In office
March 4, 1851 – March 3, 1853
Preceded by James McDowell
Succeeded by John F. Snodgrass
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 9th district
In office
March 4, 1853 – March 3, 1859
Preceded by James F. Strother
Succeeded by John T. Harris
34th Governor of Virginia (Disputed from 1861)
In office
January 1, 1860 – January 1, 1864
Lieutenant Robert Latane Montague
Preceded by Henry A. Wise
Succeeded by William Smith
Personal details
Born (1813-03-29)March 29, 1813
Lexington, Virginia, US
Died January 26, 1884(1884-01-26) (aged 70)
Virginia, US
Resting place Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery
Lexington, Virginia
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Susan Holt
Profession Politician, Lawyer, Journalist

John Letcher (March 29, 1813 – January 26, 1884) was an American lawyer, journalist, and politician. He served as a Representative in the United States Congress, was the 34th Governor of Virginia during the American Civil War, and later served in the Virginia General Assembly. He was also active on the Board of Visitors of Virginia Military Institute.


  • Biography 1
    • Early life 1.1
    • Career 1.2
    • American Civil War 1.3
    • Postwar 1.4


Early life

John Letcher was born in the town of Lexington in Rockbridge County, Virginia. He attended private rural schools and Randolph-Macon College in Boydton, Virginia (later relocated to Ashland, Virginia). In 1833, he was graduated from Washington Academy in Lexington. He studied law, was admitted to the Virginia State Bar, and opened a practice in Lexington in 1839.


Letcher was editor of the (Shenandoah) Valley Star newspaper from 1840 to 1850. He was active in the presidential campaigns of 1840, 1844, and 1848, serving as Democratic elector in 1848. Although never a true abolitionist, he signed the Ruffner Pamphlet of 1847, which proposed the abolition of slavery in that part of Virginia west of the Blue Ridge Mountains; however, he soon repudiated this antislavery stand. He was a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention in 1850.

He was elected as a Democratic candidate and served as a Representative in the United States Congress from 1851–1859. In Congress, he was known as "Honest John" because of his opposition to government extravagance.

American Civil War

John Letcher was elected as Governor of Virginia in 1859, defeating peace convention that met in Washington, D.C., February 8, 1861, in an effort to devise means to prevent the impending American Civil War. He discouraged secession, but was active in sustaining the ordinance passed by Virginia on April 17, 1861. Colonel John Brown Baldwin defeated Letcher in May 1863 for a seat in the Second Confederate Congress. In 1864, his home in Lexington was burned by Union troops during General David Hunter's raid.


The tomb of John Letcher at Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery (Lexington)

After the Civil War, Letcher resumed the practice of law in Lexington. He was elected as a member of the House of Delegates in the Virginia General Assembly 1875–1877. He was a member of the Board of Visitors of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) 1866–1880 and served as president of

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