World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Thayer Melvin


Thayer Melvin

Thayer Melvin
A black and white photographic portrait of Thayer Melvin in his later years.
Photographic portrait of Thayer Melvin in his later years.
4th Attorney General of West Virginia
In office
January 1, 1867 – July 1, 1869
Governor Arthur I. Boreman
Preceded by Edwin Maxwell
Succeeded by Aquilla B. Caldwell
Circuit Judge for the First Judicial District
In office
June 26, 1869 – November 19, 1881
Preceded by Elbert H. Caldwell
Succeeded by John Jeremiah Jacob
In office
1899 – November 9, 1906
Preceded by Joseph R. Paull
Succeeded by Frank W. Nesbitt
Personal details
Born November 15, 1835
Fairview, Brooke County, Virginia (now known as New Manchester in Hancock County, West Virginia)
Died Did not recognize date. Try slightly modifying the date in the first parameter. (aged 70)
Wheeling City Hospital, Ward 5, Wheeling, West Virginia
Resting place United Methodist Cemetery, New Manchester, West Virginia
Political party Whig Party (pre-Civil War)
Republican Party (post-Civil War)
Parents James Melvin (father)
Philenia Thayer Melvin (mother)
Profession lawyer, politician, and judge
Awards Brevet
Military service
Allegiance Union
Service/branch  United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1861–1865
Rank Captain
Adjutant General of the Department of West Virginia
Brevet Colonel
Unit Company F, 1st West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Department of West Virginia
Battles/wars American Civil War

Thayer Melvin (November 15, 1835 – November 9, 1906) was an American lawyer, politician, and judge in the U.S. state of West Virginia. Melvin served as the fourth Attorney General of West Virginia from January 1, 1867, until July 1, 1869, and twice served as the presiding circuit judge of West Virginia's First Judicial District in the state's Northern Panhandle (1869–1881 and 1899–1906).

Melvin was born in 1835 in present-day New Manchester, West Virginia. He was educated in local common schools and began studying law at the age of 17. In 1853, at the age of 18, Melvin became a member of the Hancock County bar. By the age of 20 he was elected as the Hancock County Commonwealth's attorney, a post to which he was twice reelected in 1856 and 1860.

In May 1861, Melvin served as a delegate to the Confederate partisans, McNeill's Rangers. Melvin, Kelley, and Crook were taken to Richmond where they were exchanged for Confederate general Isaac R. Trimble.

In 1865, Melvin was elected prosecuting attorney of Hardy County and was elected as the prosecuting attorney for Hancock County the following year. He was elected West Virginia's Attorney General in 1866 and served in the post until 1869 when he was appointed to the circuit judgeship of West Virginia's First Judicial District. Melvin was twice reelected to his circuit judge position, resigning in 1881 to practice law in Wheeling. In 1899, Melvin was reappointed to his First Judicial District circuit judge seat and served on the bench until his death from a stroke in 1906.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Early law career 2
  • American Civil War 3
  • Political and judicial careers 4
  • Later life and death 5
  • Legacy 6
  • Personal life and activities 7
  • References 8
  • Bibliography 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

Early life and education

Thayer Melvin was born on November 15, 1835, in Fairview, Virginia.[1][2][3][a] The eldest of five children, he was the son of James Melvin and his wife Philenia Thayer Melvin.[1][3][4] Melvin's father James, of Irish descent, was from Pennsylvania.[1]

Melvin received his early education in the common primary and secondary schools in Hancock and other neighboring counties.[1][2] He commenced his studies in jurisprudence at the age of 17 in New Manchester, which was then the county seat of Hancock, and received his law books and instruction from the town's lawyers.[1][2] Melvin then relocated to New Lisbon, Ohio, for a year to further his law studies under the instruction of a friend.[2][3] In 1853, at the age of 18, he passed his bar examination and was admitted to the bar of Hancock County.[1][2][5] Melvin then practiced law in association with O. W. Langfitt in New Manchester.[6]

Early law career

In 1855, Melvin was elected as the Commonwealth's attorney of Hancock County, despite the fact that he was under the required minimum age of 21 to hold public office.[1][2][5] He was twice reelected for full terms to the position in 1856 and 1860.[1][2][3] Melvin continued to serve as Hancock County's prosecuting attorney notwithstanding his relocation to Wheeling in 1857.[1][2] Following his move to Wheeling, he established a law practice known as Pendleton & Melvin with Joseph H. Pendleton, who was one of the city's preeminent lawyers.[1][2][5] During this period, Melvin was affiliated with the Whig Party.[7]

American Civil War

In May 1861, Melvin served as a delegate from Hancock County to the

  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons

External links

  • "Letter to Thayer Melvin from Governor Jacob B. Jackson, November 16, 1881". West Virginia Archives and History. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Retrieved July 14, 2015. 
  • "Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: Capture of Generals Kelley and Crook and Captain Melvin". West Virginia Archives and History. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Retrieved July 14, 2015. 

Further reading

  • Akin, William E. (2006). West Virginia Baseball: A History, 1865–2000.  
  • Armstrong, William Howard (2000). Major McKinley: William McKinley and the Civil War.  
  • Brant & Fuller (1890). History of the Upper Ohio Valley: With Family History and Biographical Sketches, A Statement of Its Resources, Industrial Growth and Commercial Advantages, Volume I.  
  • Bushong, Millard Kessler (2009). A History of Jefferson County, West Virginia 1719–1940.  
  • Casler, John Overton (2005). Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade.  
  • Dayton, Ruth Woods (2009). Greenbrier Pioneers and Their Homes.  
  • Hall, Granville Davisson (2000). The Rending of Virginia: A History.  
  • Jefferson County Historical Society (December 1996). Roger J. Perry, ed. "Magazine of the Jefferson County Historical Society" LXII.  
  • Magid, Paul (2013). George Crook: From the Redwoods to Appomattox.  
  • McDonald, William N. (2002). Bushrod Corbin Washington, ed. A History of the Laurel Bridgade.  
  • Newton, J. H.; Nichols, G. G.; Sprankle, A. G. (1879). J. H. Newton, ed. History of the Pan-Handle: Being Historical Collections of the Counties of Ohio, Brooke, Marshall and Hancock, West Virginia.  
  • Robinson, Charles M. (2001). General Crook and the Western Frontier.  
  • Scharf, John Thomas (2003). History of Western Maryland: Being a History of Frederick, Montgomery, Carroll, Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties from the Earliest Period to the Present Day, Including Biographical Sketches of Their Representative Men, Volume 1.  
  • Waldrep, Christopher (2011). Jury Discrimination: The Supreme Court, Public Opinion, and a Grassroots Fight for Racial Equality in Mississippi.  
  • West Virginia Bar Association (1907). Proceedings of the Twenty-second Annual Meeting of the West Virginia Bar Association Held at Elkins, West Virginia on December 27th and 28th, 1906.  


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x West Virginia Bar Association 1907, p. 132.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Atkinson 1919, p. 104.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Judge Thayer Melvin Dead After 50 Years at the Bar".  
  4. ^ a b c d "Death Record Detail: Thayer Melvin". West Virginia Vital Research Records. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Retrieved July 14, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Brant & Fuller 1890, p. 546.
  6. ^ Brant & Fuller 1890, p. 544.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Atkinson 1919, p. 106.
  8. ^ Hall 2000, p. 244.
  9. ^ "Hancock County.". Daily Intelligencer ( 
  10. ^ "Personal.". Daily Intelligencer ( 
  11. ^ "Promotion.". Daily Intelligencer ( 
  12. ^ a b Dayton 2009, p. 119.
  13. ^ a b c d e Brant & Fuller 1890, p. 547.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Magid 2013, p. none; e-book reader format.
  15. ^ a b McDonald 2002, p. 342.
  16. ^ a b Armstrong 2000, p. 95.
  17. ^ a b Robinson 2001, p. 74.
  18. ^ a b c Casler 2005, p. 336.
  19. ^ a b c Scharf 2003, p. 297.
  20. ^ "Southern News.". Democrat and Sentinel ( 
  21. ^ "A Word for Capt. Melvin". Daily Intelligencer ( 
  22. ^ "Generals Crook and Kelly in Richmond.". Cleveland Morning Leader ( 
  23. ^ "Elected.". The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer ( 
  24. ^ a b "By the Governor of West Virginia. A Proclamation.". The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer ( 
  25. ^ a b Atkinson & Gibbens 1890, p. 38.
  26. ^ "West Virginia Republican Ticket.". Harrisburg Telegraph ( 
  27. ^ Newton, Nichols & Sprankle 1879, p. 179.
  28. ^ Newton, Nichols & Sprankle 1879, p. 261.
  29. ^ "Appointed Judge.". The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer ( 
  30. ^ a b c d e f g h i j West Virginia Bar Association 1907, p. 133.
  31. ^ "The New Judge.". The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer ( 
  32. ^ Bushong 2009, p. 214.
  33. ^ Jefferson County Historical Society 1996, p. 42.
  34. ^ a b c Atkinson & Gibbens 1890, p. 47.
  35. ^ "The Circuit Judges.". The Democrat ( 
  36. ^ a b c Waldrep 2011, pp. 168–169.
  37. ^ a b Waldrep 2011, p. 178.
  38. ^ a b "Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1879)". Justia website. Justia. Retrieved July 14, 2015. 
  39. ^ "Proclamation By The Governor.". The Weekly Register ( 
  40. ^ a b Atkinson 1919, p. 156.
  41. ^ Atkinson 1919, pp. 104–106.
  42. ^ Atkinson 1919, p. 320.
  43. ^ a b "Pittsburgh &c. Ry. v. Board of Public Works, 172 U.S. 32 (1898)". Justia website. Justia. Retrieved July 14, 2015. 
  44. ^ a b "Involves Thousands Does a Decision of the United States Supreme Court of Interest in West Virginia.". The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer ( 
  45. ^ "United States Supreme Court.". The Times ( 
  46. ^ "A Tribute to Judge Melvin.". The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer ( 
  47. ^ a b c d e Akin 2006, p. 49.
  48. ^ "No Sunday Game at Wheeling.". Pittsburgh Daily Post ( 
  49. ^ "The Democratic Ticket. The Republican Ticket.". The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer ( 
  50. ^ "Judge Melvin Honored.". The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer ( 
  51. ^ a b "Hollidaysburg Happenings: Items of News from the Capital of the County.".  
  52. ^ a b "No Hope For Judge Melvin: West Virginia Jurist Stricken with Paralysis Cannot Recover.".  
  53. ^ a b "Death Record Detail: Thayer Melvin". West Virginia Vital Research Records. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Retrieved July 14, 2015. 
  54. ^ a b "Estate Valued at $30,000.".  
  55. ^ "Nesbit is Appointed as Circuit Judge".  
  56. ^ "A Pleasing Appointment.". The Fairmont West Virginian ( 
  57. ^ "Vacancy in Supreme Court: Governor of West Virginia in a Quandary.". Evening Star ( 
  58. ^ Newton, Nichols & Sprankle 1879, p. 230.
  59. ^ "Soldiers' Reunion at Wheeling.".  
  60. ^ "Army of West Virginia: Preparations for the Coming Reunion.". The Pittsburgh Weekly Post ( 
  61. ^ a b "Business Meeting: Of the Army of West Virginia Association–Officers Elected.". Marietta Daily Leader ( 
  62. ^ "Headquarters, Society of the Army of West Virginia.".  
  63. ^ "West Virginia.".  
  64. ^ "Memorial Day: Provisions Made for the Decoration of Graves Sunday Week.". The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer ( 
  65. ^ "Memorial Day: Grand Army Posts and Auxiliary Organizations Prepare for the Day's Observance in Wheeling-Details for the Several Cemeteries". The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer ( 
  66. ^ "Holliday Post In Charge of the Decoration of Graves North-of-Creek Cemeteries.". The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer ( 
  67. ^ "To Receive Gen. Weissert: The Arrangements Completed at a Meeting Saturday Night.". The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer ( 
  68. ^ Newton, Nichols & Sprankle 1879, p. 430.
  69. ^  


a. ^ Melvin's hometown of Fairview later became part of Hancock County in 1847 and West Virginia in 1863. Fairview was originally known as New Manchester, then known as Fairview and Pughtown, and was renamed New Manchester, which it remains at the present day.[1][2][68][69]

Explanatory notes


Melvin never married.[4][7][53] He was a member of the Wheeling Shakespeare Club[58] and was active in several Union veterans' organizations and reunions. In October 1871, Melvin delivered an address to welcome the soldiers and attendees of the Army of West Virginia Soldiers' Reunion in Wheeling.[59][60] He was later a member of the Society of the Army of West Virginia, later known as the Army of West Virginia Association.[61] In 1883, and again on September 9, 1897, Melvin was elected a vice president of the organization.[61][62] Melvin was also a member of the 1st West Virginia Association, of which he was elected president on September 6, 1894.[63] In addition, Melvin belonged to the Holliday Post of the Grand Army of the Republic and participated in the decoration of local Union graves on Memorial Day in 1897, 1898, and 1899.[64][65][66][67]

Personal life and activities

Following his death, Melvin was memorialized by the West Virginia Bar Association at its annual meeting in December 1906.[1] The association averred, "Judge Melvin's name and character, both as a Judge and as a man, was not only well known and recognized in the Circuit in which he so long occupied the Bench, but known and honored throughout the entire state of West Virginia."[1] In his Bench and Bar of West Virginia (1919), former Governor George W. Atkinson remarked of Melvin's judicial career: "He sought only to be just and fair, and rarely if ever, failed in deciding right. It was a rare occurrence for one of his decisions to be reversed by the Appellate Court. Furthermore he was one of the most courteous, urbane of men, and was at all times absolutely honest and sincere."[7]


Following his death, lawyer Frank W. Nesbitt was appointed by Governor William M. O. Dawson to fulfill his unexpired term on the circuit court bench.[55][56][57]

Melvin's estate was valued at $30,000.[54] His heirs included his sister, Mrs. S. T. Moore of Fairview, his nephews James and Paul Melvin of Fairview, his nephew John Melvin of New Cumberland, and his niece Mrs. John Bendene of Steubenville.[54] While not an heir, Melvin was also survived by his brother, J. A. B. Melvin, who was president of the Altoona Trust Company.[51]

Melvin served out his term until October 31, 1906, when he suffered a stroke while holding a session of the circuit court in Wellsburg.[3][30] He was paralyzed and lost consciousness as a result of the stroke, and was assisted from the bench and taken to Wheeling City Hospital in Ward 5.[3][51][52] By the following day physicians had given up hope for his recovery.[52] Melvin died at 16:00 on November 9, 1906, at the hospital as a result of apoplexy.[4][7][30][53] His body was taken to the McLure Hotel on November 10, where it lay in state until November 12.[3] Melvin was interred next to his father and mother in his family's graveyard at United Methodist Cemetery in his hometown of Fairview (present-day New Manchester) in Hancock County.[3][4][30]

Later life and death

Melvin served the remainder of Paull's unexpired term, and was nominated by both Democratic and Republican parties and reelected for another eight-year term without opposition in November 1900.[7][49][50]

On June 3, 1900, Melvin granted an injunction that prevented the Wheeling Stogies baseball team from playing Sunday games in Wheeling.[47] The Stogies had begun holding Sunday games to increase attendance, but received warrants sworn by Wheeling Island residents and a fine on April 29, 1900, during their first Sunday game on the island.[47] The Stogies continued to play Sunday games, claiming them to be for charity's sake; however, the team's players were again fined by Judge J. R. LaRue.[47] A local federation of churches and other people opposed to Sunday baseball games applied to Melvin and the circuit court for an injunction to restrict the Stogies and other baseball clubs from playing on Sunday because it was a "public nuisance".[48] His injunction, the violation of which was a fine of $2,000, followed.[47] The team's lawyers argued that Sunday games met the recreational needs of working-class people, but Melvin and the court did not buy the argument, and Sunday baseball games did not become prevalent in West Virginia for another two decades.[47]

[46][30][7] Following the death of Judge Joseph R. Paull in 1899, Melvin was appointed by Governor

Melvin resumed the practice of law in Wheeling.[30][41] In 1881, he joined the law practice of J. Dallas Ewing and Thomas S. Riley under the name of Ewing, Melvin & Riley.[13][30][42] The law firm became one of the strongest in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia.[40] In 1898, Melvin and his law partner, Riley, argued on behalf of the West Virginia Board of Public Works before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case, Pittsburgh &c. Ry. v. Board of Public Works of West Virginia 172 U.S. 32 (1898), in which the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad sought to avoid paying taxes on its usage of the West Virginia section of a railroad bridge crossing the Ohio River between Steubenville and Wheeling Junction.[43][44][45] The court's decision upheld the law in the Code of West Virginia of 1891, c. 29, § 67, that taxed railroad bridges. The court's decision stated: "A railroad bridge across a navigable river forming the boundary line between two states is not, by reason of being an instrument of interstate commerce, exempt from taxation by either state upon the part within it."[43][44]

On October 12, 1880, Melvin was reelected with 7,730 votes alongside a second judge to serve the First Judicial District, and he commenced his new term on January 1, 1881.[30][39] He resigned his circuit judgeship on November 19, 1881, after tiring of the "wool sack", which is what he called his judicial court dress.[2][30][34] Former West Virginia Governor John Jeremiah Jacob was appointed by Governor Jacob B. Jackson to fill the remainder of Melvin's unexpired term.[34][40]

In 1873, Melvin refused to transfer the case of Taylor Strauder, a black man, to a federal court following his indictment by an all-white Ohio County grand jury for the murder of his wife.[36] Strauder and his lawyers argued that he would not receive equal treatment in the West Virginia courts due to its all-white jury law and cited the Civil Rights Act of 1866 for a transfer to a federal court.[36] Following Melvin's ruling, Strauder's murder trial proceeded in the Ohio County court in May 1873, and he was inevitably convicted by an all-white jury.[36] Strauder appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia and finally to the Supreme Court of the United States, where his case Strauder v. West Virginia 100 U.S. 303 (1879) was decided on March 1, 1880.[37][38] The Supreme Court held that categorical exclusion of blacks from juries for no other reason than their race violated the Equal Protection Clause, and Strauder's conviction was overturned due to the Ohio County court's violation of United States constitutional criminal procedure.[37][38]

While serving as a circuit judge, Melvin was appointed by the governor to assist in completing the codification of West Virginia state laws.[30][31] Following a dispute between Charles Town and Shepherdstown over the location of Jefferson County's court, he was selected to serve as the circuit court judge in Charles Town for the fall term, which began on September 12, 1872.[32][33] On August 24, 1872, Melvin was elected for a full eight-year term as judge of the First Judicial District, which began on January 1, 1873.[30][34][35]

In 1866, Melvin was nominated as the Republican candidate for Attorney General of West Virginia, and he won his election to the position with 23,509 votes,[1][13][24] receiving the highest number of votes cast for an attorney in West Virginia's brief three-year history.[24] On January 1, 1867, Melvin began his one-year tenure as attorney general; he was renominated on June 4, 1868 at the West Virginia Republican Convention and reelected to the position in fall 1868.[1][2][25][26] He served in the office until his resignation on July 1, 1869.[1][2][25] Melvin resigned his post as attorney general to accept an appointment to a circuit judgeship of the First Judicial District of West Virginia which comprised Brooke, Hancock, Marshall, and Ohio counties.[1][2][27] He had been appointed to the judgeship by West Virginia Governor William E. Stevenson to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Elbert H. Caldwell.[2][28][29]

In the fall of 1865, Melvin was elected prosecuting attorney of Hardy County in the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia.[23] In 1866 he relocated to Wellsburg in Brooke County where he resumed the practice of law.[1][2][13] He became a Republican following the war and remained affiliated with the party until his death although he was never a strong partisan.[7] In 1866, he was again elected as the prosecuting attorney for Hancock County, despite residing in Brooke County.[1][2]

Political and judicial careers

Following his release, Melvin served as an adjutant until the end of the war in 1865.[1][2] That year, he was honorably discharged as a brevet colonel from the Union Army in recognition of his meritorious services in the line of duty.[1][2][3]

At their hotel, McNeill's Rangers private Sprigg Lynn was directed to Melvin's room first, and then to Kelley's.[14][19] The men were forced to dress at gunpoint and were taken captive along with Crook, who had been staying at the Revere House hotel.[14][19] Melvin, Kelley, and Crook were sent to Libby Prison in Richmond, and were exchanged for Confederate general Isaac R. Trimble and a guarantee from General Ulysses S. Grant that the treatment of captured McNeill's Rangers imprisoned at Fort McHenry would be improved.[14][18][20] An article published in Richmond's Enquirer newspaper claimed that Melvin had been caught in bed with "a blushing bride" by McNeill's men during his capture; however, Wheeling's Daily Intelligencer newspaper reminded its readers that the story was baseless, as Melvin was unmarried.[21][22]

Melvin served as an adjutant and chief of staff to Kelley while he was in command of the garrison guarding the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in Cumberland, Maryland, which was then the headquarters of the Department of West Virginia military district.[14][15] By this time, he was serving with the military rank of Captain.[16][17] In the early morning of February 21, 1865, the Confederate partisans known as McNeill's Rangers sent two detachments behind enemy lines to capture Kelley and his superior Major General Crook from their hotels in Cumberland.[14][15][18] One of the two detachments was sent to the Barnum House hotel, where Melvin and Kelley were staying.[14][18][19] Other sources claim the two were staying at the St. Nicholas Hotel, where William McKinley had been lodged.[16][17]

As the adjutant general for the Department of West Virginia, Melvin served under the department's succeeding commanding officers: Brigadier General Kelley, William H. Emory.[13]

On August 12, 1863, in his role as adjutant general, Melvin delivered orders to Major General William W. Averell for the procurement of the law books of the Library of the Supreme Court of Virginia in Lewisburg and to place officers in charge of them for their transport to safekeeping in Beverly.[12] Because the library had been purchased for the western part of Virginia, Kelley averred that the library "rightfully belongs to the new State of West Virginia. Our judges need it very much".[12] Melvin then served on the staff of General Philip Sheridan during the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1864.[13]

[11][10][5][1].Department of West Virginia in the Benjamin Franklin Kelley Brigadier General of Volunteers on the staff of Adjutant general By April 1862, while still a lieutenant, Melvin had received a commission as [9]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.