A biographical sketch, of Mr. John Laidley, a long time prominent, active and useful citizen of Western Virginia, now West Virginia. We shall be glad to receive sketches of other prominent citizens who have left honorable names behind them.
John Laidley was born in Morgantown, Monongalia county, Virginia, April 28, 1701, and died in Cabell county, Virginia, April 14, 1863. His grandfather was James Laidlaw of Ayrshire, Scotland, who married Jane Stewart, August, 1746, and their fourth child was Thomas Laidlaw, born January 1, 1756.
It will be noticed that the original name was Laidlaw, and that it became Laidley, which, it is said, was changed by this Thomas, when he came to America, because he took the side of the American Colonists, while the others of the family remained loyal to King George III, in his controversy with the said Americans, and to distinguish the rebel from the loyal, he called himself Laidley. And it has been said also, that in the Civil war of 1861-65, there was another of the name that took the side of the rebels and changed his name back to Laidlaw, for the same reasons, but whether either of said stories are true ones, or otherwise, we do not vouch.
Thomas Laidley came to New York in September, 1774, and it is said was with Washington at the Brandywine, Trenton and other battles, and commanded some boat on the Delaware, in aid of the rebel army. He was in Philadelphia when the Revolution closed, and he married at Lancaster. Pa., in 1778. Miss Sarah Osborne, daughter of Charles and Sarah Osborne, of Philadelphia, and he removed to and settled in Morgantown. Va. in 1783, and he represented that county in several sessions of the Virginia Legislature and voted with the minority on the passage of the famous Jefferson resolutions of 1798.
John Laidley whose name was John Osborne Laidley, was raised, in Monongalia and was given such education as the country then afforded and, as his mother helped him to. He said that while a boy, he worked in a printing office and he could set type and knew the business. We know but little of his young days, and about the next known of him, he went to Parkersburg, Wood county and began the study of law with his oldest brother, James Grant Laidley, who had married Miss Harriet Quarrier, and he was practicing law at Parkersburg.
At the January term of the County Court of Wood county Virginia, 1813, the said court granted a certificate of good moral character to John Os. Laidley, and that he was a citizen of the State and had resided in that county for the last ten months. With this certificate, he had to apply to three judges of the Superior Courts, and, he found them, and secured their signatures to his license to practice law as follows:
Whereas we have been appointed by law to examine into the capacity, ability and fitness of such persons as shall apply for license to practice as Attorneys in the Courts of the Commonwealth, and
Whereas John Os. Laidley, Gent., hath applied to us for a License and produced to us a certificate from the County Court of Wood of his being twenty-one years of age and of his honest, probity and good demeanor, and we having examined him touching his capacity, ability and fitness, and found him duly qualified.
These are therefore to license and permit the said John Os. Laidley to practice as an Attorney at Law in the superior and inferior courts of this Commonwealth.
Given under our hands aid seals this 14th day of June. 1813, and in the 37th year of the Commonwealth.
DANL. SMITH. [Seal.]
D. CARR. [Seal.]
JAMES ALLEN. [Seal.)
Dabney Carr, Daniel Smith and James Allen were judges of the General Court, and were each appointed in 1811.
Daniel Smith lived at Harrisonburg, Va.: Jas. Allen, at Clarksburg; and Judge Carr at Charlottesville. It has been said that Daniel Smith had signed more license for lawyers than any judge in Virginia, which does not indicate, however, that he did not give them a thorough examination, for he always ascertained how much, or how little, the applicant knew. His daughter. Mrs. Effinger, said that it always amused her to see how confused the young lawyers became when they came to him to be examined, until he talked their embarrassment away.
Somewhere, John Laidley met with another young lawyer, John Samuels, who lived at or near Woodstock. Va. and who had come west to start in the practice. We are not advised where these two young lawyers came together, but we do know that they remained the most intimate friends all the remainder of their lives.
John Laidley said that he came from Parkersburg to Guyandotte, on a steamboat, and when he reached Guyandotte, he had only fifty cents left, which he paid for his dinner.
John Samuels was a man of more means, and always had money. They had not been long at Barboursville when there was a call for volunteers to defend Richmond from an attack by the British. The War of 1812 was then going on and those two young men, it is said, started east on foot, and went to the head of the James River and bought a small boat and went to Richmond down the said river in the said boat. They volunteered in Capt. Kennedy’s company of Virginia Artillery and remained at or near Norfolk until the end of the war. December 24, 1814, they returned to their adopted home, at Cabell C. H., and John Laidley was appointed Prosecuting Attorney, and John Samuels was made Clerk by Judge Lewis Summers, and they continued in said offices all their lives, although after the Convention of 1852 they had to be elected by the people.
As a prosecuting officer Judge Lewis Summers, and Col. Ben. H. Smith and others, have stated that there was no superior to John Laidley.
While living in Barboursville, Mr. Laidley became acquainted with James H. Ferguson, who was then a shoemaker, and it was through the counsel and encouragement and the use of books furnished by John Laidley, that Ferguson became a lawyer, and began his career as such in Logan county.
There were many young men that afterwards read law with John Laidley and became prominent lawyers in this part of the State, viz: James M. Laidley of Kanawha, L. T. Moore, of Kentucky, who lived and practiced in Wayne county; Judge James: H. Brown, of Kanawha; Judge H. J. Samuels, of Cabell county, and others.
He had not been living many years in Barboursville before he met Miss Mary Scales Kite, a daughter of Jacob Hite and Sally Scales Hite. Hite was quite young and fair, and it is said that when he first saw her he said to himself that she was to be his wife, “and it was so.” They were married in 1816. Their oldest daughter Amacetta, was born in 1818 and became the wife of George W. Summers, of Kanawha countv.
Col. T.T.S. Laidley was their oldest son and he was born in 1822, and he was sent to West Point. U.S. Military School, was in the war in Mexico, and married Miss Jane Webb Averill of New York, in 1848.
The family of John Laidley and wife was a large one consisting of five girls and nine boys, all of whom have passed over into the next world, excepting Mrs. L. H. Banks, who lives at the homestead, now in Huntington, and W. S. Laidley of Charleston, W. Va.
John Laidley practiced law in Logan county, which he aided in its organization in 1824, and also in Wayne county, which was organized in 1842. In Cabell and Wayne he continued to practice after his removal to the Ohio river in 1829.
Governor Dinwiddie, by proclamation of Feb. 19, 1754, to encourage enlistments in the service of the Crown, promised land bounties to the volunteers. General Washington, on behalf of himself and others, entitled to bounties, presented a petition to the Governor and Council in 1769, praying that two hundred thousand acres of land, which was given them by said proclamation of 1754 might be allotted them in one or more surveys on the Monongahela and its waters, from the Long Narrows to the place called Nicholas, Knotts, on New River, or Great Kanawha from the falls to the mouth, and from Sandy Creek or Great Tattaroy, from the mouth to the mountain. Among those granted is the one known as “the Savage grant,” given to Captain John Savage and sixty-one others, of 28,627 acres of land. This was partitioned among the owners, and laid off in tracts extending from the Ohio river front, back into the hills, and some complaint was made of the inequality of the value of these tracts and the court decreed certain tracts to pay certain amounts to equalize the values and those that did not pay, were sold, and at this sale John Laidley, at the instance of Colonel William Buffington purchased one tract and moved thereon in 1829. Here he built his house, which faced to the river then, as the road was on the river bank. In 1842, Wayne county was formed, and John Laidley was appointed the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
In 1843, Bishop Johns visited the Kanawha Valley, and one of the places he visited was on Statens run, known as the “Still-House” Mission, above Walnut Grove, where Judge Lewis Summers resided, and John Laidley rode to this point and was one of the class then and there confirmed, and then Mr. Laidley immediately afterwards rode home again.
Of this fact Mrs. Dr. Stewart and Mrs. Ann I. Ryon have said they were both present and knew the circumstances related.
It was about this time that the Methodist Church was divided on the subject of slavery, and Mrs. Laidley was a firm Methodist and she also had colored servants, and the consequence was that she and her family that were of this persuasion went with the Southern branch of the Methodist Church. But in regard to the religious views of the family we, can better speak after telling of the neighborhood in which they now lived, and of the school and academy started in their midst. This we can tell better by taking an extract from a historical sketch written by Prof. Hodges:
“Marshall Academy was incorporated by Act of the General Assembly of Virginia March 13, 1838 with John Laidley, Frederick G.L. Beuhring, William Buffiington, Benjamin Brown, John Samuels, James Gallaher, James Holderby, and others, trustees. The one who may justly be styled the founder of Marshall Academy was John Laidley, a man of great intellectual vigor and force of character. At the time under the principal patronage of Mr. Laidley, a school was in progress in an old log house near his home, conducted by Isaac N. Peck, a man of more than ordinary scholarship. Doubtless the lack of facilities to enable such a teacher to carry on the work that he was competent to do, gave impetus to the movement set on foot by John Laidley to provide a better building. The foremost citizens of the community made a systematic effort to raise funds by private subscription, sufficient to erect a suitable building. James Holderby, a prosperous and liberal farmer and one of the trustees, generously offered to give a suitable lot of ground whereon the building should be erected. The money was raised and soon a commodious two-story brick building of four rooms stood upon the lot set apart by Air. Holderby. James Holderby and wife conveyed the lot by deed of June 30, 1838.
“John Laidley, a personal friend of Chief Justice Marshall, suggested that the institution be christened ‘Marshall Academy’ in honor of this great jurist. Mr. Peck was installed as the first Principal, with Mr. Shepherd as assistant, and in a short time there were over one hundred students.”
In the Academy there was a chapel, and on every Sunday morning the people of the neighborhood met together for religious service. Most of the while there was a Presbyterian minister on one Sunday and a Methodist, of the Southern side, on the next Sunday, but it mattered not who the preacher was, there was always the same congregation of good people, composed of the farmers and families from Guyandott down to near Twelve Pole creek, some seven or eight miles below, and the Academy was a little more than two miles below Guyandotte.
John Laidley and his family attended regularly at the Academy chapel and aided in the support of the minister, whoever he might be. The character of John Laidley was that of a stern, strict man: whose word was equal to a government bond, and his integrity of the highest order. He was at home in any church where the Gospel was preached and the Christian religion taught, and his social view were governed to a great extent by his moral and religious feelings and while he appreciated refined and educated associations, yet any one who was a sincere Christian, was treated with the greatest, respect, while any one that he thought lacked either integrity or morality, he had no use for.
And as a Prosecuting Attorney, he was a terror to evil doers. It is not known whether Mr. Laidley ever joined any other church or not as there were no services of the Episcopal Church in his vicinity. It is known that his library had therein many prayer-books and sermons by Episcopal ministers, and his library, law and miscellaneous, was the largest of any one in the county in which he lived.
He was a Jeffersonian Democrat, and his last vote for a President was for Breckenridge in 1860.
He was a member of the Virginia Convention in 1829-30, and was also a member of the Legislature of Virginia.
Me was a busy lawyer and gave his whole time to his profession, and was well known all over the country.
He was devoted to his family, and his whole life was one of great labor, to educate and care for his children.
The passage of the Ordinance of Secession by the Virginia Convention was an act he believed to have been without warrant or justification and that the South was hasty and did wrong.
With him, this Government was a God-given institution, and lie had not the least idea that it would be destroyed, and he felt that the Act of Secession meant a war that would be destructive to the South. He was a conscientious Union man, and his course was to prevent the passage of the Ordinance, and after its passage, to defeat it before the people, and then to prevent personal difficulties and to have those inclined to light, to go to the armies and there fight it out, and to let non-combatants alone.
He did not live to see the new State formed. There was much that worried and distressed him connected with the Civil War; he saw that there was to be a severe conflict and a great loss of life and property, but he never doubted the result, because he believed that the hand of God was in it: but it distressed him to see his friends on either side become bitter to others, and it also distressed him to know that his own family was divided upon the subject.
He was taken sick early in April, 1863 and died with pneumonia, but the approach of death had no terrors for him, and he met it with a smile upon his face. To him, death was but a transition to a place of rest, and when he saw he must go, he went cheerfully.
John Laidley was one of the old style, simple in his manner and in his wants, but a man of much study and reading, and if he had a fault, it was that of his stern, strict character and habits, which no doubt was inculcated by the profession and business of his life, punishing the vicious and violators of the law’.
In his early days he was a member of a Masonic Lodge, but in his later life he never attended their meetings.
There was never a man who more completely commanded the respect of the entire people of his community and of all who knew him. He had the courage of his convictions and all knew that he meant what he said and lived what he taught and said.