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Virginia and Virginians

eminent Virginians, executives of the colony of Virginia from Sir Thomas Smyth to Lord Dunmore. Executives of the state of Virginia, from Patrick Henry to Fitzhugh Lee. Sketches of Gens. Ambrose Powel Hill, Robert E. Lee, Thos. Jonathan Jackson, Commodore Maury
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Page 164


The ancestor of the Tazewell[18] family, in Virginia, was William Tazewell,
a lawyer by profession, who settled in Accomac County in 1715.
He was the son of James Tazewell, of Somersetshire, England, was born
at Lymington, in that county, July 17, 1690, and was therefore twenty-five
years old at the time of his arrival in the colony. He speedily
found employment in his profession, and, as the records of Accomac
County attest, attained an extensive and lucrative practice. Soon after
settling in Virginia he married Sophia, daughter of Henry and Gertrude
(daughter of Colonel Southey Littleton) Harmanson. The issue of this
marriage was: i. John, Clerk of the Virginia Convention of June, 1776,
and an eminent lawyer; died in 1781; ii. Littleton, brought up in the
office of the Secretary of the Colony, Thomas Nelson, and married Mary,
daughter of Colonel Joseph Gray, of Southampton County, who was a
member of the House of Burgesses; iii. Anne, and iv. Gertrude. With the
view of being near the relations of his wife, Littleton Tazewell sold his estate
in Accomac County (which long afterwards became the property of his
distinguished grandson, the subject of this sketch) and purchased land in
Brunswick, became the clerk of the court of that county, and died at
the early age of thirty-three years. He left issue, a son, Henry Tazewell,
who was born in 1753; was a student at William and Mary College,
and of law, in the office of his uncle, John Tazewell, and was soon
admitted to the bar. In 1775, in the twenty-second year of his age,
he was returned by his native county of Brunswick a member of the
House of Burgesses, which was convoked to receive the conciliatory
propositions of Lord North; and with an alacrity that was most honorable,
he prepared an answer in detail, which was read and approved by
Robert Carter Nicholas and Edmund Pendleton, but which, from accident,
he was prevented from presenting, and it was anticipated by the
answer of Thomas Jefferson, which was ultimately adopted. In the
Convention of June, 1776, he was placed on the committee which reported

No Page Number

Curious Old Valentine of cut paper of 1753,

From the original in possession of R. A. Brock,
Secretary Virginia Historical Society


Page 166
the Declaration of Rights, and the Constitution. He was continuously
returned a member of the House of Delegates, under the new
Constitution, until his elevation to the bench, serving with conspicuous
ability and wielding much influence in the councils of that body. He
was the zealous friend of religious freedom, and advocated the abolition
of primogeniture and entails, and the separation of the Church from the
State. In 1785 he was made a judge of the General Court of the State,
and as such was a member of its first Court of Appeals. In 1793,
when the Court of Appeals was established, he was appointed one of
its five judges. In 1794 he was elected over James Madison to succeed
John Taylor "of Caroline," in the United States Senate, over which he
presided in 1795, and bore in that body a distinguished part in the discussions
on the British Treaty, sustaining with unqualified applause the
leadership of the Republican party. In person he was singularly handsome,
with a graceful and dignified mien. He died at Philadelphia, January
24, 1799, and his remains rest in that city near those of the eloquent
James Innes. The county of Tazewell, formed in 1799 from Russell and
Wythe, was named in his honor. The wife of Henry Tazewell was Dorothea
Elizabeth, daughter of Judge Benjamin Waller,[19] at whose residence
in Williamsburg, Virginia, a long low wooden building, the subject of this
sketch, Littleton Waller Tazewell, was born December 17, 1774. His
mother, who died three years after his birth, was a lovely woman, and
her name, which, from the distasteful abbreviation of Dolly, has gone
out of vogue, was a popular one in the last century. It was borne by


Page 167
a daughter of Governor Alexander Spotswood, and by the wives of
Patrick Henry and James Madison also. It has been oft honored in
verse and prose, and symbolizes what a true woman is—the gift of God.
Until 1786, young Tazewell lived with his grandfather, Benjamin Waller,
who taught him the rudiments of English and Latin, and superintended
his studies until his death in 1786, Judge Waller having committed
him on his death-bed to the care of his life-long friend George Wythe.
Young Tazewell lived with the latter until he removed to Richmond,
when he became an inmate of the family of Bishop James Madison,
President of William and Mary College. His first regular tutor was Walker
Murray, with whom he prosecuted the study of Latin, and in whose
school he was a classmate of John Randolph—cementing a friendship
which continued without abatement until the death of that brilliant orator
and eccentric being. Young Tazewell at an early age entered William
and Mary College, and took the degree of Bachelor of Arts July
31, 1792. Having finished his college course he commenced the study
of law in Richmond in the office of the eminent John Wickham, (whose
wife was the half-sister of his father,) and lived with him as a member
of his family. While engaged in the study he regularly attended the
courts of Richmond, in which Judge Wythe presided as sole Chancellor
and Edmund Pendleton as the President of the Court of Appeals.
The bar of the State metropolis at this period comprised many men
of eminence and vied in distinguished ability with that of any court
in the United States. It was a potent school for the young lawyer.
Tazewell received his license to practice law on the 14th of May, 1796.
It was signed by Judges Peter Lyons, Edmund Winston, and Joseph
Jones. The ability of Tazewell was at once discovered by John Marshall,
who pronounced him an extraordinary young man. Tazewell surely made
his way at the bar in the courts of James City and its neighboring
counties. In the spring of 1796, when he had attained his twenty-first
year, he was returned to the House of Delegates from the county of
James City, and continued a member of that body until the close of
the century—including the memorable sessions of 1798-99, and of 17991800.
To the important papers from the pen of James Madison, the
famous resolutions offered by John Taylor of Caroline, and the "Virginia
Report," Tazewell gave a cordial support. John Marshall, having
vacated his seat in the House of Representatives to accept the appointment
of Secretary of State in the Cabinet of President John Adams,
Tazewell, in his twenty-sixth year, was elected to succeed him, and took his
seat on the 26th of November, 1800. At the close of his Congressional
term in 1801, Mr. Tazewell returned home and withdrew from public
life. On the 26th of June he qualified as an attorney in the Hustings
Court of Norfolk, and, in the following year, made that city his residence.
Its bar, at this period, was an able one, comprising such members as
the venerable James Nimmo, General Thomas Matthews, Colonel John


Page 168
Nivison, Robert Barraud Taylor, Alexander Campbell, and William
Wirt; yet, amidst such an array of learning, the ability of Tazewell was
at once recognized, and his practice speedily became extensive and lucrative.
The flagrant outrage upon the American flag in 1807, which has
been alluded to in preceding sketches as one of the prime instigations to
the second war with Great Britain, was a humiliation which touched the
local sensibilities of Norfolk to the quick. On the 22d of June, the
frigate "Chesapeake," built by its native mechanics, launched in
the waters of the Elizabeth River, in view of the city, put out to
sea from Hampton Roads, under command of Captain James Barron.
On the following day, unsuspecting of danger, she was attacked by the
British frigate "Leopard," and became her prize after three men had
been killed, and sixteen wounded. The British commander, after taking
from the "Chesapeake" certain seamen, whom he alleged were deserters
from the British flag, declined to take possession of the captured
frigate, which returned to the Roads. The wounded men were taken
to the Marine Hospital, in Norfolk, where one of them died. Intense
indignation prevailed in the city. It was believed that the outrage
was deliberately designed, and the cry for vengeance burst from the
whole people. In full assembly, with the venerable General Matthews
presiding, they appointed, as in the days of '76, a Committee of Safety.
A preamble, duly setting forth the outrage on the "Chesapeake," was
adopted, and it was resolved that there should be no intercourse with
the British frigates in the Norfolk waters, or with their agents, until
the decision of the United States Government was known, under the
penalty of being deemed infamous; and the Committee of Safety—
Thomas Matthews, Thomas Newton, Jr., Luke Wheeler, Theodric
Armistead, Richard E. Lee, Moses Myers, William Pennock, William
Newsum, Thomas Blanchard, Daniel Bedinger, Seth Foster, J. W.
Murdaugh, Richard Blow, and Francis S. Taylor—were authorized to
take such measures as the emergency demanded. As soon as the British
commander—Commodore Douglas—read the resolves, he addressed,
on the 3d of July, an insolent letter to the Mayor of the Borough, in
which he declared if the resolutions were not instantly annulled, he would
prohibit every vessel bound in or out of Norfolk from proceeding to
her place of destination. He closed his communication by saying that
he had proceeded with his squadron of four fifty-gun frigates to Hampton
Roads to await the answer of the Mayor, which he hoped would be
forwarded without delay. It is thought that Mr. Tazewell had regulated
the popular proceedings from their initiation. In the delicate dilemma,
which was ominous of vengeful deeds and of so much menace to the
commercial interests of Norfolk, he came to the assistance of the Mayor
and dictated a reply to the audacious Briton which elicited the admiration
of the whole American Nation. The letter, written on the 4th of


Page 169
July, thus began: "Sir, I have received your menacing letter of yesterday.
The day on which this answer is written ought of itself to prove to
the subjects of your sovereign that the American people are not to be
imtimidated by menace; or induced to adopt any measures except by
a sense of their perfect propriety. Seduced by the false show of security,
they may be sometimes surprised and slaughtered while unprepared to resist
a supposed friend. That delusive security is now passed forever. The
late occurrence has taught us to confide our safety no longer to any thing
than to our own force. We do not seek hostility, nor shall we avoid it.
We are prepared for the worst you may attempt, and will do whatever
shall be judged proper to repel force whensoever your efforts shall render
any acts of ours necessary. Thus much for the threats in your letter."
The letter was delivered by Mr. Tazewell (who was accompanied by Tazewell
Taylor), to Commodore Douglas, in presence of the Captains of the
Fleet (among whom was Sir Thomas Hardy, whom Lord Nelson so
affectionately addressed in his dying moments). It had a due effect.
The threats were all recanted, and a letter of the 5th of July breathed
nothing but amity and peace—an amusing somersault, like unto which is
scarcely to be recalled in the annals of diplomacy.

In 1816, during an absence from home, and without his knowledge,
Mr. Tazewell was elected by the people of Norfolk to the House of Delegates.
His speech in that body against the Convention bill, and in
reply to General Alexander Smyth, is memorable for its ability and eloquence.
The bill passed in the House but was lost in the Senate. In
1820 Mr. Tazewell was one of the Commissioners under the Florida
treaty. In 1824 he was elected to the United States Senate. He was
elected to fill a vacancy caused by the resignation of John Taylor of
Caroline. It is a coincidence that his father, thirty years before, was
chosen to fill the vacancy in the Senate caused by the resignation of the
same individual. L. W. Tazewell took his seat in January, 1825. His
first efforts in the debates was on the bankrupt bill of that session—
a searching examination of its details, which annihilated the hopes of its
friends. His speech, on the 21st of January, in behalf of his motion
to strike out the third section of the bill for the suppression of piracy
in the West India seas, which had been reported from the Committee
of Foreign Affairs, and had been introduced by its chairman, James
Barbour, was lauded throughout the country. The section proposed to
be stricken out authorized the President of the United States in time of
profound peace to declare, on the representations of a naval officer,
any of the ports of Spain in the West Indies in a state of blockade.
It was stricken out by the decisive vote of 37 to 10. Had it remained
in the bill, a war with Spain in all probability would have resulted
in less than ninety days. On the election of John Quincy Adams to
the Presidency, Mr. Tazewell became hostile to his administration and


Page 170
opposed its prominent measures. His speech on the exclusive constitutional
competency of the executive to originate foreign missions without
the advice and consent of the Senate, as a constitutional thesis, it
is claimed, "stands pre-eminent in our political literature as a model of
profound research, of thorough argumentation, and of overwhelming
strength." Mr. Tazewell was re-elected to the Senate on the 1st day
of January, 1829. Whilst in attendance on that body he was elected
by the Norfolk district a member of the Convention which assembled in
Richmond, October 5th, 1829, to revise the first Constitution of Virginia.
In that illustrious body Mr. Tazewell made the opening speech
in support of a resolution which he offered, and which marked out the
course of the campaign which he believed to be best adapted to attain
the general end in view. He engaged with conspicuous ability in the
important discussions of the convention. His speech on the tenure of
the judicial office is claimed to have been one of the most able efforts in
that body of intellectual giants. Mr. Tazewell was also, in 1829,
tendered the mission to Great Britain, but declined the honor. He
continued in the Senate until 1833, serving as Chairman of the Committee
on Foreign Relations, and as President pro tem. of the body during
a portion of the twenty-second Congress. In January, 1834, he
was elected Governor of Virginia to succeed John Floyd, and entered
upon the duties of his office March 31st. He resigned March 31, 1836,
before the expiration of the term, upon a disagreement with the State
Legislature. That body had passed resolutions instructing the Senators
from Virginia to vote for the resolutions to expunge from the journal of
the Senate the resolutions censuring General Jackson. These instructions
Governor Tazewell declined to approve. He was succeeded in the office of
Governor by Lieutenant-Governor Wyndham Robertson. Mr. Tazewell
was never afterwards in public service. Though so effective with
juries as an advocate, his style of address is said to have been singularly
simple and free from artifice. His arguments were conversational and
his gestures not more striking than those of animated converse. His
postures were negligent. His voice was pleasant and of ample compass.
He was never vociferous. His logic was consummate, and in putting
his arguments before a jury he exhibited great adroitness. He acquainted
himself with the calling or prejudices of every juryman—and
was thus guided in his appeals to them.

When the passions were to be assailed he indulged in a style of fervid
appeal, which was the more effective as it was rare. Of the person of
Mr. Tazewell, his friend and eulogist, Hugh Blair Grigsby, LL.D.,
says: "As soon as the visitor fixed his eyes on Mr. Tazewell, all else
was forgotten. He was, without exception, in middle life, the most imposing,
and in old age, the most venerable person I ever beheld. His
height exceeded six feet. * * * His head and chest were on a large
scale, and his vast blue eye, which always seemed to gaze afar, was aptly


Page 171
termed by Wirt an `eye of ocean.' In early youth he was uncommonly
handsome. In middle life he was very thin, though lithe and strong,"
but in his latter days he was large of stature, with massive features,
and hair of silvery whiteness, which fell in ringlets about his neck.
He died at Norfolk, May 6, 1860. He was the author of a "Review
of the Negotiations between the United States and Great Britain respecting
the Commerce between the Two Countries," etc. London, 8vo,
1829, and which first appeared under the signature "Sinex," in the Norfolk
Herald," in 1827. A portrait of Governor Tazewell is in the State
Library at Richmond, Virginia. He married, in 1802, Anne Stratton,
daughter of Colonel John Nivison, of Norfolk, Virginia.


The family was assumed by the late Hugh Blair Grigsby, LL.D., to be of Norman
origin, and to deduce from one Tankersville, a knight under William the
Conqueror, whose name is inscribed on the roll of Battle Abbey. He traces the
changes in orthography as Tan'sville, Tanswell, and Tazewell. Indeed, the name
is at this day variously rendered Tanswell, Tarswell, Tassell, Taswell, and Tazewell.
In the Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica (Vol. I, p. 254) the family is traced
to the year 1588, and the arms given as Vair, purpure and erm on a chief gu.
a lion passant or Crest—A demi-lion purpure, in the paws a chaplet of roses gu.,
which, however, differ from those used by John Tazewell and by Governor Littleton
Waller Tazewell in book-plate and seal-ring respectively. By the former, from
example in the possession of the writer, they were Ar. or a fesse sa. three crescents
between three eagles displayed. Crest—An eagle's head bearing in its beak a branch,
head to the left Motto—Vi quid Nimis. By the latter, from an impression of
the seal-ring furnished by Robert Page Waller, Esq., of Norfolk, Va.; the same, with
the difference of two instead of three crescents, which may have been a mistake
of the engraver.


The progenitor of the family in England, according to its records, was Alured
de Waller, who came from Normandy with William the Conqueror, settled in the
county of Kent, and died A. D. 1183. Richard Waller of this family distinguished
himself at the battle of Agincourt, where he took prisoner the Duke of Orleans,
commander-in-chief of the French army, and received from Henry V. of England,
in honor of his heroic services, a crest of the arms of France hanging by a label from
an oak,
with the motto: Hœc functus virtutis. The ancient arms of the family were,
and are. A shield sable, three walnut leaves, or, between two bendlets ar. The crest granted
as above being. A walnut tree proper, on the sinister side an escutcheon pendent, charged
with the arms of France (three fleurs-de-lis) with a label of three points, white.
Of this family
was the famous poet laureate Benjamin Waller. The immediate ancestor of
the Wallers of Virginia was Edmund Waller, who came from England near the
close of the seventeenth century and settled in the county of Spotsylvania. He
was its first clerk, and a member of the House of Burgesses. He had three sons,
William, John, and Benjamin, the last, of the text (born 1716), who settled in
Williamsburg, and was for a series of years, an assistant of Thomas Nelson, Secretary
of the Council of Virginia, and finally a judge of the Court of Admiralty. He
was a member of the House of Burgesses and of the patriot conventions of 1775 and
1776. He married Martha Hall, of North Carolina, and had issue ten children—
his descendants being represented in the names of Tazewell, Taylor, Corbin, Bush,
Travis, Byrd, Aylett, Cabell, Claiborne, Speed, Young, Mercer, Tucker, Langhorne,
Garland, Massie, Duval, Robertson, Brockenbrough, and others equally worthy.