Princeton Times

Mercer County Memories

December 28, 2012

Mercer County Memories: Elected officials, part 2

PRINCETON — Mercer County Memories 12-28

by Jeff Harvey


Resuming our look at the history of Mercer County, courtesy of Kyle McCormick’s The Story of Mercer County, (Charleston Publishing Co. 1957) and the signers of the Declaration of Independence, courtesy of Benson J. Lossing’s book on the signers of the Declaration of Independence “Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence,” which is a reprint of the 1848 original kindly provided on loan by Dr. O. J. Bailes, we now look at some of the Mercer Countians who held elected office.

F. Morton Wagner of Bluefield served as assistant prosecuting attorney, criminal court judge and Circuit Court judge.

A Mercer Countian who was elected to the State Supreme Court was Joseph M. Sanders, Sr. of Bluefield. Prior to that, he was elected mayor of Bluefield and, in 1918, to the State Senate.

H.B. Lee of Bluefield was twice elected  Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney, in 1912 and 1916 and twice elected State Attorney General in 1924 and 1928. Prior to coming to Mercer County, he was elected a delegate from Putnam County.

Harold A. Ritz of Bluefield was elected to the State Supreme Court in 1912 and served until he resigned in 1917. He had been previously appointed circuit judge of Mercer County in 1906 and appointed by President William Howard Taft as U.S. District Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia from 1909 to 1913.

Historian David E. Johnston, served as a State Senator, a circuit Judge and a member of Congress, elected to the latter position in 1898.

Going to the Lossing book, we come to Thomas, Lynch, Jr., born in Prince George’s Parish upon the Santee River on April 5, 1749. He was of Austrian descent, with his branch of the family moving to Kent in England, then to Connaught in Ireland from where his great-grandfather emigrated to South Carolina soon after its first settlement.

His great-grandfather acquired large tracts of land which were handed down through the generations to Thomas, Sr., giving his a large fortune. He was elected in 1774 to the First Continental Congress and continued to serve until his death.

Thomas, Jr. was sent, after getting his basic education at Georgetown, in South Carolina, to England at the age of 13. He entered Eton University for preparatory studies, then to Cambridge University, where he took his degree after winning the respect of his tutors for being exceptionally studious during his time there.

From Cambridge, Lynch went to London to study law at the Inns of the Temple. He became a lawyer through the dutiful application of his studies and became acquainted with many of the top British politicians of the day, getting knowledge of the inner workings of the government.

Due to the rumors of discontent at home and the attitudes of certain British statesmen towards the colonies, Lynch developed a desire to come home, which was granted by his father in 1772.

Soon afterward, he married a young woman by the name Shubrick whom he had known since childhood. The marriage and an ample for

tune were not enough to keep him away from  getting involved in current affairs, like his father.

His first public appearance was in 1773 in Charleston at a meeting to discuss grievances the colonies had with Great Britain. His eloquence inspired the crowd to soon elect him to a number of civil offices of trust and a captaincy in the first provincial regiment raised in South Carolina.

On a recruiting trip to North Carolina, he suffered a health reverse than affected him for the rest of his life. It was also while on duty that he received word that his father had become afflicted with paralysis in Philadelphia and he was refused permission to visit him by the unit's commanding officer.

Upon his father's resignation from Congress, Lynch was soon elected to fill the vacancy by the Provincial Assembly. He took his seat in Congress in 1776 where he voted on and signed the Declaration of Independence.

Lynch's life was troubled by both the diseases afflicting him and his father. The latter's declining health forced his resignation from Congress. The father died in Annapolis, Md. from another stroke and Thomas, Jr. returned home, where it was soon determined that his own health required his moving to the south of Europe. He sailed to the West Indies in 1779 with his wife alongside in an effort to find a neutral vessel. The . They never made to it to Europe as the boat they were on floundered en route, going down with all aboard. Lynch died at the age of 30.

To comment on this column write to me care of "Mercer County Memories" at PO Box 1199, Princeton, WV 24740 or e-mail me at


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