Princeton Times

Mercer County Memories

August 31, 2012

Mercer County Memories: Lilly reunion draws well-known dignitaries

PRINCETON — 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 “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 return to one of the oldest and largest gatherings of its type: The Lilly Family Reunion.

The Lilly Reunion, which brought out thousands of people, was an attraction to many dignitaries of the day, who served as guest speakers. Among those dignitaries were: Sens.  H.I. Shott, W. Chapman Revercomb, Harley Kilgore, M.M. Neely and H.D. Hatfield of West Virginia; Robert A. Taft of Ohio; Congressman John Kee; Walter S. Hallanan; Governor H.G. Kump;  Col. Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy; Dr. Joseph Frank Marsh, Sr. of Concord College; heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey; Governor Homer A. Holt; evangelist E. Howard Cadle; Secretary of Defense Louis A, Johnson; Charleston Mayor D. Boone Dawson; Governor Clarence Meadows; Illnois Goverbnor Dwight H. Green; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Fred Vinson; Governor Okey H. Patterson; Dr. Irvin Stewart of WVU; and Minnesota Governor Harold E. Stassen.

Going to the Lossing book, we come to one of the more famous Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, future third president of the United States, founder of the University of Virginia and principal author of the Declaration of Independence.

When we left off with Jefferson, he, George Wythe and Edmund Pendleton had finished a two-year revision of Virginia’s state laws. Skipping back a bit to the aftermath of the Battle of Saratoga and the disposition of the British prisoners of war, we find that a division of them had been sent to a part of Virginia very close to Jefferson’s home. He led the effort to take care of their needs and wrote a letter on their behalf to Governor Patrick Henry when it appeared they were going to be relocated, which allowed them to stay in the area.

In June, 1779, Jefferson succeeded Henry as governor of Virginia. His administration saw British and Tory troops led by Benedict Arnold enter the state and ravage portions of it along the James River, including parts of Richmond, the new capital. His efforts to capture Arnold were in vain and he and his own council barely escaped capture. Jefferson narrowly escaped capture a second time at Monticello by British forces led by Banester Tarleton after he left office.

In 1781, Jefferson wrote “Notes on Virginia,” which increased his fame in Europe as a writer and man of science. In 1782, he was appointed minister plenipotentiary to assist in negotiating a peace treaty with Great Britain, but the treaty was concluded before he could depart.

In 1783, he was elected to Congress and appointed head of the committee which studied the treaty with Great Britain, which was then recommended for ratification, which was unanimous. In 1784, he wrote an essay on coinage and currency in the United States which influenced denominations of federal money, the dollar as a unit and the system of decimals.

Along with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, he was appointed, in May, 1784, as a minister to negotiate foreign commerce treaties for the United States. He was appointed to replace Franklin as Minister to France that August and remained there until October, 1789, becoming popular with the leading writers of the day there.

While on leave of absence, Jefferson met with President-elect George Washington and was offered the choice of serving either as the first Secretary of State or remaining as Minister to France. Jefferson chose the former and returned home.

As Secretary of State, Jefferson clashed with Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and, as a result of that and other issues, became the head of what is today’s Democratic Party. He advised Washington that a bill establishing a national bank was unconstitutional in his opinion, supported the French Revolution, though he agreed with Washington’s stance on neutrality and espoused democratic sentiments openly before resigning in 1793.

In 1796, he was the Democratic candidate for president, but finished second to Adams, the Federalist candidate, thus becoming vice president under the Constitution as it was then written. As vice president, he wrote a manual on the U.S. Senate’s procedures which is still being used there in other legislatures.

In 1800, Jefferson defeated Adams in the presidential election, helped by the withdrawal of two electoral voters for Aaron Burr on the 36th ballot. Burr became vice president and a thorn in Jefferson’s side.

During his two terms as president, Jefferson authorized the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition; signed the Embargo Act to try to get Great Britain to agree to a fair trade pact; the non-intercourse and non-importation systems; an unsuccessful gun-boat experiment and suppressed Burr’s attempt to create a separate country in the Mississippi Valley. Burr was arrested, tried for treason and acquitted.

After leaving the White House, Jefferson spent the last 17 years of his life in philosophical and agricultural pursuits, including the founding of the University of Virginia in 1818. He suffered financial problems, which led him to sell his library to Congress and, with the permission of the Virginia Legislature, to sell his estate by lottery to avoid it being liquidated to pay debts, an enterprise uncompleted when he died on July 4, 1826, just past his 83rd birthday and a few hours before Adams, his former political foe-turned-friend.

His epitaph reads, “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence, Of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, And Father of the University of Virginia.”

We’ll pick up from there next time.

See you next time. This makes a good stopping point for this column. To share input on this column, contact me c/o “Mercer County Memories” at or

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