Princeton Times

Mercer County Memories

January 5, 2013

Mercer County Memories: Elected officials, part 3

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 look at some of the Mercer Countians who held elected office.

Princeton attorney J.H. Gadd served as superintendent of schools, assistant prosecuting attorney and in 1923 was appointed federal Prohibition director for West Virginia.

Men who served two terms as Mercer County Sheriff pre-amending the West Virginia Constitution to allow Sheriffs to serve consecutive terms included John Davidson, Ralph Hale, John A. Pack, John T. Smith. George L. Karnes and James A. White. Modern sheriffs who served two consecutive terms included Don Hare, Harold Buckner and Don Meadows. Meadows, in fact, is working on his third full term as sheriff.

Another Princeton attorney, W. Broughton Johnston, served as Princeton's City Attorney from 1932-39, as well as in the House of Delegates (1935), elected to the State Senate in 1936, serving as party leader and chairman of the judiciary committee. He served from 1937 to 1952 and served as Senate President in 1949 and 1951.

Oakvale merchant Chapman I. Johnston served three consecutive terms on the Mercer County Commission, being elected in 1934, 1940 and 1946.

J.C. Fanning of Princeton  was elected sheriff in 1932, to the House of Delegates in 1942 and county commissioner in 1952.

Turning to the Lossing book, we look at Arthur Middleton, born at his family's estate, Middleton Place, in South Carolina in 1743. His father, Henry, was a wealthy planter of English descent and able to provide his son with a well-rounded basic education.

At the age of 12, Middleton was sent to a preparatory school in Hackney, England where he remained until he was 14. He then was transferred to a school in Westminister, where he remained for four years before entering the University of Cambridge. He was a serious student there during his four years, graduating both with honors and the esteem of professors and students..

He remained in England for some time after graduation, visiting family and for further self-improvement. After that, he went to Europe, spending two years in southern Europe observing men, manners and things. During his time in Rome, he became interested in the fine arts and developed his painting skill.

Returning to South Carolina in 1768, he soon married to a young woman by the name of Izard. A year after marrying, he and his wife toured Europe and England again.

Returning in 1773, Middleton settled on the family estate and soon got involved in Revolutionary politics, along with his father. His first public service was as a member of a Committee of Safety in 1775.  In that role, he removed his wife's relative Lord William Campbell as Governor, recommending his arrest for duplicity. The recommendation was ignored and Campbell joined forces with British General Sir. Henry Clinton and Admiral Sir Peter Parker in a later attack on the South Carolina coast in which he was killed.

Middleton was appointed to a committee designated to form a new government for South Carolina in the winter of 1776. Earlier in the year, he was elected to the Continental Congress where he took an active role in advancing measures separating the colonies from England, including voting for and signing the Declaration of Independence..

He stayed in Congress until the end of 1777. In 1778, South Carolina passed a constitution for the state and under it , Middleton was elected the state's first governor, but his doubts about the way the Assembly passed the constitution led him to decline the honor.

In 1779, South Carolina was invaded by the British Army. Middleton's estate was attacked by British forces, but his family had been forewarned by him and escaped to safety. He joined Governor Rutledge in the defense of Charleston, and was taken prisoner after Charleston surrendered. He was sent to St. Augustine, Fl. where he spent a year in custody before being exchanged to Philadelphia.

While there, he was elected as a representative to Congress by the Assembly, serving until November 1782 when he returned home.

He served in the State Legislature until near the end of 1787, when  an intermittent fever forced his retirement. He died Jan. 1, 1788. age 44.

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

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