Thomas Walker Gilmer

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Thomas Gilmer
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15th United States Secretary of the Navy
In office
February 19, 1844 February 28, 1844
President John Tyler
Preceded by David Henshaw
Succeeded by John Y. Mason
Member of the U.S.HouseofRepresentatives
from Virginia's 5th district
In office
March 4, 1843 February 16, 1844
Preceded by Edmund W. Hubard
Succeeded by William L. Goggin
Member of the U.S.HouseofRepresentatives
from Virginia's 12th district
In office
March 4, 1841 March 3, 1843
Preceded by James Garland
Succeeded by Augustus A. Chapman
28th Governor of Virginia
In office
March 31, 1840 March 20, 1841
Preceded by David Campbell
Succeeded by James McDowell
18th Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates
In office
Preceded by Linn Banks
Succeeded by Valentine W. Southall
Personal details
Thomas Walker Gilmer

(1802-04-06)April 6, 1802
Albemarle County, Virginia, U.S.
DiedFebruary 28, 1844(1844-02-28) (aged 41)
Potomac River, Maryland, U.S.
Political party Whig (Before 1842)
Democratic (1842–1844)
Spouse(s)Anne Baker

Thomas Walker Gilmer (April 6, 1802 – February 28, 1844) was an American statesman. He served in a number of political positions in Virginia, including election as the 28th Governor of Virginia. Gilmer's final political office was as the 15th Secretary of the Navy, but he died in an accident ten days after assuming that position.

Governor of Virginia head of state and of government of the U.S. commonwealth of Virginia

The Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia serves as the chief executive of the Commonwealth of Virginia for a four-year term. The current holder of the office is Democrat Ralph Northam, who was sworn in on January 13, 2018. His term of office will end in 2022.

United States Secretary of the Navy statutory office and the head of the U.S. Department of the Navy

The Secretary of the Navy is a statutory officer and the head of the Department of the Navy, a military department within the Department of Defense of the United States of America.


Personal life

Gilmer was born to George and Eliza Gilmer at their farm, "Gilmerton", in Albemarle County, Virginia. He was taught by private tutors in Charlottesville and Staunton, and studied law in Liberty (now Bedford), Virginia. [1] [2] [3]

Albemarle County, Virginia U.S. county in Virginia

Albemarle County is a county located in the Piedmont region of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Its county seat is Charlottesville, which is an independent city and enclave entirely surrounded by the county. Albemarle County is part of the Charlottesville Metropolitan Statistical Area. As of the 2010 census, the population of Albemarle County was 98,970, more than triple the 1960 census count.

Charlottesville, Virginia Independent city in Virginia, United States

Charlottesville, colloquially known as C'ville and officially named the City of Charlottesville, is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is the county seat of Albemarle County, which surrounds the city, though the two are separate legal entities. This means a resident will list Charlottesville as both their county and city on official paperwork. It is named after the British Queen consort Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who as the wife of George III was Virginia's last Queen. In 2018, an estimated 48,117 people lived within the city limits. The Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the City of Charlottesville with Albemarle County for statistical purposes, bringing its population to approximately 150,000. Charlottesville is the heart of the Charlottesville metropolitan area, which includes Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene, and Nelson counties.

Staunton, Virginia Independent city in Virginia, United States

Staunton is an independent city in the U.S. Commonwealth of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 23,746. In Virginia, independent cities are separate jurisdictions from the counties that surround them, so the government offices of Augusta County are in Verona, which is contiguous to Staunton.

Gilmer practiced law in Charlottesville. He was, briefly, editor of the Virginia Advocate, a Charlottesville newspaper. [1] [2]

Lawyer legal professional who helps clients and represents them in a court of law

A lawyer or attorney is a person who practices law, as an advocate, attorney, attorney at law, barrister, barrister-at-law, bar-at-law, canonist, canon lawyer, civil law notary, counsel, counselor, counsellor, solicitor, legal executive, or public servant preparing, interpreting and applying law, but not as a paralegal or charter executive secretary. Working as a lawyer involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualized problems, or to advance the interests of those who hire lawyers to perform legal services. The role of the lawyer varies greatly across different legal jurisdictions.

On May 23, 1826, Gilmer married Anne Elizabeth Baker of Shepherdstown, now in West Virginia. Her late father, John Baker, had been a member of the United States House of Representatives. [1] They had a son, George Hudson Gilmer, a Presbyterian minister.

Shepherdstown, West Virginia Town in West Virginia, United States

Shepherdstown is a town in Jefferson County, West Virginia, in the United States, located in the upper Shenandoah Valley along the Potomac River. Home to Shepherd University, the town's population was 1,734 at the 2010 census.

West Virginia State in the United States

West Virginia is a state located in the Appalachian region of the Southern United States, and is also considered to be a part of the Mid-Atlantic Southeast Region. It is bordered by Pennsylvania to the north, Maryland to the east and northeast, Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, and Ohio to the northwest. West Virginia is the 41st largest state by area, and is ranked 38th in population. The capital and largest city is Charleston.

John Baker was an American politician who represented Virginia in the United States House of Representatives from 1811 to 1813.

In 1829, Gilmer purchased Israel Jefferson, a former slave of Thomas Jefferson, who is best known for claiming that Sally Hemings was Thomas Jefferson's concubine. Gilmer later agreed to let Israel pay his own purchase price for his freedom after Gilmer's election to congress, as Israel desired to stay with his wife, a free woman. [4]

Israel Jefferson, known as Israel Gillette before 1844, was born a slave at Monticello, the plantation estate of Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States. He worked as a domestic servant close to Jefferson for years, and also rode with his brothers as a postilion for the landau carriage.

Thomas Jefferson Third President of the United States

Thomas Jefferson was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809. Previously, he had served as the second vice president of the United States from 1797 to 1801. The principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was a proponent of democracy, republicanism, and individual rights, motivating American colonists to break from the Kingdom of Great Britain and form a new nation; he produced formative documents and decisions at both the state and national level.

Jefferson–Hemings controversy historical debate

The Jefferson–Hemings controversy is a historical debate over whether a sexual relationship between U.S. President Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings resulted in his fathering some or all of her six recorded children. For more than 150 years, most historians denied rumors from Jefferson's presidency that he had a slave concubine. Based on his grandson's report, they said that one of his nephews had been the father of Hemings' children. Before changing his mind following the results of DNA analysis in 1998, Jefferson biographer Joseph J. Ellis had said, "The alleged liaison between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings may be described as the longest-running miniseries in American history."

Political career

Sketch of Thomas W. Gilmer Thomas Walker Gilmer.jpg
Sketch of Thomas W. Gilmer

Gilmer first served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1829–36, representing Albemarle County. He returned in 1839-40 and was named Speaker. [1] [2]

Virginia House of Delegates lower house of U.S. state legislature

The Virginia House of Delegates is one of two parts in the Virginia General Assembly, the other being the Senate of Virginia. It has 100 members elected for terms of two years; unlike most states, these elections take place during odd-numbered years. The House is presided over by the Speaker of the House, who is elected from among the House membership by the Delegates. The Speaker is usually a member of the majority party and, as Speaker, becomes the most powerful member of the House. The House shares legislative power with the Senate of Virginia, the upper house of the Virginia General Assembly. The House of Delegates is the modern-day successor to the Virginia House of Burgesses, which first met at Jamestown in 1619. The House is divided into Democratic and Republican caucuses. In addition to the Speaker, there is a majority leader, majority caucus chair, minority leader, minority caucus chair, and the chairs of the several committees of the House.

On February 14, 1840, Gilmer was elected the 28th Governor of Virginia. While in office, he had a disagreement with the Virginia General Assembly over the extradition of slave stealers, which played a part in his running for Congress the following winter. [1] [2]

In March 1841, he entered the 27th Congress, and although he had been elected as a Whig, voted to sustain Democratic 10th President John Tyler's vetoes (partially because of party differences resulting from the unique situation having a "split ticket" of the Election of 1840 in which the President and Vice Presidents were from different political parties). Tyler had just succeeded to the office after the death of elderly 9th President William Henry Harrison, (who was a member of the opposing Whig Party) only one month after his inauguration on March 4, 1841, where he fell sick from reading one of the longest addresses on record without a coat and hat in the bitter cold. Tyler had very little support in the Party and eventually served just the rest of the term. Gilmer however was re-elected to the 28th Congress as a Democrat in 1842 by a close vote. His competitor, William L. Goggin, contested the result without success. [5]

As one of President John Tyler's close Virginia allies in Washington, Gilmer was involved in the effort by the Tyler Administration to make the annexation of Texas the basis for his failed bid for reelection in 1844. On February 15, 1844, he was appointed by Tyler to be the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, and resigned his seat in the Congress the next day to enter on the duties of the office; but, 10 days later, he was killed by the bursting of a bow gun on board USS Princeton while on a tour of the Potomac River below Washington. His death meant the loss of a valuable ally for Tyler and some historians suggest that it may have delayed the Texas Annexation effort. [6]

Electoral history

1842; Gilmer was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives with 50.21% of the vote, defeating William Leftwich Goggin.


Gilmer is buried at Mount Air Cemetery in Gilbert, Virginia. A year after his death, Gilmer County, Virginia was named in his honor; [2] it is now part of West Virginia. The city of Gilmer, Texas, is also named for him. (Gilmer is the county seat of surrounding Upshur County, Texas, named after Abel Parker Upshur, (1790–1844), another victim of the USS Princeton explosion in February 1844 on board the naval ship on the Potomac River, below Washington

Two ships of the United States Navy over the years have been named USS Gilmer in his honor.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Jamerson, p. 61
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Lewis, p. 686
  3. Markham, Thomas A. "A Bit of Town History: A Bit of History of "Old" Liberty/Bedford, Virginia" . Retrieved 2008-10-27.
  4. "The Memoirs of Israel Jefferson". PBS. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  5. "GOGGIN, William Leftwich, (1807 - 1870)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress . Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  6. Crapol, Edward P. (2006). John Tyler: the accidental president . The University of North Carolina Press. p. 209. ISBN   978-0-8078-3041-3.

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Political offices
Preceded by
Linn Banks
Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates
Succeeded by
Valentine W. Southall
Preceded by
David Campbell
Governor of Virginia
March 31, 1840 – March 20, 1841
Succeeded by
John M. Patton
Acting Governor
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
James Garland
Member of the  U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 12th congressional district

March 4, 1841 – March 3, 1843
Succeeded by
Augustus A. Chapman
Preceded by
Edmund W. Hubard
Member of the  U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 5th congressional district

March 4, 1843 – February 16, 1844
Succeeded by
William L. Goggin
Government offices
Preceded by
David Henshaw
United States Secretary of the Navy
February 19, 1844 – February 24, 1844
Succeeded by
John Y. Mason