Civil War Governor Buried in Spring Hill Cemetery – Mercer County

Our War Governor, Beriah Magoffin, born August 5, 1818, died February 28, 1885.

In the peaceful setting of Spring Hill Cemetery lie the remains of our state’s Civil War governor.  Beriah Magoffin and his wife, Ann Shelby, are buried next to his father, of the same name, who came to this country from County Down, Ireland.  Beriah, Sr., married Jane McAfee, daughter of Samuel McAfee who was among the earliest settlers from Virginia to Harrodsburg in the 1700’s.

Ann Shelby, wife of Beriah Magoffin, born August 5, 1818, died May 7, 1880.  ‘My children are my jewels.’

The ten children of Beriah and Ann Magoffin were Susan, Beriah, Sarah Gertrude, Isaac Shelby, Jane (Jennie), Ellen, Ebenezer, Anna, Letty and Samuel.

Good view of the Magoffin monument from the back.  The above ground stone in the foreground is that of Beriah Magoffin, Sr., 1773-1843.  Ann Shelby’s gravestone is directly in front of the large monument.

The beautiful monument to Beriah Magoffin and wife Ann, was erected about 1900.

Beriah Magoffin.  Definitely a Civil War photograph.  Oversized clothing – note the large sleeves, the long coat.  The vest has large lapels and just a few buttons, you can see a lot of the shirt.  The tie is unusual – generally it is tied in a knot at the throat.

The Courier Journal, Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Sunday, March 1, 1885

Life’s Limit

Ex-Gov. Magoffin Nobly Lives His Three Score Years and Ten.

Just Over the Line Death Meets him.

The Life That Had Seen So Much of Storms goes Out in the Calm of Perfect Peace.

Brief Extracts from the Career of a Man Most Prominent in Kentucky’s History

Harrodsburg, Ky., Feb. 28, – Ex-Gov. Beriah Magoffin died at his home, Temple Hill, at 4:45 this morning, after a brief illness.  He was 71 years of age.

Gov. Magoffin was born in Harrodsburg April 18, 1815.  His father, for whom he was named, was a native of County Down, Ireland, a successful merchant, and President of the Commonwealth Bank at Harrodsburg, and his mother a granddaughter of Samuel McAfee, one of the original McAfee company who came to Kentucky from Virginia on a land surveying expedition, and finally settled in the State in 1775.  Young Beriah graduated at Centre College, Danville, in 1835, under the Presidency of Rev. John C. Young, and at the Lexington Law School in 1838, under Judges Robertson and Mayes.  He entered upon the practice of law at Jackson, Mississippi.  In 1838-39 he was elected Reading Clerk of the Mississippi State Senate, and the following summer returned to Harrodsburg, where he formed a law partnership with his brother-in-law, Charles M. Cunningham.

In April 1840, he married Miss Anna N. Shelby, daughter of Isaac Shelby and granddaughter of Kentucky’s first Governor of that name.  Gov. Robert P. Letcher, who was a Whig, appointed him a Police Judge of Harrodsburg.  In 1850 he was elected to the State Senate without opposition, and in 1851 he declined the nomination for Congress.  As a Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor in 1855, against the Know Nothings, he was defeated by 8,994 votes over Joshua Fry Bell, the ablest stamp orator and Whig in the State.  In 1844, 1848 and 1852 he was on the Democratic ticket for Presidential elector and defeated each time but elected with the ticket in 1856 for Buchanan and Breckinridge.  He was the district delegate to the Democratic National Convention at Baltimore in 1848, Cincinnati in 1856, and Charleston in 1860.  In the latter convention, he strove to prevent the division in the party which resulted in the election of Lincoln and the civil war.

He entered upon the duties of the office of Governor of the State at a period when the country was on the eve of a convulsion.

When the war was foreshadowed, Gov. Magoffin requested the Governors of Indiana and Ohio to co-operate with him in a position to the Government at Washington for peace, by the border States as mediator between the contending parties.  A special session of the Legislature was called in May, and the resolution on the action of the Governor’s refusal to furnish troops said: “That the act of the Governor in refusing to furnish troops or military force upon the call of the executive authority of the United States under existing circumstances is approved.”

On May 20 Gov. Magoffin issued a proclamation in favor of armed neutrality, solemnly forbidding any movement upon the soil of Kentucky by any forces under the orders of other States or the General Government.  To carry out this measure the Legislature authorized a board of five Commissioners, of which the Governor was the Chairman, to borrow from the banks of the State $1,060,000 for ten years at 6 per cent, to be used for arming and equipping a State or home-guard service for self-defense.

The General Government [in Washington], however, did not respect the declaration of Kentucky, and a violation thereof established Camp Dick Robertson in Garrard County.  August 19 the Governor appointed William A. Dudley and Frank K. Hunt as Commissioners to President Lincoln to urge the removal of those troops from the limits of the State.  The President replied that this force consisted exclusively of Kentuckians in the vicinity of their homes and was raised at the urgent solicitation of many Kentuckians, for which reason he declined to comply with the Governor’s request.

On the same day the Governor dispatched George W. Johnson as commissioner to the President of the Confederate States at Richmond, to ask if that Government would continue to respect Kentucky’s neutrality.  President Davis replied he would do so as long as the people of Kentucky maintain it themselves, but that it must be strictly maintained by both parties.

In September the State house of Representatives, by a vote of 7 to 26, resolved:  “That Gov. Magoffin be instructed to inform those concerned, that Kentucky expects the Confederate or Tennessee troops to be withdrawn from her soil immediately,” and then by a 20 to 68 vote defeated another resolution requesting the Governor to demand the immediate withdrawal of both the Federal and Confederate troops.  The Senate, by a 25 to 8 vote adopted the former resolution and the Governor vetoed it, when both houses passed it over his veto.

A resolution giving authority to Gen. Robert Anderson to call out a volunteer force in Kentucky for repelling the Confederate forces from the State was passed the same month and also vetoed by the Governor, and again passed over his veto by the Assembly.  Other resolutions and acts to a similar end were passed and vetoed by the Governor and passed over the veto.

In August Gov. Magoffin, in a proclamation convening the Legislature in extraordinary session, said: “I am without a soldier or a dollar to protect the lives, property and liberties of the people or to enforce the laws.”

Complications and conflicts with the Federal and State authorities becoming general throughout the State, resulting in a sudden and extraordinary State policy, Gov. Magoffin, on the 18th of August 1862, resigned his office of Governor, in obedience, he believed, to the will of the people, expressed through a large majority of the Legislature of the State.  Before resigning he exacted a pledge that the people by ruled by civil law and protected under the broad shield of the State and Federal Constitution.

He then retired to the peaceful pursuits of law and agriculture, divested of politics, until 1867, when he again entered into the affairs of the State as Representative from his home county.  He differed widely from his party in favoring Negro testimony in courts and accepting the constitutional amendments and published a letter and delivered several speeches urging the people to accommodate themselves to the new state of affairs as irremediable results of the war and its issues.

He was the father of ten children, five or six of whom are still living.  A son who, is a prominent citizen of Minnesota, has been a member of the Legislature of that State.

Gov. Magoffin in his political career was always actuated by the highest sentiments of regard for the safety and welfare of the people, and his death will produce unfeigned sorrow throughout the State.

“What attitude shall Kentucky occupy in this deplorable conflict?  Looking to the Constitution of the United States, the nature of our institutions and the causes of this war, I think Kentucky has a right to assume a neutral position.  Let her be a peacemaker and when opportunity offers, as a mediator, present terms of peace and of settlement alike honorable to both the contending parties.”

While opposed to the policy of the government and the measures used to preserve the Constitution, we would not exchange the government of our fathers for any experiment on Earth.  May God yet preserve and bless and guide us by His wisdom in this dread hour.”

4 replies »

  1. Wonderful post! Made me cry.

    My 3x great grandfather John Alexander Pirtle was on the Commission of Secession, out of Graves Co Ky.

    My ability to give details from memory is dwindling, so Sept or Nov of 1861.

    Thanks so much. Su Lynn

    Sent from my iPad


  2. My great great grandfather is supposed to be buried here. John G Mitchell. He died in the civil war and supposedly was buried here.

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. I’d like to see if I can find John G Mitchell’s grave. 1816-1862. Died Indianapolis Hospital of pneumonia. I can’t find his grave but info I have says Crownhill Cemetery. Do you have any information on John G Mitchell? His wife Ruth Ann Brown Mitchell received a pension.

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